22 June, 2020


A rock in a river near a campsite that our sons have gone to
summer camps at over the years. It's a beautiful spot to sit and
reflect. I'm looking forward to sitting next to a river in a couple
of weeks (camping trip). I'm sure I'll be reflecting too!
A couple of weeks ago I was "guinea pig" for a peer debrief tool that our organisation has developed especially for use at this time when we're beginning to enter the recovery phrase after the last few months of "disaster mode". 

I've done debriefs before, after a term of service, after home assignment. I find it something of a scary sounding name, but the one's I've participated in really look more like an informal chat with a friend, with them asking about how things have been for you in the previous months/years.

The questions my colleague asked me were good, including...
  • What memories do you have from the first time you heard about COVID-19 till now?
  • Which three are the most emotional or important for you?
  • How are you processing, or could you process, these emotions?
  • What losses have you experienced?
  • What things can't you control? What can you control?
  • What emotions have you experienced?
  • When you think about COVID-19 and its effects, what has caused you the most stress?
  • How have you experienced God during this time?
I literally talked for two hours! So many memories. So many interwoven things that happened. It's weird, because it's a time that felt like it was full of sameness, but when teased out with questions like the above, it's easier to see that there was a lot going on, even if it didn't look that way and was happening without us leaving our homes often.

Incidentally, that sameness that many people around the world felt is captured beautifully in this three-minute film by a teenager in the US.

I've written earlier about some of the losses, I think the loss I most regret is not being able to say goodbye to colleagues who were leaving Japan permanently. 

The loss that was hardest to deal with on a day-to-day basis was the loss of solitude, especially for work. And even though the boys are now on holidays, I'm still dealing with that loss. My desk in the dining room is just not separate enough at times. In the end (hoping that will be August 20) I will have had six months of working within touching distance of one of my sons. That's wearing. This morning I retreated to the lounge room with my laptop for a break from his intensity.

The question about control was interesting. It's something I've seen people wrestle badly with on social media—to the point where I've lost patience with people who go out to public places, find lots of others who have done the same, then complain about others on social media.

There were plenty of things I could control, though, for example, how much time I spent on social media, our family schedule, our meals, when I went to bed, and what I said yes and no to (see below re. accessibility). I was able to plan enjoyable, productive things like baking, family movie nights, and times chatting with friends via video chat. Though sometimes the unplanned provided pleasure too: the unexpected phone call from a friend asking how I was, or an unplanned decision to drop some brownies off in a friend's mailbox.

One interesting thing I learned was about life without Costco. I usually go there once every eight to ten weeks, but held off longer this last time. I had to do things differently, but we coped okay. The biggest loss was "block cheese", and what eventually drove me back there.

But I've also found during this period that my emotions and motivation have been more fluid than usual. For example, our son in Australia turned 21 during this period. It's a time in a young person's life in Australia when historically many have a bigger-than-usual celebration with friends and/or family. But we never had planned to go back for it. My parents stepped up and took him and his girlfriend out for lunch, then hosted a small family party at their home over afternoon tea. David and I also spent a week putting together a compilation of videos and photos from his life for them to watch. We were included in the party via a couple of video calls and lots of photos sent to us. It was fun, but mingled with sadness in my heart. Sadness that probably would have been there anyway, at another time, but amplified by the general sadness of this period of time.

I don't think that emotional and motivational fluidity are things that just I have struggled with at all. But it's been challenging to work through at times. Because my workload didn't change much, and I had little about my weeks that was cancelled, I struggled at times when I needed to keep working, but didn't feel up to it.

I also struggled with how accessible we'd become. All of a sudden we were invited to pray in Zoom meetings with people in Australia, across Japan, and indeed internationally. We were invited to Bible studies in Australia, and church in a variety of places. We also had international Zoom work meetings that intruded upon family time. All this was hard to deal with when our workload remained about the same, yet we also had two boys at home who we were trying to support through online schooling. It was hard to receive all these invitations, but also hard to try to figure out where to draw boundaries without feeling guilty.

Experiencing God
How have I experienced God during this time? That wasn't easy to answer. "Experiencing God" is something of a nebulous thing. Psalm 139 comes to mind:

Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lordyou know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

God is always with us. I saw his hand encourage me in small ways and big ways. I'm glad I persisted in blogging through these months, as I can look back and see encouragements along the way. And, incidentally, writing here was a way that I processed (and continue to process) emotions.

I think one of the biggest encouragements along the way was taking things I could control and using them to encourage others, like baking and giving it away. Writing here about my struggles and seeing others encouraged by my honest words. Sharing positive things on social media was another way that I tried to bless others who I couldn't meet face-to-face. So I guess that was a way of experiencing God?

Future changes
One of the hardest questions was considering what changes I might want to make as a result of living through this time. One relates to fellowship and has raised questions in a couple of arenas that we will continue to wrestle with for a while longer, I think.

I'm glad that I had a chance to debrief like this with a friend/colleague. I hope that many more do also (all our OMF Japan colleagues are encouraged to take this tool and ask others to help them debrief). 

As part of this recovery time we've also been urged by our organisation to do a mini retreat. I'm not sure how I might fit that into these coming weeks. The weeks surrounding me taking holidays (as we are in July) are always busy, as my work simply doesn't stop when I'm away, not to mention that having boys on holidays tends to eat into my work time anyway. But maybe after everyone gets back to school in person in September will be the time I can take a short break and reflect.

If you're interested in doing a debrief yourself, or looking at all the questions, please drop me a line and I'll get them to you.

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