20 July, 2018

Our house in Australia

It's now been about a week and a half since we moved into a rental house in Brisbane (actually Ipswich, but if you're not an Aussie, you won't know that that is the city just to the west of Brisbane).

We've made a lot of progress and it's starting to feel like ours. We really appreciate all those who cleaned the place, collected and moved in furniture borrowed from others, and moved in our own stuff too (we'd stored mostly sentimental things as well as linen and kitchen stuff, but not furniture). There's nothing like living in a place, however, for helping you to figure out where to put things so that the household runs smoothly and works for your family.

One thing we've done in the four places that we've lived in Australia since moving to Japan in 2000, was put up our pictures on the wall, not many, but some quite significant.

This one of Uluru, an iconic Australian sight, was bought by my husband before we got married and long before we actually visited this remote spot in central Australia. The picture is large and heavy, but does a great job of brightening up a house that's mostly white.

I can't remember where this little guy came from, but I like him very much, and again he breaks up the white. I especially like this position at the end of the short hall to our bedrooms.

This one has a lot of sentimental value. It was my bouquet at our wedding. It looked more spectacular in real life (more red, less gold), but I'm really glad for this gorgeous keepsake that we've had up in every home we've lived together in in Australia.

Here it is, positioned to be seen as you walk into our bedroom.

And a few other sights of our home: the view out our bedroom window. Living here, you can take for granted the gorgeous blue skies we get so often. But when you've lived in a place where blue like this is very rare, it is an absolute treat! Not to mention the gum trees (practically) in our backyard.

We've set up this space with practical goals: notices to be pinned up, recharging stations, keys, library books, games etc. I'm not quite sure what will go on the white board yet. We've got another white board on the fridge that I'm keeping updated with "What's coming up" so as to help with anxiety about future events, not to mention communication within the family (fridges are great places to communicate with teens!). The kitchen is working well too. I'm loving so much bench space!

This was a great step forward this week too. Getting our fourth bedroom into shape as an office, not just a place to dump extra boxes. We've been working on getting our presentation material into shape. Sunday is our first public engagement. This is a cosy place to work, and there's a window right next to my desk where I can see our gum tree in the front yard. 

I'm so thankful for this quiet place to call home for the next six months. It's got several features that I've rarely enjoyed in my adult life: an ensuite, a walk-in-robe, a dishwasher, a kitchen with a lot of bench space, a double-car garage with a remote control door, and a separate-from-the-bathroom yet inside laundry. Oh, a backyard too, but not too big a backyard (last time we had a huge backyard that was hard to take care of).

We have phones, and internet too. So we're all set up, really quickly.

Just thankful. Especially thankful that we can be settled so quickly, that that wouldn't have been possible without some very key people here who worked hard on our behalf before we even left Japan.

12 July, 2018

Unexpected changes

It's been over a week since I posted here and a lot has happened. Instead of listing all that out for you, I'm going to give you a story that might answer some questions, or maybe will produce extra questions.

I'm typing this in a library that doesn't look like a library (we're still waiting on internet at home). It should be a familiar space—it was our local library for the last two times we were back in Australia. One of the hardest things about coming back to Australia is finding that things you thought would be the same as you remember them, have changed, and we're finding this one quite unsettling.

The area that we've moved into is similar to where we've lived before: in 2009/2010, and 2014/2015. It's an older area that is rapidly expanding on the edges. I vaguely knew, through social media, that there were library changes, with a new library opening up in one of the newly developed areas, but I didn't know what those changes looked like.

I now know this familiar library-in-a-park has turned into a place that looks more like a bookshop. The decor is black and grey, the space we can use has more than halved, and there is no sign of Dewy Decimals. Most disturbingly, there are very few books here. The ones that are here are on free-standing bookshelves with little backboards amongst the books announcing things like "Pop science", "Award winning", and "War".

It's great if you're just looking for something to catch your eye, but if you're searching for a specific book or topic, you'd be better off staying at home and looking up the online catalogue and reserving the book you want. I'm very much in favour of online catalogues, but I do feel a little short-changed here, like the comfortable social experience of wandering around in a library has been pulled out from underneath me.

We woke up this morning in our newly rented house, the fourth morning in a row that we've done so. It's getting to be a familiar place. We know where many daily things are, we've had a few showers, and the washing machine has done some loads. I've been able to comfortably cook a couple of evening meals there, and we have all we need to basically function, physically. 

But it takes longer to feel "at home". Outside of the house we feel a bit like we're in a foreign country, like strangers looking on. Of course we blend in better than we do in Japan, so it isn't easy for others to see that we're feeling a bit unsteady on our feet.

Starting work?
One question we're fielding is: "When are you starting work?" Well, I guess in a strange way, we've already started work. Work on home assignment is a multi-faceted thing that doesn't have clear boundaries. We've already caught up with more than half a dozen friends/supporters. How do you define that: work or pleasure? It's part of the purpose of home assignment, but we'd never like any of our friends to think that catching up with them was work-only. I've been answering email and dealing with work-related editing/magazine management stuff online, though much less often than usual as we don't have wifi at home, other than via our phones.

Other work-related things we're doing in these two and a half weeks between arriving in Australia and having our first official "appearance" at an event includes medicals and debriefing with OMF and psychologists.

Stepping into the library this afternoon was disturbing and we struggled to hold back our exclamations about the changes. One boy struggled to hold in his anger. But for me, at least, one short exchange helped. 

The librarian found us blundering around and asked if she could help. I explained that we'd been away and were struggling to take in the changes. She explained what was going on and then offered to change our membership details. As she changed our details, she vaguely remembered us, remembered this family of three boys who usually live in Japan who were here before.

That made it feel like I had come home, at least in a small way. That I could be something of a local here, even if temporarily.

04 July, 2018

My God is my rock

Hi from the other side of the ocean. We've been in Sydney, Australia since Monday morning. That makes it about 60 hours. 

See the last few paragraphs of the post for the reference to this.
Actually we arrived quite exhausted. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were very hot and humid, as well as physically and emotionally exhausting. On Friday and Saturday we finished up packing and cleaning our house, on Saturday I picked up our youngest son from camp about 1½ hrs west of our house by car and we travelled—with some of our luggage—to our mission's guest home (about 1½ hrs on trains).  

On Sunday we dealt with some final details, some of which were confusing and difficult to figure out, including a miscalculation on our luggage amount. During all this time we were also dealing with ongoing discussion about where we were going to live in Brisbane/Ipswich from July 8, not to mention boys who weren't enjoying the upheaval. There wasn't much rest. I was fighting mentally to stay away from negative and repetitive thoughts about practical details and some relationships.

Late on Sunday afternoon we travelled another hour by train to the airport, eventually getting on the plane at about 9.30, but not taking off until midnight due to some fault they were working on before we could take off.

The good thing about getting to the plane completely spent was that I slept better than usual on an overnight flight. Nothing as good as a horizontal sleep, but not too bad. I saw a fun Australian movie—BBQ—and some episodes of an intriguing TV series—Speechless.

Monday we landed in Sydney, made our way through customs and immigration with few issues, and eventually were reunited with our eldest son. It was a little anti-climatic as a reunion because so many other things were going on at the same time, not to mention that we were exhausted and not everyone was coping so well (one boy didn't sleep at all on the plane). Thankfully we were able to get to our holiday accomodation quickly and crashed.

On the journey from the airport I received a phone call from our friend working on housing to say that one of our housing applications had been successful. Great relief ensued! Followed by confusion later about the proper procedure that had to be followed to make it a sure thing. We're still waiting on a lease to sign, but keep getting assurances from the agent that it's proceeding forward, with a goal of the key being picked up on Friday morning, so surely tomorrow we'll see the lease.

Tuesday (seems like a long time ago, but just yesterday) we caught trains—a challenge in itself in a strange city—to meet an old friend of David's for lunch and then spent the afternoon at a large shopping centre. David got a phone and we sat at a coffee shop for a few hours while he got it functioning and then we went to see a movie (knowing that this was one familiar thing that we could do as a family that everyone was happy about).

Wednesday (today!) we decided to keep it low-key. We slept in and the boys have pretty much stayed at home. David and I met another old friend of his (and support of ours) for coffee, and bought a few more essentials and something for dinner.

Tomorrow we get our "tourist" hats on and head to the Opera House and meet some more friends who are heading to the mission field soon.

These few words can't convey the emotions that have run strongly through this all. Landing in Australia after being away for years is never easy. I always feel a little raw. One of our boys walked around staring at the ground yesterday much of the day. He was feeling the uncomfortableness of being in a new environment. He was worried about being left behind when we walked too fast, but as a teenager, also didn't want us to hold his hand. Challenging. Parenting through these changes is hard.

On Saturday, when I went to pick up my son, I took half an hour to walk down to the nearby river. It is gorgeous, I've been there before, and I knew I needed a moment in the midst of the madness to appreciate God's creation. I loved seeing this big rock in the middle of the rapidly moving water. It reminded me of how King David referred to God as his rock several times in the Bible. Here's one:
Oh, I must find rest in God only, because my hope comes from him! Only God is my rock and my salvation— my stronghold!—I will not be shaken. My deliverance and glory depend on God. God is my strong rock. My refuge is in God. All you people: Trust in him at all times! Pour out your hearts before him! God is our refuge! Selah
Psalm 62:5-8
Such comfort in the midst of upheaval.

That's enough for now. Thank you for your prayers! 

29 June, 2018

Snapshot: an exception?

The other day I went to the doctor. The process at our doctor is like this:

1. Turn up and turn in your "membership" card and health insurance card at the desk.
Here they are: dad loaded them up on their bike: one
on the front, one on the back, and walked them
to the pharmacy, just a few shops down the road.
2. Wait
3. Get called for triage with a nurse.
4. Wait
5. Get called to wait down the corridor outside the doctor.
6. See the doctor.
7. Wait
8. Get called to pay your bill and get your script.
9. Walk down the road to the pharmacy to get your medicine.
10. Hand in your script at the pharmacy and medicine record book.
11. Wait
12. Receive medicine and instructions
13. Pay

It's very predictable. Especially when you're just picking up routine medication (as I was).

There's a lot of waiting time, but that does depend on how many other people turned up before you. On Tuesday it was busy, but not excessively, and there were two doctors working, so I got through steps 1 to 8 in about an hour. I then broke the pattern for a couple of reasons, and came back later for steps 10 to 13.

Just before I got there, a dad had arrived on his own with two little boys, about 1 and 3. I know it was just before me, because I followed him through all these steps, just behind them. I love people watching in situations like these and this trio was fun. 

Dads on their own with little kids is not a common sight in Japan, though it is increasing. I love it when I see it, because they're breaking stereotypes.

This dad was doing a fantastic job. He had everything down: entertainment (reading animatedly to them), conversation (talking with them, answering questions, pointing out the trains out the window—our doctor's waiting room has a window where you can see trains just across the street), and shoes (shoes in Japan don't go on seats, so parents have to take them off little ones who want to climb).

Towards the end the older one started jumping, despite his dad's firm direction not to. And the inevitable happened: he jumped on a low seat and fell off onto his head. Dad was right there, grabbed him and comforted him. They were at step 7, but then got called to pay. This guy stood up with the screaming three year old on one hip, picked up the younger boy, and collected his script, while holding them both.

I came away entertained and encouraged. Of course I don't know what this family's backstory is, but it was great to see him functioning as a great caregiver for two young boys. Hopefully these two will grow up knowing their dad (too many Japanese young people hardly ever see their dads as their dads work very long hours).

28 June, 2018

Home or not

Notes that two different friends gave us yesterday. Both from people
we didn't know when we came back three years ago.
Where is home? 

That's a good question and one that keeps coming back at people like us.

The best I can say is that we have two homes. We have, now, roots in two places. Different roots, but roots nonetheless.

Consider what I've done this week:

1. I went to the doctor and got asthma medication that will probably last me through the whole of our six months away. Yes, I could get this medication in Australia. But probably it is more expensive there, so I decided to get it here and avoid the hassle of going to the doctor there for that. Our doctor here is about a kilometer from our house and an easy five minute ride. The errand was done in just over an hour, including travel. Our doctor in Australia is more than 20 minutes drive (including an expressway) from where we'll be living.

2. I got a haircut. Again, something I could do in Australia, but I did it here because again it's convenient and what I know. Also cheap (under AU$20). 

Our free "shop".
3. Yesterday we had a see-you-later party. It doubled as a way to get rid of a bunch of food stuffs that we'd not managed to use up. No one who came, came primarily for the giveaways, though, they came to see us. We had 14 adults, 9 kids, and 2 babies come over the course of the afternoon. They all wanted to see us! But most took our food with them too. All of them are expats like us and have been where we are multiple times. There is community in that shared experience.

4. I put roughly 2/5 of my wardrobe into a suitcase this morning. Not all of it.

5. I rode home along our city's rivers this afternoon (after my haircut). Saying goodbye in my heart all the way.

Our corner of Tokyo is particularly beautiful. I ride along our rivers as often as I can
while going about my life. This afternoon I rode here, probably for the last time
for six months. Just gorgeous. Those trees lining the side of the river are Cherry Blossoms
with their summer clothes on.
Considering the above, does it sound like Australia is totally home for us? I don't think so. We definitely have a home here.

But Australia is also home. Consider the things on our to do list (no particular order):

1. Have as many BBQs as possible.
2. See as many good friends as we can reasonably do so.
3. Spend time with family.
4. Spend time at our home church.
5. See a live cricket match.
6. Go to a Sons of Korah concert.
7. Have a hot Christmas.

And even (for me):

  • Eat mangoes.
  • Buy new underwear (yep, haven't managed to integrate into Japan that much yet, sorry for the TMI).

I'm sure there are many others.

Yep, Australia is home to us too. Part of the ever present tension in our lives is that we can never be in both places at the same time. We always have to be absent from one (and all the people who go with that place). So our hearts aren't just full of anticipation at going to Australia, they have corners of sadness at leaving our home here too.
This is where the two rivers that slice through our city (Higashikurume), join together—just down the road from us.
David and I often ride over that bridge on our way home from church.
Two more sleeps and we will farewell this home-corner of Tokyo. One more sleep after that and we will farewell Japan, but just temporarily.

26 June, 2018

Respectable, right?*

I've read this book over the last month. It's a good one. Not quite as scary as the subtitle suggests, but definitely worth mulling over. I tried to take my time reading it, but it was actually quite an easy book in terms of reading and comprehending.

The author, Jerry Bridges, spends quite a bit of time at the start laying groundwork: how bad is sin and how we're all affected deeper than we usually imagine. He also is careful to emphasise the power of the Holy Spirit and how we should deal with sin. And each chapter points us to God, not just the depravity of ourselves.

Bridges admits that some sins are more serious than others, for example, "I would rather be guilty of a lustful look than of adultery". But, "the truth is, all sin is serious because all sin is a breaking of God's law." p20

Good news
The good news that he spends a whole chapter on, is that we are forgiven through the death of Jesus on the cross, if, when faced by our sin we want to "fall on [our] knees before God in repentance and contrition over the sins [we] have tolerated in [our lives]" p30

"To the extent that I grasp, in the depth of my being, this great truth of God's forgiveness of my sin through Christ, I will be freed up to honestly and humbly face the particular manifestations of sin in my life. That's why it is so helpful to affirm each day with John Newton that "I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior."

That was good to keep in mind as he then moved onto writing about specific sin, how they look, how they are wrong, and what we can do about them. 

For example, anxiety. This is something most of us struggle with to one degree or another. It was particularly relevant to me as we headed into another big transition: going to Australia for six months. 

How is anxiety a sin? Actually we are told not to be anxious, and not to fear, many times in the Bible. Why is it a sin? Because it is distrust of God. If we give way to anxiety, we're believing that God won't take care of us. It's also not accepting that God orchestrates everything, "providence" is the word the author uses. God's in control and anxiety is not believing that. But it's also important to realise that, this side of heaven, we won't be free of sin. So being anxious about being anxious is not really helpful!

Here is a passage I found particularly clarifying. It related especially to the sins of discontentment  anxiety, and frustration:
The importance of a firm belief in the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of God in all the circumstances of our lives. Whether those circumstances are sohrt-term or long-term, our ability to respond to them in a God-honoring and God-pleasing manner depends on our ability and willingness to bring these truths to bear on them. And we must do this by faith; that is, we must believe that the Bible's teaching about these attributes really is true and that God has brought or allowed these difficult circumstances in our lives for his glory and our ultimate good. p76
So Bridges says we should "ask God to give [us] faith to believe that his providential will for [us] in these circumstances comes to [us] from his infinite wisdom and goodness and is ultimately intended for [our] good. And then ask God to give [us] a heart that is submissive to his providential will when it is contrary to [our] own plans." 'p 67

No magic cure
I find that helpful. This isn't a magic cure. None of the content of the book really was new content for me. But, like the Awe book I read last year, it is restating old truths I've known a long time. Truths that I'm often not living completely true to, though I know them. I need to continue to ask God to give me a humble heart, a heart honest enough to admit the subtle sins that lurk, largely unseen to others: judgmentalism, worldliness, frustration, selfishness, pride, impatience, jealousy, envy, etc.

So I say to myself again: "I am a great sinner, but I have a great Saviour!"

* This is the second of three assignments I've completed from the workshop I went to in April. I chose to read this book and write a reflection on it. If someone wants to put their hand up as the person I "shared it with" (this is a requirement of the assignment), and even mention it over coffee sometimes, or in an email/text discussion, that would be fantastic.
The first assignment I did in three posts in May: 1, 2, & 3.

25 June, 2018

Japanese sport for kids

Here's something I whipped up over the weekend. Enjoy, and don't forget to ask if you'd like a better copy, or to be put on our mailing list.