17 January, 2019

Joy in the small things

Writing yesterday's post made me very sad for several hours afterwards. So today I want to tell you about some joy I had yesterday. 
I don't like housework and spend as little time on it as possible. However, I've found over the years that if I vacuum and clean toilets regularly, I expend less emotional energy in the long run and actually get a reasonable amount of satisfaction at having those two things under control. I've also discovered that routine is also something that also reduces energy spent, so I've developed the routine of doing these two mundane, yet important jobs on Wednesday mornings. It is the morning that school has a slow start for the students. They start at 9.30 instead of 8.30, so the morning is a bit different anyway, with them here later.

Routine is something that was almost completely missing from our six months in Australia. It's a big thing we missed. And, try as I might, I never established a routine for vacuuming and cleaning toilets.

So yesterday morning it was with strange delight that I got reacquainted with my cute Japanese vacuum cleaner. I have yet to meet a vacuum cleaner in Australia that I like as much as this little machine. I even took a selfie with it to show you how tiny it is. Oh, and I cleaned the toilets too. Which, despite most of my house being around 6˚C, wasn't a hardship as I was warm anyway from vacuuming, and then used warm water to clean.

And then I sat down with coffee that I made with my Baccarat stovetop expresso maker (another item that I missed in Australia). A little piece of routine reclaimed and with it, joy. I savoured the moment.

16 January, 2019

Paying the cost of returning to Japan

It was a beautiful wedding.
This time last week we were in the air. Wow! Today I vacuumed our house, cleaned toilets, and baked bread. We've achieved a lot in a week in terms of getting settled. Helped, of course, by the fact that we really hadn't moved out of our Tokyo house. The ten days before we left Australia also contained a lot, especially a lot of goodbyes.

On New Year's Eve we said farewell to my parents (and their home, a place that they've lived since I was 15, but may not live there much longer, hence I was saying goodbye to that place quietly in my head). Then drove 45 minutes to the wedding of a girl who was a baby at my 21st birthday party. She's the daughter of a friend I've known my whole life (here's a post I wrote eight years ago about this special friendship). 

My lifelong friend Melina, mother of the bride.
The whole wedding was held on my friend's property, a rural block far enough from the city that you could see many stars. The reception extended into the night and we were treated with fireworks at 9.30pm. It's the first time our boys have been to a wedding as teenagers, so it was a cultural experience for them.

Fairyland in a tin shed!
We stayed that night nearby at the home of relatives of the bride, actually someone I walked down the aisle with when I was my friend's bridesmaid! The next day on the way back to Ipswich we stopped by my friends' house to say goodbye. As adults we've never lived in the same town and are used to long absences. But it doesn't mean that I don't grieve that I don't get to spend more time with this precious friend.

On New Year's Day we went back to our house in Ipswich and spent the next several days packing up and moving out of our house. We are thankful for friends and church members who helped us with this, especially our home church's pastor who did several trips locally with his trailer and lent us his car and trailer for a longer trip on Saturday. He and his wife also hosted us in their house (with our 10 suitcases) over the weekend.

We took a break from moving on the Sunday and instead had a very social day. Our farewell service (also called our re-commissioning service) at church in the morning and said farewell afterwards to a lot of people one-by-one, including one lady who completely broke down in my arms. Then we attended a reunion/farewell with some old friends for a late lunch.

My parents and another couple who've known me my whole life (whose granddaughter had just gotten married) came to church with us—it was wonderful to have them there. Saying goodbye to my parents is never easy, but we managed it without falling apart completely.

Farewell to this house, which has been a
great base during our six-months.
So many goodbyes. I was exhausted by the end of the day.

Special friends
On Monday morning I met another special friend for coffee to say goodbye. Then after lunch and a couple of small errands we were free to say farewell to Ipswich, the place that's been home for the last six months. We drove to a hotel near Brisbane airport and dropped off our suitcases, then headed to coast for a special gathering of close friends.

I'm not sure how much I can write here about this gathering, I don't want to infringe upon my friends' privacy. Suffice to say that these are also precious friends and it was an unexpected opportunity to meet them all together. The ladies and I have been supporting one another in an online chat group through some really tough things over the last few months. I'm incredibly grateful for their friendships and incredibly sad that we have moved away from where they are both located. The night, of course, ended too soon, and this marked the final farewells. 

Unless, of course, you count our eldest son. He joined us on the Tuesday for a movie and dinner and then we said our last goodbye to him on Australian soil for a while. He's coming in ten days to visit us here, but it was still sad that our time with him in Australia was over.

Recognising loss
In the past I'd have just shoved all this under the carpet and moved on, but I've learnt as I've grown older that recognising all these goodbyes is important to remaining healthy. That was confirmed again this morning by this article a friend sent me. In it the author says that it's not just the big losses that we need to recognised, the small ones count too, though I wouldn't say that saying goodbye to all the above friends in a matter of a few days is a small thing.
But all of us should take time to think about the things we have lost, recognise them and grieve appropriately rather than spend our lives in denial. David rightly said “I will not give God something that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24). Recognising and mourning the loss helps us to give God something of value, rather than something that wasn’t important to us anyway.

15 January, 2019

Surrounded by constant transition

Today I went to my second prayer meeting in two days. It sounds like all missionaries do is pray, right? Well that's not quite true, but it is an important part of the work. Praying with others really helps me to pray more, but also keeps me in contact with others in the international community here. My job could easily result in me spending most days stuck behind my computer in my house, which is not only unhealthy for me (I need time with others), but also would mean that I'd get a very narrow focus on what's going on around me in the world. So it's been very helpful to start integrating back into our community by attending a couple of these.

The meeting I went to yesterday was school-based, and especially focused on 10th grade, the grade our middle son is in. It comprised of five mums from that grade level. I was hit full in the face with culture shock. Not Japanese culture (although a lot of the meeting was conducted in Japanese because that was the language two of the mums were most fluent in), but more the international culture that surrounds people associated with CAJ and missions in general.

Of the five mums present, two of us were transitioning into (or back into) the school this month and two others were planning for home assignment from the middle of the year. We also prayed for two other students in the class who are currently in the US for six to twelve months. That's an awful high level of mobility, when you consider the class is only 40-50 students. But it's the norm in this population. It was a shock to remember that characteristic of this life we've been called to. The only constant, aside from our heavenly Father, is change. And that even if we ourselves stay still, we are surrounded by constant change.

It truly is exhausting. We're just recovering from our own transition, but at the same time relating to a high number of people around us who are in the midst of transition themselves. 

Australian Christmas lunch with the Marshalls. Our
boys have developed a love of cherries (closest bowl),
 which were in abundance during this season.
Today's all-morning meeting was with a couple of dozen of missionary women across various walks of life, some old friends, others I'd never met before. I'm exhausted after that, more so than I usually would be. It's a good reminder that, though I don't have jet lag, I need to be kind to myself in the midst of this transition. Because we've basically stepped back into life as it was before we left, the temptation is to just run at the same pace as we usually do. But I'm thinking that that's not wise, not yet.

As I caught up with friends I realised that I'm going to struggle to find anyone in Japan who wants to hear about all the people I've said goodbye to, they've simply got their own issues to deal with and talking to someone about friends of yours that they've never met is hard and a bit weird. I guess you might not want to hear about them either, but on a blog post, you can take it or leave it, you're not a captured audience.

So here's a few of our goodbyes:

David's family
Cold prawns (US=shrimp) for lunch. Our boys
needed lessons in how to deal with these, ironically
their British uncle taught them about this
Australian-Christmas food.
On the 20th of December we drove all day to David's mother's house where we met up with his sister and her family. The next day we had "Christmas" with them and David's aunt and uncle. It was a lovely family time, busy, but in an Aussie-laid back way.

That night we said goodbye to David's sister and her family as they left early the next morning to drive south for two days to visit members of her husband's family.

On Christmas morning we said goodbye to David's mum and drove south ourselves. Routine, in a way, as we've never lived close to David's side of the family, but still, these were important goodbyes. Thankfully those days we spent with them, we made good memories that we carry with us. I'm glad we took the time to organise this trip.

Wendy's family
We drove straight from there to my parents. Another whole-day drive. My parents have seen a reasonable amount of us over the last six months. They only lived 90 minutes drive from where we were located in Ipswich and in a city where we have a number of supporters. So we went up there a few weekends to speak in churches, and were grateful to be able to see them and stay in their house (the only place our boys have known their whole lives). We also took time during the September school holidays to spend with both David's family and mine. These were "Big Rocks", time that we plan into home assignment time before we plan other things like visits to churches and time with friends. Family is important, and even more so when we're not around often.

We stayed almost a week with them from Christmas Day, which also included a family "Christmas" where my sisters joined us with their families. A rare opportunity for all nine of my parents' grandchildren to get together. We've got photos and good memories of that time too. But again, goodbyes were said. We couldn't tell them when we'd next get to see them, but it's certainly going to be more than one year! We're used to being apart, but it doesn't make it unimportant to say goodbye, to acknowledge that love and separation don't go well together.

We got to see my parents again one more time, but I'll leave that to my next blog post, because there were a lot more goodbyes said between 31st December and when we left Australia on 9th January.

14 January, 2019

Pausing to gather my heart?

Today's my first day back at my desk. Considering we've been back in Japan less than five days, I don't think that's too bad. But we have moved straight back into the same house that we walked away from on June 30 last year, so it isn't too much of a stretch to be dipping our toes back into normal life.

In reality, though, we're physically here, but I feel like it will take a little while longer for my head and heart to catch up. We left Australia in a manner that felt very fast. On January 1 we returned from a couple of weeks of visiting family in Queensland. We returned to a fully functional house. In just three days we packed up and moved out, three days after that we'd completely moved everything out, put our stuff in storage and sent everything else to its next place of residence (including a substantial amount to a secondhand store), and had the house ready for bond inspection. Thirty-six hours after that we flew out of Brisbane. 

It happened efficiently and with significant help from others. But you can't do efficiency with hearts. The goodbyes happened quickly in the midst of it all, and for better or for worse, I didn't have time to dwell on any of them.

So, while I'm physically sitting now in at my Tokyo desk—yes, even doing work (I sent more than 30 emails/messages today)—I need to make sure I take some time to get the rest of me here too. I'm not sure how will looks, though I suspect some of it will happen here on my blog. I'd also like to get to the park on my bike sometime soon. Perhaps a pause at a coffee shop too?

05 January, 2019

My perspective, from a spare bedroom

It's just over a week since I last wrote and I've had a real desire to write today, aided by a quieter day. We only got back on Tuesday from our 2,000km tour round Queensland visiting family. We didn't think that it would be too much hard work to pack up our house and we were right, but there was always a bit of uncertainty because we only had three nights.
This was a quiet farewell. It's possible that, before we
return to Australia again my parents will sell the house
that they've been in the last 30 years.
I only lived there for two years, but it's been something of
a "home base" for me since I left home at 17. Certainly
one of the few places that our boys have had as a
constant in their lives. This piano I spent hours at
as a teenager, with my photo on the top. The piano
will move with my parents, of that I have no doubt,
but the house will be missed by us all.

Today was supposed to be move-it-all-out day, but we had practically everything out of the house by 10am. Most of the furniture we were using was donated to the Salvation Army yesterday, a few pieces went back to their owners, and our bedroom suite went back to my parents via a friend. The rest of our stuff fitted into two trailers and the backs of a station wagon and 4WD this morning, destined for storage our shipping container.

Yesterday afternoon we removed from our house about 150kg of luggage in around a dozen suitcases. This is the stuff, mostly clothing and other personal items, that we will take back to us to Japan.

So, now we sit in no-mans-land. In a spare bedroom, waiting four more nights until we fly to Japan. In the next four days we have less to do, but perhaps more to "be". We've got the time to spend with some close friends and some last-minute catch-ups. That includes our farewell at our home church tomorrow. Hopefully, Tuesday, our last full day in Australia, will be just a rest day.

In the midst of all the busyness we have much to be thankful for. Here are some:
  • we're experienced at these international moves: this is our ninth move between countries
  • a marriage where we understand each other's gifts: a husband who is gifted with a 3D tetris super-power and loves the challenge of packing and a wife who is gifted at networking and communicating (both of which are helpful gifts when doing a move like this)
  • many friends who offer to help
  • an unlikely meal with two families who are dear friends, one of whom is also doing a big move this weekend
  • last time we left Australia we trimmed down our possessions, so it's been easier to move this time
  • people who love us on both sides of the ocean
  • boys who are happy to go back to Japan
Some specifics helps that we've received or will receive:
  • someone who is selling our son's school uniforms on our behalf
  • people who've lent time and their vehicles and trailers to move our stuff
  • accommodation and meals over this weekend that we're still local, but not at home
  • a friend who organised a reunion/farewell party tomorrow afternoon, just to get to see us
  • someone to return our borrowed Australian-van to its owner
  • colleagues who drove our "new" van in Tokyo from Yokohama to our house in Western Tokyo (probably a two-hour drive), then rearranged the bikes in our narrow carport so that they could squeeze the van into the space and caught trains home
  • friends who will store precious photos and other goods on their property
  • a colleague stocking our fridge and cupboards in Tokyo, and also check that our beds have sheets and blankets on them
  • a friend who will pick us up from the train in Tokyo
  • a family who will feed us in their home for our first dinner in Tokyo
So many friends. So much help. So thankful.

Sometimes I think that our job is to get out of the way and allow others the opportunity to serve.

I wasn't particularly well yesterday, but today am okay. At these times of transition I find that I have to expect that there are more waves than usual (both physical and emotional), and that I have to do what I can to ride them out. Emotions are always mixed. Farewells are never fun, but I know that most of them are temporary—most of these people I'll see again. I also know that Japan awaits. One of the most encouraging things about the list above are the people who are waiting for us on the other side of this move. That's a balm to the never-healing wound that these moves always tear away at.

In the end, though, the Lord is my rock. Like King David, I've set my eyes on God:

"I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Ps. 16:8 ESV).

I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18:1-2 ESV)

28 December, 2018

Kids bring constraints

"We can't get out to meet people because of our kids." 
Our boys' social lives are completely turned on their
heads on home assignment. There are some kids that
they remember, but with three to five years between
encounters, things can be awkward. But often they have
had to socialising with people who David and I know, 
rather than people they know.

This was said by an experienced missionary on home assignment whose journey through parenting as a missionary has gone a very different path to ours. Most of their home assignments have been as singles or as a childless couple. 

Our whole missionary journey has been with children, so we've never been without the challenge of doing home assignment without considering our children. When they were younger we more easily bundled them in the car and took them wherever we went, though we had to consider things like feeds (yep, done deputation with two of our boys when they were newborns), daytime sleeps, and early bedtimes. 

We used to pray before each church meeting that there would be someone who would take it upon themselves to volunteer as a temporary babysitter while we spoke during the service. 

As they got older, we had to consider entertainment and distraction: how to keep their busy bodies and minds in check while we did our thing. Then school came into the equation and we had to make home assignment decisions around schooling that involved where we lived, when we worked, and how we'd juggle moving between two different schooling systems and school years (one starting in August and one in January).

These days we're free-er to go out without them, sometimes leaving them on their own at home during the day. This home assingment we have had one at uni, one at a day school, and one doing homeschooling. All three options had an impact on the way we did things. 

But as teens they are much more opinionated about what we do and how we do it. We've been as considerate as we could in how we include them and how much we expect of them. That has included sometimes allowing our younger two to go to our home church without us, while we've been at another church, choosing not to stay overnight at a church 90 minutes from our house, or turning down the opportunity to take on a week-long opportunity at a church far enough away that we'd have had to stay there the week. 

And we've never expected them to stand up in front of a church with us or participate in any way, other than being present (which has been enough of a trial at times—they've heard our standard spiel more than a dozen times and David's single sermon at least half a dozen times, not to mention fielding questions from interested/concerned bystanders who felt that our boys needed to receive attention). These are decisions that we've judged best for our kids and our family in general, they aren't general recommendations for how anyone else should do home assignment, though I believe wise parents will always do their best to consider the needs of their kids as they make decisions about home assignment.

But some people have had trouble, at times, understanding our decisions. We've tried to be understanding and, when necessary, explain in a general way that doesn't infringe on our family's privacy. But I do wonder sometimes, why the standards must be different for us than they are for others. After all, I think most families with teenagers would not agree that they could happily uproot their family, go to a different country, put their kids in school, and drag them all over the place—visiting churches and other groups on their weekends and at nights. It is a really hard thing to ask of a family, but missionary familes are expected to do it.

Though I have to remember that other people don't know our kids or our family very well, and it's not easy for others to see the reasoning behind the decisions we make and how much stress we hold as we try to do our best to consider everyone's needs as well as our responsibilities.

Needless to say, we're happy to be going back to Japan soon and walking away from many of these stressors. We have a much more "normal" life in Japan. One where our weeks are pretty regular, with boys at school, and David and I working regular office hours. Our weekends are full of sport and church and resting.

I hope this doesn't come across as a big whinge. This is something that is close to my heart, and it's hard not to write passionately about it. I'm really grateful to the people who pray for our kids as their deal with our not-so-ordinary lifestyle.

27 December, 2018

An unusual Christmas Day

When we first went to Japan we had to find new ways of celebrating Christmas, but that is a long time ago now. After 18 years of this missionary life, and only three Christmases in Australia in that time, Japan is the norm and Australia is the outlier (this year is our fourth). All our boys think of winter as the normal time to have Christmas, and having Christmas as a nuclear family is also normal. Expanding our celebrations to include extended family who live in different parts of the state adds to the strangeness of this time.

Sorting out how we would "do" Christmas wasn't easy this time, for various reasons. However, we finally managed to nail down a travel schedule late in November. We travelled up to Rockhampton (about eight hour's drive) to have several days with David's mum and then down to Toowoomba to my parents. 

At both places, we had or will have an extended family "Christmas Day". Involving presents and festive food. It turned out that, however, that the 25th wasn't a good day for either side of our family to celebrate together. So, to avoid awkwardness, David came up with the brilliant suggestion of travelling on Christmas Day and having our own nuclear family celebration on the road. Early on our all-day Christmas day journey one of the boys declared this was the weirdest Christmas ever, but after our lunch at a quiet park when we ate leftover roast chicken/ham sandwiches and fudge then exchanged presents, it was declared, "The best Christmas ever." Nice!

Here are some photos from the day:
A classic rural Australian road scene (at least within a few hundred km of the coast).
Where we had lunch.
Another tree in the park where we celebrated Christmas day as a family this year.
At our first stop, we found a bush that looked like it had been decorated just for
Christmas: but it was all God's decorating.

Exchanging presents.

Our last stop before arriving in Toowoomba. Such a classic park scene and blue sky.
I've found it challenging to have two mindsets these last few weeks: holiday/Christmas and finishing up our time in Australia. I've been switching between the two. At the moment we're trying to relax as deeply as possible and trying not to allow thoughts about what we'll need to do from next Tuesday (move house and leave the country in eight days). I hope that it will all work out in the end and that I won't be too much of a wreck before it's all done. Thankfully my indigestion has settled down for the time being (last week I was chewing antacids regularly). That's an indication that I'm getting some relaxation.

Now I'm going to sign off. We're about to go an play some "backyard" cricket in the park with the boys. I was serious when I said we're trying to relax deeply: we're immersing ourselves in an Australian summer, including watching cricket day and night. And now, playing it too!