24 May, 2018

Setting up the camera: phase I (up till I was about 20)

In April I went to an OMF training week. I wrote a little about it here. One of the things we had to do was develop a timeline of our life, using a specific format. It was designed to help us explore how God has worked in our life over the years and guided us to where we are now. It was an interesting experience, if just a little frustrating at times as I tried to rethink about my life in a way that fitted the format. 

In any case, one of the unique parts of these OMF courses is that at the end we have to do three assignments that we decide on ourselves. They're not supposed to be large, but are a way to help us cement something of what we've learned in our hearts a little deeper. It is all too easy to go to a course or workshop or conference and come away with little that's changed, so this is a way to combat that.

In the process of creating the timeline in April, I wrote three draft blog posts. Writing things down is a good way for me to process things and after nine years of writing blog posts it was a very familiar way for me to work through this.

So, one of the assignments I decided on was to edit those three posts and share them with you. 

One of the conditions of doing these assignments is that they are to be shared with someone. Sharing isn't a big deal for me, if I'm using this format . . . although for this one I'm supposed to discuss what I've written with someone, so if one of you is interested in talking with me about these three posts, do let me know.

Here is the first of three posts: it covers the first twenty or so years of my life, and is, alas, a little long. Each phase is divided into sub-phases as you'll see below.

Sub-phase A. Grew up in the church (1973-1990)
This verse haunted me as I was growing up: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48 NIV). I was born into a Christian family and have been at church every Sunday for most of my life. 


An early school photo.
My family was stable and loving. I was (and still am) the eldest of three girls. I don't remember a time when I didn't know about and believe in God and that Jesus died for me. The church we attended was like an extended family. We saw our church friends multiple times in the week. Us girls (mum was the pianist) were in the church's Junior Choir that practiced on Wednesday afternoons and often there were events on Saturday. Sunday was almost an all-day event, with Sunday school and church in the morning, and sometimes a shared lunch. Then we went back for church in the evening.

At school I achieved highly academically and was also fairly sporty. My involvement in sport dropped off in high school as I committed myself more to music: learning the piano and being a part of the school band with the flute, though I knew that I wasn't a gifted musician and also no "genius" academically. I did learn to work hard, though. I wasn't a popular kid, and had hardly any good friends at school as a teen, but was content enough with my church "family".

No, my life was not perfect, but I knew I'd been "given much". 

I don't remember when I became a Christian. As a teen I questioned if I was, because I didn't have one of those "conversion stories". But God reassured me through his Word that I was indeed his, even if I didn't have any memory of consciously choosing him as Lord of my life.

The first big ripple in my life were leaving home at 17 to go to university in the "big smoke"  down the road. I got into my chosen course: Occupational Therapy, but I soon discovered that I was quite average in the big pond of university. Living away from home in a girls-only college (US=dorm) took some getting used to, but I soon found a number of good friends, many of whom I am still in touch with. First year was full of homesickness and academic struggles, but it was a time of growth. I also found myself getting to know a new church family and Sunday was one of the highlights of my week.

Sub-phase B. God's early pursuit of me for mission
This is not a consecutive stage because God pursued me for mission from an early age and that continued into young adulthood and Phase II.


The OMF missionary, Cecily, who I met when I was seven. Here we are
together in the early stages of David and I preparing to go to Japan.
The first missionary I remember having a personal encounter with was an OMF missionary in Korea. I was seven at the time and she was the guest speaker at our Sunday School that day. I even volunteered to be dressed up in a Korean dress. The cool thing about this encounter is that we are still in contact with this lady. She's now retired and praying for us. Our eldest son also happens to go to the same church as her!
My first car. Older than I was. It had a solid motor, but other aspects of it
were a little dodgy. However, many a good conversation was had inside.

From about the age of 15 I was thinking a little more specifically about mission, though had grown up with the assumption that any Christian could be called to be a missionary and wondered if that's where I might end up. I chose my degree with the desire that I should choose something practical for work overseas if needed (at that time The Leprosy Mission had a big influence on my life).

Throughout these early years of my life there were many small ways that God was preparing me for the future. I had opportunities to be involved in various "ministries", for example, I was playing the piano in church during my high school years, and also a small band for a time. I was given a chance to do some youth ministry during my university years, including camping ministry. At our young adult group I spent some time as the prayer coordinator and helped organise small groups for support and encouragement as well as prayer.

There was a hint of a Japanese theme that appeared during my uni years. During my first year at uni I spent much of my Sundays with another girl from our college, we went to church together and more often than not had lunch together with the minister's family too. She was studying Japanese and had been an exchange student there for a year. Partway through that year I was able to get an old car (see the photo) and I began to help others from our "side of the river" get to our church. It was a 20-30 minute drive from where we lived. One of the people I drove in that car was a Japanese lady who was studying at Bible college (who, incidentally, is now an OMF missionary back in her home country).

Though I didn't see it at the time, merely moving out of home to go to uni was the start of God preparing me for the future. After such a stable childhood (we moved only twice and I went to only two school, about 200m from each other), I struggled with transition and big changes. Moving out of home was a huge change, but one that propelled me to grow so much spiritually and in maturity.

Sub-phase C. Relationships ('85-'99)
This is also not a consecutive sub-phase, but one that continued through the latter part of Phase I and into Phase II. I was discovering that I was a very relational person, but, like most teens and young adults, struggled with the questions:
My life-long friend. I've known this girl ever since she was born when
I was six-weeks old. Our parents were youth group friends. We Skype
regularly these days and are looking forward to some quality time together
when I get back to Australia in July.

  • Who am I?
  • How do I fit into the world?
  • Who do I want to marry?
  • How do I function best?
I was never one to easily conform (at least not on the inside, I think I often look like I'm fitting-in on the outside). I struggled to be content with who I was and with how God made me.

As I moved into my late teens and early 20s, big in my mind was the third question there: Who would I marry? Or indeed, would I not find anyone?

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but during uni and then as a single working in a country town, I had several young men try to get my attention, but none seemed right. I won't deny I had some crushes too, but none of these went anywhere. I wondered what "right" indeed was.

Boundary event (1993)
The structure of this timeline is that the phases are set apart through "transitional" or boundary events. These are significant events that might be termed "turning points" that propel you into a new phase of development.

The boundary event for me was going on an OMF mission Study Tour in Dec'93/Jan'94. It was my first trip overseas (to a country that OMF can't say we now work in). I was in a team of mostly young people (about 12 or so) and we spent time learning about the culture and religions of this country, as well as learning about mission and the Scriptures. Of course, through this all I learned a lot about myself, though that wasn't what I expected. I went on the trip seeking guidance from God about my future in mission, but there was no lightning bolt in that regard! There's more detail about that part of my journey in this post I wrote for OMF.

I did, however, meet my husband on that trip. However neither of us knew that at the time as there was a strict "no romance" rule. We didn't get together as a couple until a couple of years later.

*This is the first of three posts I've written about my life as an assignment for a course I did in April, processing my life in a specific timeline format. I will publish the second post tomorrow.

23 May, 2018

International is normal

These last two days I've had quite different lunches to what I usually do. Let me give you a taste.

Monday
On Monday I joined with a group of five other mums who have children in grade nine at CAJ. We ate lunch at one of their houses. This was not an ordinary lunch, and that's due to the ladies who were present.
Yummy Asian lunch!

I was the only 100% Caucasian lady there. The other ladies were various combinations of Korean, US, Japanese, and Chinese. And by various combinations, I mean that my background was one of the least complicated (I've only lived in two countries and I'm the same nationality as my husband and both my parents and the country I grew up in). Two or three of them are raising multiple nationality kids too (husbands with a different nationality than the wife). Conversation ranged between English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, so I'm not sure that anyone got 100% of what was said, least of all me, probably the least multilingual person there.

The food reflected the ladies present: a lot of Korean, plus some Japanese and possibly more (what's honey mustard chicken?). It was super tasty.

I'm accustomed to conversation about different Englishes, but these multilingual ladies were doing the same with Korean/Japanese/Chinese. If I knew more of these languages it would have been even more fascinating and there are many links between these three languages.

Tuesday
On Tuesday I went across the city to our national headquarters for a couple of meetings, mostly related to me handing bits of my jobs over to others while we're away. In between meetings I got to work in a room called "The Island"! 

My meetings included my Scottish boss (who is pretty fluent in Japanese), another Aussie, a man from Britain who grew up in Japan, an American who is ethnically Japanese and grew up in Japan with an American family, and a lady from Hong Kong. International is our normal!
Our Japan OMF headquarters is aquatic-themed.
This room is called "The Island", upstairs are two meeting
rooms called "The Stream" and "The River". Down the
hall the finance team works in "The Oasis"!

Lunch was with the various people working at the office that day. Our little table had three British people, all who've been in Japan for longer than me, and a bilingual Japanese lady. Topics ranged considerably, from blue cheese, to the Royal Wedding, and ingrown toenails (really!). My semi-regular Facebook status of Wednesday Words came up too, and they had some suggestions! Braces vs retainers, braces vs suspenders, tute for tutorial, trousers vs pants. Such fun, talking about language.

Today
Meanwhile today, I'm back at my little desk in my dining room, trying to discipline myself to attend to little bits and pieces of followup from yesterday as well as other ongoing things that need doing. (But instead of powering through I'm writing a blog post...) 

It's weird to be divvying up my job to give to others and hard to stay motivated for the "now" or to get motivated for the "coming". I swerve between feeling scared about ditching work and feeling relieved! Maybe you don't understand the former feeling, but I have an underlying fear of boredom that sometimes (or maybe more than sometimes) drives me.

Ah, transition. Never easy, no matter how it looks. I know I'll eventually get around to embracing the freedom of handing over these jobs, but at the moment I feel a little like I'm balancing on a slab of ice in the middle of a lake.

21 May, 2018

Mixed thoughts on home assignment

It was a lovely weekend. Without an athletics meet to spend all day at on Saturday, we were left with a much slower-paced weekend than we've had since early April. I did some guilt-free relaxing. I started this email, but never got to finish it. Watched two movies and another episode of Downton Abbey. Slept in! Finished a book, started another. Did a little bit of baking. Played games on my phone. Chatted with our eldest son. Tried a little bit of paper craft (but didn't finish).

But with extra time comes time to think. Especially, in our case, time to think about what needs to be done in preparation for leaving for Australia.

Home assignments
I'm working at finishing up things or finding people to hand work tasks over to. I've got a meeting tomorrow that will hopefully sort out some of my OMF social media responsibilities. But work-wise, I'm not yet quite at a place that I've got much spare time for the preparation of materials we'll need only a couple of weeks after we arrive when we start speaking at meetings and churches. However, that extra time is close, especially when our weekends are much free-er from now on.

This is the fourth time we've gone on home assignment. We're getting a little bit of experience under our belts!

The first time we moved from Hokkaido to Tokyo, via a year in Brisbane (2004-2005). That was a huge move as it involved starting over again: new city, new friends, new colleagues, new job, new baby (our youngest was born two months before we moved back to Japan). Moving out of Sapporo we had boys aged 2 and 4). We stored our goods in Hokkaido and it came down via ship to Tokyo when we arrived there a year later.

The second time (2009-2010) we also moved cities, but within the prefecture (yes, Tokyo is a prefecture, not a city). We had boys aged 4, 6, and 9) when we left for Australia. We had to store all our household goods for those 12 months.

The third time (2014-2015) was most similar to what we're doing this time. We were coming back to the same house. But we had full-time sub-letters coming for 12 months, which meant we had to reorganise our house and try to do a very deep clean. Here's a blog post from May 12, 2014. Our boys were 9, 11, and 15.

So this is the fourth time. We have only two boys again (13 and 15) and I'm feeling more relaxed than previous times. Possibly also because it's only for six months, which seems more like an extended trip than a whole year. If we don't get a deep clean done, no one will notice: as far as we know we don't have anyone coming for any length of time to stay. That also means not much packing and reorganising is needed.

But it is still a big thing: to uproot for a while, change many of the routines, and settle in another place, even if we don't really put our roots down there. I can't believe that it's six weeks today that we'll be landing in Australia!

Bits and pieces to organise
We don't have a house or car yet on the other side, but a house will be searched for by a precious friend in June. The spreadsheet about our household stuff is filling up with promises from our home church and others. And we continue to pray for a car.
Give me a home among the gumtrees.


We're working on school enrolment for both our boys (not so easy as it might sound). Also on lining up the "big rocks", for example, a trip to Singapore for professional development for me and then onto meet the guys in Perth for 10 days of visiting supporting churches on the West coast. My flights are booked...the guys, not yet.

Most of our church visits are booked and a variety of other speaking appointments are also in the schedule. We've still got lots of room for mid-week and Saturday events.

One thing, that might seem a minor issue, but I have been thinking about a bit is that I have committed to not taking as much of my wardrobe previous times. It just doesn't seem necessary for only six months. But that leaves me with, eventually, deciding exactly what I will take. Thankfully I can lay aside all my super warm clothes (clothes for day time temps below 10/15C). Queensland is a warm place, with winter equating to a nice mid-spring day in Tokyo.

If you're a missionary  this is an interesting article with practical ideas of ways to prepare for home assignment (or leaving more permanently), some of which you many not have thought of before.

Not to many emotions going on yet. Part of me is not happy about the upheaval and disruption, part of me isn't happy to say goodbye to our friends here. Another part is looking forward to seeing friends and family in Australia, and the freedom for me that comes with living in an English-speaking country. Part of me isn't looking forward to doing a lot of driving. Part is looking forward to the variety of things we get to do while away from Japan, including working much more closely with my husband. And of course a big part of me is looking forward to seeing our son again more often!

So there we are. No, we're not packing, but we're doing lots of other small and not-so-small things to prepare to leave.


18 May, 2018

Seeking balance in my daily life

Me and exercise
I'm sitting here in an after-exercise glow, something that's been too rare in recent years. I know that exercise is essential for me, it helps me with stress, with staying focused, and with my general energy levels. 

But I've struggled in these last three years to get a regular routine going. For several years I was a member of Curves and went two or three times a week. Then we went to Australia in 2014 and regular exercise came in the form of riding hilly territory to school with the boys each day (about seven ks).  I also learnt how to use a "real" gym. While our boys did wrestling twice a week, I worked out downstairs in the sport's centre's weights and bike/cross trainee machine rooms.

Then we returned to Japan where:
1. The boys walk 300m to school, without needing my supervision.
2. We weren't waiting 1 ½ hours for boys to finish wrestling training twice a week in a gym 30 minutes from our home.

So, what was I to do? And for various reasons I didn't want to go back to Curves.
A photos I took on one of my park rides.


I wrote about my big "revelation" in October 2014 here. I would ride to the big park 5km south of here. 

It's something that I've continued to do, but not as regularly as I really needed to (I managed it less than ten times in 2017). Part of that is that it took more time out of my day that I could often afford to take. Especially because I often added in other elements: photography (when I acquired a fancy camera in mid 2016), shopping, even a picnic, and or a coffee shop at times. That park is just a 30 min ride away, but usually I'd be away three or more hours. I did do some other rides: to another park more than twice as far a coupe of times and also rode a few times to a coffee shop a few suburbs over. So, it is still a good thing to do, but not really "regular" enough.

It is true that exercise is integrated into my week: I ride usually twice a week to get groceries. It isn't a long or hard ride, but still it is a ride. Walking and stair-climbing happens too, but rather irregularly if I'm going somewhere on the trains for work or to watch the boys compete.

I asked a friend to orientate me to the local public gym and I liked it there. It is pay-as-you-use, as opposed to being locked into a monthly payment. It's also a lot cheaper than either gym I'd previously used. Trouble was, again, I struggled to get there regularly.

Me and headaches During the year in Australia ('14/'15) I spent time seeing a physio for a couple of issues, one of which was seeking to get to the bottom of my ongoing struggle with headaches. I have to admit that I do hesitate to write about this, because every time I mention it to people, they've got lots of advice. Really, I have a few main triggers that I've discerned over the years, with muscle tension and low blood sugar being two major ones.

In the midst of the above I found that I was getting nasty headaches after I went to the gym—every time! Well that didn't help my motivation to go. So I tried various combinations of things around the gym times: hydration, regulating my breathing while lifting, being extra careful about my posture, eating. 

I even went several months of recording my headaches and possible triggers. One thing stood out, one time that I went to the gym and didn't get a headache: I met a friend for coffee straight after I went to the gym and I didn't get a headache that day at all. Aha: maybe caffeine is a key, I thought.

Me and coffee
When I was at language school (and still drinking instant coffee) I discovered that not only do I need to eat regularly to avoid headaches, I need to "caffeinate" regularly, or more precisely, "on time". My reaction was to stop drinking coffee for breakfast, leaving the caffeine to later in the day. That seemed to work for a time. A few years later I decided to get off caffeinated coffee altogether. I became a "social drinker": only drinking caffeinated coffee when I was out. That also seemed to work for a time. But the trouble was, I got more "social" and ended up drinking caffeinated coffee more often than occasionally. Headaches continued.

It was frustrating. The physio in Australia suggested I have regular massages when I returned to Japan to help regulate my muscle tension and headaches and I have (I also hesitate to mention that, because it seems like such a luxury). But the headaches remained. The massages did get me some more built-in exercise, as I deliberately chose to go to one a bit further away that I could ride to.

Anyway, to cut a meandering story short (I learned today that there's a French word for this: "Bref" or "you get the idea")—I decided I would need to cut out coffee altogether, even for social occasions. But quite I've grown to love coffee and especially I love coffee shops atmosphere. I also love "meeting a friend for coffee". So, cutting it out altogether, especially in a land where they don't yet do decaf coffee very well (though it is much more available than it used to be), this wasn't an appealing option.

Instead, I decided to manipulate my caffeine intake the other way. Instead of trying not to have caffeine each day, I would plan on having at least one cup every morning (usually around 9.30). I've been doing this for a few weeks now and it does seem to be working. I'm not stressing if I have to have more coffee in a day and generally I think I've had less headaches. I'm happy with that outcome!

Back to my post-exercise glow today. It seems like it's all finally come together: regular exercise routine and headache modulation. These last couple of weeks I've done this twice a week:
  • gone to the gym on the mornings that I grocery shop (the gym and the shop are in the  same direction from my house)
  • had coffee before I went to the gym
  • taken a small snack to eat after working out, but before I leave the gym
  • eating an early lunch when I get home
This routine seems to work and I've had no headaches on those days. There are two big problems with it, though.

1. It only works if I have a morning free to do both the gym and groceries.
2. We're about to go to Australia for six months, where I won't be riding to the grocery store  twice a week.

I guess I'll have to keep plugging away at finding ways to keep myself active. But hopefully I'll be able to keep most of the headaches at bay!


17 May, 2018

Nation-wide loudspeaker system

Earlier this week I was chatting with a friend in Australia on a video call. She's never been to Japan and was surprised when she suddenly heard an announcement from our local government broadcast over a nearby loudspeaker system. Now we've been here so long, it is just a normal part of life, I guess we've forgotten about some of the different things we find in Japan to Australia.

The loudspeaker system covers most of Japan and is primarily a disaster warning system. Though many believe that it's mostly to remind kids to come home for dinner, because, at least in our area, it plays a short tune at around that time of day: earlier in winter than summer. 

I found this article with some very useful information about the whole system. It explains that the daily music played over the loudspeakers is actually primarily a test that the system is working. The idea that it can also be used to remind children to go home is a secondary benefit.

Amazingly:
They are linked to a national system that can transmit warnings to local governments throughout the country in as little as seven seconds. The nationwide disaster-warning network was launched about 50 years ago, following a major earthquake in Niigata Prefecture in 1964. (from here)
They are also used by local governments to make announcements, ranging from warning people not to give their bank account details out to people on the phone (fraudsters pretending to be relatives) to calls for help for someone who's gone missing. After the 2011 earthquake we received announcements about when electricity was scheduled to be cut off (due to a shortage because all the nuclear power plants had gone off-line).

Then yesterday another announcement was broadcast around 11am and I caught just the end of it on my phone. Here's a tiny taste:

But I can't tell you what they said. It's often a little distorted and my poor Japanese usually doesn't catch it.

What do you think? Would this kind of broadcasting annoy you? 

Japan has a different level of tolerance about "noise pollution" than Australia. We have several different vehicles that drive around and blast us with noise: 

  • sweet potato truck which dispenses baked sweet potatoes in winter
  • kerosene truck which will sell you kerosene in the winter for your heaters
  • second-hand truck which will buy your hard-to-dispose-of items, like bikes, large white goods, TVs etc.
  • political trucks, leading up to an election, will drive around and often stop in one strategic spot and deliver a speech
But, alas, no ice cream trucks!

16 May, 2018

Encouragement

Here's a couple of written exchanges about my blog that I've received recently:

Encouragement
Recently a teenager, who is the child of missionaries in Japan, sent me an email that completely made my day:
Random flower photo that I took this time last year.
I put it here because it's always nice to have a
flower to look at.
I meant to tell you . . . [when I saw you last] that I followed your blog but kept forgetting to, I'm sorry!
I wanted to say that I love your blog because I get a peek inside of a different missionary family's life, which I don't often get to.
I also love that your blog gives me reminders about God's word, and what he is going to do in my life.
In a blog post the other day, I read your poem "Dates" and I loved it! I like writing poetry and fiction. Your poem gave me an insight into what being an adult is like, and I enjoyed that.
Thank you for your wonderful blog. I'll be looking forward to the next update!
It's easy to be worn down by the routines and challenges of daily life (and writing and editing), so I love it when I get such encouragements. Having it written down makes it even more special, because it's easy to keep and treasure later (and easier to share with you too).

About why I blog
I recently had a colleague who discovered this blog and he asked me about the main purpose (he was thinking that the main reason a missionary might use a blog would be to update our supporters). 

This was my reply:
My initial purpose was to write about the “ordinary” life of a missionary, helping to readers (presuming them to be people who haven’t lived the missionary lifestyle) to see what our lives are like. As I’ve realised that a lot of missionaries also read it, it’s expanded a bit to be a place that also reaches out to other missionaries, hopefully in an encouraging, honest way, by telling about my journey.
It isn’t for supporters specifically, or for staying in touch with friends or anyone in particular, though some do read if for that reason. It is not something where I ask people to pray for us either.
He also wrote: "I only have the newsletter... Sometimes I wondered if I should make a Facebook group for me Facebook friends who are interested in what we are doing... But the more "mediums" one uses... - the more has to 'feed' them... "

My reply:
Yes, the more mediums you use the more work you create for yourself! I write because I’m a writer. Often writing on my blog is quite therapeutic for me, not a burden as it would be for many. It has helped me hone my writing and editing skills as to fit writing this blog into my life I often have to process and write very quickly.

15 May, 2018

Noteworthy weekend

Another weekend-roundup. There really were only two noteworthy events on the weekend.

Track and field
The first was the final athletics meet for the year (for us). It took us away from home from 6.40am to 8pm. A long day! I ended up riding with the team in the morning and driving some of the team/supporters/coaching staff home in a school van. It's a 52 kilometre round trip, it took more than 2½ hrs to drive that!

Our son ran three individual races 100m, 200m, and 400m. He recorded PR/PBs in two of those events, much to our delight. He also ran the 4x400m. It was a "freshman" (9th grade) team consisting of the same guys who won a medal last year at the middle school finals. Obviously they were competing against guys older and stronger than them, but their goal was to beat their time from last year and they did this and narrowly missed their goal of 3 min 50 sec. It will be interesting to see if they'll have a chance to do this again next year.


Mother's Day
The other noteworthy event was a Mother's Day morning tea in a fancy coffee shop with David and our two younger boys. This is the second year that I told them that's all I wanted. 

Motherhood is a long-distance event of constantly loving kids regardless of how they treat you. I can't really say much more without invading the privacy of my boys. I got my morning tea, and there was some fun, but there were some tense moments too.

I've included this incident (as veiled as my description of it is) because I know that I'm not the only one who has difficult teenagers, though we hesitate to tell one another. I also know that when we set up a day such as Mother's Day, there are often high expectations and frequently circumstances mean that we don't hit them and we're disappointed. If that is your situation, for whatever reason, I don't want to discourage you by giving you the impression I have the perfect family, because I don't. My kids aren't perfect and neither are David or I. We don't love one another perfectly either. 

This is probably a whole post on its own, but I've been challenged recently by the Holy Spirit about loving the difficult people who are in my life: my own teenagers who I can't choose to avoid. I even thanked God on Sunday morning (before we even got out of bed) that because I have these kids, I have this opportunity to grow as a result.

One more thing that I can tell you about was that I did have the opportunity to talk with my own mum (and dad) for an hour via a video call in the afternoon, which was wonderful. So thankful for today's technology!