A Journey of 6,764 miles still begins with…

the insane rush to get to the front steps.

I slept for a total of two hours the night before our trip to Japan.

My alarm clock buzzed loudly at five, and the adrenaline rush immediately kicked in. I didn’t even need to smell coffee to put my feet on the floor.

At some ungodly hour in the night, I had set all of the children’s outfits “down to the shoes” on each of their respective dresser tops. I had selected their most cozy sweatpants and made sure to include Pull-Ups in the stack. My thought was that it was better to pack an extra Pull-up in my carry-on than a backup outfit for each child. None of them consistently stay dry through the night yet, and I didn’t want to take such a risk.

After quickly getting ready myself, I woke up each child individually, grabbed their clothing pile, and helped them to get dressed in the bathroom. (This method ensured there was no fighting over the toilet and that the still-sleeping children, or their father, for that matter, weren’t roused before I was ready for them.)

As I went down the line, I handed each child a granola bar and a sippy cup and told them to go to the “Ready Zone” – the very worn blue oriental rug that serves as our play area in the living room. Yes, I called it the Ready Zone. Yes, I’m a freak when I’m pressed for time – but it works.

“You’re making me wear Pull-ups during the day?” complained Thomas, most annoyed. “And now you’re giving me a sippy cup?”

“I don’t care if you’re six years old,” I shot back. “We don’t have time for spills, and all your other clothes are packed – besides, even if you’re good at drinking, the little guys could knock over your cup or theirs!” I felt like I was making a case for seatbelt wearing based on the other drivers on the road. He bought it. The thought of someone spilling apple juice on his lap was enough to scare him into compliance.
Continue reading “A Journey of 6,764 miles still begins with…”

Different in Japan – An Evolving List

  • Shoes are removed at the front door
  • Windshield wipers both go in the same direction
  • Electric operated shower toilets – plugs into the wall, complete with button panel on the side of the toilet and on the wall. (Statistically, how many people get electrocuted on their shower toilets each year? Inquiring minds want to know…)
  • Japanese style toilets – on the floor – are really common (and not fun IMHO… have used them while 7 months pregnant before!) … but if you look hard in enough in public restrooms, there’s often a western-style toilet way in the back stall.
  • Everything is recycled – even fast food restaurants and subway trashcans have recycling slots (Or, at the bare minimum, “Combustible” and “Non-Combustible” (burnable/not burnable) (So easy to do – why don’t we have this in America?)
  • Vending machines everywhere, for all sorts of items; Hot and Cold beverages from the same machine
  • Driving on the left side – or all over the road and squeezing into little spaces to go around parked vehicles, as there is NO shoulder – also, drivers get really close to people, strollers, etc., and other cars – while traveling pretty fast. I’ll never get used to this!
  • Hot washcloths served just before dinner to wash hands
  • Washer/dryer in one machine (When installed, like the shower toilets, these too are sprinkled with dust from fairies wearing firemen hats – again, can we say “electrocution hazard?” )
  • Many women don’t wear makeup – even business women
  • Women wear stelleto heels like they’re sneakers, and there are shoe repair places at just about every subway stop!
  • I haven’t noticed many low-cut shirts (it’s noticeable when you’re used to western style clothes… don’t realize how normal it is to see cleavage in the US – but I have seen a lot of really short skirts… with knee-high boots, of course)
  • Cost is 2-3x for things compared to the US
  • Diapers are tri-folded in the bags vs. folded in half
  • Scrub first then bathe
  • Auto-fill tub from the kitchen
  • Hot water managed from the kitchen – on demand
  • All the cereal here seems to be some form of muesli or cornflakes
  • Peanut butter is hard to find – and costs about $5 for a tiny jar
  • Shrines and temples everywhere – Americans have to stretch their imaginations to understand the word “idol” or “false god” – not here!
  • Walk on the left side
  • The first day of spring is a national holiday
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    Ministering to Widows & Widowers

    Mom's of Grace

    The Mom’s of Grace web community (Check it out! It’s awesome!) has a thread called Encouraging Widows. This ministry has a special place in my heart. I’m not a widow, but I can relate to feeling lonely for my husband when he travels. I’ve found that this experience, though quite painful, has been a blessing in that it has taught me about trusting in God through loneliness and has given me insight into what this looks and feels like.

    I should also note that it was my mother in law who shared this tip with me, and who always has a handful of cards for every occasion in her Bible to send to people “for their encouragement.”

    Here’s an excerpt from my post:

    I’m not a widow, but I have a heart for ministering to widows. If anyone happens to click on this thread and thinks “I wish I had more time so I could minister to widows” let me encourage you with something small you can do that makes a big difference: Send them cards and letters! Even if you can’t physically visit with them, you can visit their mailbox!

    My friends who are widows/widowers (elderly all the way down to a 30 yr old mom of three!) tell me that their biggest hurt is loneliness. Writing to them lets them know you care and are their friend!! And, you can write them at 3am while you’re nursing a newborn – no one will ever know ;-)

    Initially, widows get many many sympathy cards – and then people don’t know how to relate to them.

    I like “Thinking of You” cards and “Have a happy day” type cards because it takes the focus off of suffering and puts it more on living each day – something to look forward to. You don’t have to just talk about death – talk about LIFE and how much you need them! Give them hope!

    Share happy memories you have shared with their spouse, rather than just saying “I’m sorry they’re gone.” “I was at the grocery store today and I bought a jar of Nutella. I remember the first time I had Nutella was at a ladies breakfast, when Mary brought it as a special treat. Every time I taste it, it reminds me of what a dear friend she was. The Lord blessed her with the gift of hospitality! I am so thankful for the memories I shared with her, and I wanted to let you know that I miss her and that I’m praying for you – will join our family for breakfast on Saturday so we can have Nutella and croissants together?”

    Thank them for being a part of your life (show them they are needed!):
    “It was so nice to see you at the community garage sale this weekend. I want you to know that we take time each day to pray for you and that we love you very much. The children are looking forward to seeing you at the craft fair next week – thanks for making a difference in their lives!”

    Remember weddings/birthdays/other anniversaries:
    “I saw on the calendar that today IS Phillips birthday. I wanted to let you know that I prayed for you this morning, as I know how much you miss him. I remember one year how you baked him a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, because it was his favorite. I want you to know how much that ministered to my heart. Your love for him really set an example for how I should be finding little ways to express love to my husband. Thank you very much for giving me this gift – by modeling this for myself and others to see. Celebrating Phillip’s life with you today! Love, ____.”

    Hope that these writing ideas encourage people in this important ministry!!

    James 1:26-29 (New American Standard Bible)
    If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

    Much love,
    Sarah Joy Albrecht

    Becky and Sarah < -- This photo is of me and my mother in law, Becky Albrecht, at Liz & Ben Mitchell's wedding.


    Quite simply, I didn’t feel it. We’re safe. I was on my way to church at the time.

    Apparently it was 6.9 magnitude quake that hit in central Japan that injured 200 people, killed one – a lady whose stone garden lantern fell on her, and created a small (6in deep) tsunami. Aftershocks are expected, so maybe we’ll get to feel one of those.

    Thanks for the calls and emails to check to see if we were alright!


    A few days before we left for Tokyo, a friend emailed and asked if I was ready for the trip. All of us – myself, my husband Tom, and our five children, ages six to six months, would be away from home for 27 days. I had only found when and for how long about two weeks prior to departure.

    Beyond passports, everything else had to be packed at last minute as we were wearing most of the clothes that we were bringing. It felt like someone had casually spited me by asking, “Do you have all your Christmas shopping done?” on Christmas Eve.

    “No. But, we’re going whether we’re ready or not,” I said.

    There’s no stopping Christmas.

    In the months prior to our trip, Tom had traveled so much that our children were getting emotionally distraught. He had been gone about one to two weeks out of every month since Leah was born in September.

    One night, after Tom’s being gone for many days, I awoke at about two o’clock in the morning to hear the sound of furniture being pushed around upstairs and my four year old daughter crying loudly. I grabbed my oval tortoiseshell glasses from my nightstand and stumbled out of bed. My heart raced. I didn’t know what to expect. Was someone in her room? Why was she crying? There was Tabitha, standing on top of her toy box, writing “Der Dad, I mis U Love Tab” in the breath marks on her window pane. I scooped her up gave her a big hug.

    “I just miss daddy so much!” she sobbed. She was having trouble catching her breath and was gasping in between each of her words, she was crying so hard.

    “Me too, Tab.”

    I carried her to her bed and sat on the edge, holding her on my lap several minutes. She buried her face in my nightshirt. Her tears and runny nose made her dark, shoulder length hair stick to her face. I kept trying to pull aside the strands without much luck.

    “Try to get a hold of yourself, honey. I know you’re really sad. Mommy’s really sad, too,” I said, trying to comfort her. “But let’s try to be brave. We don’t wake up the rest of the kids, okay?”

    She smeared away the tears with her little fists.

    “Okay, but can I sleep in your bed?” she asked . “Pleeeease?”

    Normally, I’m the kind of insensitive mom that flatly tells kids ‘No’ when they ask to sleep in my bed. On the rare occasion someone has a fever and lands themselves the coveted spot in mommy and daddy’s bed, I change into a most horrible, dysfunctional grouch by morning. The children know better than to turn mommy into this monster, and involuntary night terrors aside, they usually steer clear. I just can’t relax enough to sleep soundly. I’m always worried they’ll fall off or that we’ll all wake up in a puddle of pee. Often times, they don’t sleep anyway – they just lay awake and make comments about the shadows on my wall from the pine trees or they find it hilarious and impossible to control their laughter over the fact that they can smell daddy’s feet if they pull the covers over their heads. Then, fever or no fever, they are sent back to their own bed. With all of the five kids either having ear infections, strep throat or both in the past month, there had been a lot of fevers lately.

    But, tonight was different. I couldn’t say ‘No’ and – my excuse for being cramped was absent – in Japan, in fact.

    I pulled my olive green microsuede quilt up to her chin and snuggled up beside her. “So what made you think to write ‘Dear Dad I miss you’ on your window?

    Tab perked up a bit.

    “You know in the Fievel movie?”

    “American Tail, yeah…”

    “Well, Fievel could see the moon and his dad could see the moon, too,” she explained. “So, I wrote my message on the window because the moon was shining through and so dad should be able to get my message, right?”

    The tooth fairy isn’t real and daddy wasn’t reading her message.

    “Um, you know what? We can show dad your moon-message when he gets back in a few days,” I said. “We won’t wash that window when we clean your room, okay?”

    She hugged herself at the thought.

    “You know, Tab,” I said, “Even though we can’t see daddy right now, do you know can see both daddy AND your message AND you and me all at the same time?”


    “Yes. So we can ask God to take care of daddy while he is in Japan and to comfort daddy because I know daddy misses us to.” I took my daughter’s hands in mine and we prayed for Tom.

    For once Tabitha stayed dry through the night, and I admit, I was comforted to have her there, too.

    When Tom called the next day to see how I was doing, I wasn’t so brave. I was cleaning Tabitha’s room when the phone rang. I was staring at her message.

    “I’m a wreck,” I said. “We’re all wrecks, actually.” The tension in my voice was growing. “I had to comfort a depressed four year old last night and I spent $350 in pediatrician copays this week. They’re all still sick! Why are you even coming home? You leave for your next trip four days after you get here. You’ll still be lagged – you’ll be sleeping the whole time you’re home only to leave when you start to feel better. What’s the point? I’d be so much easier and less draining from the ups and downs if you’d just stay there”

    I really didn’t intend to hurt Tom. I had promised myself I’d never tell him not to come home, but here the words were coming out of my mouth. It hurt too much to lose him again so quickly, and this is how hurt expressed itself. I was not being gracious. I hated being this weak. I hated being dependent. I hated constantly feeling lonely, and then getting mad at myself for not being able to enjoy Tom when he was home – because I was afraid to let my guard down and then have to put it right back up again. As much as I loved hearing his voice, I dreaded the calls because it meant that I would go from being tough-Sarah-who-can-handle-anything to weepy-weak-sobbing-hurt-Sarah. I would need a hug that wasn’t due to arrive for another week. I knew I was supposed to trust God with my hurt and my emotions, so that I wouldn’t explode on the phone, yet again.

    “I’m working on it,” Tom said quietly.

    As I was going to bed that night, he called back. He had just woken up. “Do you think you’d be up for coming to Japan with all the kids? I have a month-long trip starting in March, and I have enough miles saved to get everyone’s tickets.”

    “Are you serious?”

    “Yeah. I am going to try to get an apartment for us to stay in instead of a hotel.”

    And so the planning began.

    When he got home, we had four days to put in the paperwork for Micah and Leah’s passports. We dropped off the three older children at Tom’s parents’ house and the rest of us went to the courthouse together. It’s a lot easier if both parents go when applying for children’s passports – otherwise, the absent parent has to fill out and notarize consent forms stating that their minor children can be taken out of the country.

    The ladies in the passport office were very nice. “So what color of hair should we put down here for Miss Leah?” one of them asked. Leah is bald.

    We paid nearly twice the amount as they would normally cost to get the passports expedited. They arrived exactly fourteen days later.

    Tom came home on our son Thomas’ sixth birthday – March 2nd. His flight was delayed a number of times due to the ice storm in Detroit. At about 4pm, Tom called to say his flight was canceled. At 4:15 he called back to say that, technically the plane had take off permission, but not landing permission and that the pilots had decided to take the risk. They were boarding the plane and he was getting on. It would be the last flight to leave Detroit before the whole airport was shut down.

    After missing two shuttles from the Philadelphia airport, Tom took the train from Philly to Thorndale. I had brought take-out Chinese food over to Tom’s parents’ house to celebrate both the birthday and the homecoming. I left the children there and drove ten minutes to the station. I waited for a while across the street in the gas station parking lot. There was no parking allowed on the side of the street of the westbound trains. I saw a westbound train pull up to the station – on the opposite side of the tracks. Apparently they were having switching trouble. I crossed the street and drove around to the parking lot behind the train station. There was Tom, carry his luggage, backpack, and laptop. I got out of my warm car into the freezing wind and ran to the bottom of the steps to greet him.

    “Hello Mr. Albrecht,” I said. “Can I help you with your luggage?”

    I threw his travel bags into the back of SUV. As soon as I turned around, Tom reached in for a kiss. I could feel the walls coming down, and I was okay. He was leaving again, only this time I was going with him.