Chickens for Christmas

It’s a funny thing to watch four men you have never met before slowly pick up and wrap everything you own, crate it, and drive it away for placement on an ocean barge. You sit idly as they place it all into boxes and document the contents. You watch as they individually wrap your family ornaments, your children’s baby books and footprints, and your album of wedding photos. And then just like that, you sign your name on the dotted line, and wave goodbye to every material possession you have ever collected.And then a few weeks later, you board a plane, and arrive to a brand new home with only enough clothing and underwear to last you the week until you can wash them and wear them over again- repeatedly- until your shipment finally arrives.

During our first move overseas, we had a total of 80-some days without sitting on any of our own furniture, or seeing any of our personal belongings. It’s crazy to see what you can live without for several months, and makes you wonder what you can live without indefinitely, to be honest.

It especially makes you reevaluate your feelings about your possessions when you are moving overseas. LITERALLY meaning your items are going over the sea. On a ship. In boxes. 6,000 miles of travel. 6,000 miles of possibly having your items just… disappear. Sink, capsize, be rained on, get stolen. Those items change hands so many times from your moving company to the ship owner, to the moving company in the city you are waiting for them in, and you will read a thousand horror stories on Google if you let yourself search about the process. So many opportunities for your precious things to just vanish, never to be seen again.

I’m pretty confident you’d be lying if you said you didn’t think about all of your “stuff” possibly just not coming back when you sent them away with a moving truck. As for me, I nearly cried when the truck drove away that first time I ever packed up my house and sent it with somebody else. Living without all that stuff for those three-ish months made me realize how incredibly shallow and materialistic I am, and how little those items actually matter in the grand scheme.

When our doorbell rang in mid December, and movers arrived to unpack our shipment, I definitely breathed a sigh of relief. But, I hope that when our next “pack-out” date arrives, I don’t ache again at the thought of having to release the tight grip I have on all that I own.

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Everything we own, sitting in the back of a trailer, taken away by men we do not know during our very first move out of the state, which subsequently was a move out of the country.

When I first started writing this, Henry was around 18 months old. His first Christmas was the year before we PCSed, but the first Christmas that he was really interested in the traditions or the gift opening, happened to fall a few months after we sent away everything we owned.

We moved at the very end of October, and barely had time to breathe before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday were upon us. We ordered a few fleece blankets to survive the cold and snow of North Japan winters, but similar to the previous years, I failed to order the usual Black Friday haul and mostly just posted about the good deals I saw.

But there was one gift that we gave Henry that first year of his life that I had ordered almost two months before Christmas time even came. I ordered it before he even could remotely understand what such a gift meant. We will give him this same gift every year until he leaves our home, and have started the tradition with our sweet Ellie too. I was reminded today to order them, and it reminded me of this post that I wrote two years ago:

November 30, 2017, I wrote:
Today I stumbled upon an article written about orphanages in Japan. My heart ached deeply as I read the statistics on adoption, and how many children are still waiting for their forever homes- and in turn how many as children will never know a home outside of an orphanage. This article is from six years ago, though articles I read on the current statistics still echo these numbers.

“There were 36,450 children in the orphanage system in Japan in March, 2011. Only 12% or 4,373 were adopted or placed in foster care during the preceding 12 months.” – Japan Daily Press, “Japan’s Forgotten Children.”

Upon further reading, it seems much of the reasoning for the children remaining in understaffed or underfunded orphanages lies in the legal issues surrounding living parents that are unwilling to sign over their parental rights, yet still wish to keep children in the orphanage, and not offer them up for adoption. Because of this, many of these children remain in the orphanage until they are 18 years of age. Immediately, I was enraged at this. Why don’t they just sign over the rights so these poor kids can find a loving home? But the answer was almost as immediately whispered to me when I looked at Henry, who raised an eyebrow at me from the couch. Big dark brown eyes and a gap-toothed, ornery grin peered back at me, making me realize just how much I adore that little stinker. In that moment, and in every moment following, I could not imagine being unable to provide for my little boy in such a way that I was forced to make the decision: give him up for care at an orphanage, or watch him fail to thrive daily because I was not in a place to provide for him. I completely understand these parents’ desperation. If I had to give my little boy to someone else in order to feed him, I would still cling to any legal ties I had to him. I would want to still call him MY Henry.

Nevertheless, these orphanages (as are most in the world) are overrun, understaffed, and often desperate for help from the communities they reside in. We see so many toy drives, coat collections, and food bins this time of year in order for these institutions to provide what they can for the kids they house. So many still come up short. And this problem is absolutely not unique to Japan. Countries around the world, including the United States, have so many children waiting in the foster care system, in their orphanages, and in shelters, desperate for help and a home.

For me, this realization brings about a new view of the holiday season, as well as a new perspective on how I raise my Henry and my Ellie to look at their world and the world around them every day.

This brings us back to the Christmas before we moved to Japan.

I was sorting through catalogues that fall after having Henry, trying to decide the best gifts to get a 6 month old for his first Christmas. I thumbed through the Kohl’s catalogue for several minutes, flipped through the Target ad I had snagged earlier that day, and then proceeded to glance at the rest of the stack, hoping to find any other deals that fit our budget. I stumbled upon a gift catalogue from World Vision, and read about the lifesaving vaccines, emergency medicine, gifts of livestock, or clean water wells that I could purchase for a child, family, or community in need. I could even give these gifts in the name of someone else.

It wasn’t until a week later when I walked out of our pediatrician’s office after 4 month old Henry received his vaccines, free of charge through our insurance, that I realized what a blessing it is to have a baby who is not likely to contract life-threatening illnesses. While I am pro-vaccine, it really doesn’t matter what my stance on this is, nor does it matter what yours is. The debate doesn’t even matter here. The simple fact is that we have vaccines and medications, whether pharmaceutical or holistic or whatever you believe in, and this help is readily available and almost always affordable. So many in the world do not have this luxury of the choice to vaccinate- a concept that we so often bicker and fight about.

Later that day, I sat down and researched organizations that provide help to those in need, including World Vision and Compassion International. We settled on using Compassion, after reading that Compassion uses a much higher percentage of donations for the individual(s) in need, compared to other similar charities. Any time that we give, we ultimately make the decision of where to donate to based off of which program uses funds responsibly, and which program does good in the entire community- providing individuals with both a life-saving kind of support, but also a strong hope of independence in the future. That being said, there are thousands of charities that seek to help the impoverished, tons of which specifically target children who are in desperate need. If you choose to donate, pick which one fits best for the issue you are trying to help with, as well as what works with your financial situation.

After our appointment, I returned home, and purchased the desperately sought after vaccines and medicines for kiddos in countries that have no access to these medicines otherwise. I hit the order button, and cried long and hard as I watched my sweet, healthy boy rolling around on the floor, bandaid on his then chunky little legs. Pro-vaccine or not, I cried quietly watching my sweet boy sit up, roll over, and smack toys on the rug. What a blessing it is to have a healthy child. Seriously, what a blessing it is to have a healthy baby! I could say this six more times and never really convey how grateful I am for my two babes.
I made the donation in Henry’s name, and used the funds we had placed into our Christmas account for him.

I tell you this not to talk about our donation, but to talk about the values I hope this will instill in my babies as they grow. Every Christmas we will provide them with a card like this one, which we were emailed after we purchased a gift in Henry’s name that first year.

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I will say to my darling babies each year:

“Henry, Ellie: It’s Christmas time, which means we will spend lots of time with family. We will eat together, and we will give each other gifts. We are so blessed to be able to sit in a warm home with those that we love, and we celebrate that fact as we ultimately celebrate the birth of Jesus. But there are lots of other little boys and girls in this world who don’t have what we do. Some of them don’t have any toys, and some of them don’t even have mommies and daddies to spend Christmas with. Some of those children are really sad, and really lonely. So we took some of the Christmas money that we set aside for presents this year, and we bought them (fill in the blank) to show them the love of Jesus, and to show them that they are dearly cared about, even from the other side of the world. All people in this world are chosen, and dearly loved by the Jesus that loves you so much. We want you to know that other people matter, and we want you to always want to think of others, every day, not just at Christmas time.”

It’s never too late to instill a heart of giving into your children, and it’s never too late to instill in them the idea that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as we often believe it does. Little ones watch what we do, and believe me, I know how it is a constant daily struggle to put forth the actions that prove that this is truly our line of thinking.

By their fifth or sixth Christmas, I pray that Henry and Ellie will bring me a humanitarian aid gift catalogue, and excitedly ask me to help them pick out what they want to spend their Christmas money on. I pray that my babies go through their adolescent and teen years always aware of the needs of their classmates and friends. I pray that they recognize those that have less than them, and those that are hurting, and that they doesn’t hesitate or even think twice about giving them something of theirs when they see a need they can meet.

I hope that my babies ask hard questions without hesitation, and seek to be the answer to the injustices that they can change. And I hope that because of my son or daughter, a child their age in Zambia, or India, or Japan, or the United States, or a even a child in their own town… opens their eyes one morning to a beautiful world where someone noticed them and cared about them.

I hope that someday, my babies pack up their household to move, and wave goodbye to the truck. I hope that they don’t fret about their stuff like I do, and that they think of others far more often than I do.

Almost two years after originally writing this, I look at our sweet 3 year old Henry, and our 1 year old little Ellie, weeks before Christmas again, and I still feel the same after these years. I desperately want my babies to be better than me, and I desperately want them  to know that they are loved by the same God who loves the poor, the orphans, and the hurting. In their world, if that means I give them money so they can gift chickens to a village for Christmas, then I will buy them all the chickens in the world.



Japan Life · Our Life in Japan

Both Hands

I grew up in the textbook definition of a small farm town. For eighteen years of my life, I lived where you could catch index finger waves every time you met another car on the single lane highway. The one fast food drive thru in town would recognize my voice or vehicle, and ask “the usual?” always around 3:17pm on my drive home from school. The river was a 15 minute drive away, but driving to a mall was an all-day ordeal.

18 year old Em, providing the Valedictory address to our class of sixty-or-seventy-some.

My boyfriend was from a rival high school about 28 miles away, and our houses were only about 5 miles apart. We dated through college, and I will forever be proud to say that I married my high school sweetheart. Businesses in town were small, people were kind, and the nights were quiet. There were some generally awful people mixed in, as will be in any place you live, but for the most part, it was a beautiful thing to live in a population of just a little over 2,000.

An oldie, but goodie for your viewing. We had been dating for around 2 years at this point. Our first official school dance.


A lot of this small-town awareness and kindness left my memory when my husband and I moved around 3 hours away to a town of around 50,000- maybe close to 100,000 when you include the suburbs. To some, this is still a small town, but for me, it was the biggest move of my life. Finally, I lived in a town with a Target, and it was only 7 minutes from our apartment.

Our last photo outside of our first home together in Joplin, Missouri.

We loved the new town, the new found freedoms that retail convenience brought, and the new friends we found in this town. Don’t get me wrong, Joplin will forever hold a very dear place in my heart, and the friends that we left behind there are some of the best people I have met in my twenty-three years of life, but Joplin also provided me my first real taste of how unkind human beings can be. It was my college town, my first years on my own, and my first chance to see exactly how corporate, big America functions on a daily basis.

I so thankfully graduated with enough scholarships to cover all 4 years of my post-secondary education. So before Drew and I were engaged, I was just a college kid lucky enough to only want a job for a little extra gas money to make it home on the weekends. In October of our first year in Joplin, I applied at probably 40 different places in town, and immediately received a call back from Kohl’s, looking for holiday hires. I accepted a position as a temporary entry-level floor associate, was kept on permanently after the holiday season, and got my first experiences in retail.

Over the first two years I worked at Kohl’s, I was promoted a handful of times until I finally accepted a position in management. Still to this day, I have nothing but good things to say about the company, my co-workers, and the management at the store. Seriously, the people that work there and the company itself FAR outweigh the cons I’ll talk about shortly. But it was in this position that I realized just how awful people can be to a complete stranger.

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My coworkers from Kohl’s hosted my baby shower, we attended each other’s weddings, birthday parties, and showers, and I cried big ugly tears when our family moved. These are my people, and I love them dearly.

I managed the customer service department for a while, which meant I got a LOT of phone calls, a LOT of “can I speak to the manager”s, and a LOT of threats to call corporate with my full name on their tongues. Sometimes it was hard for me to separate the angry yelling of a 40-something year old woman from my own self-worth. The lack of a $4 savings that some individuals would get absolutely irate about made me question if people were inherently just really, really crappy humans. I was often called stupid if I counted back change wrong. I was often called a liar if I told a customer a price wasn’t what they thought they saw. I was once even called a bitch when I asked a woman to leave the store after she THREW a pile of clothes at me for telling her we had sold out of her size. Daily, I had men and women come through my line, and not once say a single word to me due to the fact that they were talking on their phones or buried in a post on social media. I had days that I desperately needed a warm hello from a customer, and didn’t even get so much as eye contact. Let me tell you guys, if you work retail, customer service, or food service anywhere in the states, from all I can see and tell- you are a saint.

After getting married, we moved to a suburb of the city in hopes for a little quieter atmosphere. Unfortunately we often found flashing headlights on our street corner, loud banging/kicking at our door in the middle of the night, and possessions missing from our car or truck in the mornings. In the four years we lived there, we only met one set of our eight neighbors. I feared taking my baby out of our SUV if it was dark already, and I called 911 and the police station more times during our stay there than I have in the rest of my twenty-two years combined. My friends houses were broken into, my wallet was stolen twice, and we had to lock our cars even if we were just running quickly into a gas station. We trusted very few people, and we spoke regularly to even fewer.
(Please don’t get me wrong, Joplin is a beautiful and wonderful place to live… this is just the worst of the things we experienced in our part of town, and is just sometimes the nature of a bigger city.) But after around 5 years there, I cried myself to sleep most nights. It was a hard place for me to be after so many years in a town where your neighbors were your family, and you left your purse in your car overnight to find it unscathed the next morning. I wanted something different; I wanted a new existence. I wanted people that knew my name again, or at the very least made eye contact with me before they walked away from my register at work. I was convinced that the only place for us was back in our hometown of 2,000 people- where we could raise our son to graduate high school in a class of around sixty-five other students. But, when my husband and I moved the next time, it would be overseas.

At 18, I thought I would live in my hometown for the rest of my 80+ years of life. Never in a million years would I expect to be 23 and sitting in my new apartment in Japan. It’s funny how God takes us to the last place in the world we would ever think we would want to be, and shows us just how wrong our assumptions are most of the time.

Even if nothing else made me love this country, the Pacific coastline 100% would.


When I boarded our plane at the coastline, and said goodbye to America, I expected another Joplin experience. I expected to cry often because our families are 6,000 miles away, and I expected to ache for the states- especially for my hometown. I expected to find more people who were too caught up in their own lives to care in the slightest about mine. And again, don’t get me wrong- I miss my hometown and my sweet family terribly, and I miss those dirt roads and the quietness of Southern Missouri. But what I have found in Japan so far has left me absolutely astounded.

The Japanese people have a way of existing that makes me yearn to be like them.

From the first time I was bowed to, to the first time an elderly Japanese couple stopped in the middle of the mall to give my cranky toddler son a cookie they had just bought for themselves, I find myself never letting the corners of my mouth drop in this country. I could go on and on all day about how incredible this experience has been so far, but I will tell you the one thing that catches me off guard still- almost a full month after we have arrived.

Upon my first trip to a grocery store, I brought our items to the front for checkout while my toddler swatted at everything possible on the counter. The sweet cashier tried her best to make conversation with me, and I half-heartedly tried my best to reply while doing a million other things- though the extent of my Japanese so far includes “hi”, “thank you”, and “how much is this?” I struggled to pull the correct amount of money out of my wallet, while trying to text my husband who was on the other side of the store waiting for me. At the end of the transaction, I experienced a gesture that I never had before in the states. When she handed me my change, the bags, and the receipt, she fully extended both of her hands to do so.

My thoughts at first were probably similar to any other American’s. “Ah. That’s kind of cool. But so what? It’s a customary thing, right? Just a difference from America? A cultural thing? It isn’t even THAT big of a deal.”

Yes. And those thoughts are precisely what make my heart hurt. The attention and care that she showed me were out of the ordinary for me, though they are a daily occurrence here. I realized in that moment, that I could not accept what she handed to me with both of my hands, simply because my hands were full already. I gripped my phone, illuminated from the conversation I was attempting to have while speaking to her. My keys were intertwined between my fingers in an effort to have my car key separated and ready before we walked into the cold. I had held the receipt, immediately and instinctively trying to check the amount I was charged. I could barely carry the bags she handed me, because I was already so engrossed in everything else that I was trying to do in that checkout line. During the drive home, I reflected on the fact that I was culturally so unprepared for the full attention that cashier gave me.

In this city, the public transportation is quiet. The people on the trains always use headphones to avoid disturbing others. The only people sitting are the elderly, the pregnant, or those with children. Others only sit when there is room, and they often stand up for others when they board the bus or train. People rarely walk and talk on their phones. You see very few phones on sit-down restaurant tables. The service at every restaurant, every store, and every gas station is impeccable. The hosts try to help you understand signs, menus, directions. They attempt to explain what your food is. They tell you the secrets on how to eat it. People notice your baby/toddler and accommodate you when you are struggling. They give your toddler a cookie they themselves just paid several dollars for. Nobody in this town locks their doors. Merchants leave items on the streets overnight. The people here are so kind, but more importantly- the people here are so present.

Since arriving, I have noticed myself putting down my phone more (aside from snapping photos of everything and attempting to translate words and signs with Google translate, of course) and have found myself trying to be present in my attempted conversations with the Japanese locals. Even in my hometown, while the pace is much slower, I can’t say that the people are as present as they are here. It is an incredible feeling to have a human- who is wholly uninvested in you personally- hand you something with both hands, make eye contact, smile, and even bow to you as you leave.

It is so funny how God can take a die-hard hometown-forever kind of girl like me, and thoroughly convince her in just a month that everyone in America needs to leave the United States for a little while just to get some perspective, but I fully believe this now. I wish that every person could spend a week in Japan, just to realize what a shallow person you can be at times when it comes to your attention and who and what you give it to.

Regardless of political view, regardless of gender, regardless of race- these humans we do life with and around deserve our attention. They never deserve a half-hearted conversation, and they never deserve to be spoken down to for something that is completely out of their control. I wish we all could remember that every single person we encounter is a child of the King. They are made in His image, and they deserve our respect. These beautiful people in Japan very rarely even know the name of Jesus, and they get it so much more than I- a hometown bible-belt Christian- ever did.

I never realized what a difference it makes to have someone hand you something with both hands, and to have someone fully invest in your presence before them, even if only for a mere 2 minutes. But this is the attitude of Christ- the One who understands, the One who listens, and the One who is always fully invested in us. Attention and investment like this is somewhat startling, but it is remarkably wonderful. Make conversation, sincerely care about another person’s existence, make eye contact.

Offer your attention. Offer both hands.