22 June, 2020

Debriefing

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.

Losses
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.

Control
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.

Emotions
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.


19 June, 2020

Looking back 10 years

Me in 2010.
A friend had an intriguing idea a few weeks ago: to look back ten years and compare to now. What's changed? What's the same? I haven't spent much time mulling this over, so I'm sure there's plenty more that could be said!



This time ten years ago we were finishing up our second 12-month home assignment. Our boys were 11, 7, and 5. 

Our five year old was half way through his first compulsory year of schooling, called "Prep" in Queensland. This appeared in the school newsletter ten years ago this week:
Goodbye to the Marshall Family
We're sad and excited to be saying goodbye to the Marshall family. J and his family will be returning to Japan over the school holidays. The children are excited that J gets to go home and tell people about Jesus but also sad at losing their friend. Please keep the family in your prayers as they get ready to go home. At prep we have talked about playing with J for the last few times and the children have been regularly praying for him and his family.
It has been such a blessing to have this Christian school as a "constant" for our boys' education during each of our four home assignments. Our next home assignment our boys will all be finished school, so it will be odd not to go through the motions of enrolling our kids there. 

I've just skimmed through some of the blog posts for June 2010, it's painful. All about transition: farewells, moving, and emotions.
My "little" boys!

By mid-July we were back in Tokyo, moving in the house I'm currently sitting in. It's amazing to think we've been here for ten years (with a two notable absences of 12-months and 6-months for subsequent home assignments in 2014/15 and 2018).

A month after that we finally had everyone at the one school. [During our second term in Japan we juggled three education systems: Japanese, Australian, and International-school. It wasn't pretty!]

Not long after they all started school I went to a writer's workshop in Hong Kong. My first overseas trip on my own since 1994. I also started work that month with Japan Harvest magazine, just learning the ropes and helping out the Managing Editor.

What's changed?
Well obviously we're all 10 years older. One boy has graduated from school and left home. The other two are in high school, instead of anticipating the start of having all my boys at school I'm now anticipating life with no-one left at school (just three years left!). Parenting teenagers is quite different to parenting elementary-aged kids! 

I've got a lot more freedom now than I had ten years ago. I'm happy to leave them for hours at home on their own. They each have their own key, so I don't have to be here when they get home from something. David and I have been able to go out for dates without asking someone to watch them.

I've learned a lot and grown a lot as a manager of people and communicator. I've grown as a person too, though it's probably harder to name how. I think I know myself better now and a bit more discerning about other people.

I now wear pink (but never pastel pink). That was a colour I never wore 10 years ago. I've also got my ears pierced now. Yep, changes in my 40s, I didn't see that coming! My hair is also short now (I cut it in 2011 and haven't looked back).

I knew nothing about putting a magazine together 10 years ago, now I've done nearly 40 issues! I'm a faster, and hopefully better editor than 10 years ago. Also, all these years of blogging has made me a faster writer. I hope I'm also a better writer...But I'm writing less here, back then I was writing personal blog posts almost every day!

I'm now working in social media, not just playing there. That's been a huge learning curve in the last three years. I've also learned a bit about how to use a DSLR camera.

I'm sure that I've dealt with more conflict in the last ten years that I have ever had to, and maybe I'm getting better at it?

I feel like I'm more emotional now than 10 years ago. I certainly feel the goodbyes and losses more than I used to, and there have been many of those in the last decade.

I've now also lived through two major disasters. In 2011 the triple disaster hit this island's north-eastern coast and of course 2020. This year's disaster has had a wider impact on my day-to-day life than 2011 did, but they've both left a mark, or maybe multiple marks!

What's not changed?
Well I'm still married to David and the mother of three boys, although they are all bigger than me now. I'm still not good at Japanese, but I'm working harder at it now than I was ten years ago.

I'm living in the same house, with many of the same things around me. My size hasn't changed much. I've still got some of the same clothes I had 10 years ago!

David still works at CAJ and we're still with OMF International.

We still don't own any property in Australia, but do own a storage container that has a few of our Australian-based goods in it.

And of course my God hasn't changed. My faith in him has been challenged and has grown, but it remains a core part of who I am.

So, what about you? Where were you 10 years ago? What were you doing? What's changed? What hasn't changed?

10 June, 2020

The great brownie recipe hunt

March 21 was a wet, cold day this year. It also was a Saturday and, as I often do on free Saturdays, I wanted to bake. So I wrote this post on Facebook:
I’m looking for a really good brownie recipe. We’ve enjoyed American packet mixes from Ghirardelli in the past, but our two local sources have dried up. As a baker I’d love to be able to replicate these from scratch. Can anyone help me with a recipe? I’ve got harsh critics waiting in the wings!
I got 36 comments on that post, including lots of recipes. Which sparked an 80-day kitchen adventure I hadn't planned when things started to get cancelled on us in late February!

I decided to try a few of the recipes. The local critics automatically ruled out any that didn't have chunks of chocolate in them, in case you're wondering. We've been "burned" before. So I ended up only making five of the recipes. Here are they are:

That first afternoon I tried this one:
Molten choc-chunk brownies

On my "brownie" rubric it got a 38/40 (judged on texture, taste, ease of making, and cost). It was amazing. I especially loved how easy it was and that it was Australian, which made it even easier.

And, had I not been given so many other brownie recipes, I probably would have stopped there. But, with extra free time on my hands, a love of baking, and an appreciative audience, I kept going. Not to mention that it was an interesting challenge to tackle in the middle of the mind numbing sameness of a COVID-19 "stay at home" season,
Thick, chewy better than boxed brownies

Next time (April 18th) I tried this one:

It came out really well, but we gave it a 35. The only significant difference was that this had a more fiddly method and that it was American (they seem to like measuring things in cups, when I really prefer weight, especially in something like butter).

No chocolate chips in this recipe, but I added them ;-)







Ultimate Brownies are the bottom in the photo.
Top is a chocolate zucchini cake.
Mmm-mmm Better Brownies came from two friends. I made this one on May 2nd (no photo). It didn't rate as highly as the above two, with 31 out of 40. It was easy to make, but lacked a little in taste and texture (we've got very high standards here).




Ultimate Brownies had a lot of chocolate. I made it on May 16th and it was all going well (included more chocolate and sugar than flour), but I couldn't get it to bake according to the instructions. So it turned out very gooey. We gave it a 27.

No-name brownie
And the final recipe I tried last Saturday (Jun 6). This one from a former Home Economics teacher, so I had high expectations. It was pretty good, but was a bit lacking in the texture department. It came out quite cake-y, despite a large amount of chocolate and butter. It lacked the chunky, chocolate-y crunch we've come to associate with exceptional brownies. We gave it a 32/40.

380g dark cooking chocolate
250g butter
4 eggs
420g sugar
½ teasp vanilla essence
300g plain flour

  1. Melt chocolate and butter
  2. Lightly beat eggs, add sugar and vanilla
    My quick diagram of a recipe, rather
    than use a screen in the kitchen.
  3. Combine above
  4. Add flour and mix lightly.
  5. Bake in 30cm x 24 cm x 4cm tray
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 180C.

So, it turned out that the first one I tried was the best. Family favourite: consumers and cook!

I think we've had more brownies in the last three months than we've ever had. But I don't regret it. And with a good, easy recipe in my grasp now, I'm confident to make them from scratch every time!

I'm also glad for the small distraction of this challenge. It was something fun to look forward to when there wasn't much else to look forward to. A type of "lily pad" that helped make it through a rough patch.

Now I'm wondering if I should start another baking challenge to make it through the next 10 weeks until school starts again. Any suggestions?

04 June, 2020

Cumulative grief

This is the 20th year since I first left Australia to work in Japan as a missionary. In that time I’ve said hundreds of goodbyes, the sorts of goodbyes that preceded people moving internationally. Some were “I plan to be back in a year/four years” goodbyes, others “I don’t know if or when I’ll be back”. Some were “I’m leaving”, others were “you’re leaving”. The latter is often swept under the carpet as a minor grief. But over the years I’ve said so many goodbyes that it’s become more major than any single goodbye.

So at the risk of sounding repetitive, grief, in particular my experience of grief as a missionary, is what is on my mind today.

This kind of grief has a name: cumulative grief. It occurs when there are many losses in a short time or after multiple losses on a regular basis. It is certainly something that most of us are experiencing after all the cancellations and restrictions of the last few months. Missionaries struggle with it and, I suspect elderly people too, as one by one they lose people they love over the years.

Sarita Hartz hits the nail on the head when she writes in this article that perseverance is valued in missionary circles. So the “done thing” is to push through, to carry on. (Which, as an aside also makes this kind of grief something like "disenfranchised grief" when a loss is felt, but not acknowledged by others as important; see a list of different types of grief here.)
“Missions is a field where persevering is celebrated, and stopping to grieve is shamed. It’s no wonder we have so much burnout.Our lack of authenticity and our inability to make space for it, is strangling the very mission we’ve set out to do.How can we expect to be a reflection of Jesus when we haven’t taken the time to be honest with Him about the state of our hearts?Authenticity grows in the environment of intimacy.”
Yes. I write about grief regularly, especially around this time. It’s my Achilles heel, a chronic injury, if you like. 

I said another goodbye yesterday, with someone who I’ve shared things with that I’ve told few others. I couldn’t even hug my friend. But we did get to sit in the park with our coffees.

I cried. Not just for this loss of a friend (she’s in the “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again” category), but for all the friends I’ve lost before her.

I woke at 4 am this morning thinking of all the times we’ve spent together and the occasions when I would miss seeing her in the future.

The cruel thing about this kind of grief is that little voice inside that tells you you have nothing much to be sad about, after all, this is nothing compared to losing a child or spouse. It is not easily compared with those massive griefs. I am not immobilised, and there is no need for me to take compassionate leave just because I said goodbye to a friend yesterday. However, that doesn't mean that my losses are irrelevant, that I should ignore them.

I was very encouraged to receive this in an email from a friend who knows a bit about grief: 
“Trust me. I understand that accumulated grief. Goodbyes are so difficult. They are absolutely gut-wrenching...I'm praying for you, dear sister. What you are struggling with is normal and really hard to process. So many people don't understand that because they haven't had to go what you're going through.”
I was also encouraged by an article in Japan Harvest this year that talked about biblical lamenting. (We don't yet have a separate electronic file, but you can see it here, on p22). It encourages me to dwell in the Psalms, for example 77, or 73.


This was entirely unintentional "therapy" yesterday.
I made focaccia and veggie burgers for dinner, all from
scratch. I also did a little bit of trimming of my potted
pelargonium and these flowers were casualties. They made
a lovely addition to the table last night when I was
feeling a little shaky.
I'm not sure if I've said anything helpful here. More, just acknowledging that this is a grieving season for me. Made worse this year, I think, because it comes on top of a bunch of losses because of the pandemic (and I'm not talking about deaths here, though that could be true for some of you). And also acknowledging that writing is a form of therapy for me. It helps me to get words "on paper" about the things that are swirling around in my head—things that are stopping me from sleeping, messing with my work, and even interfering with my interactions with others in my house.

And I'm doing what Sarita (above) says is important: being authentic. Admitting I'm hurting.

Oh, and I'm also praying that God would continue to bring special friends into my life here in Japan. I can't allow my grief at goodbyes to cause me to build a wall, because that would be even more damaging. I'm a relational person who needs friends to stay healthy. If I didn't know that already, COVID-19 has reinforced that need. It's also not all about me, none of my friendships are all about me, who knows how God might use me in someone else's life.

I'm rambling now. Time to stop pondering and get on with preparing dinner for the family.  

30 May, 2020

It's still stormy

On Wednesday I rode to my favourite large park and enjoyed some time on my own. I read a book, but then words of my own started breaking into my concentration. So I stopped and put the book down and started to put my own words down. I "wrote" on my little phone screen, so poetry seemed easier than prose. Or maybe it's just lazy prose...
This was part of my view on Wednesday while
I wrote.

What's below is an edited version of what came out in the park.

It's still stormy
Same storm different boat
It's a phrase people are using
About these strange pandemic months.

It makes sense.
Most of us have been stuck at home
Doing things differently to usual
Spending more time with some
And less time with others

But each one has a different household
A different set of griefs, of longings.

I've lost solitude.
I've gained more time with some of my family.
I've lost time with friends.
I've gained space in my schedule to rest.
I've lost a summer visit from a loved one.
I've lost precious farewells with friends.
I've lost more than I've gained.

Every morning I cast myself
In the arms of the God who bears our daily burdens
Lately that’s felt more important than usual
Maybe that will be what I've gained when the storm is over.

Life is usually full of ups and downs
This year they’ve been more intense 
More unpredictable 
More universal 

It’s been odd to go through a global disaster
To experience the same storm here as everyone else
Yet our boats are all different

My boat has two teenage boys and husband
My boat has a tiny backyard, but a beautiful tree
My boat affords little solitude, but it's safe

My emotions have crashed around
From gratitude to grief
From relief to fear
From joy to lethargy

I’ve bounced between 
Action and resignation
Energy and boredom
Feeling free and struggling against confinement

I’ve been disappointed
By myself
And by others

But I’ve also been surprised
By unexpected blessings

I long for things that will never be regained:
time, goodbyes, opportunities.

And some that will be regained, but will take time:
freedom to travel, to go outside without my face covered.
For a life free from the fear of other people's germs.

Same storm. Different boat.
I long to be through the storm.
To be reflecting on this from a distance.
But the clouds haven't cleared yet.

So I'll continue to daily
Cast my burdens on the Lord
The one who promised rest for our souls.

19 May, 2020

God at work through community

I don't always (or often?) hear about how my words or this blog have helped someone, but did last week. Let's trace some ripples in a pond and, hopefully, show how God's been at work.

When I was in Australia I spent a little time with a psychologist. She is the same psychologist who did assessment back in 1998 when we started on this missions journey. Each time we go back we're required to do a debrief with her and her husband, it's been great to have a long-term relationship with them, even if we rarely meet.

This time I went back a couple more times. I've written here about how that resulted in me being more intentional about cultivating certain friendships in Australia. 

It turns out that the two friends I stay in contact with daily have spent time with the same psychologist. It's been an interesting element to our friendship, because we occasionally reference this common professional and her words. One thing that keeps coming up, and originated with this lady is the concept of "lily pads". I can't even remember if the psychologist mentioned them to me, but my friend hasn't let me forget this very useful concept.

And so I mentioned lily pads briefly last week in my blog post. Each time I write here I share the link to my blog post on my Facebook page, so often people comment there, rather than here.

On this post last week, a missionary friend commented that she found the concept useful in general too, but that it is a hard part of the current situation. I replied saying that planning smaller things like baking on the weekend, a TV series to work through, or a book to read are helpful, or even necessary to staying healthy. She commented that she'd been trying crochet as something of a lily pad, but hadn't been having much success.

A few days later my missionary friend and I received a message from one of my expat FB friends in Japan who'd been struggling with the lack of plans, especially not being able to see family. She found the lily pad idea amazing and very helpful. That it had been so helpful to her blew me and my missionary friend away. It had been such a small interaction, but one that happened in a place that my expat friend saw and was inspired by. She went on from that and shared her revelation with friends of hers who had similar reactions.

What a fascinating, rippling trail of God's grace.

I think at the moment thoughtful Christians are considering what Christian community is all about. In recent weeks/months many of us have been unable to physically meet together like we are used to. What has community looked like in that time?

For me it has looked like all the below:

  • worshipping virtually with others, while sitting in my lounge room,
  • long and short conversations—planned and unplanned; text, video, or phone call; or even the occasional in-person physically-distanced chat
  • generosity—both giving and receiving
  • being a part of a loosely-formed book club around a book by a missionary that has helped us to reflect on God at this time
  • the giving of grace—in my work, with my family, and with others
  • seeking how to creatively bless other people near and far.
You can probably come up with different ways it's looked for you. I will probably think of more after I publish this!

Before I go I want to share another way that friends and colleagues have blessed me in the last little while.

Encouragement folder

Last week God knew I needed a bit of extra encouragement and I received a few other encouraging emails. After I shared some of the encouragement with my two "daily" friends, one of them encouraged me to set up an encouragement folder on my computer. 

I always pass encouragements related to the magazine I work on to my magazine team when I receive them, but I haven't really collected them. I also haven't routinely collected encouragements non-magazine related for my own benefit. 

I'm so excited to be collecting them now, even a couple of sentences in an email can be something to lift my day, and now they can last longer than a day. And that's important. Not only do I work at the pointy end of publishing at times (having to work with authors who aren't happy or don't understand why we've changed what we've changed), I also live with teenagers who sometimes seem to think it's important that they critique my every move and every word. We're spending more time together in 2020 than usual, so a bit of extra encouragement is not to be discounted!

How have you seen community in your life in recent weeks?

13 May, 2020

It's hard to reflect when you're in the middle of it

A fellow writer said to me recently that she wants to write about the current situation, but is reluctant for a few reasons.

There is a sense that we're living through history that needs to be recorded, but also that in some ways we need to live through it before we can write reflectively about it. There are also a lot of sensitive toes that are easy to step on at the moment, probably a lot more than usual. Additionally there are so many threads running through this current season that it's hard to know even where to start to write much (though much is being written). Hence I didn't get to writing here last week, though I have been adding to a list of ideas to write about.

Despite the strangeness and difficulties, though, our weeks are running past relatively quickly and I've been busy enough to find that I'm tired each evening and certainly by the weekend. Indeed, I don't think I'm alone in finding these weeks and months tiring. There's been so much to adjust to and much to ponder. Just like when we first moved to Japan. Culture shock. New rules. Worries. Grief. It's not always easy to find ways to look after myself. Sharing so much of my day with two teenage boys isn't always fun. I'm glad I've got books to retreat to (I'm soooo thankful for the Kindle Fire I got for Christmas—who knew that would be so timely—and the library in Australia I get to borrow ebooks from).
This was one of the batches of biscuits that I made
for my friends. Australian and Lego biscuit cutters
made it extra fun to give them away to a
non-Australian family.

Over the weekend I indulged in baking, which is probably why I didn't find time to write on my blog, as I'd hoped to. As I wrote in this post late last year, baking is one of my loves. It's something that rejuvenates my soul. I've been doing a lot lately, as many people have. This weekend past I was blessed to have the time and resources to bake for others. I rarely have the time to do that in May, so this was indeed an opportunity. I was able to provide some home-cooked goodies to two families we are friends with. I'm please to say I've got enough flour to continue baking this coming weekend (are Japanese people baking more?). There's a Chocolate Zucchini cake I'm dying to try out again, as well as the ongoing search for the best brownie recipe.

Our weekends have been quiet these last couple of months. Actually quite pleasant, until you realise we've got very few events to look forward to. It's easier if I just focus on today, or even, this week, than try to think too far ahead. One way I make it through difficult seasons is to have what a certain psychologist calls "Lily Pads"—things to look forward to. Part of the challenge of this time is that so many of our lily pads have been shot out of the water. And the related challenge is that we don't know when we can start making plans again. It was fun this morning over breakfast to talk about hopes we have for 2024 (during our next home assignment)! Only God knows if they will come to fruition, but it was fun (and probably quite healthy) to dream about it.

On Saturday I actually hit a wobbly spot in the middle of baking when I realised that we were heading into "Farewell" season (here's one of my posts about this season in 2016). It is a difficult season any year, but this year it's going to be worse because much of it will not be done in person. One of my closer friends is leaving Japan next month and not coming back in the near future.

I've been writing this blog post for a few days now and it's time to wrap it up while I'm feeling able to. Last night I only got about 5 ½ hrs broken sleep and I suspect that might hit hard later today or tomorrow. 

Our 11th grade son had a calculus exam in our dining room at 3 am! It's another flow-on effect from COVID-19. Many American and American-flavoured international schools offer college-level subjects called AP. These subjects cost extra and have a single external exam. Doing well on them gives you college credit at American institutions and, I presume, bragging rights on their applications; but merely helps with increasing your tertiary admission rank (and also can function as prerequisite subjects for some courses) for Australian students. Usually these exams take place in very controlled environments, but they have been modified this year and take place in student's homes at a single time across the world. Of course in an American-centric way, so that all students in this part of the world are faced with doing it in the early hours of the morning. No idea how they stop kids cheating, but that's not my problem. Anyway, though I wasn't downstairs with my son, I couldn't sleep (something about a mother's heart).

I generally don't do well with sleep deprivation, but I think that I've been getting more sleep than usual lately (no long Saturdays at Track meets and getting up a little later because my husband doesn't have to be at school by 8am). So I'm not feeling too bad so far. We've got one more exam on Friday, but it's 5 am, not 3 am. And I write "We" deliberately, because this is bigger than just something our son is doing, with ¾ of the household losing sleep last night!

But back to the idea that reflecting on what's going on right now is hard, not the least because there is a lot of fluctuation intermingled with a lot of same-ness. But I'm reminded of a book I re-read recently: My Seventh Monsoon by Naomi Reed. She writes about different seasons in her life up till that point, but then when she got to where she was when she was writing she said, "It can indeed be a joy to look back and see the way God works through seasons . . . The much harder task is to live within the season 'right now.'" 

A couple of pages later she wrote:
"The stories from this new season are worming their way out, wanting to be told . . . waiting to be told. But it's me. I'm not ready to tell them yet. . . I can't tell the stories until the season is done. Why can't I? I think it's because I don't know how it will end up. I don't know how long it will go on for. I do't know what I will make of it at the end. Or what I will have learnt. Or how I will have emerged. Without the perspective of time, it's very difficult to know. it's very difficult to live in the season right now. . .  
Right in the middle of a season, we just don't know. We can't neatly define, we can't neatly wrap up, and we can't neatly expound. All we can do is live. And in the living, we grow and we learn, we enjoy and we cry, we struggle and we rejoice. We do it right now, without knowing what's around the corner . . .without knowing what will come out of it." (Chapter 16).
I think that summarizes how I feel. All I can do is live right now, and in the living will grow and cry, and struggle, and rejoice.