23 May, 2019

Negotiating with my teen

Next week my oldest graduates from being a teenager! He no longer lives under my roof, but nonetheless I'll no longer be able to say that I'm the mother of three teenagers! It's interesting to look at the blog post I wrote the week he turned thirteen. I wrote: 
I don't know what is ahead, but the last 13 years of parenting haven't been a breeze. I doubt that the next seven are going to be either. I guess the only way forward is how I've made it through the last 13 years — by God's grace and with lots of prayer.
That was very much the case! 

So I'm seven years into being the mother of teens and I can't say it's gotten easier. Of course each child is different in the level of difficulties you face and the areas in which you face those difficulties. Additionally, our family looks different now than it did seven years ago. So the context within which we parent our younger two is different too. 

It's hard to give specifics to make this actually a readable post, without embarrassing boys. However I'm going to give it a go.

Negotiating about household jobs

Our boys have long been expected to do jobs around the house. We've had a long and steady routine of do-the-same-job for some time, due to some personalities in the house that don't like chopping and changing. They've done breakfast wash-ups in middle school (grades 6-8) and hung up washing to dry in high school (grades 9-12). Both jobs were done in the mornings and timeliness was important if they were to get themselves to school on time (remembering that they walk to school independently, but it's only a 300m walk). 

We've had difficulties with all of them at times, getting these jobs done, and had to implement consequences. But with one of the two still at home, we hit a brick wall recently. It was causing lots of stress, conflict, and generally making life together miserable.

In the end we decided something needed to change. I ammended a list of household jobs that I'd typed up a few years back and printed it out again. This is a list of jobs that regularly get done in our house to keep things running smoothly and people happy. I split the list into things that each family member does as well as listed the things that we are all responsible for (eg. getting enough sleep, personal hygiene, manage our personal items, strip beds and remake them). At the top of the list is this explanation:
Listed below are jobs done for the benefit of the whole family. Other jobs we do are self-care or care for our environment, these are the responsibility of each family member for themselves. The purpose of teaching you how to do these jobs is to help you learn how to take care of yourself and your living environment when you move out of home. Sharing these jobs also helps to share the load of caring for four people.
At an opportune moment I presented this 1.5 page list to the relevant boy and suggested that he pick some other jobs that would be equivalent in time to the job that he was struggling with.
Stacks of beautifully folded clothes!

He responded really well and chose four other jobs, the most significant of which is folding the washing. We're still on a learning curve with one of the jobs, but the others he's doing relatively independently and in a timely fashion. Result: stress levels aorund here have decreased. (We're still working on other areas like time management and homework...so our evenings are not without stress entirely!)

Seven years into this parenting-teens journey and I'm still learning that parenting teens requires more negotiating than with younger kids. They're trying to be more independent and that can be problematic for all involved. Some teens need more room to stretch than others. I need to note that this solution was not the first of the solutions that we negotiated with him, however it seems to be working better than previous ones.

I'm not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination. And they would be happy to share their thoughts on my parenting failures with you, if you asked them! But I merely share these thoughts as a fellow parent in the trenches.

22 May, 2019

Looking back at last week's retreat

More than a week ago I wrote about going to a spiritual retreat. I guess I should get around to letting you know how that went.
The cabin I stayed in. It can accomomdate about nine in
beds, there were just two of us though, one upstairs and
one down.

This retreat was actually closer to the true meaning of its name than other retreats I've done in the past. Yes, other retreats have been a "withdrawal" from everyday life. But generally I've come home at least as physically tired as I left. I may have been refreshed spiritually and socially, but tired from the intenseness of being with a lot of people and a generally busy schedule.

This retreat was much smaller (12 people, plus the facilitators) and the intent was much more about rest. On each of the two full days (not Tuesday or Friday, the part-days) we had spiritaul input in the morning and free time all afternoon and into the evening. Our accommodation was also arranged spaciously, so if you wanted time alone, that was easily achievable during free time.

View from my bed.
I was, as I'd expected, very tired when I got there. I even found it hard to concentrate much on what was going on in some of the sessions. In some ways it would have been good to do less of the input/interaction time at the start of our "long weekend". On the Tuesday we travelled there after lunch and then had sessions from 4.30 till after dinner. My small group was still sharing about "where they were at" after 9pm and I struggled to keep my "nice face" on.

Wednesday morning was focused a lot on the problems, stresses, and griefs of our lives, especially in cross-cultural work. It was good to name it all, but also a bit overwhelming in the number of challenges we face. 

My kintsugi pot.
This culminated in an activity that provoked strong emotions in some. It's an Japanese method of mending broken pots with gold called kintsugi. According to this article, it began in the 15th century. The activity we did was a poor-man's version, as in we didn't use real gold, of course! But we did have to smash our own pots, which in itself was traumatic and far from easy. Some pots smashed too much and were super hard to put back together. Mine didn't, so I was rather quickly able to glue mine back together and paint over the glue with gold paint. I found it a bit troublesome to watch others (we were seated in a u-shape) try to fix theirs. The missionary beside me got a bit distressed. However, not only could I not help her, it was a silent activity, so I couldn't really encourage her either. Being both an encourager and a helper, I found this difficult to cope with. After a bit I put on another familiar hat and wrote down some of my thoughts.

I took it easy on Wednesday afternoon, reading a novel on my bed for a lot of the time. Wednesday night many of us joined in lighthearted board and card games.

Games, puzzles, and imprompu karaoke.
On Thursday morning we spent a lot of time dwelling on the Trinity and God's love for us. That was good, but I found it overwhelming after a while. A tiny bit like some of the scenes we see in the Bible where people see a bit more of who God is than they are able to handle. (See Isaiah 6 and Revelations 1). Nothing close to what those two passages mention, but a sense of the love of God being way too big for me to grasp to the point where I could barely even think about it any more.

Thursday afternoon I wasn't so lazy, I went for a 45 minute walk and also spent over an house in a "soul-care" conversation with one of our facilitators. Thursday night was a campfire. No, we didn't sing Kumbaya, nor did we have any majorly deep conversations or testimonies, it was mostly a fun time together. Probably what I needed! Confession: I did tell some camping stories, including that time we accidentally went camping in the snow ;-). 

One of my reflections on the retreat is that missionaries don't often have lighthearted stuff in their schedule. The needs are great and we can lurch from serious day to serious day without much break. I think that's especially the case in Japan where even hobbies are taken very seriously! It was great to have the "excuse" to have fun.
The mission holiday compound is almost wedged between the lake and Mt Fuji.
And entirely delightful (yet cool) place to be.

Most of the week Mt Fuji looked like this during the day (I
was told by early birds that it was often visible early).

On the last day the clouds cleared and Mt Fuji appeared in all its glory.

Another lake view from in front of the property.
There is a pathway around most of the lake. I walked a short way on Thursday:

I have definitely come back more rested than before I went, so just in that it was a worthwhile adventure. I'm left pondering if I can build something into my life on an annual (or more frequent basis) that wouldn't cost too much, yet would provide time to both rest and dwell on spiritual matters more deeply. Still pondering that.

Have you ever done a spritual retreat? How was it structured? What did you think about it? I've avoided doing one up till now for a couple of hard-to-articulate reasons, but I don't think it's so bad a thing. I'm not so sure how I'd deal with a "silent retreat", though.

14 May, 2019

Stop and refresh myself

This afternoon I'm doing something I've never done before: go to a spiritual retreat. I've been to "women's retreats" and various other overnight gatherings of Christians. But I think this one will be different. I hope so. I'm tired and yearning for refreshment, especially physical, but spiritual refreshment is vital too.
Almost all our Saturdays in the last couple of months have involved
watching our boys run and throw. Great times to connect with our
boys, but also tiring.

Late last year, as we prepared to come back to Japan, I knew that I'd be exhausted by this time. Our six months in Australia were stressful and the last six weeks of that were one of the most stressful periods we've experienced for some time. We landed back in Japan in the middle of the school year and had very little margin for recovery from our second international move in six months. I feel like we're functioning pretty well for what's gone on in the last 12 months, but with little in reserve. We're hanging in there, but not by much.

This Saturday just past was the final regular athletics meet for the season (there's one more middle of next week that I may or may not get to). I started the day feeling exhausted (drank two coffees before 8am, which is pretty unusual for me) and it turned into a 12-hour day (we left around 7.30am and got back not much before 7.30pm). Thankfully it was the last long Saturday sports event until September, so we can now have some slower weekends, which will definitely help, especially as we can't take holidays until July. I don't regret going to our boys sporting events, but they are tiring.

So when I heard about this retreat back in February, I thought it was well timed: a lily pad to help me make it through to our "big" family holiday in July.

But I'm also nervous. I intended to get editing work done this morning before I left, but have had trouble concentrating long enough to do anything much worthwhile. Why nervous? Well, I guess it's a new thing, a slightly scary thing. "Being still" has never been my forte. Although my boys are seeing a more sedate person than I was when I was younger, mentally I'm still quite "unstill".

Nevertheless, I'm game and keen to see how this works out. Below I've pasted the blurb that came with the invitation to join this retreat and what three previous participants have said about it. I have a lot of time for the couple who are leading this, so we'll see how it goes.

I'm going put my language study "on vacation" mode and pull back on my social media time. Now that social media is part of my job I've felt the relentlessness of it and I think a little bit of downtime will be good for me. I've got books to read and a new cross stitch project to work on, which are both proven things that help me "be still", physically at least.

We're very aware that this missionary life is not a sprint, it's a marathon, and we need to pace ourselves accordingly if we're going to last the distance. I'm seeing these next four days as part of "pacing myself".

Refresh:  A Retreat for Spiritual Refreshment and Soul Care

Is your heart yearning for a chance to experience some deeper soul connection with God and others? If so, we would like to personally invite you to “Refresh:  A Spiritual Refreshment and Soul Care Retreat,” a place where you can be still and listen to God, hear encouragement from the Word, fellowship with other missionaries, and maybe even gain a fresh perspective on life and ministry.

What previous participants are saying:

  • “It was a great blessing to be able to attend the JEMA sponsored Refresh Retreat at Yamanaka Chalet.  Being in recovery from burnout, and having attended similar retreats, this event was another reminder of God’s great love for me, and his presence in my journey.  It was a joy to meet with Alan and Judy, as well as participants from a variety of mission organizations, and learn from their wisdom and experiences.  So many things to take home and process!”   Gary Carlson, Evangelical Covenant Church 
  • “It had been a long time since I had really felt understood and listened to. In most of our relationships, we are giving out… and we are given out!  It was just comforting to be on the receiving end and to hear the voice of the Spirit saying, ‘I love you and I’m going to take care of you.’ I came home feeling more hopeful than I have for at least several months.”   Ruth McDonald, Japan Free Will Baptist Mission 
  • “The biggest thing was that I realized (again) that I need to get away for a few days of retreat more often. Whether alone, or with a group, I realized how much I need to take time away from the daily/weekly routine to renew my perspective and unwind.”

13 May, 2019

Perfect park in the city

Last Monday my husband and I attended an OMF meeting at our headquarters on the other side of Tokyo. On the way home we stopped for coffee at our nearest major commercial center (Tokyo has a number of these, this one is called Ikebukuro, and it houses the third-busiest train station in the world). It was a public holiday and the crowds were out in great force, which is a scary thing when you're talking about one of the biggest metropolises in the world. There was a lines to get a seat at the coffee shop, so we took ours with us and found a park.

Ikebukoro has a small park that you could easily miss. I've only been to there twice, even though I go through the train station a few times a month.

In the tradition of inner-city parks, it's surrounded by high buildings. According to my measurements (using onthegomap.com), it's about the size of a rugby league field. So it's really quite small (2 acres), compared to the likes of New York's central park (843 acres) and Sydney's Hyde Park (39.5 acres). 

But still, it's a bit of rare grass. Rare, as in almost no one has grass in Japan, not even schools. But the grass this country does have is often perfectly manicured. And so precious that this lot had a barrier around it, so no one could ride across it, or drive their prams on it either! Here's the "parking". There were "monitors". Not sure what you'd have to do to get their negative attention, though I suspect damaging the grass would be high on the list.
The view from where we sat, sipping our drinks (no we didn't sit on the grass). I was interested to see that a lot of the ladies were sitting cross-legged. We'd been indoctrinated that that is a no-no in Japan, that you are supposed to either sit on your feet, or sit with them to the side. Both of which, if you're not used to, are excruciating after a while. Perhaps that's another rule that's changing? Or if you're on grass, it's a different rule to if you are inside?

In Japan our work rarely coincides, so last Monday it was nice to be out and about together on our own on a work day without feeling guilty (the boys were home relaxing).

08 May, 2019

Mental health and missions

Here is a great article from OMF US on a topic that has touched our lives in various ways. 

I know missionaries who struggle or have struggled with mental health issues, and yet are here, serving in Japan. It's not easy, but with the right support, they're able to use their gifts for the Lord here. In many ways it's not much different to someone with well-controlled asthma serving in mission (i.e. me). But I also know missionaries who have had to leave the field due to mental health (or, for that matter, physical health) issues with themselves, or their kids.

Mental illness still holds a stigma and it's not easy to talk about these things openly. This is especially the case for missionaries who are unfortunately often held up as something like super-Christians. 

Mental illness is also beset by stereotypes. So if a missionary tells their supporters about their particular struggle they are opening themselves up for misunderstandings from the very ones who are supposed to be supporting them. Understandably that is not an easy place to be.

I like what the author of the above article wrote about pretending:
Whether we pretend we’re fine, pretend we’re holy, pretend we don’t need help … The life of pretense sets us up for failure and separates us from ourselves, from God and from others. Whether we face mental health issues or not, we must learn to stop pretending. Our only hope to deal with the challenges of life is to learn to come to the Father and rely on him in our lack.
We are a body, not individual units. Let us each care for the members of the body, giving grace and providing a safe place for transparent and honest living. 

02 May, 2019

Happy to help

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the level of customer service in Japan. I want to add another example. 

Last week I went to get more asthma medication for myself. Doctors don't issue repeat prescriptions here, but my doctor will prescribe several months' worth of inhalers for me that I can buy all at once. However, the pharmacy didn't have the four inhalers that were on my script. They apologised more than once and asked if it was okay if they mailed them to me later.  This package arrived a couple of days later, hand delivered by a private vendor. Wow!

The next day I was on the search for an ingredient to make an icecream cake for our son's birthday over the weekend. The cashiers had these vests on! It embodies the attitude of people in the service industry here. They usually bend over backwards (often running at the same time) to help you, to the point that if they can't help you it's embarrassing.