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Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat

Jeff's bonsai tree

Today was the day that I had scheduled to go get a multiple re-entry permit for my passport so I could re-enter Japan after short trips out of the country. Getting the permit would involve a half- to full-day including bit of travel on three train lines, standing in six lines with a bunch of other foreigners, dropping a little cash, listening to a lot of unfamiliar Japanese words, and oh yeah, eating lunch out--all in all a good day! The plan was to drop Zack off at school at 9:30AM and be back in time to pick him up at 3:30PM.

The Thrill of Victory

Coming back home from dropping Zack off at school, I was going to dash in the house to grab my paperwork, as well as a quick bite and then head out the door for the train station. To my surprise. . .

my next-door neighbor Mr. M. was watering his 30+ bonsai plants (i.e., miniature trees) on this sunny morning. I asked him if his bonsai were doing okay during the cold, windy nights we’ve experienced for the last few weeks.

He said, “Yes, they’re hardy because they’re older. I have a few young ones in the temporary greenhouse.” (Ok, I’m extrapolating here; it’s what I gathered he had said.)

But then he asked ME a question! He said, “How are your young bonsai doing? Are you keeping them inside your house?”

I told him in my broken Japanese that I usually put them out in the sun for a few hours a day, but keep them inside because it’s too cold for them. He nodded in agreement.

I was thrilled he approved of my gardening decisions, as he is quite the bonsai aficionado. The retired police officer has devoted much of his free time the last few years to an incredible garden highlighted by his superb homegrown bonsai.

It has been my hope and prayer that Mr. M. could mentor me in the skill of bonsai gardening—not for the benefit of my little trees, but for the benefit of his spiritual life. I wanted to spend some time becoming his friend. But with such cold weather lately, I had become discouraged that I hardly ever see Mr. M. out in his front yard.

Seizing the interruption in my plans as God’s agenda, I quickly grabbed six of my fledgling bonsai trees. I watered them outside and put them on the ledge to catch some sunlight. For the first time EVER, Mr. M. walked out of his gate over to my place. He politely took one bonsai and began to marvel at its trunk. He configured in his mind how he would shape it. Then we made his vision a reality.

We enjoyed an hour of trimming and wiring one of my little evergreens and getting to know one another.

God gave me this opportunity. And I’m thankful for victories, even small ones.

Bonsai tree - profile
My bonsai tree that Mr. M. helped me trim and wire today

Wires shape a bonsai tree
Wires are used to shape a bonsai in the direction you want it to grow.

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Jeff's column offers a mix of reflections on leadership and fatherhood, as well as news from Asian Access.


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Nozomi's column contains reflections on motherhood, Japanese culture, and ministry.


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