08 August, 2022

Blogging from quarantine

Yep, I caught the dreaded COVID. That's not all that's been going on. It's been a huge 10 days since I last posted.

The lovely view out my bedroom window.

Sunday

We all went to the same church and the same service for the first time in several years. After morning tea at a local coffee shop, the rest of the day was spent hanging about at home, enjoying our proximity for what we thought would be the last time for perhaps a year. 

But after dinner we got an email saying that David and our youngest son's flight the next morning was cancelled and things got all topsy turvy (these stresses go straight to my gut). So, we hung about, trying to be calm and watching the Commonwealth Games, while David worked to sort out an alternative flight, which turned out to be just 26 hrs later. Then we needed to tidy up all the dominoes: accommodation, transport to the airport, PCR tests (yes, still required for entry into Japan), transport from the airport in Tokyo, notifying OMF etc.

Monday

David and and our son travelled in the morning to get a new PCR test because Japan's rule is it needs to be done 72 hrs prior to flying. But while they were on their way our Japan line manager let us know that there is a loophole for cancelled flights: 96 hrs. So, they got there, cancelled the test David had booked, applied for a refund, and came home.

We got a few more hours as a "five-some" as we ate dinner together again that evening.

My plans for the day had been: drive the guys to the airport at "crazy o-clock" then go "home" to clean and move to our next accommodation. None of that happened. It was also supposed to be my first day telecommuting to Japan for work. I hadn't anticipated being able to get much done if things had gone to plan. But instead of sitting around in limbo, I pulled out my computer and tried to get a sense of where things were at with my two teams, and answered some urgent emails. I'm glad I did, because the rest of the week didn't pan out as planned either!

Tuesday

The change of flights meant a change of airport. I had a shorter drive at "crazy o-clock" to get them to a local train station. However, the farewell left me quite distressed, it was hard to drive "home" alone when part of my heart was heading back to the place that really feels like home at the moment.

A couple of hours later, though, I had responsibilities. I took our middle son to the psychologist and together we received the results of her assessment over the previous three weeks. This has been an important part of our time in Brisbane and will hopefully help guide us as we move forward in the next 24 months. But it wasn't easy to do this without David to talk to (he was in the air by then).

Then we went back to our "home" of three weeks and finished packing up and cleaning. Never my favourite tasks!

We drove to our next lodging (just 10 minutes away), which is the home where our eldest son boarded for over three years. He came over and helped us settle in and was a good ice breaker.

Wednesday

I tried to get up and get some work done, but really struggled to focus. Getting back into my work after six weeks away is hard, but with so much disruption going on around me, it was even harder. But then I started to feel my chest tightening up.

After lunch we went to buy groceries for our breakfasts and lunches. My throat was sore and I started coughing. I also had a nasty headache. Not unusual, I've had headaches most days in the last few months, but I think this one was extra nasty.

I got a little more computer work done, and had a Zoom meeting with my Line manager.

Thursday and Friday and onwards

I woke up on Thursday knowing that my first stop after breakfast would be obtaining a rapid antigen test for COVID. And, you know the end of the story: it was positive.

While I haven't been desperately ill, I really didn't get much else done in terms of work on Thursday or Friday. Just a little bit of urgent chasing up of people, or delegating. Some of which was typed on my phone while lying in bed.

My experience of COVID infection has been indistinguishable from the way my body usually reacts to a bad cold. I know that is not true for everyone, but that is how it's been for me. Because I have chronic asthma it's hit my breathing hard, but I have meds that I've been able to use to keep that in check. I know it's going to take a while to get back to a normal level of energy and breathing.

It's been a bit strange doing this in someone else's home with very few responsibilities of my own. I've mostly kept to my own room, but have had to use the kitchen and shared bathroom. We've been eating joint dinners outside on the verandah at separate tables!

I'm thankful that this has come at a time when I had few plans that needed changing or cancelling. This hasn't disrupted travel plans either! And also that there were few things that others were relying on me to do. But also that I've been sufficiently well enough to take care of my own basic needs. I've had a clean, cosy, and private room to quarantine in. And a family living in the house with their own schedule that has given some structure to the day, even though I couldn't participate in much of it. They are also providing our dinners (and we'd shopped for food for other meals just before I went into quarantine). I'm even thankful for the government rules that tell me to stay put and recover in isolation. I can't ever remember feeling so guilt-free about staying in my room and "being lazy" for such a long period!

I'm also thankful for friendship that I've developed that haven't depended on physical proximity. And technology. Though I've been alone in my room, I've not been lonely. Indeed, for example, I had a fantastic 2 ½ hr video call with two close friends yesterday afternoon that was life-giving.

I'm in quarantine through to Thursday morning and hopefully will only have a lingering occasional asthmatic cough by then. I have typed this sitting up at a desk, and had a sufficiently clear head to do some editing work too! Indeed, I have spent a lot less time horizontal today, so it seems like this infection is on its way out.

I hope the next ten days are less dramatic!





30 July, 2022

Mt Coot-Tha botanical gardens meander

This week we've had beautiful weather here in Brisbane. And it's turned into a "week of parks". On Monday three of us spent a couple of hours at Mt Coot-Tha botanical gardens, a place we've driven past many, many times, but not gone in. It was spectacular. I've shared some photos at the end of this post.

On Friday we met my parents at Queens Park in Ipswich for a BBQ lunch, also a really lovely park, but one that's much older (159 years, according to a plaque I saw). The park also houses a free Australian native animal zoo that we enjoyed. It's the first time we've gone to a zoo in many years. It was a fun experience with these Aussie boys who've not spent much of their lives in Australia.

Today David and I spent several hours at a much newer park: Rocks Riverside Park. We were joined by two couples who have known us for many years. Great conversations.

The temperatures here have been around 20C in the middle of the day. Very comfortable. Alas David and our youngest son are about to return to Tokyo, where the temperatures are hot and humid day and night. I'm sad to see them go, but happy that I don't have to brace for that.

The next month is going to be weird. David and I have rarely been apart for so long, and in this case we'll both be single parents. I'm staying here and "telecommuting" to Japan from my desk. My middle son and I are also moving to our sixth bed for this trip on Monday. For the next four weeks we'll be staying with a family from our eldest son's church, incidentally, the same family he lived with for a few years. Later in the month we'll move one more time: this time to two separate places. Our son will stay with his brother for a couple of weeks and I'll stay with a friend and her family.

It's a very different look to our usual routine, so will take some adjusting to. On top of starting work again, I will have a few more appointments to attend with our middle son. These extra two weeks will also give me more time to hang out with my two older sons. Plus I plan to catch up with a few more friends that I haven't been able to see thus far. 

We'll see how it all works. The main idea is to give our anxious middle son a bit more time to experience Australian life, experience that we hope will help fuel his thoughts about the future. 

I am a little anxious about my return in September, because in addition to the uncertainty about international travel at this time, our visas expire only two days after we're planning to fly back. Worst-case scenarios are playing on my mind, especially if I awaken at 3 or 4am!

Trust in the Lord, that's what my close friends are reminding me to do. God who goes before us

    It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deut. 31:8 ESV)

Early this morning I was also silently repeating as much as I could remember of Psalm 23 to myself:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

    I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

But look at these photos from the Mt Coot-Tha botanical gardens. I've used a free app, PictureThis, on my phone to identify them accurately.
Japanese camellia

New Zealand cabbage tree

Hairpin banksia (native Australian)

Aloe vera

Coral tree (native to Brazil)

My companions in this two-hour stroll

Butterfly agave

Close up of the hairpin banksia flower

Crimson bottlebrush (native to Australia)

Cockatoos

Parrot's beak

Just my little phone camera: so I couldn't Zoom
in to the two kookaburras who were entertaining
us from the top of this sign. We've driven past
this sign so many times! It was odd to be on the other side of the wall.

Endemic to this part of Australia: bush turkey.

Grevillea (Red silky oak, a species of spider flowers, an Australian native)

Huge fern: silver tree (from New Zealand)

21 July, 2022

Food, awkward conversations, and trust

I've had time to think about a lot of things. Here are some of them:

Providing food for an itinerant family (on a budget)

As I explained in my last post, we've been travelling around Queensland in the last month, sometimes with our own kitchen and sometimes with family (and the presumption that they will organise meals). Planning and grocery shopping has moved to a slightly higher challenge level. I've mostly stuck with the simple options, but trying to keep things healthy means not every night can be pies, pizza, or sausage rolls. Not to mention that I just get bored too easily. 

But cooking dinners without a pantry means you're often missing those important extras like salt, vinegar, or flour—the things I think of as staples, that you buy once every few months, but not for a flying visit of a few weeks. And as one who is not only on a budget but is averse to waste, it's not easy to come up with good meals for hungry young men (not to mention David and me).

Here are some of the evening meals I've ended up making:

  • sausages and veggies
  • chicken wraps
  • bacon, eggs, and damper (like soda bread, it's quick wheat bread made with baking soda as a rising agent, not yeast)
  • dry rub (garlic flavour) on chicken drumsticks, with rice and veggies
  • BBQ (beef patties on bread rolls)
  • Japanese curry (roux bought in shops)
  • roast lamb
It's a mix of things that we enjoy about Australian food, plus some comfort food we're familiar with from home in Japan. It's worked fairly well, though I'm also dealing with the unfamiliar electric stove/hob. In Japan we use gas, and it's a quite a mental shift to go to electric again. Gas is just so fast! The stove top at our current abode is also complicated—I needed to pull out the instruction manual a couple of times! Plus, adjustments are needed due to the different types of equipment in a kitchen that's not my own, for example, where we are right now has a rice cooker (yay!) but no "rice" cup (180ml). Also there's no potato masher or big-sized tongs.

We're only in our own place until the end of this month. Then David and our youngest son go back to Japan. I'm here with our middle son for another six or so weeks, during which we'll be living with other people. That's going to provide different challenges, too, I'm sure. But at least they'll have a pantry with staples in it.

Spotting a missionary out of their “natural” habitat 

Have you ever spotted a missionary out of their "natural" habitat? We expect that missionaries are either in their country of service, doing what ever they do. Or if they are in their passport country, they will be doing home assignment. As we've met people during these last few weeks in Australia, we've answered questions that made us realise that our presence here is a surprise, or even a tad unsettling. We're not in Japan and nor are we doing deputation. "Here to see family" seems an acceptable answer, but "on holidays" is a bit strange, especially when we're in Brisbane (which isn't really a standard holiday destination). However, if someone is willing to stick around and ask good questions, I get to explain a little about the challenges we're facing in transitioning our middle son from high school in Japan to adult life in Australia and that this is one way that we're trying to help navigate that gap. 

I anticipate it's going to get more difficult to explain in August. Then I will be back at work, but will still be in Brisbane. I work from my home office in Tokyo, and will be doing the same here in Brisbane for a few weeks. That's definitely going to be a bit tricky to explain.

But I'm not the only missionary with our organisation working in Australia. Did you know that we have quite a lot of people who work here? Their work helps us stay in Japan, but also they help recruit others to join us. I imagine they often face this challenge in explaining their roles. I know that they struggle to find sufficient financial support (yes, they are supported by gifts from others, just like we are).

Trusting God

I'm also thinking about this. We've been given the gift of time away from work, but it's been harder to "be still" in the midst of that than I might have guessed. Being still and not being consumed with lots of to-dos means there's more time to think. And of course with that comes the thoughts about "bad things that could happen", especially surrounding our upcoming flights back to Japan. I woke up yesterday morning with that all running around in my head and it took a while to shake it off.

One tempting way to avoid getting stuck in that bad place is to fill up my schedule with lot of other things to entertain or distract. 

Another way is to focus on God's character and his all sufficiency. We're so tempted to rely on our own strength: "you've got this" is the classic. In reality we're very fragile and easily knocked over. There's so much that we simply don't have ultimately control over. Even if it looks like we do, things happen that show that that isn't truly the case.

I was reminded of Isaiah 40 yesterday, but also Job 38–42. Both passages remind us of how mighty God is, and how relatively small we are in comparison. Job said: 

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (42:2 NIV).

Paul wrote that the Lord said to him: “'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).

And: "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5 ESV).

And Jeremiah prayed: "Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you" (Jer. 32:17 ESV). God responded, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?" (vs 27).

The Psalmist wrote: "Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" (Ps. 42:11 ESV).

And these things are what I should be directing my thoughts to when I start dwelling on what could go wrong!

(Check out this article for more about El Shaddai, the all sufficient God.)

Meet David and Wendy

I've been thinking about this too, and our rough plan at this point is to take a picnic lunch to Rocks Riverside Park in Brisbane on Saturday 30th July, probably from around 11.30. If you're local and would like to join us, please do. To help locate us, I'll plan to wear my bright red jumper. We don't have any chairs, so we'll try to find a table somewhere.

13 July, 2022

Update from Australia

I've been off the air (here and also social media) for much of the last month. One reason for that is travel.

On June 19–20 we travelled 5,380 + 6,302 + 750 = 12,432 km by air. It's actually only about 7,100 km between Tokyo and Brisbane, but in June no airline was flying directly from Tokyo to Australia, so we had to fly via another country (in our case, Singapore) and another state (Sydney). In Sydney we hit congestion and baggage delays, so missed our connecting flight to Brisbane. A journey that could take less than 12 hours, door to door, took 35! We've done this journey a number of times in the last 21 years, but never has it taken so long. It was exhausting.

We spent the week after that in Brisbane recovering from the journey as well as taking care of some urgent things. Our eldest son, who we hadn't seen for three years, was going to meet us at the airport, but he came down with COVID the day before we arrived, so that reunion was delayed. We did drive over to see him later in the week and shared a brief afternoon tea in his yard (at an appropriate distance).

On the road in inland rural Queensland. It's been good to
see the land thriving. Last time we were here
it was in drought.

Then we gathered ourselves for a "tour" of Queensland. First a week's holiday by the beach with two special friends and their families; a few days with David's family, and then my parents (who live eight-hours drive apart). So, since 25 June we've travelled 360 + 390 + 690 + 120 = 1,560 km by car. A total of about 17 hours of journeying in the car, on four days. (That's just counting the drives between beds.) And we didn't leave the state, in fact we didn't even make it half-way up the coast of Queensland. This country is huge.

Here are some other photos from some of the places we've seen.

Brisbane River

First view of Brisbane after 35 hrs of travelling

Queensland beaches, even in winter, beat most Japanese beaches.

South of Yeppoon, central Queensland

Woodgate Beach

Our youngest with two dogs belonging to family.

This week we arrived back in Brisbane and laid our heads on our fifth beds in Australia since we arrived just over three weeks earlier. I've struggled with headaches most days since I've been in Australia (and in the days leading up to leaving Japan) and my body is showing other signs of strain. I'm now on antibiotics (for a non-respiratory infection), a common sign I've been travelling, a lot!

I've held off posting much on social media because just dealing with all of the above, plus trying to make the most of time with important people who we haven't seen for several years, has taken most of my daily strength. I've been trying hard to "be present" in the moments. That, of course, has meant that I've had little time alone, and little time to reflect. Writing is one way that I process my thoughts, and I've missed having time and energy to do it. I'm glad to be settled in one place now, in a self-contained place that's "just us" in Brisbane for a few weeks.

It's been good to spend precious time with family and close friends, to hear and discern how they are just now. I have two-and-a-half more weeks of personal leave, during which we've got a few important appointments. But we especially see these weeks as opportunities to help our younger two boys see life in Brisbane through eyes that are older (they were 13 and 16 last time we were here), and to think about what it will be like to move here in the middle of next year. Exactly how these weeks will shape up, we're not sure. That makes me feel a bit uneasy, but I'm trying to relinquish my desire to plan and be in control, and to wait and see how God works things out.

Those of you who live in the Brisbane area, please be patient with us. We are actually on leave from OMF! We aren't doing deputation, but we're thinking about an informal open invitation social gathering before David flies back to Tokyo, details haven't been worked out yet, though. Stay tuned.




13 June, 2022

Transition-itis


We've entered the last few days before we transition for a time to Australia. It's the seventh time we've done this as a family in the last 21 years, so we're not unfamiliar with "transitionitis" as I recently saw it called on Instagram @takingrouteblog. I've been a little bit in denial about this actually being a transition, because:

1. We're not going on home assignment, so in that regard it's like a longer holiday

2. It's a relatively short time to be away (two us will be back in six weeks) compared to the most of the longer trips we've made to Australia as a whole family. Only twice before have we travelled there as a family for less than six months, yep, we're not big travellers.

3. We're not changing jobs like we usually do for a home assignment, just pausing (or at least I am, a school teacher does this every year, so it's nothing strange for my husband).

4. We're not moving out of our house either (though that's only happened twice in 21 years prior to moving to Australia). So there's been no packing of boxes, limited sorting of stuff and cleaning, and minimal work to clear out the pantry. Yep, my image of a transition is pretty major!

But when I saw this Insta post yesterday, I realised that we do have some significant transition going on. The definition that they author somewhat tongue-in-cheek gave was: "Transitionitis is a very common ailment affecting hundreds of travelers each year. it is caused by the change in routine brought on by transition, and anxieties (often underlying) relating to the unknowns of a new location and losses associated with leaving the current location."

Several points come to mind out of this:

* Though we're not permanently transitioning to a new location, we'll be in a number of new locations in the coming weeks. My middle son and I will be in seven different houses in the next three months, none of them are familiar to us (even staying with our parents: they've all moved in the last couple of years). We're also thinking about the future on this trip: how will it look to transition both our youngest two out of our household in the next couple of years.

* There's always lots of anxiety surrounding international travel, even for people who aren't living with anxiety as a daily pathological reality. Things like: how will we cope travelling the busy trains with heavy suitcases, will there be unexpected bureaucratic barriers to be met when checking in at the airport, will we be able to sleep on the overnight flight? Though things have settled down a lot with regards to COVID, there are still extra hurdles in place (even just the thought of wearing a mask for 24 hrs is on my mind). I'm really glad we didn't have to travel earlier in this pandemic! We've also been going through a long saga all year with a passport renewal and visa renewal (which has a surprising number of flow-on effects, like when your health insurance expires and when you can apply for an international vaccination passport). We have reached a final hurdle this month that is yet to be completed: we haven't been able to collect our new residence cards with our new visas. It's out of our hands as we're waiting on notification that they're ready for us to collect. [Please pray!]

* And of course change in routine. Some people find that stimulating, but in our family, maintaining a fairly routine life is a way of managing overall stress and anxiety. Travel throws that all to the wind, of course. But the advantage we have here is that our kids are older. They understand what's going on and they have prior experience to help them anticipate what's about to happen.

I'm glad that we don't have many losses this time around, so we haven't had to make a lot of farewells, which only compounds the stress.

This is beside my bed. A good verse to
remember as I drift off to sleep each night.

The author listed a dozen symptoms of "transitionitis". I can recognise some of them from the past. Not so many this time as it's not such a major transition, but recently I've had:

  • mushy brain
  • inability to think straight—affecting my ability to edit this morning)
  • fatigue
  • turbulent emotions
  • a little bit of sleep deprivation—usually in the form of waking in the middle of the night and being unable to quickly drop back again. This happened at 4am today. My cure is to pick up my Kindle and read my fiction book. I dropped off quickly this morning with this strategy, only to wake again later when I rolled over and knocked my Kindle on the floor!
  • stomach issues—I've seen my body in much worse shape, but transition for me usually comes with feelings of hunger, at times I shouldn't be hungry; indigestion/reflux; and often an upset tummy on the day of travel.
  • often daily headaches: the result of muscle tension, loss of sleep, and later on, unfamiliar beds.
The only way to "fix" this is to move through the transition to the other side. So I'm getting to the point where I just want to go. But I am trying to be kind to myself, in part, by working hard to prepare beforehand, so there isn't a last-minute push to finish things. We've also been exercising and eating pretty well, and "chilling" in the evenings.

As I've said before, it's been three years since we've seen our eldest son in person. Because just before the pandemic, we let his dependent visa go and Japan hasn't been letting people on tourist visas in. To compound matters, getting to Australia has been very expensive for they had compulsory hotel quarantine for ever so long.

But in the last 18 months we've had weekly family video calls with him. It's been precious time, often two or three hours, of rambling conversation and online board games. And on Saturday we were able to sign off with the sweetest words: We'll hug you next Saturday at the airport!

02 June, 2022

Dwelling in the grey areas

My family are all into sci fi and fantasy. Oh, and action and super heroes. None of this is my natural bent. And I didn't grow up with brothers, or a dad who was into that kind of thing, so it's been challenging as my boys have grown older, because they clearly come alive when they're talking about these topics. If I've learned anything about parenting teenage boys, it's that seeking to engage with them in areas they're enthusiastic about is really important for maintaining a relationship with them that is beyond being just a basic caretaker. I've got no experience of parenting girls, but I suspect this is also helpful with them too. In our family, my husband's interests generally align with our boys, in terms of fictional genres, so it isn't so challenging for him as it is for me.

I've sat through many, many hours of movies that I would never have chosen. However, I'm now reaping the benefits of that, because I can have a semi-intelligent discussion with the boys on some of these topics!

I've learned, in my own way, to enjoy these movies. I look for the meta-story and themes, and let the details I don't understand just slide by. If I can, I try to pull together intelligent questions to ask the guys later (not during the movie!!!). If you like, I've learned to live with the grey of not understanding many of the details of the movies we've seen.

A cross-cultural worker, Linda, recently asked on her Facebook page about "ambiguity" and what comes to mind when her friends hear that word. My answer was:

Yesterday I had a conversation here in Tokyo with a fellow cross-cultural worker and we talked for quite a while about the "grey" we've learned to live with. Everything from not understanding everything around us in everyday life to spiritual matters (e.g. not being a member of the church we attend here and being a member of a church in our home country that we rarely attend).

These types of "grey" are an integral part of life in a foreign country. There's so much we don't understand about what's going on around us. I remember being stressed by a visitor we hosted from Australia in our early years who constantly asked "why" about what they saw around them. We simply didn't have many answers (and probably still don't).

This is one of 47 pieces of art
one from each prefecture of Japan.
I've included it here because not only is
it actually grey, but it's situated in the
grounds of a controversial shrine.
The Japanese equivalent of the
Australian War memorial. It's contro-
versial because it also enshrines
people convicted as war criminals and
where they are worshipped as deities.
Definitely a grey zone.

Can you see the parallels between these? Just as I've learned to live with not understanding a fair bit in some of the movies I watch with my boys, I've learned to live with not understanding a lot about Japan. I've also learned, in both areas, to focus on the "big picture" rather than get bogged down in the "small details". For example, before I came to Japan many of my friends were fairly similar to me in that they were mostly Australian and from a fairly narrow band of evangelical Christian background. Now I have friends and colleagues across a wide spectrum of nationalities and Christian beliefs and practices.

But living with the grey doesn't mean that I disengage my brain. I'm continuing to seek to understand and learn. And to live with the grey in a graceful manner. Learning when to speak and when to hold back and, as my cross-cultural friend, Linda said, "and trying not to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all."

We're preparing to head into a grey area that is going to be misunderstood by a lot of people. We're going to Australia for some holiday time and some "other leave" time. What we're doing is not a traditional home assignment, so we're not visiting groups to talk about Japan or what we do here. We're also not consciously seeking out friends to spend time with, it's too short a time to do much of that, though I'm sure that we will catch up with some close friends, or people who happen across our paths. 

The "other leave" is very murky and hard to explain, but especially relates to helping our sons with thinking about their futures. Those weeks are part of what we're calling "reconnaissance" for the next couple of years. I wrote a bit about that in this post in March. It will also contain things such as medical appointments and regular tests that we're due to have which are easier (or better) to do in Australia. Once we get there that murkiness is going to be even more in our faces as we try to explain (or decide how much we need to explain) to the people we encounter, that we're only in Australia for a limited period this time.

But my focus in these next couple of weeks is mostly preparing to put my work down: either handing on to others, or getting it to a place where I'm able to walk away from it for six weeks. I can't book many more appointments in Australia at this time. And we're praying: that our final piece of accommodation is able to be confirmed and that our Japanese visa extensions arrives before we leave.

26 May, 2022

Honshu OMF conference 2022

We got back from our two-night conference on Saturday feeling rather exhausted, or at least I did. It was an intense, but valuable three days away. There were lots and lots of conversations and I savoured the time to spend in person with people. At times it was surreal, the faces I've been seeing on screens for years came to life on real people, some of whom I'd never met before. I sidled up to one person I've had many an online meeting with and said, "Good to meet you!" She was surprised.

Of course for me, savouring in-person time comes at a cost. It took me till yesterday (Wednesday) to not feel blotto (not drunk, just wiped out) when the alarm went off in the morning. The post-event exhaustion for me is exacerbated by my mind replaying many of the conversations, especially after I turn the light out or awaken during the night. Does that happen to other people too?

I've been to many mission conferences in Asia over the last 21 years. Venue quality and food have varied, but this is the first time we've done it with restrictions on breathing on people. We had limitations on how long we could be in the dining room and plastic barriers down the middle of the tables. The latter made talking difficult, which is a pity, because meals are one place at a conference when you get to interact informally with your colleagues, a huge bonus for developing trust! We also had restrictions on bathing: we had to sign up for a 15 min slot in the Japanese communal bathroom (only showers, though, no baths). We had to do a COVID test before coming and wore masks the whole time. 

But despite the inconveniences, it was worth getting together. I'm in one of the more unusual support roles in our organisation in that I communicate one-on-one with many of our missionaries via email. Many of them entrust their valuable words to me to edit, often without ever having had a meaningful conversation with me. Meeting the person on the other end of the email is so valuable!

What did we do, aside from eat and bathe? We had several "worship times", singing, people spoke about the Bible and what God had to say to us about unity, and we discussed the talks in small groups. We had a fun evening and a prayer evening. There was an option to choose to attend a small "focus" group on a specific topic. I got to lead one about good writing and prayer letters. It was also the first time that our social media team had all been in the same place at the same time, so we gathered for a short time too. We had some free time on Thursday afternoon, where most people chose to either go to a local dam (that was me) or a local Japanese bath (onsen). The kids had their own program, which parents were so thankful for. Our boys are older and chose to stay home. That's the first time we've gone together to an overnight work event in Japan without at least one of our boys.

Here are some photos from our time away.

Meet Stella, the mascot of the
Iwate Prefectural Kennpoku Youth Outdoor Learning Center.

We travelled over 500 km to get to this conference. It was a joy to be told to catch
the shinkansen (bullet train), rather than drive. They are so much more convenient than planes: no security or baggage checks. And so much more spacious. I know I don't have long legs, but even I never have this much space between my knees and the seat in front of me in a plane.

We could see this sunset view from the second floor meeting room, though I took a stroll with a colleague in the car park to see if we could get a better view. However, the site was surrounded by trees, so it was hard to see much from the ground.

The center had a craft room where they can teach all sorts of crafts. I would have loved to have time in here making stuff! And of course Stella featured widely in their displays.

The center has their own ice rink! Yes, this is a part of the world that gets quite cold. It is therefore fitting that Stella is wearing ice skates.
I wish I'd had a zoom lens here, this tree was covered with wisteria. A very different sight to the highly crafted wisteria sites in the city.
This is an enormous flower larger than my hand. It's scent wasn't super pleasant, though. Officially the Magnolia tripetala, a different type of magnolia than we commonly see in Tokyo. The leaves and bud (seen below) are also huge.

The trip to the dam was interesting. This is Aoba Lake/Dam. While writing this post I discovered that it was named after a Japanese flute, which was a prized possession of a famous samurai, the story of this is told in a Japanese classic "The Tale of the Heike".
Some of my colleagues. 
We were surprised by this windmill and a lot of tulips. Most of them were past their best, but some were still gorgeous.
A turtle towing a boat?
Meals were pretty basic, Japanese style, and none of them piping hot. This was almost the only "Western" item we had in the six meals we ate there. A few years ago I wouldn't have coped very well with rice for breakfast, but it was okay. I made sure to bring my water bottle to each meal because the only drink offered was green tea, which I still haven't grown to enjoy.

Conference was a "big rock" in my calendar this first half of the year, although it seemed unlikely it would ever happen until even the night before when I got a negative COVID test! This week I've had to face up to the less-than-four-weeks before we fly to Australia. One of the things I'm working on is leaving my various roles and teams in good shape while I step aside for six weeks leave. That's unsettling and not at all easy as I juggle a lot of balls in each role. But thankfully I'm gradually making progress! 

Other things such as accommodation and transport, and key appointments are largely already organised, so at least I can relax on that front. Aside from our usual work we're mostly waiting and praying about: waiting on our visa renewal to come through (submitting our application to an immigration office was an early-morning start on Tuesday) and waiting on one final accommodation spot to be confirmed. And we're also praying that the time we spend there will be helpful in the long-term goal of transitioning our two youngest boys to Australia in the next couple of years.