Does God Really Provide?

I’m currently reading a simplified and dramatised biography of George Muller to Heidi and Pippa each night. We’re up to Chapter 11 and are reading mostly one chapter a night, so we must have coincidentally started around the beginning of the year. It has been such a great read. George Muller was a man who did many different things as he felt called by God, but primarily he started the first orphanage in Bristol, England, at a time when the only other alternative for an orphan was the poorhouse. He also educated both children and adults through schools and Sunday schools. Throughout all of these different experiences though, perhaps what George Muller is best known for is his absolute reliance on God for provision of all things practical and financial.

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The book we are currently reading – it’s great!

I’m also reading through 1 Corinthians at the moment, and the verse in Chapter 12 (referring to Spiritual gifts) that says ‘To one there is given… faith by the same Spirit’. When I read that verse I immediately thought of George Muller and thought ‘Now there was a man with the gift of faith.’ George refused a regular salary instead relying on the provision of God through the generosity of his people, and time and time again the Lord provided just exactly what George, his family and the orphans needed at exactly the right time.

Paul and I are (God willing) planning to return (with our kids of course!) to Japan at the end of March this year. But to be able to do that we need a certain amount of finances to be given clearance to get back to the field. We are currently on roughly 80% of our budget but need 100% pledged before mid February. It seems that from a human standpoint that it is impossible that we will leave as we hope. But yesterday Paul and I had a quiet evening to chat, and as usual, Japan and our hopes and dreams came up. Most importantly though, we reflected on all that God has provided for us up until this point.

We reflected on this time roughly 12 months ago, as we looked ahead to our return to Australia for 12 months, with no house, no school for the children, no cars, no furniture. We had not one idea of how any of these things would come to be. And yet, time after time, the Lord God provided just exactly what we needed. The very house that we are living in, the cars we have been driving, the toys, many of the clothes, our furniture, bikes for all of us, car seats, prams, crockery, school uniforms, the list goes on much more – all have been provided to us in more wonderful ways than we could ever have imagined. While the past 9 months here in Australia has most definitely not gone according to our human plans, the Lord has absolutely provided all that we have needed and of course has been with us each step of the way.

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A picture of Heidi, Annie and Pippa in their school uniforms, outside of the house we live in – all graciously and generously provided for us early last year.

As I shared last night with Paul of feeling discouraged and struggling to believe that the Lord can truly get us there, it did help to reflect. Just as the Israelites were told again and again to remember all that the Lord had done for them and their ancestors, I too must remember. On top of the encouragement that such memories bring, God graciously provided me with some encouragement today. An email from someone entirely out of the blue, encouraging us in our service in Japan greatly lifted my spirits, as did an email with a financial pledge for us as we plan to return. Even the small things, like encouragements when we need them, can spur us on and remind us of what our good and loving Father in heaven can do. Even just this morning I was despairing over Henry’s poor sleeping habits and cried out to God in prayer (complaint?) and this afternoon and evening Henry has slept so much better. Our God truly does care, and meets our needs just as He knows is best. Lord, may I remember this and remember your goodness, faithfulness and ability to provide us with all we need in every step of life.

George Muller lived a very long time ago, and the Lord provided in miraculous, and at times almost unbelievable ways. That same God is able to provide in the same way now, as we trust Him and leave our lives in His care. Our mission organisation, OMF, looks at financial provision by the Lord as confirmation on His call to mission believing that the Lord’s supply proves his call. While it is not an easy road and there is a temptation to seek an easier, more stable route, I too believe this. If the Lord calls, surely He will provide. Please pray for me, for us, for all of us, to work hard at relying on the ability of the Lord to provide all that we need in one moment. May we all be people of faith. For the Lord surely is able.

 

Book Review #1: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

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My sister Lucy recently traveled to Cambodia for work and lent me this book after she returned. Considering I usually enjoy biographies and autobiographies, as well as inspiring stories of survival, this was a book I was eager to begin reading. And it was, despite the very heavy content, a very compelling read.

The story is told from the point of view of the author, Loung, beginning as a young child around the age of five, living with her middle-class family in Phnom Penh in 1975. The daughter of a government official, as the Khmer Rouge take over the city (and the country) her family are forced to flee and endure physical hardship, separation, poverty, sickness and ultimately the death of close family members at the hands of the new regime.

Loung speaks candidly of the cruelty and heartbreaking challenges she and her family faced – from the despair of constant hunger amidst abundant crops, to the brainwashing endured as a potential child soldier. The very worst of humanity is on show throughout her memoir. And yet it is somehow not the overwhelming tone of horror that one might expect. The theme of family weaving throughout the terrifying events spur this story from one of bleakness, to one of hope. Loung is always thinking of her Father, her siblings, her mother and of family – being together with those you love.

Loung’s family, their characteristics, personalities and the lengths they went through to survive are inspiring. Whether it is ‘Little Monkey’ going off to work as a boy and returning home bruised at the hand of his abusers, yet presenting some life-saving leftovers proudly to his Father, or the gentleness of Choung despite Loung’s unkind behaviour towards her meek elder sister, the family dynamics are real and authentic. And when tragedy befalls the family, the grief they all go through despite needing to fight for their own survival, is palpable.

The mere fact that Loung survived amazed me. Time after time she was a hair’s-breadth away from death and yet each time she survived. People around her who she knew, sometimes those she cared for and loved, were left behind. This is a story of survival against the odds. In the few short years that the Khmer Rouge were in power roughly 2 million Cambodians perished – around a quarter of the entire population. This was a tragedy at a national level, one that many of us have heard about. Reading ‘First They Killed My Father’ brings that tragedy to us in a personal, gritty way and leaves a lasting imprint of the destruction Pol Pot and his followers brought upon a nation of people just like Loung Ung and her family, yet ends on a hopeful note. I highly recommend reading this page turner but be prepared to battle tears and an emotional roller coaster as you do.

 

A New Year Begins – Finally!

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So happy to see you 2020!

2019 has felt like the fastest year on record. Of course I know that sounds ridiculous but each month flew by while I watched it and tried to catch up. It’s safe to say that I am glad to see the end of 2019 – very glad. In some ways a new year is simply the ticking over of one day to the next, but at the same time something can be said for a fresh start or a new beginning – and I am hoping that this year brings with it a change from the last.

2019 was always going to be a fairly intense year – we had an international, temporary move as a family, and we celebrated the arrival of our littlest family member Henry in the mix. So some fairly major life transitions to take note of. But when I look back on 2019 the main theme has been ‘health’ – and not the good kind.

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The VERY cute baby Henry Theodore

We have been to 6 different hospitals, had gastro, accidents, heart problems, eye trouble, tooth trouble, psychological checks and the list goes on. It has seemed like it has been one thing after the other. So I am simply hoping and praying for a healthier 2020.

And yet, oddly enough, when I think back on all of the things that have happened, I am overwhelmingly thankful that despite the unrelenting nature of things, none of the health issues are permanent, currently life threatening or chronic. And particularly when I think of Annie’s accident I am just so VERY thankful that it wasn’t worse than it was. A few seconds difference could have had a very different outcome and I am just more thankful than I can express. Thank you Jesus.

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u1I’m also SO thankful for all of the support we have received from just so many people here in Australia. We have been upheld in prayer, supported practically with meals and gifts, and encouraged in our times of trial. Thank you to many of you for your role in that.

So here’s to 2020 – we are planning to move back to Japan at the end of March, so that’s a big deal. But no babies on the way, and hopefully a year without some of the drama we’ve seen in 2019. But as always I look forward to another year walking with Jesus, regardless of what happens. With Him by my side, life has hope, direction and purpose even in the midst of the troubles and trials. Although less of them might be nice. X

 

 

 

Blessing amidst trial

Six months have passed since we returned to Australia for our 12 month period of Home Assignment. It has been more challenging then we ever expected, and in ways different to what we may have thought. I had anticipated culture shock in relation to tattoos, skimpier clothing and antagonism towards the Church. Here’s what I wasn’t expecting:

  • 3 serious hospitalisations for our immediate family – Will with a burn, Annie with a serious lower-leg crush injury, me with the flu and a heart condition.
  • Significant relational struggles
  • Church difficulties
  • Longer term and ongoing health issues for some of our children.

I have spent more time in hospitals and clinics during the last six months than I have in my whole life up to this point I’m sure. It’s been exhausting. But at the same time, I have been overwhelmingly glad to have access to (mostly) free, amazing health care here in Melbourne. In English, in a system I know and can navigate without too much stress, and in a place where we have received such a generous amount of support from churches, friends and family. What a great blessing, and a time of humility and weakness, it has been to accept such kindness and generosity from others.

I am also very thankful that both Heidi and Pippa are really enjoying school life. They have great teachers, friends and seem to be learning a lot and growing. Heidi has her first school camp tomorrow, and Pippa begins a soccer clinic this week, once a week, for the whole term.

Annie unfortunately won’t be able to do Kinder this year, as the timing of both vaccinations and then her accident means that she can’t make it. By the time she gets the all clear (hopefully!) to be able to run, jump and play freely without worry for her leg, it will be halfway through Term 4. So we will hold off until next year for 4 year old Kinder, even just for one term.

Will has grown into a very cheeky, easy going almost 2 year old who smiles, laughs and makes everyone laugh themselves.

And all of the ‘big kids’ love our newest addition – Henry Theodore, born on the 16th September. He is such a precious little baby – our fifth and final child – completing our family of seven. What a treasure and blessing from the Lord that he is. I can’t wait to learn more about him as he grows day by day, month by month. But for now, newborn snuggles, milky sessions and squeaky sleeps are just precious.

Despite the challenges this year has (unexpectedly!) brought, there is so much to be thankful for – much more than I have mentioned here – but it is very helpful to think of just a few of the blessings – to remember the Lord’s goodness to me, to my family.

 

 

A School Visit

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One of the great things about serving here in Japan with a family are the opportunities that open up because of the kids. Heidi has had the same teacher for the past two years and we have a pretty good relationship. Earlier this year Paul and I ran English classes for the 2nd Grade students, as well as some cultural exchange things including although not limited to the all important Australian Animals presentation. We certainly have some weird but awesome animals!

Anyway, I digress. A while ago I had asked to see if we could run some kind of Christmas Party/English class themed around Christmas at both the local Kindergarten and Primary School, and both were very receptive, so on Tuesday this week we had our visit to the Primary School.

Paul and I were able to include, welcome and very happily facilitate a team of 12 Aussies from Sydney to do the program. Paul worked with the team during the planning stages, I did the translating and it all came together quite well I think. We had a couple of songs, games, interactions with kids and a play of the nativity story.

One moment that stands out to me was when I asked the group of 50 or so 2nd Graders if anyone knew the real story of Christmas.  A couple of hands were raised and an 8 year old girl stood up among her classmates and said, ‘It’s the day the Saviour was born.’ Unexpectedly, she had given a perfect answer. And it was with her sweet introduction to the real story of Christmas that we were then able to tell the nativity story, teaching the kids that Jesus is the best present we could ever want. Some of the kids will have heard the Christmas story before, but for many of them it will have been their very first time.

What a privilege it is to share the good news to children, and pray for the fruit of eternity one day, in God’s precious timing.

I was also pleasantly surprised when one of the boys in Heidi’s class came up to me with a smile when he first saw me and said (in Japanese), ‘Heidi’s Mum!’ and gave me a big hug.

I watched a church infographic type clip sometime during the past year (which I haven’t been able to find) but it talked about the benefit that can often be overlooked in missions or in church planting, and that is of sharing the gospel with children. There is a higher chance that children will grow up to follow Jesus when they hear the gospel as a child for the first time, rather than as  an adult. Something interesting to ponder, and encouraging to those of us who work with children in Sunday School, evangelism or other areas of life. The little ones are precious and important.

Anyway, Tuesday was a great day and we keep praying for the children we come into contact with to hear the gospel and have seeds planted in their hearts, that they would one day choose Jesus.

(Here is the link to the clip I mentioned – thank you Markus for getting in touch with that information.)

Discipleship – How Hard Can It Be?

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One of the things that Paul and I talk about a lot is how we can be intentional about how we raise our children, particularly what discipleship looks like in our family.

I wonder if sometimes the word discipleship is kept in the ‘church’ box, or religious group box. For us, discipleship is something we strive to be doing, both being disciples of Jesus ourselves everyday, and also discipling our children everyday. Teaching them, showing them, guiding them – sowing seeds in their lives everyday that show them who Jesus is. That help them know him from His word. That shows them what a follower of Jesus lives like.

But oh my word, it is so hard. It sounds so nice, holistic and right to just type it out like the above. But the actual nitty gritty, day in-day out of doing it – that is a whole other level. I fail over and over again. Just last night, the girls were wired. We put them to bed and still at 8:30 they were loud and crazy, albeit in bed. I went upstairs and it was not pretty, and this morning I apologised. Where is patient, compassionate servant-hearted Mum after the lights go out? Sometimes she vanishes just like the light does on that bedroom switch. Me time. (Well technically at the moment study time but that’s a story for another day.)

The trouble with discipleship, or wanting to teach and show your kids about Jesus, is that it must start with me. My heart. I don’t want mere moralism and simply good behaviour. Jesus wasn’t into that. He wants hearts, lives, souls that follow Him, are devoted to Him, that LOVE him. And yeah, that’s where it gets hard.

I’ve been listening to a podcast by Sally Clarkson, ‘At Home With Sally’ and they have been really challenging, helpful and inspiring. But just about every time I listen and I think, ‘It’s not about changing the kids, it’s about changing me.’ The old saying, ‘Do what I say and not what I do’ hits home a little too deeply.

If I want to teach the kids to read their Bibles everyday but I’m not doing that myself, something isn’t right.
If I want to teach them to pray, knowing that God hears their every prayer, why am I not praying more myself?
If I want a tone of respect, gentleness and kindness in our home but I am grumpy with the kids and disrespectful towards my husband, how can I expect that to happen?

Discipling, which in many ways is simply another word for parenting, is so hard because it cuts straight to the heart not just to the one being discipled, but also the one doing the discipling.

It’s not just me right? Tell me, do you find these things challenging as a parent, as a Mum?

I do think we can help and encourage one another towards godliness in life, and godliness in parenting. Sharing stories, caring for one another, rebuking where necessary, always loving one another – these things can help us in our journey.

How can I help you today?

 

Parenting on the Mission Field

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Paul and I collapsed on the couch. Finally the kids were in bed. It had been a long, hard parenting slog-of-a-day. Moments later a cry of ‘Daddy!’ came from upstairs, which then woke the baby who also began to cry. We looked at each other with tiredness, frustration and despair in our eyes.  These are the moments no one sees on social media, or in our prayer letters. ‘Does anyone know how hard this is?’ I asked Paul with tears in my eyes as we both sighed with resignation and went upstairs to attempt to calm the upset kids, despite the fact that we both just.could.not.be.bothered.

Helping our growing family to navigate living in a world between two languages, two cultures, transition and separation was something we expected to be challenging. Which it has. But something we didn’t expect was the loneliness in parenting that we have felt.

Our children despite our very best intentions are not perfect. I know, don’t be too shocked. Strangely enough, Paul and I are not perfect either. And because 1 + 1 = 2, our family is not perfect – far from it in fact. We are currently going through a period where we despair over the behaviour that we see in our children, but also in ourselves as parents. It is so easy to listen to a parenting podcast or reading a parenting book and think, ‘Why are my kids not like that?’, and then not too much later, ‘Why can’t I be like that?’ The reality of living in the fallen world means that despite our best of intentions, none of us get it right.

“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin. As it is written,

‘There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.'”

Romans 3:9-10

We have one child who is very strong willed. We have one who is very emotional. We have one who is noisy ALL of the time. We have one who gets into everything. And we also have one parent who likes to be in control and one who wants everybody to be happy.

We are all sinners.

And yet, despite the struggle and the tears, in moments of despair I can look out at the cross and know hope. Because in my weakness as a mother, in my moments of despair I am compelled, I am desperate to look to the only One who can help. When no parenting book, podcast, sleep training clinic or latest fad can help, the great Helper is with me.

James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

So there is hope, there is help and Paul and I are in this together. So even as we despair I know that those moments will pass. But I think there are a couple of factors that are particular to our situation that make things uniquely challenging.

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Lack of a Parenting Community

Moving overseas with a 2 & 3 year old, moving again at the two year mark of being in Japan, and having two more babies during that time basically means that our friendship pool is small. Of course we have friends, coworkers and people around us who encourage us and help where they can, but we don’t see any friends regularly who live nearby and have kids going through the same kinds of issues we are.

Who do we look to around us to see how they do things? Who do we get hand-me-down clothes from? Who do we ask for advice from? Who do we sit with, laugh with and cry with over the issues that like-minded parents go through? Who can commiserate with us about homework levels and homeschooling woes?

Cultural Differences

The other significant challenge simply comes down to culture. Parenting, along with the ins and outs of family life, are quite different. Simple yet profound differences like fathers not spending much time with their children, kids beginning full time kindergarten at age 3, and even sleeping differently.

According to this study of over 1000 dads in Tokyo, approximately 50% spent between 30 minutes and 2 hours a day with their kids. Many fathers face tremendous pressure to work very long hours six days a week, with next to no holidays all year. Three year old kindergarten typically runs from 10 – 3 Monday through Friday, and as the schooling ages increase, so do the hours, expectations and extra curricular activities.

Most families co-sleep in some way, often with mothers sleeping in a room with children. And the time kids go to bed is often much later than a typical Aussie family. Sorry for what are stereotypes and generalisations, but they are anecdotally, generally true. Heidi was trying to convince Paul and I to let her stay up a little later by saying, ‘As long as I go to bed before 12 it’s fine!’ We both kind of laughed and asked her to explain what she meant. ‘My teacher says as long as you go to bed by midnight than that is OK.’ She then named a few of the kids in the class that always stay up late. Japanese parents are often shocked if we share that the kids go to bed at 7pm most nights, and that they don’t sleep in a room with us.

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No one is ever surprised to hear that parenting is hard. But it’s not something that perhaps is thought about as an extra challenge on the mission field, which is why I wanted to talk about it in this blog post. Unexpected cultural differences are always the hardest to overcome too.

Parenting is hard even in the best situation – with loads of support, resources, time and placid, more compliant personalities. Sometimes we feel stretched beyond what we can bear, and feel like ‘What in the world do we do right now?’ But we are always very thankful for our children and know and rejoice that they are truly precious gifts from God. I am so thankful that any time I need wisdom (which is every.single.day) that I can ask the One who can truly help and gives His wisdom generously without finding fault.

Psalm 127:3 ‘Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.’