21 February, 2017

More detailed post about Far East Wrestling 2017

My view for three days. I'm thankful for my sheep-skin seat-cover.
I take it to all wrestling meets and it gives just a little cushion to these hard
I've edited my summary post and taken out some of the details, putting them here for those who are interested. As I suggested, I'm also working on a more reflective email. Reflecting not just on this week, but on our journey over the last six years of our son's wrestling.

I always find leaving home for nights away hard. 
Have I remembered everything? Will the guys be okay in my absence? Is there one more thing I've forgotten to take care of?

It turned out that us travellers all left before our two youngest, who didn't start school until 9.30 last Wednesday. So I was getting texts on the train like, "Should I turn all the lights out?" (Yes, I had told him earlier that that was what I wanted!)

Travelling on peak hour trains is always stressful with luggage. But my travelling companion and I somehow seemed to avoid the sardine-squish of the worst trains. It's still a long way to the airport, though. Two hours.
We were warned that the pace would be slow, however
it turned out that there weren't really long periods
of boredom. I was my usual ADHD-wrestling-spectator
self, jumping up to go down and sit mat-side for most of
our team's bouts. However I did manage to pull out
some colouring-in. Even some cross-stitch on one day,
though the lighting where we could sit with a backrest
 was too poor for fine needlework. 

Our travel was smooth. Even the bus from the airport to the area near our hotel was good. Transport is cheap in Korea and this luxurious 1 ½ hr bus trip cost us just a bit more than 1,100 yen or AU$10. I slept for 40 minutes or so, which was just what I needed to get through the last little bit.

On the bus we encountered an interesting man who turned out to be the Stars and Stripes (military newspaper) reporter who was going to cover the wrestling tournament. It is always strange to meet people who know my son's name. This guy not only knew that, but knew that he was the favourite to win his weight category as he'd reported on earlier tournaments this season.

The hotel was not fancy, but entirely adequate. It's location was the best thing: five minute walk from the front gate of the base. It's also the hotel that many other base-related travellers stay in. We saw mostly foreign faces during our stay there, including the parents from St Mary's, the school that won both individual and duals in the larger schools category. They also had a breakfast buffet included in the deal that came with our hotel-travel deal (the whole trip was really a very good package deal).

There were four of us parents who travelled together. A married couple and two mums. Us mums shared a room, which was nice, but meant I got hardly any time on my own, except in the bathroom. The introvert part of me struggled with this, especially towards the end of our four-night trip.

I woke early again this morning, typical for the start of a wrestling day. The biggest blip of the morning was discovering that I'd packed no spare underwear!

We had to meet our sponsor at the gate of the base at 8am to get through security, then we walked about 20 minutes to the gym, which was a nice start to the day. 
Something about having boys that I didn't realise. I love seeing their muscles.
Does that sound weird? It's akin to the pride in seeing them learn to walk
or learn to read. Watching a boy grow up has many facets.

This tournament was run more loosely than the tournaments we're used to in Tokyo. Though there were five mats out (it is a long, thin gym with two basketball courts end-to-end), rarely did we see action on all five mats at the same time. There was lots of down-time. The slower pace was necessary as the guys had to last three days (and some of them wrestled up eleven times in three days). However, they were given very little warm-up time before each bout. Knowing that they could be called up with a minute or so notice to wrestle again meant it was hard to relax.

We did get an hour for lunch, which was nice. Though I didn't have much of an appetite. The base's large food court was conveniently nearby and I found a nice chicken salad that wasn't too heavy. And finished off with my first (and only) coffee of the day, badly needed after a few days of poor sleep, plus tiring travel.

The wrestling was over between four and five and we did a little bit of shopping on the way back to the hotel. Including buying my first ever pair of underpants from a 7-11 to supplement my poor packing!

Dinner that night was at a sit-on-the-floor Korean restaurant where we cooked our own meat at the table. It came with a plethora of side dishes, some for dipping, others for eating as is. It seemed that the meat should be dipped in a sauce and then wrapped in a large leaf or some lettuce. It was delicious and affordable. A great way to finish the evening.
A quick selfie before eating on Friday night. One of the
challenges we faced was the difference in temperature
between inside and outside. About 25 degrees different,
which I found difficult to cope with and resulted in
multiple clothing additions and removals.

Except it wasn't finished. My roommate asked me to accompany her on a foray into the rabbit-warren of streets near the hotel. We bought a few things, including a bra, again to supplement my poor packing!

All in all we walked about nine kilometres on Thursday. It was a good day to be out, the weather was mild compared to the cold that followed. My legs were a bit sore the next day!

This started out with semifinals, then wrestle backs. It was not a simple knock-out competition. If you lost in the main bracket, you got another chance or two to get back into the running. If you lost the semi, you had another bout with someone who'd come up through the "loser bracket" to go for the final.

Even if you lost the final, you could have a second chance at it, if it was your first loss of the tournament, which basically amounted to a "best of three" wrestle-off for the gold.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that it took almost the whole day to get through the semis, and finals (including wrestle-offs for third to sixth places).

Like I wrote in my summary post, this was a hard day for me. Our son had a tough wrestle in the semi. He only won it by the skin of his teeth and it threw me.
This is the same area after dark. I loved the illuminated trees.

His opponent was wary, particularly in the first three-minute period and didn't engage well. Our son finished the first three minutes 2-0. But the second half was tighter, with our son behind for a good portion of the time. Our son was still behind with 12 seconds left. He scored a single point at 11.7 seconds (I've just gone back and looked at the video) with a push-out that levelled the score. Phew, it ties me up even to watch it now! He only won because his opponent had broken the rules by fleeing the mat during the bout and that broke the tie.
The back of the medal he was awarded on Saturday.

Four hours later the two of them went at it again, but the result was much clearer with his opponent scoring nothing on him and our son scoring 10. I felt like the hard work had been done earlier, and hence a little bit of a let-down.

After dreaming that my son may possibly have a chance at Far East Champion for a few years now, it was like a dream when it really happened. I'm still pinching myself. And a relief. (But I'll talk about that in my reflection post.)

Then the dual competition started. This is when whole teams line up against each other to wrestle off across all thirteen weight classes. The system works well when each team has all, or nearly all the thirteen weight classes filled, but it more challenging when there are several gaps. Our team was in the smaller schools' division, so most of the schools there had small teams. Our team of nine was one of the larger. 

The system is that the two teams work their way up from the smallest weight class (101lb or 49kg) up to the heavyweights (under 125kg). Coaches can choose to be strategic when their opponents have gaps, like we did. While wrestlers can't wrestle lower than their weight, they can wrestle up, so a 115lb wrestler can be promoted to 129, for example, if they know their opponents don't have a 129lb wrestler, and thereby earn their team the maximum five points for a forfeit. It isn't a fun way to do a wrestling dual, but is within the rules. 

As first seeds in this bracket, we got a bye for the first round and didn't wrestle any duals on Friday afternoon. It was 4.50 when we were told this, and that we had just ten minutes to vacate the gym. So we rushed away.

Friday night we caught a taxi to meet the team at another restaurant and ate Chicken Galbi, something like a chicken stir-fry in rice not noodles but it was cheesy. It was also cooked in front of us and was delicious, though also spicy.

The hardest bouts were over for our son. His toughest competitors were in the large-schools division, so I slept better on Friday night. However, we still had to get up for a 6.30 breakfast.
The area we were located in wasn't pretty at all. This is from the hotel roof.

First up our team went up against another team, but as I explained above, coaches can legally wrangle things when there are gaps, so that though the other team barely wrestled us, they got more than 20 points because they put wrestlers into categories that we didn't have competitors in. We still won, overall, though.

The second team we met had only four certified wrestlers. So we won several bouts via forfeit. Their fifth team member had missed out on qualifying because of weight on the first day, but was 158lb and our son did an "exhibition" match with him that didn't count for points, but gave the other guy a bit of experience. It's a pity to come to a three-day meet without any wrestles at all!

The third team was the finals. This time the organisers vetoed lunch (but didn't tell us beforehand), so we were left with scrounging through our bags for whatever we could find. I think I ate a banana, an apple someone had spare, and a granola bar, plus the coffee I'd managed to snaffle mid-morning. I was famished by the time we were done at 3.45.

The final was agonising, as I wrote in my summary post. We knew that it would be close and that as many guys needed to pin as possible, while defending against being pinned themselves, because we started 20 points down by giving up four forfeits. 

Here was another twist brought on by the way points are scored. Different wins get scored differently. The best way to win, as always, is a pin. That scores five points for your team (and zero for them). Alas forfeits also score five points. If you get ten more points than your opponent, you score four points for your team. If you score ten more points than your opponent (called a technical fall), but they have points too (for example 14-4), they also get a point. If you win by getting more points over the six minutes, but not by ten or more points, you get 3 points for your team. If you get points and they don't, it's 3-0. If you both get points the winner gets 3 and the loser 1.

The twist is, that because you get more if you score by a pin than a technical fall, the ref asked the coach when a tech falls was achieved before the six-minute mark whether they wanted the match to continue to see if the wrestler could achieve a pin for that extra point. It was a risk, though, because that gave the other team another chance. The one who was winning could be pinned, for example. As a result there was a lot of pressure on the whole team, including the coach, who had to make some hard choices in the middle of bouts.

Our team fought hard. Because of the above twist, some of the matches went to more than 20 points. One guy scored 24 points on his opponent in six minutes another scored 18. That's a lot of work and our guys all wrestled to the end, though it was the third straight day and many were very tired. The intense strength conditioning that our team had been through in the previous three months really showed. They were up to the challenge.

They had 13 wrestlers to our 9 and we tied score with them, despite giving up 20 points with forfeits. Our guys were hands-down the best team, it's just that there wasn't enough of them. It hurt to watch, especially afterwards.

We offered around bananas soon after the defeat, knowing that they had skipped lunch, but almost no one was hungry. It wasn't until a while later that they came looking for food.
One individual gold, one team gold, and one team silver.

The coach of the opposing team came up to us parents afterwards and complimented us on our wrestlers, especially for their exemplary conduct. He called it "Christian conduct" and said it spoke loudly to the wrestling world represented in that gym. I never saw one of them lose their tempers or say a bad word to or about their opponents. Amazing, considering how intense this sport is. Their coach holds them to very high behavioural standards and they consistently meet that. He's a great coach, we love the influence he's had/having on our boys.

Then we had awards. A long affair, as they gave out medals to the top six wrestlers in each of the 13 categories, plus medals to all the team members of the top three teams in both the individual and dual competitions. 

And then lots of photos. This was it, the last wrestling meet of the season. Our son's last wrestling meet of his six-year school career. A moment to savour.

It's been a long road, one that I'll write about in my reflection post. But it's ended gloriously. I was concerned that with such high expectations from many people, he'd fail to meet them (it's happened often in the past at the end of the season) and it's great relief that he didn't. It's so exciting to see how a lot of hard work has paid off and also how he's matured as a person and a wrestler. This sport is as intense psychologically as it is physically. Being able to keep your head in the match right to the end of a long, tough meet (and season) is hard, but really important.

We went out with the team again this evening. This time to an all-you-can-eat cook-your-own-meat restaurant. The guys ate and ate and ate. No more weigh ins!

After we left there we did a bit of wandering in the cold in the small streets around the front of the base/hotel before collapsing into bed. We encountered other roving teams of wrestlers too. All looking relieved all the hard work was over.

This little cultural centre in the airport proved to be a short diversion during
our wait for a flight home. We made paper-covered trays, listened to traditional
Korean music live, and bought a couple of souvenirs.
This was our travel day. But first, as I said in my summary post, we had lunch with two former CAJ mums and then onto the airport for a late-afternoon/evening flight. With all the intensity over, it was an exhausting day. I think I caught a nap on the plane, but I'm really not good at sleeping in a seat and only do it when I'm really tired.

It was great to finally sink into my own bed just before midnight, knowing the season was over. 

As I've said before, I love wrestling. I love watching my son wrestling. But it is exhausting: emotionally and physically. I've looked forward to this wrestling season since last February and it hasn't disappointed. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to actually go to Korea and be a part of the event, rather than hear about it via other people's reports. 

I'll treasure this memory for the rest of my life. I don't know where my son will go from here with wrestling (though he does intend to continue, be it in a less intense fashion, both here and in Australia), but he's had wonderful opportunities and success as a high schooler and that's been an integral part to his growth. I'm so glad he found his niche, something he was passionate about. It's helped him (and us) through some really rough times. The lessons he's learnt are bigger than how to pin an opponent . . . but now I'm morphing into my reflection post, so I'll finish up.

Summary post of my Far East Wrestling adventure

I'm back at my desk in Tokyo. I tried to blog while I was away, but it was really difficult. Not technically difficult (I had WiFi access most of the time), but people-difficult. To write, I need not just time, but people-free time. The trip was people-intensive.

I wish I'd written earlier, because now I've stored up way too much to write for one blog post. So, I think I'll try to write a short summary now and also post a longer, more detailed post for those who want more details. I suspect there will be a third post in the next day or two that is more reflective.

My travelling companions at the airport in Korea.
We travelled. Roughly two hours for each segment of the trip: two hours (three trains) to the airport, two getting through the airport, two in the air, two in Incheon airport, and two on a bus and then walking to our hotel. We left at 8.15am and got to our hotel at 7. I slept badly the night before, so did all this on about 4 ½ hrs sleep.

The start of the Far East wrestling tournament. "Far East" is a US military term. This is a regional competition for their base schools, though historically our school and a couple of others have been invited to also participate. 15 schools from Japan and Korea competed this year.
Dinner on Thursday night. Yum!

Our son had only two wrestles this day, one fairly easy, the second more difficult but not heart wrenching. What was difficult to watch were others who didn't wrestle as well as they could have, or were simply outmatched. Of our nine wresters, three were knocked out of the individual competition this day.

We went to dinner with the team each night of the competition. It was a fabulous part of the trip, two of the team were Korean, so organised the restaurants. Really fun hanging out with the team and coach socially too! These guys can eat!

Each night my fellow wrestling-mum roommate and I talked via FaceTime with her husband and our three boys that had remained in Tokyo. They seemed to weather the week okay.

This was the hardest day of wrestling for me. Late morning our son had his semifinal. He levelled the score in the last 10 seconds to tie  6-6. But he won the match, because the other guy had "fled" the mat during the bout (with our son hanging on to one of his legs), which is against the rules. 

This match left me shaking.
This is the bout that left me in need of oxygen.

The guy who lost to him is the same one who he's wrestled more than a dozen times in the last two years. Most times they've been hard fought matches, though he's only bested our son twice and that was last year, he's pushed our son hard.

That match left me a mess until the final four hours later. In the meantime we had lunch (or I tried to eat lunch) and the loser of the semi had to wrestle one more time to decide who would face our son in the final.

The final was somewhat of a let-down. It was the same guy he'd wrestled in the semi, but the wind seemed to have been taken out of his sails. Our son won 10-0.

I didn't cry. But I did feel a profound sense of relief. It was like a dream.

The second part of the tournament began, it was a team competition (though there was a team element to the individual competition too). This was team vs team. Our school seeded first, so got a bye in the first round and didn't have to wrestle on Friday afternoon.
Osan is the name of the US airforce base. South of Seoul. This building
is where we spent our days. US bases aren't very pretty, though. All their
buildings are pretty drab.
The area outside the base was also very drab plus dirty.

The dual meet continued and our team met, and easily defeated two teams on our way to the final. The final, however, was a different story. The team we met was not as good as ours, but had a full line-up (wrestlers in all 13 weight categories) compared to our team, which was four wresters short of a full complement due to illness, injury, and a lack of team members (almost no students at CAJ are as heavy as 215lb [97.5kg] or heavier, so our teams often lack the top two weight categories).

It was a hard fought dual where they only beat us twice in bouts where we had wrestlers to face up to them, but we tied in points at the end. The tie-breaker was the fact that we had had to forfeit four matches and they walked away with the title. There are many what-ifs here and many of the guys were beating themselves up. It really is something to see a team of tough wrestlers in tears.

The awards were many, and it was great to see all our wrestlers with at least two medals around their necks. The team won first place in the individual tournament in our smaller schools division and got silver for the dual meet. We had two Far East Champions (our son was one), one third and three fourths too.

Thankfully we were also able to go out as a group again later and have some fun. But it was very cold to wander the streets, we didn't stay out all that long.

The cup of coffee that saved me on Sunday afternoon.
With everything over barring the travel, we got to theoretically sleep-in this morning. I still woke at 6, though that was better than many of the days beforehand. A former CAJ mum picked us up and took us to lunch an hour away with another former CAJ mum, both Korean. So we were treated to some more delightful, but hot, Korean food. 

But I was so tired. If I was prone to falling asleep vertically I could easily have done so during lunch. Not only had my sleep been messed up with all the emotion, my digestion too. I've not been able to eat much during the last week and I simply could hardly make an impression on this large dish that we were given. It was embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do about it.

We flew out close to 6pm, and didn't get home until after 11pm. Everyone was in bed/asleep when I got home. Thankfully David and the team had arrived a couple of hours earlier and he was able to get our younger two boys home and into bed.

14 February, 2017

I can't keep calm, I'm a wrestling mum

This is about where I'm at right now.

It's probably good for everyone that I'm actually taking my crazy self away with other people who are crazy about wrestling. It's just safer that way. I'll overdose on it and, hopefully, get it out of my system for this season. Then proceed next week to start getting my life back on some kind of normal keel again.

I'm leaving on a train tomorrow morning (Wednesday) for the airport and Korea. I'm not taking my computer, so I won't be doing a lot of blogging, while I can blog from my phone when I have WiFi at night time, I don't expect that that I'll be typing a lot on that little screen. We'll see how it goes. Maybe a some short, photo-heavy posts.

Then we'll be back on Sunday evening after what I hope is a wonderful adventure laying down life-long memories.

13 February, 2017

Independent Missionaries

I'm excited about the latest issue of Japan Harvest magazine that we've posted out today. It highlights a group of the missionary force in Japan that can be easily missed: independent missionaries.

Here's a sample of my editorial:
I love the cover. It is of one of our authors, who is an
independent missionary. Her husband works for a
company in Japan. I met her through OMF, they
have an informal connection with OMF called
"OMF Friends".What's even more exciting about the
cover is that I commissioned it from a professional
photographer, who happens to be a missionary and a
friend in the CAJ community. I'm hoping that this is
something we can continue to do.
During the process of getting this issue into print, I've communicated with several people who could be considered independent missionaries. I've discovered that it is a wide category ranging from tentmakers (people working full-time in secular jobs) to people working with a mission here without a supporting mission  from their passport country. In the middle are people who are supported from outside Japan and also work here part-time to supplement their support. There are also couples where one person is fully employed by a company (Japanese or otherwise) and the other is engaged in full- or part-time Christian work.
Independent missionaries make up more than 11% of the JEMA (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association), the association that publishes this magazine and represents about 900 of the Protestant, evangelical missionaries in Japan. It was fantastic to gather articles from these folk and hear their voices, which differ from the main-line missionary/mission voices. But also to consider how we, in traditional mission organisations, can reach out and help these independent missionaries better.

We also included a new "column" called Voice of Experience, it is by missionaries who've been in Japan more than 20 years, giving advice to those who've been here for less than that. It will be interesting to see how that pans out over time. It is not written by one person, but, like the New Voices "column" (by those who've been in Japan less than five years) the contributors are different (almost) every time.

Plus there is a member survey, seeking to find out more about our readers and what they'd like to see in future magazines. I'm looking forward to seeing how the results of that compare to the last time I oversaw a JH survey, five years ago.

Alas, as I've looked through it just now, somewhat briefly, I've already found two errors! An editor's nightmare, but occupational hazard. Maybe I'll stop looking at it now.

12 February, 2017

Adrenaline-filled day

Moments before the end as our son (on top) tipped his opponent over onto
his back and pinned him chest-to-chest.
Well yesterday proved to be even more adrenaline filled than I'd anticipated. 

I'd started the day reasonably calm (for me on a wrestling day), but my digestive system was telling me otherwise.

I know that anything can happen at these events. Anyone can be beaten, but then it was happening before my eyes. The first surprise was seeing our son's usual main rival beaten by another guy late morning in his semi-final, meaning the final would be different to what I'd envisaged. Adrenaline built from there and I really hardly ate all day.

The Outstanding Wrestler trophy is huge. Six kilos!
Then around 4pm they turned the main lights down and put the spotlights on the main mat. Loud, heart-thumping music played as they dramatically introduced the guys who'd be competing in the final bouts of the thirteen weight classes. 

I got very restless and couldn't sit in the stands. I stood on the side, in the shadows. Our son, at 158 pounds (~72kg), is in the fifth-heaviest weight category and therefore had to wait a while as they started from the lightest wrestlers (101 pounds/ ~45kg).

Many of the finals before his were dramatic, hard-fought bouts. Most of them between the two top schools: St Mary's International (also hosts and with a large amount of loud, home support) and Kinnick High School (Yokosuka US Air Base) who also were very loud in their support. 

Our son's bout was against a St. Mary's wrestler. The rivalry is great between St Mary's and Kinnick, and I suspect that we had some from Kinnick shouting for our son as a win by our team was in their favour (we aren't a threat to them in the team-stakes).

In any case, I was very nervous. I mentioned to my two wrestler-mum friends who sat with me beside the mat that I was worried I would embarrass myself.

It really is a bit of a blur now. But he came "out of the blocks" blazing and it was all over in under two minutes. I yelled. I screamed. After it was over I jumped. I cried. I hugged. 

I also managed to get my finger stuck on the shutter button of my iPhone and took 29 photos of nothing but blur.

Our school's other wrestler in the finals was straight after our son, so I sat by and cheered him. He was also victorious. More celebrations.

Then I went and found my son. He stood on his own in the shadows, all sweaty and smelly and damp. I hugged him around his torso and wetly told him . . . something. I can't remember.

But there was more. After all had wrestled. They turned the lights on and rolled up the mats. Then they presented medals, lots of medals. Medals for all the Junior Varsity rounds (the B-level), the three female brackets, and then the Varsity weight classes (A-level).

After that was the team results. The hosts were pipped by Kinnick, but our team got third.

And then there was one last trophy to present. The Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament award. Our son has already won this once this season. Surely he wouldn't win it again. I held my breath. And the name that I am so familiar with, the name I gave this boy of mine nearly 18 years ago in a hospital in Brisbane, was called out to a gym full of people.

I gasped. Then I jumped up and yelled again.

This was a day with plenty of emotions. Lots of fun getting back together with a lot of the regular wrestling parents. I also enjoyed relating to the female members of the team over dinner on the way home, especially after an emotional moment with one of them after a loss earlier in the day. We travelled home in the school bus with most of the team (David was the driver, as he's been all season). As we crept along in Saturday-night Tokyo traffic, it was fun chatting with the coach, and two other parents, plus some of the team members (but most were further back in the bus and having their own fun).

The adrenaline from all of that hasn't not worn off yet. My digestion isn't back to normal yet. 

I also struggled to get to sleep. Then I woke again early morning and it took longer than an hour to get back to sleep.

I lay down again this afternoon for a few hours, but no sleep came. I read, and played word and card games on my phone. Trying to relax, and knowing that the next week will test my endurance.

10 February, 2017

Crazy days

It's five sleeps until we go to Korea and things are heating up. Why does it always seem that unrelated things pile up on top of one another in my schedule?
Where we're headed on Wednesday

This morning and actually yesterday too, I've been head-down-tail-up trying to get on top of the current stage in editing magazine articles. I'm hoping to get the articles all finished by the end of the month, so that we can get the next magazine out in the first month of the season (as opposed to the last month, as it is this month)! Not all of that is my responsibility, but a lion's share is.

What adds an urgency is our five-day Korea trip. The day after we get back I've got a half-day meeting downtown, so in total, I'm feeling like I'll lose a week of working time.

Today I've been reaping the benefits/dealing with the challenges of working from home. It was a non-school day for the boys, though we all attended student-led conferences this afternoon (instead of a parent-teacher conference, students talk to their parents about what they've been doing and set goals). So that meant that I edited as fast as I could this morning, then made lunch, then rode out to get groceries, put the groceries away and rushed down to school for three hours of conferences with my boys. Then came home to put dinner on, answering email and writing this blog post in the midst of making dinner! A bit crazy, indeed I feel pretty crazy.

Tomorrow is the high school wrestling finals for our region (three international schools and three US military schools). It will be another all-day affair, though probably only involving two bouts for our son who is seeded first in his weight-class. However we are not anticipating that the final will be an easy win. He'll most probably be up against the same guy he's wrestled for the last two years. Our son has only been beaten by him twice (and both were last season), but they've rarely had an easy match.

Sunday is a usual day, with church and then, hopefully, a quiet afternoon. Although there are things that need to be taken care of in preparation for our overseas trip on Wednesday. Packing of bags is one of them.

I have prayer meetings at school in the morning and then will go to the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association office in town to pack the Winter issue of the magazine.

Tuesday will be the crunch day. Making sure everything is ready for our trip away, making sure our two younger boys are ready to stay at someone else's house for five days. And, trying to finish up as much editing as possible. I'm hoping to catch up with a friend over coffee on Tuesday as well. I really hope we can as we've had to schedule and reschedule over and over again.

Tuesday night those of us who are going to Korea will go to the dress rehearsal of the school play. This is a special allowance for us as the performances all happen during our trip.

David and the team will leave at around 6am on trains to go to the airport. I'll leave at around 8.30 with one of my three travel buddies. We'll get to our destination sometime in the evening. Totally travel time door-to-door is about five to six hours, plus time in and around both airports.

Our younger boys will stay with a friend/colleague/teacher. Yes, he's all of these things, he even teaches one of our boys. He is also a wrestling parent. His wife is one of my travelling companions and two of his boys are with the team going to Korea.

So yes, I'm feeling a little hyperactive in trying to make sure I don't drop a ball in the midst of all this, though I fear that it's likely to happen anyway.

I'm excited about the trip, but as usual the actual leaving is rather full of stress.

09 February, 2017

A question of identity

Sometimes I've felt like a shadow of my
former self, like all substance has been
taken from who I am.
When we first arrived in Japan I felt like I'd lost my identity. It was like my past had been wiped clean. No one knew my past, I felt like I was back in kindergarten. Completely dependent for tasks even as small as reading my mail, buying milk, and going to the doctor. 

I read a blog post yesterday by a new OMFer who talked about the struggles of going with her young daughter to a "Snow camp". She wrote: "It’s hard, exhausting and discouraging to be the only one who has no idea – ALL the time." Those kinds of experiences will change you, will change your identity, but not take your identity from you.

I like this post called "Dear Life Abroad—I'll keep my identity thanks." It is based on the common idea that life overseas will result in a loss of identity. However the author counters the idea, saying that rather life overseas has shaped his identity, much like life at college does, or any significant experience does, really.

I remember struggling to fit back into my university life after a short five weeks away in Indonesia when I was 20. I toured the country with a group of other keen Christians, learning about the religions of the country and missionary life. Returning to Brisbane and my old life was very difficult. Even in that short time, I had changed, as had the people I'd left (for example, my best friend at church had begun a relationship with someone who later damaged her). 

But the main change, in that short time, was in me. I'd experienced intense Christian fellowship under, at times, trying circumstances. The spiritual experience was closer to heaven than I'd ever had the privilege of being a part of. I just couldn't slip back down easily into mediocre church-going. I had trouble relating to pretty much everyone at church. Oh, I also had a serious crisis in my uni course, which didn't help my state of mind. But overall, it was a difficult period.

However, my pain wasn't related to a loss of identity, but rather that in my new understanding of myself and the world, or my new identity, I struggled to relate to those who my former self had related to. Mind you that wasn't everyone in my life. Some precious friends who I lived with were a mainstay at this time. I often came home after church and ended up in tears on their shoulders.

And again, when we came back to Australia in 2004, after four years in Japan. Everyone had changed. Everyone had moved on in their lives, most not leaving a space for us to fit into again. But I think the bigger changes were probably in us. Our identities had changed. Four years in a completely different culture, being reduced to child-like dependency, learning to function in a completely new language, and doing a job you never felt qualified to do, does that to you. We were humbled, even crushed (or at least I was).

My identity now, after 16 years of living this life overseas (or in Australia temporarily, but talking about our life overseas), it definitely irrevocably changed. Japan will always be a part of who I am, no matter how many years I live somewhere else. These days I generally relate best to those who have similar identities: ones who were born in one country, but have lived in another for many years. I do always struggle when I go back to Australia, to fit in. To not be the person who always says, "Well, in Japan they..." or "There was that time that we were driving through Tokyo when..." And to patiently answer all the questions about Japan and our family's lives. Or to sit impatiently through conversations where the speaker clearly has forgotten where we've spent most of our lives.

Identity. It's an important topic and something that is unique to an individual. But don't be afraid you'll lose it as you encounter a difficult situation (like having children, or changing jobs or cities) or consider moving overseas. You'll be changed, for sure. For a time you may feel as though you've lost touch with who you were. But in the end you'll discover that actually, your old self is being changed into something new. If you're a Christian you can be sure that God will use this experience to make you more like him, if you're willing. 

We have long lists of people we pray for. Most of whom, for which, we don't know what's going on in their lives. So sometimes I pull out this passage by Paul and pray it for them:
 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12, NIVUK) 
It's great to be reminded that God gives us his spirit that grows us in a way that pleases him.

And James 1:2-4 gives us encouragement that in the midst of challenging circumstances we grow: 
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIVUK)
So let us not be afraid that we're going to lose (or have lost) our identity here on earth. In fact, if you are a child of God, that is your ultimate identity (Romans 8:14).

Here are some other times I've written about identity:
Mixing up role and identity
Your experience of culture shock
The struggle for identity