Christmas Again

In all the hustle and bustle of December, I am surprised to find that I have a few minutes of peace and absolute quiet in the house.  Vicente took the girls to the park and I finished some errands and have the grand luxury to sit and do something that I’ve been wanting to do for a number of weeks.

I really enjoy reading about personality types, particularly those of my family.  I recently saw a little graphic that said that the comfort zone of my personality was “order, stability, a completed to-do list, knowing your life is under control, and peace and quiet.”

Well, you can’t always have everything, but I’ll take the peace and quiet for now.

It’s a busy season for everyone, and one of my favorites.  I love decorating, baking goods, scarves, warm cups of coffee, Christmas music and parties.  It’s just such a unique, festive and hopeful time of year.

This year, this season has meant taking a new look at faith for me.  I got started a couple years ago doing the Bible in a year, but didn’t begin in January.  So I finished one “lap” through the Bible a couple months ago or so, and finished the Christmas accounts in Luke not too long ago.

Having gone through all the Old Testament and the prophecies especially, I am really reminded of the incredible maneuvering it took to make everything happen.  That sounds like a man-made word- maneuvering– but really it was a supernatural word. Abraham and Sarah having a baby, Rahab becoming part of the lineage of Jesus, Ruth coming from Moab to meet Boaz and become part of the lineage… Mary’s trip to Bethlehem to deliver to fulfill the prophecy… and hundreds more!

There is just so much to marvel at.  As a person who loves details and is interested in how things come together to work, I see such a capable, sovereign hand making this “come to pass”.

God surely has all the events and times of man in His hand.

But I’m also reminded that the players in these prophecies didn’t necessarily see all the necessities of these things.  They didn’t see the end picture.  We see it from a hindsight perspective, with the glib attitudes of “I knew it all along” from a comfortable distance of 2000 years.

But had we been the actual players…?

Almost to my 3rd trimester myself, I would have seen the census as a huge inconvenience and annoyance.  A manger would not have been my ideal “birth plan.” The social shame at being pregnant with the Savior of the world, embarking on a new journey with sneers from neighbors along the way, her prospective match for the future in danger… That’s quite a roller coaster for a pregnant lady.

This verse about Mary just jumped right off the page at me:

“and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 2:45)

Christmas is about the incredible sovereignty and majesty and goodness of our Faithful God. It’s about trusting God to fulfill His Word.

Do I believe that God will fulfill the things He’s spoken to me? 

He didn’t and doesn’t promise that it would be easy.  So, when life is tough and I don’t understand why things are going the way that they are and don’t know how things can work out, I can trust that God has a grand scheme going.  I must be willing to say to the Lord, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

As Mary carried Jesus in her womb, “God with us”, so Jesus has given us His Spirit and has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.

And as I go along, I see a little snippet into Mary’s tactics: she pondered these things in her heart.  She treasured them up.

We don’t always comprehend what’s going on.  We don’t see how things are going to work.  But we don’t have to.  We can focus on the inconveniences and pain and complain about it all.

Or we can take the trinkets and treasures God gives us in the moment and store it up in our hearts as we have to move forward.

So.  That’s my Christmas reflection this year.  God did amazing things to bring about this Christmas night… hundred of years worth of prophecies fulfilled in a more-than-Disney magical night. But He wasn’t done by any means.

And He’s still not done.  His birth is the reminder of His power. His entrance into our lives is literally “God with us”, our source as the Prince of Peace, confidence of the everlasting Father.

He has a mighty work still to accomplish in and through us.  It’s not going to be easy.  I’m not going to understand.  But I can be confident of a future glory by His grace, as I put my faith in Him and treasure up His goodness in my heart.

 

Video Newsletter

Well, I hope everyone has enjoyed the holiday season!  I just love the wonder that fills the Christmas season.  It’s just such a wonderful season… the hustle, the bustle, the parties, the decorations, the cookies… and a snowy Christmas Day or New Year is just about the best thing I can imagine.

I tolerate winter way before before Christmas and New Year than after.  What about you?Once the afternoon of January 1 rolls around, I’m done with winter and ready to move on.  January always seems to drag along, cold and frozen and unappealing.  I’ve never really liked January, I casually observed to my husband the other day.

I still feel that way, but I’m trying to use this slow, cold time to make sure I’m setting priorities right for the coming year.  We have a lot to do (I feel like I’m always saying that) and get done, a lot to think of and plan for… and even though we’ve been preparing in prayer to bring this year in, it’s been a good time to soak in some good heart-to-heart time with God.  Especially since I spent most of Christmas break at home– Christmas colds made their way around the house.

Anyway!! I came here to post our latest video newsletter.  We’ve been slowly transitioning the way we communicate, hoping to be more effective and let you experience what we’re up to and what it’s like.  We hope you’ll enjoy it!

202 – Japan Insider from NipponAlva on Vimeo.

Christmas Socks and Cell Phones

It’s been a looooong time since I posted on here.  But you’ve been on my mind.  Tonight, I have a few minutes and my brain is still in semi-functioning condition.

Part of what has been keeping me away was a major (for me, at least) project that I was working on– a bilingual children’s church curriculum for next year, with a ton of resources that all had to be edited, put together and even produced.  No, I didn’t translate it– my networker-extraordinaire friend Kayo hooked me up with a friend to work on this project.  This has been a naptime and all-night project, pretty much every day for the last 7 months.

There will be more about that later, in newsletters and such.  It’s really cool, and it seems like the Lord is opening doors for it.

But the other thing that has been keeping me away is just LIFE.  Life with kids, life with your spouse takes time and commitment.  But living life here, with kids, a spouse, ministry and a long list of must-dos that you wouldn’t expect to fall under that job title– it just takes up every last minute and every last brain cell.

Not complaining.  It’s God’s grace that allows us to be here.  It’s also just a matter of prioritizing what can realistically get done in 24 hours and letting other things fall to the side.

For example, I just got back from spending over an hour at the phone store.  Our contract is ending and we have to decide what to do next– what’s the most economic route.  We’d been trying to go all week, but something would always come up.  I knew I needed to go alone to focus, so I put dinner on the table and snuck out the front door, leaving my husband to watch the girls.

The sweet girl behind the desk took her time to explain the system to me and what my options were.  Sometimes she’d explain, I’d say ok….. Then I’d squint my eyes, look at what she wrote, pause, think some more, wait for the full connection to happen and then say, OH. Ok. But at the end, I did understand everything.

However, it took me only 15 minutes to explain it to my husband when I got home.  There’s a big disparity of time there.

Last week, my daughter’s teacher called.  Our conversation went something like this.

Teacher: Hi, This is so and so teacher from school.  Is now a good time to talk?

Me: Yes!

Teacher: Ok.  This week at school, ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  ROSALYN ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Christmas sock ~~~~~Fill it with candy~~~~ Sorry it’s so late ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Is this ok?

Me: A Christmas sock (stocking)?

Teacher: Yes

Me: So I need to send a Christmas sock to school with Rosalyn.

Teacher: Yes, please.  Sorry it’s so late to ask for it.

Me: Ok, so what size do you need?

Teacher: Well, the bigger the better.

Me: Ok, when do you need it by?

Teacher: We’re going to work on it on Friday, so can you send it tomorrow? I’m so sorry it’s so late.

Me: Yes, I will send it with her tomorrow.  Thank you.

Teacher: Thank you.

 

Roughly end of the conversation.  I look at the clock, load up the kids on the bike and head up to the dollar store to buy a Christmas stocking before dinner. Rosalyn picks it out, we stand in an unending line with a toddler who wants to rearrange every item in the store, and finally head home.  I debate where to write her name on it, fold it up nicely to put in her bag and clear my brain of the task.

The next day, my husband comes in from picking our daughter up from the bus station.

“The teacher [another teacher on the bus] says you need Christmas paper for tomorrow.”

“Christmas paper?  What for? What kind?  How big?”

“I don’t know.  She got really nervous and couldn’t really explain it.”

Thankfully, right about that moment, my neighbor chimes in my phone with a message.  “I heard the conversation Vicente had with the teacher explaining that you need to bring [wrapping] paper from the dollar store to make a Christmas stocking tomorrow.  I’m sorry you brought the wrong thing. I have a lot here, please use mine if you want.”

And I think, Good, because I don’t have time to go to the store again today!

So, she knocks on my door early the next day to let Rosalyn pick which paper she wants.  I thank her multiple times and formulate a plan for repayment thanks– you always, always, always reciprocate any kindness. For repayment thanks, that weekend I bake her some sweets and deliver them to her door.  She returns the plate in a bag the next day, along with some juice boxes.  Her little repayment thanks.

There’s just a lot of little things like this that pile up and create long to-do lists that never end.  It takes time to make sure we understand correctly, to do what’s asked of us, to figure out how to respond, to plan events, connect with people, make decisions about budgeting and taxes in two countries and how to balance and make the most of the framework we’re working in, pray and plan for future ministry endeavors, do newsletters, study, etc. etc. etc. etc.  (there’s no particular order to this list, btw– and it doesn’t even include family life).

So, that’s where we are.

Now that some big projects are closing up for the year, I’m looking forward to Christmas break and hopefully a little rest for our brains before preparing for 2019.

We are really praying for what the Lord has for 2019– so please pray for us and for guidance from the Lord and that we will be bold and courageous and see this land for Him!

 

 

School Mom in Training

We’re well into the preschool year here.  It’s created a whole new set of routine life for us.  Rosalyn enjoys it immensely and comes home, repeating the phrases and songs she’s learned, hundreds and hundreds of times over.  I’m amazed now, watching her interactions with the other kids at the bus stop and the kids at church.  She uses what she knows and isn’t afraid to try anything, anywhere.  She’s even occasionally called me “Okaasan” (mom), which gave me a double turn.

Speaking of Okaasan life… boy, it’s a new dynamic!  I am so thankful for our neighbors– my next-door neighbor’s older child is a 3rd year preschooler and enters 1st grade next year.  So, she’s beginning the process of preparing for her son to enter elementary.  To that end, I’ve been with her when she’s stopped another mom in the complex to ask about rules and “how-tos” of elementary school.  Yet another mom in our building was asking recounting her experience searching for a “randoseru” (bookbag) for her daughter– that she will use during the 6 years in elementary school.

As you can imagine, the bookbag with such a life as this, comes with a price tag– anywhere from $300-$800.

I had to take a deep breath after writing that sentence.

So, 9 months in advance and moms are already looking for the right randoseru.  I asked about a certain store close by where I’d seen bags in the $300s and I kinda got the squinty -eyed blah look about their styles.  Mental note to mark that down as “not cool”.  Apparently the decent ones should run us some $600.

Anyway, that’s the future.  We’ll start saving now, but that’s the future.

There’s a lot to pay attention to for school right now.  I frequently reference the file folder bin on my refrigerator that has all the paperwork sent home from school throughout the week.  Every month I have get a paper with the list of dates that I need to know.

Ok, kids are having dental checks on this day.  She needs her toothbrush packed.  They’re doing water play on Tuesday and Thursday this week– she needs her specified pool bag with towel and swimsuit.  Bento days are also on Tuesday and Thursdays.  I must do laundry as soon as she gets home on Fridays so that all her bags and shorts, uniforms, socks, towels and handkerchiefs are clean and ready to be sent Monday morning.  (We don’t have a drier, so I can’t wait until the last minute to wash things).  Parent-teacher meeting on this day.  This form needs to be filled out and sent to school with her by this day.  Money for this must be signed, stamped and sent to school with her on that day.

Occasionally, I get emails from the school with important announcements or happenings.  For example, the kids at school grew cucumbers and eggplant (which Rosalyn points out at the grocery store every time now) and they made some kind of soup for the kids.  That’s pretty cool!

I have a Bus Stop Group on the messaging app we use here.  In the group, the 4 of us moms let each other know if our child is sick, will be absent for X reason or if we’ll take them directly to school that day.  The other moms will communicate that to the bus helper, who communicates that to the school.  Although– if it’s a school lunch day, I have to call the school too.

I also have a Class Moms Group.  We have 3 moms who are official… somethings… in the class.  They help organize something, though I don’t recall exactly what.  One thing they are doing though is organizing a group lunch for all us moms of that class, which is next week.  One mom reserved the spot and sent us the menu and we had to reply with our order and if we were bringing younger children.  So, we’ll see how that goes!

Back to the bus stop.  We typically gather about 10 minutes before the bus is expected.  So, it’s 20 minutes a day to chat with the other moms, which is a great chance to learn and develop more friendships as well.

It’s very interesting how everything works.  I feel mostly like I have the hang of things, though that’s in big part thanks to my neighbor and another class mom at our bus stop.  I see how the cultural dynamic of “sempai-kohai” works.  It’s kinda like a mentor-mentee system, but a lot stronger.  I can feel the kohai-ness of my position.  I feel like the system in general can be so complicated that this dynamic of sempai and kohai are necessary.  It’s a lot of food for thought as I explore this dynamic in a personal but still informal way.

Well, it’s time to head to the bus stop to pick up my kiddo.  Sayonara for now!

Preschool Prep… my part time job

I stood in front of the rack of plastic-wrapped packages, one hand on my forehead, one holding the open book in front of me.  I glanced up and studied the rack.  I looked back down and studied the book.

Five minutes later, the scene was the same, only my kiddos were nearing the end of their patience.  I looked around and spotted a lady with an elementary-aged kid.

“Excuse me.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t work here.”

“I know, but you have a kid.  [awkward pause] Can you help me?”

I had a whole list of things to buy, some of the packages looked like they might match the pictures in my book, but without labels, I couldn’t confirm. Everything made sense to all the Japanese moms, who knew instinctively what they were but I was at a loss as to why I needed so many separate bags.  On some of them, the measurements and shapes mattered.  Some didn’t.

I bought what I could confirm I needed and texted my neighbor on the walk home.  A few days later, she helped me figure out what all I would need, what fabrics were used for what types of bags and where I could pinch pennies and just get it at the dollar store.

Gee whiz!  The next couple of weeks were spent at the sewing machine we borrowed, sewing labels onto my kid’s uniforms and even writing names on socks, shoes and undergarments.  The socks (I was advised to go dark colors) needed a special white oil pen and were best written on the arch of the foot, but as it wears out easily– I was warned I’d be forever doing this.

After finally redoing her uniform jacket’s sleeve adjustments multiple times, I finally called it a season and started to put away the pile that had become “school stuff”.

I began to look to the Entrance Ceremony.  I was expected to wear a first-lady looking suit, with a corsage.   Spring colors are chic for entrance ceremonies, black is better for graduations.  Store that somewhere in my mental file cabinet of pertinent particulars. My husband would need a suit and tie for the occasion.  I added these things to my checklist.  Incidentally, I just learned that the corsage is not a real flower but a fake flowery thing… most of them too phoo-phoo for me.

I sat with our instruction booklet and a lady from church who went through each page with me.

“On Mondays, you’ll take all these bags.  You put this, this, and that in this bag and the rest go on that bag.  On Wednesdays, the towels (with the little loop you sewed to the center) will come home; wash it and send another back on Thursdays.  School lunch is Monday, Wednesday and Fridays; you pack a lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Still, go ahead and send the cup/bag each day because the kids get thirsty. Notes home from the teacher will come in this pocket.  Check it everyday. You can send notes to the teacher in the same pocket on this type of paper; don’t call the school except for X, Y or Z reasons.  The school will withdraw the money from your account right around the first of the month, so make sure it’s deposited.”

The specifications went on and on.

Thankfully, in all this process, it’s been so wonderful to have a lady from our church and my next-door neighbor to help answer the many questions I come up with.

This morning, I spent 30 minutes searching in near panic for one of the pins I’m supposed to put on her jacket. I stopped, prayed, and happened to look down at the book and read right at the spot where it said I would receive this pin at the entrance ceremony.

Whew.  Did I mention I had a dream in February sometime that it was the first day of school and I had done none of these preparations and my kid was the only one standing out completely unprepared?

Yeah, I had that dream.  It was occasioned by a note in the instruction booklet saying that kids experience a terrible shock when they realize they don’t have what they need and everyone else has– so please be careful to make sure you prepare your child well.

Yeah.

Well, I think we are all ready for tomorrow.  Rosalyn certainly is, and I think that’s the main point.  After months of preparation, I think we’re ready to embark on this first leg of the journey that is full-time school life in Japan.