20 June, 2018

God's ways aren't our ways

Yesterday I wrote this: My next blog post might be about "God's amazing economy" in us being so dependent on others. It was one of the themes in an unusual sermon on Sunday and has come up in other conversations recently too. So stay tuned.

Today's been another crazy day: final decisions in magazine article proofreading, applying for rental properties in Australia (much more details than I thought would be necessary), two extra teenage boys in the house (sleep-over for our youngest), editing, scheduling for the latter half of the year, etc.

So it would be good to step back a moment (though that is hard...my head is full of housing possibilities—please pray that just the right house would be available for us) and think about the topic I proposed yesterday.

God's economy
I remember a conversation many years ago with a couple who were thinking of full-time ministry but shied away from the idea of other people supporting them. Their plan was to save up enough to support themselves. Since then, other things have happened that foiled that plan, but the original conversation remains in my mind. For many independent middle-class people it does seem like a strange way to live: dependent on others.
The true God doesn't live in houses like this.
This makes me sad.

"God's economy" is a phrase that a friend used the other day when we were talking about how her helping us practically (she's helping find a house, car, and furniture for us for Australia) has actually helped her. She has a lot of uncertainty in her life right now, so being able to focus on the practical details for us has been helpful to mentally. 

This article uses "God's economy" to mean a lack of social barriers, and especially those who have more sharing with those who have less. Which is a slightly different meaning to how my friend used it.

Whatever the precise definition of the phrase is, there is a sense that God goes about organising things not in the way we'd do it, but usually way better. Our friend agreed to help us many years ago because she wanted to and a long time before she knew that she'd be helped at this time by being able to help us.

I wrote a post about dependency three years ago, just after we returned to Japan last time. It is something that is a constant theme in the life of a missionary, whether it is negotiating these international moves, or relying on others' generosity for our income, or just getting around in daily life in our host country. But, as I wrote above, it is something of a foreign concept for many of our peers in Australia: middle class professionals.

In any case, it apparently is a weird way for us to bless others: by giving them a chance to serve us in our inability to carry all our own load. We are blessed to live this lifestyle, never feel tempted to pity us!

My words and thoughts are getting confusing. I'm sorry if this is hard to follow, but it's about all I can manage right now.

Isaiah 55:8-9 about sums it up:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

19 June, 2018

Today's adventures

I have a bunch of blog post ideas running around in my head but things are starting to crowd in on my time and alas my blog is one of the first things to get crowded out.

But I've got a few moments now, so I'll see what I can churn out.

Park ride
Today I went for my last park/coffee shop ride. It was a gorgeous day in the midst of a bunch of gloomy, cool days. I'm so glad I seized the opportunity.

Here are some photos. Such a sparkly day!

Then I rode to a favourite coffee shop and enjoyed a light lunch with a street-view.

I did some shopping (coffee to last till we leave, plus a couple of other needs).

Orthodontist adventure
Then I went back to the orthodontist that we visited last Friday to pay the balance of a bill. 

This was a classic culture-confusion problem. Kids in Japan get extra health coverage until they start high school, yes, even non-citizens. The "start high school" thing is, of course, linked into the Japanese system, not the international school system. So we didn't register that our middle son's coverage ran out on March 31 this year. Apparently, the dentist didn't either. I tried to present the now-expired card, and she pointed out that it had expired. She didn't realise why it had expired and neither did I. So I paid the mere 200 yen for the checkup (about $2.50) and promised to email a photo of the new card.

But when I got home David realised what had gone on and we had to 'fess up to having not paid the whole bill. He called them Friday afternoon and said I could come back this week. They said "call us before you do so we can have the bill ready." The orthodontist is quite close to this coffee shop, so it was natural to just do it when I rode down there, rather than taking an extra hour's round trip in the car. 

David rang them this morning. No worries. Except that after he left to do the car-parking paperwork chasing, they rang back on my phone and I missed the call. I stiffened my upper lip and called them back (I'm not fond of phone calls and even less in Japanese). I'm actually not really sure of what happened in that conversation, except that they ended with "matte imasu" (we're waiting for you). So I left.

I didn't get to the orthodontist until just after 1pm. Here, many medical/dental places have about two hours closed in the early afternoon and I walked into a waiting room that had the lights off and the door to the "surgery" closed. So I sat and waited a while to see what would happen (and save myself another hour's journey later in the week). After about 15 minutes someone came into the reception area and from there we quickly sorted things out. I paid the outstanding 2,170 yen (about $AU27).\

Back to my ride
I rode back to the park, via this intersection where I've been fascinated by this little shrine for many months. I've driven past it many times as we've gone back and forth from the orthodontist. 

I rode back through the park, took a few more photos.

And said "sayonara". This is the little path I use to enter the park (and exit today too). Can you see it? It's hard not to feel a little envious of the people living in these houses abutting the park!

On the way home I stopped at one set of lights. I was startled to see my image reflected back at me by a little roadside mirror placed to help someone get out of their driveway.

After I got home and had a shower, I coached the person taking over my blog-posting job to get an OMF Japan blog post up, at the same time as worked with David on speaking material for Australia. 

Phew! It's been quite a day.

And now I've run out of time. My next blog post might be about "God's amazing economy" in us being so dependent on others. It was one of the themes in an unusual sermon on Sunday and has come up in other conversations recently too. So stay tuned.

18 June, 2018

Gifts with meaning

This is my Nozomi jewellery. By the way, it is
much harder to photograph jewellery than I thought!
This morning a 5.9 earthquake hit Osaka. You will probably have heard about it on the news. That's 550km from here, so we didn't feel it, but a few memories have been dredged up as a result. Yes, we live in an earthquake-prone country and news like this no longer surprises us. 
There is quiet relief that it didn't happen here this time, but sadness for those who have/are suffering. However, Japan is built for earth quakes and a 5.9 isn't a major problem for most people or structures. The news I've seen says three have died and over 200 injured. Electricity is off in many places and trains are still not running, There haven been fires and some walls/roofs have fallen. But I'm only telling you what I've read, and you have probably heard it or read it yourself.

Unique projects
However, I've been wanting to write about two social enterprises that were birthed from the level 9 earthquake that happened north of here near Sendai in 2011. These enterprises are similar to things you may have seen from much poorer countries than Japan: a group that provides employment for women, especially, and sells their goods. It's unusual to see it in Japan because this is such a wealthy country and most people can find employment if they want to.

But that changed after the triple disaster when so many people died (more than 15,000) and many livelihoods were also taken away. You can read about how these enterprises came about here: Nozomi Project and here: Megumi Project.

Nozomi sell jewellery created from broken pottery, they started with pottery that was left-over from the huge tsunami. Megumi up-cycle vintage kimonos into various gorgeous products.

I own jewellery from both groups.
These are my earrings from Megumi.
Here are two excellent articles about them from the Ethical Unicorn website: Nozomi Project and Megumi Project.

Here is a TEDx talk about Megumi by one of the ladies instrumental in starting Megumi (and, incidentally, she's a friend of mine).

A couple of months ago I flirted with the idea of bringing back some of this jewellry and selling it to interested people. It didn't take me long to realise I would have to wade through regulations about importing goods and also GST (Goods and Sales Tax). Sorry, I don't have the headspace or time, nor the inclination or motivation to deal with all that!

However, if you'd like to order something in the next day or two, you could have it sent to us (email me for a postal address) and we could bring it back in our luggage (though do check with them that they can get it to us by June 29). However, the reality is that postage within Japan for the Nozomi products is US$3 and worldwide is US$5, so you wouldn't be saving much! I do encourage you to get something from one of these projects, they are beautiful, quality products and have a unique story. 

Nozomi's meaningful tag line is "Beauty in Brokenness". I sent a gift to a friend from them and included with her gift was this: 
Nozomi is a social enterprise empowering women through the creating of beautiful accessories from broken pottery. Locally, Nozomi is providing jobs and community to women adversely affected by the 2011 tsunami. Globally, Nozomi is sending hope-filled pieces across the world as visible reminders that there really is beauty in brokenness.
A gift with a meaning. 

15 June, 2018

Prove it!

Even Japanese police stations have cute mascots! This large poster
was on the front of the station we visited yesterday.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, we're doing a van shuffle this month. It's been nearly eight years since we acquired a vehicle and I'd forgotten how tricky that is in Tokyo.
The main complication is parking permission. If you visit this city, it's pretty obvious that there isn't much spare space. You can't just park an extra vehicle on the footpath in front of your house, or on a driveway, or even on the road in front of your house. To regulate this space problem, the police and landlords have gotten involved. In order to get a new car we've had to: 

1. Get proof we have sufficient parking space, this from the owner of the parking space, i.e. our landlord who works through a downtown real estate agent. By the time David got the forms for this, filled them out, and mailed them to the real estate office, this took well over a week to get done.

Part of the parking application where David drew a nice map of our
carport and the road.
2. Fill out a police parking application, which included the stamped Proof of Parking certificate from the "owner".  It also included having to draw a map of the space, with measurements included.
3. Take to a specific police station, all the above we took to the station yesterday, it was a nice 20 minute ride (faster than train, bus, or car). They will come and check that we've been accurate in our measurements and we can collect the permission from them next Tuesday.

Front of the police station. Typically, there was more bike-parking
than car parking. Just two cars and about a dozen bikes.
4. Inspection Registration Office: All the above, plus some other papers from the former owner needs to be taken to the (a good hour drive from here). David's going to meet our colleague (current-soon-to-be-former owner of the car) at the Registration Office. As he's in Yokohama, it is quite a long journey for him, the office is south of us in the western half of Tokyo.
All paper, nothing online. This nation is such a paradox of technological and "ancient" ways.

What I'm not sure about is that I don't think we've had to prove that we are getting rid of the car that's currently parked in this space! I don't know how that works, maybe it was part of the parking application that David filled in?

We're also part of the process with our current car, though on the other side: David will have to make a second journey to the Inspection Registration Office to make the exchange of ownership legal there too.

All this kind of makes the exchange of money that will happen in both situations seem like a minor affair!

I'm very thankful for a husband who is pretty good at these bureaucratic things in Japanese.

14 June, 2018

Gift wrapping in Japan

I don't do it very often, but occasionally, when I buy something in Japan, I ask for it to be gift wrapped as a present. Obviously not at usual check-out counter at the grocery store, but at many shops have this option and don't show any surprise at the request.
At an import shop yesterday I bought two small presents for my language exchange partners. I said they were presents and asked if they could be wrapped separately. The lady didn't bat an eyelid. She gave me a choice of wrapping and bag and then unhurriedly wrapped them beautifully. It took her a few minutes. 
She put the presents in a bag and asked if I wanted two extra bags to put the presents for my friends in. It is very common here to give something to someone in a bag or container of some sort (see a short post about this I wrote here). Just on Sunday a friend returned a book to me, she'd put it in a (reused) paper bag similar to the one in the photo.

Gift-giving is a precise art in Japan and there are many rules (see this short article for a glimpse). I'm not expert at all, in fact I'm very bad at it. The occasion in this case was that I'm going away for six months and I meet with these ladies regularly to have English and Japanese conversation practise. I was glad to give them a small token of my appreciation for their friendship and help.

12 June, 2018

Random (interesting) photos from recent days

Here are a few somewhat random phone-photos from my life recently. Yes, a bit of cheat-post, but they are about my "on the edge of ordinary" life!

Here is a place I'd like to ride to next year. It's the park we were in on Saturday (see this post) farewelling friends. It's only a bit over 7km from here, so quite doable ride (if I can get my navigation working well enough). It's called Shakuji Park and has a long-thin lake as a main feature.

The streets near the park are a bit upper-class looking. It's typical in Tokyo to see people walking on the road.

Random! This is looking through our front gate. It's been a bit damp here these last few days.

Outside my local grocery store this morning. I'll miss riding here twice a week when we're in Australia. It's a peaceful place to shop and very often there's more bikes than cars outside.

The escape route at the gym I've been frequenting. Makes you almost want to create an emergency, just so you can try it out! Though I imagine it it quite dirty.

It's hydrangea season in Japan. This was the view from our second floor down to the garden behind our house a couple of weeks ago. I love the colours! i love it that I can see them from my work-station, dining, and lounge rooms. (Close-up photo on this post.)

Continuing with the random photos, I met a couple of ladies for Bible study about 10 days ago at Krispy Kreme in Shibuya. We were fascinated by this sight as we waited in line.

This is close to the above mentioned grocery store. A path along one of our local rivers. A gazebo here has fallen into disrepair and the solution was not to fix it, but to encase it in a green fence. I guess it's awaiting funds to fix or demolish it?

Our creative youngest found a cute bookmark like this in a book a few weeks ago and set about figuring out how to copy it. He then went on to make 30 of them for a fundraiser at school last week.

Before that, I scored my own personalised bookmark. Isn't it cute?

Strangely, there has been mangoes in our local grocery store. This isn't common—the store is small and a no-frills shop, so fancy fruit isn't common. David bought me one as he knows they are my favourite fruit, but alas it was quite crunchy, even after being left for many days. I'm looking forward to splurging on mangoes in Australia!

10 June, 2018

Hump week

I feel as though this last week was a "hump" week for me, as in, "we're over a hump". Briefly, here's why:

A pretty amazing Wisteria vine, propped up like a tree.
We sat under here over lunch on Saturday with friends
who are leaving Japan, probably permanently.
🌀 I finished the last of the OMF Japan social media posts I am responsible for, now I'm handing it over to others. 
🌀 I finally got beyond the starting line on a big project for our time in Australia: a photo album about our last three years. 
🌀 School is practically over, only 1.5 days left and goodbyes have begun. 
🌀 My larder is starting to look emptier!
🌀 We've heard that, though we don't yet have a house to move into, that's in hand and we've been promised enough furniture to make it livable. 
🌀 Someone has promised us an eight-seater van that sounds like it's in great condition. Very similar to what we currently drive, but considerably younger. 

It all adds up and I feel like we might glimpse a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel soon. David finishes work on Friday (officially) and he has a number of things to do for us, including dealing with car ownership, banks, and other practical details to deal with related to things like internet and phones. 

It feels like we're starting to get to the end of trying to do our usual lives here, as well as manage planning for our transition, as well as preparing for our ministry and lives in Australia. Phew!

On to the next week (third last). Praying we don't lose momentum now!