30 April, 2015

Mixing up role and identity

I wonder if being too attached to our roles
 means it's hard to temporarily hang up
those hats and take a break, or a holiday?
It is so easy to get role and identity mixed up. All those labels we like to use:

I'm a SAHM, I'm a working mum, I'm single, I'm a writer, I'm a house-owner, I'm a runner, I'm a carer, I'm in full-time ministry . . . I'm a missionary.

I think about it every now and then. What would I do if this role "missionary" was taken away from me? It would be a big adjustment, that's for sure. I think part of that would be because part of my identity is in the role. 

I feel this if I'm in an unfamiliar group without my kids or husband. My roles as "wife" and "mum of three boys" isn't written on my shirt. They help define me, they shape my days, weeks, and years.

So does being a missionary. Try describing our lives without including the M word. It's hard. 

I tried on Monday night. I was talking to the mum of some new boys at wrestling. I managed to keep the M word out of the conversation for some time. Japan came in pretty early, because she wanted to know how our kids first got interested in wrestling. I kept missionary out of it until she asked if my husband had a job while we were in Australia (I'd already told her he is a teacher in an international school in Japan). Fluffing around trying to explain what we do for a job while we're in Australia just didn't work until I explained that we're missionaries and part of our job in Australia is to visit groups like churches who support us.

It's not that I'm avoiding describing myself as a missionary, I've just learned that it isn't the best word to use in early conversation with strangers.

However, back to role. Our missionary role is more life-encompassing than, say, if I were an Occupational Therapist and my husband was a teacher here in Australia. Those roles wouldn't involve bringing up our family in a different country, changing countries periodically, and doing a job in Australia that involves the whole family on weekends.

But an article I read recently cautioned that if your identity is too tied up in your role and performance, it can lead to ineffectiveness and ill-health. It can lead to a lot of energy being expended to defend, keep, protect our role. If a role is removed from us, we can feel it is personal attack. We can spend a lot of energy trying to prove ourselves, try to demand that others see our value.
Of course, it requires a very high self-awareness to see this about ourselves. For most it is a blindspot – not seen by us, but clearly experienced by others.
Unfortunately this is a common problem in people in full-time ministry.

The solution is to fix our eyes back on God. To remember that ultimately we are his children.
Yes, we can take our current roles and responsibilities seriously. Yet, as we mature, we will not be so white-knuckled with them. We can be much more open-handed, not worrying what others think of us. If we are removed from our current position, we can remind ourself that the position was given to us from a caring Father in the first place. We can look to him to provide whatever will be needed next. There is no need for clamoring or demanding. Yes, there is a season of disorienting change. But in the end, he will provide all for his children.
The article concludes with this:
You are much more than what you do. You are how God sees you. You are His own child. 

29 April, 2015

Some inside knowledge on disaster recovery in Nepal

Here are some thoughts on the disaster in Nepal from the man (a missionary in Japan) who led a large relief and recovery organisation in Japan's disaster four years ago:
Some thoughts on the Nepal disaster. 
For most of us, the most important thing we can do for
Nepal is pray.
Every major relief group is now on their way. Praise God! But the Nepalese people and the church are already there. Pray for them as they minister to their own people!
They face huge challenges. Most structures in Nepal are not engineered, meaning they are built by the owner and cannot withstand quakes. With frequent aftershocks people are afraid to go back on their homes. 
Steep valleys, landslides and lack of roads make getting help out to remote regions difficult, dangerous and expensive.
Nepal has a caste structure and excludes the Dalits, leaving them vulnerable.
Because of very few opportunities for work, most young men work as migrants in other Asian countries. This means that in many of the hardest hit rural communities there are very few working age men.
Usually OperationSafe is run by local volunteers but we learned after Haiyan in the Philippines that many of our volunteers would be hired away for day labor by other relief organizations. Local orgs face similar issues. This and other underlying poverty factors will increase costs and need to be considered. 
After Japan's tsunami all of the major relief agencies spent the first weeks just trying to get started, but churches in Japan were able to move quickly with immediate aid, rapidly making contacts and setting up forward bases because of their existing relationships and local knowledge. And now that others have left, the ones that remain are the churches.
Pray for the Christians of Nepal to be strong though they are few. Pray for them to be a window for love from believers all over the world to touch their community. Pray for them to speak boldly for the needs of their neighbors even though foreigners are making key decisions.
How to Pray:
  • For the Nepalese church (according to Wikipedia, government records show 1.4% of the population is Christian).
  • For all who are Christians in the country, that they will be a "window of love from believers all over the world" in their own communities.
  • Money would be used wisely and corruption and red tape would not impact on relief and recovery.
  • For more details on how to pray, go here.

28 April, 2015

I am a Triangle

People who live cross-culturally for any significant length of time end up living in "in-between" land. Here's a metaphorical story that helps explain: http://thriveconnection.com/2014/03/18/triangle/.

I've had some "triangle" experiences just in the last two days. 
On the outside we look Australian
(or Western at least), but on the inside
it is a different story. Sometimes I
wonder if it wouldn't be more helpful
to have a sign, or costume...

Yesterday dashed to the shops before I picked up our soon-to-be 10 y.o. from school. I forgot my glasses. So I ended up walking around indoors in my sunglasses and felt odd. Japanese people don't wear sunglasses very much. I've been given two explanations for that: their eyes are stronger (dark brown eyes vs my hazel/green eyes) or sunglasses have been associated with shady characters in the past. It doesn't stop me wearing them when I need to, but indoors feels very odd. 

Today on the train my phone rang. I hesitated to answer it because in Japan it is very rude to talk on the phone in a train. I don't know what is acceptable here, but I feel uncomfortable when people talk loudly around me on their phones, be it on the train or bus, or just in the shopping centre. I feel like I'm eavesdropping on their conversation.

I also ate on a bus. I don't know if that is acceptable here either. I rarely take buses in Japan, but I know that it is frowned upon on a train. In fact it can be hard to find somewhere to eat take-away food in Japan, because you aren't supposed to walk and eat either!

So you can see that I'm not 100% Australian anymore. Neither am I Japanese. For some things I don't instinctively know how to do the acceptable thing in either culture.

There are three layers of culture that help explain what it's like to be an insider:
  • Formal policies, systems, and practices (artifacts; the highly visual stuff that is obvious to both insiders and outsiders; the official “talk” that may or may not match the “walk”)
  • Informal practices and symbolic actions – “the way we do things around here” (the norms that insiders intuitively follow and outsiders only discover when they accidentally break them; the “walk”/actions that symbolize what is really valued – may differ wildly from the official “talk”)
  • Beliefs, values, and attitudes – deep-seated understandings and assumptions shared by insiders that are buried well below consciousness.                                                      (From http://genuineevaluation.com/culture-insiders-and-outsiders-insights-and-genuine-evaluation/)
When you are a "cultural insider", you instinctively know how to act. "Cultural outsiders" are often guessing from what they can observe. In our cases in Australia, we are a mixed bag. We grew up here, so some things are instinctive, or at least we try to behave in a way that we remember being appropriate in Australia. This is tempered by what we see around us as well as informed by our experiences in Japan. It can be difficult, especially when we encounter a situation that we've faced more often in Japan than in Australia over the last 14 years or if it is something that's changed radically over the last 14 years (because culture does change). You can see how it can be difficult, even after 10 months of being back here.

The other day I sat on a picnic rug with friends. I instinctively kept my shoe-clad feet clear of the rug, just as we do in Japan. Then after a while I noticed that no one else was. I sneaked my feet onto the mat, but felt mixed about that. Relief that it was okay and I didn't have to take them off, but uncomfortable as well. Because I come from an "in-between land" now.

I am thankful to be able to have this triangulation to my character now. It means that we can relate to more people. It means that we don't stick out so much in Japan. It means that we better understand the perspective of others who are outsiders (even if they aren't from Japan).

If you've seen us, have we appeared totally Australian, or have there been oddities that you've wondered about?

27 April, 2015

New Shipping Container

Today I went shopping with my husband. We bought a new shipping container on special!

It is one of the many details necessary to nail down as we transition back to Japan for another three years. We've previously stored our household goods in the house of a relative, but have decided to make a change because the house owners aren't sure about how much longer they will stay in that house.

Most of the furniture we're using this home assignment is borrowed, so we won't be storing that. Most of the electrical appliances are also borrowed or we will sell them. Pretty much all the toys we have will be too young for our kids next time, so we'll give them away. 

A friend has volunteered to store more precious items, like photos, at her house. So we're left with things like kitchen stuff, memorabilia, a few pretty things, and functional things like bins, dish racks, step ladder etc.

I've never heard of 6', 8', and 10' containers, but we saw some this morning. Here is a video of an 8' container, the size we've bought (ours is off-white, though). They're just a little bit cute.
A relative of a friend has offered to have it on her grandparent's farm. So we'll see how that goes. It should be in place next week and we can then work on filling it up. Hopefully it will be big enough, but my husband's superpower is packing. He's confident, so I'm relying on his skills.

25 April, 2015

More answered prayer

I've been metaphorically holding my breath during this last week. The first week, indeed month of school Jan/Feb were so challenging this year that I dreaded the start-up blues happening again after two weeks of holidays.

However my worry was unfounded. They've had a great start, all of them.

But backing up a little, I wrote in late February a little about our struggles with one of our boys. At that time I wrote: 
This Saturday it's only four months till we go back to Japan. And at times we're wondering how we're going to make it through the four months. My husband says, "One day at a time." I say, "And on the prayers of others." So I've confided more of the details to a few close friends and am relying on their prayers.

And looking forward to seeing the answer to those prayers!

It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge that we're seeing answered prayer. The particular boy I wrote about that day is coping better with everyday life and school. Praise God!

With only nine weeks and one day left of this chapter in Australia, we're very conscious that Japan is close. It comes the time of increasingly mixed feelings (just like this time last year when we faced coming back to Australia). We're dealing with a lot of details, both sides of the ocean and actual flights, so in many ways we're busy with practical details that keep us anchored. It's a blessing to have things to keep us busy.

However it doesn't stop the flights of thought: "Oh, I can't wait till I get back to my grapefruit spoon in Japan." Yes, I did actually say that this morning. I've heard the boys talking similarly.

But back to the details: this afternoon I'm working again on my cross-stitch. I'm nearly done, nearly able to take it to the framer, and get them to do their amazing stuff! But I need to get back to finishing it off, another of my goals for this home assignment.

24 April, 2015

Traffic jam in our street back in Tokyo

A friend in Tokyo posted this photo on Facebook the other day. it is of the street we live on in Japan, the road the boys walk to school. The taller buildings in the background is the train station precinct, just seven minutes walk (or four if you run, says our oldest) from our house.

There is no footpath. The gutter is just to the left of the photo. Yes, the power poles are on the road. Just the other side of the gutter are walls of properties. We have to walk on the road. Many people walk and ride on this road. Some people drive too. It is just wide enough for two cars to slowly pass when there are no obstacles like power poles or community rubbish collection bins, which also live permanently on the road.

This is my friend April's description of the situation pictured:

This isn't an uncommon problem in Tokyo. A two-way street that can't fit two cars side by side. All it takes is one inexperienced or scaredy-cat driver and everything gets stuck.
In this case, there was another car behind the bus, and the silver car on the far left couldn't get around him or the telephone pole because he was scared he was going to scratch his car. Eventually the kindergarten bus driver hopped out of the bus to direct the silver car, but it took a lot of prodding to get the guy to go. But no cars were hurt in the making of this traffic jam. smile emoticon

This is further back down the road, facing the same direction as
the photo above. Our house is the third on the left of this.
You can see the "footpath", but this is actually a wider piece of road
where cars may pass at greater than 5 km/hr.

23 April, 2015

Are cross-cultural workers adrenalin junkies?

A friend of mine is posting links to a blog series about global workers' health.

The second one I read last night is called Total Exhaustion.

He's listed just three causes (there are more):

  • stress 
  • emotional whiplash
    Goodbyes are going to be hard.
  • accumulated losses
Much of it was scarily familiar. But at present, the below statement particularly struck me:
A build-up of losses that have not been named and thus, not grieved. The global “community” is a mobile one.  Colleagues and friends move away. Roles, organizational leadership and strategies are often changing. Major life events come and go with hardly an acknowledgement.
We're just nine weeks and three days away from returning to Japan (not that any one's counting). In the last few months we've found out that:

  • Several long-term families won't be returning to the CAJ community.
  • Two of David's colleagues are returning to the US, they were fellow science teachers and great at their jobs.
  • The two families from OMF who live closest to us in Tokyo are returning to serve in their home countries, one of their sons is a good friend of our middle boy.
  • The friend who catered for my 40th is not coming back for a few years. We said goodbye 18 months ago, expecting to see one another in the middle of this year. It's not to be. She's already in the states.
  • Of course there was also the unexpected death of a colleague.
That's all that I can remember for now. But that's enough. How does one grieve these losses? It is a continual loss, mind you. This time of year every year we're usually saying goodbye to people, it's just that this time many of these we won't be able to say a face-to-face goodbye.

Oh, and that is not to mention the grief of leaving Australia after a year here. I've made new friends and deepened relationships with others, it's going to be very hard to leave. I'm getting teary just typing this.

He goes on to say:

"We think we are Spirit-dependent. I wonder if we are mostly just adrenalin junkies."
I've wondered that too. 

Then, just when it all seemed too much, he listed six ideas for helping retrieve the situation. I was encouraged that we're not doing too bad with these. Room for improvement, but not too bad.

In fact this blog is part of my personal self-care. Here I reflect and also name some of the stressors. That helps me.

What helps you deal with big/accumulated stress in your life?

22 April, 2015

Handling criticism

Especially handling criticism of your writing.

A few weeks back a former colleague wrote to me, criticising my writing, especially my blog writing (not just a grammar mistake, but something far more serious).

Now I'm not looking for your sympathy or reassurances by telling you this, nor am I going to reveal what it is that she said. However, I do want to think about how to handle such situations. Because they happen. To anyone. You don't have to be a writer, you could be a musician or run a kids club or organise a party. Whenever other people see something that you've done, you are open to criticism.

I don't like conflict. One of the things I dislike about parenting is the conflict it brings into our home. But dealing with the criticism of things I do for other adults is hard. However, a few years of magazine editing and being in a supportive writing critique group has toughened me up a bit. It's also given me a few strategies.

When the above situation happened, it was the usual crazy, after-school time in our house. So I didn't have much room for self-pity or dwelling on the situation. 

As I read her message I felt a rush of adrenaline and my first desire was to defend myself and my writing. My second was to go back and edit the post I'd uploaded that day. I acted on the second desire.

Then, I messaged the lady back and asked a clarifying question (admittedly there was a little defence going on too). She urged me to read back over my blog and see if what she said was true. So, as time permitted that afternoon, I did. I couldn't see what she was seeing and I told her so, in as pleasant a manner as I could. 

But I also asked two other friends who often read my blog to check it too. I felt I could rely on them to be honest with me. Because she'd suggested that something had appeared in my writing that I didn't want there. So I'd moved on from a purely defensive mode, to an analytical mode. I wanted to take anything I could of value from this feedback.

That's the place you want to get to when you are criticised. You want to be able to pull back enough to analyse the situation and see if anything is true about what's been said. It is good to get other people's perspectives too. If you can ask someone who's willing to be gentle, yet honest to give you feedback then that is by far the best option.

At the end of the interaction with my former colleague, I thanked her for getting me to check on this particular aspect of my writing. I didn't agree with her, but I was gracious about it (not easy, I know, this was easier because it wasn't in person). She was gracious in return. I'm grateful for that.

Here are a couple of other articles about handling criticism. Both relate to writing, but I think there are things to learn for all of us.
How to handle criticism of your writing.
How should writers and editors work together?

How have you handled criticism of things you've created or done? Can you give us some other tips for handling criticism?

Here's a post I wrote three years ago about this topic: Not taking offence, rather grow.

21 April, 2015

Helping our kids thrive in transition

I read this helpful article about helping kids thrive during transitions and have been thinking about what rocks we have in our lives that help define our family. Here are a few:

* Birthdays. We (almost always) give gifts at breakfast and have a family party with a
Always a birthday cake. I can't believe
this young man is turning 10 next week!
special cake (often themed for the kids) for dinner.
* Camping. We’ve been camping in Japan and Australia 20 times in the last five years. It turns out that no matter which place you camp in, there is a feeling of familiarity about the routine. It's become something that defines our family. Something that is portable and is like a tradition. No matter where we camp, or what equipment we use, it's a familiar activity and binds us together.
* Recipes. I have a bunch of relatively basic meals and sweets that I like and my family likes. I make them regularly no matter which country we’re in.
* Music definitely comes with us. Easy now that everything can be digital.
* Each other, of course.
* Nightly routine. Including dinner together, then teeth, individual Bible and prayer times, reading.
*SQUIRT. Special Quiet Uninterrupted Individual Reading Time. Well, theoretically all these. Basically reading or doing some quiet activity on your own, preferably on your bed or a couch. We do this routinely on weekends and holidays after lunch, when feasible. The boys don’t even fight it now.
Special interests. This year in Australia we’ve gone to great lengths to allow our oldest to continue his love of wrestling, last home assignment he was into basketball and we facilitate that too. The continuity has helped our teenager more than he realises. The other two haven't had such strong attachments to special interests, though we've facilitated our middle son's interest in percussion this time around.

The second article in the above series is Paper or documenting their journey. I don't know that we've done this much, except for making photo albums of our four years in Japan, including double page spreads for each of our boys. This has been a special book for our boys as we've gone around visiting people. I often find our 12 year old standing in front of our mission stand browsing through our photo album (as if he can't see it any other time). If people are interested, the guys love to talk to people about the photos of their lives.

The third article in the series was scissors = simplicity. In transition making things as simple as possible is helpful.

Some ways we do this in our family are:
We planned a few days holiday in our last transition as
we entered Australia. A special treat was snorkelling
on the reef.

  • Planning ahead. If you ask us about what we're doing now, there is a lot of detail that we're planning for, right up to early August. But it includes things like planning meals, where we'll be sleeping in the last days before moving back to Japan, and letting the boys know a little way ahead of time what is planned.
  • Look after ourselves. We're planning holiday time too. Or down-time in the midst of the transition. We're even planning to speed up all that needs doing in that last 10 days, to ensure we get down-time before we leave. Oh, and holiday time on the other side too, seeing as we'll arrive several weeks before school starts again.
  • Being comfortable with saying no. We're careful about what we say yes to around transition times. We're trying to keep June clear of outside speaking engagements. I've said no to picking up the threads of the magazine editing until August.
  • Asking for help. We don't try to do everything ourselves, though that is sometimes hard because we do tend to be self-reliant in many areas.
What experience do you have with big transition and children? What's worked or not worked for you?

20 April, 2015

Back down to earth (maybe)

Warming up on the practise mat. Wrestler being flattened
by his coach :D
So we've come back down to earthly levels again. Alarm went off at 6 and we dragged some sleepy boys out of bed an hour later. No matter if you're a National Champion or brother of one, you've still got to get to school. 

I'm actually happy about the timing. Though they'll all be tired, at least it was a great way to distract us from the reality of school starting and the negative thoughts/behaviour we saw associated with that last term.

The two younger boys are tired because we didn't get the travellers home until after 9 and then there was a lot to catch up on, as well as two videos of wresting bouts to watch. It took a while for everyone to calm down enough to sleep.
According to my husband, the Queensland team looked
the smartest of all the teams, with their maroon and
grey uniforms. My son was heard to mutter this morning
as I drove him to school (with his "winter term" tie on)
that he wished school uniforms could be as comfortable
as these were.

I've mentioned before how I think wrestling is an honourable sport. Listening to the video, you would have thought we were at a music performance or a tennis match. Not really the polite applause, but it certainly was orderly and quiet.

Here is the Code of Conduct we/they had to agree to to enter this competition:
Code of Conduct • I/my child shall behave in a dignified manner at all times and shall not do anything that may bring Wrestling Australia Inc., wrestling or myself into disrepute.
• I/my child shall respect the spirit of fair play and non-violence towards all other competitors, officials and spectators.
• I/my child shall abide by any lawful direction and respect the authority of any official who has authority to conduct any element of the competition.
• I/my child shall be accountable and accept responsibility for my/their actions. 
Examples of Unacceptable Behaviour are:
• Sledging other athletes, officials or event organisers. Sledging is defined as a statement that is deemed to denigrate and/or intimidate another person.
• Publicly dissenting the decision of the referees or other officials.
• Creating a public disturbance, or acting in a way that becomes a public nuisance.
• Causing damage to another person’s property.
• The use or encouragement of drugs and banned substances to enhance or inhibit performance.
• Engaging in any harassment, sexual or otherwise.
This list is not exhaustive, but is intended to provide a guideline to what is considered unacceptable behaviour. 

David said there was one incident where a coach was having trouble controlling himself, but the situation eventually calmed down without any drastic action (like the coach being removed from the building). 

I've seen (in Japan at an international schools competition) a wrestler who was so upset that he had to be practically wrestled away from the mat by his coach into a dressing room. That is unusual. Generally the conduct is much more controlled. The coaches at CAJ are very strict on this.

But I wander. There probably aren't many of you who really care about this . . . 

Back to the "earthly levels" that I began with. The boys have just arrived home, that's my call back to ordinary life.

19 April, 2015

More wrestling excitement and success

Today's excitement is by remote. My younger two boys and I were at our home church this morning, but half our hearts were in Canberra with David and our eldest son as he wrestled at the National Wrestling Titles. I wanted to be there, but the travel was too expensive to justify us both going again.

So all I know is from texts and one phone conversation, we've not see any photos or videos yet. They come home this evening, and you can bet no one's going to bed before we've seen the videos.
This is an old photo of us supporting mat-side. It's what
I wanted to be doing this time too. 

The competition is a little sparse in Australia. His teammate entered the 54 kg class and had no competition, so got a gold without a match. Our son, however, had two others to compete against, and he pinned them both! That makes him the current holder of the Australian 69 kg Cadet title (16 - 17 year olds).

As you can imagine there's been plenty of excitement here. This is the first time in about three years that I haven't been mat-side to cheer him on, so I'm a little sad. However I do still have an intact voice! But he'll get a cheer when we pick them up from the train station this evening.

I announced it on Facebook and there's been lots of congratulations. A couple of people asked about international competition. From the looks of the calendar, there is no international "cadet" competition this year, but only juniors (18-20 year olds). But even if he were able to go to something he'd probably need a sponsor or a part-time job. We're talking about places like France. Time enough for that later, if he's good enough. Once you get outside of Australia the competition is very tough. Wrestlers peak in their mid to late 20s, so a teenager still has a way to go.

His involvement in wrestling continues to produce interesting responses from Australian. From bewilderment to curiosity as well as indifference. It really is a fairly foreign sport for the majority of Aussies.

I'm just glad that we've been able to help him continue his involvement in the sport, though we've been away from his school's team in Japan. It most certainly has helped him cope with this year away from Japan. Having success here is just the icing on the cake.

For anyone who's interested in what this type of wrestling looks like, I've posted a video of a 2013 World Junior Championships final below (55kg). There are places in this video that I laughed out loud, especially at the antics of the winner (and the ref) at the end.

18 April, 2015

Four random thoughts

I've reflected before that often when I have more time to think, I have less time or no opportunity to post here! That's what last week was like. Lots of time, little opportunity. 

The place we camped had almost no mobile access and certainly no internet. It was tucked away in the hills, far enough from any town that we saw no lights at night except the bright moon in the clear night sky.

But here are some random thoughts that I did remember and write down when we got back:

  • We're a camping family. All boys loved the camping trip. They grumbled as we packed to leave, but all enjoyed. It's five years since our first camping trip and we've truly become a camping family. Five years of camping. In five years we've erected our tent 16 times in Japan, a couple of campsites we've been to two or three times. Seven of those times happened during our two-week camping tour of Hokkaido. We've camped four times in Australia (not counting our Uluru trip, which was like luxurious camping, in a motorhome). That makes twenty camps in five years over 13 camping trips. Not bad! Averaging two or three trips a year is a pretty good rate.
This was the start of our 2 x 5km paddle. Tempers were
already flaring as we struggled to direct these superb
canoes out of the inlet.
  • Canoeing is about control. We had fun in the canoes, but we also had struggles and fights. In the end, canoeing is about control and how much you're willing to let others control your direction will determine how comfortable a ride you have. Some of our children coped better than others, but all three struggled with distrust. And once you're out in the water, you can't run away and hid somewhere, somehow, if you are to get to land, you have to forge a working relationship, no matter how mad you are at the other person.

  • Grief. Our youngest son was upset on the first night after camp. As I talked with him I realised he'd really enjoyed camping with extended family . . . and felt the grief of not being able to do that in Japan.
  • It's hard to settle back in your home country after being a missionary. We're "scarred" for life. We visited a family, with similar aged children to our own, who we met in Japan. They spent two terms there, but have been back in Australia for about 10 years now. There is still a part of them left in Japan, that will always be a part of them and make them always feel on the edge of ordinary in Australia.

17 April, 2015

Today, I'm here.

Home, today. (But not one of our boys.)
After several days of sleeping-in, I was up early today. I dropped David and our eldest son at the train station as they make their way to Canberra for the National Wrestling Titles. Our son has his Queensland Uniform in his luggage. What a privilege! 

I'm so glad that despite all the challenges we've faced this year, we can give him the opportunity to see (and participate) in wrestling at its highest level in this country. Granted, he's not yet old enough to wrestling in the open category (thankfully), but will get to watch those who are and later wrestle people his own age and size.

On the other hand I'm sad. It is expensive to go to Canberra, so we decided that only David would accompany our son this time. It's the right decision, because David's also chaperoning a team-mate of our sons and it's just better that a man does that. Not to mention that I'd just get too stressed if I were doing all that on my own. (One of our boys suggested that the person to go should be the one who can take the best videos . . .)

Being up early has given me a chance to gather my thoughts at the computer before boys insert themselves into my headspace. Hence I'm blogging this morning.

My mood has been a bit up and down recently as we really start to move into preparing to go back to Japan. I tend to invest a lot in life where I am and with the people I'm currently in contact with. That means that leaving hurts.

I was encouraged, though, to read this article about how to do the mobile lifestyle well. I love the start of the article, where the author contrasts the Stayers and the Movers in life. Stressing that both lifestyles can be lived well.

One of the tips for Movers is:
Healthy movers understand the significance of NOW.
You are investing in relationships – if you’re a mover you don’t have the luxury of 30 years before you have a meaningful conversation. Don’t be afraid to dig into relationships and get below the surface early on. Go deep quicker. Invest in people. Note: this is not romantic advice – that may be completely different.
Home as you may have gathered, is a tricky word for people like us. I've been grateful we have been able to make Australia and our rented house in Ipswich home enough that we can all relax here.

Another tip from the article is:
9.  Redefine Home
Home is where the heart is right? Yeah, you can bet that a mover said that. 
Home for you is people (specifically the ones who stay with you no matter where you go) but it’s way more than just that.  It is principles and protocol and other things that also probably start with a “p”. It’s just NOT a place — at least not just one. 
Don’t settle for a half empty glass. “Well, we move around a lot so I’m just not sure where home is.” 
Just change “where” to “what” and answer the question. It is everything (seen and unseen) that you will take with you the next time you move.
And the author follows that up with good advice for me in the stage I'm in now. 
10.  Wherever you are . . . be there
It’s easy to checkout early especially when you know you’ll be leaving soon.  That can be dangerous for movers who are never NOT leaving.  When your time is short, every moment counts . . . especially the last ones. It’s a different way of thinking but work towards leaving a piece of yourself after you’re gone instead of not being present while your are still there. 
So, I'm trying today to be here, at home, with my two younger sons. Not yearning to be in Canberra with my husband and eldest son or in Japan with my friends who are having fun (and working hard) at CAJ's Thrift Shop today. I'm trying not to think too much about our impending move in ten weeks. But enjoying the oasis that we have today: movies, a bike ride, and lunch out together. A mini holiday, "at home".

16 April, 2015

Unseen footprints photo

I've run out of emotional energy and time today. It's still holidays and now we're home we've been using internet access as an incentive to get some jobs done around here. Worked well the first day, not so well from then on and particularly bad today, as we had to tackle some of the less palatable jobs (as far as the kids were concerned).
One of the jobs has been tidying our garden. This is
what it looked like before we moved in. It doesn't look
much like it at present, but gardening isn't something
we're used to doing . . . having lived in apartments and
houses with tiny yards for the last 16 years.

Made worse by David being away lecturing, so it was me vs. a tribe of grumpy boys. If you don't have boys, don't be deceived, boys can be just as nasty as girls in verbal barbs. I know, I grew up with only sisters and am now experiencing boys.

Anyway, to save me moping here or otherwise having a pity party, I'm posting a link to a photo that my eldest son took when we were in Perth. It was published this week as Picture Praise by Thrive Connection, a magazine for cross-cultural workers, along with a blurb that I wrote linking the photo to Psalm 77:19
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.

15 April, 2015

Missionaries with a hidden agenda?

"Meeting with the people" or "catching up with people" or "having coffee with someone".
This was one of the most unusual "catch ups" that
we've ever had. Our friend and OMF colleague, Jan,
lives in Melbourne. She spent the day with us
at the National Youth Wrestling Championships last
year, cheering our son. Unusual, but it worked.

These are phrases we've used a lot this year. But what do they mean?

I hadn't even thought of it until someone I contacted to "catch up with" checked that we weren't looking to gain financial support from them.

I was horrified and wrote back:
Absolutely not. That is not our motivation at all. No pressure whatsoever from us on that. That's between the Lord and yourselves. But of course if you don't want us to come, please just say so. We just want to get to know you better.
By the way, OMF missionaries aren't allowed to solicit money. We never talk about it unless others ask.

He replied saying that they've had bad experiences in the past, so they prefer to be upfront.

Oh dear.

I wonder if some people worry about talking to us because of this issue. I know that OMF's policy of non-solicitation isn't the only way missions raise money. I'm really glad that we don't have to mix money into our conversations with people this year. That would be awkward and uncomfortable, a bit like being forced to have coffee with one of those fundraisers you often see in shopping centres.

When we catch up with people, it really is like friends catch up with one another. We don't go with an agenda. We answer questions and ask about our friend/s' lives. We usually offer our short photo album for people to look at and give them a prayer card, if they don't already have one. There is information on the prayer card about "partnering" with us (prayerfully or financially), but I've never pointed that out to anyone unless they asked about supporting us.

I want to ask you: "Have you had a bad experience while talking to a missionary?" But that will only produce negativity, which I'm not too keen on. How about: "Do you have any friends who are missionaries? Have you enjoyed catching up with them when they're in your area? What have you talked about?"

14 April, 2015

Our nine-day adventure

Our journey. We visited all the named places,
but only slept in Toowoomba, Lake Cania,
Bundaberg and Sippy Downs. 
So, we've been away since the 3rd of April. Here's what we've been up to.

This map reckons we've driven 18 hrs, and over 1,300 km. Feels about that. I'm happy to be staying home most of this week!

We started out on my birthday. We attended church, the Good Friday service, at our home church then came home to pack the car for our journey.

Our stop for that night was Toowoomba, but we made a significant detour and spent the afternoon with friends at Lake Moogerah playing. Even though the weather was a bit inclement, it was fun. Our friends had adult-toys. Kayaks and a jet ski that towed a tube. Oh, they also produced a decadent mud-cake for my birthday, which pleased everyone!

I definitely felt my age after going out on the jet ski and getting stuck in weed. David and one of our sons found us and I borrowed a paddle to get us out of the weed. Jet skis are heavy!
I'm in the magenta board shorts.

That's me and my son just before we took off on the tube.
Then I jumped onto the tube with my oldest son and got towed around. I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to hang on. My hands and forearms grew tired quickly, to the point where I was flopping around like a dead fish. I should have just let go, but my stubborn nature rose to the surface again. In the end my son signalled to the driver and they stopped and allowed me to get on the jet ski.

We all had a lot of fun, though.

Then we drove to Toowoomba and had a party with my parents. Mum had bought a chocolate cheesecake for a cake. It was quite a day of celebration.

A table for sale. Yep, we're moving into the transition back to
Japan. This table I bought on lay-by when I first began
working as an OT. It is a bit small for us now. We're thankful
someone leant us a much bigger table for the year. But we've
also decided not to store the table anymore.
Anyone interested?
We caught up with several friends (couples and families) while in Toowoomba over Easter. On Tuesday we headed north to Cania Dam to meet David's sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, along with his mum and a friend of hers. We camped for three nights on a private property adjoining the dam.

The drive to Cania Dam took us through some lovely
bush on fairly quiet roads. 
This was near the dam wall, we paddled nearly 5kms
in canoes to get here. Thankfully my mother-in-law
drove with her friend and met us there. They brought the
lunch we'd prepared back at camp.
Lush grass at the dam. Yep, wrestling was
on the cards...

I took time to lie down before we paddled
back to camp. 
Relaxing after our mega paddle. Our camp fire was
situated in the yards and had a fantastic A-frame over it.
We enjoyed nearly four days of continuous camp fire! 
Here's another angle, over breakfast.
On our second full day camping we went walking in the
Cania Gorge National Park. Not hard walks,
but the destinations were intriguing rock formations.
The largest figure in this photo is my brother-in-law.
He's a farmer and it is rare for him to take four
days off for a holiday. It was great to see him relax
and enjoy being with family.
Large spider perched way above the walking
track. Would have been the size of my hand.
Mack the dog. 4 month old dog of our brother-in-law's.
He had as good a time as the people!
Closer photo of the camp fire.
This was the end of the last evening of
camping. We loved sitting around the fire.
The weather was cool enough at night for
the heat from the fire to be welcome.
I can't remember which of our journeys this was taken on,
but sometime between Bundaberg and Brisbane!
From camp, we drove to Bundaberg to spend 22hrs with friends who used to be missionaries in Japan. Their children are similar ages to our boys. It was a good catch-up time and a time of reminiscing.

Then we turned for home. Stopping near Buderim for the night so that we could get to Bribie Island for church on Sunday. At the church we did our usual spiel and David preached (which hasn't been such a usual event this time). Then we had lunch with some prayer supporters, ending up spending about six hours on the island. 

We packed ourselves into our 8-seater van for the last time on Bribie and drove straight home from there.

Three camping trips in our year in Australia. That's not bad for a family who only own a tent and no other camping equipment. We're very thankful to the three families who've lent us equipment over the year.

And, as usual, we're starting to think about our next camping trip. We're thinking about going away at the end of July in Japan before school starts, maybe to the west coast of the island.

The obvious question is: are we getting tired of all this "catching up with people" and travel? The answer is yes. It's been great to get around to see so many friends, family and supporters, but we are getting tired. We'll be glad to get back to Japan and retire to a less-social life!