Saturday, June 28, 2014

"A Year Ago..."

My father was meticulous about keeping a diary.  When we were closing up our parents' house we packaged up years of small 5-year diaries in which the details of his life--and ours--are written in very small print.  It wasn't unusual for us to have him email, write or call us with reminders of things that had happened on that particular day ever-so-many years before.  Sometimes it was good to be reminded. Other times it was annoying. And it wasn't a habit I had any interest in until 2008.

We took our last one-year home assignment from the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2010.  In anticipation of all the emotional and physical work of preparation, relocation and return to Japan, I decided to chronicle those years using one of the nice three-year diaries that were sold in the Japanese stationery stores. While each day's entries are not long they recorded of the launching our second daughter from high school to college in the US while we were still living in Japan. The development of our oldest daughter's relationship with the man to whom she is now married is fun to read. During those years there were some heartbreaking events that are recorded -- including my father's declining health and eventual death from multiple myeloma--which encompassed our whole home assignment year.

At Christmas, 2010, I received my next diary--a five year diary--as a gift. It has turned out to be an insightful record of decision-making that led us to relocate to new ministry opportunities at the SIM USA office in Charlotte and draw our years in Japan to a close.  So now as I fill in 2014, I am nearing the one year mark of our departure from Tokorozawa, Japan. Some of the memories are heart-warming. Some are disappointing. Others are exhausting. But all serve to remind us of how God has carried us through a year of change. As I read my entries, I have been reading parallel entries of people in transition on Facebook--friends retiring, heading to passport countries for "home assignment", ministry changes.  I know there must be many people who haven't moved from their home in years--but in the mission world in which I work most everyone moves from and to somewhere on a regular basis.

But one word I don't often use to describe this "one year ago" process is grief.  Yet that is an emotion which accompanies this phrase frequently. Not full-blown stricken grief.  But the sense of loss that needs to be acknowledged and experienced. I may teach this, but I don't always practice it well.
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.  Psalm 68:19
This week I was having lunch with two of my staff, a compassionate and skilled debriefer and a counselor. One of them asked me a question that I had been hesitant to answer in other settings...but I said some things I needed to verbalize out-loud. It was good. Thanks, Kathy and Haley, for telling me it was okay to feel that way!

Monday, June 23, 2014

A quiet space

One of the biggest changes for me since we've relocated to the US office of SIM is that of having a regular work schedule.  Mission life tends to be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for many of us living overseas.

In Japan I often encountered missionaries whose office was at  home, who had classes and meetings scattered through out the day and into the night. Sometimes they were reluctant to take days off, and because Japanese business (and church) society frowned on vacations longer than a few days, there were missionaries who felt it wrong for them to set apart time for rest and renewal.

I don't think we were extreme, but it still was hard to "unplug" for a day and since one of our major ministries was at an International Church, Sunday was rarely Sabbath rest for us. We didn't often have a regular schedule, because each day was different, each week was different. And if we weren't productive during the day, we might pull out the computers that evening and work late into the night...

Imagine then, the difference having an 8:30 - 5:00 schedule makes in our lives. We begin each day in corporate prayer for the various countries and people that serve with SIM around the globe. We head to our desks shortly after 9:00 and break for lunch around 12:15 or 12:30.  We then wrap up our day at the office no later than 5.  Usually we are some of the last in the office at that point (there is bad traffic for folks going south, and they tend to shift their hours to accommodate this.) Many days I drop a file from the office in my brief case, though it almost never comes out once I get home.

The past few weeks have been very "people-intense" at the office. We have been doing debriefing for missionaries returning to the US on home assignment--asking questions, listening carefully for answers. In addition, we have missionary appointees here at a training session, and I was preparing for my first presentation at one of those.  All of these things are important, and are why we do what we do as member care specialists. But I am an introvert, and my energy is recharged with quiet space--which has been a missing commodity in my life these weeks.

This weekend, however, Stan was away at a missions conference, so Saturday I set up my "office" on the back deck until the humidity and heat overwhelmed me around noon. I was able to revise my presentation power point, catch up on some email, and work on "household" business. I was all alone with the bird chorus at first, and then it was joined by neighborhood mowers. Still, it was a quiet space for me, and I was very thankful.

Tonight I'm writing this from the deck again, and the sounds surrounding me are flights into or out of the Charlotte Airport (we're 15 minutes away and just south of the runways), and cycadias...that sound reminds me of summer in Japan! The second nest built in our deck rafters has Mother Robin presiding (she did give me a bit of a scolding when I sat down).  And a file from work is sitting next to me...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June, at a different tempo

This is the first year in 25 where our personal schedule is totally not related to a school-year calendar. Usually June was when the tempo of life slowed down. Kids were home or off on summer travels. Our ministry related classes would have one more month before the Japanese summer break, but often I would reduce my activities. When we lived in Japan this was the week we often headed to our vacation cabin to open it up for the summer season.  

Life at the SIM USA office is different, however. We are beginning a full three months of missionaries returning for home assignment debriefings, missionary appointee training (two 2-week sessions), a home assignment retreat, missionary candidate retreat, ... and did I say missionaries returning for home assignment debriefings? There will be no summer vacation for us this year (though we have booked one for September since we are no longer related to a school year calendar...).

I started the month with a trip to California for a long weekend to see our daughter perform in a play.  I always enjoy watching her act. I was also able to spend time with my sister that weekend, and we agreed that this was a God-timed visit for us as we had some family matters that were best talked about face-to-face.

I arrived back on Monday evening and headed into the office straight on Tuesday morning for meetings with missionaries coming through the office on home assignment debriefs.

The next Saturday we headed into downtown Charlotte for the day. We were joined by friends who have recently relocated from South Sudan to Charlotte to serve in the SIM USA Hospitality Ministry (managing the Guest House and Airport Transportation for missionaries coming to the office for home assignment debriefings, candidate retreats, appointee training, and more).  We discovered there was a "Taste of Charlotte" festival going on, so we sampled our way from one end of the city to the other.

This past week we had Stan's brother and wife join us for a few days. It was delightful to spend time with them on our deck chatting--we've rarely (if ever) had that opportunity.  While they were here, the June appointee training program began.  

Emi and Sterling who serve with Asian Access and are transitioning to SIM's personnel structure are attending from Japan.  Sunday afternoon they came over to our place for supper and hanging out time. It was fun to meet their youngest one, who hadn't been born before we left Japan.  It was nice to have this time together before they jumped into the training program on Monday morning.

Tonight Stan and I joined the SIM appointee training folk for dinner--specifically, dinner with those who are heading to Japan. The woman in front of Stan has just begun the process of preparing to head to Japan, and had lots of questions about life and ministry there. Emi and Sterling are in the middle with their little girls. Peter is on the end--Peter and his wife Ashley were the couple we talked to about Japan back in September when we attended our first candidate retreat.  They are at full support and will be heading over there in September.

I will teach the session on Missionary Care 101 for the first time at this appointee training program.  I look forward to it--though they've given me a killer time-slot...  Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

The month is only half over. There is still a lot ahead.  Stan heads to an African American Missionary Conference this week with a number of SIM staff. There is another week of this training program. And did I mention that missionaries are coming through the office for home assignment debriefings?