26 June, 2019

I could never do what you do...

We've received letters over the years that have said, "You inspire me so much" "Thanks for being so brave!" "I could never do what you do."
This is the kintsuji (imitation) that I did
at the retreat last month. A reminder that
we're all broken. I was at the retreat
because I was exhausted and in need
of refreshment.

Somehow I don't find these letters very encouraging. It means that the readers have put us on some kind of pedestal, like a superhero. I feel like they don't really "get" me. I feel so unlike a superhero. I've got no superpowers. I feel the same feelings you do. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I am frail and needy, just like the writers of those letters.

I'd rather they stand alongside me and get to know me a bit, so they could see past the "missionary" label and the "Tokyo" address.

I'd rather that they stopped to consider what it would be like to walk in my shoes, rather than try to walk in my footsteps in their own shoes. 

I'd rather they considered that the only reason we can do what we do is because we've got an amazing heavenly Father who enables us to do it . . . that we're in the same family, with the same heavenly Father.

I'd rather not be an inspiration written about in a letter, but rather that our lives would change something in theirs.

On Monday our eldest son arrived from Brisbane for a short stay between semesters. I had mixed feelings: yes, excitement. But also sadness knowing that we'd just have to say goodbye again. Plus plenty of other emotions that are harder to name. We're in a better place to welcome him than we were in January, as our schedule is more flexible and we're more settled. But still mixed emotions.

I've had people say: "I couldn't do that" (i.e. have our son away like this). Well, it's not easy, but it's not something that makes each day a burden. It's not a sorrow that is weighing me down each day. And it's certainly not something that I think should make others either pity me or idolise me. Either of those are actually pretty repulsive to me and I can see why my friend who is significantly visually impaired occasionally raves on her Facebook page about how much she hates it when people like her are set up by the media (or the general public) as an inspiration, or an object to be pitied. Because that is dehumanising. Those feelings separate you from me and mean it's harder for us to connect on a real level.

The author of this short post says it well:(as a response to the "I couldn't do it!" exclamation):
"You are right. You could not do it, and neither can I. That is the whole point. He wants to do it through me and through you, so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect His glory."
Paul also said it:
2 Cor. 3:5, 18; 4:7; 12:10
 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God…And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, Who is the Spirit…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV)

25 June, 2019

Job list in our house

Oops, I only just saw a comment on my post in May about household jobs and negotiating with teens. My friend asked me to post our list of jobs. 

Of course, they would differ for every household. Each family runs slightly differently and different things cause more stress than others, plus different ages and differences in schedules change how you do things. For example, when the boys were younger, two of them took turns to vacuum under the table after dinner. This was mostly because I struggled with how messy that place got and with the feeling of crumbs under my feet drove me crazy. Plus each family is made up of people with different preferences and limitations. 

We also do things differently here than in Australia for various reasons, for example, rubbish sorting is more intense here and we wash more often than we might in Australia with a rotary clothesline because the hanging space is smaller.

Here's our list of the regular jobs done to keep our household running:

These are shared by Mum and Dad

Make breakfast (7 times a week)
Make lunch (7 times a week)
Make dinner (7 times a week)
Set table for breakfast (7 times a week)
Set table for dinner (7 times a week)
*Clear table after breakfast (7 times a week)
*Clear table after dinner (7 times a week)
Breakfast washup (weekends)
Dinner wash-up (7 times a week)
Put clean breakfast dishes away (7 times a week)
Put clean dinner dishes away (7 times a week)
Rubbish collection inside (incl. replace bags)
*Rubbish – take out (3-4 times/wk)
Toilets clean (once a week)
Vacuum whole house (once a week)
Clean bathroom basin and mirror (every 1—2 wks)
Cleaning shower and bath and shower room (periodically)
Grocery shopping (2-3 times a week)
Washing clothes (~5 times a week)
Washing towels (once a week)
Washing sheets (once a week)
Bringing washing in (~5 times a week)
*Folding washing (~5 times a week)
Refill heater with oil (winter)
Ironing (periodically)
Mending (periodically)

Boys’ jobs
Hanging up washing (~5 times a week)
Breakfast wash-up (5 times a week) NOTE: This has recently been renegotiated and been replaced with the jobs that are asterisked above.
From high school: wash own clothes

Jobs we all do 
Get ourselves up on time
Shower ourselves
Clean our teeth
Manage our personal items like bags, lunchboxes, medication
Take care of ourselves by eating and sleeping well
Strip our beds and remake them
Keep our rooms tidy
Take care of our “work” responsibilities, including homework and schoolwork.

During the summer holidays we've added the job of planning and making one meal a week.

20 June, 2019

Be excellent at what you do for the Lord

This article "Christian Authors and the 'Good Enough' Fallacy" is specifically "geared toward [Christian] authors who are trying to write full-time and/or who are serious about getting their work professionally published". However, it touches on an important point that goes much wider than that. 

The article talks about an attitude that can sometimes slide into Christian activities. Doing "just enough" and trusting that God will do the rest.

This is not how I would approach any ordinary job. I come from a health professional background and certainly one of the big things we had to learn how to be was "professional". That's a hard concept to define but includes doing the best you can, drawing a line between personal and work, acting with discretion, being reliable and respectful, and always seeking to improve. I think we sometimes fall down on these things when engaging in "Christian" work."

God exhorts us to do our best:
"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." (Ecc. 9:10 ESV)
"Whatever you do, work at it heartily, as for the Lord, not for men." (Col. 3:23 ESV)
"Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts." (Ps. 33:3 ESV)
This was said of Hudson Taylor, the founder of OMF International (called China Inland Mission at the time): 
“He prayed about things as if everything depended upon the praying . . . but he worked also, as if everything depended on his working.”
I think it is a nicely balanced perspective. Exodus actually gives us a nice picture of the skills that people have. Numerous times people are described as "skilled workers":
"Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you" (Ex 31:6 NIV)
"Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer." (Ex. 35:30-35 ESV)
Quite clearly God explains that he's given the skills to people, but also that he expects that they use those skills to produce excellent work. The work particularly being undertaken in this portion of the Bible is the building of the tabernacle (in the desert, in those years of wandering between Egypt and Israel) that the Israelites used for many years before Solomon built a permanent temple.

I'm passionate about this and have pushed to make the magazine I work on a work of excellence, rather than just "good enough".

Today I went into the office of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (an association of over 1,000 missionaries working in Japan under various mission organisations and independently). I helped them pack the Summer issue of the magazine. It's always satisfying to see this end stage, and such a different thing to what I do most of the time (playing around with words and images). It's great to lay my hands on a physical copy of the magazine we put together.

In order to make excellence happen in the arena of the magazine I manage, I've gathered people around me in the team who feel the same way. And they keep pushing me—every single issue! 

This photo particularly illustrates the dedication of our designer to excellence. She couldn't find a photo to fit this particular article, so she and her husband staged one. They downloaded an appropriate form and started filling it out. It fits the article perfectly, but took some time and effort and creative thinking!

It's time for me to go on with making our dinner, but I want to leave with the parting thought that sometimes we (and I'm talking about the church in general here) approach mission in the "good enough" way. We pray. Yes. that's really important. But sometimes God is calling us to do more than that. To take some risks, to commit to more than just prayer.

17 June, 2019

Over the post-end-of-year hump

We've now made it over the end-of-year hump and are staring down the barrel at just over 10 weeks of holidays. 

Actually, we're still on the downward slope towards complete non-school involvement. Our youngest is doing a couple of summer-school activities over the coming fortnight, so he'll be out of the house for about three hours a day. David has bits and pieces of work over the coming weeks, nothing regular except that he teaches a summer hands-on science course for a week in the first week of July.

My work doesn't stop for the summer break, except when I make it stop (by handing it to other people or planning around a holiday) when we go away for a break. In the coming couple of months we've got two separate camping trips planned (total of five nights) and two-weeks in an OMF holiday house. So while everyone else's schedule slows down I'm puttering along at my desk in our dining room. Now the boys are older, that's easier to do, but occasionally it gets tricky, especially when they interrupt me when I need to concentrate on a longer task. A friend brainstormed with me about this, and I've decided on a red bandana (I haven't actually told them about this yet). If I particularly don't want to be interrupted, I'll put on the red bandana as a "closed door" symbol. We'll see how that goes.

We've also put together Summer Guidelines very similar to what we did two years ago. It will be interesting to see how we go now they're 14 and 16. I've changed it up by adding a periodic survey to help them self-check their use of time. It's easy to start summer holidays with good intentions, I'll report back later about how we're doing with it all. Tonight I'm waiting for our first boy-made dinner (Chicken Fajitas). I'm a little bit concerned that we might be eating at 8pm, though...

Another exciting event that's coming our way is our eldest son is visiting from next Monday for two and a half weeks between semesters. This time we'll be free-er to enjoy his company (when he came in January we were in the throes of adjusting back to Japan and in the midst of the school year). 

Here are a couple of photos giving you a glimpse of our last week.

This was another little bit of craziness added to last week. We had a boy go over on his big toe (as in, it was bent under his sole and he came down on it) as he played a ball game with friends. Thankfully not a big break, but the ligament pulled some bone fragments off. Plenty of pain and swelling, but he's recovering very quickly. Quite able to ride a bike, so this is how we got the crutches to church yesterday (though he's crutches-free from today).
The "Welcome" sign at CAJ standing stolidly in the rain as we celebrated the end of middle school for our youngest. Now we only have four years of kids left at "grade school"!

08 June, 2019

Crazy end-of-school year stuff

I’m feeling really quite exhausted today. Last night was the senior graduation at CAJ. Though I didn't have a graduate, this event doubles as a key time to catch up with a lot of people I haven't seen for some time and also to say some goodbyes. Always a bitter-sweet time. 

We must have had over 600 people in the gym last night after the ceremony at the "reception" or party. The biggest night of the year for the CAJ community. We got home after 10 and it took me well over an hour to quieten my spirit down enough to get to sleep, well after my usual bedtime.

This morning we had a Grade 8 family "picnic" lunch that turned into an inside picnic at the school cafeteria because of rain forecast. It was blessedly low-key and quite fun, a great way to quietly celebrate our graduating middle schoolers. (Yes, we've still got that coming up on Monday night.)

But when I walked into the cafeteria I almost walked out again straight away because it just felt like too much. I confessed my fatigue to another mum and she said she felt the same. So I offered to pick up some coffee from a local convenience store for us both, which helped a great deal!

This afternoon I've been finishing off the tail end of the Summer issue of Japan Harvest. I've just answered those last-minute questions that have arisen out of the 30-odd pages of proofreading that took up most of yesterday. Hopefully, we're able to send it off to the printer now and I can move on to the next one (proposals due Monday and I'm off on another editing adventure)!

This coming week is a crazy collection of celebrations and concluding school events, including two staff-spouse dinners, on top of my usual work. All good and important, but I think that my priority for the rest of the weekend should be rest so that I'm ready for it all.

06 June, 2019

An extract from our latest newsletter

Yikes, feeling frustrated about my blog. I truly want to write more here, but find that my days fill up and come to an end before I get here. 

Though I am excited that I actually got to do some actual writing today (of a blog post for OMF). Most of my writing recently has been emails as I finish off the summer issue of the magazine I manage. Writing to authors, editors, designers, etc. Answering messages from people who we've stirred up with our social media posts. Chasing articles that should have been sent to me, etc. About 60 emails this week thus far. 

But a lot of time has been spent editing other people's writing. It's crazy how much time that takes. Not necessarily because a writer is bad, but it includes things like checking details. For example, in the last week I've researched how jasper is created, whether "Kingdom Hall" should be capitalised or not, and sought the publishing details on several books for referencing. I've found out that you don't hyphenate "ly" adverbs before adjectives, discovered that Hawaii is discussing whether an apostrophe should be officially added to their official name (i.e. Hawai'i), and learned some interesting facts about serotonin.
One of the social media posts I created in May

Last week ended up so busy that our prayer letter, that I'd intended to do, didn't get written. So I did it on the weekend instead. As a result, I didn't get as much rest then as I'd planned.

However, in the midst of all that I've managed to spend time with significant people. I find that I need time with people to keep me working effectively, but it is a real challenge to get the balance right, especially when I face daily deadlines in my editing/writing work.

However, today I can give you an extract from our prayer letter that might be interesting and explanatory about my job.
In Australia our main job was mobilisation—connecting with prayer and financial supporters face-to-face—telling you about what we’d been doing in Japan and the ongoing needs here. In doing so we hoped that you would be encouraged to continue to support us and our work. 
Wendy’s job in Japan the last couple of years has included mobilisation. Mobilisation is similar, but broader than recruitment. Just like we do when we’re on home assignment, we’re mobilising people to get more involved in mission, however that looks for them. But we especially pray that more people will come to join the work in Japan, for there are still only around 1% evangelical Christians in this large nation. 
But how does she do that from our dining room in Tokyo? The current mobilisation strategy in OMF Japan is to use social media to reach people around the world. Wendy manages and edits a blog by our misisonaries. This means that every week she’s putting a new article on our website.  
She’s also managing our social media content, so at least five times a week posts are being shared on Facebook and Instagram about Japan, our work, and the needs here. Some are lighthearted, some are heavy. Some are calls to action, some are simply points of interest about Japanese culture or food. Most of our posts in May were seen by more a thousand people, some posts were seen by many more than that. 
Each month we have a theme that guides a lot of our content. In May we focused on partnership. Partnership is a big part of being a missionary. We partner with you, our prayer and financial partners. But it was fascinating to see the various ways that OMF is partnering with individuals and other groups in Japan. 
Recently Wendy helped guide a Singaporean short-term missionary she first met in Brisbane last year. Together they conceived of a short video series about the lives of missionaries, showing some unexpected backstories. We shared the first short video on May 31. 
We’d love you to come and learn more about Japan by interacting on Facebook or Instagram, or to to our website to see the articles there? Maybe even sharing what you find with others?