Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Gibson Family Update

The month of June remains a blur in my mind. It started with me delivering the commencement address for the Class of 2022 at the Christian Academy in Japan, where I had worked since 2009, and ended with my family vacating our apartment next-door to the school in preparation to move to the US a few days later. Between those bookends, I taught my last classes at CAJ and said goodbye to students, colleagues, and friends, Tomomi received her VISA after a nearly-two year process, and we sorted through our earthly possessions, shipping some in boxes, packing more into eleven suitcases, and throwing away far more than we wanted to. After clearing out of our apartment, we spent just over a week at our friends the Howards’ house while they were out of the country as we went through one final round of sorting/packing/tossing. This happened to coincide with an historic heat-wave in Japan, which saw the high temperature hit above 90˚F for ten days in a row (with several days above 100˚F), and which never saw the low temperature drop below 80˚F. As luck would have it, our children came down with colds only days before our flight out. Sadly, this meant that our daughter missed her final day of preschool, as we holed up and awaited her negative PCR results. The flight to Seattle was as long and miserable as you’d expect with a sick 5-year old and a sick 2-year old who was flying for the very first time, but fortunately we were on the flight with an old friend from church, who helped us push our three full luggage carts to immigration once we arrived at SeaTac!

We arrived in the US on July 9, and have been staying on the farm with my parents. Eventually, we will move down the road a couple minutes into the house I grew up in--my parents had rented it out since we moved in 1994. It’s a nice 5-acre property in the scenic countryside of Whatcom County, but the house is 50 years old, and in need of basic refurbishing, including replacing the siding, the windows and a number of doors in the house. Due to supply chain issues delaying the arrival of the new windows, this process will start within the next few weeks--several weeks later than we had hoped. In addition to the necessary work on the house, my dad and I have been busy clearing out blackberry brambles, brush, and dead trees from the back of the property, and shock-treating the well to clear iron bacteria out of the pipes. It has been a lot of work, but it has been gratifying to see the progress that we have made since we started a month ago.

This is the house we'll be moving into!

Clearing brush and blackberry brambles

Because of limitations in what we could ship, and because what we did ship could take a few months to arrive, we have been familiarizing ourselves with the wonderful world of Craigslist. We have already bought a nice set of Noritake dishes and bowls for only $200! When we went to pick them up near Custer, about a 25-minute drive from my parents’ place, the lady who was selling the dishes noticed my Dordt University t-shirt, and asked if I was Dan and Emily’s son. It turns out, this lady was someone I knew from church when I was a kid, and she had trained my mom’s horses back in the mid-90s--small world!

Paperwork of various stripes has been an ongoing summer project, as well: applying for social security numbers for Tomomi, and our son, applying for State health and dental insurance for ourselves and the kids, getting Tomomi’s Japanese driver’s license transferred to an international license, and then a Washington license, getting Tomomi set up with a bank account, and submitting all manner of paperwork for school, some as a new employee, and some as a parent of an incoming Kindergartner. Between filling out paperwork and pulling out blackberries, I might actually choose to pull out blackberries!

I have been heading into Bellingham Christian to work on curriculum several times a week, simply because it’s far too distracting to find traction at my parents’ place with the kids around. I will be teaching 9th grade English, Geography, and Bible to the first high school class at BCHS, and helping out more generally with curriculum and program development. I have put in nearly 50 hours of curriculum work since June, and still have much to do, but as busy as I have been, I find the process of curriculum development fun and energizing. In many ways, this is the ultimate application of my Master’s training, as it has been my first opportunity to start from scratch on curriculum development since I completed my degree. Our daughter will be starting Kindergarten at BCS in September, and Tomomi will be working part-time as an instructional assistant in one of the preschool classrooms, so three of the four of us will be spending most of our time at school this year, albeit on different campuses. Weirdly enough, there will be another mom named Tomomi with a child starting Kindergarten this year!

The kids have taken to life in the countryside well, and have enjoyed an abundance of outdoor time. It has been a bit surreal for me to watch my daughter ask--and sometimes even plead--to help my mom clean the horse stalls each morning, considering that I would go to great lengths to avoid stall duty when I was growing up. My daughter made the switch from speaking predominantly in Japanese to predominantly in English several days after we arrived. There are still grammatical issues and gaps in her vocabulary, to be sure, but getting more than a sentence in English from her in Japan was a rarity, so this has been a pleasant surprise. Of course, the challenge now will be to ensure that not only will she not lose her Japanese ability, but that she will continue to learn and grow.

Working in the garden
Dinner outdoors around the picnic table

The move has been a bigger adjustment for Tomomi, for whom this is her first time to live somewhere other than Japan, and on top of that, her first time to live in the countryside rather than the city, and on top of that, her first time to drive since she received her license in Japan for ID purposes years ago. There are layers upon layers of culture shock and change, but I have been grateful for Tomomi’s patience, creativity, and sense of humor as she takes it all in stride--she has been the one actively keeping tabs on Craigslist, which is fine by me!

One particular blessing that I have enjoyed since we returned has been the opportunity to attend Wiser Lake Chapel, the church where I grew up, which has been praying for me and my family as long as I had been in Japan. The church has changed quite a bit in the four years since I’d last visited, but it has been good to make new friends and reacquaint with old friends while worshiping and fellowshipping, and listening to solid Biblical teaching in person. After more than two years of mostly attending church virtually--a difficult task in a small apartment with young kids--, this has been nourishment for a hungry and thirsty soul. It has also been a joy to watch my kids learn what it means to go to church and worship, as the concept of virtual church never quite sunk in for them. My daughter has already made fast friends with a little boy her age who has told her and everyone else who will listen that he intends to marry her. Somehow I thought I would have more time before dealing with things like this…

In addition to the Chapel, we also traveled 80 minutes or so down to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island to attend a monthly worship service in Japanese this past Sunday. Finding opportunities for Tomomi to worship and fellowship with Japanese Christians is a priority, but not necessarily easy in a place where the Japanese population tends to be small to begin with, and the number of Japanese Christians, even smaller, so it was good to attend a bilingual service, worship in English and Japanese, and enjoy conversation with new friends over homemade Japanese treats after the service.

My brother and his family visited from Denver in late July for a week, and my sister and her husband came up to visit from Port Orchard on the Kitsap Peninsula for part of that time. We had a record-breaking heat wave in Washington that week, and one which seemed to follow my brother’s family from Denver, where it promptly cooled down dramatically after they flew here, only to heat up again the day they returned (while it cooled down here, of course). In the midst of the sweating and sweltering (no A/C at my parents’ place), it was fun to watch my kids meet and play with their cousins for the first time, and enjoy meals and conversations with the whole family together outside around the picnic table. One particular highlight of that week was the opportunity to lead outdoor Sunday evening worship with my brother and sister, with my brother-in-law playing guitar. Growing up, we took singing together for granted, and having lived so far apart for so long, it was something I missed tremendously.

Leading worship with the siblings

As for me, it has been wonderful to be back here, not merely for a visit, but to settle for this chapter of life. I have loved returning to the wide open spaces and the fresh air. My allergies have eased up significantly, and I can go for days at a time without sneezing, whereas in Tokyo, it was rare for me to not have a violent sneezing fit at least once a day. Though I have been resting my leg due to a nasty scrape on my shin (inflicted, I think, while clearing blackberries), I have enjoyed running along the country roads, and am already considering how to set up a 600-meter running course on the property we will be moving to. I am relearning how to drive after five years, and working to regain confidence behind the wheel as it has been more than a decade since I drove on the freeway or in the busy streets of downtown Bellingham. My driving abilities are, in many respects, frozen in time from 2008, when I was 22 years old, right before I moved to Japan; I have some catching up to do.
Heading out in an '88 Chevy Silverado to conquer the blackberries

Loving the fresh air!

Wide open spaces...

We have deeply appreciated the prayers of our friends and family throughout the immigration process, in the hectic days and weeks leading up to our move, and in the month since we arrived in the US. We appreciate continued prayers as school/work starts in two weeks, as Tomomi learns to drive/as I regain confidence and competency behind the wheel, as we wait for the contractor to start working on our house so that we can move in, as we search for furniture and appliances, as we seek out opportunities for regular Japanese language education for our daughter, as we seek out daycare opportunities for our son, and as Tomomi continues to adjust to US culture and countryside culture. God has carried us thus far and blessed us, and we trust that He will continue to do so. For those of you on the other side of the ocean, we love and miss you. For those on this side of the ocean, we look forward to spending more time together!
In Christ,
Nate and family