29 February, 2016

Encouraging spring thoughts

Until I moved to Japan, I lived 27 years in southern Queensland: warm temperate to sub-tropical climates. A country where most trees keep their leaves all year round and the seasons aren't so distinct.
I was unaware of how special the early signs of spring were. Of how it was to long for spring during a long cold winter.

Then I moved to Sapporo, which has permanent snow on the ground for about five months of the year. We moved there in the middle of winter, so our first spring in Japan was a thing of wonder. Tulips are still among my most favourite flowers as a result of that experience.

This morning, as I rode my bike to the grocery store, I spied these plum blossoms quietly exuding their radiance on the edge of the road. So I stopped for a moment to appreciate what they mean (and snap a photo). Spring is coming!

When I got home I did a quick word search of the Bible. Flowers and the season of spring  don't actually feature much in the Bible. Generally flowers are depicted as frail, temporary things and this characteristic is then applied to humans.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.    Surely the people are grass.The grass withers and the flowers fall,    but the word of our God endures forever. (Isaiah 40:7-8, NIV)
Luke uses flowers to encourage us to not worry, but rather seek God.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12: 25-31, NIV, my emphases)
Yes, don't worry. Instead trust in God whose Word is eternal. A good thought for what could be a time of worry and losing my heavenly focus.

28 February, 2016

A bit of a rough time

February's been crazy for us. Even crazier than we thought possible. The added element was my father-in-law was diagnosed in late January with end-stage cancer. David rushed back in early February to say good bye one last time, at that stage his dad was in good spirits and had no pain. Alas that was all to change quickly in the last week and he passed away on early Thursday morning.
Part of the Bangkok airport, 9.30 at night.

If you've been reading here, you'll know that I was in Bangkok at the time at a training workshop. David was in Tokyo alone with the boys. Thankfully we've both had caring people around us to support us through and we're coping okay.

Thursday was a rush of figuring out details. Especially travel details. Facebook Messenger is somewhat controversial, but I am so thankful for it (and free wifi); it allowed our families to communicate as freely as was possible with us in three different countries. David's family were able to set a funeral date taking David's travel into consideration and he didn't need to rush straight back to Australia. Indeed he chose to wait a few days so that he could see me before he left. 
These orchids at the airport were tiny, about
an inch or so.

I flew back overnight on Friday, landing just after 6am and got through immigration and customs very quickly, Narita Airport was very quiet. Next stop was a coffee shop to fortify me for my journey home, but I arrived 10 minutes before they opened. Thankfully nearby there was a vacant large square shaped seating area. It's a first for me: lying down outside a coffee shop waiting for it to open! I sat in the coffee shop for about an hour before I felt able to carry on to catch trains across Tokyo (two hours worth of journeying).

I arrived home just after 10am. Absolutely exhausted: I only got an hour of sleep twice during the night. I went up to bed pretty quickly and found I was shaking from exhaustion. It wasn't till mid-afternoon that I felt a little bit functional. I've never had jet-lag but I know that it must be compounded by sheer travel-fatigue. Especially when you've flown overnight.
The fuel that helped me get back home from the airport on
nearly no sleep. I was so exhausted and on the verge of
nausea that it took a long time to eat that delicious cinnamon
roll. I didn't even finish it!
David doesn't fly until tomorrow night (Monday). I'm thankful we have been able to have a couple of days of "normality" with the five of us home. Today is only the fifth day of all of us being in Tokyo all day since Feb 5th!

So, I have one more week of single parenting. I think I might set up a big visible countdown! After next Sunday we have no more planned overseas trips, nothing at all, not even planned trips for any of us (separately) within Japan. I'm looking forward to sinking back into "normal life".

26 February, 2016

Friday's roundup

This is what I've been doing this week. It's been refreshing to get away from my daily grind in chilly Tokyo and think about bigger picture things. 

The course has stimulated my thinking and now I have to go away and see how I can apply this to my not-so-traditional team. 

Today we've been given the task of doing three assignments of our own choosing in the next six months. A really good strategy for getting participants to interact with and reflect on what they've learned during the workshop. Creating your own assignments is interesting!

I'm thinking especially about:

  • the special elements in my team: 
    • a geographically dispersed team: three countries 
    • multicultural team: three nationalities
    • almost all communication by email
    • many members have never met each other (I've met everyone barring one)
    • very task oriented
    • all team members barring me have significant other roles
    • our team frequently changes
  • how to help our team function better, eg. by getting to know one another
  • conflict styles, understanding those better.
  • different team models. The one we were presented with doesn't fit my team situation really well. I wonder if there is a better model.
  • motivational types: this is something a friend mentioned to me over lunch a couple of weeks ago that is related to what we've been learning about this week. I'm thinking it's inevitable that I've got members who are motivated by different things. I want to investigate a little.
But tonight it is flying back to Tokyo. 

I'm leaving my accommodation at 6.45pm in a taxi (that is 8.45 Tokyo time, and 9.45 Queensland time). My flight leaves at 10.30, which is after midnight in Japan and Australia. We get in at 6.15am and then I need to catch a few trains back home (which will take a couple of hours). I may stop at a coffee shop on the way out of the airport to catch my breath and some caffeine before I plunge into the Tokyo train system again!

A bit of Friday fun

Yesterday was a bit of a rough day for me. I'll tell you more in a couple of days. 
But for now, a bit of something light.* Here are some somewhat random questions that I've answered. It would be great if you'd have a go (an ?Aussie phrase, I learnt this last week...) at answering them too, in the comments. 

1. Are you right or left handed? Left handed but some things I do right handed, like use scissors. I use both hands to iron and knives I also use with either hand. I tend to use my right hand for strength tasks; when I was an OT I tested my hand strength and it is, unusually, stronger in my non-dominant hand (right hand).
2. When you were a kid, what job/role did you want to have as an adult? I'm not sure I ever had great ambitions. The only thing I can remember is that I definitely didn't want to be a nurse like my mum. I did think about becoming a librarian for a little while, though. Missionary was on the agenda theoretically (as it, it was a possibility) from an early age, but not fanatically, and I didn't tell anyone that until I was at university.
3. If you had to choose between chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry ice-cream, which would you choose? Chocolate. Or vanilla with caramel sauce (but not American caramel sauce, I think maybe it's flavoured with corn syrup rather that sugar cane syrup, in any case, I don't like it).
Here's another aspect of Japan I love: the bike culture.
For example there is a place to park your bike at most
shops. It is super easy to get around in your local area
on a bike, quiet and almost free too.

4. What are some of your favorite movies? Hmmm, that's hard. I really liked Les Miserables. I also like inspirational movies like "Dead Poets Society", "Mr Holland's Opus", and ones about people overcoming big disadvantages like illness or disability like "Paper Planes". Crime or mystery type movies I also love. 
5. Do you sleep with your socks on? I don't like hot or cold feet, so often I go to bed with sock on in colder weather. But I frequently take them off in winter after I've warmed up in bed.
6. What do you enjoy about the culture you live in? Orderly, clean, reliable, courteous.
7. Have you ever needed stitches? Any good stitches stories? The only stitches I've had were for my three Caesarians. They're not really good stitches stories. 
However, I probably should have had stitches in my chin after I fell backwards into a swimming pool. I was with a friend and her mum and was foolishly demonstrating how you should never stand facing with your back towards the water on a pool edge and I slipped. When we got home my mother was distracted by my sister who'd been bitten by a bee in my absence and had an allergic reaction. By the time they realised my chin probably needed some attention, it was already partially healing. Only a problem if I end up with a double chin sometime in the future.
8. What do you enjoy doing on Saturday morning? Sleeping in, reading, eating a leisurely breakfast when I want to.
9. Today, what’s the weather like where you are? I'm in Bangkok till this evening. It is very pleasant here this morning, 26 at the moment (going up to 33) with humidity at 50%. It reminds me of Australian summer days. Better than Tokyo today, which is currently 8C!
10. What smells do you like? Cut grass, cooking onion, coffee. I've grown to love the smell of the soup that Japanese udon is cooked in. It's a slightly fishy, soy smell. Good memories of Sunday lunches.

*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.

24 February, 2016

Wednesday in Bangkok

Conflict. It's not something I enjoy. But we talked about it today. 

These two little figures in the garden are presumably welcoming us to the
Bangkok guest home (I can't read their Thai signs, but the word in English
behind them on the seat is "Welcome").
There are many reasons for interpersonal conflict, but add the context missionaries are working in: multicultural, interdenominational, and international factors multiply the areas for conflict. Not to mention that this "profession" attracts strong-willed people. It's a wonder there aren't more conflicts than we already see. 
So we've spent a lot of time looking at the Bible and seeking God's wisdom on how to cope with challenging relationships. Here are some themes:
The dining room. This was morning tea, they'd just sung to a birthday
"girl" and were cutting the cake.
  • Love
  • Choosing to let some things (many things?) go
  • Forgiving
  • Bearing with others
  • Remember we are battling, not flesh and blood, but unseen powers and authorities.
 And then there's times when working to resolve conflict is needed. Some brief Bible study shows themes such as:
  • asking for a second opinion can be helpful (Prov. 18:17)
  • reconciliation is recommended, not reconciling impedes our relationship with God (Matt 5:23-24)
  • don't judge others, look inwards first (Matt. 7:1-5)
  • Coming from a bleak Tokyo winter, it has been a delight
    to see vibrant flowers in bloom. No idea what this is,
    This is the room we've been spending our days in. I love that three out of four
    walls are glass sliding doors, and that outside them you can see green
    grass and garden. Again, a delight to the eyes of someone who's been
    somewhat cloistered inside during a Tokyo winter.
  • speak the truth in love, grow in Christlikeness (Eph. 4:15-16)

We've spent just a little bit of time looking at conflict styles at the Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory. I found this interesting, but it will take some time to process. Generally I try to avoid conflict, but what I do if I can't is quite dependent on context (eg. how I'd deal with a writer or a team member is quite different to how I deal with a family member or a child). My tendency is to compromise or cooperate in finding a solution. It's an interesting area to look into, but to absorb it I have to pull my head out of the shell and dare to think about conflict!

One of the workshop participants had her birthday today. To celebrate she
and her husband invited those who wanted to come to join them at a
Mexican restaurant. A real treat for missionaries working in much of Asia
where there aren't many such restaurants.

On a personal note, my father-in-law seems to be going downhill pretty quickly. He's in hospice care and on significant, continuous pain management now. It's a waiting game for us, whilst getting on with daily life, which is a different kind of waiting that my in-laws are doing. Sitting by his bedside must be really difficult.

23 February, 2016

Two titbits from today

There are some gorgeous flowers in bloom here.
An international network
In an international mission like ours where not only do we come from many nationalities but we serve in many nations, you don't get to meet most members. When you do there is a fascinating way of establishing connection. There are three main establishing questions: "Where's your sending country? Where are you serving? How long?" Then comes the, "Do you know..."

This is where I am staying, the OMF Bangkok Guest Home.
For example, if I'm sitting with someone from Ireland who's serving in Taiwan, I'll ask whether they know Irish people I've known in Japan and Australians I know in Taiwan. The "how long" question gives some help with how far back you can go. 
It is an interesting exercise, actually and highlights how wide a network we have developed during our missionary career. I'm looking forward to visiting some of these people in their home countries when we are older.

I went for a walk with some Thai-based missionaries this evening and
we saw this chicken (or is it a rooster) strutting around on top of a
 truck with a cat respectfully watching (you can see its eyes).

A tricky question
Today we were asked this: 
What builds trust in your home culture?
I found this really hard. It made me realise how we really don't function often in our Australian culture any more. After some thinking I came up with some ideas:

  • Honesty
  • True blue/ integrity
  • Hospitality/socialising
  • Quality time
  • Paying out on others
Am I right? What would you "monocultural" Aussies add to this? 

This differs from how you build trust in Japan. Hospitality is definitely not a key factor, neither is honesty. Longevity and trying to fit in would be high on the list, however. 

22 February, 2016

Fascinating and challenging

A line drawing of where I am. Maybe tomorrow I'll think
to take a photo of my own during daylight.
I sat around a table at afternoon tea today with seven people. We were German, Swiss, (Northern) Irish, American, English, and Australian. Interesting!

We serve in five different east Asian countries.

We've been missionaries from about three years to decades.

It's a lot to take in, I've never met any of these people before. But I find it very stimulating. 

Though I don't feel super tired tonight, not like I did last night, I find myself plastered to the bed and with stomach ache: a classic Wendy stress symptom. 

I've interacted with passion all day long: over the topics raised during the training and also at meals. That equals tiredness. Not to mention a certain period in the early morning where I wasn't asleep. Mild jet lag (we're two hours earlier than Japan here) plus the normal fatigue that comes from travel. 

One interesting topic today was about what motivates you. A model with three main types of motivation was presented: achievement, belonging, and influence. I was fascinated to think about what motivates me. One is that I need to be passionate about something. I find it extremely difficult to do something that I'm ambivalent about. 

We talked about teams this morning and personality this afternoon. This morning confirmed for me that I'm not a cookie-cutter OMF missionary working in a team. This afternoon reminded me of how I don't fit into a classic extrovert or introvert box. 

I have a quiet non-conformist streak in me that I love. I like being a minority. But I can now tell that I'm going to struggle all week to find where I and my work situation fit into all this. Hopefully, though, I'll find things that have "take away" value for me.  

21 February, 2016

Flying and writing

Coffee and editing at the airport
(with the ever present cup of water).
I'm in Bangkok at the OMF guest home and, though it is only 7.40pm here and 9.40 on my body clock, I feel as though my eyes are about to fall out of they sockets. It's been a long day of tiring travel. I don't know how people do 20+hrs on a plane; I'm not sure I could! My bottom was really tired of sitting by the end of my not quite six-hour flight (but I am a restless person).

In any case, I tried to pretend I was one of those travelling writers today! In a coffee shop at the airport I pulled out a couple of articles I'm editing, and then sometime in the middle of my flight I pulled out my computer and did some more editing as well as writing a blog post. Sounds pretty glamorous, doesn't it? Well it wasn't. It was just using what time I had to do things I needed to do (the editing, that is).

Here's what I wrote, it's a bit raw but I'm too tired to do much about that now.

Here’s something I’ve never done before: written a blog post . . . or really anything, while high in the sky over international waters. I’ve flown on many planes (we have counted, it’s more than 60, I think), but the vast majority of those have been with young children. I have only flown on my own internationally three times before. From Indonesia to Australia via Singapore as a 20 year-old and from Japan to Hong Kong and back in 2010.

Today I’m flying to Bangkok to do some training with our mission, training related to teams: participating and leading them. It is a small group, only 12, plus the trainers. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, learning more about leadership and teams, and growing. I have to admit I’m also looking forward to time away from parenting (don’t tell the boys) and a break from wearing my winter clothes, including long-johns!

After so much flying as a family, it is strange to fly alone. No one to look after my luggage while I use the ladies at the airport. No one to keep an eye on my valuables in the plane while I do the same thing. No one to talk to, or sit next to. No one to be entertained. No one to correct or help. No one to lean on when things don’t make sense or I don’t have enough information. It is both fun and a little intimidating and lonely.

On Thursday I met with my language exchange partners. They’re always interested to hear about my latest adventures. And it often seems that I have more "adventures" than they do. They asked, “How many countries have you been to?” I counted them up, “Only seven, all of them in Asia [except Australia which isn't really Asia]. If you count airport layovers it is nine.” Not that many, really. It looks like we have a very international lifestyle, but in truth most of our journeys have been between Japan and Australia.

The other countries were for a short term mission study trip (Indonesia), training (Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore), and a conference (Thailand). No overseas holidays except for the two Japanese summers that we’ve flown back to Australia to visit family. Those were technically holidays, though we often felt more tired afterwards than we would have if we’d holidayed closer to home. Other than those we’ve never left the country we were living in at the time to go on a holiday. Since we’ve been married the only airplane we’ve caught for a holiday was our honeymoon.

I guess to most people we look well-travelled. Last year in Australia I got the same reaction from members of our home church. Compared to most of them, we travel a lot. But most of it is for work, not pleasure. Therefore it is in our budget, our work budget.

Other travel that’s looks beyond-usual to our friends has been our motorhome trip to the centre of Australia and our camping trip around the top of Japan. Our motorhome trip was by far the most expensive of holidays we’ve taken.

One of these days, after our boys have flown the coop, we’d love to take a holiday somewhere else. Maybe even get out of Asia. Our lives have intersected with many people from other countries, I’m sure we could find someone to go and visit!

But in general I haven’t found travel to be a relaxing occupation. I’d rather go somewhere fairly local (and I’m Australian used to driving country roads, so you know that that means within a few hours drive) and hang-out for a week or two with books and other relaxing things to do. I get overtired by the constant movement and noise involved in travel. I’m also not terribly adventurous with new food, which puts a damper on international travel.

And there it petered out. I got a start on another article for a magazine, but I'd really run out of steam by then. So I went back to watching episodes of Forever.

Now I've totally run out of steam and I'm heading to bed. Good night!

20 February, 2016

Sources of free photos

I just downloaded this from https://stocksnap.io. It will be me
tomorrow as I catch trains across Tokyo and then fly
to Bangkok. (But my suitcase isn't red!)
Most people know that you can't just download photos off the internet and use them for your own use. Unless they are stated as free-for-use, it is stealing.

This becomes an even bigger issue when you're trying to put a magazine together on a tight budget and without a photographer on-staff. You need good quality photos that you don't necessarily get from the authors of articles.

One of our designers found this post which gives links to websites with free stock photos. Very useful! I used a beautiful one for our Christmas card. Other uses include websites, blogs, slide presentations, backgrounds for songs for worship on Sunday etc.

19 February, 2016

It's over

I have lots of photos from this season, but I think this is my
favourite. These two tussled all season long. Six times
they met, score? Our son 4, the other guy 2. Our son
pinned him twice. They pushed one another to be better.
It wasn't easy to watch, but a great challenge for them both.
At least for the spectators. The wrestling season finished on Wednesday. It's been nearly four months since they started training five-days a week and these last five weeks have been pretty intense. It finished off with a three-day 15-school tournament in Korea that really pushed them to their limits.

The tournament is an American military tournament for the "Far East" region where they invite a few private schools to join in. The team lived on an airforce base in a motel for four nights. David said it was like living at an airport!

The first day and a half was an individual tournament, like most of the Saturday tournaments we've been to in January, except it was seeded. It has a few twists and turns to the way it was organised, which meant that when our son won then lost then won then won then lost he wasn't out of medal contention. He went into the top six (all medalists) and had a chance to get third, but it seems he underestimated his opponent and lost his first bout on Tuesday, relegating him to sixth place. Still, not a bad result at all. It was, by all reports, a tough weight class with \ the 2nd to 6th place getters all very good wrestlers. I also think that if you put them up against one another on a different day you would end up with a different end result.

Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday were a team-duel competition. Which means teams face up against one another, from the lightest category to the heaviest one, and the team that got the most points from that match-up won the duel and went on. CAJ lost, then won, then lost. They got 6th place out of the seven in their division. Our son pinned the guy who he'd lost to on Tuesday morning, which was a satisfying end to the tournament. That guy picked up 3rd place in the individual tournament.

Our son has come home with a determined attitude, he has one more crack at this competition next year as a senior. He and another member of the team are planning to train a couple of times a week with a Japanese university club in Tokyo. We'll see how it all pans out.

It's been a season of ups and downs. Certainly plenty of challenges on and off the mat. One of the most gratifying thing of watching the whole team through the season is seeing how they keep coming back each week and improving. I especially think of a couple of the lighter wrestlers who struggled early on. One didn't have much stamina and the other was a rookie, who was a bit at sea early on. Both improved significantly as the season went and it was fabulous to watch.

Of course watching our son do more wrestling than he ever has before in one season was exciting too. He's improved as well, having to dig deeper than he ever has before.

Watching our youngest son (nearly 11) start in on wrestling was also exciting, though we didn't see any of his seven matches first-hand he did very well and we got to see videos of them all. He moves into middle school in August and will be eligible to be a full-time member of the wrestling team. It seems as though next wrestling season will be even bigger than this one!

We get about a month's break until the next lot of school sport begins, though the athletes don't, training for the next season of sport begins in the next couple of weeks. The Spring season contains track and field, high school boys soccer, and middle school girls basketball. Our two oldest boys are planning to do track and field. The middle schooler to run and the high schooler for the throwing events (he's focused on building strength prior to wrestling starting again in November).

Phew! I've always encouraged our boys to be active (see our EF parenting philosophy), it helps them be nicer people and to concentrate. I guess this is where that kind of philosophy can lead! But I'm not disappointed. It is great to have active, healthy young men in the house. Much better to be out being active than stuck playing computer games as seems to be the great temptation when they don't have other things to do.