01 March, 2017

Gathering my thoughts about Lent

I'm going to the annual retreat for women in ministry just after lunch today, I'm driving our eight-seater van full of women keen to retreat with each other and with the Lord. It is always a precious time of fellowship and worship and I'm looking forward to it, but I've got some things on my plate that I'm trying to get done before I left. Writing a thoughtful blog post wasn't one of those, but I have blog post just straining itself to be written and I daren't ignore that.

Today is the start of Lent. Before I came to Japan that wasn't something on my horizon at all. I grew up in the Presbyterian church and with almost no liturgy or liturgical traditions at all. I went to a Lutheran school for primary school, but somehow those traditions celebrated at school didn't infiltrate my life much.

But when we came to Japan that changed a bit as we interacted with people from many different backgrounds. Probably more so at CAJ than in OMF, but still we've encountered quite a variety. Now there are people around us who strictly or not-so-strictly celebrate Advent and Lent and it makes me think. It has, actually seemed to become quite "trendy" among many evangelicals to do such things. I don't know if that is just because my social circle has widened beyond Presbyterians and Baptists, or if that is actually the case.

So it was interesting to come across an article today about this from someone who doesn't think this rise in Lenten observance is such a good idea. The title of the article is "Repent of Lent: How Spiritual Disciplines can be Bad for Your Soul" I'm not totally enamoured by the article, there tends to be some repetition of pet phrases (that's the editor in me coming in there), but the author does have some interesting things to say:
It also seems as though there is a growing cultural awareness of “giving up” things for Lent. Lent has a certain cache; It’s cool, like a cleanse, only involving God, and prayer. Our tolerant society broadly embraces asceticism, at least the temporary sort that doesn’t hurt too much, or just enough whip your body or soul into shape.
This cuts deep: 
 The spiritual-minded experience fasting positively because it conforms to our default position about spiritual matters. Deep down, we are all born as Pharisees, believing that sin and salvation are a matter of discipline, something within our control. 
And he expands it later in the article, saying that when we engage in the penitence of Lent we tend to underestimate our own sin. He also says that we can also easily mistaken the purpose of Jesus' suffering as he fasted. He didn't suffer as a model for us, but as a substitute, taking on our sins.

Instead we should follow Jesus' model of suffering for others. We should seek to follow the simple, yet impossible-without-God's-help command “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34 NIV).

I like the way the article ends:
You are free indeed to fast, or not to fast. This year, consider repenting of Lent. Prepare for Easter by loving your neighbor until it hurts, and embracing the love — and forgiveness — of Christ at Calvary. Trust me, you’ll need it.
That challenges me. Especially as I go away with a bunch of other women for a few days. Loving them...

I saw another article written more from a Confessional point of view (the tradition I come from). It also grates a little on me (extolling "our" tradition a little too much, it seems), but at the same time clarifies some things and has some good points.

I really must move on to other things that need to be done before I leave, barring a couple ore thoughts. 

Here is another article with food for thought about Christians borrowing traditions.

And if you think I am a theologian, up for rigorous debate on this topic you would be wrong. I am merely putting up my thoughts here for others to ponder, as one who is trying to be a thoughtful Christian, thrust outside of the traditions that she has grown up with and still holds to (though I don't go to a Presbyterian church in Japan).

28 February, 2017

Today's language mayhem

The person who came up with this translation "ship shortage",
might have been having a mayhem of a day too.  This was
the reason given for our flight back to Tokyo being
cancelled last June.
This morning I was head-down-tail-up trying to get all the articles for the next magazine issue finalised before going away again tomorrow.

Finalising an article means making sure every detail is taken care of before I hand the articles over to the designers: from the obvious mistakes the proofreader might pick up, to checking on communications with authors about details they are concerned about, to images I've received from authors or a myriad of other small matters that can become big matters if not dealt with at this point.

This is not my favourite part of editing. I prefer content editing where one is looking at bigger picture issues.

So in order to do this end of editing for the magazine I need to work myself into a certain focus. The sort of focus that doesn't allow me to quickly jump in and out.

This afternoon I had my semi-regular language exchange meeting. A time when I get together with two Japanese friends and we try to talk in Japanese and English, helping each other learn. 

Unfortunately I did not allow myself sufficient transition time. I jumped almost straight from editing onto the train and into chatting. My "Japanese brain" simply didn't snap into gear. Especially as they wanted to hear about our son's wrestling! And that is something that I almost never talk about in Japanese, so my vocab is pretty limited. Not to mention that they had a lot of questions about specifics that are challenging to explain, even in English.

So I went from thinking about a sentence like this:
US authors may object to “maths” being used in place of “math” in their writing, just as Commonwealth-background authors might protest about “cilantro” replacing “coriander” (the leaf, used in cooking) in something they’ve written. 
To trying to figure out how to explain "pinning" in Japanese (not knowing the word for shoulder blade and forgetting what verb I could use for "holding someone down").

Thankfully my language exchange partners are very forgiving and don't mind if we end up doing more English than Japanese. It is I who tends to beat myself up.

So we ended up talking about all sorts of things in a mixed-up way. Not the best for language exchange, but still fun.

Something that struck me later as I walked home, was the number of times I talked about "the feeling" of a word. Words like "seedy" and "balmy". Even talking about a "white elephant" and how it isn't just something that is useless, but it carries the feeling of an encumbrance.

The "feeling" of a word is very important. It's something that you only get when you are becoming familiar with a language. For example, when you put  the word I've used in the title of this blog post: "mayhem" into the thesaurus, you come up with words that are similar, but not necessarily quite the same. For example, "violence" and "destruction".

Similarly in Japanese. I only can think of poor examples, but I learned the word for energetic or lively: "nigiyaka" when I was at language school and applied it to my son, but was immediately corrected. "That is only used for events or situations, not people," I was told. The word "gambatte" is a Japanese word that isn't easily translated, but means something like "do your best" or "try as hard as you can". The feeling of the word is one of encouragement, with an edge of stoicism to it. Something you don't easily get with those English translations I've given.

So anyway, I've learned that I have good days and bad in Japanese. Probably I would have more good days if my job required me to work more often in Japanese. But I've learned to accept that sometimes I'll feel like I'm flying through and other times it is more like a less-than-graceful trek through a bog.

27 February, 2017

Early birthday present

I've been busy writing today. I summarised a six-page list of prayer points from our field into one page for more general distribution. Then I wrote the majority of our prayer letter (and laid it out). Aside from a bit of housework, grocery shopping, and some emailing, that took me most of the day from 8.30 to 4pm.
In the middle of all that the doorbell rang and my early birthday present arrived. It was super difficult to hold off playing around with this baby while I got my work done! I'm looking forward to finding time soon to have fun with this "new" second-hand camera.

26 February, 2017

A quiet weekend

It's been a quiet weekend, which has been weird, but very welcome after six straight weekends of wrestling.
The name of these harks back to when our boys were
younger. I modified Jam Drops to be Monster Eye
biscuits because not everyone around here likes
jam, but everyone likes chocolate.
Two of our boys were away on a youth group camp, leaving us at home with our 14 y.o. That was weird.

He was the boy who didn't wrestle this year, so we took him out to a restaurant of his choice. We went to a Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant at our local shopping centre called "Farmer's Market". It's a great place that we've been a few times. At about AU$17.50 for lunch (and 70 minutes to eat) we did pretty well, especially with how much he ate. 
What was especially amusing was a five y.o. boy on the table next to us. He couldn't stop staring at us and I finally talked to him. He was fascinated by how much our son was eating. We chatted for a bit, then his family had to leave. By that time we were trying on a few English words. We tried out "See you later" and he asked, "Will I really? Do you come here often?" When his parents finally got him to leave he came back several times to say goodbye. It was hilarious.

At 4 I had a video chat with my life-long friend, Mel. That was, as usual, wonderful and life-giving. We're already making plans to spend face-to-face time when I'm back in Australia next year at this time helping our eldest to settle into university (Lord willing).

Not much else happened yesterday. It was wonderful.

Today we went to church as usual. We're now dealing with "fame" as various people stop us and congratulate us on our son's win. The first thing our pastor said to us when we arrived was, "Is your son coming today?" Well he wasn't, but our pastor wanted to tell congratulate him in front of everyone!

After church I met with my Taiwanese friend to learn a new Bible story and review the previous three we've learnt (see here about how this started last November). Unfortunately our Malaysian friend has moved and couldn't join us, but I continue to be amazed at how fun it is to go over these stories that I'm so familiar with, and help someone else to learn them. A very different feel to an intellectual Bible study.

It was a gorgeous day and I rode home as usual along the local rivers. The temperature was about 12C with no wind and a clear sky. Plum blossoms are appearing around the place. I've seen them on people's FB pages, but not had a chance myself to stop and take a photo on a nice day. Here is what I snapped on the way home today.

After lunch I had my usual time-out in bed, reading, playing games etc. Then I came downstairs and did some baking. I tried a recipe that's been in my typed recipe book since I left home (during university holidays more than 20 years ago I typed out a lot of my mum's favourite recipes, and I'm still using many of them). I don't believe I've ever made this cake: Gugelhupf. It's turned out well, though I didn't have a special Bundt pan to use. I hope the boys enjoy it. If it's okay I'll be taking some with me to the women's retreat I'm going to on Wednesday. I also made the Monster Eye biscuits that I put at the top of this post.

Then the rest of our family came home and all of a sudden we have a full table and and full washing machine. The fridge, however, is considerably more empty...

25 February, 2017

Comfort on an anniversary

Today is an anniversary. The anniversary of the day my father-in-law died last year. The context of that day was that I was in Bangkok when my husband was woken at 3.30am with the news that his father had passed from this life. I woke a while later to a text from him with the news. Though I my father-in-law was not an intimate part of my life, it hit me hard that day.

But it's not the only grief that happened last year. See The colander of expat life 

This is one of my most precious memories of my father-in-law. Just after
David and I were pronounced man and wife I called him "dad" for the first
time. He asked me to repeat that, for the pleasure of hearing it!
I hesitate to write about grief, because what do I know about it? I've never had someone I'm very close to die. I haven't even had a miscarriage (that I know of). I don't work in a country up close and personal with trauma or grief. I haven't lived in a war-torn country or even a country where my personal safety has been in jeopardy (barring the time in 2011 when we had a nuclear threat over our heads).

However my life has not been without grief, it is, in fact, an underlying source of stress for missionaries like me who value deep relationships. See another post from last year: Missionaries and Grief

But as I wrote in October in Empty Chairs, it isn't the magnitude of the grief that can be the problem, it is how you deal with it. Minimising it doesn't help. Naming the griefs and recognising them does.

This post I've just seen this month talks about naming the griefs and how that, in the context of giving it over to God can be a precious gift.

So here, I'm naming the fact that this time last year we suffered a significant grief in our extended family. It hasn't gone without notice that David's dad is gone. It's something that I periodically dwell on as life barrels onwards. As I do the other griefs that continue to linger in my heart: especially the lost friendships (primarily due to distance—people moving away or me moving away from others). 

And I take comfort from God's promise to those of us who love him:
Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22 NASB).

24 February, 2017

Crazy season

Sports might be over for the time being, but we've unwittingly entered the crazy Feb-March season. 

This morning it was a mess in our house as two boys prepared to go away for the weekend to the middle school youth group camp (one as a leader, the other as a camper) and the third boy prepared for the eighth grade Tokyo Tour (a modified one-day scavenger hunt designed to help eighth graders learn about team work).

This weekend will be a little oasis in the midst of the craziness as we'll have just one boy at home. I think it's the first time ever that we'll have our middle son on his own all weekend!

Then next Wednesday I go away to the annual women in ministry retreat for two nights.

Two weeks later our middle son goes on the two-day Kyoto trip that all eighth graders at CAJ look forward to. 

Before he returns, David and our eldest will leave for the eight-night senior ministry trip to Thailand.

Just a few days after they return we're planning to go on an epic camping trip with some other staff families from CAJ.

As I said, crazy! Not to mention that I received an email today that said it's only about 60 school days until our eldest son graduates from high school. Arrgggghhh.

So this weekend will be mostly quiet, though things are already crowding into it. All good things, but how much can a person take?

I wasn't kidding when I said that life was moving right along here. Dwelling too long on last week couldn't work.

23 February, 2017

Reflections on wrestling: this season and a high school career

I'm sorry for so many wrestling posts. This last week has been big in so many ways.

I have many thoughts about the last week. But also about the six years that our eldest son has been a wrestler. It's been hard to get them all together, but important to me in order to be able to move on.

And move on, I must, because life is moving on quickly here. We all found that out yesterday as school started up again after a four-day weekend. Our "champion" received lots of congratulations, but that didn't stop the teachers reminding him and his teammates that there was lots of schoolwork waiting for them. So, I promise that I'll try to keep up with that and stay away from this topic in the near future!

Here are a few facts from our son's schoolboy wrestling career:
  • He's unbeaten this season (something between 25 and 30 bouts, there is some debate about the number, especially as two were forfeits in duals)
  • He's not been pinned since 9th grade
  • Amazingly, in six seasons, he's never missed a match or training session due to illness or injury, I don't know what to say about this, except that I'm thankful
  • He's wrestled with three clubs in addition to CAJ—two in Tokyo, and one in Australia
  • He's wrestled in three countries, including four capitals in Australia (Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth [the latter just a training session]).
  • We won't forget this young man quickly. He's been our son's strongest rival
    this season and over the last two seasons, they've gone head-to-head
    more than a dozen times.
  • He twice won Australian national championships for his age during our year in Australia ('14-'15) (though we are very aware that it is a minor sport there and the field of competition was tiny)

It's easy to look at our son this season and think that he's had an easy run. But I have to tell you that, while the execution of wrestling has come relatively easily for our son, it hasn't been at all easy for him in many ways.
  • this is the only season he's won all the way through (aside from in Australia where the competition was not so fierce)
  • he didn't even get to go to the Far East competition in 9th grade because he was our second-best wrestler in his weight class
  • not being here during his 10th grade year was hard, he yearned to be wrestling at CAJ that year
  • last year he was beaten in the championship round of the Kanto Finals in a physically painful bout that lasted less than a minute
  • last year he came sixth at Far East, below people he'd beaten during the season
  • often he's struggled to maintain a strong focus right through to the end of the season, this is a maturity thing and it's encouraging to see that he managed it this year
  • CAJ's training has been difficult and pushed him both physically and mentally to the edge often
The mental part of wrestling has probably been the hardest for our son, and the hardest part of parenting him through this. I've never been very fearful about injuries, but watching him and trying to support him through the emotional ups, but especially the downs, has been hard. He's often lost concentration at the end of the season and been beaten by competitors who wouldn't normally beat him. When this happens at the end of a season, it leaves a bad feeling in your stomach for months. I was fearful that that would happen this time too, especially when the expectations were so high and it was his last season, hence the profound relief when he didn't sell himself short this time. I didn't cry when he won. I'm not sure why, but perhaps it was because I was already spent with the emotions leading up to it.

Being a passionate wrestling mum
It's an understatement to say that I get very caught up in all of this. Wrestling season messes with both my sleep and my digestion. This last week has been especially physically and emotionally challenging and will take some recovering from. I love the highs and the thrills, and hate the lows that inevitably come in the week afterwards, but I wouldn't swap it for anything. I'd hate my sons to be involved in pursuits that I didn't care to watch (maybe golf or chess?). Or perhaps if they were involved I'd become interested anyway? 

I certainly didn't anticipate becoming a passionate wrestling mum, wrestling never entered my childhood. It simply isn't a prominent sport in a country where sports have a religious status for many. But that first season in seventh grade reeled me in as I learned lots about the sport (thanks to coaches who were willing to answer our many questions), and then at the end of the season one of our son's coaches encouraged us all by saying that our son had potential as a wrestler (which was hard for us to see at the time). By then our son was hooked and so we were all in it together, for better or for worse.

I mentioned on Tuesday that this sport has helped our son through various difficulties he has faced, that was especially noticeable when we went to Australia for a year. Being able to be involved in wrestling there made an enormous difference when he was missing Japan and CAJ intensely. People have applauded us as parents in the amount of support and encouragement we've given him, but I think that we've just done whatever we could to help him pursue his passion. I believe most good parents will do this, if it is within their means to do so.

Meeting other parents
I love hanging out with other parents at wrestling meets, especially mums—we share a special bond as the mums-of-wrestlers. So it was a special joy this time to meet some of the mums from other schools. 

In the photo is the mum of one of our son's strongest competitors this year. She came over to where I was sitting and introduced herself. She figured out who I was because she saw me sitting right next to the mat and cheering for him in the final. She's got three boys and they're all wrestlers, including one just a year older than our youngest. A bond indeed. We'll probably be cheering one another on for years to come.

I was able to both weep with and congratulate another mum from St Mary's who I've seen regularly at wrestling meets since middle school (her son previous attended CAJ in elementary school). Her son persevered against a very challenging opponent to win his weight class, but was devastated when he sustained a knee injury which meant he couldn't participate in the second half of the tournament.

A third mum from the same school saw me doing cross stitch late on Friday and came over later to chat. Her son also had prevailed and won his weight category.

On Sunday morning we encountered yet another couple at the hotel from St Mary's (there were a lot of parents from there). Their son hadn't gotten the result he'd hoped for and was very disappointed.

The bond forged with all these parents was brief, but enjoyable. A bond that is rooted in watching our children struggle with this challenging sport, then sitting at these meets for hours each weekend. Celebrating their wins and mourning their losses—over many years. 

Qualities wrestling instills
I wrote a blog post back in 2012 at the end of our son's first ever wrestling season. I noted, even back then, some qualities I could see wrestling was developing in our son:
  • sportsmanship
  • ability to cope with losing
  • perseverance
  • ability to overcome frustration
  • patience
  • compassion
Sportsmanship is a strong value in wrestling. Lots of handshaking, limited expressions of emotion on the mat, and no questioning the ref (this season they've cracked down on that for the coaches too).

Coping with losing when wrestling is such a personal thing is hard. Having to cope with it in this arena when the consequences aren't so big is a good way to learn how to deal with the emotions that come with it.

Perseverance. This sport takes a long time to learn and become good at. First year wrestlers are rarely good, and frequently look terrible. It is only by persevering at this difficult sport for a lengthy period of time that one gets the necessary experience under his or her belt to cope with challenging competitors. The flexibility in dealing with different styles and situations and knowing what to do in varied situations, these things come through lots of experience on the mat.

Ability to overcome frustration. It gets frustrating out there on the mat. You get stuck in positions you don't want. The other person doesn't do what you want them to do. Your opponent sometimes gets points awarded to them that you don't think they've earned. Sometimes you think you'd done your best, but it wasn't good enough and your coach yells at you. You try what you think is the best move and it fails. Lots of frustration. Learning how to overcome that is a great life skill.

Patience. Oh, the number of times the coach yelled, "You've got lots of time. Be patient." Working an opponent into the position you want him in before you make your move often takes time. Knowing when to move is important. But on a grander scale, being patient through the years as you develop the skills necessary to win more and more often.

Compassion. This isn't something teenage boys are necessarily good at. I think that wrestling has helped develop this in our son. He knows his strength and is very gentle with those he knows aren't up to going toe-to-toe with him.

Respect for others in authority, your opponent, and yourself is another thing that is highly promoted by the CAJ coach. This is so valuable. They have to call their coach "Coach Yaegashi" or "Sir" and there are penalties for disobeying him in this and other areas, like many, many burpees (combination pushups and squats).

Humility Being willing to admit that the coach has a better idea of what you need to do than you do, is something that many boys don't get. But those who do listen and learn become good wrestlers.

Risk taking. This is something that also is hard to get a good balance in, especially when wrestlers are a year or two into their "careers". Early on they can be quite cavalier, but then they learn more caution, often too much caution, and sell themselves short. Knowing when to take a risk and being willing to do it is challenging.

Underlying a lot of this is self control. Oh boy, do they have to develop that. The ones that don't, don't go far in this sport. It's not just self control when you win or lose, it's self control in what you eat, how much sleep you get, how you conduct yourself on and off the mat, and during training. We continue to pray that the self control he's developed in the sport will spill over into other areas of his life. We're seeing glimpses of it as he matures, and looking forward to much more as he continues to grow into a man.

As an aside: in that 2012 post I've linked to above I mentioned that our son pinned another wrestler that week who'd become distressed, that young man was also a Far East champion this year (different weight class). It's been amazing to watch them both grow and mature through the years.

Relationships with our boys
As I noted in my pictorial reflections yesterday, this has been a family affair. We've all been involved. We've spectated and all our boys have wrestled, David's even learned about coaching the sport. We've videoed, supported not just our boys but other wrestlers and their parents too. We've been present when others couldn't (and relayed almost real-time news to them). It's a common topic around our dinner table and when we're talking to boys late at night, especially at this time of year. This sport has given us a commonality. I love that I've been able to really get into it, because it gives me an entry into their lives, and a way to connect with teenage boys is not to be sneezed at.

So, all in all, can you tell that I'm satisfied? That I'm happy that our son has developed a passion for this unlikely sport. A sport that he would almost certainly not have encountered if we'd remained in Australia. I'm also so thankful that we've been able to be as involved as we have been. Our work, health, and finances have allowed at least one of us to be present at almost all of his meets. What joy this has given us, and not just because our oldest son has had success this season.

As for the future? Our son has plans to continue to train, both with the university club he trained with here over this last summer, as well as when he returns to Australia this time next year to start university. It's healthy to have a community like that to continue with. I've got no idea whether he'll ever compete again. There are opportunities in Australia, and, if he succeeds, and wants to, overseas. We'll see.

Meanwhile, our sixth grader has been inspired by his brother's success and wants to wrestle all the way to twelfth grade. We're still waiting while our thoughtful and athletic middle son decides if he wants to take this challenge on next year in high school. 

We'll be doing this for a while yet. . . good thing I enjoy it. But I also think it is a good thing that we've got a break now, the intensity of an American international school season is quite something!

Next, is track and field season and our middle son has high goals (he's in eighth grade, which puts him at the top of the middle school competition, age-wise). But first we get a month or so break.