Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas with the fam, part 1: North Dakota

Merry Christmas! Here's a quick report on our road trip and time with Keith's family.

We made it to North Dakota... and we got stuck behind a sand truck at one point. Gross...

We played with the kids. My how they've grown!

Compare this photo with the smiling child in the previous picture. I think they might be related?

I was sick, so we didn't do much. We did manage to get to church, where Keith preached (recording coming soon), and also to Elizabeth and Michael's first Christmas pageant! There were a bunch of little kids with stars on sticks who were supposed to sit still and look cute while the older kids did their stuff... perhaps needless to say, they started hitting the microphones and each other with the star sticks. One kid fell off the back of the risers and nearly knocked over the backdrop. The production became known in the family as "the trainwreck." We celebrated with pizza afterwards.

The kids were all dressed up, so we did a little photo shoot.

Keith had some time with his friend, Jason. They did Keith and Jason sorts of things.

We're in Iowa now... all 14 Olsons in one house. What a party! More on that later.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Luncheon

This year, my family was invited to provide music for the program of the annual women's Christmas luncheon at our church. We sang carols and antiphons and O Holy Night--complete with a verse in Japanese (sung by me, of course). We finished the concert with Jesus Christ the Apple Tree which you can download and listen to if you want.

Photo credit: Pat McGiffert. Thanks a lot!
This was also a special event for me, since not only was it my first time to attend, but it was also my first time to host a table! I love hospitality and pretty things on the table, so I went all out. I dug through all the boxes in my storage closet and pulled out all the beautiful things I received from my grandmothers.

At the luncheon, I sat with Andrea, my childhood friend, my mom, and the ladies from our Japanese church. My dad was one of the waiters.

The food was amazing... everything was made from scratch by a team of cooks from our church. What a talented bunch! Of course, the head chef did win our chili cookoff this year...

On a side note, I'm happy to report that my teacups and other such things finally have a home which is not a box in the closet under the stairs! This beautiful piece of furniture was built by my grandfather. :)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Keith reflecting on Japan grief

There have been many times in my life when I suffered grief. Most of those times were in high school and were compounded by the problem that I seemed to lack a reason for my grief. I later found out that it was my detachment from God that was the root of my problem. So I know what grief feels like. When it hits me more intensely, it affects me physically. I kneel down and stare at a spot on the ground. Somewhere in my chest cavity there are muscle contractions that force me to double over slightly. I studied some human anatomy, but I can't seem to place what exactly is contracting, maybe my intercostals because I also draw in a slow breath that I never fully exhale until the intensity passes. To an extent, this physical pain reflects the mental pain of my grief. 

I write this because I along with my wife have been feeling grief over Japan. I first misinterpreted it as reverse culture shock, which we did have, but the lingering sadness over the months did not abate like the culture shock did. It was only recently at a conference about communication, when we were discussing the various symptoms of grief, that we noticed we had those symptoms of shock (which we attributed to culture shock), sadness, wrestling with pain, and attempting to come to terms with reality. Celia and I have attempted to short-cut the process by claiming God's promises that He will bring us back to Japan and that right now He has called us to Seattle for a reason. I am, however, still at the stage of wrestling with the pain of having a calling to Japan and acknowledging the reality that I do not live in Japan. I am grieving the loss of relationships that we were fostering in Japan, of seeing all the children growing up at Satsunae Lighthouse Church, of explaining the gospel to college students in simple English, and of working with our mentors and co-workers. 

My favorite picture of Satsunae Lighthouse Church in Sapporo, Japan

For each of these areas and others I have given myself excuses like, “I can be with people here now,” and “There's no reason why I should miss my Japanese friends more than I missed my family when I lived there.” I have downplayed this grief, and compounded it like I did in high school. The difference is that I do not feel distanced from God, and to some extent, that is part of the reality that I grapple with. The reality that God gives me a passion for Japan, does not (nor do I want Him to) take my passion away, yet settles me here in Seattle which is not Japan. I am aware that there are a number of reasons why God gives me the desire to go to Japan but keeps me in Seattle for this time (plenty of reasons like: I can be a living testimony to American people that Japanese people need Jesus, or the obvious reason is that I need prayer and financial support that I otherwise would not get if I were in Japan or that I would not want to get if I were not passionate to go, or another reason is that I can partner with others who are passionate about helping the Japanese but unable to go themselves), but one thing about grief: it does not listen to reason. When I think about what I did when I missed my family while living in Japan, I realize I did very few of those things upon coming back here. When I went to Japan, I knew I would miss big events, like the births and baptisms of nieces and nephews. I addressed the problems specifically and prayed about it. I dealt with it instead of trying to cheer myself up. I did not say, “God has led me to Japan for this time, so I should make the most of my time while I'm here and stop 'living' back at home.” Maybe there is a time to say that, but it was not when my brother was in a burn care clinic in Minnesota and I was in Japan.
My brother (born with spina bifida, hence the wheelchair) was flown by helicopter to Minneapolis to treat his leg burns, which happened shortly after Celia and I had arrived in Japan in 2009.
So even in the last week or two, I have noticed that I perceive this grief differently. It is no longer negative feelings to be discouraged but acceptable feelings that show the burden of love (pardon the Christianese) that God has placed on me. I love the Japanese there, and I love my family here. Both types of love are God given, and I must deal with the consequences of this love. “To arrive means to have left,” which is something I will have to deal with over and over again especially as a missionary.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Knitting projects (procrastination)

I'm procrastinating right now. There's a lot to do that I don't feel like doing... so here I am blogging about my knitting projects. Also, I'm working on about 10 projects right now (need to use up the yarn stash before moving to Japan), so there will be a lot more pictures of completed projects after Christmas!

First, hats. These are great for using up yarn. I posted pictures of Alison's baby sweater in my last post. I used up leftover yarn from that sweater for Alison and Alexander's hats, inventing the pattern as I went:

I also made a birthday hat for Elizabeth, which she received about 5 months late. Oh dear. She picked out the pattern herself from my friend, Cosy's pattern book. (She was 2 at the time... ;)

Elizabeth's hat, and Michael's birthday hat, which is still in progress (oh dear... his birthday was last week...) came from leftover yarn from this blanket (pattern available here), which was Carla and Arnaldo's wedding present:

I'm working on a lot of stuff at the moment. One recent fun discovery was this blog, which has many fun snowflake patterns. So I'm making Christmas ornaments.

Incidentally, the green sweater in the picture is the one that's been in progress for several years. It still doesn't have buttons, but I'm wearing it anyway. Hopefully I'll actually finish it soon...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My sermon is online!

In case you missed our November newsletter (previous post), I preached at Newport Covenant Church (my home church) last Sunday on Psalm 145 for our Thanksgiving service. I never would have thought I'd do that when I left for college 11 years ago... but now I have. Then again, I never thought I would become a missionary.

Well, it's over... I think it went pretty well. (This was my third time preaching, but I got a lot of public speaking experience in Japan, since I gave my testimony a whole bunch of times.) What was really great was the open mic time afterwards. Many people had the opportunity to publicly thank God for his goodness in their lives for the encouragement of the congregation. I was encouraged. :) Oh, I also got to lead communion for the first time in the second service. I remembered the words of institution, but forgot the prayer. Oops.

On Monday I wandered around wondering what to do with all my free time... and quickly filled it with other things I had neglected to do last week while writing the sermon. Oh well. On to the next big thing: on Saturday my parents and Keith and I will be providing music for the Newport Covenant Church Christmas luncheon. I'm also hosting a table. What fun!

The sermon, as the title says, is online--you can download it here or listen from the church's website.

Happy Thanksgiving!