Dear Family and Friends,
Every year for the past 26 years I have written a story to move our hearts, to stir our souls, to reflect on life, to consider our ways, and to help each of us find an answer to Charlie Brown question, “What is the True Meaning of Christmas?” Sit back, relax and let’s begin… The title, “The Best Bad Thing” actually was taken from the title of a video, we own. It is about a Japanese family who fell onto some hard times and through those hard time alone- life lessons and blessings occurred. Some who know me say that I am a ‘forever optimist’ always looking for the good in everyone and every situation. Before I begin this year's Christmas story, I would like to share some concluding remarks about last year's Christmas story. Last year I wrote about the “Empty Chair”. Please refer to my last year’s Christmas letter to get more details: www.teamtanaka.com In short, my Grandfather began a restaurant called “City Café” in Juneau, Alaska 1912 during the Alaskan gold rush. Wanting a hot meal available for the miners it remained open 24/7. WW2 brought out and my Grandfather was arrested and placed in a New Mexico prison while the rest of the family was interned in Minidoka, Idaho. My father was valedictorian of senior high school class and missed his graduation. An empty chair was placed in the gymnasium during the ceremony where he should have sat. This summer, July 12, 2014 in Juneau there was an Empty Chair Dedication, where a bronze replica of the ‘empty chair’ was placed with the names of all of Japanese who were evacuated on the floor boards. This was placed in “Capitol School Park” over-looking Gastineau Channel. The steady rain did not dampen the warmth and love of the people of Juneau. What a privilege it was to meet many of the people who reached out with love to my Grandfather’s family and the Japanese community defying possible adverse social ramifications. They took an apparent “bad thing” and made it as “best” as they could. With the help of the Juneau community, the “City Café” and “Juneau Laundry”(own by the Fukuyama family) were able to get back on their feet. I got to sit in the “Empty Chair” and what a honor that was. Now on with this year’s story.
It is coming up on 10 years that we have lived in our present house on 10 acres which we bought from Dr. Bruce Craswell with dreams of building a house. At the time, two of the Bruce’s children and their family lived right next door to him and (the late Ellen Craswell). A good friend of mine, Guy Cooksey, rounded out the neighborhood. It was such a unique neighborhood with each family having at least 6 children and we just had our 9th child- that’s 28 children/young adults! It was like moving unto Walton’s Mountain. We call our place the “Tenakar Woods”- (combining Tanaka, Ten acres and Winnie the Pooh). We had dreams (who knows it may still happen) of placing a large sign at the bottom of our hill (we live a very steep hill) “Welcome to the Tenakar Woods”with base elevation posted and final elevation at the house. Along this same line- each of us (all 11 matched up with a Winnie the Pooh- character- can you guess who is who?) Life at the Tanakas was like moving back in time- riding on a trailer behind Bruce's tractor, 10 acres of woods to explore, caves to be discovered, stream to dam up, forts to build, trails to construct, campsites to plot, campfires, woods shed, chicken shed and bike shed to build. Should we end the story- “and they lived happily ever after- the end!” Well, that only happens in fairy tales. All of our neighbors moved for various reasons. Two great neighbors moved into Bruce’s children’s homes. My friends home was back on the market for renters. We got word that a ‘half-way” house for drug and alcohol rehabilitation was planning on moving in. This causes no small commotion among our neighbors- myself included. We moved there to have a safe place to raise our family. I understood that things would not always stay like they were initially, but not this! We had special meetings to try to put a stop to this. One neighbor called the county to see if this was legal or not, but eventually found out that this move was legal. Time was running out. We called for a special meeting to meet the head of this group, hoping to plead with him to move to a different location and not “ruin” our nice, quiet, neighborhood. The leader tried to assure us that they have very strict rules, they have a successful group in Port Orchard, and will try to be good neighbors. No amount of reasoning, pleading, or tears would change his minds- they were moving in September 2014.
What would happen to our nice, quiet neighborhood? I still needed to protect my family, but how about when the men are all at work and our wives are home with the children- are they going to be safe? Can our children ever run around like before and come in when they hear the big bell? I determined that the best way to protect my family is to get to know these men and for them to get to know me. Through that relationship, they would not (dare?) harm any of our children. The difficulty would be that the program is 6 months long, so there would always be turnover. That would just require more consistent meetings with them. I decided that I would meet them for the first time. I was a sunny Sunday afternoon. I walked down our hill and rang the doorbell. I had no idea what to expect. "R" answered the door and I introduced myself. To my surprise, he said that everyone else is sleeping. He said that they are resting up for Sunday evening church service. When we were talking, a truck pulled up. "R" said, “you can meet two other men.” As I approach the truck, one young man said, “Dr. Tanaka?” I looked and stared. He said, “J”. That still did not register. Then he told me his last name. He was my patient years ago and I still see his parents. Wow! I asked him about the program. He said that it is the best thing that has happened with him. He said his life was in a tail spin and he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Through this program, he was confronted that his biggest problem was not the drugs and alcohol, but that he has a “worship disorder”. He worshipped himself and pleasures of this world rather than God. He said through this program, he is now walking right with God, his family, and is off all drugs and alcohol. He is near graduation from this program and has confidence that with God’s help, he will be united with his wife and daughter. He said that other programs don’t address the heart issue of rebellion against God. He said that you don’t have to be a Christian to join, but you need to follow strict rules. For the 6 month program each of the men agrees to: no (internet, drugs, alcohol, pornography, money), need to be accountable, attend daily Bible studies, Sunday service morning and evening, daily Bible reading, no fighting, must be willing to help out, working during the day, abiding the 9 pm curfew, no women to the house. It is even stricter for your first 30 days. Of the men that enter the program, 80% of them graduate, making it through the 6 months. The morning Bible study is open, and I've attended about 4 morning Bible studies so far. They are thorough and with good participation. I got to meet some of these men and hear their unique stories. Many have tried other programs and failed. Some are young and some my age- all desperate.
My heart was being changed. Was I any better than them? Yes, I may have never been addicted to drugs, alcohol or pornography, but there were other sins I struggle with. Is sin really a “worship-disorder?” Love of self rather than a love for God. Obeying our lusts, rather than obeying God. “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, boastful pride of life.”(1 John 2:16) Who did Jesus associate with? Gospel of Mark Chapter 2 records this: "And it happened that He (Jesus) was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him." This did not go over well with the religious leaders, who said: “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus' response indicates why he came to earth: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” If I don't associate with these people just because they are sinners, am I forgetting that I am a sinner also and aren't I being just like those religious leaders? Jesus had compassion for them to not only heal them of their present sin but to heal their souls- saving them from eternal judgment. I too needed Jesus' love and forgiveness; Jesus is changing my heart to have His heart of compassion, wanting all people to hear Jesus' good news of salvation for their sins.
This brings me around to why Christmas is the beginning of the "Best Bad News"-we celebrate Jesus (God Himself) becoming like us even in His birth. But Jesus did not come to earth to be born and live here on earth, but He was called the "Lamb of God" for the very reason to be sacrificed. The "bad news" is that Jesus was innocent- He never sinned and yet he was murdered. This is how the Bible records this: Jesus: 1 Peter 2: 22 "WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH" Jesus died a criminal's death as recorded in Philippians 2: 8 "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." You may ask: "Why did Jesus have to die?" Glad you asked. The answer reveals the gravity of sin (our rebellion and disobedience to a holy/sinless God) God is so different from us. God is: all knowing, all loving, all just, all holy/righteous, all good. This is who He is and nothing He does can ever violate or go against His character, because then He really is not all of these and therefore not God Himself. We are none of these and that is the dilemma. To be in the presence of God, one must be sinless. Man can't save himself. All religions are man's attempt at making himself right with God, but man's efforts can never erase the fact that he is a sinner. How do you get rid of sin? Hebrews 9:22 give us the answer: "without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness," as forgiveness of a debt requires payment. If I forgave the debt you owed me, the debt did not go away; I paid your debt. You see, forgiveness comes at a cost. How much cost do you think to would take to forgive the sins of the world? Countless. It would require the perfect sacrifice-the innocent blood of God's own Son, Jesus. There really was no other way. Jesus even pleaded three times with God the Father to not go to the cross, but always qualified His request with this: "Yet not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42) If there was another way for man's sins to be forgiven, wouldn't God the Father give this to His Son, Jesus? In other words, if man could save himself, then Jesus died for no reason and then there are many roads that lead to heaven. Jesus going to the cross to shed His blood indicates that this was the only way to forgive man's sins and that there is only one way to be made right with God Himself. This sounds like only "bad news". I thought this was supposed to be the "BEST-Bad News". Well here is the Best Bad News: Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, did shed His blood on the cross, He was buried for three days, just like He said and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. Romans 4: 25 sums it up: "He (Jesus) was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God." Sinless Jesus died for sinful man, so that that there could be a way to be made right with God. That is the Best Bad News. Jesus said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) Why doesn't God save everyone? It is because people either through ignorance or rebellions choose not to follow Jesus. Jesus pleads: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) How is a person saved? The Bible repeatedly says: "Repent and Believe.. and you shall be saved" (Mark 1:15, Matthew 21:32, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 13:24) Repent: means acknowledging that you are a sinner and have disobeyed a holy/sinless God and deserve His punishment and being committed to turn away from sin and live the life that God desires of us. Believe/Trust: that your sins were paid for and the punishment was paid for: when Jesus died on the cross, that Jesus was buried and that He rose showing His victory over sin and death. Where does obedience come in? Obedience does not save us, but when He saves us from the punishment of sins, He changes our heart or desires. Titus 2:11 says: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." Yes, there unfortunately will still be struggles with sin and this will be until we are in heaven, where there is no more ability or desire to sin. Now isn't this the Best Bad News!? As a doctor, I wish I always have good news to give to my patients, but at times I don't have good news. News like: "cancer, end-stage heart failure, Alzheimer's disease." Why does death scare us so? What occurs at death? Our soul is separated from our body. Our soul, the spiritual side of us, either goes to heaven to be with God or to hell away from God. Just as the Bible says: "The sting of death is sin" You see it is not death that we must fear, but sin itself because sin carries with it- punishment. But if the punishment has been paid for as it says, "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your sins are paid for, then there is no more fear of death. Then this verse is true: “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Corinthians 15: 54-55) The apostle Paul understood this so well as he said, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (Philippians 1: 21-23)
I hope if you haven't already considered Jesus, that you spend this Christmas to reflect on this and Repent and Believe. John 3:16 would be so much more meaningful: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." If you have questions or want to know more about getting right with God- let me know. It would be an honor to help you think through and possibly make this most important decision. Your life and soul will never be the same- for eternity. When the worse thing that the world can give you, can be the best thing -that is the Best Good News!
Now for the up close and personal:
Jairus (8) Jairus has many hidden talents and it is a challenge to tap into them as his attention span is short. Lori is very patient with him and I try to be. He needs frequent reminders to get back on task. Surprisingly he does learn and remember, despite not appearing to be even listening. We are working with him, so that he tells the truth. I have been trying to meet with him to help him in his faith in God. It is my privilege and duty to teach him about God and His ways. I need to spend more time with him in this area. The Bible is our best book to learn who God is, who we are and about God’s plans. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26) When I am home and need to run a few errands, I make it a point to never go alone, so I ask one or more of the children to go along with me. I am always glad for these times. This not only provides some quality 1:1 or 1:4 time with the children, but draws us closer together and I realize that I will not always have these times and I will miss them dearly. These times with Jairus are never quiet. He always has many questions. I guess I was like that and I remember my parents asking me how I can have so many questions. When I was about 8-9 years old, they bought me a book: “500 More, More Tell Me Why.” I was not into reading but I think I read it cover to cover and learned answer to questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” “Why does ice float?” and much more. Can’t wait until he is old enough to sit up front as I like face-to-face time, rather than face-to- mirror time.
Lily (10 years old) Lily has continued to bless our family with her servant heart. With 9 children and 2 parents, there are a lot of birthdays. Shopping with Lily as she is looking for a gift for someone, has shown me a window into her heart. She looks and looks until she finds something. The cost seems immaterial as I see her empty her purse. She would give away her last penny and she has. Lily, as a result is always looks for “paid jobs” from me. I have stapling jobs, straightening-up jobs, folding paper jobs and this year raking tons of leaves (along with Noelle)…she does each job as best as she can, without complaining. By the next day, I have it sitting on my side of the bed. I try to be generous with payment, as I know she is generous. If you need a helper who is hard working and with a servant attitude, Lily, may be small but she will help you with anything and do it well. Smaller is often nice when cleaning the van as I don’t fit so easily under seats and between rows of the 15 passenger van. She is the youngest of our string ensemble, and for me it is such a joy to see her play with all of her heart.
Noelle (12) still loves adventure. For example, this summer we went to a church family camp. They had a high ropes course and without batting an eye, Noelle signed up. We had never been on this before and from the ground it looked scary. I signed up also to “watch” over them. I followed Noelle, "just in case she had trouble", and then I would be able to care of her. She climbed the tree, swung over from one tree to the other like a monkey and then ran across the log, like it was on the ground. I quickly climbed up to catch up with her and found myself much more afraid and challenged than I have ever felt (or at least in a long time with only getting lost in the Olympics topping this) Needless to say, Noelle was done before I barely rounded 1st base. She wasn't even scared. She has a magnet to stick with her same friends and it is a challenge to help her to mingle with others. God has richly blessed her with gifts and talents meant to be shared with others.
Aaron (14) is my right hand man, when it comes to yard work. I used to assign different jobs for each of us, but over the last several years, I applied the “lettuce principle”. It is so simple and it goes like this: “Let us do ____ together”. It is not only like an apprenticeship, but gives us 1:1 time. There are many outdoor chores to do here and Aaron is such a splendid helper. If you have ever been to our place, you would remember the two steep roads leading to our house. These need regular maintenance to get ready for the rainy and occasional snowy winters. We are building a treehouse – finally. We have the floor boards in and are getting ready for the rails and trap door. We already have a rope bridge and would like an eventual zip line to the ground. I feel bad that Jonathan and I talked about a treehouse, but never quite got around to that. I am sorry about that. With my birthday money I purchased a corded electric drill. So much better than our battery powered drill, which didn’t have the power and never kept the charge long enough for us to finish our task. Aaron gave Lori a megaphone for her birthday and she uses it daily, especially when calling someone from downstairs. I never would have thought of that, but what a thoughtful gift and it is saving Lori’s voice. In September, Aaron and I, our pastor, Craig Houston and his four sons their friend, Pastor Joel, went on a two night backpacking trip to Royal Lake in the Olympics. It was a challenging trip with many wonderful memories, like popcan stoves, “hot rocks”, catching trout in the lake, and seeing just a glimpse of God’s wonderful and beautiful creation. Ask Aaron about the two uses of “hot rocks”. Sons need fathers to guide them and teach them to be godly leaders of the future family.
Kristi (16) and I finally went on our father: daughter date while she was still 15 years old. This tradition began with Amy and now it was Kristi's turn. We had a wonderful time together. We went to Benaroya Hall for Rachmaninoff concerto then had lunch at Anthony’s on Seattle’s waterfront. What a wonderful time! Kristi truly is growing up. God has been working on Kristi’s heart. On a regular basis, she would ask forgiveness for sins that God had revealed to her. We would pray and I would forgive her. Kristi realized that she had never repented of her sins and trusted in Jesus as her Savior, and just this November she repented and placed her faith in Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection to save her from the penalty of her sins. There was much rejoicing in our home and “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) Kristi and Bethany are taking an online class together and regularly need to “ask the world-view expert”. Well, I am no expert but am willing to try to answer their questions such as: like What is truth? Are all religions basically the same? What is better idealism or realism? Pros and cons regarding the Puritan work ethic. What is the meaning of life? Many of these up until then, I hadn't put much thought into these issues. Kristi is our cello player and its rich tones compliments- the violins and viola.
Bethany turned 18 this year. We celebrated by going on a night-drive treasure hunt. What a fun time! If you need ideas “outside of the box”, just ask Bethany. God has given her such a creative mind. God is working on her trust in Him. There are fears and frustrations that cripple her. We have had some difficult yet wonderful talks often late into the night. When I was young, I was much like her and this draws my heart to her. Looking back, God used these insecurities, guilt and fears to draw me to Him, who would alone give me victories where once there were failures. God is using these to draw her to Him. May she hear God telling her (as He did with Paul): “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Corinthians 12: 9-10) Bethany, Kristi, Lori, and I had the privilege to go to Alaska this summer for the Empty Chair Dedication on July 12, 2014. What a wonderful time to connecting with our roots, meeting many wonderful friends of the Tanaka family, and many supporters of the Empty Chair Project. Each day was packed with new adventures and learning.
Stefanie (20) is our newest driver-in-training. This provides Stefanie and I some 1:1 time and we often combine it with some errands and scenic drives. Stefanie has been playing a harp. We had not been able to find a teacher near to our home, so she had been teaching herself. Her vision is to be able to play for those lonely or home bound or even hospice patients. There is something naturally soothing about harp music. Even the Bible acknowledges this: "So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him." (1 Samuel 16:23) Earlier this year she said that she may have found a harp teacher and wanted to know if she could inquire more into this. The interesting aspect is that this teacher lives in Denver, Colorado. From the website, we could tell that she is a Christian, and is extremely qualified- graduating from Juilliard School and even played for Presidents of the United States. Stefanie contacted this teacher and asked if she would be willing to teach using Skype. The teacher was willing to try it with Stefanie. It has been such a good match as they enjoy these times together. The harp lesson begins and ends with prayer. Stefanie is advancing much more rapidly and preparing several pieces to take where ever God wants her. Technology, when used wisely, opens up new options and this is true for Stefanie. I am thankful that God has brought Stefanie and this teacher together- what a blessing!. Stefanie again was the Home School Strings meal director- preparing lunches for about 120 students. The kitchen was bustling and with the many helpers, the food not only was on time but I tasted it- delicious. There was even food for those who can't have gluten or dairy. This is truly a great experience and good preparation for possible future catering opportunities.
Jonathan (21) has been away from home for the past 2 years, with only short 2-4 weeks at home here and there. God has provided him with amazing opportunities. He worked for NCFIC (National Center for Family-Integrated Churches) in Wake Forest, North Carolina- opening up opportunities to rub shoulders with great Christian leaders, travel, be trained spiritually and many opportunities to have his trust in God challenged and matured. From NCFIC, Jonathan immediately began an internship with the Christian law firm, Heritage Defense this spring near Austin, Texas. For 6 months he was able to stay at the Hopkin's home. This is no ordinary home as they have 17 children. Now I thought we have a large family. Jonathan's 30-minute commute to his work provided us with 30 minutes of talk time 4 days a week. What a blessing that was- as it knitted our hearts together. From Texas, God opened up another blessing- getting accepted into Liberty Law School. Before the start of law school he came home for 4 weeks, during which we squeezed in a camping trip to Fort Canby State Park, our family's favorite camping site. As I am writing he is finishing up his finals before we have 2 weeks with him. It will be nice to have our whole family together.
Amy (23) This year began with our missions trip to Cambodia. Every bit of the trip was filled with memories from going through Chicago's O'hare Airport with 350 lbs. of luggage, making it through customs... Impossible to mention all of the highlights- ask Amy for more details. Amy assisted with the eye glass clinic, which saw over 1000 patients in 8 days. After just 2 days, the most common prescriptions were out and after a few days, more and more prescriptions ran out. They were even thinking of closing down, which would have been such a disappointment. What happened next came so unexpectedly. With so many empty prescriptions, the number of patients did not diminish, but amazingly, every patient except for two left with glasses. The miracle is that God directed only patients with the remaining eye glass prescriptions to the clinic. This reminds me of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (Matthew 14). The two patients who they could not match left happy with sunglasses. One of Amy's translators was a non-Christian, but curious to learn more about Christianity. After Amy shared the good news of Jesus Christ with her, she chose to follow Jesus. Amy through Facebook and e-mail has been able to keep n touch with her. She has been able to attend a local church and has her own Bible in her language. Amy is much better than I am at keeping in touch with our translators. It was so nice to be together with Amy, befriending the translators and even being able to talk with the translators about Jesus and answering their many questions. Amy would love to go back to Cambodia and she has such a heart for missions. Amy loves teaching, writing and technology and she is able to combine all of these as teaches writing to her online students. She is no longer limited to the local area. She has two live webinars on Thursdays so we get to hear her live classroom from our living room. Amy is now accompanying the choir.
Lori, my bride and best friend of 26 years. For more than half of our lives we have been married. There is no one I would rather be with and Lord willing, hope to “grow old together.” We met in Chicago, where I received my medical training. God saved me in Chicago and I began attending a church by Wrigley Field and Lori was attending a church about 5-6 blocks away. The rest is history, well if you want to hear the “rest of the story”- just ask. Nine children and moving to Washington State- many wonderful memories, but as with any marriage- there are bumps along the way. Of all of God’s instruments that He uses to conform us into His image, marriage is His hammer and chisel. Before we were married, we both thought that we had it all together and marriage should be a “piece of cake.” Well neither of us knew how selfish and self-focused we are. God has been doing some demolishing work and rebuilding. As Lori always tells me as I clean up something long since neglected: “It always looks worse, before it looks better.” A couple of years ago Lori bought matching chairs at Bainbridge garage sale (her favorite garage sale) Nearly every day we sit in our chairs for some 1:1 time, debriefing about our day, connecting, praying together and more recently we have been reading through a book: Uprooting Anger. Some great truths and insights as anger has many faces and often our anger is not righteous anger. This books points us to the Bible, the ultimate authority for “life and godliness.” New for Lori, this year is playing piano at church. God has given her musical talent and it is great to see her use this for God’s glory and our blessing. Lori was the “prayer coordinator” for the mission team last year when Amy and I went to Cambodia. Keeping track of over 300 email addresses, updating all of the prayer support partners before and during the missions trip with prayer needs. This is a vital and daunting task- don’t ask me, but this is no problem for Lori and she loves organizing and she is very good at it. Lori will be our prayer coordinator 2015 when Stefanie and our team head off for Cambodia. We and our team will go supported by hundreds of people praying God “would open doors for the Gospel and that we may speak boldly.” For the past two years, we have been more intentional about hospitality. Lori coordinates all of this to make it happen. As a result we have had more people over in the past 2 years than the past 10 combined. This has been such a blessing for our family. We have opportunity to get to know another person or family and have a great time in the process.
Rich (55) God saved me back in 1984- so this year is my 30th birthday in God’s family. One of the biggest area that God is working in my life is helping me to see my own sins and repenting of them. This is huge, and the biggest barrier is my pride. God is the only one without sin and confessing my sins and repenting (turning away for that sin) needs to a regular part of my life. As John Newton said, "I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Going to Cambodia with Amy was such a wonderful experience and to work alongside her not only with the patients but among the 40 or so translators was amazing. Watching Amy work along with her translator to get the proper eyeglasses for each patient was such a blessing. In the evenings we would often play games with the translators and we had several opportunities to talk about God and Jesus. Connections and friendships developed as a result. Looking forward to serving together with Stefanie this January 2015. This year I did not see the miracles- unexplainable physical healing, as I witnessed when Jonathan and I went, but more people were saved this year than in any years past. That is a miracle- a work of God. Saving a person’s soul is so much greater than healing a person’s body. There are such great physical needs there that that can become our focus. Most of the patients we encountered have never seen a doctor or dentist in their life. They have no close access to medical aid. Even the local pastor is teaching locals to boil their water rather than drinking right out of the well. I looked down the well and the water was green and with mosquito larvae swimming around. He is caring for their physical and spiritual needs.
There are countless stories. I’ll share one. A gentleman about my age was being escorted to the chair across from me. He had a noticeable limp. We introduced ourselves and the translator asked why he came in. He said that his knee hurt. Almost every patient is a farmer, working long hours in the hot sun. I examined him and he had severe degenerative arthritis of his knees and severe pronation (inward turning) of his ankles. I had ibuprofen, some exercises, but these would only be temporary. I thought- I wish I had knee braces or at least good arch support inserts. I noticed that he had shoes, which was not common. What could I do? His eyes staring back at mine. At that moment, I heard God (not audible) say “give him your inserts.” I looked at his shoes- just about my size. “But God, I need those inserts.” I know it is the right thing. I asked the translator to have him take off his shoes. I took off mine and took out my inserts and place them into his shoes. I asked the translator to have him walk around and see if this helps. As I watched I noticed that the limp was much less and as he came back he told the translator that his was much better. As I was writing for some ibuprofen and getting my knee exercise handouts ready, I noticed that he was taking the inserts out. I told him that these were his to keep. Tears began to flow out of his eyes and he placed his hands together saying, "Ahkun Ahkun". (Thank you, thank you) I told the translator to have him thank God. Now tears were flowing from my eyes. God was using me to share His love, I just needed to be willing. Matthew 25: “In as much as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” The rest of the trip, my feet hurt, but that is such a small cost to pay, to bring God’s love to one person in need. I can always get another pair but he doesn’t have that possibility. Stefanie and I have had some 1:1 time as I am her driver’s ed teacher. We don’t get out enough. My fault, but Stefanie is busy also. As Lori says and it is so true: “Fail to plan, plan on failing.” We just need to put our driving times on the calendar.
Have you ever not done something just because you thought it wouldn’t work? We have a 15 passenger van and we have never put it in the garage. There is often too much stuff in there, but there are times when we do clean it up and get the Prius in there, but we have never had the “Big White” van in the garage. For 10 years I thought that the white van was too tall to fit in the garage. I went to Home Depot, one of my favorite stores and loaded up with 1000 pounds of cement and 1000 pounds of landscape blocks. The cement needed to be unload and place it in the back of the garage. I thought- now wouldn’t it be nice to just back it in and unload. To my amazement, the van looked lower, so I slowly backed it up and listened and every so often jump out and look. Sure enough it was clearing the door with about a centimeter to spare. Wow! I don’t believe it. I honked and everyone came and stared at “Big White”. It looked so out of place but also so nice. Why didn’t we try this earlier. I thought I did about 10 years ago, but not certain. With all of the rain- now isn’t it going to be nice loading and unloading groceries and instruments in the dry garage! Isn’t there a life-lesson in all of this? Don’t we fail to even try something just because we think we will fail? Without life’s challenges we would never know our potential. Well “Big White” has only been in the garage a couple of times. Why? You may ask. It only would fit because it was loaded down with 1000 pounds of cement, just enough to lower it to fit in. It was the load that made the impossible possible. There is a life lesson here. Ponder on this a bit.
This November Aaron and I attended a church men's retreat titled "Men of Valor". Most of the men, myself included are hard-working but when it comes to working hard on marriage, leading our families in the way of God, training up our children, teaching our families from the Bible and leading by example- we fall short. Some men have even made commitments to meet together to encourage and sometime even give a good kick to keep on track. Iron sharpening iron. Forget the Lone Ranger mentality- we all need one another. Lost a good friend as he moved to South Carolina, but gained another as we joined the church that he pastors. He doesn’t allow me to answer, “Ah fine” to his question: “How’s it going?” when things really are not fine. I need a friend like that.
“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
“But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
I was blessed this year by a visiting pastor from India, Pastor “P”- too long for me to accurately pronounce. He shared his ministry to his people in India. Where he lives, there are people who do not want people to become Christians. Pastor “P” shared that he has received death threats, telling him to stop telling people about Jesus or they would kill him. He told the congregation not to pray for his safety, but to pray for his boldness in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. I want faith like that. God wants me to loosen my grip on this world and “trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding but in all (my) ways acknowledge and He will make (my) path straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
The week before Labor Day, I had some unexpected vacation. Because I have to place vacation requests almost a year ahead, I sometimes forget what days I requested. This year was such a year. That week my whole family was busy with music camp, so I would be spending most of the day alone. Not wanting to do this, I called my Mom and asked if it would be alright for me to come to her house for a visit. She agreed. We did a lot of talking. She is 90 years old, but her mind is still pretty sharp. We went out to eat also. We also watched a lot of Mariner’s baseball. She knows everyone on the Mariners team. One of the highlights was going fishing with her. She said that she needed help getting in and out of the boat. No problem. “Where do you want to go fishing?” “Let’s go to Williams Lake.” I had never fished Williams Lake in a boat before. Growing up, fishing was a huge activity our family loved. Even the girls put on their own worms. We rented a boat and motor, helped Mom into the boat. “Where to Mom?” “Down the lake until you see a white sign in the tree: “Twin Pines”-drop anchor 30 feet off shore.” I wasn’t too confident we would even catch any fish, as it was sunny and in the 80’s. Anyway fishing with our Mom and brother, Ed was fun, fish or no fish. We nearly limited out and Mom caught all of the big rainbow trout. If I ever get to 90, I hope I can still fish with my children or grandchildren. This trip was a gift from God. I will forever hold these memories near my heart. It also provided me one more time to say, “I love you, Mom. Thank you for being such a wonderful mother.” Parting hugs and good byes. Hope to have many more- but you never know for certain. I have learned the hard way with my Dad. I had failed to say and do the things with my Dad while I had the opportunity.
Another Christmas letter comes to an end. Thank you for putting up with this lengthy letter. I do put my heart into it. My goal is to share Someone who is near and dear to me and my family- Jesus. Remember the Best Bad News and the Best Good News? Please review it. I tried as best as I can to explain how you can be made right with God, but I understand that turning a skeptic into a follower of Jesus Christ, is truly a work of God. Trust me, God did that to me 30 years ago and He can do that with you, today. "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS" (Hebrews 3:7-8) God wants you to find Him and trust in Him: ""But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Deuteronomy 4:29) This marks the 50th year of the Charlie Brown's Christmas. Linus’ speech still ring loud and clear about the true meaning of Christmas: ""Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11) Jesus came to save sinners, like me and you. May Jesus save your soul- that is the Very Best Good News!
From our family to yours,
Rich (for Lori, Amy, Jonathan, Stefanie, Bethany, Kristi, Aaron, Noelle, Lily, & Jairus)
Rich’s website: www.teamtanaka.com
Amy’s website: www.attuneup.com
Jonathan’s blog: www.tenacretimes.wordpress.com