Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Don't Grieve, Give Thanks

Even though I had another article ready to post today, I decided to postpone it and instead to post the following reflections about my brief trip to Japan, which ends today. (I am scheduled to arrive back in Kansas City just after noon today.)

Grieving What Is No More
During my first and last full days in Japan, October 3 and 8, I experienced considerable sadness at the strong likelihood that this would be my last time in Japan. Especially on Monday evening, I walked around familiar places with tears in my eyes because the next morning I was going to be leaving the place I have loved so much.
As I was jogging early Tuesday morning, though, I started thinking about the words that I had called to mind last week after visiting my good friend Otsuka Kumiko-san, who has terminal cancer: Don’t grieve over what is no more; rather, give thanks for what once was.
I began to apply those words to myself and my grieving because of leaving Japan for the last time.
Giving Thanks for What Once Was
So, yesterday morning I began to give thanks for each thing I had been feeling sad about, including the following:
** I am thankful for the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, as it was called then, for appointing June and me as missionaries to Japan in 1966 and for supporting us throughout our 38 years there. The Southen Baptist Convention has changed through the years and I am no longer able to be a Southern Baptist; nevertheless, I am deeply grateful for what once was.
** I am thankful for Seinan Gakuin, the school system in Fukuoka City that Southern Baptist missionaries founded in 1916, and for the trustees electing me to the university faculty 50 years ago. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of being able to teach there for 36 years and to serve as chancellor during my final eight years in Japan.
** I am thankful for Hirao Baptist Church, which June and I joined 50 years ago and which was our church home for twelve years. I am also thankful Hirao Church sponsored us in starting the Fukuoka International Church (FIC) and that I was able to serve for 24 years as part-time pastor of that church.
** I am thankful for many Japanese friends, mentors, and co-workers--especially Otsuka Kumiko-san (about whom I wrote, here, on Sept. 5) and Kaneko Sumio-sensei, who was the pastor of Hirao Church for most of the years we attended there. I am thankful for the good visits I had with Otsuka-san on Oct. 3-4  and with Kaneko-sensei on Oct. 4.
** I am thankful for the many former FIC congregants whom I fondly remember--and especially those I was able to visit with over a delicious meal on Oct. 6. That gathering was organized by Fukuoka Kikuko-san, who was the first person I had the privilege of baptizing as pastor of FIC.
** I am thankful for the many students that I had the privilege of teaching at Seinan Gakuin University and especially those with whom I still have contact--such as those I met with on the afternoon of Oct. 8 for a delightful two hours.
What a Difference It Makes!
At dusk on Monday when I left the gathering of former students just mentioned, I walked around familiar places for about two hours, grieving at having to leave Japan for the last time the next day. It was a sad time of thinking of what will be no more, at least of direct experience in Japan.
But Tuesday morning each time I began to have sad thoughts, I would give thanks for what has been--and what a difference that made in how I felt!
Thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts / experiences of the past week. In spite of this article being mostly about me, I hope many of you will remember, and profit from, the main point:
Don’t grieve over what is no more; rather, give thanks for what once was.


  1. The first response I received this morning was from a highly respected Thinking Friend in Maryland whom I had the privilege of meeting for the first time in July, and I appreciate his kind words.

    Hi, Leroy. Thanks for this set of rich personal remembrances. Your work of so many years is not the kind that gets much notice in the world of power and politics but I believe that you were weaving intricate layers of Kingdom life in Japan. So many lives are different as a result!

    "I also appreciated the wisdom of not grieving that which is now gone but giving thanks for what was (and often lives on in a different form)."

    1. I'll claim that note as mine, brother!
      I will add this: There has been so much mischief done in the name of mission that I'm reluctant to have anything to do with activities designated as such. Yet healing and light have also come from this enterprise at times. Although I have known you only for a few years through your blog, it seems clear to me that you are among those special missionaries who truly lived as a servant among those to whom you were called, and that you have lived your life fully aware that God emerges in unexpected ways that cannot be tightly defined by those bearing Good News.

  2. Here are much appreciated words from a Thinking Friend in Louisiana who is former missionary colleague in Japan.

    "Welcome home, Leroy. I rejoice with you over the things that brought you joy, and I weep with you over the things that brought tears to your eyes. You had a long and outstanding career as a missionary and an educator, and I am just glad our paths crossed and we were part of the same cause. Thank God for Leroy and June Seat."

  3. As I recall, you thought you had already taken your last trip before this one, yes? I'm so glad you were able to go see your friend. But I'd not thought about what a painful experience to realize you would never see again the places you loved so much in your life.

    I couldn't help think of the hymn "Count Your Blessings" when you were itemizing all the things for which you have to be thankful. Your main point is such a good discipline. I'm grateful for that word to day.

    And while you are still very much with us, I give thanks for you today...for your friendship; for your decades of service as missionaries; for helping a young college kid realize the truth in scripture is much larger than what I knew or could comprehend; for all you continue to teach me.

    1. Thanks, David, for your comments. Yes, I originally thought that our trip back to Japan in May 2016 would be our last one--and, indeed, it was for June. That trip was so enjoyable, though, that I began thinking about going one more time in the fall of 2018--but decided early this year not to do that.

      When I received word of Otsuka-san's terminal illness and through of all she had done for me especially in the early years of my missionary career, I thought I should make one more trip back--and I am very glad I did.

  4. Then I received these kind words from a local Thinking Friend:

    "Good morning Leroy. Gratitude is a cleansing of the soul especially when it is a reflection on a significant period in our life experience. While all of life experience is what has shaped us, your missionary experience has to be the time that most defines you. Today’s Blog is a marvelous statement of affirming this influence. Welcome home.

  5. A few minutes ago I received the following appreciated email from a Thinking Friend in Arkansas who was also a missionary colleague for a few years:

    "Thank you, Leroy! You and June have every reason to be thankful! Your impact in/upon Japan will most definitely live on in the lives of others you have touched. I am thankful for my short duration as well, though with significantly less impact. Welcome back to the states where there is also so much work to be done. Grateful for you."

  6. Leroy, as one of your regulars at the Fukuoka International Church for a few years, I look back with thanksgiving for your pastorship there. Thank you for making me feel welcome there and even coddling me. I especially appreciate how cognizant you were of Japanese life and culture and in your witness participated in and trusted the process of the Holy Spirit in the lives of your students congregants, and others (including me). Most missionaries I knew in the Far East had tin ears and didn't even care to understand cultural differences and the spiritual environment they were in. But you creatively spoke the Gospel in that very different world. My thanks extends to June as well, Best pastor's wife ever!


    1. Patrick, I was touched by your comments, and I appreciate them very much -- and I especially agree with your closing words!

  7. Maybe this should be another chapter in your new book. As Meister Eckhart once put it, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

    You left a good legacy.

  8. Isaac Watts, writing about 300 years ago, wrote the great hymn "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" as a riff on Psalm 90, which was itself a riff on Genesis 1. I am reminded of the verse that instructs us, "Time, like an ever-rolling stream,/ Bears all its sons away;/They fly, forgotten, as a dream/Dies at the op'ning day." I am not quite sure about the "forgotten" part, we just put down our aging 19-year-old cat, and she is definitely not yet forgotten at our house. Yet, I know it will come, not just for Stockings, but for us, too. Time, for God, is a vast expanse, next to which we are very little. In another verse Watts ups Psalm 90 from a thousand years to "A thousand ages in Thy sight/Are like an evening gone." Meanwhile we are jolted by losses from the last roll of Kodachrome film (how did Simon and Garfunkel write about that loss so long before it happened?) to the last Volkswagen beetle. Remember typewriters and fountain pens?

    My daughter just returned from her first trip to Japan, which may also be her last. She studied Japanese four years in college, and was fascinated by the culture from Mount Fuji to Anime. This was her third try, having been stopped one time by logistics, and another by the huge earthquake a few years ago. Anyway, it was warm and humid while she was there, which was a challenge since she thrives in the cool, and all that fresh seafood did not set well with her stomach. Also, her knowledge of Japanese had faded enough so that she found herself quite dependent on her traveling companion, who is an amazing whiz with languages. Perhaps some day she will try again. It is sad, watching even the youth, trimming sails and letting part of life go. It is also so necessary.

    Personally, I am dealing with letting go of the idea that there is a reasonable path out of global warming. In the USA we live in what has been called the "irony zone" since we still have a fair amount of cooler than normal weather, which is almost alone in the world. The IPCC has issued a dire warning about the danger of runaway global warming, and some reviewers fear it is not dire enough. The world our descendants occupy a century from now may be a most miserable place, especially if too little is tried until it is too late. Saying thank you for what once was will be difficult. For one such review, read here:

  9. Yesterday I also received the following comments from Thinking Friend and much respected older colleague Bob Hardy.

    "Leroy, thank you for sharing this very personal experience that so many of us can relate to and which allows us to walk back through our own experience with gratitude. There are many memories embedded in our lives that call forth the goodness of God in life. At this stage for us at 89 and 92 when physical activity is becoming more and more difficult I am being challenged with these same thoughts by trying to be more thankful for each day, not grieving over what I can no longer do and concentrating on what I can still do with God's help. Thank you for being a good example to remind me and others to be grateful in sad times as well."

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  11. Leroy, welcome home and thank you so much for this letter. I connected with it in a positive way today! George M!

    1. Thanks, George. -- I look forward to seeing you again on Sunday.

  12. I also received these comments from a local Thinking Friend who is an older pastor whom I first met and/or heard preach when I was in college.

    "Thank you, Leroy, for this blog. If all goes as planned [my wife and I will move to a Baptist Home]. Already as we anticipate disposing of things we will be unable to take with us we are feeling some grief. We are giving thanks for the pleasure they gave us and thanking God for a new and exciting chapter in our lives. Your blog was helpful."