28 February, 2011

A self-feeder

A friend (a former missionary) wrote a post the other day about what she'd advised someone preparing to go to Japan as a missionary. The phrase "self-feeder" has stuck in my mind.

She wrote:
Keep growing in what it means to be a self-feeder (all the cultural reinforcements of Christianity are NOT present in Japan).
It is so true - you need to be a self-feeder to survive in another culture where your heart language isn't spoken. I think this is one thing that can make a missionary seem like a Super-Christian when they're back home. It is because they have learned how to feed themselves spiritually, rather than relying on weekly church attendance, Bible studies etc. to feed them. It has a maturing effect. Probably a bit like moving out of home has a maturing effect on most people - they learn how to look after themselves, rather than be coddled at home.

In a place where you cannot expect to understand the sermon and it takes years to feel comfortable expressing yourself in your new language. Where perhaps you are the one leading the Bible study and discipling new believers. Where there aren't regular conferences or retreats. Where there isn't a bookstore or library down the road with books you can read. Where you probably don't have many friends who you can speak to in your heart language. When you live in a place like this, you need to find ways to feed yourself spiritually. To consciously fix your eyes on Jesus.

A few things I've done are making an effort to abstain, at times, from easy, fiction reading and concentrate on edifying reading. Listen to sermons on tape or CD or on-line. Posting Bible verses around the house where I can easily see them. Prayer meetings. Missionary conferences. Seeking deep fellowship where I can. And of course, regular time in the Word.

Me and a good friend at the women's retreat four years ago.
This week I have an extra special treat of joining in a women's retreat. Each year the joint missionary association (JEMA) here holds a three day women's retreat in this area and a one day event in Sapporo. I've been as often as I can with three young children. It is a great time of fellowship and spiritual refreshment and challenge. I usually come home inspired and enthusiastic. I'm looking forward to this one!

27 February, 2011

Art appreciation and Monster Eyes

Yesterday I spent being a mum. My eldest son was honoured with having a piece of his artwork displayed in public for a week or so. Every year the International and American schools in the Kanto Plains area (Tokyo-Yokohama and surrounding plains area) have an artwork display at the National Children's Castle in Shibuya (more down-town Tokyo than where we are, about an hour by train). There were several pieces from each year level at CAJ. So, we went and did the right thing and checked it out. 
Eating lunch on the way on a handy road-side step.

Art galleries are really not my thing, in that way I'm pretty well paired with the boys who kind of ran round everything and then wanted to go home. But I have to admit there was some amazing work there. I could particularly appreciate the ceramic work - pieces I'd pay money to own! Below are some photos of the display.

Our son's work.

Beautiful Australia by an Australian (who we don't know) living in Kanto.

After we'd "done" the artwork display we caught a couple of trains home, arriving only half an hour before the two younger ones had their swimming lesson, so the timing was good.

Then I settled to filling up the snack cupboard for the week ahead, but quickly discovered I didn't have enough butter/fat spread. So did an unexpected bike ride to get supplies, nothing like a quick ride to keep up the fitness. 

After a fortifying coffee, I cooked something old-new. My husband and I grew up eating "Jam Drop" biscuits. I've haven't made them for a long time, but they are a good choice here because they only use easy-to-obtain ingredients. However our middle son doesn't like Jam. So the whole thing is a waste of time as far as he is concerned. 

Clever mum came up with a solution - not only a new name, but a new ingredient replacing the disliked one.

So we have Monster Eye biscuits made with M&Ms instead. Half of the batch retained their old jam centres, for those who like jam. You have to admit they look and sound pretty cool (at least to a mother of boys)!

25 February, 2011

I am not what I do

So, what is a missionary? I don't really have a succinct answer and looking at my own life isn't much help. This week has been a hodgepodge of activity in my life. Here are some samples:

We started the week with two days "off". As in - no school, but full-on here at home. My husband and I took it in turn to do errands and look after the boys. After much pleading, we made salt-dough and the boys played with it for much of Monday morning.

Tuesday we spent at Joyful Honda, selecting a new pet turtle. Read here for more details.

I received an acceptance and a rejection of meditations I've written.

I met for nearly two hours with my colleague, the managing editor of Japan Harvest.

I spent time trying to coordinate the printing of the programme I designed for next week's women's retreat.

I sought to find a time to meet with a new Occupational Therapy client.

I joined in lunch with a lively group of ladies farewelling one who is returning to the US.

In between these plus time at the gym, shopping and cooking (with a tiny bit of cleaning); I spent time considering my own heart and soul.

But none of these things really define who I am. If I tried to use it for a basis of who I am, I'd get mightily confused!

Today I spent two hours with three other precious ladies studying the Psalms of Ascent. A blessed time of lifting our eyes above our present reality and focusing on our Heavenly Father.

I'm reminded again and again that what we look like and what we do is not who we really are. Who I really am is a child of the King. An imperfect, yet forgiven person. We tend to get it mixed up - thinking that who we are is what we do or know, however I'm learning that "Being" (or what is in our heart) is the foundation for Knowing and Doing, not the other way around.

So it is not so important that I am a missionary or a mum or a wife or anything else. If I look to those things for who I am, I'll always be disappointed.

Whoa, this is a little deep for a Friday afternoon. Does it make any sense to you?

24 February, 2011

Personalities: we are not the same person

Been delving into a bit of personality stuff again. Back when we began applying to become missionaries we had to undergo a psychology assessment, including a Myers-Briggs Personality assessment. (Check here for an explanation.) I have to say I've been very grateful in subsequent years for the insights into my personality that came from that assessment.

It really does help to 'know thyself'. Some things just make more sense when you understand that you tend to interact with the world in a certain way. For example, I struggle with muscle tension. The following statement shows me that it is probably a life-long condition (and yes, I am an ENFP):
They live in the world of possibilities, and can become very passionate and excited about things...Because they are so alert and sensitive, constantly scanning their environments, ENFPs often suffer from muscle tension.*
I'd always assumed I was an introvert until I did that Myers-Briggs 13 years ago. But still, it confused me that I was an extrovert and yet needed time alone. This statement helps a little in understanding myself:
Unlike other Extraverted types, ENFPs need time alone to center themselves, and make sure they are moving in a direction which is in sync with their values.*
This rings very true to what I know about what I value:
ENFP needs authenticity and depth in their close relationships. *
From a negative perspective, I found this in my personality profile:
May feel intense anger towards people who criticise them or try to control them. But will be unable to express the anger. Left unexpressed, the anger may fester and simmer and become destructive.*
That is something I need to work on. It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally it does and is very distressing because I really value harmonious relationships.

But a good thought to end on is this:
I know I can't expect you to want the same things that I want.
We are not the same person, so we will not always see things the same way.
If we could all keep that in mind, then perhaps we'd have more harmonious relationships all round.

*The quotes on this page come from http://personalitypage.com/.

23 February, 2011

We took the plunge

Meet our little turtle. The boys have been hovering around his aquarium ever since we brought Tiny Toucan (Tiny or TT for short) home yesterday afternoon. This morning he (or she - don't know sex yet) even was bold enough to stare out at me as I photographed him.

We've found out all sorts of things already. Like, to own a turtle in Queensland, you need to apply for a licence - which costs around $65 for 5 years. It is also illegal to own a turtle under 4 inches in the US. Ours is only 1-2 inches! So we are doing something right now is illegal in both the US and Australia. What fun :-)

For those of you interested in the name Joyful Honda, follow the links here and here. "Honda" is a relatively common name in Japan and it so happens that that is the name of the founder of the business.

I was pondering the name and why it sounds so strange. I think part of the reason is that in English-speaking countries companies don't use adjectives in their names. "Joyful" just sounds strange as a company name, let alone a Home Centre, DIY-type place.

Regardless of all that, it is a successful, large business. 14 centres of this dimension makes for a big organisation.

They have, not only a large pet-shop, but a large art-craft-hobby store. My husband found some very useful bits for the robotics competition that he has some of his students entering.

I can tell we'll be visiting Joyful Honda again. It isn't too far away - only 20km, but that took us about an hour to drive. But that is another post - the speed of driving in this large Metropolis.

22 February, 2011

To turtle or not to turtle?

If you were reading this blog last year, you'll know that we had pets during our year in Australia. Our hermit crabs were cute and fun, but we had to leave them behind when we moved back to Japan.

We've been back here for nearly nine months now - hard to believe! But we haven't filled that small hole left by our three little hermies, though the boys bring it up every now and then. 

We have determined that the landlord doesn't want fur or feathers in our house, so once again we're looking for unusual pets. Then we had to search for a pet shop. They aren't all that common. And one that sells unusual pets is even more rare. However a friend has told us of one that could take us an hour or so to get to. It is in a largish shopping centre called "Joyful Honda". Strange name

So, seeing as we have a free day today we're going to go and check it out. We had thought that a little turtle might be manageable, but we'll see. As we've been unable to do any market research, we're not sure of the expenses.

Regardless, the boys have had an amusing time suggesting names for a turtle. We've had Tony, Toucan, Jo, Yertle and a few others I cannot remember. But when I suggested "Gertrude" they all looked at me with scorn.

So, watch this space to see what we come up with. And what he or she ends up being called!

21 February, 2011

Don't suffer in silence

I just found this song again. Susan Ashton's "Suffer in Silence" song. Oh, the lyrics are so beautiful. I don't know that I'm allowed to post the song here, not sure on the copyright limitations and I haven't found the song on-line so I can link to it, but the lyrics are below. 

There are people in my life to whom I'd like to sing this song...but I cannot.
Heart in a bottle, high on a shelf, fragile but just out of reach
'Cause you build a fortress with the distance you keep
But when your heart aches, doesn't it cut deep?

Well, you don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
You don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
Don't you know that your heart can feel like an anchor
When you keep it all inside
No don't, don't suffer in silence.

Withered with sadness, hurting inside
But feeling afraid to impose
So you're an island, but you don't have to be
'Cause if you're inclined you can talk to me.

But, you don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
You don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
Oh, I know that the pain can seem like an ocean but I'm just a word away
No don't, don't suffer in silence.

I'll be your shelter, I'll be your retreat
I'll be your shield against the wind
So, if you need a shoulder for the tears that you keep
Let it come down, let it rain on me.

'Cause, you don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
You should never have to suffer, suffer in silence
Oh, I will hear when you're calling like a voice above the storm
No don't, don't suffer in silence.

Well, you don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
You don't have to suffer, suffer in silence
Don't you know that your heart can feel like an anchor
When you keep it all inside
No don't, don't suffer in silence...

I copied the lyrics from here.

20 February, 2011

Cross-stitching, "Annie" and a long-weekend

So you might be wondering how yesterday went, with my cross-stitch card-making teaching. Probably a typical day in the classroom. Some of the girls picked it up really quickly, some didn't and most were in the middle. I was surprised that only a couple of girls finished in the time available, but others were very close to being finished. And they were able to take home almost all the materials needed to complete the project at home.

One measure of success was that no one seemed to want to finish when our time was up. They really got into their stitching. In fact it was a very quiet two hours. Though six of the eight girls came together and are friends, they hardly talked to one another except to get clarification.

The one big unexpected was their level of English. I think only a couple of them were comfortable in English. Thankfully the group of girls who came together brought a mum with them who helped me with some translation. I realised that there are a lot of pieces of vocabulary related to cross-stitch that I just don't know (and I didn't know I'd need it, so I didn't do some prior preparation). Like "knot" for example! Such a simple word, but if I ever did know it, I've forgotten it. So, unexpectedly, I spent a lot of my time trying to use my Japanese as best I could.

In the later afternoon David took the boys to the school musical production of Annie. I went the night before with a Japanese friend and her girls (she couldn't make it on Saturday). It was a fantastic show. I worried a little how the boys would manage as it was more than 2 1/2 hours long and some of the scene changes were quite long (think three or four minutes sitting in the dark). But David said they did well and all came home raving about the show. 

It amazes me how well a small school like CAJ (190 in the high school, 460 from K-12) can put on such great shows, year after year. I don't think I've seen a mediocre one in the five years we've been here. The musical talent, particularly, is tremendous. And the acting we saw on Friday and Saturday was truly excellent. Of course they have very dedicated and talented teaching staff and parents too.

One of the blessings of such a production in a small school is that we know or are familiar with many of the students or at least their parents. That brings a fun element to it.

So now we have the remainder of a long-weekend to rest. Or "Winter Break" as the Americans call it. Monday and Tuesday are days off. We're mostly taking a low-profile approach. Hanging about at home tomorrow and possibly a trek to a large shopping complex to investigate a pet or two on Tuesday. But generally low-key and hopefully restorative.

19 February, 2011

Eclectic skills useful on the mission field

The Missionary label is a wide umbrella. My personality also seems to lend itself to a wide variety of interests and responsibilities. This week I've found my fingers in in many pies - editing, writing, desktop publishing, Occupational Therapy consultation, leading a prayer meeting and attending a diaspora meeting. 

Today I am teaching cross-stitching and card-making to some grade 5/6 girls.

CAJ has a department that supports families who are homeschooling (also a few small English-language schools). Through the year they run various events to support these families and students. Their biggest event is today - Arts and Skills day. A day when the students come to CAJ and have the opportunity to learn a skill they might not otherwise come in contact with. Including classes like woodwork, karate to friendship bracelet making and acting. My husband is taking a science class - especially using lab equipment that most homeschooling families wouldn't have access to. It is always a popular class (this is the fifth time he's done this).

I'm making this cute card with eight girls:

It really is quite simple. It took me under an hour to make. I have two hours to help them create it. Mind you it wasn't easy to come up with a beginners' craft with cross-stitch that will hopefully allow them a nice take-home project.

I'm a tiny bit nervous, but mostly excited. It is really special to be able to help out by using a hobby I mostly use for my own relaxation.

18 February, 2011

Maple-flavoured golden syrup

It is time again to go shopping at our favourite web-based Foreign Buyer's Club (FBC). Items like tinned soup, tinned tuna, condensed milk, rolled oats etc. are cheaper at FBC. Some things like tomato soup are hardly to be found at all in the standard Japanese grocery store, so we order periodically from FBC. 

I was alerted to the low level of Golden Syrup (never seen this in Japan) just this week and so I went looking. FBC has two types of Golden Syrup. I couldn't believe that one of them is Maple Flavoured. "What's the point?", I ask you.

Editor's note: Sorry, I wrote this post in a hurry before rushing off to school. I should have realised it wouldn't make sense to my non-Australian friends. Golden Syrup is like Maple Syrup except it comes from sugar cane. It has a different (I think better) flavour. It is used in much the same way at Maple Syrup. I just don't understand why they sell Maple-flavoured Golden Syrup. It is kind of like selling tea-flavoured coffee. Why not just drink tea, if that is the flavour that you want!

17 February, 2011


I cannot believe that my eldest son is wearing jeans again. He hasn't worn them since he was a toddler because he doesn't like the feel of them. I can relate. I didn't happily wear jeans until after my first pregnancy. After being so "fat" I relished the "thin" feeling that wearing jeans gave me. But, like him, I still prefer tracksuit pants - even though I am more aware than he is of my appearance in public and don't wear them out as often as I used to!

It is really nice to see him looking a little older and less sloppy in his "new" pair of jeans that someone gave us after their son grew out of them.

Interesting discussion of openness and honesty

Some interesting discussion on my Facebook page regarding my recent posts on communication. I thought it was worth copying some of the comments onto here:

L wrote:

I was just thinking about openness and honesty yesterday and thinking that they are different things. People are sometimes not necessarily open but that doesn't mean they are dishonest, it just means their personality doesn't lend itself to openness and I don't consider that sinful. Of course some people are both not open and dishonest and some can be open and dishonest too. 
An example: You've mentioned before that you tend to give TMI when describing illness - that's being very open. Some would be horrified at describing their illness in that detail and wouldn't be very open beyond 'I have a stomach upset'. They are not being dishonest, just not laying everything out for the whole world to view. I don't think that's wrong, it's just their personality. People vary with how much of their personal life they want to share with others. It's not that they want to hide anything - it's just personal. I remember being gobsmacked once when, as a single woman, I was in a group of Christian women who were talking in detail about their relationship with their husbands. It obviously didn't bother them, but I certainly couldn't do that. I'm just musing here...what do you think?
K wrote:
Yes, we all can give TMI at some times, but I do think that most relationships have a better chance of surviving well if the communication is open and honest!
I wrote:
K - you are quite right. Relationships depend on good communication and that can only be good if there is an element of openness in it. A relationship where one person or both are stonewalling the other's attempts to get to know them will not last long or go deep.

L - I'm thinking. But you are quite right, openness and honesty are different. And being open for one person is different to another person. Though I think, that everyone, no matter what their personality or situation (for example ministry wives find this a hard issue in their congregations), should have at least a small number of people with whom they can share fairly openly with. I love the quote that I shared in a post back in October:

"As I tell the truth about our journey with our son, instead of hiding it like a secret, I've discovered a new kind of freedom. One woman in my Bible study said, "Carol, I used to think you were perfect, but now I think we could be friends." Carol Kent, Just Between Us, Fall 2010.
I'm not sure the issue is whether she was dishonest or honest before sharing this secret, but the issue is that once she did share it, it enriched her relationships. 

I love it when we can discuss things like this. None of the above three people are in the same country as each other, it's amazing that we can have this discussion at all!

16 February, 2011

Finding balance in communication

Simone has written a good post here about the necessity of editing our sharing in response to my post about openness and authenticity.

I agree with her. We do not need to share everything we think - actually it is impossible to do that. We think at a rate of something like 150-300 words a minute - all day long. It is also wrong to share everything, how many proverbs are there that talk about wisdom in relation to holding your tongue?

I also think it is fairly easy to point out when people are oversharing. It is not so easy to point out when people are undersharing. When people, for whatever reason, are holding back from sharing things about their lives which would help others, encourage them. We're looking at two extremes and, like most things, God hasn't given us an easy line to judge what is too much or too little. It also varies for different personalities and situations. We need much wisdom to decide what is suitable for each situation, for each friendship for each topic. 

In my commitment to openness and authenticity in my relationships I need to be on my knees every day, confessing my errors and asking for wisdom for the next day. But I think all Christians need to be on our knees, asking God for wisdom in our relationships and conversations. Asking for guidance to know what to share and when, for sensitivity and discernment, but also for boldness.

15 February, 2011

Today's washing challenge - avoid crashing snow

Sapporo snow. Our car is next to the yellow one.
It snowed a few inches last night. Beautiful large floaty snowflakes. Not something I would have been excited about when I lived in Sapporo in northern Japan for four years, where they get several metres every winter. But having had that experience, now snow not only brings excitement, it brings good (and bad) memories.

Our the back of our house in Tokyo.
The sun is shining this morning and it really isn't too cold - it's above zero. The snow is rapidly melting outside. The walk to school was a mess of mushy, dirty snow. Not terribly pretty, but exciting for our five year old who kicked and jumped and slushed all the way to school.

My washing today.
Our first apartment in Sapporo (in summer).
But today I did something I don't think I did in Sapporo. After a wet weekend we had a sheet back-up and with the sun shining I hung out sheets on the washing line. But I had to be careful to put them in a place where the snow that was rapidly melting on the roof wouldn't drip or crash into them. 

I don't think I've done that before. Neither apartments we lived in in Sapporo had washing lines near the roof edge. One was undercover - so we frequently hung washing out on sunny days when the temperature was under zero (very stiff jeans). The other apartment you hung the washing on the outside of the railing (see photo).

Not something I'd ever thought about before I came to Japan!

14 February, 2011

Aeroplane take-over

My house is being taken over by paper aeroplanes. 

On Thursday I innocently brought home a book about the subject from the school library. We already have one here, but it is only an origami one and in Japanese, and is hard even for me to read. That afternoon the fad began. I knew we probably had a cold, wet weekend coming up, so I wasn't too worried - except that they began a day early. Thursday afternoon we had trouble getting homework done.

The next afternoon my usually bookworm-but-ambivalent-about-libraries eldest son feverishly looked up paper aeroplanes in the library catalogue. He found one more and now it looks like the planes are having babies because almost anywhere I look in the house, there I find another plane.

It has lead to another rule. No throwing planes in the lounge room. If you check this post you'll see what these paper-covered sliding doors used to look like when we first moved in. Much of the small damage in this first photo happened on Thursday and Friday amidst a frenzy of paper plane attacks. 

The larger damage is the result of boys in general. Pretty normal damage, from what we see and hear. I've had one experienced mum offer to teach me how to repaper these doors called shoji (there is a glass door on the outside, if you're wondering). I'll have to take her up on that, but not yet. We'll wait till it gets a bit worse first. In the meantime, there is no paper aeroplane or ball throwing allowed in this room!

13 February, 2011

I believe in openness and authenticity

I've just gone back and found blog posts where I've written about honesty, about open and authentic relationships and conversations. It's been a fun search. I found some great memories from Australia here and spoke forthrightly about my commitment to openness here. I found a post about the cost of not being open and this one about honesty in writing prayer letters.

I'm committed to openness, but it can cost. I'm suffering that now. Someone has taken it upon themselves to criticise my openness. That hurts deeply because it is something that is close to my heart. I believe being open and authentic is something God has called me to do. Actually I'd love to see all Christians committed to it. Pray with me that I won't be fearful and discouraged by this.

12 February, 2011

New American customs

We live our lives between three cultures. Not just the obvious ones of Japan and Australia, but with my husband working at an American-style international school and all our boys attending there too, a variety of American customs are barging into our lives.

Yesterday my kindergartner celebrated 100s Day. This is a fairly recent American custom (don't know the origin, but most Americans my age don't remember it as part of their childhood). It marks the 100th day since school started and is approximately the middle of the school year. On the day they do all sorts of activities related to the number 100. Like counting out 100 Cheerios (circular American cereal that has made a tentative entry into Australia, I believe) and then threading them onto a string.

At CAJ, only the kindergarten and grade ones celebrated this day. That confused me to start with as they had a half-day (presumably a celebration deserves a half-day holiday?). But my grade two-er didn't have a half-day.

Then we got a notice home alerting us to the fact that Valentines Day was coming up and that not only would both the kindergarten and grade twos mark the day, but that everyone was REQUIRED to bring cards for everyone else in the class! That makes exactly 38 cards for our household to somehow produce.

Well, thankfully there are websites out there where you can print out black and white templates for children to colour. And they aren't what we knew of Valentines Day in Australia - they aren't something you exchange between lovers. They say simple things like "Happy Valentines Day" or "Have tonnes of fun on Valentines Day". I don't know if schools have changed in Australia, but I've never attended nor heard of a Valentines Day party in an Australian school!

I've also learnt of another relatively recent American school custom: Staff Appreciation Week. It begins next week at CAJ and the PTA organises little presents for all the teachers all week. The American co-president of the PTA expressed frustration that most of the parents don't do anything during the week. What she didn't realise is that for most of the parents (the majority of whom don't come from America) it is a new custom. It is certainly not something we do in Australia. I know what the words mean, I didn't know it was a custom.

Oh well, I guess it can only go towards making us more flexible.

11 February, 2011

Japan photo #14

I'm certain that someone out there can tell me what these plants/flowers are. They look a lot like coloured cauliflower, but lack the central "head". Quite pretty in their own unusual way.

This time of year these are the plants that are planted here in public flowerbeds. Down near the station in our suburb there are huge concrete planters full of these plants. This photo was taken on the weekend over the road from our house outside our boy's swimming school. 

What are they?

10 February, 2011

More big thoughts on small talk

I've probably put some people off ever talking to me again after yesterday's post

Just so as you don't misunderstand me. Small talk IS important. Just as warming up before exercise is important. Plunging straight into "Big" talk doesn't work really well, even with the closest of friends. And it makes most people feel nervous. Plunging straight into vigorous exercise without limbering up a little is actually pretty dangerous. 

But look at it the other way, if you only ever do the warming up exercises and never get to the vigorous exercise, you'll have a very shallow exercise experience. You'll never develop the fitness you desire. Just so, if you only ever remain on small talk, you'll never develop a friendship past a very shallow relationship. And of course that is what happens with most people you meet - it is impossible to have more than a shallow relationship with very many people. The frustration I expressed yesterday is with longer-term relationships that get stuck on the small talk level.

Dan made an important point on my Facebook page in relation to yesterday's post he said:
"...We find that this is difficult when we return to the US after being in Japan. We too want to move quickly from small talk (level 1) to more deeper levels (2-5), but you will see the person become uncomfortable. Those of us who have been in an expatriate situation know that it is important to develop our friendships quickly as we may not have much time with our new friends."
I look back at me in the past and sometimes wonder how I became predisposed to loving deep conversation. Some of it is my inbuilt personality - extrovert, loves to talk. Some of it is the relationships I developed at uni and especially the residential college (dorm for the Americans) I lived in. 

On top of that we've come overseas and Dan makes the point very well. There is transition going on around us all the time. Either it is us, or someone close to us who is coming or going. Whichever way, there is a sense of "we don't have much time to invest in this relationship" and that sense of urgency drives us deeper faster. 

There is also a knowledge that good relationships, many of them long-distance, is what helps us to survive the challenges of living in another country. We cannot sit back and assume that relationships will just develop with those who are around us, because we aren't very similar to the people who are around us. Our lives are very different to most people we meet. That requires a special level of intentional effort on our part and doesn't allow for passivity in relationship building.

Then we take this learned behaviour "home" with us and it probably makes some people very uncomfortable. Our best friends at home are those who like to go deep quickly too. But just in case you're wondering, we don't rock up to them and say, "Hi, haven't seen you for four years. How's your relationship with the Lord going?" No, of course we spend time talking about surface things (warming up), but quickly move on to deeper topics (the real exercise) because we know that we won't have long to spend with these friend either and it is a waste of time to sit around talking for a long time about the latest shopping bargains we got or how badly the Australian cricket team is playing.

So, please don't feel I'm condemning small talk. It is a very important part of relationship building. In fact, those who struggle to make small talk are seriously limited in their ability to get along in almost any social situation. All I am saying is that I long for deeper conversations (preluded by small talk, of course).

09 February, 2011

Small talk

I was glad to read on someone's blog recently that she isn't a "small talker". I can do small talk and frequently do. But I feel uncomfortable, to the point of avoiding situations, where small talk is all I'm going to be able to do for a lengthy period (even 30 minutes of small talk is tough). I especially dislike extended periods of small talk with people who aren't strangers.

This is a good definition of small talk:
"small talk is the interim banter before a real conversation develops. Small talk generally revolves around safe issues such as the weather or other surface mutual interests."
The online Cambridge dictionary defines small talk as thus:
"conversation about things which are not important, often between people who do not know each other well"
I prefer "real" conversations about things that are a little deeper and more important.

Here is an interesting classification of friendships. The blog author suggests four types of friendship:
1. Acquaintances (people you are on first name basis with, but never get beyond small talk)
2. Buddies (people you have fun with)
3. Consultant (a friend you turn to for advice)
4. Dearest (friends that will always be there for you)
I also like the concept I came across at a workshop back in 2004. It is called the "Friendship Stack". It is a list of questions that represent increasingly deeper conversation. I think it is designed to give a guide to Christians wishing to deepen conversations with people they've only just met, but it does help to see how various topic of conversation can be categorised.
What is your name?
Where do you live?
Do you have a family?
Do you do any travelling?
Do you have any hobbies?
What are your ideas on...
Problems or frustrations
What are your goals for the future?
Affirmation of the person
Brief prayer
How about you? Where do you stand with small talk?

08 February, 2011

This is embarrassing

We received a booklet of number stories written by our 8 y.o. son and his classmates. The students have to solve the number stories for homework. It all sounded good until I got to this story:
"I punched 40 bully's and my little brother punched 10 bully's. My big brother puched 49 bully's. How many bully's did we punch in all?" (sic)
How shocking! 

And then I looked at the name of the author - even more shocking, this was my son's contribution! While other stories were about cookies, apples and soccer goals, my son chooses to write about punching bullies? And then it gets photocopied and sent around to all the families in the class. Ouch. 

I guess at least he is anti-bullying. But anti-violence? Maybe not. By the way this kid is generally so well behaved at school that I rarely hear a bad word about him. Wish I could say the same about his behaviour at home. But I've never seen him punch anyone!

His teacher sometimes reads this blog. Be assured Jean, I'll recover.

07 February, 2011

A blessing from illness

I've just finished three days of at-home-ness. And I'm feeling pretty rested. After an exceptionally emotional six weeks or so, I didn't realise how tired I've become. It's been like dragging a sack of rocks around behind me.

On Friday my youngest vomited before breakfast, so that was the end of any plans I had for doing stuff outside the house. My older two walk to school on their own, so I didn't even leave the house during the day on Friday (except to fill the kerosene tank of the heater). I did get a lot of my To Do list done, and that was very satisfying. My son wasn't very demanding and only threw up twice in containers, so it wasn't a difficult assignment to play nurse on Friday. In the evening I did take the two older ones and some food to our eldest's basketball break-up party, but that was fairly relaxed.

On Saturday and Sunday my husband had a professional development workshop (robotics - he is a maths/science teacher). Thankfully it was in Tokyo, so he was home by the evening meal. The rest of us didn't really feel like leaving the house, we've all been pretty busy, but especially my 11 y.o. So, I dashed out to run a short errand at lunch time and then walked with the younger two across the road (literally) to their 3pm swimming lesson. And that was it for outside activity on Saturday. Oh, and my youngest was begging me for food, so he appeared to be better from whatever plagued him on Friday.

On Sunday the boys and I were finishing up breakfast, getting geared up to head off to church when my youngest suddenly complained of tummy pain and rushed off to the toilet. He ended up back on the couch with tears dripping off his nose. I had to make a quick decision about church and decided to stay home, anything else was just too complicated. So, we stayed quietly at home for Sunday too. Except from 11.30-12.30 when we went down to the school sports field to burn off some energy. My youngest's tummy was fine by then, it seemed (though he continues to struggle to eat normal amounts and his poos are sloppy, however perhaps that is in the TMI - too much information - category).

So today I find myself unusually rested. It wasn't too hard to get out of bed (not perishingly cold today either). I even got my 5 y.o. to school before the warning bell. 

A blessing out of illness!

06 February, 2011

Scary toilets

Toilets with a whole arm full of extra functions next to the seat are fairly common in the fancier places in Japan. Not too often do you see them with so much English. I've always been too scared to touch any of the buttons. 

Our eldest son has no such concerns, or he didn't. When he was 2 1/2 we were at a New Year's Eve party at another missionary's home. He toddled off to use the little boys room and all of a sudden we heard a shout. I dashed off, hoping to avert disaster and found a little boy held captive by a large font of water emerging from the toilet. The buttons were not anywhere near as clear as this toilet's buttons. I didn't know what to do, and ended up shouting. Finally the owner of the house came and rectified the problem. 

Our son has never again fiddled with unknown buttons on toilets.

And I've never felt even slightly tempted to experiment.


05 February, 2011

The most popular piece of floor is now off-limits

I just don't believe it when I hear people say or read of households with young children that only have a couple of rules. Rules just seem to proliferate around here. Much as I'd like our children to easily understand what was necessary and what was unnecessary, it seems that they just don't and need a line drawn in the sand. At least my children do.

Take this last week, for example. Two new rules have been needed, for my sanity. 

The first is illustrated in the photo. Yes, that is our kerosene heater (or stove as some people call it). It is an essential part of our winter weaponry and at this time of year is used from early morning until we go to bed. There is a bizarre trend going, though. Somehow that little area surrounded faintly by pieces of tape on the floor has become the most popular piece of floor in the house. Resulting in occasional fights, but more frustrating for parents, resulting in boys who won't do anything else except stand in that one spot. So, the new rule is, "No loitering inside the dotted line." And it is being respected 99% of the time.

The second rule is also somewhat related to the cold. It is hard to get going in the morning. When it is less than 10 degrees in the bedrooms it is hard to get dressed. Especially for our 5 y.o. So I'm struggling to get him to school on time EVERY day. New rule - he "has to get dressed before breakfast." So far it is working fairly well, as long as I keep an eye on the time when he goes to sit in that little unmentionable room.

04 February, 2011

Update on the "monster storm"

On Wednesday night I mentioned the "monster storm" which was headed for the north of our home state that night. It hasn't been easy to find out how it all turned out. I think that is because the storm made landfall between the two major cities (Cairns and Townsville), which is where most of the journalists were probably holed up. Queensland is a vast state. Getting to the small communities which were affected hasn't been easy. A friend wrote a good summary on her blog here.

One measure of the monster is that communities hundreds of kilometres inland have now experienced their first ever cyclone. It just kept powering inland!

As far as I know there are no confirmed deaths, except that a couple of guys trying to shift their boats haven't been seen since Wednesday. It is a miracle, really, when you look at the photos. There was a whole lot of iron roofing flying around! I think possibly the people who were most at risk were crazy journalists trying to do reports while standing outside in the driving wind and rain or driving amongst debris, including felled electrical lines the next day.

I am thankful that it hasn't caused as much damage and loss of life as were predicted.

03 February, 2011

Oh, you really do have a job?

Yesterday I not only managed the Tokyo train system (again) but I did something else very cool. For the first time I laid my hands on a magazine that I helped to edit. 

There is something great about being able to handle something that you actually had a part in. I guess that is one of the things that is hard about being a mum - you rarely come out with a finished product. You put hours and months and years of work in, and find your outcome is not very tangible. Or even on the day-to-day front. You wash clothes, they get dirty and need washing again. You clean toilets, they get dirty etc.

The same thing for my role as an Occupational Therapist. Very rarely do you get anything tangible that you can say, "I did that." You don't even get to see kids graduate like teachers do.

But yesterday I went to help get this magazine out in the mail. Then I could bring one home and show my boys - "Here is something I did and here is my name in the front". 

My eight year old was particularly impressed. Firstly along the lines of "You could become a famous editor"  - ah, no, not really! Then "Oh, you really do have 'a job'!?" 

I do lots of things with my time but none of them look like a regular job to my boys - not like a teacher who goes to work and comes home again. So it is very cool to have something tangible to show them.

The other amazing thing about this whole editor's job is that about eight years ago I remember a gathering of missionary women where, as a get-to-know you activity we were asked to name one thing you'd can imagine yourself to be doing if you hadn't ended up as a missionary. My answer? "Magazine editor."

Incredible! I never imagined that I might end up doing both - a missionary and a magazine editor!

02 February, 2011

A monster of a storm

I am about emotionally wrung out after the last month, so I'm feeling a tiny bit numb about the latest disaster facing my home state of Queensland. 

However, for anyone who isn't aware, they are facing a monster of a cyclone (a southern hemisphere hurricane). Its eye is to cross the coast in only a few hours, but already roofs are being torn off and debris is flying down streets.  It is the most severe category (5) and is so large it would cover the whole of the US. If you want to read more, this article will tell you plenty, with links to pictures and audio files too.

Poor Queensland. I shudder to think of the long-term consequences of the multiple disasters its residents have faced over the last six weeks.

01 February, 2011

Lots of "don't knows"

I'm pondering grudges and bad memories. When are they different? It is impossible to forget by force of will. I think they've even proven that. So when someone has said or done something that has hurt you, it is very difficult to forget. Perhaps it falls under God's job - to soothe and remove those memories.

I have bad memories of things people have said about my parenting, for example. Does that fall under the realm of a sin or a grudge? What can I do about it? I know I can ask God to help me forgive them, but the memory of that pain remains, at least in my experience it seems to.
One of the things that caused trouble in my life last week was a bad memory. A memory of criticism of my parenting that flared up when similar words of criticism were directed my way by the same person (but not about my parenting). I flared in anger. Does this mean I was holding a grudge? I don't know. Actually my emotions flare every time someone criticises my parenting. Am I too sensitive? I don't know. Is that a sin? I don't know. How do I get a thicker skin? I don't know.

Oh, this old world. This faulty, sinful body. Sometimes I really long for heaven when all these unknowns and pains will be gone and there'll be no more tears. No more broken relationships. No more bad memories to haunt our thoughts.

By the way, I'm revisiting this book on the subject of Self-talk. Great book. I don't have many books on my shelf due to our mobile lifestyle (and small housing), but I'm glad I have this one.