13 December, 2018

A testing time

David preaching.
I awoke this morning while writing a blog post in my head. It's these sorts of things that remind me that I am a writer (even if I've no ambition to write a book). But it's been 10 days since I wrote a blog post, so it's certainly time to put some words on the screen, as a lot has happened.
Our home church on Sunday as David preached. 

The big news is that late on Friday afternoon we were given the news that we would be allowed to proceed to Japan as planned in early January. It's hard to find words to say about this, which is one of the reasons I haven't written. 

It had been sixteen days of waiting. Those were hard days. For those who interacted with us during those days, we tried to put on brave faces, but I really struggled. My body was telling me I was struggling. Like most people, I have a list of usual physical stress signs and I had just about every one of them, including headaches and nausea.

David preached again on Sunday (for the last time this home assignment), the same sermon, on the latter half of Matthew 16, about trusting God for everything. We've heard him preach this same sermon several times across the last few months. But it was much more personal on Sunday and left me feeling raw. It's not all that fun having your personal, spiritual challenges laid out for others to watch and comment on.

On the surface, it might seem that the timing of when we go back to Japan wouldn't be that big a concern, but actually, it's bigger than perhaps can easily be seen first off. It was like a king domino threatening to fall and the consequences included decisions about our boys' education, two houses that we're currently leasing (one in Ipswich and one in Tokyo), David's job, and all the people we would have let down if we'd had to stay here. Not to mention that we'd already visited all our supporting churches in the last four and half months and couldn't imagine what else we'd be doing if we'd stayed longer. We'd just spoken at 18 churches, nearly two dozen small groups, and met with over 20 individuals or groups for meals or coffee. So this news came as we were feeling very tired. On a bigger scale than that, it seemed as though our call to Japan was being questioned. 

As I wrote back here, it wasn't the only difficult news we had to deal with. Over a period of just eight days, we had "hits" from several different fronts. It was as if we were being assaulted with bad news on every side. Family, friends, kids, and our calling. Thankfully our marriage remained and we were able to stand strong together, though at times like this I definitely feel like the weaker one, the one whose body gives in to stress far more easily.

Not a large pool, but sufficiently deep and
wet enough to have fun in.
Looking back, however, there are several other things to be thankful about. Amidst the question of our calling, we were given much affirmation by colleagues and close friends here and in Japan. Many people stood by us as we waited. I was able to tell some of the more personal struggles with close friends and they were a great support to us also. In having our calling to Japan questioned, we sought the Lord and only found confirmation, though a warning to remember always where our trust should lie.

I'm writing from the depths of our short holiday. We'd planned a six-night get-away from Sunday afternoon and, though it was hard to guard this time, we're glad we did and it's been a blessed relief to have no other responsibilities other than taking care of ourselves. We've also been incredibly blessed by being able to stay (for free) in a six-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a pool and media room, tucked away on the Sunshine Coast. It's been wonderful.

While we're away we're trying not to think about all that needs to be arranged and done to make another international move in under a month. Thankfully, on Friday, we were able to book flights back to Japan for the 9th of January (we didn't let grass grow!). We've got a house already set up in Tokyo and a car (though it's being used in Yokohama at present). There are just a few things to do before we leave, like packing up and cleaning where we're living in Ipswich. Though we've been living lightly, so there isn't too much to pack.

We go back to Ipswich on Saturday and then have several medical appointments on Monday and Tuesday and will take off again on Thursday to spend the rest of the month with first David's family, then mine.

One of the ironies about this whole situation is that I do find it hard to leave Australia after home assignment. Australia is a comfortable place for us. We fit in here better than we do in Japan. So, even after fighting to go back to Japan as planned, I do still have mixed emotions about leaving. There's no doubt we're supposed to be in Japan . . . but.

Yesterday one of the boys started a "Would you rather______ or ________." conversation. I grabbed this with two hands, and asked them questions like:

"Would you rather a hot Christmas or cold one?" Unanimously they answered "cold".
"Would you rather eat Japanese or Australian instant noodles?" Again a unanimous "Japan".

Then they got one in: "Would you rather live in Japan or Australia?"

I begged off. I simply can't answer that. After fighting to go back to Japan in January as planned, I can no longer legitimately say that I prefer living in Australia (unless you remove from me a sense that I have to do something meaningful with my life).

I've no idea when I'll post again. Probably next time I wake up with a blog post in my head...

03 December, 2018

Acquainted with grief

Another thing the psychologist asked me to think and write about was how Jesus was "acquainted with grief" (from Isaiah 53). She was suggesting that we can learn to not treat grief like an enemy, more like a friend. However, after pondering this, I think it's a better course to get to know the one who is acquainted with grief and has the capacity to heal us.

I found a good article pondering this (I have a theological issue with the second last sentence, but the rest is great): http://www.terynobrien.com/2014/04/10/jesus-man-sorrows-acquainted-grief/
This bench in Singapore reminded me of one of our loses this
year: a friend and missionary colleague who passed away
from brain cancer a few months ago. Her husband has
had a passion for photographing benches around the world,
in times past (when our boys were younger and more
willing to pose for my camera) we'd take "bench photos" and
send them to him.

Here are some quotes from the post:
He [Jesus] lived his life knowing that the people he loved and served and healed would someday turn on him. 
I am not alone. Jesus knows pain. He knows grief. He’s walked that road. He’s carried those burdens. And I can lean on Him when I get so,  so weary.
He’s the only One who can truly comfort the broken, the hurting, the grieving. . . Turn to the Messiah who is acquainted with grief and find healing in his nail-scarred embrace.
We are not alone. This secular world would like us to think that we are, that all we need is ourselves. But, deep down, most of us know that we need more than that. We usually end up reaching out to others and things that won't satisfy us in the long-term. Don't get me wrong, God's given us these people and things. It's not wrong to invest in relationships with others to help us through this life, it's just that they will never be able to meet all our needs. No matter how hard they try, they will fail (as will we, in relating to them).

The only one who won't is Jesus. Though it's not necessarily so easy to relate to him as it is to someone who is sitting across the table from you. I think becoming better acquainted with Jesus is a life-long task, one that I've got a lot more to learn about yet!

Scripture backs up the idea that Jesus will comfort us. I read the following last week:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (2 Corinthians 1:2-4 NIV).

Followed by this later in the book of second Corinthians:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (4:16-18).

That's our ongoing challenge: to keep lifting our eyes from the pain and ugliness of this world (and even from the beautiful and attractive) to our unseen God. It's a daily battle, and one that I doubt will be won by this flawed human this side of heaven.

29 November, 2018

Seize the day

One of the things we do a lot when we're in Australia is "seize the day". Here are some recent examples:

I've been buying a lot of mangoes and green grapes. That might or might not seem strange to you. Green seedless grapes of the sort I grew up eating aren't common in Japan (although I've increasingly seen equivalents there in the last year). So while I'm here, I'm going to enjoy them. I almost never have mango in Japan, because they are expensive and always look dodgy (especially for the price). The other day I had a brief encounter with a grocery store employee who expressed surprise at all my mangoes, I didn't bother to explain to her that I was seizing the day!

Last Wednesday we went to a live international cricket match. Both David and I are fans, but I have never been to a live international match and he's never been to a short-form game. Last home assignment we tried to get to one, but the match was washed out and so all we saw was a bit of a boring interstate match. 

Last Wednesday was a great experience, only tempered by the shocking news about our financial support that we'd received hours earlier. We were surprised at how loud the crowd was (but we were sitting in the midst of very loud Indian supporters, possibly the most animated group in the stadium). It did rain for a bit, which meant some delay mid-match, but we ended up seeing 17 overs-a-side (instead of 20). Then there was a thrilling finish where Australia won and we had a great view from our three-rows-from the-front seats. Great entertainment. The boys were surprised at how much fun it was. Another seize-the-day moment.

This isn't quite in the same category, but close. I seize the day by reading as many books as I can from our local library. I love having such a wonderful library close by (we drive past our local branch at least four times a day on school days). The library pictured is not our local branch, but the central branch that I visited today because I was in the area and needed a cool, quiet place to wait for a couple of hours.

Tonight we're having roast chicken. I'd have to say it's also a seize-the-day event. In Australia we take every opportunity to enjoy the meat so easily available here, especially sausages (sooo much better than Japanese sausages) and meat pies. But other food too, although trying to keep a lid on the Australian lollies that we love to indulge in!

And of course fruit mince pies: ones that are freely available in the shops, not painstakingly made at home.
We do the same in Japan: we enjoy the things that you can enjoy there, and not in Australia. I can bet that our boys will be wanting some Japanese convenience store food soon after we arrive back!

28 November, 2018

Friendship goal

One thing I've been working on these last six weeks is solidifying commitment to be closer to some friends I already had here in Australia. 
Here's a special long-term friendship. This photo was
taken at the airport on the day we left for the mission
field in November 2000. We spent a weekend with
these friends when we first arrived back in Australia
in July. Friends who we can go deep with
quickly, despite great time between meetings.

It is a goal that came out of visiting the psychologist who consults for our mission. I went to talk to her about learning to better deal with the grief inherent in our cross-cultural lifestyle. She asked a lot of questions about my friendships and realised that though we have worked in the same organisation for 18 years and in the same location for the last 12, my friendships have had a lot of change over the years, even people who seemed that they would be there for the long-haul have had to leave for various reasons.

It's a common experience for people who live an expat lifestyle (check out this article):
Without realizing it, a lifetime of moving has caused me to neglect one of the most important areas in a woman’s life: that of developing close friends. Sometimes instead of shying away from getting to know new people, I actually do the opposite and try to make as many new acquaintances as possible. This is also not a healthy response, as I am avoiding getting close to anyone. (by Kristene, working with Wycliffe)
I'm not sure if things got as bad as that for me, but I have certainly found it a challenge to ask friends about going for a deeper commitment. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by the responses I got.

I've been trying to write this blog post for several weeks. In October I wrote:
Recently I have been talking to some good friends about the topic of "friends". I'm surprised at how little we actually talk about this with friends, but it is also a somewhat scary thing to talk about. Female friendships can be volatile. Any woman who remembers her childhood can tell you that. Any mum of girls can tell you that. Any primary school teacher will no doubt agree. As an adult we like to think that we're past all that volatility, but the risk of being hurt is there, the risk of putting too much emphasis on one friend and then having that fall through is there.
Nonetheless I've made some progress. And I'd have to say that it was timely, given recent events. I've had timely face-to-face times with two special friends in the last week that has helped me stay afloat (mind you both times I was unable to make it through the food that my friends bought for me). And with two other friends I've formed an online "support group" using Messenger. Though we've all been very busy, we've been encouraging one another through some tough stuff (not just my tough stuff). It's been exciting, even heady stuff.

Friends are costly, but also incredibly precious. Sometimes they also take a lot more conscious effort to develop than you might expect, especially in a lifestyle with lots of transition.

I go back to the psychologist next week and am looking forward to telling her about my progress.

Here's another post about friends I wrote a couple of years ago.

27 November, 2018

Emotional rollercoaster

The last ten days have been full of some ugly stuff for us. Three of the things that have entered our lives, via people we love, are stories that aren't mine to tell but are things experienced by many. Three things that have driven me to tears. Things that we wish didn't exist and make us long for heaven and perfect health and relationships.

The one that we can tell, I wrote about yesterday: the financial situation that means our plans for next year are currently on hold. That has been hard to take also, especially this close to our anticipated return to Japan. After many years of having sufficient support, I guess we probably took it for granted a little and so it was unexpected (not that we've ceased in all the last 20 years to pray for ongoing financial support)

I've struggled with nausea and appetite during these days. We got the initial financial news last Wednesday just before we went off to one of the highlights of our home assignment: watching a live international cricket match (first time ever). Talk about emotional rollercoasters! I was lucky to get away without throwing up on someone.

In the midst of this rollercoaster, we've still been meeting with people and spent much of Sunday driving to a church on the Sunshine coast and speaking there.

Today we're in the still centre of the storm: we've sent out our prayer letter with the news, we've told our boys, and now we wait until a key finance person comes back from holidays next week and more discussion happens. Meanwhile, we wait and hope and pray. 

And—I need to say—recover. These blows have come at a time when we're feeling pretty weary. We've worked hard to visit many churches and groups in the last 4 1/2 months and are longing for our planned holidays in December. We also long for certainty about the future, but that will have to wait, though a decision will have to be made about our accommodation before Christmas.

Earlier this afternoon I posted a photo of the trunk of the gum tree (and I've used it here too) I can see from my desk in our front yard. I realised that I can't see the whole majesty of this tree from close up, not even my desk that is about five metres from the tree (with a small awning in the way). You have to stand way back off the property to see the whole tree well. Aren't difficulties we encounter like that? We can only see part of the whole. We certainly rarely can see much beauty in them. It takes time and distance to see any good out of them at all. So we wait. We don't know the end of the story of any of the ugly things that have happened in our lives recently and not knowing the end is really hard. But we have to trust.
"I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" (Ps 91:2 NIV).
I'm also reminded of the great passage of Romans 8, especially the end: 
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vs 38-39 NIV).

26 November, 2018

Urgent prayer request

I don't often put plain prayer requests up here, but today I feel compelled to. Christian friends, please pray! We've received some very difficult news only six weeks away from our intended departure date. 

We have just been notified that OMF Australia is very concerned about our level of financial support. One of their conditions for us to return to Japan is that we have sufficient pledges of financial support to cover expected costs each year. It seems as though we are at least AU$18,000 per annum short of what they would prefer that we had promised (or 15 people promising to give $100 a month). More would help.
One causative factor is that the exchange rates have changed dramatically from last year. Another factor is that our support from Australia has been slowly dropping. This is quite a normal thing for a family who has been on the field for 18 years. In those 18 years supporters have retired, gone to be with the Lord, or had changed circumstances. We’ve had churches tell us, regretfully, that they are no longer choosing to support us. We’ve also had no new pledges of financial support this year.
Obviously this is a big concern for us. We haven’t sensed that the Lord is calling us away from ministry in Japan, on the contrary, this last term it seems as though we’ve been able to serve in ways that God has especially gifted us. We also feel that we’ve got much more to give to the work in Japan. Our boys are also happy in Japan and very keen to finish their schooling there. It seems as though everything else has lined up for us to go back: OMF Japan and CAJ want us to return and we also have been given medical clearance.

Would you pray that God does a miracle? Pray that he’d provide sufficiently that we might be able to go back as planned in early January, if that is his will. Please also pray that we would have God’s peace at this time of uncertainty about our future. We’re itching to buy those tickets to get back to Japan and the jobs God’s given us there, it’s hard to think that we might be held back from doing that for financial reasons. We really value your prayers.

David's been preaching on the latter half of Matthew 16, especially:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (vv. 33 & 34 NIV).
We probably shouldn't be too surprised at a challenge to our faith in God's supply and timing of such!

[Extra financial information: we're currently 79% supported]

If you're interested in investigating supporting us, you can go to this link to notify OMF of your intentions and get information on the best way to support us.

21 November, 2018

Teenage parenting crumbs

I write to you from the depths of parenting teenage boys. I'm not here to complain, but rather offer some crumbs of encouragement to those of you who are, perhaps, approaching these years with trepidation.

Food's another point of mutual interest that works well
with boys. We've discovered that a trip to a cafe for
a hot chocolate treat is a fun family activity. Oh, and
now I've also got a boy who's interested, particularly,
in food presentation.
It is possible to maintain a relationship with them. At least in my experience, and while we've not got the worst of teenagers in our house, nor do we have the "dream team".

Two big keys for me are:
1. Pick your battles very carefully (not meaning that you don't set expectations).
2. Find what they're interested in, and invest in that to build a bridge.

Pick your battles
This means that we've chosen to ignore some things that others might frown upon. Or set our expectations at different levels to what you might expect.

An example is letting our boys play Pokemon Go. This has had several benefits for them personally that you might not expect, including increased interaction between our younger two, and greater willingness to go outside (a key part of the game and something that one of them was struggling with). 

Find out their interests and get involved
This has meant different things at different times. It's also been more or less difficult for me, depending on the interest of our kids. 

Wrestling is the obvious example with our eldest son. It took a lot of time, but ultimately was really good for our relationship with him as we could talk about what he was interested and spending time doing.

Our middle son's interests have been harder to discern, but movies is one of them. This has been hard for me, because most of the movies he enjoys, I don't naturally lean towards. Getting into Superheros and the Wizarding universe (aka Harry Potter) has been hard for me. It's also not been without conflict as I struggle to understand and they get annoyed when I asked ignorant and annoying questions in my quest (especially in the middle of the movie!). I've walked out of more than one movie (ones that we were viewing at home). But I'm starting to see positives as I gradually get up to speed. It's become a topic I can have something of a conversation about, and been positive for my relationship with my boys.

So there you go, my parenting crumbs for today. Honestly (not that I wasn't being honest before), there's some rough stuff going on for us at present (and not necessarily parenting-related), some of which I can probably tell you another day, others of which I need to keep close to my chest. Please pray for peace amidst some storms that have headed our way recently, and hang about—I'll share here as I can.