Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cherry Blossom Festival

“Ogino-san dozo stagee ni.” My father, the first previous resident of Milstead to speak Japanese in a public arena, summoned his friend, Mr. Ogino, to the stage at Conyers Middle School. It was the second International Cherry Blossom Festival, and he was presenting an award to Mr. Ogino, the plant manager of Maxell.

The prior year, Maxell, a thriving Japanese business in our community, gave the city of Conyers dozens and dozens of cherry blossom trees. Conyers decided to line the Olde Town railroad tracks with them. This generous gift sparked the imaginations of business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce. Since the international business community was growing in Conyers, they decided to try an international festival. If Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and even Macon, Georgia, had a successful Cherry Blossom Festival, why couldn’t Conyers have one as well?

The first Cherry Blossom Festival in Conyers was quite successful. The community responded with excitement. They even flew in an expert in Kabuki theatre from Japan as an entertainment highlight.

When the second year rolled around, the leadership planned for a magical spring festival. Arrangements were made for a Japanese drum team to perform. Local community members signed up for an international fashion show. However, the highlight of the second annual Cherry Blossom Festival caused the greatest amount of excitement. On Saturday afternoon, families and friends would join together on the lower field at Conyers Middle School, the original site of the festival, for a kite-flying extravaganza.

How should we respond when we make plans and God has other ideas in mind?

I woke up that morning to my father’s loud pacing in the living room. As a seven-year-old kid, my Saturday morning meant watching Kids Incorporated on T.V. and eating a big bowl of Apple Jacks before my parents awoke. That morning, my parents woke up before me. My dad, the chairman of the Festival that year, kept saying, “How do you fly a kite in a gym?!”

Looking outside those pink gingham curtains in my bedroom, I saw the white wonderland that Southern children dream about each winter. Even though it was springtime, it had snowed the night before.

Everyone’s account of the snowstorm varies. Dad tells about moving everyone inside and trying to explain to the drummers why the crowd was a bit low. My grandmother remembers tying blossoms on trees that were not blooming due to the cold. I only remember asking my parents why they would not let me try to fly my kite in the snow.

Even when we plan and plan, sometimes we face circumstances that no one ever anticipates. God has other things in mind. The account of Job in the Bible tells about a man who had everything in life going for him. Suddenly, he lost his family and wealth, and then he fell victim to terrible illnesses. How can we explain events like this?

My friend, Chris, works for a relief organization in Sri Lanka. He tells of the horrible devastation and loss faced by that small, island nation. “They have seen terrible evil and amazing generosity since the tsunami,” he reports. Developers and relief organizations dream that Sri Lanka will stand stronger after the re-building is complete then they did the day before the tsunami attacked them.

God is the One who restores. He restores broken countries, wounded hearts, dashed dreams, and even snowed-out Cherry Blossom Festivals. How can He restore our hearts, our lives, and our community even today?

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