31 March, 2017

Camping with friends

This afternoon we returned from camping for two nights. I'd like to say it's the first time we've camped in Tokyo, but that isn't true. We've camped in Tokyo before, but way out in the western corner of it. This is, however, the closest we've ever camped to home (only 16km and about an hour by car in good traffic).

Some of our day campers, who brought a tonne of food and had
a superb time. We're so glad they made the effort to join us.
It's a place we've been to many times to watch our kids run in cross-country races, but is off-limits for us to camp there due to it being on a US military recreation base. However, one of the families we'd planned to go camping with are former military and not only are able to go into these facilities, but able to sponsor the likes of us.

The four-family camping trip we'd planned for Monday to Thursday at one of the five lakes near Mt Fuji had to be cancelled due to inclement weather (yes, snow!). Our Plan B turned into a two-family camping trip from Wednesday to Friday at Tama Hills Recreation Centre with three other families joining us just for the day on Wednesday. It was quite a riot, especially on Wednesday!

Pretty barren-end of winter look. These trees will be green within the month.
But just now it was fantastic that they let us have all the warming
benefits of the sun because it was still cool in the shade (only about 10C on
Wednesday and today).
I had such a funny feeling on Wednesday as we got started on this adventure. Our camping adventures have been rather private things, something we've generally done on our own, barring a couple of times when we've invited another family to join us. All of a sudden I felt responsible for all these other peoples who joined us, but also touch exposed. All these families are CAJ families, actually all staff families where one or two of the parents are CAJ staff. We're used to interacting with them in other arenas, but not while camping. It was a little weird to start with but things settled down and we had a great time. 

Sunset on the first day.
On Wednesday we had seventeen kids (from seven to late teens) and eight adults in our party. Almost everyone stayed all day, for dinner and then finished off with a trip to the local hot springs for a bath (a very Japanese thing to do in a group). 

Photos aren't allowed at onsens (understandably). But this is one of the
toilet entry. Everyone was walking around in socks/bare feet.
 It was a relief to have special toilet slippers to put on to use the facilities.
The kids did a lot of running around. The property is large (500 acres) and there are a lot of great things to do with little cost. The kids played Corn Holes, an American bean bag game (throwing a bean bag toward a goal), basketball, threw frisbees and a football. They explored the scrub and generally had a super time. Two of our boys rode to the campsite with another teen and so they got to ride around on their bikes also.

The adults walked and talked and sat and read, generally enjoying the lack of schedule.

The same continued the next day. We were slow in getting up and lazed around much of the morning. Several people had naps after lunch too, or read. Then we went down to the activities area and enjoyed archery or mini golf.

We didn't have showers on Thursday night (shhh, don't tell anyone). The shower facilities leave a lot to be desired. Though, it probably was a good thing, because the airforce were using the area for a training exercise, and that included practice interrogations in the men's shower block!

As for the the rest of our time, I'll leave it to photos to show you some of the things we got up to.
Some of us tried archery on Thursday. This is not a
usual activity found on a Japanese campsite!

This piece of land has quite a history. It used to be a
Japanese military munitions processing and storage facility in WW2.

Two tents, one undercover "kitchen" area, and one cooking/relaxing area.
It was like we had different "rooms" on different levels.
This  top room would be called the living room, it had the fire.
Even after the day campers left, we still had eleven of
us camping. I loved the interaction between the kids.
None match up in age exactly. We had 17, 16, 14, 13,
almost 12, 10, and 7 year olds. Two girls and five boys. 
Of course campfires were a highlight. We were, unusually, allowed
open fires and could use any wood we found around.  And we found a lot.
Free entertainment. Two boys (nearly 12 and 7) had a lot of fun
making these art installations.
Packing up to go. We rented one of the school vans and
squeezed all our two family's gear into it, along with our
two families, sans the three cyclists.
Periodically on our journey home, through familiar
city streets, we encountered fabulously dressed
sakura trees.
 We love camping as a family and it's something David and I hope to do for many more years. Camping with other people is a different experience, but really fun when you find equally crazy people who are happy to be laid back about schedule. 

CAJ is more than a school, it provides a community for many who choose to get involved. We're so thankful for the friends we've made through the school. Life can be hectic, especially amongst a mobile international community surrounding such a school, so we're glad for this small opportunity to chill-out with friends.

28 March, 2017

Three things I didn't used to have

Here are three candid photos from my entryway.

A basket of scarves. Yes, they're mostly mine! And no, they aren't ornamental, they are to keep me warm. I rarely wear scarves as an accessory because it is so nice to be free of them after having to use these for so many months.

A couple of baskets with other bits and pieces of winter gear, including earmuffs for riding. And no, this isn't mostly mine.

A cupboard of jackets. Half of these are mine.

I was an innocent Queensland-girl when I came to Japan 16 years ago. Since then I've learned about all sorts of winter gear that I barely knew existed before! I've learned that being able to walk out the door without "kitting up" is such a luxury! In Tokyo I use at least some of this gear for almost half the year (in that cupboard are varying weights of jackets).

Spring is being shy. A little slow in coming this year. I'm hoping we'll be able to put a lot of this away soon.

27 March, 2017

Savouring multigrain bread rolls

"What food do you miss?" is a common question we field in Australia. There are lots of things we mildly miss (read here: not desperately crave) and enjoy when we're in Australia. But there is also a lot that we don't miss or can fairly easily get in Japan.
One thing we "miss" is being able to buy cheap, tasty non-sweet bread rolls in the shop. Even more—being able to buy cheap multigrain bread or bread rolls in the shop. Bread availability has improved a lot since we first arrived, but it still doesn't really meet these criteria.

So periodically I make my own. We make most of our own bread, actually, in a machine. The sliced variety, and yes, wholemeal or multigrain and not sweet. But not often do I do my own kneading and make rolls.

This afternoon I did and we had delightful, though a little too crusty, flat multigrain bread rolls for dinner. Yum!

They didn't last long, however. It's hard to tell, but they are big rolls. These six represent 600g of flour, a usual medium loaf of bread. My two big guys polished 1 ½ of these off (filled with pork and home-made BBQ sauce) then they moved onto rice along with the usual truck-load of vegetables. The other three of us had just one roll each.

25 March, 2017

Chocolate Oat Bars

I made these last weekend and have been getting rave reviews from the two boys at home this week. By great restraint we've managed to keep some for guys who returned from Thailand today, thankfully it's quite a large recipe.

250g butter, melted
440g brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
375g self-raising flour (or plain flour plus 2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder)
3 cups rolled oats

300g chocolate, chopped
295g can sweetened condensed milk
30g butter, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Optional: 120g chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to moderate (about 160C for fan forced). Lightly grease two 19cm x 29cm rectangular slice pans (or the equivalent), line with baking paper, ensuring.
2. Combine butter, sugar, eggs, and essence in a large bowl. Add sifted flour and oats; mix well.
3. Divide mixture into three equal portions. Press one portion of mixture evenly over base of one prepared pan (I found this time consuming). Repeat with other pan. Keep aside one portion. Refrigerate while preparing filling.
4. Filling: Combine chocolate, condensend milk, and butter in a small saucepan, stir over low heat for about two minutes or until chocolate is melted. Add essence and nuts, if you are using.
5. Spread filling evenly over both bases. Crumble remaining mixture over filling in both pans. 
6. Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes or until browned. Cool in pans.
7. Refrigerate for several hours before cutting into slices. Either in the pans or out.

24 March, 2017

Thursday Therapy

Yesterday was a bit of a "meh" day. Several reasons for that:
  • I am waiting on several people to do things or get back to me on stuff. They all have reasons for the delay, but my to-do list was looking like a "wait-for-so-and-so" list.
  • It was grey outside, and not as warm as it often is at this time of year. I'm longing for warmer weather. Longing to get out of jackets and long-johns.
  • Linked to the above, the weather for our camping trip was looking cruddy. Rain, snow, sleet, all these were forecast for the whole three days and four nights. Ugh. We'd anticipated having an epic four-family camping trip with other CAJ-teacher-families. This has been in the planning since last November and yesterday's texting conversation between them all was about whether to go ahead with our plans, or to change, or cancel them. Depressing—as I was looking forward to this trip so much.
  • I really don't like being a single parent, though it's been quite a bit easier this time than many times in the past (they're older and there's only two of them), I'm still missing my soul mate and partner in running this household. I'm getting tired. Yes, these guys are at school all day, but I'm still doing "parenting stuff" at 9.30/10pm at night, past my "Cinderella Hour" and it wears me out when I can't share this. As always, my respect for single parents shoots through the roof!
However, I'd put "ride to the park" on the calendar for yesterday two weeks ago, so I forced myself out of the house and rode. Thankfully, the clouds cleared a little while I was out and there were shadows, even full sun for a bit. It was definitely good for me. 

Every day this week I've taken some "me" time during the day. 
  • Monday I spent time with other parents at two prayer meetings and over lunch (this was organised by someone else and was very enjoyable social time).
  • Tuesday I had a massage (yes, I do this, it is a maintenance thing, but it isn't weekly)
  • Wednesday I had lunch with a friend who I haven't spent one-on-one time with for ages. It was great (unashamedly deep conversation), but too short due to unavoidable constraints on her time.
  • Thursday I rode to the park.
  • Friday I took lunch to a local friend who has three little ones. We also had wonderful, though understandably fragmented conversation.
I'm so thankful my work this week has given me the freedom to do this.

At the park I mostly rode around looking for signs of spring with my camera. The "major" cherry blossom trees aren't out yet, but they're very close. There were a few other trees who had a chance to shine, though. Here are some of my better captures:

A type of early blooming cherry blossom. Sorry, don't know which kind.

Magnolia. Not as spectacular, but still gorgeous after months of nude trees.

I need to work harder on getting my depth of field right (camera setting), but this was an intriguing tree called a Sanshuyu mizuki (I know this because many trees in this park have labels) or an Asiatic dogwood (which I know because of my awesome Japanese-English app).

This one is slightly better.

This tree is called a Kibushi in Japanese. There doesn't seem to be a common English word for it, maybe an "Early Spiketail"? Or Stachyurus praecox, to use the official botanical name. Whatever it's called, it's pretty.

Just about to pop!

Not a lot was blooming, but there were an awful lot of buds on the trees. Next week will be glorious, if it isn't raining!

I dared to have my camera out for a short part of my ride home (it still makes me nervous to have this equipment hanging around my neck when I'm on a bike), and I captured (but not very well, my focus was too close to me) one of my favourite things at this time of year: the pink of sakura just poking out in an unexpected place.

23 March, 2017

Wanting deep conversation

I'm someone who loves a good, long, deep conversation. 
This friend and I have sat through many wrestling meets,
cross-country meets, track meets, and car journeys too and
from such things. Wrestling meets are just not conducive to
long, deep conversations. Deep, yes, but not long! However,
we went camping with these friends last year and one treasured
memory for me is sitting for ages while the kids played and
talking about deep things.

But sometimes when I'm talking to a person I feel like I'm stressing them out. They're looking for an exit strategy and I'm not supplying one. I'm not sure how to deal smoothly with that.

Is the onus on me? Am I acting too needy and clingy and driving people away? Or is it that people don't want a deep conversation with me? 

Sometimes—and I understand this—they have other important things that need doing. That happens to me (and I hate it when I have to cut a good conversation short because I have to go to another thing on my schedule.) Or they're just not in the mood. Or maybe it is that they just don't really like me at all, and a shallow, short conversation is all they want (yes, I know about this too). Or having a deep conversation is way too scary.

Do you ever have thoughts like this?

I know that some of this is culture-driven (this article about adjusting to a slower-paced life in France showed me that), but that doesn't make it easier to cope with.

I also know a lot of this is driven by my personality (ENFP), I've just Googled "ENFP" and "deep conversation" and found others with similar complaints. It's a life-long problem for me. I got upset at our wedding because we had so many wonderful friends all in the same room and I just wanted to sit and have a long, deep conversation with them all. Of course it was an unrealistic expectation, but the pain was real.

There is also an element here of how being a missionary has changed me. I don't know how long someone will be in my life, so I have a tendency to go deep fast. I saw a great example of this the other day. It was with some ladies I was having lunch with, missionaries who don't know each other very well. We'd barely settled into our seats when one asked another, "I heard that you set aside your Tuesdays to spend time with God." It was a stunning plunge into deep conversation.

I'm just thankful I do have friends with whom I can have long conversations, although at this point in our lives it usually requires scheduling to achieve this. Long gone are the days of university when you could just sit around and chat for hours on end with little consequences.

I've meandered around here a bit, but I am still interested in your thoughts on my thoughts above. How do I handle the feeling that someone wants an exit strategy when I just want a deep conversation?

22 March, 2017

⅖ of the family in Thailand

An old photo from a previous trip. This is David's fourth
trip to Thailand with senior classes.
David and our eldest son are in northern Thailand with the school's seniors (about 50 or so students) right now. They left last Friday and will get back this Saturday. It is the school's highly anticipated "Senior Ministry Trip." 

But is quite different from the sort of year 12 trip done by most schools in Australia and Japan.

The primary focus of their time in Thailand is service to the Hill Tribe people (Lahu) in Northern Thailand. "This is a tribe from northern Myanmar that was driven from its native homeland and has migrated to northern Thailand where the tribe is living among the Thai people." (Quote from one of the handouts we were given.)

As far as I understand it, this tribe doesn't receive support from the Thai government as they are like illegal immigrants. CAJ Seniors have been going to this area for quite a number of years now, mostly helping with building projects, especially at local schools.

This year they are helping build an extension for a nursery/day care centre (for young children) at Huay Kok Moo school. They're also working at Thomas House, an independent school for special needs children. Last year's seniors laid the foundation for one building in this centre and this year the students are making bricks to form paths between buildings, sanding window and door frames prior to them being varnished etc. The students also take turns in groups to play with the children.

They've been very busy doing the above, plus hiking, going on a bike ride, and learning about the local culture and history too.

The school's professional photographer is with them and is posting some great photos by him and one of the very talented seniors on a private Facebook page.

Another focus of the trip is leadership development and class collaboration. This is one of the things the school focuses on especially in middle and high school is leadership development. Collaboration is a school core value. So they've been doing real life problem solving activities and other things like a ropes course, confidence course etc.

Japanese schools tend to take trips that are about the culture and history of their own country or pleasure trips, like to Tokyo Disney or some private schools go for a fun trip overseas. I suspect Australian schools just take pleasure trips, although I'm quite removed from that scene, so I couldn't be sure.

A Christian International school is a different context and you can see that reflected in many ways throughout a school year. In this case, one reason they choose Thailand, I believe, is that we almost never have a Thai-speaking child graduating, so the students who are used to dealing with cross-cultural situations are completely out of their comfort zone. This is quite relevant as many of them will be going to another culture after graduation for further studies. Even if it is their passport country, they will find that it is a challenging change from an international high school.

From the home-side point of view, we're missing our two guys. We're getting along okay, but not without some nasty times (particularly Monday night and Tuesday morning). It is the first time that David's gone away for a longer period like this with one of our boys, so being a single mum to just two boys instead of three is a noticeable difference. We're looking forward to their return on Saturday, but know that they will be tired.

21 March, 2017

How did you become a magazine editor?

Yesterday it was five years since I officially became the managing editor of Japan Harvest.

I often get asked how that came about, especially from missionaries within OMF. So, here is my story.

I have no formal training in writing or editing. My degree was Occupational Therapy. But I have been interested in writing non-fiction for a long time. My first "published article" was as a teen in a small youth group newsletter, as the winner of a competition, writing about my favourite Psalm.

My interest in producing newspaper/magazine-type publications has been fostered while putting together our own monthly prayer letter since 1999. It's something missionaries complain about having to do, but I've always enjoyed.

However, my journey into this job started with discontent and confusion. We came to Japan with my husband focused on teaching missionary kids. I was focused, at the time,  on surviving being a mum to small, lively boys, but willing to help out where I could. I struggled at language school and in our subsequent placing in a church plant. In fact our whole first term in Japan (nearly four years) was a big challenge, one that I very nearly didn't recover from in order to come back to Japan.

Our second term in Japan began with a move to Tokyo (from the northern city of Sapporo). David, my husband, started work at the Christian Academy in Japan and immediately felt he'd found what God had been leading him to. I, on the other hand, was stuck at home with little, energetic boys in this huge metropolis, knowing almost no one and speaking less than adequate Japanese. Our boys were two months, nearly two years, and 6 years old when we arrived. Up to my ears in being a stay-at-home mum, I also threw myself into making Japanese friends at the local kindergarten where our eldest began that year. 

As time went on I started asking God why he'd called me to Japan without giving me excellent Japanese. I imagined that that's what a missionary should have, and I simply didn't. Nor did I have the energy to try to get it. By the end of each day, the only time I had for focused study, I was exhausted. Not only that, but with my husband working full-time and out of the house from 7.30 to 5.30, I was very limited in what I could manage with the boys in tow.

God answered my heart's plea by taking me on a journey into writing (in English) and then editing and now managing a magazine. I've written a little bit about that journey here in "Finding my sweet spot". Here's an excerpt:
Eventually I rediscovered that I’d been uniquely made. I remembered that God had called me to Japan already knowing my strengths and weaknesses. So my question became: What possible purpose could he have for me with the abilities and gifts he had given me?

Within a few months I received several encouragements to pursue writing. I stumbled upon a small group of Christian writers on the internet who offered to help me improve. Since then I’ve had a number of articles published in different magazines and received a lot of encouragement. I also picked up other small things I was able to do well, not only without the need of excellent Japanese, but also without needing to leave home. This was such an encouragement to me.
I wrote here in more detail about my writing journey up until 2012. Here's an excerpt from that post that makes the connection between journeying as a writer and getting into editing:
I did a short writing course over the Internet. On that course I wrote an article [Crying in the Snow] that I eventually submitted to Japan Harvest, the magazine of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). The editor of the magazine was impressed enough to imply he'd like me to be involved with the magazine somehow. 

A couple of years later I took him up on that as I pondered what my ministry in Japan would look like once I had all the boys at school. After discussions, he decided to appoint me as the Associate Editor of Japan Harvest.
My involvement in the critique group (I mentioned them above as "a small group of Christian writers") developed my editing "muscles". As a group we submitted work we wanted to publish and everyone else in the group gave their suggestions on how it could be improved, pointed out mistakes etc. That was a challenging place to submit work, but also to submit critiques. However, it turned out to be a great place to grow as a writer and an editor. As I saw what successful writers with a critical mind said about my work and what they said about others' work—I learned what to look for. By the way, I'm still involved in this little group (it really is little now, just three of us, when I first joined we had about five or six).

Six months after I started helping out with the magazine, in March 2011, a giant earthquake struck Japan and we had a disaster on our hands. While not in the disaster zone, I was "on staff" of a Japan-magazine, and my boss decided we needed to put out a "disaster issue". But he was largely unavailable to help, as he was deeply involved in helping out with the relief effort. So I got thrown in the deep end and acted as the managing editor for that issue.

I learned so much in those couple of months and started on the long road of making changes to the magazine on many fronts, gradually making it a more polished production. A year after that crisis, we finally came to the conclusion that it would be better to call me the managing editor and my boss became the executive editor. It was really a gradual process of me taking on more and more and him gradually letting go. A process that was not easy for either of us.

It's hard to believe that this is where I am now. I've now gained a lot of experience, in not just editing articles, but in many areas, including leading a team, being a manager, and the delicate art of good communication, especially via email. I've learnt about design and more about grammar and punctuation than I ever wanted to know (it's not my strongest suit).

I value my role in supporting missionaries. It isn't always easy to remember—when you are fiddling around with words and punctuation, or having a discussion about the selection of a photo, or setting deadlines, or following-up writers or editors—that through this magazine, I am potentially helping over 900 people. I am so grateful to God for guiding me into this ministry. It's not something I planned, though it is something I vaguely dreamed about

It turns out that I was right—God did call me to Japan with my particular gifting in mind—it's just that it was a little "on the edge of ordinary" and not at all what I expected.

19 March, 2017

Fish Pie Recipe

I complained yesterday on Facebook about my two younger sons, who slept in and ate late yesterday (as I did), but then got all grumpy at me when I tried to insist they needed food at midday.

Uncooked pie
I really don't want to leave people with younger children the impression that teens and tweens are really that bad all the time. They have good moments and bad moments, just like younger kids. Although I do find that the good moments are more fun, because they are interacting with you on a level closer to being adult-type conversation and humour.

In any case, one really great thing about my teenage boys is that they love the food I make for them (much better than when they were younger). I get lots of positive response when I feed them food they love, and they like a lot more food than they used to.

Finished product.
The recipe I want to share with you today is my middle son's favourite main meal. It has been for a number of years now. We call it "Fish Pie" but you could call it Tuna Quiche. Whenever I'm making this I get a tremendous amount of "teen love". It has three of my boys' favourite things in it: cheese, eggs, and bacon.

It is a bit fiddly, because it has pastry, but it keeps well (even freezes). Last weekend I tripled the recipe because we had guests and it was great to enjoy the left-over pie last night with no more effort than heating it up in the microwave.

1 cup plain flour
80g butter
1 egg
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Rub the butter into the flour (or use one of these cool pastry blenders). 
2. Moisten with egg and lemon juice. If it is too dry, then add a little bit more lemon juice. If it is too wet, add a little more flour.
3. Mix until it is a smooth dough, but don't knead for long, especially if the weather is hot.
3. Roll out to an appropriate size and place in greased pie dish. (Some hints for rolling is to use a flexible plastic mat and cover your rolling pin with stockings or tights, unused, of course. And use a good amount of flour to stop everything sticking.)

1 tin of tuna (no real measurement here, however much you want. You could also use salmon if you prefer that.)
chopped bacon (again, the recipe says two rashers, I usually use much more than that)
1 cup grated cheese
3 eggs
1 cup evaporated milk (or cream, but I never use it, another substitute I've used when I'm out of evaporated milk is ¾ cup milk and 3 tablespoons of water)
pepper if you wish

1. Spread tuna and chopped bacon straight on pastry. 
2. Top with cheese.
3. Beat eggs and evaporated milk together. Pour into pie dish.
4. Bake for 40 minutes at 180˚C. (This is the step I struggle with most, often I find it isn't set in the middle, so I have to cook it for longer or if I'm in a hurry, hasten it along with a stint in the microwave.)

You can double, triple, quadruple this to your heart's content. It cooks faster, though, if you cook it in separate dishes, rather than all in one large dish. Keeps well in the fridge and also freezes well. If you end up with too much pastry, uncooked pastry also freezes well in a ball.

18 March, 2017

Bezalel, a talented dude

In my current journey through the Bible I'm buried deep in the instructions given to the Israelites about outfitting their rag-tag crew in the desert with a tabernacle (place to worship God) and a priesthood.

In the midst of a lot of repetition and incredible detail a name popped out to me the other day: Bezalel. 

I've never met someone called that. It's one of those Biblical names that parents have skirted around as they name their kids these days.

However this guy was one talented dude.

He was chosen by God, the Lord told Moses so (Exodus 31:2). He was also filled by the Spirit, not to be a leader or a priest or a prophet or counsellor, but an artisan. 

Here's a list of things he was enabled to do:

  • work with gold, silver, and bronze
  • cut and set stones
  • work in wood
  • engage in all kinds of crafts
Good thing, because then God lists off a large number of things that needed to be made, including lamps, alters, garments, oil, and incense. 

The list ends with "They are to be made just as I commanded you." No pressure!

Later in Chapter 36, Bezalel is joined by Oholiab and "every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary" (vs. 1 NIV).

Oholiab was pretty skilled too, he is listed as being an engraver and designer, and an embroiderer.

"They" is the pronoun used for a lot of the work, but at the start of chapter 37, Bezalel is described as making the ark, with its covering of pure gold (imagine doing that!), poles which were also encased in gold, then the cherubim were hammered gold. It seems that this was his personal responsibility, because then it goes back to "they."

I would describe myself as a wannabe when it comes to being crafty. I enjoy crafts, but spend more time thinking about doing them than actually doing them (except when it comes to cross-stitch, which I've actually done a lot of). I'm actually better creating by using someone else's "recipe", like with cooking. Actually cross-stitch is pretty much like that. Not much creativity needed, just a lot of time.

I work with designers with the magazine and would love to do design myself, except that I lack the technical skill at this point (they work with fancy software). I also secretly suspect I lack the innate creativity that I would need to do it anyway. But my eye for good design has developed in the six and a half years I've been working on the magazine. 

So I really respect what they do, I give them about 20 basic word documents (that have been carefully crafted and checked) and they turn them into a wonderful, creative feast for the eyes.

I'm delighted to be reminded that God delights in creativity and the skill of an artisan too. Oftentimes we lift up some skills to be higher than others: leadership, preaching, evangelism, and people-skills for example. But I don't think that God looks at us in quite the same way, with some more valuable than others.

He is the ultimate designer (this world...out of nothing!) and values those with creativity too. Actually, he gifted those people with creativity. Without these creative souls in our world our lives would be very dull indeed. Imagine if everything was ugly? If no one had the ability to create something as delightful as a diamond ring or even a piece of clothing that does more than just cover the body. If we had no such thing as music or even the functional design of an escalator!

So two verses:
"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelations 4:11 NIV).
Let's rejoice in those who are gifted with creativity, for this gifting is in the image of God who created them.

17 March, 2017

Parenting and overdoing it

I'm sitting around at 5pm on a Friday, trying to figure out what to put here on this blank page. All I can think about is how much time parenting still takes, even though my boys are 17, 14, and 11. 
Grocery shopping is one part of my life influenced by how
many kids I have in my family and how much they eat. 

This afternoon, with two boys gone on school trips (and my husband too), it is all too quiet around here. It makes me think about how much time I usually spend in my day doing things that I only do because I have children (or, perhaps more of what I would normally do, such as grocery shopping or food preparation which takes longer because there are five of us). 

I guess I should start getting used to it. It won't be too long before we are one boy less, with our eldest son graduating in June and heading back to Australia next February and from then on things just gradually decrease, with my youngest, Lord willing, graduating in just six more years.

Because, as a mum, children take up so much of your time over so many years, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling that that it is your purpose, your main reason for being on this earth, and that there is nothing else worth doing. Yet, it is not so. I had a life before I had kids. (They're always surprised to hear that.) It's going to take some rediscovering, but I'll have it again—a life without kids in it on a daily basis. After 24 years of parenting it will take some getting used to, but I'm already dreaming about the possibilities.

Now the challenge: can I transition from that train of thought into what I really want to post today?

Here's my transitioning thought: because parenting takes up more time than you think, it's easy to take on too much outside the family. 

This is especially true for cross-cultural workers. I had lunch with four other mums from our mission today. We've got kids across a range of ages: from  twenty-two down to four years old. We talked about this and generally agreed that parenting as a cross-cultural mum takes more time and emotional energy that it would if we were in our home countries. This is especially around times of major transition.

Earlier this week I saw this post that talks about the need for caution when it comes to taking care of ourselves, especially as those in cross-cultural ministry.

I was shocked a few years ago when I read that someone was calling for more accountability of cross-cultural workers, that the writer's experience included many who were lazy, who weren't wise in how they spent their time, and that the churches supporting them needed to call them to account. That is not my experience at all. 

Most cross-cultural workers I see tend to have trouble stopping. At least that is the case in Japan. They need to be urged to take holidays and retreat times. They need articles like the one I've linked to above to remind themselves to take care of themselves.

Here's quote from the article:
I must choose each moment to live above the guilt and rest in the certainty that God loves me more than he needs me. If I disable myself by recklessly overdoing, I do a disservice to Him and to those who love me.
It makes me think of parenting again. If I get into the mode of thinking my purpose is to be a mum, if being needed by them is my main reason for living, that leads to a bad place. And it isn't helpful for the phase of life that I'm standing on the precipice of: when my boys won't "need" me as intensely and daily as they used to.

Someone else who has written about slowing down recently is our Japan Field Director. He's been battling two types of blood cancer for about a year now. He's currently recuperating at home after a particularly rigorous round of chemo and a stem-cell transplant. He's a high achieving fellow, who, by his own words, used to "whizz...around like a hare". These days life for him is more like the famous tortoise. Here are some of the words from a Facebook post of his earlier in the month:
All of this has got me thinking about what it means to slow down. And it has got me thinking about what the Bible has to say about the pace of life. Certainly when you ponder the Bible generally, there are many examples of ‘waiting’ and ‘perseverance’, topics I've explored in earlier musings. The word ‘patience’ or ‘patiently’ comes up not a few times. But when I thought of the word ‘slow’ I couldn't think of many specific examples apart from a few well-known verses. So, the Lord is slow to anger. In the same way, we should be slow to anger and slow to speak (but quick to listen!) Peter speaks about slowness towards the end of his second letter in the context of time - with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. 
As I considered this more, I came across this translation of Jeremiah 2:25. It's from The Message, so a paraphrase but nonetheless it makes the point very graphically - “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What's the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? But you say, 'I can't help it. I'm addicted to alien gods. I can't quit.'” We may not be addicted to ‘alien gods’ but could we simply be addicted to activity and busyness? And all of that could just be a ‘chasing after the wind’ as one of the Bible’s wisdom books puts it. Or as one of the Psalms says - ‘in vain you rise early and stay up late’. There are quite a few ‘ouch’ passages in the Bible when we measure them against what our daily lives are actually like.
Many of us these days seem to live life simply moving from one thing to the next with little time in between to catch our breath, far less having time to reflect, meditate or even spend some unrushed time with God. And that can creep into family life, church life, corporate life, organisational life. There is so much to keep up with. But that begs some questions. Why do we need to keep up with the things we feel we need to keep up with? And are the things that we strive to keep up with the things we really need to be keeping up with at all? One valuable lesson that can be learned in the slow lane is simply to be able to take stock, reassess and consider what the priorities in life really ought to be. 
None of this is to say we should be lazy or live a life of constant leisure. There is plenty the Bible can teach us about that. But for a follower of Jesus, what should mark us out as different, what are the things that day by day should be core to our lives? Certainly we would want to serve him wholeheartedly and live our lives in a way that brings glory to his name. But while we might desire to be ‘about the Lord’s work’ to use an older phrase, that does not seem to me to mean that we should simply be dashing around in a constant blur of activity. As I have this time in the slow lane, I sometimes wonder whether as Christians, as churches, as mission organisations, we can easily get off track because we are so busy and active that we can actually no longer see the wood for the trees. And I know that as I say that, I am gradually needing to remove the plank from my own eye (if a tortoise can have a plank in its eye). Being forced to slow down is teaching me many things. I just hope I can apply these lessons well if I ever reach the point once again when I am healthy, energy-filled and able to be active. Help me God even then to be still and know that you are God.
Hmm, good words to ponder. I've got a quiet weekend coming up. I am not good at being still, I get bored easily, though I am quite tired right now. I'm praying that God will help me to be still a bit this weekend, and not too restless.