31 October, 2017

Midst of change

Final cross country meet
Over the weekend we had the final cross country meet of the season. I found out late Friday night that I was needed to drive a school van (10-seater) to the meet, which meant getting up at 5.30 on Saturday! I've usually been able to sleep a bit later than that, even when we've left with the team at 6.50 because David's taken care of getting breakfast started, but it was all me on Saturday with David still in the US.

Driving the school vans isn't my favourite thing to do either, they are just a bit bigger than I'm comfortable with. Though thankfully the roads between here and the meet are mostly straight and wide and I had one of the coaches with me who reminded me at appropriate times to take a turn wider. Tokyo roads aren't the easiest with larger vehicles. So I avoided any scrapes, but didn't avoid having a long day. Thankfully, though, it was a short meet and we were home by 3pm.

But I'm glad I went. Our middle son got a ribbon for coming 3rd out of the 9th graders who competed and our youngest finally ran a better time than his best last year.

Fun run
Then yesterday we had the annual end-of-season CAJ fun run and as we've done before, David and I helped out with the data input. The CAJ coach who runs cross country (not just for CAJ but for the whole league and even has a part to play in the Asia-Pacific meet in Guam) is not a teacher, he's the computer tech person for the school (I don't know his official title). Cross country is all about times and you can guess how the season is run: lots of technology. Everyone is entered into the database and their places, teams, and times are recorded. Yes, even for the fun run! It's a lot easier for the usual season because the runners all wear chips on their shoes, so it's all set up to be pretty automatic. 

But yesterday we had to manually enter a lot of students into the database (not all, some were already in there) and then manually record all their places (all 120+ of them). We didn't get home till after 6pm (beginning soon after school finished at 3.30). It got cold, one of the coaches who's been around for more than 30 years said it was the coldest fun run he remembers.

It was the changeover of sporting seasons and the first wrestling training of the next season began straight after the fun run. Two of our boys were there. And because they started later than usual they went trained later than usual, our middle schooler wasn't home until 7pm. Dinner ended up a mess because the boy who was supposed to cook wasn't home in time and I hadn't been shopping as I'd intended to do. Our usually fairly well-ordered evening was in a shambles. My head was in a bit of a shambles: two sporting seasons in one day!

Struggling with change
I'm really not fond of this part of autumn because we're plunging into winter at a rapid clip. I hate it that it need to wear so many clothes and that our house is so cold. But, as I keep reminding myself, I've made it through many a winter here, by God's grace I'll make it through another!

I'm also struggling with uncertainty. I don't know if our middle son will do wrestling this year. He's not put his hand up yet. He's concerned about his cold and cough. So I'm taking him to the doctor this afternoon. He's got a family history of asthma and a personal history of respiratory issues, so hopefully we can get this sorted.

I'm struggling with change too. This year our eldest is assisting the coach, not wrestling. Last year it was great to anticipate the season and wonder how he'd do, but this year is different. Not bad, just different.

Anxiety and worry
I've just listened to a sermon about anxiety and God's grace. It was convicting to say the least. Yep, I'm sinning every time I am anxious and every time I tell people I'm worried. It's food for thought and for action, that's for sure. I need to grow in trusting God, who's got me and my circumstances in his hands. Trusting him to help me through periods of change and uncertainty, rather than taking things into my own hands. This is what I need to do, to learn how to do more and more.

The change of these last few days is minor compared to the changes coming up for our family in 2018. It's going to be an ongoing battle to trust. Only by God's grace.

29 October, 2017

What do you do to relax with your teenage boys?

I was going to say that I was "side-swipped" by this question in my two-year-review, but perhaps that's putting it too strongly. My reviewer had noticed that all my answers to the question about how I relax were things I did on my own or with David.

After a moment or two I replied, "Well obviously camping is something we do all together that is relaxing. But it's increasingly hard to get at least one of them out of the house. So much of our relaxing is done at home individually." (And often with electronics). So much of their time is spent at school and doing sport, that leaving home (especially for the strongly introverted one) isn't so appealing.
During our summer holidays this year we camped at a
campground that had pet jumbo rabbits. It was fun to see the
boys interacting with these unusual pets.

They do enjoy board games (though games that I don't really enjoy), and sometimes that's something that they do in a group when they have more spare time, like during the summer or Christmas holidays. I don't always join in, though, because I usually frustrate them by asking too many questions about the rules or by being too slow and making decisions (because I can't keep all the rules in my head). During those longer breaks we often watch movies together too, but not during the school term, it's too busy!

As I've thought about it since, I realised that some other ways we relax as a family is by going out for a meal or for "coffee". It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. More rarely is a trip to a friend's house or to a park (we did go with friends to a park in August and also in July). But to a degree, being involved on Saturdays at their sporting events is something done somewhat together and is more or less relaxing!

I tried taking them out this morning for a doughnut on the way home from church but it wasn't so successful. Two boys had just has a mild disagreement and the mood wasn't so great. Trying to create conversation just didn't work so well. Such is life with teens. Sometimes the going is good, sometimes it isn't. 

At lunch just a couple of hours later, conversation wasn't so bad, until the topic of farting came up. It got so bad that I said, "The next person who uses that word will have to finish lunch on the stairs."

David came home this evening after a week of travel to Oregon for training for software he uses in his job. I'm so glad to have him back. He says that life here is quiet when I'm gone. I'd say that it's maybe not quite so quiet when he's gone, but I certainly find that a second adult around to contribute to conversation is extremely helpful. They aren't usually all grunts and eye rolls (though we still do get those), and I think there are more bright spots than there used to be, but we're still a way away from regular engaging conversation.

But I've drifted from my original topic. For those of you who have teenagers, what do you do (or did you do, if they're older now) to relax with your teens?

27 October, 2017

Reflecting on two years of life

Yesterday I had a two-year-review with my mission. Seeing as we've been here since December 2000, this must be about my eighth time to do it.

It's not my favourite thing to do, but I understand it is necessary. It can seem like just another form to fill out and another meeting, but it is a significant way that our mission cares for their members. 

Here's an example of some of the questions on the form we have to fill out:
In what ways has the Lord blessed you since your last two year review?
Here is a list of emotions (13 of them). From this list choose the emotions that have characterised your life since your last review. Feel free to add any that aren't listed.
Describe significant friendships in your life since your last review.
This is one part of inner-city Tokyo! I was standing
outside the coffee shop we met in when I took this.
It was later in the day and my phone didn't quite
capture that it was a gorgeous, sparkly day with
no clouds in sight. 
I wrote about it on this blog when I did it four years agoyou'll find a more of the questions we have to answer there  They are good questions, though they can be challenging to answer. They do force you think about your life, and not just your working life. It can feel a bit intrusive, but the intent is, as I've said, to care for us. Hopefully, if people are honest, it is a forum for potential problems or issues that need dealing with to be raised.

If you've read this blog for any length of time you'll know that I like to reflect on life, but reflecting over a whole two years is challenging. Especially when it's guided and quite specific reflection! But it's a good exercise to go through and I think I'm encouraged.

One of the things that came up while I reflected was that a discouragement I often feel is thinking that I'm a second-class missionary (or thinking that other people think I am one) because I don't have great Japanese and because I'm not involved in church-related ministry. My line manager did her best to knock that one on the head. I think it is a way the Enemy likes to attack me and something I need to be vigilant about refuting. I know and heartily defend the need for support missionaries, but somehow I still get personally discouraged. I really need to stop comparing myself to others, to stop envying others. I need to stop being so concerned about what others may or may not think, and just do what God has for me with the abilities he's given me.

On a lighter note, you might like to know where we did this. It was in a way that's not untypical of Japan: we met in a coffee shop. We live a long way apart and the office is a long way from me and I rarely go there. Not quite so long for my manager, but we've met about various things before and our meeting place of choice is a coffee shop at Ochanomizu, a bustling centre in the Tokyo metro area. It's been a while since we met there, so it was good to go back.

25 October, 2017

New tricks?

Old dog new tricks? Yes, I'm in my mid 40s, but sometimes I do feel like an old dog when it comes to things like learning new things about technology and social media. As I've gotten more involved in OMF Japan's mobilisation drive, I've found my boundaries of what's comfortable pushed again and again.

First, about 12 months ago it was helping in the redesign of the OMF Japan website (and talking about that to our leaders when I really didn't know what I was talking about) and picking up an Instagram account. Then editing the whole website. After that came learning how to blog on wordpress.com (something I'd tried in the past and given up as too complicated). Setting up guidelines for a new blog was the easy part!

Then I went to the social media for mobilisation workshop in Manila last month and discovered a whole 'nother world. I've been doing social media for years, but now it has become a more integral part of my work. I'm doing it not just in my own name, but for OMF Japan.

I've been working with another much younger colleague, who lives way north of here, to coordinate our FB and Instagram pages, that's taken some figuring out too! Even today, trying to figure out why she couldn't see the photos I shared on the Google calendar that I started for coordinating content.

I'm also trying to figure out the best way to convert an inDesign file of our 31 Days of Prayer into a sharable electronic document. Looking at Blurb.com just before lunchtime today drove me to the edge of what my feeble brain could manage. I'll come back to it later.

How my job has changed over the last few months can be seen somewhat by peeking at my iPhone homescreen which now includes these apps:

The first, Workplace, is a Facebook app designed for use for in the workplace. It's been very useful for our remote team. I've found it wonderful to easily get advice (especially technical advice) from others who know a lot more about these things than I.

Flipboard is a fun app. A bit like an RSS feed, except that you don't add blogs or anything else to it, just the topics you're interested in and it scouts around for you, looking for articles on the topics you're interested in. Helpful for me as I administer the OMF Japan FB page and am on the lookout for Japan-related stories to add to the mix.

Repost is an app that allows me to repost Instagram posts. I haven't used it much and have found it a little cumbersome so far, but I'm assured it's the best app there is.

Canva is also fun and allows you to easily transform a photo by adding words or graphics to it, creating your own "meme". I've used this a lot in the last month in creating content for the OMF FB page.

I don't have Buffer.com there, but it's on my laptop and I'm using it to schedule FB posts for OMF Japan. Another new website to add to my rapidly growing collection.

Yep, it's all related to social media. The workshop I went to in Manila was incredibly useful, introducing me to these apps (plus a lot more).

Then this week I've been challenged as I figured out how to distribute a video created for OMF Japan via social media (thankfully with a lot of help from our remote team via Workplace). 

Yesterday I added subtitles to a video for the first time using amara.org. Then I had to use handbrake.fr to apply the subtitles to the video. Figuring out how to upload the video to our OMF FB account (including allowing cross-posting to other OMF pages) and then to our blog have all been new challenges. Then it was discovered that there were mistakes in the subtitles and it had to be edited twice, which isn't an easy task when you need to make a completely new file as well as re-apply the subtitles to the video each time (thankfully a more tech-savvy member of our mobilisation team did it for me). But then the question: what do you do when the "faulty" video you've shared has already gone to a lot of people and you've got a new, better one to replace it?

I figure a few of you might not be fazed by this, but it was a challenge that made me feel quite like a techno dinosaur.

I wonder when it will settle down, or whether it just won't! This field is constantly changing and I suspect for as long as I'm doing this, I'll be playing catch-up.

I've learnt a lot and most of the time I'm glad I'm being challenged and stretched. It keeps me fresh and not-bored (the prospect of avoiding boredom drives me often). But sometimes I feel overwhelmed!

I am reassured by this article that one of these new apps sent me recently (maybe it was Buffer?). The article had a lot of good information, but this helpful paragraph at the end is reassuring:
If you take nothing else away from these eight lessons and case studies, do take away this: Find a social media strategy that works and stick to it. Evoke it through well-designed visuals, intentionally-written copy, and informed decision making, and you’ll be on your way to a storm of likes, comments, shares and results. From 8 social media lessons you can learn from the pros

24 October, 2017

Thrift shop fun

Here is my traditional post-Thrift shop post about some of the things we found to buy. At the end I've added some things I didn't buy, but were fun anyway.

Actually we didn't acquire as much as we might usually. Part of that is due to our kids getting older (most of the toys aren't so appealing), part is due to none of us being present during the "free shopping" time after Thrift Shop and just before packing up.

But we did find some useful stuff (which really should be the aim).

These aren't useful so much as whimsical. They've moved onto the window shelf in our downstairs toilet. The boys were mystified as to their purpose, but I explained that it was just a touch of decorating (something I haven't done a lot of in this house aside from pictures on the wall).

This has an amazing story. Literally the night before Thrift Shop our stick blender broke and I picked this up the next day for a pittance!

Already stowed on a high shelf—a puzzle for the Christmas break.

A pile I found in the corner of some things that our eldest bought. Seems as though he's planning to teach himself piano?

A picture frame for a certain graduation photo that's been lying around.

This was another huge bargain. Priced at something like 3,000 or more yen on Amazon, I bought a camera for our youngest son for 500 yen (AU$5.64). He's developed a recent interest in photography, what a great way to test and develop that interest!

That same lad explicitly told us what clothes he wanted, but not to buy them without his approval. Well, I didn't have a chance to get his approval on these before I bought them, but I scored approval later.

I found a new single self-inflating mat for camping. Practically new!

These I got for free in the five minutes of free shopping I had on Saturday. Three "new" shirts for winter. Skivvies are my staple clothing throughout the cold months of winter in Tokyo, I'm stoked.

Our eldest son bought this outfit (plus a "Sven" moose hat) for a dress up event at the middle school youth group he's a leader at! The boys could hardly stop laughing when he tried it on on Saturday night.

Our youngest son's purchases
Typically he found a brand name shirt!

This he bought for the family. I don't know how useful it will be...

Add this was his youth group dress up costume, complete with a leery wig and oversized sunglasses.

He also found Adidas pants!

This boy loves loud colours. Love the words on this.

And yet another shirt...

He's decided recently to collect key rings and Thrift Shop was a great place for finding them.

This kid is an artist and found some nice tools.

In case you're wondering, as far as I know our middle son didn't step inside the gym throughout the entire span of Thrift Shop. Too many people...hates shopping...and then he got a cold. But I did find him an insulated mug for hot chocolate consumption while camping (and any other time he might wish to use it).

The fun to be had at Thrift Shop is not just buying things cheaply, but having fun with people, particularly when you volunteer for hours and hours it's great to insert some fun into the time.  I enjoyed "modelling" a couple of fun hats on the two preparation days, call me an informal "moral booster" if you like.

Jessie from Toy Story. I wore her hat much of Thursday...it's been a long time since I've had a pigtail this long. It caused a little bit of an internal dilemma, though, when I had to go over to the school's business office to do some photocopying...should I wear it or take it off? I ended up wearing it over and got some giggles over there too.

These are the tireless workers of the Thrift Shop committee. Of course there were many other volunteers, but these are the ones who held most of the responsibility over the 4 ½ days we were in operation.

23 October, 2017

Making sense of today

It's been nearly a week since I've had the time and energy to write here. A typical Thrift Shop week. I've had lots of ideas floating around in my thoughts, but no time to write them down. 
Drying out the content of David's backpack after the Spartan Race.

And now today's had a weird start: a typhoon blew through overnight and school had a late start (10.30), so we slept in and didn't have breakfast until about 9. Add to that my husband, who's flying to the US today (a first for our family). He was only planning to be at school in the morning and then taking off across town, but the typhoon messed with that a bit. Thankfully it's passed and hasn't messed with his flight, though.

The weather has me on edge too. We started the day with grey overcast, gusty conditions and now it is a typical post-typhoon sky: bright blue, but the wind is still gusting at times, which always makes me unsettled.

I did a car trip for groceries yesterday, instead of riding, because it
was raining steadily. This shop had three older guys working hard to
 manage the traffic flow in and out. I love the way Japanese take care of
customers and the public in general.
So now I'm sitting at my computer, trying to make sense of it all and settle down to work. Because I haven't sat here for days, and only vaguely monitored email via my phone amidst the organised chaos that is Thrift Shop, so I'm struggling to get my head back into my usual work.

Though maybe it's partly my head that's the problem. I've felt a cold coming on these last few days and, typically, after relaxing yesterday afternoon, my throat flared last night and the cold is moving in. So, as I type, I'm sipping a honey and lemon drink.

I'm going to try processing the week a bit here in writing to see if I can get an handle on the way forward.

Conversations at Thrift Shop
Thrift Shop is hard work, but also full of wonderful (and random) conversations. On Tuesday, when we began work, I was only remembering the work, but was wonderfully surprised by the joy at working with others and getting to know them better. Here are a few conversations that I remember:
  • Working with an Australian on Saturday all morning who is slightly ahead of us in the sending-kids-to-uni-in-Australia stakes. It was good to hear and share some stories. And with the sharing of stories (this goes for a number of conversations over the week), be reassured that the behaviour we find disturbing or annoying in our teens is well within the normal range of what parents-of-teens experience.
  • Working with an Englishwoman on Friday and hearing her story, of how she met her south American husband and what they're now doing in Japan. Also starting to set up a Boxing Day morning tea with other fruit-mince-pie enthusiasts!
  • A quick conversation where I put my publishing hat on. Getting a quote for a third printing run on our 31 Days of Prayer booklet.
  • Getting to know a Japanese mum, who's spent quite a bit of time in Australia with her Australian husband. It was great to talk about some TCK issues (where do they feel most at home, etc), but just generally get to know her better.
The week was wet and cold, unusually so for October, so it was good to be busy and occupied inside where I didn't have time to brood over the unseasonal dip into winter.

Spartan Race
Saturday, while I worked at Thrift Shop, was an unusual day for the rest of our family. One stayed home with a cold (he gave it to me!) and the other three went to the Spartan Race. A private sponsored obstacle race that you enter like a triathlon or marathon. It was wet and muddy. Apparently that adds to the fun? It certainly makes for interesting photos and stories. 

Our eldest and youngest competed. The race for the 12 year-olds was a little low on challenge and our son was disappointed. He thought it was longer, so was pacing himself. Nonetheless, he came third and got a substantial medal for finishing. Our eldest, with his teammate, took 2 hrs 17 minutes to compete their much more challenging race. They came equal 5th in their age group. Great memories. It was a very wet day and there was no shelter. Even the spectators got thoroughly wet and muddy. Though we ran the heater all day yesterday with my husband's leather wallet on top of it, when he put notes back into it today, they were still getting damp!

Tiny's gone
The other surprise of the weekend was that on Saturday our pet turtle, Tiny, went to another home permanently. We'd put up a sign at Thrift Shop saying we were looking for a new home for him and I got a phone call five minutes before the end of shopping on Saturday (12.55) asking about him and could they take him straight away! It took some quick action, but I managed to get him to his new owners and he was whisked away to adventures at a small Christian school south of here. I hope that he brings much joy to the students there. I discovered later there is a bit of a backstory here. The pastor who's involved in running this school had been looking for a "cool reptile" for the school and so Tiny was just what they were looking for! Though perhaps a little larger than they'd bargained on. We're thankful that he's been taken off our hands. Our boys had outgrown the joy of having a turtle and so he was really just another job on the list of household things we had to do (not to mention that I've been bitten twice this year—I did warn his new owners).

That's enough for now. Tomorrow I'll have Thrift Shop photos for you: bargains and fun moments.

17 October, 2017

Tokyo's unexpected green tinge

In this huge metropolis that's one and half times the population of my home country, it amazes me how much green there is. There seems to be a compulsion to grow stuff in the smallest of places. Tiny garden beds seem to be regularly included on the side of houses or built into property walls these days (not so much in the older buildings like our house). 

Here's a house we've driven past quite a lot on the way back from cross-country meets these last few weeks. They've got a tree growing in that tiny garden! Plus something that looks like it could be a bonsai plant on the other side of the front door.

Of course not everyone has a green thumb (for example, yours truly, who mostly only grows geraniums because they are really hard to kill). Some of the garden beds seem to be wishful thinking: put in at entrances that are on the northern side of a building, and hence get almost no sun except in mid-summer. One building near us must have had pine trees planted there when it was built, on the north side of the building. We've watched them gradually die and finally, fall over into the street.

I passed this house on the way to Costco a couple of weeks ago. No one's grabbed the opportunity of that garden bed, but at least it's not overflowing with weeds.

I found this small ornamental chilli bush in full "bloom" on my way to the doctor last month. I passed it again yesterday and it wasn't looking so healthy. But I want to include the photo as an example of the little bits of nature that lie all around us here. This bush is in a long raised garden bed in, essentially, the central business area of our suburb. In the background you can see another one (which had mostly weeds at the time). These public areas are generally looked after by local citizen groups, who often have work days where they get out and tidy up, often planting annuals.

It's not what fits my mind's eye with what a big city will look like. 

16 October, 2017

Keeping it real today

Keeping it real—this was what the last few days looked like for me.

Saturday held another cross country meet. The second-last one for the season. The alarm went off at 5.30 as David was one of the drivers getting runners to the meet and I was riding with him. This season we've had the joy of having our two boys run in the first and last race at most meets! No arriving late or leaving early! 

It drizzled on and off and was quite cold, more than 10C colder than last Tuesday when I was wearing shorts! So I was layered up. I copped the usual flack from my teenagers, but it was my comfort I cared about, not their opinions of my fashion.

We had the fun of cheering CAJ's high school boys on to great success. It was their regional finals and the top 15 got medals. One third of those medals went to our boys and gave us the team award! Notable when you realise that the schools that came second and third have student bodies more than twice the size of our school.

But I came home very tired and still had grocery shopping to do and an evening meal to cook. I think that was the night that my Kindle fell out of my hands onto the floor while I was reading in bed and David suggested I should call it quits for the day.

Sunday was church as usual in the morning and resting for a couple of hours after lunch, but for some reason I wasn't able to nap. 

The upcoming fortnight is extra busy. This week is CAJ's giant bazaar, Thrift Shop where I volunteer for four and a half very intense days. 

Preparing at home for that time means getting all the stuff that we're intending to sell with price tags on them (which we write by hand and include our PTA number so that we can get a percentage of the sale price returned to us as income). 

For me it also means making sure my menu for the coming week is light on work for me because two nights I won't be here at that time and the other three nights I'll be very tired. And it also means that I'm working hard on Monday and Tuesday to make sure that as far as I can predict, I'm able to take a few days off from my editing jobs. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On Sunday I spent time baking for these coming couple of weeks (snacks for our family as well as Thrift Shop volunteers) before heating up our usual left-over Sunday night dinner.

I also worked on the menu for the week after Thrift Shop because David will be away in the US that week and I try to be kind to myself. So in the last week we've had some large meals and yesterday I frozen portions for the upcoming fortnight.

Looking at the upcoming temperatures, I also asked David if he could get the big heater out and buy some kerosene to fill it up. Today, that already proved fortuitous. It's been grey and drizzling all day and barely made 14 today. Really quite chilly for this time of year.

I was still feeling rather tired last night and had boys needing stuff from me at 10pm, which is pretty much my Cinderella hour most nights, but last night even more. I do believe I said something like this to a boy who was occupying the bathroom and preventing me from cleaning my teeth and going to bed:
"Please get into the shower [i.e. out of the sink area] so I can clean my teeth before I collapse. I want to collapse after I've cleaned my teeth and I want to collapse in my bed." 
Today I've been working hard along the lines of what I wrote above, checking where I'm up to and trying to get ahead on as much as I can. I also walked over to school in my gum boots for a ninth-grade parent's prayer meeting at school mid-morning. 

After that I walked through the drizzling, chilly rain to the doctor to get asthma medication for the next three months (hopefully, if I don't get a cold). That was a mildly anxiety-inducing affair. There's nothing like someone with a full-blown cold in the waiting room to make me feel as though my chest is tightening up, especially when it's a cold day and I'm thinking about asthma for starters. I'm not super fond of the rule that they can't give you repeats on prescriptions here, so that I can stay away from the doctor's waiting room for up to a whole year! But thankfully my timing was great and the whole thing, including getting the meds from the pharmacy, only took 40 minutes. Not bad with no appointment!

Then I walked to my local coffee shop and spent the next four hours there. My happy, productive place! I figured home would be cold and miserable (I never cope well with these pre-Thrift Shop days and a cold, wet, grey day wasn't helping my mood). And knowing that I usually get a tonne done when I'm at a coffee shop on my own with work in mind, I headed there and had a more upbeat day than I would have otherwise. There speaks the extrovert in me?

As a small aside—to give you an idea of how close all these places are to our house, I walked to all of the above places today and have only walked 1.7 km! Our house is crazily convenient to so many  places, and yet, not in the middle of commercial or high rise buildings. It's hard to believe, even after we've lived here for nearly seven years.

At 4.30 my computer, that I hadn't plugged in, had almost run out of battery power, so I came home. I got little more non-household work done at home, though, as the rest of the household gradually returned home also and I cooked dinner. Now I've had a shower and am just trying to finish off this blog post before I'm going to relax in my chair in the lounge room and watch another episode of the West Wing with David.

13 October, 2017

Risk-taking, or not

I don't see myself as a great risk taker. I like to plan and the prepare for possible risks. I don't like taking physical risks (and less so as I get older). I don't like taking financial risks. I've never taken out a large loan, never bought property. I like stability. I like predictability, within reason. I like Japan because it feels safe. Even though we have the threat of earthquakes and  volcanoes, of nuclear missiles, it still feels pretty safe compared to many countries God could have sent us to.

But some people, looking at me and my life would consider that I am a risk taker. After all, living on what people give is a risk, isn't it? Choosing to raise my family in another country is a risk, one would think. Deciding that I'm willing to follow where God leads me, that's risky too—on the surface. But I don't feel this so often. Maybe because God's led us to a place where he's kept us for a lengthy period of time (in missionary terms, we've been at CAJ for twelve and a half years and in this house for eight of those). Maybe what we're doing has become so normal to us that we don't notice that others might feel the risk.

Really, the biggest risk factor I feel regularly in this lifestyle is investing in friendships. They are one of the least stable things in my life and one of the things that I value highly. Investing in friends is risky because I don't know how long I will have that friend. I know the pain of having many absent friends. Leaving Australia the first time was hard, but leaving it again and again is, possibly, harder. Then the friends I make here also have a tendency to leave!

I really enjoyed camping with friends this week. We've only known them for 2 and a bit years, but I was tempted to think, "Wouldn't it be great if we could go camping with these guys when all our kids have left home . . . " but I nipped that one quickly. That's about 11 years away, and I can't count on them still being here in 11 years. It seems as though we might be here in 11 years, but only God knows.

However, I've been reminded several times this week that I don't need to be afraid. That really, it is just from my limited perspective that things are uncertain. Nothing catches God by surprise, nothing is out of his control. Though we might question what he's doing, that's a human perspective problem. And God is with us through whatever things we fear that come about. But fearing them is not drawing us closer to go, in fact it does the opposite.

These words from the hymn Amazing Grace were brought to my attention in a sermon this week:
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,And grace my fears relieved;
When we know God (and 'fear' him in terms of being in complete awe of him), our fears of anything else are taken away. I know that that's never completely true till we're in heaven, but —as we grow in our faith and fear of God—our fear of other things gradually dissipates.  
There is no fear in love. But perfect love [i.e. God's love] drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV)
This post was inspired by the theme of Risk on Velvet Ashes' prompt: The Grove and this article specifically. And here's another post on risk in relationships on the mission field, though differently slanted to mine.

12 October, 2017

Strange orange and black season

This is a strange season for us, in Japan. No, not autumn (or "Fall" as I keep hearing), but Halloween. It wasn't a part of my growing up years and is not a part of our family's traditions. Until recently it wasn't a part of Japan's traditions either. But in the last few years it has appeared everywhere in the shops.

But there is a strange mixing in of the American Thanksgiving traditions too. Yesterday I saw two traditional style pumpkins with the sign (in English) inviting people to buy them and carve them themselves.

A couple of weeks ago we went to biggest local shopping centre for David's birthday and found a couple of big displays. One was a purple and orange Halloween balloon sculpture about three metres high that was stylised as a photo booth (with costumes provided). Just near it was another that included these fake pumpkins. Strangely, they also have Bible verses on them.

And yesterday at a grocery story I came across "Herbs for Halloween". They look like baby spinach. I haven't heard of Halloween being associated with herbs or salad before!

Japanese love seasonal celebrations, even if they don't understand what the season means. December will be full of Christmas decorations, even though few people actually know what it means or celebrate it personally. Easter is also starting to show up in shops. So it doesn't surprise me that Halloween has become big here, at least in the shops. I haven't heard of "Trick or Treat" becoming popular and this post predicts that it will remain an adult-only, commercial event.

Here is a video from 2014 at a popular spot for big street parties (Shibuya crossing):

Japanese also have a tradition of celebrating ghost stories, more so than I've seen in Australia. This page lists ten famous Japanese ghost stories. 

11 October, 2017

October camping trip

We came back yesterday from our first ever October camping trip. It was also the first time we'd camped in Nagano Prefecture, though not the first time we'd stayed overnight in that prefecture (the OMF holiday house we stay in at Christmas is in Nagano Prefecture, but on the other side of some significant mountains).

So we weren't quite sure what to expect. October has quite variable weather in this part of the world. On Friday it was grey, rainy, and cool (under 20C) in Tokyo. Plus, it's not that long since we camped in the snow last November and so we were determined not to be caught unawares regarding cold.

We caught some amazing weather, though. Blue skies and warm weather. Yesterday was so warm that I was wishing I'd packed shorts and another t-shirt. Jeans and a 3/4 sleeve shirt was too warm.

It was so delightful that it was difficult to come home. I've struggled to get into work today, longing to be still out there camping!

Here are some (actually quite a lot of) photos for your enjoyment.

We camped down the road from a small lake (or big pond) called Lake Tateshina.

Two tents, two cars, and a common dining shelter.

The camping area was surrounded by cabins, unfortunately. I prefer a more natural outlook when camping! It also turned out more expensive than we're usually happy to pay. There were a number of charges that weren't on the website.

The facilities weren't fantastic, either. This is the edge of the ablutions block. Not showing the toilets here, they were horrid. Thankfully we discovered a nicer toilet block further up the hill, but not until our second night.

Our youngest enjoyed hanging out with the two youngest children of our friends. They spent a lot of time searching for golf balls in the adjacent bush which separated us from local golf course. They found about 40, but kept only about 15. Here two of them are enjoying hanging out on our friends' hammock.

Sun setting over our camp kitchen.

We found this large fern near the showers.

This is Lake Tateshina.

Adjacent to the lake was an Art Park. We ran out of time to explore it fully, but it was pleasant to stroll through (if you didn't spend much time looking at the naked women statues).

We discovered that the art park was illuminated at night time, so we went back after dinner on Monday night.

In the morning, most of our party got out on the water for a while in various boats.

Autumn colours are appearing here and there.

Lots of dragonflies!

I've got no idea what this is, but I found it on the edge of the car park at the campsite.

Lots of campfires! One of my favourite parts of camp.

On the way home we stopped at our favourite apple farm and bought cheap, but utterly delicious apples.