31 January, 2011

I made it

We'll, I've faced down my fears and made it from one side of Tokyo to the other and back again - on my own. A total of seven trains and about three hours of travel.

The journey there was smoooooth, I made all the changes with no problems. I shared my journey with thousands of other Tokyo-ites, a little too closely at times, but at least I had room to put my feet and wasn't a victim of "polite pushers". However, I didn't feel as though I had room to freely exhale until about 45 minutes into my journey.

The journey back was a tiny bit more problematic, but nothing that a little bit of map and sign reading couldn't overcome. Probably my closest call was when the train totally emptied out (see picture) and I didn't realise that this was the last stop of the train - merely two stations before my destination. Sorry the photo is blurry - as I took it an official person came running through urgently and politely tossing me off the train!

I think what has made it possible to do today, what I couldn't have done five years ago is that I've learned some of my local geography - most especially the names of some of the key stations along my journey. So I therefore could figure out whether I was getting on the right train, for example. 

I'm still a little dodgy on all the variety of trains that they have - local, commuter express, semi-express, rapid express, limited express and even a commuter semi-express! Each with their own complex Japanese characters. If you're lucky you'll spot an English equivalent, but this still doesn't tell you if the train will stop at "your" station. To find that out you have to search for a wonderful bar-type graph with spots that tell you which station which type of train stops at on this line. Fantastic stuff!

All that aside, though. I think I have this route sorted! Which is good, because on Wednesday I have to do it again (actually only 2/3 of it). It is also one of the most direct routes to our mission's Japan headquarters where I go, on average, once a month. Often I can get a lift or have a travel partner, but it is good to know that I can manage on my own if I need to!

30 January, 2011

Tomorrow, the day I've successfully avoided for five years.

Tomorrow comes the day I've tried to avoid for many years. I knew it was inevitable that, living in Tokyo, I'd one day have to face the trains on my own. I wrote a little about it here.

I've become comfortable in getting to close-by stations, but tomorrow I have to get myself across the metropolis of Tokyo via four trains and a couple of big, crowded stations. 

So if you don't hear from me tomorrow, it is because I got lost in the spaghetti that is the Tokyo train system. But hopefully I'll make it home in time to pick up my sons from school.

29 January, 2011

Encouragement for my soul

Wow, here's some encouragement for my soul and maybe yours too.

It is from an article by Jill Briscoe, executive editor of the magazine Just Between Us. She refers to an incident on 9/11 when she was stuck, with several plane-loads of people in Newfoundland when air traffic was suspended. They got hungry and she remembered some cookies she had bought at Heathrow Airport before boarding the plane. Then, despite her desire to help others, she ended up eating all the cookies herself.
"The cookies represent any time we do the wrong thing instead of doing the right thing - or when people diminish us with words or actions and we "eat them" ~ It represents any time we fail as a daughter, son, grandparent, mother, father, friend, leader, or follower. All of us will fail and fail again. Remember, we are fallen people living in a fallen world, but we can't allow others to judge us as failures. There is only one judgement seat and it is most thoroughly occupied by the Lord Himself, who died for us...When others, by innuendo, impugn and degrade us, even if sometimes we indeed do it wrong, God whispers love and affirmation to our heart, if we let Him...
We must not think less of ourselves than God thinks of us. And one glorious day we will never do it again. I can't wait!"  
from "I Ate the Cookie!" by Jill Briscoe, Just Between Us, Summer 2009.

 

Australian books at CAJ?

An old photo of CAJ library
I really appreciate that we live close to a library, an English library. The CAJ library is a wonderful place where parents are most certainly welcomed and catered for. A little unusual for a school library. However, yesterday, when looking for biographies for my grade two son (an attempt by the teachers to get them to read different genre), I realised that the vast majority of people featured were Americans. Now I have no problem with my boys learning American history, but I just felt like a little balance was necessary.

Well, me, being me, voiced my opinion to the nearest American (who happened to be a friend). Actually we ended up with several Americans involved in the conversation. My friend asked me for five Australians I'd like to see biographies of (just quickly off the top of my head). Between my husband and I, we came up with these:

Captain Arthur Phillip (not Australian, I know, but he was the first governor in Australia when the British colonised the nation in 1788)
Mem Fox (children's author)
Colleen McCullough (author of The Thorn Birds and many other books)
Howard Florey (scientist, Nobel prize for work on penicillin)
Donald Bradman (cricketer)

Now I've had time to think (and do a little, not extensive research), I might add some others like:

Dawn Fraser (swimmer)
Margaret Court (tennis player)
Douglas Mawson (Antarctic explorer)
Edmund Barton (first prime minister)
A.B. (Banjo) Patterson (poet and writer, Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River - the poem)
Robert Menzies (longest serving prime minister)
Dame Nellie Melba (Opera singer)
Betty Cuthbert (Olympic athlete)
Victor Chang (heart surgeon)
Carolyn Chisholm (social work in the early days of settlement)
Nancy Bird (aviator)
Bert Hinkler (first solo flight from UK to Australia)
Fred Hollows (eye surgeon)
Ned Kelly (outlaw)
Rolf Harris (artist and entertainer)

Probably my husband would like to add some more scientists, but this is just a rough list.

Some modern famous Australians which non-Australians might recognise are:

Nicole Kidman
Mel Gibson
Ian Thorpe
Cathy Freeman 
Steve Irwin
Okay, this is a good one for comments. 

Australians - who would you like your kids to know about as they grew up? 

Non-Australians - which names do you know in the above list? What about other famous Australians, who can you think of?

28 January, 2011

Basketball season ending in relief

Life goes on despite my emotional ups and downs. 

This week we're celebrating the end of the basketball season for our eldest son. Being able to represent his school in basketball was something he'd looked forward to for years. However it hasn't been all roses and chocolate. The middle school boys practise at 6.40am three mornings a week. First it sounds awfully early, then it sounds doable. But in the end, it IS awfully early and he's gotten very tired.

He hasn't had a best season, either. Social skills don't come easy to our son and there are many social skills required to train and play a team sport. Not to mention just travelling with the team to and from matches on public or private transport!


Let's just say, we were counting down the days till he can eat breakfast with us again every morning. Tomorrow they have their last game of the season and while he loves the game, I think he'll be secretly relieved.

27 January, 2011

Come Lift Up Your Sorrows

This week I've been helped by many songs. One of them is called Come Lift Up Your Sorrows by Michael Card. This is a short clip from Youtube, though I personally think closing your eyes and listening isn't a bad option either.


One of my favourite phrases from the song is:
He has not stuttered, and He has not lied
When He said, "Come unto me, you're not disqualified"
You also might like this short article on his album "The Hidden Face of God", the album that the above song comes from. The article tells how Michael has discovered that the *lament is pure worship. Good news for all who've gone through difficult times, and who hasn't?


*Webster says to lament is to “mourn aloud; to express sorrow or regret; cry out in grief; complain.”

26 January, 2011

Mopping up

I've had some emails from friends concerned that I was blaming myself too much yesterday. Possibly I did, and I do realise there is fault on both sides. It really is a case of two vastly different personalities clashing. I trespassed over another's boundaries some time ago (as in the book "Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend) and didn't realise it because my own boundaries on the same issue are very different. But of course the other person claimed I should have known. And the issue has only come to light because I made another blunder and they finally spoke up to show me the errors of my ways. Of which I have repented and vowed to do my best not to trespass on them again. 

There were many factors involved, which I don't need to go into here, suffice to say it is a complex situation.

I do value the emails and messages I've had from friends - reassuring me of their love, despite whatever my failures may be. That is so precious. Thank you.

To reassure you, I am feeling better physically. I slept well and my appetite is returning. I hope and pray that the other party in this unfortunate situation is also gaining some peace in their soul.
There's more to this story that I can share. The part that I could have missed out on if I'd built a wall and kept this pain to myself instead of asking people to pray for me.

An amazing "coincidence" (though I believe it is more of a God-incidence) is that this week CAJ has its annual Spiritual Life Emphasis Week. Part of that is the students and teachers have a daily worship time with a guest speaker (as a parent I am welcome). Yesterday and today I've been able to worship in English and been reassured that I am a "loved child of God" despite my failings. What perfect timing.

It gets even better. This morning I headed off to Curves to exercise. The final words of "Amazing Grace" surprised me as I changed my clothes. Then came "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" and "How Great Thou Art" - all in English. Yes, everyone was exercising to a Hymn CD - a very lively one at that! I've heard another CD they have with heaps of "hallelujahs", but not this one (the founders of Curves are Christians, I believe). This is one of about two dozen CDs that could have been playing. I doubt it would ever happen in an Australian Curves gym, but it happened here today.

What an amazing worship session! But then my concentration slipped and all those bad thoughts started coming back, all the hurtful words I've read and heard over the last few days, all the guilt. But God wasn't finished with me yet. As I finished my workout, up came "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus".

On my way out I snuck a look at the back of the CD that was playing and wished I could have stuck around for "Because He Lives (I can face tomorrow)"!

Indeed, God is not finished with me yet.


25 January, 2011

Taking shelter in the storm

Words cannot easily describe how upset I've been these last 18 hours. I couldn't finish my dinner, nor my breakfast. This public forum is not the place to tell you why. However, I can tell you that, as I lay clammy and shaking on my bed through the night, remembering this song helped me:
1. What a friend we have in Jesus, 
 all our sins and griefs to bear! 
 What a privilege to carry 
 everything to God in prayer! 
 O what peace we often forfeit,
 O what needless pain we bear, 
 all because we do not carry 
 everything to God in prayer. 

2. Have we trials and temptations? 
 Is there trouble anywhere? 
 We should never be discouraged; 
 take it to the Lord in prayer. 
 Can we find a friend so faithful 
 who will all our sorrows share? 
 Jesus knows our every weakness; 
 take it to the Lord in prayer. 

3. Are we weak and heavy laden, 
 cumbered with a load of care? 
 Precious Savior, still our refuge; 
 take it to the Lord in prayer. 
 Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? 
 Take it to the Lord in prayer! 
 In his arms he'll take and shield thee; 
 thou wilt find a solace there.
I thank you for your friendships and prayers too. God has given me so much, despite 
the despicable nature of my soul. Truly I can say with Paul, "What I want to do I do 
not do, but what I hate I do....So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil 
is right there with me...What a wretched (wo)man I am! Who will rescue me from this 
body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" 
(Romans 7:15b, 21, 24, 25a NIV) 

Please keep praying for me and for the people I have wronged. We all need healing. 
 

24 January, 2011

Out-of-sync

One of my first-days-at-school.
We are half a year out! CAJ is entering its second semester today, on the same day that many in Australia are starting the first day of a new school year. 

Even though we grew up with it that way - Christmas, summer holidays, watching cricket and then school starting - it still seems odd. Maybe because my feet are encased in Ugg boots and my winter jacket is hanging on the chair behind me?

My boys hardly believe me (especially our nearly six-year-old) that their former Australian classmates are starting a new grade level. "How come we're behind them?" they ask. My two oldest are entering the third semester of their grades - they'll do one-and-a-half years of grade two and grade six. But then, they both only did half-a-year of grades one and five! 

It is an interesting education that our boys are getting.

23 January, 2011

Feeling stressed-out

I don't know what to write. To be honest, I'm feeling quite stressed-out. Something happened on Friday that I cannot tell you about, but it had me first angry and then weepy over the weekend. On top of the stress of seeing south-east Queensland devastated by floods, the financial concerns I wrote about here and the usual stress that our eldest son brings to our family, I've not been doing that well.

Most of it is things I cannot do much about, except cast it all on my heavenly Father and try to deal with my own stress-out state as best I can. I'm also trying to remember that I'm a daughter of the King and that it doesn't matter what others think of me. A very hard thing to do!

I also had a bit of a nap this afternoon. That's got to help.

Please pray for me. What I cannot tell you, my heavenly Father knows.

22 January, 2011

Chocolate puzzle a real headache

We were introduced to the world of Meiji Chocolate Puzzles a couple of years ago when a friend of our son's gave him the easiest version as a birthday present.

They look exactly like the chocolate bars you can buy in the shop, even down to the wrappers, but they are plastic puzzles. You can see the tetris-like pieces if you look closely at the photo. It is even clearer here

But the puzzle comes with no solutions page!

The official name for one of the puzzles (the second from the top in the photo) is Pentonimoes. Which Wikipaedia defines as:  a polyomino composed of five congruent squares, connected along their edges. Intrigued, here is the link to the article.

We bought the other three for the boys for Christmas.

While the bottom three have many solutions, the top one (officially a hexomino puzzle) apparently has only one and it is almost impossible to find accidentally. In fact the instructions advise you note what it looks like when you receive it, before you tip it out. Of course, our impulsive eldest didn't and we resorted to looking up someone else's solution on the web, it was just too hard, even for the mathematical fiends in my house.

21 January, 2011

We need to store 60 to 80 litres of water?

Early this week I was talking about the recent Queensland floods to a long-term resident of Japan who happens to be blonde and blue-eyed. She asked whether Australia has evacuation centres. I replied that they used school, gymnasiums, show-grounds etc. Whatever they could.

She mused that Japan is much better set up for evacuation. It is well known in every community where the local evacuation centre is. Schools and local governments regularly hold evacuation practises and earthquake drills.

The US embassy in Japan has a "Disaster Preparedness Check-list" on their website. It makes sober reading.

It begins with this warning:
Japan is the most seismically active piece of real estate in the world. The Tokyo metropolitan area experiences regular tremors of varying intensities and the probability that a severe and damaging earthquake will occur is high. The consequences of such a quake will vary greatly depending upon the time of day and year that the quake occurs, and no one can predict with any certainty what conditions will be like immediately following an intensive shock.
With this in mind, we are warned to be prepared, like good scouts. When we first arrived in Japan our mission issued us with a standard very basic emergency kit. 

I realised how basic it was, when I saw lists about what it should include, especially recommended is four litres of water per person per day, with enough for three to four days. I think we need a tank. For our family that equals 60 to 80 litres of water. Where could I store that?

Like many people who were overcome by floods in Brisbane and claimed afterwards that "no one told us", I am an optimist and find it hard to believe that a disaster could ever affect me! That makes it very hard to be prepared. In a busy lifestyle when there are always more-important-things to do, preparing an earthquake emergency supply kit is not high on the agenda. I know I need to do it, though. The food in our kit is old and the spare clothes wouldn't fit our growing boys any more. Whatever else is in there, I can't remember. But probably new batteries are required.


I'm just hoping I never have to evacuate like the residents of this island did, the volcano they are practically living on top of erupted in 2000 and the final residents have only been allowed to return home this week!

20 January, 2011

A taboo subject

This week we've received financial figures from our mission for 2010 that confirmed what we already thought. We don't presently receive enough support for my husband to stop working at CAJ. In other words, taking a year off to report back to supporters and churches in Australia isn't financially a good idea. Yet, we are required to do so by our mission. And indeed if we don't, then probably support from Australia will fall anyway. Caught between a rock and a hard place, you could say!

For me the next step from that confirmation was to start worrying. I disguised that pretty well by telling myself, "I'm planning, just scouting out the possibilities." But under it all it is just pure worry.

Last night when I went to put my youngest to bed, I pulled out his devotional book and read the next story. A story about worry. A simple tale about a country lad who was visiting his grandparents in the city with his parents - for the first time. They were travelling on a bus and as they drove along the boy kept worrying about whether the bus driver knew where to go. His parents kept reassuring him that it was the bus driver's problem and indeed that the driver did know the way.

The application, was, of course, that we don't need to worry. It is God's job to be concerned about our future, not ours. Funny - I think the child's devotion spoke more to me than it spoke to my son!

Then I look up and read the verse on the daily calendar above my desk. It reads,
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee:
be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee;
yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
Isaiah 41:10 KJV
This morning I attended a monthly prayer meeting for the parents of the kindergartners at CAJ. One of the ladies spoke about Peter getting out of the boat in the middle of the storm to walk to Jesus. In that story, Peter is rebuked for his lack of faith. The lady pointed us back to the other eleven disciples who were still cowering in the boat. Yes, Peter failed at that point, but at least he was out of the boat. He had the experience of being rescued from the water. The others merely looked on. (Matthew 14:22-32)

So, what do you think God is saying to me about our financial concerns? 

Jesus' words, 
"Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid." (Matt 14:27 NIV)

19 January, 2011

Market myself and my ministry?

Marketing and mission? I guess that is what we do, even if we don't like to call it that.

This blog post starts with 
In an era when personal communication is ubiquitous and easy, each missionary has become their own marketing director.
Once I got past the title:  Marketing Yourself and Your Ministry, the article got better. It is a short, simple article about communicating with our prayer supporters, particularly written communication. 


I particularly liked this:
When we write our supporters and prayer partners, they want to hear our voice. They want honesty. They want to know we are real people. 
Aside from the American grammar (in Australia we "write to our supporters"), is it very true and something I've been trying to do for more than ten years.

What do you want to read in missionary prayer letters? What don't you like? Sometimes missionaries suffer from a lack of feedback and they get stuck in a rut and don't know what their "audience" wants or needs. So tell me (I'm not looking for pats on the back here).

18 January, 2011

Do not touch the spaghetti!


I was amused to find this note on my 11 year-old's door this morning.

He doesn't usually keep spaghetti in his room, but this is a special event. Every year the middle school science department at his school run a "big" event. This year it is spaghetti bridge building.

The students are given a packet of spaghetti and a bottle of glue. Specific maximum and minimum dimensions and left to build the strongest bridge they can. In April this will happen:
Yes, the teachers will try to destroy the bridges. At least they will use this device to see how much weight the bridge will hold before it breaks. 

The irony is that the man in this picture is my husband. As head of Science at the school he's a bit involved (he bought the spaghetti, for example). This photo was taken three years ago, the last time they ran this event. Back then he taught middle school science too, so he had the honour of smashing the bridges!

Now we get the other end of the experience - a student participating in the event. Our son is super excited. Everyday he is coming home from school with a huge amount to tell be about his plans. Usually he blurts it out over the top of his brothers chatter and whatever else is happening in our busy household. However, even if his timing were better, I'm not sure I'd be able to understand his raving. He has it clearly visualised in his mind, it is just not so easy to describe to someone else.
So, it is exciting for us to see it starting to take shape. I hope his enthusiasm doesn't wane too quickly - as he realises how slow a process it is to build a bridge with spaghetti and glue!

My only other thought is thankfulness that we have enough room for him to have his own room and desk to do it on. I've heard plenty of complaints from other parents in years past about this. These conversations have always been a bit awkward - being married to the "perpetrator" of their torture. Hopefully it won't be too torturous for us now the bridge building has made its way into our one house.

17 January, 2011

Now the clean-up begins

I've never experienced a flood, in fact many who live in South East Queensland have never experienced a major flood, I can hardly imagine the filth and can imagine hardly knowing where to begin. 

So it is with interest that I read first-hand accounts of what it is like to clean up. Here is just one of the stories. This lady came up from northern New South Wales to clean up her parent's house and some other places, including a school.

Just when I thought I 'd seen all the photos I needed to, I happened upon a photo of the basketball stadium where my son played many matches last year! The whole gym looked like an indoor swimming pool, except the water isn't so clean. Yet another familiar place under water. Our Alma mater, the University of Queensland had considerable water in places. The place where my husband asked me to marry him, was on the river bank in front of the uni - several metres under water on Wednesday!

To encourage you flood-affected people - there are people here in Japan praying for you and not just us. People at our church and within the missionary and CAJ school community too. May God turn this tragedy into good.

16 January, 2011

A toilet restaurant?

Now this is disgusting - right up my boy's alley! A toilet restaurant in China. Check out this blog post: http://walkingtochina.blogspot.com/2011/01/shen-me.html

Life hurtles onwards past turkeys and chocolate Lego figures

With one eye on the situation in Queensland (and hoping more rain holds off for a few weeks), life continues to move onwards here.

The turkey that I forgot twice and took longer to defrost than expected, finally got baked on Tuesday. Here is my plate before I tucked in. Yum! My heart was sick with dread that day as the flood closed in on Brisbane. Though sleep came slowly, I still had an appetite.

Both the gravy and the cranberry sauce were made from scratch (only a stock cube helped with the gravy). Both were easy and yummy. This week the cranberry sauce doubled as an addition to sandwiches and plain yoghurt. It is amazing what you can do when you don't have easy access to things in the shops.

Since then I've made five more meals with leftovers and we aren't quite finished yet. I've got a pot of stock made and a few bits of meat left for our "catch" meal tonight.

Yesterday, I killed two birds with one stone and it didn't involve a turkey. I baked and heated the house at the same time. Temperatures are well under 10 degrees Celcius during the day now and it eats up the kerosene. Our large gas oven does a good job of cooking food and heating the living area too.

We tried out some new biscuit (cookie) cutters that I bought on Christmas eve. They are Lego minifigure-shaped, I found them at the Lego shop while the boys were looking feverishly for their own presents. I was concerned that they wouldn't particularly look like Lego, but the tops of their heads and their hands really portray their true nature. 

And, of course, they meet all the criteria for a success. Not only do they look cool, but our eight-year-old, the fussiest sweet-eater in our family, loves them (they're chocolate after all). And they will be able to go to school in lunch boxes because they are nut-free in accordance with the school's policy. In fact they are so wildly popular that we didn't even need to decorate them! Good purchase Wendy!

My resolution for this evening is to try to stay away from the sadly addictive photos and videos of the floods in Queensland. They are hindering my sleep, haunting my dreams. I don't want to forget, but I do need to sleep for life hurtles onwards.

15 January, 2011

Encouragement from home

I've been praying for our home church, churches and Christians in general in our home towns - that they would be seen to be compassionate at this time. Then we got this general email last night from a leader in our home church (it isn't a large church, under 100 members):
I have received a number of telephone calls and emails from people about how the church is going during this time of crisis in Brisbane.  Thank you for your prayers and concerns. It is during these times that community comes together and we have appreciated the support of the wider church community.

MetroWest meets in the Centenary suburbs of Brisbane which have been badly damaged by flooding (suburbs such as Jindalee, Mt Ommaney, Westlake, Riverhills, Jamboree Heights, etc).  A couple of families in our congregation have lost their homes (one with water over the roof, and the other through second story windows, etc), but graciously the majority of our congregation have been spared. All from our congregation are safe, some are still without power, all have accommodation either in their homes or with family.

The church meets at Mt Ommaney Special School and while the road entrance was flooded for a period, the water has subsided and we can access the venue.  This will allow us to hold Sunday services there and to start our flood assistance for the community

A number from the congregation are directly helping with clean up (assisting members of the congregation, neighbours, and workplaces). We have a lot of young families in our congregation who can’t directly clean (mud and flood water are not a good place for young children), so we are organising BBQ lunches for the local residents and volunteers. We intend to feed approximately 500 people a day with a view to continuing until need diminishes.

If you want to give towards assisting us with cleaning equipment, BBQ lunches, and practical assistance in the local area, then you are welcome to donate directly to the MetroWest account. Please mark it as “Floods” or something similar.  (I can supply their details if you are interested - let me know.)

We especially value your prayers:

·         How we can effectively minister in the community, reaching people with the gospel and providing practical support

·         That through these difficult times people would seek God and see His church in action.

·         For those who have lost homes

·         Connections to neighbours and neighbourhoods who normally are difficult to connect with

Regards,
John



Aside from knowing that my family is safe, this is the best news I've heard all week. God lead them to this area only twelve months ago (they don't have their own building and previously met in another area of the city), now He's opening doors so they can serve their community.


Our relationship with our home church has been like a marriage - we've had good times and rocky times. They themselves have just been through a difficult decade. We've received a number of encouragements in the last twelve months regarding our relationship with them and now we're so encouraged to see them moving out in faith. Praise God!

14 January, 2011

The pain of watching at a distance

As I gradually process this week's events, I realised that I've been here before. Not with floods, but with pain that other people are experiencing. One of the common experiences of missionaries is seeing people they love suffer, at a distance. I know this is not exclusive to missionaries, anyone who moves interstate sees the same thing.

Over the years we've been in Japan I've watched:

Our home church suddenly disintegrate to a shadow of its former self and undergo a diaspora of our beloved friends.
My mum deal with a suspect lump.
A childhood friend suffer as her husband was diagnosed with a mental illness and long-term disability. And then stand by as her marriage threatened to dissolve.
My two sisters have four (and soon to be five) babies between them, I wasn't there for any of them.
Another friend develop a mental illness, demand a divorce from her husband (also a friend) and be prohibited from caring for her four children. Their marriage didn't survive.
Three of our grandparents and one uncle have died while we were overseas

And these are just the major ones.

I've often wished I could do more than pray. Go and give a hand, a hug, a meal or a listening ear. There is something painful about my life going on as usual while these beloved ones suffer in a place I cannot be. 

I know that sometimes they experience the same with regards to us. When I struggled with hospitalised children or just found daily life with three little children. When I've packed up my house in preparation for returning to Australia for a time - they hurt for me and wanted to be with me too.

It takes a special kind of grace to make it through these times without guilt, but rather trusting that our heavenly Father will take care of those we love at a distance and without our physical help.

13 January, 2011

Why must we compare?

I get annoyed at pigeon holing. Why must we categorise? I guess it helps our tiny brains to comprehend things. Sometimes labels are helpful, but often not.

Why must we decide whether or not this latest disaster in Australia is "the worst ever"? I mean, does it matter? Probably it is a comfort to those going through the trauma, but really. Is it something we need to debate? The disaster is bad, very bad. Some statistics can help:
A local government official said even with an organised approach, restoring the state's infrastructure would take a couple of years because some of it had been wiped out...the biggest damage will be to the state's roads, with between 70,000km to 90,000km of council roads damaged by floods.
That's a lot of roads and a long time. When you put money in the picture it is big too - billions of dollars they are saying.
So, while it hasn't cost many lives (though every life is precious and to focus only on numbers is also heartless), it is an expensive disaster. I particularly think of the many who were struggling to pay their mortgages before this. What now? No assets and huge debt. How will the Banks react - with compassion? 


And just the trauma of it. Witness a disaster like this is emotionally traumatic - even at a distance. Imagine the man who waited for rescue on the roof of his house for 12 hours and watched bodies float by and wondered if he'd be next. Or the little boy who saw his big brother dragged away by the current.


But is it truly possible to compare it with the impact of a 20 year drought, for example? Or the disasters where many more lives have been lost? Is it possible to say that this is worse than a disaster that hit a small town and totally devastated the lives of those people, but didn't touch  more politically important or logistically important large towns? Is it even possible to say that this is better or worse than the flood which occurred in '74, based on the height of the river, when so much more development has happened in the region?


I don't know the answer. 

It isn't too often that I have a rave on this blog. I guess today is just the day. Maybe I could psychoanalyse myself and talk about the stages of grief - denial, anger etc.?


Time to get on with doing something else productive.


 

12 January, 2011

Devastation in my Australian home-base

I've found it hard to concentrate the last 36 hours - ever since I discovered that Toowoomba, the town I grew up in, had suffered an unexpected flash flood right through the centre of town. Toowoomba sits on the cusp of the Great Dividing Range - at an elevation of about 600m. I've never seen a flood the likes of which we saw in video footage on Monday. Cars, a shipping container, a water tank and even rumour of a semitrailer truck flung down stream. It was shocking to say the least. But it was a flash flood - and didn't last long. Not too many houses were involved as that is the CBD. Many businesses were devastated as were roads and bridges. None of my family were affected.


Then came the news that on eastern side of the Range, down in the valley, similar inundation was being experienced. In fact that one hit more homes, with news of a house knocked off its foundation and floating down the river with its inhabitants calling out for help.



Already reeling from the shock of seeking my birth-home town flooded, the news went further to say that water was headed downstream to Ipswich and Brisbane, the Australian towns of my adulthood. Yesterday's news was full of predictions as to how high the river would get and warning for those at risk to get out. 

Yesterday it was hard to pull myself away from the internet - viewing amazing scenes from Monday's flash flood and wondering how bad the future was for Brisbane/Ipswich.

This morning we awoke to find that rivers had broken their banks. The beautiful city where we've spent our adult lives (when in Australia) was being infiltrated by dirty brown river water.  I found a picture of the suburb we lived in last year. Most of the shopping centre, the railway station, the swimming pool, the banks and restaurants were under water. Only the tip of McDonald's roof could be seen.


Thankfully I had a meeting at school that took me out of the house and distracted me. When I returned home at 11 I grabbed a coffee, quickly checked for an update on the floods and headed out the door for retail therapy. Well, actually I had a list of things I needed to get, headed by cross-stitch threads. And it served to get me out of the house again and away from the internet for a few hours.

Someone wrote as their Facebook status:
I can't stop watching the tv, can't sleep, can't concentrate and can't believe what I'm seeing!!!
I know how they feel. It is a terrible thing. Funny how I've seen heaps of flood footage over the last three weeks, of other places in Queensland. Some of them were places I've travelled through. But this week - seeing the part Australia that I am most familiar with be inundated with water has thrown me. I cannot imagine how traumatised people who've lost everything feel, nor how it feels for those who've stood by and watched the place they've lived their whole lives be submerged by water that belongs in a river bed, not a house. 
I can only pray. Pray for God's mercy. And pray that people who've seen their lives washed away in front of them see how futile it all is. How futile it is to trust in riches, when mere water can wash it all away. Pray they'll trust instead in the One who never changes, who always was and always will be.
 
 

11 January, 2011

Solution to Japan Photo #13

What you've all been waiting for. What is this?

It is a fitting board. A fold-down place in a public toilet cubicle where you can change without having to put your feet on the "dirty" floor.

I found this one in a local new shopping centre, but previously had only seen them in airports. Which seems to me to be the sensible place to put them. How many people change in shopping centres?

Unless, of course, you are changing a toddler and the floor is wet.

This would also be a useful item to have in the showers at a camp ground!


If you are a little confused as to why it is necessary, I think it has a little bit to do with the Japanese mindset of "inside and outside". 

One of the early things you learn to do when you arrive in the country is how to get in and out of your shoes at the front door. The trick is that you don't ever put your feet down in the "outside" part. There is usually a step or line that designates the difference. You can see it here in this photo. These school children are changing their shoes. The step where they are sitting is the "inside" bit where, if at all possible, no "outside" shoe ever touches. In each pigeon holes there are two slots, the upper one is for indoor shoes and the bottom one for outdoor shoes.

Adults don't usually sit down, of course. It is quite a skill to step into your shoes on your way out and step out of them on your way in. Sometimes I do better than others - depending on the shoes!


A few years ago our youngest had a bit of a bike accident and could wear a shoe for a few weeks. I remember being chastised by a shopkeeper for allowing our son to walk barefooted. It is rare that you see Japanese outside in their barefeet.

It was fun, seeing how creative people got in trying to figure this one out. My favourite comment was from a Japanese friend who looked at the photos and said: 
"I have no idea what is that...:0 what I can say is ...Japan has lots of mysterious things."
 So, even to Japanese, the Japanese are mysterious. What hope have the rest of us got?
 

10 January, 2011

Coming-of-age at 20 in Japan

Today is Coming-of-Age Day in Japan, the second Monday in January. It is a public holiday too, but not a holiday at CAJ.

There are ceremonies all over the country for those who have reached the age of majority (20) during the last year. Well actually I think the current practise is, if they turn 20 between April 2nd of the previous year and April 1st of the coming year.

20 is a significant age for Japanese, it is the age when they're allowed to vote, smoke and drink.

The guys often wear suits, but it is the young ladies who turn heads - wearing gorgeous kimonos (actually furisode, a type of kimono for unmarried ladies). 


Yesterday those in our church who are or will turn 20 were invited up the front. The pastor spoke to them a little, read  part of Ecclesiastes 11 and 12 (some of it is below) and prayed for them.


 9 You who are young, be happy while you are young,
   and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
   and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
   God will bring you into judgement.
10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
   and cast off the troubles of your body,
   for youth and vigor are meaningless.

There is more information here about the day.

09 January, 2011

I forgot the turkey

We bought a turkey from the school a week before Christmas. It is a fund-raiser and service to the school community all wrapped up on one. A service, because whole birds for cooking are hard to find in Japan. We rarely see chickens or turkeys for sale. Lots of cheap chicken breasts, but not the whole bird. Therefore, because we like a roast every now and then, we ordered a turkey. However, because we were away for the entire week before Christmas, we decided not to cook the turkey for Christmas because we thought it would take only a few days to defrost the giant bird.

We were wrong about the "few days". It takes more like a week to defrost, so it would have been alright. I found out, though, because I've had the turkey in my fruit and veggie drawer since last Tuesday and when I hauled it out to cook it yesterday, the inside of it was still rock solid (top was squishy). Australians are more used to roasting chicken and lamb than turkey, at least this Australian is. So, I scrambled and found something else to pull together for the meal last night and planned to cook it this afternoon.

However after lunch, intent on talking with our eldest son about a significant issue, I raced upstairs to his bedroom with no thought of birds. After I floundered through that pseudo-counselling session, I debriefed with my husband in our bedroom where he was reading in the beautiful sun. A small step from there was to grab my own book and bit of sunlight and do some typical after-Sunday-lunch relaxing. 

I didn't emerge from my bliss until 3pm. And, as I boiled the kettle for afternoon tea, realised that the turkey still lurked in the basement of my fridge. 

Tomorrow I have meetings most of the day, so tomorrow is out. So, roast turkey is now slated for Tuesday. Phew - I'll be glad to get it out of that fruit drawer!

08 January, 2011

Japan photo #13

It is about time to have another mystery photo from Japan.

I found this the other day.

Can you guess what it is used for and where I found it? 
Again, if you've lived in Japan, please sit back and check out people's answer rather than giving your own. Mind you, my husband didn't guess it, so maybe you could have a go if you haven't seen one before.

This is the link to the solution.


07 January, 2011

My new lunchbox is missing a shoulder.

Here is another of my Christmas presents. My husband bought me this low priced lunch box for the times when we all need one. 

I laughed, though, when I read the packaging. It is described as "Big size". Only by Japanese standards is this big. You can see that it is smaller than our toaster.

 
Then I turned the package over and wondered if I'd missed something in the wrapper, because it says, "You can use it for lunch box when you go to school or leisure. With convenient shoulder for carrying."

Somehow I couldn't find 'the shoulder' or the strap that, presumably, might loop over the shoulder if you found it.


The English warnings are great too. Not only should you: "use it for a cooler bag, please put the in it" but you should "not use it for any other purpose".


The author must have seen my kids at lunch time because he or she included this warning: "Do not swing it around you as you hold the string of the bag." Trick is, there is no string! Maybe he or she was thinking of the shoulder?


Finally, regarding the warnings we are told to "Please keep it at the time of use." I'm left wondering if it means the lunch box or the shoulder that I haven't found yet.

06 January, 2011

How the holidays turned out in the end...

A family portrait at the river near our home.
Back here I wrote about our "away" holiday before Christmas. After we got back, we still had 10 days left of school holidays to spend at home. I was a bit down after the "away" part of our holiday, but I have to tell you that things improved after that. Perhaps it was related to boys settling down after Christmas. It might also have something to do with us all struggling to adjust to a non-school schedule and the inevitable clash between adults wanting to laze and boys needing to keep moving and get the energy out.

After Christmas we hung around home a lot. Soon after Christmas it there was a lot of excitement about Lego. We also tried to get the boys out most days for a ride or walk or trip to a nearby park. We enjoyed several movie afternoons with: How to Train a Dragon, Narnia, Clone Wars and Oliver Twist (the modern version).

By New Year's Eve, however, my husband was feeling a bit depressed about the boys (I think there was some element of depression about Australia's cricketing failures too). He was having trouble enjoying them. But things did improve from there. Particularly as we picked up on the board-game front. 

On Monday of this week I wrote about our visit with friends where we played board games all afternoon. On Tuesday the boys played hard outside in the morning and then we played Monopoly for a couple of hours. 

It is great that they are now at an age where we can do this, especially as it is something that both my husband and the boys enjoy (if a little too competitive at times). The two older ones are currently obsessed not only with Monopoly but with Boggle Slam. And I taught my youngest a Solitaire form of Happy Families. It is a challenge to find activities that span the six year age span. Our youngest is on the verge of being able to play word games, but at this point will be beaten every time by his biggest brother with his huge vocabulary.

Now my sons are planning a games afternoon for Saturday. I'm hoping that we'll be able to have some form of "Happy Families" ourselves. I hate it when it feels like we're just coping as a family. When there is little joy and we're always having to put a dampener on proceedings.

Sometimes I think I could say with Job: "My days are swifter than a runner;
   they fly away without a glimpse of joy." (Job 9:25 NIV) 

Maybe it is partly this problem:
"The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him." (Prov 23:24 NIV) Logically speaking - not-wise sons produce sorrow.

So this year I'm praying God will: "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." (Ps 90:14 NIV)

And help me to "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. (James 1:2-3 NIV)

05 January, 2011

Fun book about raising boys

One of my favourite Christmas presents was a book called "How do you tuck in a superhero?" by Rachel Balducci.

The author has five boys (and has since had a sixth child - a girl). The book is full of some great stories. My eldest grabbed the book last week and giggled his way through it and gasping at the amazing things these boys got up to. He read the best bits out to his brothers as we drove to our New Years party on Friday.

My response is a little more mixed. 

It helped me appreciate that some of the things that drives me crazy about my children is just a boy thing. Stuff like no concern for hygiene, highly competitive and missing subtle social cues that girls pick up.

A book written by a mum about boys is just where I am at. There are things we don't understand, and things that we don't really like about boys. 

She has a tiny bit of "I can't get enough of my boys" attitude that I find hard to read. Because there are many times when I've definitely had enough and just need time-out. She also has many stories about their backyard and the wrestling that kick-starts their days. Those things are hard to read because we don't have a backyard or the room to wrestle. Maybe that is why I get more tired of them - because I cannot kick them out into the backyard?

I loved the list "Stuff I say that no longer sounds crazy (to me)." and "Rules I can't believe I had to make." I cannot believe people who say, "We've only got two rules in our family." I'm always having to draw a new line in the dirt. Like - "No shooting at the table." This rule fits both of the above lists!

I really like her Family Rules. She writes, "The list hangs in our kitchen, and when I'm feeling low on energy and patience, I simply point to the standard or rule being broken before following through with consequences." p149 I'm seriously considering making one of my own. Particularly with this rule: "If we accidentally make a mess, we clean it up (or at least help)."

One small section was entitled "Oh-so-Tiny Acts of Love". This is a gem. It is helping me to open my eyes and appreciate all the hugs, the tiny ways they notice me and what I do and recognise that this is their way of showing me love.

But my favourite story is called "The Easy Life". She commented that many people say that boys are easier than girls. I wouldn't totally agree with that, but it does come up in conversation occasionally. The idea is that boys are less complicated emotionally and thus easier. I do agree with this, though, "If it's so easy, I wonder, why am I counting down the minutes to (bedtime)? Why do I sometimes find myself yelling? Why are there moments when the last thing in the world I want to do is get to the bottom of why your brother whacked you for no good reason?" p191

She then tells us of an outing to a museum. Of the big pep-talk in the car park about staying with her and not wandering off. Once inside, however, of course they rush everywhere and she is constantly reeling them in (sounds familiar to me). Then a friend who has five girls walks past - all the girls are holding onto a piece of their dad's clothing and walking calmly. Apparently the girls had also had a pep-talk and the consequence of taking off was to run laps or do pushups when they got home. Good consequences for a girl, but perhaps an incentive for boys?

Boys just love to explore, to be out there, not to linger or hold you hand, not to ponder or sit quietly for lengthy periods. This causes much angst and has shaped our family. We don't do shopping or art galleries as a pastime. We try to stay outdoors as much as possible. If we can ride or walk somewhere rather than catch a train or drive - we will!

Phew, this has turned into a long post. If you have boys, I recommend this book. Even if you have only one boy, it is worth it - even if to make you like you don't have such a bad deal. If you don't have boys, but have friends with multiple boys, it might help you to understand your friends better and be less judgemental. It is not bad parenting that makes boys be more wild and physical. They do need a firm hand and someone who can point out consequences to them. They do learn (be it ever so slowly), but - much of what we see is just how God made them.

Oh, and the author has a blog too. You can check it out here: http://www.testosterhome.net/

Capricornia - a new state in Australia?

This is an intriguing blog post. It reports that on Sunday Britains' Daily Mail published a story on the floods in Queensland. Trouble is, it included a map that marked Capricornia as a state of Australia! But it isn't - at least no one in Australia knows about it.

Queensland is the bright yellow state in this map. The Daily Mail split Queensland in two horizontally and made the top half into Capricornia!

04 January, 2011

Floods close to "home"

Usually we hear about bushfires at this time of year in Australia, but this time it is floods. Karen, a fellow Australian working in Cambodia, has just written a good post about the devastating floods in our home state. 

None of our family has had their homes inundated, but several of them have had difficulty getting home after visiting family or taking holidays at Christmas. My eight-month-pregnant sister was stuck in her small town without an obstetrician. In a small window of unflooded roads, she and her family made a mad dash through the night for the big smoke. Many of the roads that we travelled this time last year as we visited family for Christmas and New Year are currently cut off.

Home is indeed on our minds as we read daily reports of people losing all they own, cleaning sewage out of their homes and starting again.


Drinking upside-down

My sons are gradually discovering that one of the things Mum does on the computer is write a blog. They don't fully understand what it is, but the youngest one begged me to take this picture so I could post it.

Last week I shared with them my "cure" for hiccups: drinking upside down. They could hardly believe that their mum would do anything so cool! Or that she would allow them to do such an obviously "bad" thing.


I have to find some one of letting them see the fun loving side of me. Unfortunately whenever I stop being the "policewoman" things get out of control very quickly and it is hard to reign it all in again. 

I've just read a book that I want to tell you about soon: "How do you tuck in a superhero?" It's been coming into my conversation all the time, so it'll have to come into my blog soon. The author has five sons, so I found it very helpful as well as laugh-aloud amusing. Anyway, this woman makes me feel not so bad about being the one who has to be hauling in behaviour all the time!