21 April, 2021

Splendid spring ride

I am pondering another deep post, but it's not fully written yet. In the meantime, I want to share with you some joy from my "romp" in the park today.

It's been my joy to ride to this park, and I've been doing it now for five-and-a-half years and am still so happy I made that discovery back in 2015.I haven't ridden there as often as I thought I might, but it's always worthwhile. Because I work from home, it's always good to get out, even to buy groceries. That's been even more the case in the last 13 months than in the past: I'm rarely getting out of the house during the day (aside from groceries and medical appointments). David and I are walking about three times a week, but that's usually after dark.

This time is my favourite time of year in Tokyo (April-May), the weather is often temperate and there are many, many flowers out. 

This is a small community garden I discovered last year. It was bursting with blooms.

Just outside one of the entrances to park is a large business/home that flies a set of enormous carp flags at this time of year. It's for a traditional celebration of Children's Day in early May.

Entering the park at this time of year always takes my breath away. We don't live in as much of a concrete jungle as many imagine, but the overwhelming vibrancy of new green leaves as you enter the park gets me every time. Photos don't really capture the experience very well, unfortunately.
This park is full of wonderful mature trees like this.

I read a book for an hour with this view. It was delightfully serene much of the time. Thankfully I was pretty much ready to leave when the grass cutters started up nearby.

A particular attraction at this time in the year is the wisteria. We've got neighbours who have some of this hanging over several metres of their fence, but this is another level higher!

More trees!

On the way home I stopped at a fruit and veg store close to our station and took a road I don't normally travel. I found these radiant Bush lilies, that apparently love the shade (the road is between multi-storey buildings and doesn't get much sun).

This is all a part of a deliberate attempt to not just get exercise and enjoy the beautiful weather but do what Paul exhorted the Philippians to do:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ch. 4 vs 8 , ESV).


13 April, 2021

Waiting expectantly

"Be still and know that I am God" is a Bible phrase that's been known to me since I was a child. It's taken on new significance in the past two years.

At the end of 2019 I wrote here:

That verse was given to me on a little card at the spiritual retreat I went to in May. It's a verse I've known since childhood, but only recently have I realised the deeper meaning of it: God is way above my ability to understand him, I need to continually relax my desire to control things and people around me and let God be God. I need to continually remember that worry doesn't help and God actually tells us not to be anxious (Philippians 4:6). I can walk away from my work and leave anything unresolved in God's hand. I can go to sleep at night and leave all my concerns with him.

Then in November last year I wrote here about my frustration at not being able to make plans. In that post I wrote, "Right now, for us, it’s time to wait, and trust in the Lord with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding and God will direct our paths (paraphrase from Proverbs 3:5-6)." 

Sadly, things seems even more uncertain now than they did five months ago. Every time we make a longer-range plan, it seems to be dashed.

On Friday this Scripture verse came up on my daily desk calendar:

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly. (Ps. 5:3 NIV)

Oh, we've been waiting expectantly, for what feels like a long time! I like that phrase, though, it turns "waiting" into something that's more active. It appears in Luke also (3:15), when the Jews were wondering if John the Baptist was possibly the Messiah. Japanese has a great phrase for this: εΎ…γ‘ζœ›γ‚€ (machi nozomu) literally "wait" and "hope". In other places the English uses phrases like "wait in hope" (see Ps. 33:20, Isaiah 51:5, and Micah 7:7). Psalm 130:5 puts it even strongly: "my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope".

And I then this morning I read this article that uses the metaphor of jellyfish and how they go with the sea current. The author writes:

I think at times God just wants us to wait, too. Could we surrender our agenda or our anxiety about the next? Could we stop striving and just “go with Him”? If we could learn to float like jelly and go with His flow, we may just reach the destination in a more peaceful and enjoyable way. 

And she finishes with this prayer:

Father, You are so creative. . . Help us to stop striving and be at peace in the process. Remind us to relax and wait. Help us to not be in a hurry for Your answer but to soak in the time of waiting. Amen.

I know we're not alone at the frustration of this period. Many of us are waiting, and the waiting is wearying. But can we stop our striving? Can we be still and know God at this time? I know it's my daily challenge right now, and probably for some time to come. How about you?

06 April, 2021

Spring 2021 camping trip

It's about time that I got to this post, it's been nearly a week since we got back from our camping trip! We went to another prefecture (Ibaraki) we've never been to before, that makes 21 prefectures out of 47 that we've stayed at least one night in over the last 20 years (we've camped in 16, see my post from last year about our big goal).

This campsite was a complete contrast to last time, in that in October we camped in the middle of the mountains north-west of Tokyo. It was like camping in the middle of a complicated origami piece. This time we camped next to a large lake and not far from the ocean. We had a lot of horizon and almost no mountains. It was our first time in Ibaraki and we were surprised at how flat it was, at least the southern bit that we travelled through. We were also surprised at how easy it was to get there. Just over two hours from our house, most of that distance on expressways. Our campsite in October was closer, as the crow flies, but took about the same time due to weaving in-between mountains. We're far more used to camping on mountains in Japan (after all around 80% of Japan is mountains).

The Japanese tradition at this time of year is to have picnics under sakura (cherry blossom trees) when they are blooming. We went one better: we camped for three nights under one!

Campsites in Japan vary with how structured they are. Many have set spaces that you have to fit within, this one was nicely free of that and it felt like we were in a park. It also meant we could spread out. With ten of us camping, we had three tents and our usual tarp for a living area. We had four adults, and five teens and a pre-teen. This stage of camping with friends of our kids is different and really fun!

We've camped beside several lakes in the last ten years, but never as close as this. I could have thrown a tennis ball from my airbed into the lake (and I don't have a long throw).

Weather makes a big difference to any camping trip. We had quite a variety. After rain most of the first night, the next morning looked like this:

This is a clam fisherman. It was intriguing to watch him work, though he didn't seem to get much for his efforts. This lake, Lake Hinuma, is brackish. Our campsite was only 10km from the sea and the lake is somewhat tidal. Apparently it is a special environment where there are plants and wildlife that aren't so common in other parts of Japan, these clams included.

There were a couple of fearless swans that seemed to be very local. While we were cooking dinner on the second night, our friends got some lovely sunset photos with these swans around the other side of the campsite.

What a great looking kitchen! Cooking dinner: traditional yakisoba (stir-fried pork and noodles). Unfortunately one of these slipped and fell into the dirt just before serving, so we didn't get to eat it all and had to make do with filling up on dessert instead (marshmallows and chocolate banana boats).

We might have missed the sunset (the next day was too cloudy), but we did get a nice moon-rise:

Below are some pretty blossoms next to the tents. There was room to play frisbee and other sports, but this campsite lacked a little in the area of "things to do". We made our own fun, with lots of reading, walking, and riding (two campers brought bikes).

Flowering plum:
Spring starflower:


Camellia tree just coming to the end of its best season.

Breakfast on the last morning was essentially leftovers. But we didn't do badly at all (we and our camping friends) have a long history of feeding teens, so we weren't found lacking.

The campsite had three main negatives:

1. Camping close to water is beautiful, but can backfire. The wind blew strongly off the lake almost all of our second day. It was like a giant air conditioner, but not in a nice way, because it wasn't warm enough for an air conditioner. Many of us got a lot of reading done in our tents this day. I started and finished a long novel on this trip, I think that's a first (for a short trip like this).

The "rubber ducky" onsen. Literally
dozens of rubber duckies decorated
the common areas of this bath.
2. No shower. Showers seem to be a hard thing to find in reasonably priced campsites close to built-up areas in Japan. The compensation was a trip to a local onsen (hot springs) on the second night. The kids loved it so much they begged to go back on the third night. Three of the adults didn't go again (it was an hour round-trip).

3. Though we'd been told it was okay to camp where we did, a local photographer came before sunrise each morning and set up close to one of our tents, waking some of our campers. Not nice.

One good thing about camping with teens is not having to supervise the kids all the time. On the first full day the four adults went for a walk to a local park. Alas the one who suggested the walk (me) didn't checked if the park was open. It's not uncommon to find attractions shut on a Monday in Japan and this park certainly wasn't open. Not the most scenic of walks, but it was good to stretch our legs. This little roadside garden bed was worth capturing, though.

And a teenager, who will not be named, was climbing in this tree on the first afternoon when a rather large branch broken and deposited him on the ground, about six feet below. Thankfully he'd been imitating a sloth by hanging below the branch, so landed flat on his back, rather than in a more awkward position. Still, it was rather nasty to watch him try to recover his breath. Over a week later he's still suffering some generalised pain, though, so he'll probably see a doctor tomorrow.

The first three months of this year have been very stressful for me—you've probably picked that up if you've read between the lines of my few blog posts. I was frustrated by the wind on our second day at camp, but it did force me to "stay still" and rest, which is probably exactly what I needed. As it turns out,  this is also something of a metaphor for our current situation. David and I have been limited in many ways at the moment (by the pandemic and other personal matters), and in many respects just have to be still and live one day at a time. So I am very grateful for this short getaway, it was a very necessary break in the stress that we've been facing.

We've also decided that three-night camps are a more efficient use of time. It means that we get two whole days of "chilling". We certainly came home from this trip feeling relaxed. I had to get back to work at my desk the day after we returned home (while everyone else in the house was still on holidays), and I can't say that that was very easy, or that I did a good job of it!

So now Spring Break is over for CAJ and we've got only nine weeks left of the school year. We're not sure what camping adventures we'll get up to this summer. We've got ideas . . . but no firm plans. So stay tuned (to get to any new prefectures we'll have to drive a fair bit further, so that might not be on the cards until all our boys have left home).

25 March, 2021

Lily pads

In May last year I wrote about Lily Pads, a concept that a psychologist I've seen in Australia introduced me and two of my close friends to. It often comes up in conversations with them, we ask one another: what lily pads do you have coming up? That is, what things have you got coming up that you are looking forward to and will rejuvenate you?

Last year I discovered that even tiny lily pads were helpful: the joy of deciding what I was going to bake on the weekend, watching a TV series after a long day of work, taking the time to appreciate the season, or a simple quiet breakfast with my husband. My current lily pads include editing the novel of a friend in my spare time: I look forward to doing that on Saturdays, and during other pockets of spare time.

The value in a lily pad is having something to look forward to, big or small. I've found that that illusive concept of "looking forward to" very important in getting through rough days. Of course the lily pad itself has value, it's a place where you can rest a little. What lily pads have you got coming up? What lily pads have been helpful in the last year?

On Sunday, though, we have a bigger lily pad: a camping trip. We've been looking forward to this since we last packed up our tent in October! As the weather got colder, we longed for the warmer weather that would make camping more attractive. (Yes, I know people do camp in winter, and in the snow, but we've discovered the hard way that takes a lot more effort than warmer-weather camping.) 

We haven't had many other large lily pads since Christmas, but instead a lot of hard work, compounded with some very challenging family situations. So it's time to take a break.

We're venturing into a new prefecture, one we've never camped or stayed in before: Ibaraki, only a couple of hours drive north-east of here, about 10km inland from the Pacific coast. The weather looks pretty good, temperatures especially. David and I, and our youngest son are going, with our camping friends and their two kids, plus some extra teenage friends. We're looking forward to some great fun as well as kicking back and relaxing.

This lily pad was threatened by the recently-ended state of emergency (SOE). When David first rang to book a few weeks ago, they were a bit leery because the campsite is in a different prefecture and we were coming from Tokyo where there is a higher infection rate. We were very thankful that the state of emergency was ended last weekend, because the campsite now is happy to have us for the full three nights we wanted.

With plans continuing to be difficult to make, it seems easier to not plan anything that means travel. But getting out of Tokyo into the countryside and away from our usual routines is so refreshing for us, that this is important for staying healthy and is worth the effort (our camping lists make it fairly low-stress, as does the fact that David and I have our specialities: he does the gear and I do the menu and food). Oh, and the boy who isn't going camping with us: he's looking forward to having the house all to himself for four days!

So, all you vicarious campers out there: get ready for a camping blog post late next week.

18 March, 2021

Come, follow me

I've started three blog posts in the last week or so, and they're all circling around the same theme: letting go and trusting God, not just at a head level, but at a heart level. So, I've decided the best thing is to do the work to combine them.

It's been a challenge to trust God with everything in recent weeks and months. Wow, what a confession to make! To trust him with everything we hold dear, though we don't know what he's doing and why; to trust him, though we can't make the plans we wish we could make. I guess that's always a challenge for us humans. And this pandemic hasn't helped. 

This post I wrote only ten weeks ago shows me that our plans, that I admitted were foggy, have become even foggier.

The struggles I've had this year have been mostly circling my kids, my nearly-grown boys. Who thought that parenting could be so hard? (I've been saying that for over 20 years now!) They are no longer my little boys, who were "relatively" easy to keep corralled; whose pain was easier to fix.

If you've got younger kids, you probably don't want to hear me say that the problems get bigger and harder to "fix" as they get older. I'm under no illusions that parenting my little boys was easy. No, I found that really challenging too. So this isn't a "better-worse" thing here. Just saying that parenting older kids has been throwing us some major "googlies" recently (this is a cricket metaphor, others would say "curve ball"). But the problems are such that I can't reveal them to you in the public space of my blog. So I have to settle for metaphors and generalisations, so read between the lines, if you dare!

Mark records Jesus meeting a rich man who had run up to him and asked what he must "do to inherit eternal life?" (10:17 ESV). "And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, '. . . come, follow me'" (v. 21). The story shows the man to be someone who would have been considered good: a rule-keeper. But he gave up his quest for eternal life when Jesus said he should sell everything he had (and give it to the poor) in order to follow Jesus.

One thing it seems we can plan 
is a camping trip...so bring it on 
(in 10 days time)!

In her book Come Closer, Jane Rubietta wrote: "To be really rich, we unclench our fists, open our hands, and reach for Jesus. He promised us life, abundant life, and we create room for that life when we let go. Whatever is in your grip, recognize it. Notice why you hold that person, that role, that ambition, so tightly . . . let [Christ] have you, all of you—your hopes for the future, your pain from the past, your roles and rules and relationships" (p.44).

I certainly recognise some of these things in my own life. My desire to hold onto plans for the future, to keep control over how things pan out. To hold onto how I'd like my sons to live their lives. I like to be in control of some things. Most of us do.

It's not a bad thing to control when you go to bed, or when you get up. Or to seek to control whether you are a responsible employee or student. It's not a bad thing to be passionate about your job. Neither is it a bad thing to strive for a balance of work and rest, or to make plans for when you'll next see your family. But sometimes these things can trip us up, and can hinder us from following Jesus. Sometimes you simply can't control the things you want to, what then? Jesus' statement was to one man, but is also to us. Will we "follow him" wherever he leads us? Though whatever he brings our way?

Last week I read this in Joshua 10: "And the LORD said to Joshua, 'Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands" (v. 8). Note the verb: "given". It's already happened and they hadn't even gone into battle yet!

"We trust in his future plans and purposes through Christ because we know that he has already achieved them, eternally". (A Time to Hope, Naomi Reed)

During prayer and conversations with my husband in the last month, we've pretty much given over to God a number of things that I couldn't have imagined only a few months ago. It's like God has drilled down on us, hemming us in, and been teaching us—"You can't assume anything about the future."

So I'm really fighting to stay in the here-and-now, and as one who likes to plan and dream about the future, it's tough. But I know that the God who already knew the outcome of Joshua's battle with the kings of the Amorites, is the same God who knows the outcome of the various battles we're facing today. What a comfort that it!

If I'm going to be hemmed in, then the safest place to be is with the Lord, after all "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Prov. 18:10 ESV).

This is part three of my series based "15 invitations by Jesus to come" as written about in Jane Rubietta's book Come Closer.

09 March, 2021

International perspective on life in the pandemic

Quick summary of our current pandemic situation*

In early January the Japanese government called a state of emergency for Tokyo and ten other prefectures. This was to March 7, but has been extended for Tokyo and some other prefectures until the 21st.

On 3 March, the 7-day average of new cases/day: 

• Japan 1,030
• UK 7,173
• US 64,409
• Australia 8 

(It's interesting to note that both the UK and US numbers are falling but Japan and Australia—though admittedly the numbers are tiny in Australia, so it's a poor comparison—are holding steady at present, possibly related to the roll-out of vaccines?) 

New visas for Japan aren’t being processed, so this is holding up a number of short-term and new, long-term workers from joining us here in Japan.

CAJ has continued to start an hour later to enable most students to commute at a less-crowded time. This will shift back to a normal time as soon as the state of emergency is lifted.

Our Japanese church has been online since early January.

Our personal international perspective

As we talk with people in Australia, we realise that we have an interesting international perspective. It’s amazing how this global disaster is being experienced in vastly different ways around the world. In February, Wendy chatted with a missionary who is in the UK on home assignment. The restrictions they are living under there are very tight and quite depressing.

By contrast, talking with Australian friends, there is almost an unreality about it all now, with little threat being felt in much of the country. We realised with a shock recently that Queenslanders have made it through the majority of the last 12 months without needing to wear masks!

But the border restrictions are strict in Australia. As a result it would be challenging for us to go there right now. Yet we have American friends who have gone to their country and back, and had to quarantine only when they returned to Japan (with minimal restrictions in their own home).

Japan has many less infections than the US or UK, but more than Australia and the experience is different again. Though we’ve been in the midst of a state of emergency in Tokyo since the start of the year, the rules are vague and nowhere near as strict as Melbourne has experienced. That is partly due to the constitution that limits the powers of the government. However, 99.99% of people over five are wearing masks in public. Many churches are meeting online, even though regulations don’t insist that they do. But schools are still open.

Where the limits are strict in Japan are with allowing new people into the country. That has an impact on organisations like OMF and potentially CAJ, if they want to employ new, overseas staff in August. It also means that many meetings, workshops, and consultations that were previously held in person are being held online these days.

Vaccines are going to change things again, and we wait to see how that pans out. They’ve started vaccinating medical workers here, we wait to hear how the next stage will roll out.

*We sent this out in our prayer letter on the weekend and I thought it might be something useful to put on here too. Cross-cultural workers tend to be more aware of international matters than people living in their own countries, it's just a fact of life when we're brushing shoulders with people from a variety of cultures.

24 February, 2021

"Come forth"

We had a rough week last week. I can't share the details—it's not my story to tell—but it involved the death of someone we knew. I've been a bit lost for words, but I did know that, in the midst of my current busy-ness I needed to find time and space to think about this loss and that writing is one way that I do that. So I took some time on Monday to go to a park and think about the week that's past (when the weather was warm and the rest of my family were home on a long weekend). But the writing I did then is not something I can share here.

Monday was an unusually spring-like day, even
if many of the trees are still leafless.

But I also remembered that I'd decided to work my way through a book called Come Closer by writing about one verse a month (corresponding to one chapter in the book). And it turns out that the next chapter in that book is about death. About the story of Lazarus' resurrection:

Jesus said, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:43.)

Oh, don't we all wish that the Lord would say that for loved ones we've lost? We groan in this death and pain-marred world.

We don't want it in our lives, we try to deny that it happens. But can we allow it to turn our eyes to the truth? That we were made for Eden, a perfect world, with no sin or death. That our longings for an unmarred world are really longing for that, and for life everlasting in heaven. Read God's words:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. (Revelations 21:3–5 ESV)

Right now we don't know the answer to the "Whys?" And that's not comfortable. But for those of us who follow the God of the Bible, we do know that there is a future in which all of this pain will be gone. And for those who have gone before us, that their pain is now all in the past. That is something to hold on to, even as we mourn their loss to us.

I'm also left with the question, like last time I wrote on this "Come" series—how can I live abundant life now, even as I get weighed down by the griefs of this life? I think one key is found in one of my favourite passages. Looking to Jesus—

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that
you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1–3 ESV)

Music played a part in my reflections at the park on Monday. Here's one song I missed, though: