31 October, 2015

Tiny streets

Tokyo has tiny streets. Many more tiny ones than large ones. When we first moved here we kept wondering when it would "open out" to wider, main roads, and we don't live in the highest density parts of the region. 

The quiet street we lived on in Australia earlier this year is bigger than most of the streets in Tokyo. 

Though I must say that this first photo is smaller than most streets. You can't drive anything motorised down here except a motorbike or moped.
In addition to being tiny, it has power poles on the road! 
This is our road. It has power poles on it too. However, it is
wide enough for vehicles as big as our van to pass, as long as you
don't try to do it at the power pole . . . or at the rubbish disposal
point further up the road.
This was our street in Australia earlier this year.
You don't see this size road in Tokyo
without it being a main road.
This is a major road, two lanes. Speed limit 50km/hr if you can manage it. But the large dump trucks that I shared it with the other week don't fit very well.

Especially when they squeeze a fifth lane in at the lights for turns. Yes I was stopped when I took this photo. Can you see how far that right wheel is protruding into the turning lane?

I've read that 30% of cars in Japan are kei cars or light vehicles and are designated by yellow and black registration plates. It is a special category of small car that is exempt from certain government regulations. They can be only a maximum of 3.4 m long, 1.48 m wide, and 2 m high. With a maximum of 600CC and only four passengers allowed, they're small vehicles. But they are very handy for getting around in the tiny city streets. Not so good on the expressways or in collisions, though!
This is an unusually small kei car!
We drive an 8-seater van, a Nissan Serena. We chose it specifically because it is a little narrower than some vans: its width fits into our carport, allowing bikes to be parked alongside it.

It's very useful and we've often got it filled to capacity with people or stuff. However some days we wish for the days when we could buy a smaller car and not feel so cramped on these tiny roads.

30 October, 2015

Trust and Control, are they opposites?*

Three days ago I lay face-down on the masseur's table thinking about trust. What does it mean to trust God? Especially, what does it mean to trust God with my kids?

Trust . . . I trust a chair when I sit on it. I don't usually check the joints before I sit on it. I trust the electricity and the gas. I just switch the switches or turn the taps and expect that they'll work. When they don't, I'm surprised. (I do live in Japan.)

As the masseur stretched out the sore muscles in my shoulders I pondered how trusting God is different to the trust I place in objects and services around me.

The difference is that a chair has no will, nothing changes about a chair. There is a simplicity about it that makes it relatively easy to trust.

That's different when it comes to trusting people . . . or God. 

Trusting people is hard because they aren't perfect, and they live in a world that isn't perfect. I trust my husband will wash up the dishes after dinner, but sometimes he's too busy, or too distracted, or even not present because of work. Occasionally he's too sick. But I do trust him more than I trust my kids. He's proven he is trustworthy.

My boys are 10, 13, and 16. They are more inconsistent than my husband. I still need to check up on them, to remind them, and direct them.

But God. Trusting God is really hard. That's not because he's inconsistent, like my kids, but because he's intangible. And he's not predictable.

The masseur moved on to my tight lower back and I remembered Aslan from Narnia. That famous quote: 
[Susan said:]"Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
Trusting God is hard because he isn't safe. We don't know what he will do. But we do have his reassurance that he loves us and will not allow us to be separated from him.
Romans 8: 31b-32, 38-39 "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . . 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."
My dilemma with trusting God with my kids is all tied up with control. What I want is control. My thinking has been going along these lines: If I can "make them" do their assignments, to study, to fulfil their responsibilities at school I am doing all I can to make sure they have a chance to reach their potential.

The problem is that not only is it impossible to control my kids, it is impossible to make them do exactly what I want them to do, it is impossible. But I don't want to admit that. 

I was always a conscientious student (to the point of my report card comments being boringly repetitive). Now I am a conscientious parent. Not only do I hate to see my kids being less than conscientious but I hate feel that I've not done enough. I can't give up thinking that if only I'd done this or that they may have succeeded.

So where do I draw the line between trusting God for my kids and their future and seeking to be true to my conscientious nature? Where is the line when my conscientiousness becomes controlling?

I'm still learning and growing. But I think that trust is the opposite to control. If I trust my chair I don't feel the need to control it while it's doing its job. If I trust my husband I feel no need to control what he does. Then . . . if I trust God I need to release my struggle to control him. If I trust God to look after my kids then I need to walk away from seeking to control them.

Hudson Taylor's son Howard once commented on his dad, 
“He prayed about things as if everything depended upon the praying . . . but he worked also, as if everything depended on his working.” http://omf.org/us/about/our-story/quotes/#sthash.8nJZv8sr.dpuf 
This year we celebrated 150 years since beginning of our mission. Hudson Taylor was our founder. He said this on the day he decided to start the mission that is now OMF: 
Brighton, 25 June 1865: “All at once came the thought – If you are simply obeying the LORD, all the responsibility will rest on Him, not on you! What a relief!! Well, I cried to God –You shall be responsible for them, and for me too!”#
He was speaking about China, but the same applies to our kids. Simply obey the Lord. He bears the responsibility. It is very different to trusting the masseur table I lay on earlier this week. But the same principle applies. Don't be always wondering if that chair, table, or switch will work. Simply sit, lie, or turn it on. 

Don't always be wondering if God's got the situation under his control. Pray and tell him about it and about your concerns. Then trust and do what you've got to do—being mindful of what he's quietly saying to you while you're doing it.

*This is in response to a writing theme prompt for this week on Velvet Ashes' The Grove, an online community of Christian women serving overseas.

#A.J. Broomhall.Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, Book Three: If I Had a Thousand Lives. London: Hodder and Stoughton and Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1982, 454.

29 October, 2015

Washing problem

Have you ever had your laundry crash into your garden? Our laundry is hung out on our 1st floor balcony, mostly on poles (or 2nd floor, depending on what country you're in). 

The poles aren't tied down and very occasionally they fall down. 

I was on Skype the other day talking writing and publishing with a colleague in Taiwan when I heard a crash. 

I turned around to see this in my garden. Sheets and pillow slips still attached to the pole, but the pole not where it should be! There had been gusts of wind and I guess the sheets were like sails. 

I'm just thankful it fell into our garden. A metre or two either side and it would have gone into one of our neighbours "yards" or windows.

Here is a post that shows some more of how we hang out washing (lots of photos on non-crashed laundry).

28 October, 2015

Broken parents

I need to reread this book that I read two years ago. Parenting two years on is no easier, and in some ways harder. I now have two teenagers and one in the last couple of years of high school (therefore the WHAT NEXT? question looms and assessment matters).

Here is my book review from a couple of years ago (originally posted here).

An admission of brokenness

I've just read a book, The Beauty of Broken, by Elisa Morgan, that's encouraged me in my parenting; and that's pretty rare these days. Its main premise is, as it says on the front cover: There's no such thing as a perfect family.

The author of this book was the president of MOPS International for 20 years. She came from a broken family (divorce and alcoholism) and tried super hard to make her "second family", the family she created when she married and then adopted children, perfect. She bought into the lie that if you have "perfect family values" you will create children that turn out "alright".

The book is the story about how her family didn't "turn out okay". However, it is not just a book about her and the brokenness of her family. She actively encourages her readers by pointing them to God. That he creates beauty out of broken things, that he understands that we're all broken. God loves the broken, and uses the broken.
Gradually I faced the reality that God did not evaluate my  mothering by how perfectly or imperfectly my children developed. Rather, he expected me to address how I influenced my children by how I yielded to his love for me and then acted it out in life. Period. He did not ask me to control their responses, their choices, or their consequences...I could not fix my family—my first family or my second—any more than I could fix myself. I was broken. They were broken. I was to offer myself to God and to allow him to use my best, but still flawed, mothering to shape their development. (Location 906).
How freeing, is that? That doesn't mean I don't have responsibility for how I conduct myself as a parent (and wife, sister, adult daughter), but it does mean that there is a limit on what I am responsible for. How come I struggle with this so much? I'm always telling my youngest son he's not responsible for his older brothers. I'm often telling the boys that they're only responsible for their reaction to their brothers, not changing how their brother's react...listen to yourself Wendy!

Here's another good quote from the book:
Parenting, like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and above all, faith. It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts, and what, by God's grace, our children grow up to become. (This actually comes from Leslie Leyland Fields, , "The Myth of the Perfect Parent," Christianity Today, january 2010, 27.)
No parent, no matter how dedicated, expert, present, and loving, can produce a perfectly healthy and happy adult. Such a feat is simply not within our power.
That's scary and releasing at the same time. Scary, because there are no guarantees about the sorts of adults my kids will turn out to be. Releasing, because I'm not responsible for their choices. My success as a parent doesn't depend on them making good choices. God doesn't judge me by that.

I definitely recommend this book. It's been a great encouragement to me as I push onwards with these imperfect human beings God's given me, this imperfect mum, to parent.

Disclaimer: A complimentary electronic copy of this book was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Books http://BookSneeze.com. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

27 October, 2015

Grief and loss

Last week I casually greeted a friend who, unbeknowns to me, had just come from her good friend's cremation celebration.

Her response to my, "How are you?" was to share where she'd been that afternoon. 

Later I went back and asked her for more details. Her response was along the lines of: "I'm feeling a little knocked over by loss. Three of my closest friend gone in just a couple of years." Two moved back to the US for various reasons and the third passed away last week. I'm grateful for her realness in sharing what was going on in the background, because I never would have guessed otherwise.

Then on Friday David and I discovered that another family from the school community is moving back to the US before Christmas. I saw them on Saturday at the cross-country meet and asked them about what seemed to be an untimely move (middle of the American school year) and they said they were moving against their will. They have two high school aged daughters, one of whom is friends of one of our sons.

The background of their move is in this story:
The Southern Baptist Convention will cut as many as 800 employees from its overseas missions agency to make up for significant shortfalls in revenue, officials announced Thursday (Aug. 27).  The International Mission Board anticipates an annual budget shortfall of $21 million this year, following several consecutive years of shortfalls. The developments are particularly painful for a denomination that was founded as a missionary-sending organization and that prides itself on making Christian converts across the globe. “Over the past six years, the organization’s expenditures have totaled $210 million more than has been given to it each year,” the board said in an announcement. ”Sure, this is not an ideal step but quite frankly there are no ideal steps at this point,” said International Mission Board President David Platt on a conference call with journalists. (From here.) 
It's a shock to hear of such a dramatic move by a mission board. It certainly will have huge impact across the world, not just that hundreds of missionaries will cease ministry in the countries they've felt called to, but those families are connected to many others. That's a lot of grief and loss!

Grief and loss is an integral part of life. People move, friendships don't survive, and people die. But the grief and loss that are part of the the missionary life (or other itinerate work like military) is greater than for those who live in the same place for most of their lives. 

I didn't understand that early on in our journey down this road. it isn't just saying goodbye to people you love in your home country, but frequently saying goodbye at this end too because our friends move often too. 

We pick ourselves up and move on, because that's what we do, but this grief and loss remains with us and becomes part of who we are. Those of us who are "left behind" continue on and try to support one another as best we can.

But in the end our comfort can only really come from knowing that our real home is in heaven: 
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan,longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling. 2 Cor 5:1–2 (NIV)
Heaven, where there will be no grief or tears. 
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:3–7 (NIV) (Emphasis mine.)

If you're interested in other times I've written about grief and the missionary life, here are a few:

Today is World Occupational Therapy Day

Occupational Therapy is my professional training. I worked as one full time in my 20s, before I had children. I still occasionally pull out my Occupational Therapist's hat here on a voluntary basis. 

Do you have a personal experience with Occupational Therapy that you'd like to share in comments? I'd love to hear your story.

26 October, 2015

Thrift Shop Bargains

Following my tradition of "showing off" my Thrift Shop purchases. Here are some I've managed to get photos of:

Long story short: ever since my Hen's Party Tweety has been a theme
for me. I've had Tweety cups and shirts etc. This is the first time I've
had a Tweety apron.

Five Tupperware containers: 100 yen for the lot.

Another knee rug, for my chilly legs in winter.

Various books, DVDs and some more wool to practise my crocheting with.

More books and a CD (we got 10 CDs at about 100 yen each).

Our youngest son is skilled at finding fantastic clothes
at Thrift Shop (especially shirts).

Ski jacket for our 16 y.o.

Jeans for our youngest.

Another jacket for me.

Windcheater for me in my favourite colour.

A new summer outfit. Got this for free!

Cake/pie Tupperware contained. Only 50 yen!

500 yen for a "new" Queen-size airbed.
(Ours broke last camping trip.)

And a few other photos (in slightly random order) from the week:

Getting ready to serve our first customers on Friday morning. (One of 
eight check-out stations.)
Sorting signs. This was one of my jobs for the week. Here, on the last afternoon
we were organising them and putting them away in folders.
Sorting clothes early on the first day.
Beginning of the second day of sorting/set-up.

This was the women's clothes section on Thursday morning. One job was to
 fold and place all those shirts on the tables. Plus many others that arrived
that day. We women have so many clothes! This table still had more than
one foot deep of clothes on it at the end of the sale, despite many hundreds of
people buying clothes. That shirt in my "free" outfit above was found on
this table at the end of the event.

25 October, 2015

Cute Japan

Have you ever seen a 9cm casserole dish? Even when I lived on my own I never had a hankering after one this small. 

Japan seems to specialise in small and cute. It isn't really a surprise to find such a small piece of kitchen equipment. I can easily buy many kinds of tiny things, from cake tins to coffee filters to bowls and strainers (see some here). A few elements within Japan feeds into this, including:
  • tiny kitchens—hence no room to store large things
  • a limited baking tradition—many people have no oven
  • a high percentage of one and two person households
  • bonsai tradition
But this website is pushing the small a little to the extreme.

P.S. I'm still recovering from the five-day Thrift Shop marathon. Probably tomorrow I'll be able to come up with something more of a blog-post. (I'm snapping photos to show you some of the bargains we found at the giant school garage sale.)

22 October, 2015

Gone to reprint

In Australia it was great to have actual props to hold up when we were visiting churches and say, "I was involved in this." 

This booklet was one that I showed around to many people. I was the project manager, but it was a field project. Many missionaries Japan with OMF contributed their skills: writing, proofreading, editing, designing, and advising.

Now I get news that it has sold-out worldwide. It's gone to its first reprint. First print was 4,000, second round is 2,000.

We've had such positive feedback on this. It's a great little tool to help people understand and pray for Japan and our ministry here. We used it in more ways than one during our deputation.

21 October, 2015

Our "rivers"

We live close to two "rivers". They are highly cemented waterways (just the banks, the bottom of the rivers appear natural in most places). These banks prevent erosion but especially floods. 
The great thing about the waterways is that you can ride or walk or job along the riverside paths, and therefore avoid lots of traffic lights not to mention breathing in less traffic fumes.  When riding you do have to keep your bike bell handy to warn groups of people who are taking up the whole path that you want to come through.

This is a map of the part of Tokyo where we live. Our house is a little to the right of the centre of the photo. You can see that we're quite close to two "rivers". Not unadulterated nature, but lovely little strips of green nonetheless.


20 October, 2015

Tax included or not?

One confusing factor about Japan is that sometimes labeled prices include 8% consumption tax and sometimes it doesn't. I'm pretty sure that the law changed sometime in our early years in Japan to make it compulsory to indicate if a price includes the consumption tax or not. I wish they'd just make it like Australia and ensure that it is always included, that would eliminate any confusion.

In any case, I only discovered the other week how it is written on labels (yes, very ignorant shopper here!).

Check out these examples.

The circled characters mean that tax is included in this price.
The circled character means tax isn't included in this price.
I don't know what all the circled characters mean, but
I'm pretty sure that the sale price here is the red price.

19 October, 2015

Getting around on trains is good exercise

This is a screen shot from my phone this evening. I'm clearly not a big walker or runner but this app on my phone doesn't record bike riding, nor does it record the many times I go up and down stairs at home without my phone in my hand or pocket. 
However this has recorded how much walking I did doing my job today. I attended an all-day OMF members meeting on the other side of town. All I did was go there and back, nothing else (I did mostly take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator). You can see how active life in Tokyo can be just by traveling around on trains. 

Some people ask us when we're in Australia how come you have maintained a good weight? (I still fit into my wedding gown.*) Part of the reason is careful eating but a lot is the lifestyle here. Life is more active and the food we eat generally healthier. We gained weight in Australia because we indulged in the many yummy things there we don't get here. Also most of our meetings involved food and or coffee! Restaurant portion size is also probably an issue but the truth is we don't eat out much, here or there.

Overall, living in Japan seems to be good for us, however. I think we'd have to work a lot harder in Australia to maintain our weight.

*Disclaimer: I am by no means skinny, never have been.

18 October, 2015

Daily life recently

This last week was a short week. We had a day off school on Monday (coinciding with a Japanese public holiday). CAJ calls it "Fall Break" even though it's just a three-day weekend. The extra day off was welcome, however. 

On Tuesday morning I said, "Short week!" David quickly countered, "With a lot in it." 

The week included a lot of editing for me, meetings with various people, and unexpectedly a trip to the orthodontist because of a breakage.  Incidentally, the 30-40 minute drive to the orthodontist contains more than 30 sets of traffic lights, in 8 km!

On Thursday David took a high school team to an inter school trivia competition. Our 11th grader was part of that team.

On the same day I managed to take time out to ride to that big park again. I did get a little miffed with navigation on the way there. Tokyo is full of narrow streets that often end unexpectedly and I just can't keep a list of geographical instructions in my head long enough to ride smoothly, so there were lots of stops to check the map. But it was a gorgeous day. I found the one eucalyptus tree in the park that I know about and sat editing under it for a short while. (Eucalyptus trees are everywhere in Australia, but rare in Japan, so it felt like a little bit of home.) It wasn't peaceful, though, as nearby a bunch of teenagers enthusiastically played tennis. 

On Saturday I got to stay home with our 16- and 10-year-olds while David accompanied the middle school cross country team to their meet in the morning. Sleeping in was lovely, but  even without going out I still was exhausted by about 7pm. Without too many details, there was a lot of interpersonal friction with boys related to homework, screens, responsiblities, etc. Even sitting down to play a "deck accumulation" game with them was hard and exhausting. 

Next week is even busier than last week. 

On Monday I have to go to a mission meeting across town (1.5hrs by several trains). 

Tuesday to Saturday is the school's twice yearly giant garage sale, called "Thrift Shop". This year for the first time I've agreed to serve on the committee that runs it. This is a highly organised event that moves quickly. 
Tuesday pm: set up gym with tables, shelves, racks, and signs. 
Wednesday and Thursday: sort, price, and arrange donated items. 
Friday: sell to PTA members
Saturday: am sell to anyone, pm take everything down and restore the gym to a pristine condition. 

Thrift Shop = Lots of work. Many volunteers. Big revenue. These two events are the only PTA fundraising events in the whole year.  I'm co-coordinating Facilities Coordinator. It will be interesting to see how it all goes. 

On top of all this I'm trying to move the magazine I edit along at a faster pace than usual. We're currently running four months behind schedule. I've been working this week on editing submitted articles for the Autumn issue, hoping to get it to a position where my absence for five days won't injure our progress. It would be great to have a third person  who could look over the articles I've already worked on (we already have two, but they're both busy and can't work on it as fast as I'd like). 

So plenty busy. I'm not sure how much I'll get here to write, perhaps a few posts "I prepared earlier" or photo posts.

16 October, 2015

Attractive Authenticity*

We frequently look down on Jesus's friend Martha. She's maligned as the not-so-spiritual sister to Mary. But have you ever thought of her as open and authentic?
I think my friendship with this lady at college had a
big part to play in developing my passion
for authenticity.

On two occasions we see her blurting stuff out to Jesus:
John 11:21
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. (NLT)

Luke 10:40
But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” (NLT)
But her faith was not weak, quite the contrary:
John 11: 25-27 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” (NLT)
This is authenticity before Jesus, but what about before our fellow flawed human beings?

I found this in a post I wrote in March last year: 

"I've been reading Looking for God by Nancy Ortberg. It's another compellingly honest book. I could quote many passages, but here is one that's close to my heart:
The greatest apologetic, the best defense or evidence of our faith, is the way we live authentically with God. Authenticity implies honesty, struggles, questions, desert times, shaking fists, and hopeful silences. I can only model what I'm experiencing. Anything else is either behaviour modification or "faking it" – neither of which is transformational.
We have this mistaken idea that living the Christian life is a series of mountaintops, a succession of grand faith adventures."

If you know me personally or have been hanging around here at "on the edge", you'll know that authenticity is something I value highly and try to practise in my writing and living.

It's gotten me in trouble, though. While preparing this post I found another post about authenticity and pain (here). An authentic life is a fine line to walk, though. Especially when I'm writing about other people such as my family. I've gotten it wrong in the past, but I am somewhat held accountable these days by my son/s reading my blog. 

So why should we go to the trouble of being as authentic as we can? Because I know of nothing else that comes close to touching the hearts of others as authenticity does. Yes, it's risky, but in that risk can come great reward. Because I am not perfect and others need to know that so that they aren't deceived. Basically because to not be authentic is to lie.

Certainly anytime I talk about authenticity I feel the need to add a caution. We don't need to blurt everything to everyone. That is lacking in wisdom and indeed is unattractive and unsafe. The safest place to be authentic is with our heavenly Father who has saved us despite our imperfections. But amidst the circle of influence that God gives us we should seek to be as real as we can. But don't be too cautious, there are people around you who need to know that you struggle.

Seek wisdom in how you live out your life authentically:

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. (Daniel 12:3, NLT)
Let's be Marthas!  Deep in faith, open, and authentic.

*This is in response to a writing theme prompt for this week on Velvet Ashes' The Grove, an online community of Christian women serving overseas.