29 September, 2017

A question of ageing

I did it again today: I had to do maths to figure out which number in my 40s belongs to me right now! This is something that younger people find hard to believe, but it does happen. Yes, I'm middle aged now! No denying that.
So young! In my mid-20s.

I was talking to a married friend recently who is also in her 40s, but a couple of years behind me. She told me that she'd been troubled on her birthday this year. She raised a question I hadn't thought specifically about before: 
How should we approach our mid-life in a godly way? What are good thought patterns in the face of the realisation that our bodies are ageing (though by no means old) and that we are no longer young?
There is a grief inherent, even in your 40s, about not being young anymore and the relentlessness of ageing.

Of course I've thought about the fact that I'm not young anymore. But when married women talk about this stage of life, we tend to talk about—grief about not having young children anymore, grief at children moving out of home, learning to cope with couple-dom again, coping with young children even though you are older, menopause, ageing parents, busyness of life, the physical changes that come, mentoring/coaching younger women, childless-ness, mid-life crisis, raising teenagers, etc.

But not about how to think about ageing, or how to approach it in a godly way.

I did some quick online searching and there's stuff about the above topics too, but I struggled to find anything (quickly) on this topic.

I have some half-formed thoughts, but I know that there are quite a few of you out there who read this who are a similar age, or older. And so I'm putting this out there for you to contribute your thoughts. Have you got a good book recommendation? What has helped you as you've moved into your 40s or 50s? What advice can you give?

And please, I know that women who are older than us will be tempted to say, "But you aren't old..." Please don't. We know we aren't as old as you. We're just trying to make sense of where we are and that where you are, we will be some day soon.

28 September, 2017

A lost gem

This afternoon I'm going on a regretful journey with my husband. We'll be searching for a jeweler who will repair my precious engagement ring. About ten days ago I discovered that one of the diamonds had fallen out. Who knows where? I'd just returned from Manila, but it had been some time since I looked directly at it.

I love this ring, I've never seen another exactly the same. I'm acutely aware that it is just a thing and that the relationship it represents is far more precious and quite irreplaceable. But still, I love the ring.

27 September, 2017

Making and keeping connections with others

Making connections and maintaining them is really hard when you live as we do—away from many who love us as well as in a very mobile, very busy expat community. It's a topic that often comes up on two of the Christian expat communities that I keep an eye on: Velvet Ashes and Thrive Connection.

Velvet Ashes has published two articles recently that resounded with me, so I'm passing them on, in the hope that they may either help you, or help you understand the challenges we face:
Here's a friend who's taken a piece of my heart to
Singapore this year.

8 ways to make real connections with others

This article gives some good suggestions. I don't think they are all helpful for everyone, but you never know which might be helpful for you. 

I especially am challenged by number two: be courageous. I know that in general it tends to get harder to make new friends as you get older, but the rate at which we have to do it is high. Not to mention that we don't know how long we will have these friends that we've invested in, so it takes courage to put yourself out there again and again.

Number four is hard: teach others how you communicate. I think people have figured out that I'm a prolific communicator, but that doesn't mean that they have learnt to connect to me. I feel quite disconnected from many in Australia. When I see them, I'll probably connect to them quite quickly, but in the vacuum of communication, I sometimes wonder if they still consider me a friend. I wonder what's going on in their lives. 
Just the other day one of my boys reminisced about this outing
 in Australia 2½ yrs ago. The memory is full of friends we miss.

Please, friends, don't feel too guilty here. I don't expect communication to the level that I've pushed it with my blog and Facebook and our newsletters, and I know that you are busy. I'm busy too . . . too busy to maintain dozens of close relationships that require the sort of upkeep required for a long-distance friendship. I think that is one reason I'm attracted so much to social media. I can maintain connections with people I don't see in my regular life without too much additional work. I also know that a lot of people struggle to maintain friendships that aren't face-to-face. But I did want to put it out there that I struggle sometimes.

Keeping track of sorrows

This article talks about the grief of never being fully known. There is much underlying grief in the missionary lifestyle and one is this, that no matter where we live in the future, no one (barring perhaps a spouse) will ever have been a part of most of our daily or weekly lives for much of our lives. I know that's true more and more as people all over the world become more mobile. But I think that as missionaries (and those in the armed forces too), as we interact within very mobile communities, we end up with bits of our hearts spread all over the globe. That is hard.

Another website A Life Overseas published this article last week: The five people who shape you the most that touches on the expat's frustration that the people who we would spend the most time with are never all in the same place at the same time.

And one more recent article that touches on this topic: A love letter to my expat friends, also published by A Life Overseas.

However, despite all this, I'm encouraged by this paragraph in the Keeping track of sorrows article: 
Psalm 56:8 (NLT) says, “You [God] keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Every step we take is not only observed but also thought worthy of counting and recording. He remembers every detail and recognizes our grief as a real thing. David, the Psalmist, fully trusted God with his future, and still let his tears flow. He knew God was compassionate and was not embarrassed by his own tears. 

26 September, 2017

Spiritual recalibration

I took the morning to ride to a coffee shop (got 55 minutes of riding in, equivalent to 9,350 steps according to this website) and spent a couple of hours doing some spiritual recalibration.

My main take-away? That the rest in verses 28-31 of Isaiah 40 may have been eluding me because the awesomeness of God that the earlier part of the chapter lays out was not as much in my thoughts as it should have been. And that I can fly (vs 31) not because of who I am or because I'm gifted or in control or appreciated but because of who God is and because he, by his great grace, is committed to saving me.

The other take-away is that this kind of recalibration needs to happen again and again and again. It is not a sign of failure, it is a sign of human-ness (and the sin that indwells all of us) and that is no shame.

25 September, 2017

Fascinating map of the future

This is a map on a wall at school. Marked are all the places that the seniors who graduated from the Christian Academy in Japan in June planned to be going after high school. You can see that most of them went to North America or stayed in Japan. Our son is definitely in the minority.
You can see on the school profile here, that the school has 29 nationalities amongst its students. It is interesting that even many of the non-US students go to North America for college.

Another point of note from a non-American perspective is that no degrees are mentioned here. It is yet another point of the American system that I don't understand. In Australia you aim for a degree, not necessarily a university. So I went straight into Bachelor of Occupational Therapy, and that is what I would tell people if I were asked what I was going to do (of course, I could only answer with certainty about a month before uni started, not months before I graduated, like many US-bound students). Ask an American year twelve student what they're doing after graduation and they'll say something like, "Going to Biola." Assuming, often, that you'll know where that is. They rarely mention what degree they're aiming for. That question confuses, instead the correct question seems to be, "What will you major in?"

I guess by the time we've been here a couple more decades I might understand better . . . but for the meantime, I'm happy to be in the minority and with a son heading into a tertiary system that I've got a better grasp on.

And I love this map!

24 September, 2017

Photographic proof

This week I feel like I got over the hump of things that have been on my urgent list. For months now I've felt driven by an overwhelming to-do list. This week that seemed to ease up, I guess partly to do with getting two projects "done" (see here). 

I think that probably about since I wrote this post back in April, I've been working in a higher gear than I'm used to, or comfortable with. It is a great relief to find that light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully things will be a little more manageable in the foreseeable future.

But this week, after I realised that I was over the biggest, most urgent things for now, I hit the other side of the mountain: freewheeling down. It meant both relief as well as a greater sense of fatigue. I also realised on Friday that I was reacting to small things at work with a greater sense of inner irritation than usual. It was then that I realised I needed to lay low this weekend. Hence I've stayed away from email and this computer.

Thankfully I was able to read for several hours yesterday afternoon on my bed and again today, as well as drop off to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be feeling a bit more normal.

As a result of all of this, I've not blogged as much as I would have liked to. But below I've added some photos from the last week, photographic proof, if you like, that things have been happening in our house and that I've been taking time-out.

This week we had another boy-birthday, so we now have the three-year-gap balance back again: 12, 15, and 18 (we have two boy-birthdays in April-May and the other in September). The birthday cake was my extra rich Chocolate Cheesecake.

Our eldest son has continued to work 28 hrs a week in the maintenance department at school. Varnishing this picnic table is one of the projects he's helped with recently.

On Thursday, with the pressure of the overwhelming-urgent projects over for the time being, I felt able to take time out to ride to the park about 30 minutes away. It was a gorgeous day; the sun was hot and shade pleasant. Yet there was a breeze that only comes with autumn. As usual, I took my camera. There isn't a lot of splendour at this time of the year, with the freshness of summer fading and leaves gradually dying. But I found a few spots of beauty.

There were a few people in the park, not heaps, but not sparse either.

I loved the blue sky. This open field always makes me stop and admire. It's more like "back home" than most things in this big city.

Then yesterday we got up early, as usual, for this season, to watch our boys run in this gorgeous place: the Tama Hills Recreational Facility. This is our seventh year visiting this beautiful spot in Tokyo (see here for an older post about the facility). We went camping there in March this year also. It's only 45 minutes from downtown Tokyo, but not a destination for most Tokyo residents, because you need to be US military or have special approval or sponsorship to go in (and show ID).

The history of the place is quite something. Briefly, it used to house munitions factories during WW2.
Tama Hills’ history dates back to 1938 before World War II (WWII). At that time the Japanese Imperial Army established a munitions processing and storage plant under direction of Arsenal Headquarters in Itabashi located in central Tokyo. Historical records reveal that the plant constructed exclusive chemicals. By the end of WWII, It became an independent facility in 1940 with 2,085 people, three facilities, housing, dormitories and warehouses.
The Tama arsenal was built according to German specifications. It resembled facilities in Bavaria, a province in Southern Germany. Processed bombs were stored in numerous concrete “Bunkers” throughout Tama Department, many of which remain today. The Japanese Army took full advantage of the natural concealment to hide the facilities. In fact, it was so effective that the depot was undetected during the entire WWII. (From here.)
Like many military facilities in Japan, it was taken over by the US military when Japan surrendered.  Here's one of the bunkers as it looked on Saturday.

I'm hoping to take some time out one morning this week for a bike-ride-coffee-shop mini retreat. I need a bit of space to think a few things through. Life continues to be very busy. Our family's October calendar has lots on it, so I'm going to grab this little window before it closes.

22 September, 2017

Kids Musings September 2017

Here's another thing I published this week. It's my desire that you use it and pass it on to anyone it could be useful to.

20 September, 2017

Two are better than one

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary. I'm glad we celebrated back in August by going away, but today we're just in the midst of everything and there's not much room for celebration. 

However, in the midst of the everyday, was an encouragement. This morning, as we usually do, we read the Bible together using the Our Daily Bread (ODB) notes. Today's short reading was Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: 
Two are better than one . . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9–10
The short ODB article today referenced the 2016 Olympics where two 5,000m athletes helped one another when they collided. A picture of mutual encouragement that many across the world saw.

Though the notes didn't mention marriage, but that is of course where our minds went. How many times have one of us helped the other throughout these last 20 years! Our marriage is very much a team event, we wouldn't have made it this far if it had not been for a strong mutual commitment to one another. 

I'm so thankful. We're not perfect and neither of us is very romantic, but I'm grateful and content with what we do have.

19 September, 2017

Celebration of things achieved

Before I move on to the next things on my to-do list, I want to celebrate the things achieved.
Cover of the new magazine issue.

In the midst of the last week of travel and workshopping (and illness), two projects that have taken considerable amounts of my time have gone to the printer:

  • The latest issue of Japan Harvest
  • A greeting card for the use of our Japan Members for mobilisation of prayer
It's easy to peck away at the keyboard here day after day and forget that things I'm working are actually moving forward. The magazine issue I've been working on since May. The greeting card came out of the realisation that the prayer calendar I usually produce for the field was going to be cost-prohibitive this year, something that I discovered back in March. It is easy to just say, "They're done" and move on to the next project, but actually THEY'RE DONE! After months of work, they are actually completed.

Other things that I've also produced have been published online in the last week:
  • Three blog posts for OMF Japan: 
  • And I've been getting more active on social media too, with re-posting relevant things on OMF Japan's page. One of my fellow workshop attendees muttered, "What used to be just for fun has become work." It's true. I'm doing Facebook for work now! That changes the things a little. Although, I guess, in a way I've been doing social media for work for a long time, this blog being a big part of that.
And of course now I'm already working on future projects:
  • The next issue of Japan Harvest has been in the works for more than six weeks now, but thankfully I've only got one issue on my plate, instead of two for a few months now.
  • More blog posts continue to come in for the OMF blog
  • Another printing project for OMF Japan is on the horizon, I just need to kick-start it
I find it easy to think that I'm not doing much, but it's a lie. Perhaps I'm not doing what I do as fast as I'd like to, but I am not fluffing around doing nothing. What I need to find is a better rhythm. I'm not doing much in the way of exercise just now and it isn't helping my stamina nor, probably, my mental state at all.

18 September, 2017

Explaining is a key part of parenting

It's a relief to finally be sitting at my desk during a work day with (almost) everyone gone from the house and with energy to work. It's been more than a week since that happened!
I also did this on the weekend: supported our two younger boys at
cross country. Parenting is hard. Parenting TCKs is also hard, with an
extra layer on top that we wouldn't have had if we've brought our kids
up in the country of their passport. Interpreting elements of both cultures
they are a part of is one part.
Another is that we are their only family in
the country, though I know that many children in their passport countries
never have extended family at important events (I never did).
But we do feel it's important to be there for them at events like sport.
TCKs have more transition in their lives than I ever did and we, as their parents,
are two of people in their lives that don't move in and out of their lives.

Here are some slightly random thoughts from the weekend:

As a parent you're always teaching. But I wonder if parents of third culture kids spend more time explaining? I've mentioned this before: helping them explore Australian food and translating for soft drinks.

Yesterday in a short period after church I found myself explaining to them several other people's reactions to them.

This month our oldest son has started playing guitar for the singing part of the service at church. Yesterday I chatted briefly with one of the young mums who told me that there was a lot of admiration for him from the young parent's group. 

When I passed this on to our son he was a little confused. First of all he didn't understand the Japanese word used by the lady, then he was thoroughly embarrassed by the attention and didn't understand why they admired him. We explained that parents of young children look at families with older children who are "turning out okay" and wonder if that will happen to their own kids. Even hope desperately that it will. That's why is it great to have friends in a variety of stages of life, it is a great encouragement to see that the stage you are currently in ends and there can be better things ahead. Once we'd explained this, he understood and was happier about it, even slightly bemused as he pondered what we'd thought of him when he was younger and looked at older kids.

We've also received a lot of positive comments from the staff at school about him. He's working 28 hours a week there on the maintenance team, doing all sorts of things from shifting heavy things around, to weeding, and cleaning air conditioning vents. Apparently he's really appreciated, not just for the work, but for his reliability and quiet, but thoughtful nature. I'm thankful that he's not only earning money, he's making himself useful and genuinely helping others. Not to mention that obviously he's encouraging others by his general character. 

I'm also thankful that he has this meaningful work to do in this period of waiting. It's good for his brain to have a rest before embarking on the next stage of the journey, which is going to be far from easy. I talked this afternoon to a Japanese CAJ mum who's son graduated with ours. He's gone to Canada and is finding life and study there very challenging.

Why are they staring?
The other reaction of our kids that I fielded after church yesterday was this:

"Why must old Japanese ladies stare at us?" 

In fact the boy that said this was quite upset. We were sitting at Mister Donuts waiting for our order and a couple of older ladies were having quite a stare at me and my three white boys. I politely greeted them and they replied in turn. Sometimes someone would want to have a bit more conversation than that (where are you from etc.), but yesterday these two just looked. It's an age-old problem for foreigners in a land where you don't look like the locals. 

I said, "Just smile and wave." But that seemed to upset him more. This did surprise me. I thought that they were used to this by now, having grown up here, but obviously this is something that is bothering this boy just now.

So there you go: my random thoughts for the day. Thanks for stopping by. I'd love to hear how explaining is a part of your parenting. What have you had to explain to your kids in recent days, about other's reactions to them?

15 September, 2017

Adventures in Manila Part 2

Yesterday I spent all day getting from the OMF guesthome in Manila to my home. You would think with only a 4 ½ hour flight between Tokyo and Manila it would take less than 15 hours to make the journey, but neither the guesthome nor my house are close to the airport (in terms of travel time), plus in air travel there is a lot of waiting around. Travelling on your own can get boring! So to fill in time, I pulled out my computer a couple of times and wrote this:

I’m sitting in the boarding area at Manila airport. It’s a noisy place. Unlike some airports, there is no carpet, only tiles and vinyl or metal seats. There is a constant stream of people walking past. This terminal seems strangely small for an international airport (there are two other international terminals that aren’t connected). I can only see about 10 boarding gates and yes, I can see them all, if I lean around the big round pillion to my left. I think this terminal only services Philippines Airlines.
Talking about social media and using it in our work.

Reflecting on the workshop
I’m really glad I came. I wondered in this post back here, whether I would be “on the edge” again, but it seems that I was fairly well positioned to be doing this workshop. In fact within OMF, Japan is one of the leading countries in social media, especially amongst the fields. 

Indeed, I think it is the first training I’ve done with OMF that has mostly consisted of people who are involved in non-front-line work within the mission. It’s nice to be among others who aren’t so different, though there were no other editors in the group as far as I know. We had a handful of Aussies too.

My mind has definitely been stretched. The workshop has been challenging in that there is a lot I don’t understand and will probably never have the time to be involved in.

I took brief notes, but mostly about things that are relevant to what I am doing now and can foreseeable do in the next few months. Just like when you move to a new location, you first learn about the streets around you, and gradually the circle of local knowledge that you have expands to include places further away. That’s how I feel about this field. It would be too overwhelming, and indeed impractical to try to do or understand everything all at once. I’m starting where I am and will build up as I can.

At this point I’ll be working on getting into a good rhythm with the Japan blog and our new Facebook page too (some of you will have received an invitation to “like” the OMF Japan page, I’ve sent that to many of my friends, that’s one aspect of using social media for mobilization: getting the news of what we’re doing out to as many as possible). 

On the Facebook page I’d like to post not just links to the blog, but interesting information about Japanese culture as well as general prayer points and even photos. I’m happy to receive suggestions if you find things you think might be of interest or even have photos that I could use for prayer “memes”. 

On one of our jeepnee journeys I was directly behind the
driver. It's a little hard to see, but he's got a Peso
note in his hand. On the little ledge in front of him is
a bunch of coins from which he gave us our change.
I'm going to attempt to figure out some kind of rough schedule for that too, like I have the OMF Japan blog, so I have a bit more control over my schedule. I need to do some work with the lady who's in charge of our Twitter account, so that we can get some consistency going. That’s probably enough to start with, considering the pace I’ve been working at recently! Anyway, enough about work.

Out on the town
Last night we went out for an end-of-workshop meal at a lovely Filipino restaurant. The food was delicious, but probably what will remain with me is the journey to and from the restaurant: on the quintessential jeepnee and, unexpectedly, a “motorized tricycle”.

A jeepnee is like a mini bus that you board from the rear, with bench seats along the sides. They are naturally air conditioned, with no glass on the windows. Amazingly the driver deals with the fares and giving change while he drives, with passengers handing the cash up to the front via other passengers and then the reverse for the change . . . all while the vehicle moves. I guess the less time he’s stopped, the most income he generates?

The motorized tricycle is a covered sidecar on a motorcycle, although not a low sidecar. We fit three people on ours: one behind the driver on the motorcycle and two inside the sidecar, though it was a challenge for two Westerners to fit on the seat inside the sidecar, though neither of us were large. It was a bit scary because our driver drove fast—he was zipping past other bikes and vehicles.

Both there and the way back we traveled around a 10-lane roundabout. Though it was large enough that it mostly felt like a single-direction road on a curve. What was amazing was watching our jeepnee driver make his way from the inside lane to the outside lane to exit. Somehow, I didn’t notice the return journey around the roundabout. I’m pretty sure we did do it, but I was jammed between two locals on a tiny edge of seat and because you’re sitting with your back to the outside, visibility isn’t great.

I’m sure it would take a while to figure out how to ask when to get off a jeepnee, because it seems they can drop you off anywhere along the route and there are no announcements! Nor could I figure out how you know how much you pay. Thankfully we had some locals in our group that kept us from getting hopelessly lost.

There were a few small birds inside at the Manila boarding area!
Another overwhelming impression was how thick and polluted the air seemed. I felt like washing out my lungs after we arrived at the restaurant.

More public transport
The adventures on public transport continued this morning as I made my way to the airport with my roommate, a lady in her 20s from Malaysia. We used Uber, something I’ve heard about, but never used. The car we rode in was a very comfortable sedan. The traffic was pretty horrid, though, it took nearly two hours with lots of stops and starts. I have a lot of respect for the driver. Actually, all the drivers. The traffic just seems to flow in and around each other, very close at times—though the lanes were very fluid no one collided. It reminded me of driving in Bangkok and Indonesia.

I’m going to have to put this computer away now, it’s time to squeeze into the metal tube they call a plane and wing my way north to Japan again. Hopefully I’ll make it home in reasonable shape. I’m really quite tired.

A bit later in the air
Yes, I hopped on the plane, but it took two hours from doing that until it took off. If we were told why, I didn’t hear the explanation. It’s so frustrating, knowing that all I want to do is get home into my own bed.

I’ve said before that travel isn’t my favourite thing. It’s exhausting. Even though this is just a 4 ½- or 5-hour flight, it’s going to be well over 12 hours from door-to-door.

We’ve got a very tired and grumpy toddler in this section of the plane. Actually, I was sitting with her and her mother, but because the plane isn’t full was able to move one row forward to give them a little more space. Hearing the screams doesn’t make me nostalgic for those years that we travelled with little ones.

It took me until just after midnight to get home. Thankfully I was able to lie down on three seats and rest for quite some time after I wrote the above. That gave me the stamina for the two-hour train journey home, during which I stood a good portion of the time.