Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is a day we celebrate love, and we are most thankful for it. Love is the atmosphere in which we as humans thrive and grow. Love is a commitment to help one another in thick and thin, through hormones and emotional swings (and I’m not talking just about females here). Love is not just an emotional high, but it is a force that determines our destinies. In our newest video we celebrate love — it is the reason we can enjoy such a rich life here in the greater Tokyo area. This love has propelled us here to Japan and changes the freeze of winter into the warmth of spring.
I grew up in the heartland of America, in the northern regions of the country not far from Chicago. We certainly had hot summers, but when the winter came, we got to experience all the frigid temperates one could handle. I remember one time in college when it was -40 degrees windchill! At that temperature you just cover up any exposed skin that you don’t want to lose! Try throwing some boiling water in the air at that temperature, and watch it crystalize almost instantly!
That’s Illinois. Some of my fondest memories were of wintery storms where the snow would come pouring down and pile up outside so much that everything shut down. There was nothing to do but to go out in the snow and enjoy it!
We were fortunate enough to live in a place with great sledding hills. There was a reservoir but 10 minutes away with a massive hill that was really quite intimidating. You would really, REALLY fly down that thing! You had to be careful if you were heading towards any trees or steep drop offs — always ready to bail out if you had to. There was a very real sense that you were taking your life into your hands, and always a level of danger to it that made it extra intense. We would build jumps and see who could get the most air and go the farthest without killing themselves.
We would stay out for hours — until we were so soaked, cold and exhausted we just had to go in. Then we trod back in the snow and escaped to the warm confines of the house, the entryway becoming a mess of wet boots and ski clothes pilling up under our feet. Heading upstairs, we could sit down and sip on some of mom’s hot cocoa, which always had a layer of scalded milk on top scorched by the hot stove. Those were good memories.
Around us in Tokyo, snow rarely accumulates, which means we have to go up into the mountains at the right time if we want to enjoy snow sports. Fortunately for us, there is a fun ski hill about an hour away — Fujiten, situated near the base of Mt Fuji. It even has a little hill where you can sled.
My kids don’t have many experiences in the snow, so it was fun for them to get to go sledding. Even though it was completely different than the death-defying sledding I knew as a kid, the Ski Patrol took it very seriously. It was still a blast and I’m sure they’re already looking forward to the next big snow so they can ask “Can we go out and play in the snow?!”
If I say Paris, what do you think of? The Eiffel Tower? If I say New York, then what do you picture in your mind? The Statue of Liberty with Manhattan in the background? If I mention Chicago, what do you imagine? In most cases, you probably imagined a landmark or the downtown skyline of each place. To heart of each city is often captured by an image of its skyline. To those who have actually visited those places, a picture of that place evokes all the feelings, sights and sounds that are associated with it.
What do you think of when you think of Tokyo? For me, I often think of Rainbow Bridge spanning the bay at night, or Tokyo Tower rising up in the middle of the urban sprawl or towering Skytree with Mt Fuji in the background. But at the very heart of the city, hidden in a protected garden, is the Imperial Palace of the Emperor of Japan. Perhaps nowhere else in Japan captures the essence of Japan quite like this unique area in downtown Tokyo. The modern skyline is abruptly halted by an ancient castle. This is where old and new meet. A nod to the past with an eye on the future. This is at the heart of Tokyo.
But what truly defines a society is not its’ buildings, skylines or cities. Modern cities do their best to support business, government, education, entertainment, housing and more. But all of these things support the people that live in the city, because a city it ultimately defined by its people. Without people, a city would be nothing.
Just as downtown Tokyo is at the heart of the city, family is at the heart of society. Where there are strong families, there are strong societies. We celebrate our kids’ birthdays because each and every one of them is special.
No matter your background, birth order, ability, gender, race or age, you’re special. No matter what school you went to or what job you hold, you’re one-of-a-kind. No matter what others say about you or what you’ve accomplished, you are special to God. He made you in His image and he delights in you just as a parent delights in their children.
To know God is to know His love for you, and that love permeates his design for the family. He has a purpose for the family — that it be a place of nurture, care and love where each and every person can discover and pursue the purpose for which God made them.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Work Hard, Play Hard?” It could refer to many things, but to me this speaks about one of the key principles of a purposeful, well-balanced life. I’ve discovered that my best times of rest come after my best times of work. The harder I work, the more I enjoy my subsequent rest. The two moderate and strengthen the other.
Whenever our life is out of balance, our body gives us warning signs. The warning signs of being overworked are stress, sickness, weariness, lack of joy, lack of social life, failing relationships and an overall low enjoyment of life. When we’ve rested too much, we experience the warning signs of laziness, boredom, lack of drive, lack of money, lack of purpose and lethargy. The solution to too much of one thing is to purposefully add the other. As we do that, we find enjoyment come to both areas of life: work and rest.
We have been working so hard — Ruth, the kids and me — so this vacation was the perfect break from all the work. In fact, we enjoyed it so very much, precisely because we have been working so hard. It recharged our batteries for the start of 2020.
Now we are already talking about what our next big adventure will be. We have a lot of work coming up, and we’re excited to tackle it. But it’s also great to have something on the horizon — a focal point to help us through an especially busy season. Do you have any big plans, goals or trips you’re looking forward to? Where do you find yourself on the balance of work vs rest? That balance is key for a healthy lifestyle.
Some of life’s most precious moments happen when we travel. I can remember as a kid skiing in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with my family. We had an absolute blast, tearing down the slopes in Colorado. But on the way home a huge blizzard assaulted us on the interstate and stranded us in Kansas. The snow was blowing so hard that we had to pull off of the interstate because we couldn’t see past the hood of the car. We followed a big 18-wheeler off an otherwise invisible exit and found a hotel that still had vacant rooms available that you accessed from the outside. We were fortunate to have a room at all. The blizzard was so bad that in the morning we woke up to snow inside the room! The wind had blown it under the door to form a drift inside our room! There’s a memory I’ll never forget.
And then of course there was my first trip to Brazil. My parents had moved as missionaries to live along the Amazon River and it so happened to be right next to where Ruth’s parents lived, where Ruth grew up. On that trip I heard God clearly speak to me about becoming a missionary. It’s also the time I got unofficially engaged to Ruth. Talk about a memorable trip! Glad I didn’t miss that one.
Trips have a way of impacting us in big ways because we leave behind the normal, everyday life and brave a new world — one where much is unknown and we need to be flexible. We don’t travel because it’s easy — in fact, traveling is anything but easy. We travel to encounter new cultures, new places and new people. We travel to gain new experiences. We travel to open our eyes to the bigger picture; the good and the bad. We have an opportunity to grow: to grow as individuals, to grow as a family, and to grow closer with God. Why do you travel?
Traveling with the whole family is completely different than traveling as a couple or alone. The logistics immediately get more complicated and the woes of travel compound quickly, especially with little kids. We have done very few vacations like these because, quite frankly, with little kids the trips are a lot of work, take a lot of time and can be quite costly (multiply your costs by a factor of 6). At least once during our travels we swear that we will never do this again! (That’s usually at the point where everyone is tired and hungry and there’s no immediate end in sight.)
But once we arrive at our destination and everyone settles down and rests and eats, things immediately turn around. More than any other trip in recent memory, we were able to completely relax and enjoy the resort, Thailand and time together as a family. In this case, traveling together with Ruth’s parents really helped with the kids and we were able to get a better deal per person due to a larger group rate. So there are perks to traveling together as well. Ruth did a great job researching where and when to go to make the most of our time and money. And she had been setting aside money for a long time now to be able to do it without being a strain on our finances.
Now I am looking forward to our next big family adventure. And we don’t have to travel very far to have it.