Monday, July 16, 2012

What have you rejected?

I found myself on a beach today. In Croatia. A long way from the small country town into which I entered the world. I was wearing a bikini (at the beach, not when I was born). With ruby toes pointing to the sun.

It made me ponder all that I was taught. About ladies, and what they should look like. By my wonderful Dad.

There was a lengthy list. Don't drink from a bottle (I did that today too). Don't kick a footy. Make sure the door is opened for you. Don't ever wear a bikini. And toes are the only things allowed to be nude. Must be nude.

When did I buy my first bikini? I know I was an adult, and remember being excited like a little girl, but can't recall if I felt a little disobedient too? The toenails. Now always coloured. When did that start? My Dad continues to play the game of being horrified if ever he sees a hue at the end of my fingers or toes. A footy has certainly made its ways to those toes. What sort of mother would I be to my four sons otherwise?

But what else have I rejected? Decided his values were no longer mine. The notion that I must "look after number one". Definitely that. Also all of his politics. Makes for fun family conversations. The disinterest in God? That one has been nullified.

Which naturally leads me to wonder about my boys. Thrashing about in the ocean as I pondered. What am I teaching them today, that will be rejected later? Different for each boy, yes. But their lists will be long, I'm sure.

I tried to make a mental list of exactly what it is we are trying to impart to our future men:

It's not about you, it's about God.
Put others first.
Understand there is always a story. Don't judge. 
Be compassionate.
Be generous.
Love. Always love.

Then there are the other things:

Eat with your mouth closed.
Put the seat down.
Tattoos are forever.

I realised there was a long list of things my Dad taught me which I have embraced too. Work hard at your marriage. Work first, play later. Never give up. Always do your best.

What will be embraced and discarded by my boys? Which values, in twenty years or so, will they realise are no longer important? Not to them?

I'm hoping it's about the seat. I could be okay with them leaving it up. I could live with a tattoo too.

But their faith? Their compassion? The putting others first?

Really hoping they get all of that right.

Giving thanks:
  • My Dad. And the lessons taught.
  • All that I have learnt since.
  • Opportunity to teach four future men.
  • Trusting God with the men they will become.
  • The privilege of travel.
  • Sunshine. With the added bonus of no pollution.
  • Brothers building memories together. Though they don't necessarily know it.
  • Picigin.
  • Always being the foreigner.
  • Relaxing with my groom, no text books in sight.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Real lessons from school

School is so different compared to 'back in my day'.

Today, I went to hear about my son's 'company' that he has been working in over the past six weeks or so. His class had to come up with the idea, and then organise themselves into various divisions and roles. They bargained with the Principal regarding the price they would pay for rent of their classrooms, use of the computers, and brought in an expensive consultant (the IT teacher) to assist with technology issues. They created surveys and spreadsheets, worked out projected costings, and created stocks for parents to invest in the company. 

It culminated in three days this week, when they ran the company, complete with paying customers in the form of students and teachers. The two other classes in that year ran their companies simultaneously.

These kids raised about $2000 over those three days. 

The money is being donated to their 'sister school' within Indonesia. They have been supporting this school for 10 years now. From incredibly humble (poor) beginnings, each year they have used the funds provided by these 'companies' to build the shell of a library, then the carpets for the library, then air conditioning for the library, then the books for the library, then one laptop... Each year the resources improve, and those kids have a better chance of gaining an education that could potentially alleviate some of the poverty within their families, and ultimately in their communities. 

They have the only library in the region. Millions of children in this world do not have any access to any books. Glance over at your bookshelf.

I love that my boys are not busy raising funds for their own school. For better equipment and facilities for themselves. Instead they are excited to be contributing to children, and therefore communities, who need the most basic things that we all take for granted.

We could all learn from them.

As I look around there is absolutely nothing I need. But so much I could give. 

Next year, my son will go and visit the 'sister school'. See what his time and effort contributed to, in the form of books, or soccer balls, or stationary...whatever was most needed. 

And I hope he will know the truth of "It is more blessed to give than receive" (Acts 20:35). How incredible to see the evidence of that at such a young age. 

May this boy of mine be a different man as a result.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Do you know where your kids are?

Someone who works as a cleaner here in Jakarta, lost his 7 and 11 year old children. For six days.

Now I remember when I lost my eldest in a store about a decade a go. I had remained reasonably calm for a very long time whilst we looked for him. Maybe 10 minutes had passed when I thought, "He's gone. He's actually gone." Though in reality he was sitting somewhere rather inane, completely content, yet to be found.

But six days? How, as a parent, do you do six days?

Their Mum died a year ago. The Dad works everyday, for about $90 a month. Which is significantly less than even the minimum wage here. So his three kids go out on the road every day and beg for money. No maths, reading or kicking a ball. Just standing in amongst the crazy traffic here, the pollution, waiting for some small change to be handed out of cars like mine, from people who are earning more money than they could fathom.

And then they were gone.

Two of my boys are 7 and 11.

The father had his youngest still at home. He asked everyone he knew. Where could they be? He has no power, no media at his disposal, no money to pay anyone. He waited helplessly.

Incredibly, they came home. Unharmed. Hungry and carrying some flu, but okay. I cannot imagine that reunion. I'm still not clear where they were for those six days.

My gorgeous driver, who lives from pay to pay, is giving the family an old Playstation to try and keep them at home. Keep them entertained while their Dad is working, for such little income. Which also means less begging, less income, less food.

But their Dad will know where they are.

This world can be such an overwhelming place. My boys are sleeping peacefully just now. I know exactly where they are. They are safe and secure.

And I'm giving thanks.

Join me, will you?

Giving thanks:
  • First tooth lost - finally!!!!!
  • The wonderful promise of special visitors!
  • Bowling with two boys. So nice to have some focussed time.
  • Sitting on swings, spinning around...having lunch at a fun restaurant with the some of my boys.
  • Sunday nights with my groom. The 'window' in our week when we talk.
  • An email from a much missed friend.
  • Some time with number three, even though it was because he was sick!
  • The anticipation of middle school for my big boy. Exciting times ahead.
  • A run after many weeks patiently waiting. Apparently my knee has not caught up to my age. Yet.
  • Tears from a boy, worried about what a girl will think of his haircut. Already?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Choosing honesty over self-esteem

Is it just me? Or do you find yourself in those terrible places where you have to choose between building your child up, and letting them down - by being honest? 

It starts when they're two. Those big eyes look up at you as they hold up their latest masterpiece, and you exclaim with great wonderment - how did they become such an artist? Or perhaps it was when they were still one, and you remark on the fabulous kick, when their big toe did actually connect briefly with the ball...

Before you know it you are relieved they can count to ten, and excited they can read the word 'the'. And you tell them so. Their eyes shine and their little faces light up. They feel special. 

You try to make sure you are making many more comments about their character. About the people they are becoming. Though with homework, sport, much conversation seems to be focussed on the 'doing' rather than the 'being'. Okay, occasionally punctuated by the reprimands for the faults in character. Wrong, wrong, wrong emphasis.

I find myself with boys who are growing up. A couple of nights ago there were tears. Torrents, actually. About not being recognised for the sporting prowess that is very much present as far as he is concerned. Absolutely indignant about it all. I hesitated for a moment, before - hopefully gently- pointing out his view of himself was perhaps skewed on this occasion. That really, the coach was making a reasonable decision.

And his heart broke.

Of course I followed up with attempts to console, encourage...

But I do believe my boy was disappointed in me. That his own mother doesn't think he's the best in the team, was devastating. And it was the split second decision, as to whether to let the comments slide. I couldn't. Because I think it's worse to believe you're the best in the team when you're not, than to not be the best in the team. Much more to learn when you live in reality.

There are some basic rules of communication. Say something positive before the negative. Speak encouragement and affirmation into people's lives. Love.

I'm not convinced I made the right choice. But he's not two, and he can count to ten. Surely there's no point in going out into the world with an unrealistic view. Yet there is the argument that you should only build up your children, because the rest of the world will be busy tearing them down. I'm not sure I fully agree.

What about you? Have you disappointed your children when instilling some reality?
The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1 
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4
 ...rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. Proverbs 9:9
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 13:18

Giving thanks:
  • 80's parties. A great excuse to dance with my groom.
  • A little boy teaching the littlest boy fractions. With passion.
  • A progressive dinner with nearly 50 people - and seven apartments/countries to visit.
  • Seeing the boys surrounded by new friends. And loving it.
  • Flowers behind my ear from my sons.
  • Sitting on the balcony, chatting.
  • A coffee and good conversation with two new, and lovely, women.
  • Gifting my groom a morning off from soccer.
  • Chances to be honest. And loving. At the same time.
  • Loving every bit of uni reading.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What do names mean?

Our lovely new Pembantu is named Ami. That's it. Like Madonna. Or Prince. No surname. We're still getting to know one another. Ami is a single Mum. I'm not sure whether 'Dad' is no longer of this world, or is just not in her life. Though Ami has made it clear she has no family other than her daughter.

Surnames are certainly funny things. The day I floated up to my groom I eagerly embedded his name to mine. Though I did question the wisdom or altering my standard 'Davis' for 'Sinn' once we had children, often remarking we should have perhaps gone the other way... Of course many clutch tightly to their original surname, resisting any blending of the names after they walk down that aisle.

And that connection to family. With my sister and I now our own family units, not sharing our family name, is anything lost? One of our boy's middle names is my maiden one. Links to my past. Of course there are many who would rather deny their family name and forget what went before, all the damage behind. Would prefer no connection to that history.

Then there are middle names. Teasing at school because of mine - no, let's not talk about it now - meant careful selection for my boys. My groom telling it was just a name that went on forms, was not how I perceived it. Yet apparently we can get it wrong. We changed one of our boy's middle names when he was two - okay - maybe he was almost three. Yes, I know, embarrassing really. But now it is perfect. And how many times have you continued to call someone the wrong name, because they 'looked like' that name? Our boy looked like a different name. Happy to justify that one.

What of the meanings? Do you believe they reflect in the child? I don't, and yet I look at my 'bold and impetuous' boy, the stubborn 'strong and steadfast' one, the sensitive 'light and merciful' child, and the 'happy one', and I am perplexed. Coincidence, I'm sure...

The Bible tells us we are adopted in to a family, if we choose to be. It doesn't matter what our surname was.  Or if we don't have one. What our past looks like. No one is rejected. There is only one name, which is far above every other name that can be invoked (Ephesians 1:21). Indeed, that the Holy Spirit is a "deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are in God's possession" (Ephesians 1:14). That "...everyone whose name is found written in the book - will be delivered." (Daniel 12:1b)

Whether you are Ami or Madonna, or one of my boys, there's one family to be associated with. Ultimately only one name will endure for an eternity. May it be on my lips more than any other.

Giving thanks:
  • Tears from a boy when his big brother lost a soccer game.
  • Book reading, making for peaceful, extended times in Jakarta traffic.
  • Bandaids on little fingers, with a plan for change.
  • Ten in our car - three adults, seven kids.
  • Valentines from my boys.
  • Thoughtful cards made for friends leaving the country.
  • A fun, and interesting night, with fun and interesting people, at Book Club.
  • Meeting so many new arrivals to our community here. People you want to see again, soon.
  • A night on the balcony with my groom, no assignments in sight.
  • Readings posted for uni. Good and terrifying.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jakarta Jockeys

It's amazing what people do to make money in this city. Anywhere between 11 and 15 million people live in Jakarta, depending on who is giving the estimate. Part of the reason the figure is so fluid is due to the difficulty in obtaining official statistics, and people travelling to Jakarta from other provinces for work. About 10% of those people are unemployed. Which equates to somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million people. In one city. The population of the last city I lived in. Hard to comprehend.

Of those employed, a small percentage are earning an exorbitant amount. The divide between the wealthy and the poor is immense. The minimum wage was recently increased by the government here to approximately $160 per month. Under $40 a week. Or less than $6 to survive each day. For those who do get that much. Many don't. Not only do people rent a 'house' (tiny room without furniture) and eat with that money, but frequently they are also supporting extended family either here or in their provinces.

It is incredible watching what unemployed people will do to earn money, any money, to survive. One of the 'jobs' that I am fascinated by is that of a 'jockey'. People line up along the side of the road, during the peak morning and evening traffic. Frequently they have a baby or young child attached to them in a sling. They hold their one or two fingers in the air, and wait. To be picked up by a stranger, who needs extra passengers so that they can travel in the transit lane in order to beat the crazy traffic.

We have occasionally picked up a 'jockey', and I find I become quite 'anxious' as I wait for my driver to select someone. Why that person? Why not the guy next to him? What if they don't get picked up, and don't have enough money for their children today? What about the Mum who looks to be about 18? The baby so tiny. The young boy?

When you slow down, there are a number of people close to the car who assume it is they you are stopping for. That they were chosen. But it's him, not you. I'm sorry. And my stomach wrenches. People oscillating between hope and hopelessness as the minutes progress, people plucked out around them. Them still standing, though the arm not raised quite as high.

If they do get a job for the morning, they have no real idea where they will end up. They sit in the front seat, completely still and silent. At some point they are not needed anymore. The car stops. They are handed the equivalent of about $2 and they alight. Then they find their way back. Either to fill in the day before trying again in the late afternoon, or head back home. I have been told that sadly many do not receive the full $2, handing a portion to a third party who 'organises' a group of jockeys.

Each time I gaze at these people, from the comfort of my air-conditioned car, belly full, driver weaving his way through...I wonder. Why are they out there, whilst I'm in here? My boys given every privilege. Their children so often hungry, and sick because they don't have proper medical care. Too often uneducated.

Can I encourage you, as you read this, to give thanks? Now look around you, and give thanks again. And as you eat your breakfast, go to work, shop for groceries, take your kids to school...okay, yes, you understand. 

Be grateful, be grateful, be grateful. 

Giving thanks:
  • An incredible sunset from our balcony. Whilst listening to the 'call to prayer', reading our bibles together.
  • Farewelling gorgeous people. Special friendships, built quickly.
  • The offer, and acceptance, of another year in Jakarta.
  • Going on a Field Trip with my boy, who was so excited to have me there.
  • New arrivals, and the promise of new friendships.
  • Dugongs. Evidence of God's incredible imagination.
  • One of my boys saying he didn't want to change swim lessons if he couldn't be with his brother.
  • News from Australia that we have been waiting for!
  • Big brothers piggy backing little brothers.
  • Listening to Keith Jarrett as I write.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How do you make the big decisions?

I have really struggled to decide. What to do for the next decade or so? Policing was what I did, who I was, for such a long time. Then the tag of 'Mum' took over. Which is a role that has been a privilege. But there have been many moments when I longed to be working again. Arriving home with a stimulated mind, having engaged adults and worked through challenging problems. Being sure I was doing a fantastic job.

Yes, I know, I shouldn't be seeking such affirmations anyway. Yes, absolutely, I should be satisfied and fulfilled in my role as a Mum. And there are many days when I am. I could tell you it was about adding income to our family to help pay for my boys' education. And that is a huge part of it. But now that all four boys are at school, I also just want to be involved in something outside of these walls, beyond unpaid work.

Why not go back to policing? When we move back to Australia, I will have one, nearly two teenagers, with another two boys following closely behind. I want to be available to them. As much as possible. They say boys don't talk often, so you need to be around enough that when they do, you are there. Not many occupations offer that option.

I would love to decide what to do for the next ten or fifteen years based purely on what I would like to do. But that isn't realistic. I need to consider the needs of my family, and under pinning it all of course is the reality that I have been placed on this earth to fulfil a purpose. I don't want to go off in my own direction, achieving only what is temporary. I want to choose something lasting.

And so I examine my life, work, experiences, and ponder what is to come. What do I have to give in the future, that doesn't waste my past? Counselling leapt out at me. It seemed to fit within my past, both paid and unpaid work, suit my family's needs in terms of potential flexibility. And amazingly, was also an option I felt excited about. Something meaningful. With the potential to have impact on people's lives.

Since then doubts have filled every crevice. The Masters is too expensive when I am the secondary income earner. I will be a terrible counsellor. Am I employable? If I start my own practice, will someone want to be my client? Confidence lost in the abyss of motherhood. And is it work that is significant enough? When I talk to people about my plans, they look at me with vague interest, but not the animated response I see offered to those embarking on an MBA or Masters of International Relations/Policy/Development. I'm surrounded by those.

Mr Chambers, Oswald to some, has been challenging me through all of my wanderings. 
Never ask another person's advice about anything God makes you decide before Him. If you ask advice, you will almost always side with Satan. 'My Utmost for His Highest', Oswald Chambers
He's never been one to hold back. And Paul. He always challenges me. 
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
So I look to Him. Every time I feel at peace about this, I falter again. With every confirmation, I doubt. I think perhaps I just need to start and gain some momentum, and stop thinking about the 'after'. I was encouraged a little by Paul this week when I saw that when he
...found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind... 2 Corinthians 2: 12b-13a
I'm confident the peace will come. Only from Him.

What about you? Have you changed direction? Would you like to? What influences you? 

Giving thanks:
  • Monsoon trampoline jumping.
  • My boys coming home with flowers for me, placing them behind my ear.
  • One of the boys exclaiming, about the 'White Box Foundation', "The Sinn family are changing the world!"
  • The smell of rain.
  • Soccer in the pouring rain, boys grinning.
  • A farewell party for friends' children.
  • Pink nail polish on little nails.
  • One of my boys writing on his exam, that he did well because I helped him study.
  • On a written page, hearing my boy talk.
  • A spontaneous meeting with a new arrival.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Crossing the 'normal' line

We have recently reached a year in Jakarta. Amazing.

Apparently when you move to another culture, there is a point when you step over the 'normal line'. When things that seemed crazy/different/bizarre/interesting upon arrival and in the ensuing months, no longer capture your attention. You probably won't be able to define the moment when it happens. But you're no longer surprised.

So I thought I would list a few things that seem so 'everyday', but that I know absolutely were not when we first arrived. You will have to forgive the few snaps I took today from the car, during a crazy tropical storm. Because that (the storm) is normal in Jakarta (hopefully not the terrible photos!).

The traffic. How can I not start with the traffic? A city containing the equivalent of Australia's population. And without the infrastructure to deal with it. Every day, whole families travel together on a single motorbike. Teeny babies being held, while their Mum's send SMS messages from the rear of a bike. Food carts being lugged by weary men and 'bajajs' worming their way through four undefined lanes of traffic. Police sirens punctuating the sound of horns, as escorts carrying ambassadors and government officials frequently attempt to wade through traffic. The familiar sight of red tail lights in front of you, all waiting to move. A drive that normally takes 20 minutes, taking an hour - for no particular reason. And if it starts to rain, just double your travel time. The 'language' of drivers - flashing lights mean "Oh, don't go! I'm coming through!" and a beep of the horn equates to "Excuse me, careful, I'm right here, and if you don't mind I may pass you now". Because everyone in Indonesia is polite. Very polite.

And as you drive, or mostly sit in the stationary car whilst waiting to progress, what do you see? Monkeys next to your car, occasionally wearing very freaky doll masks, collecting money for their owners. People sleeping on the footpath. Many, many, many beggars. 'Jockeys' waiting to be picked up by a complete stranger, so that they can be paid about $1.50 to travel to an unknown location with the occupants who need an extra person to go in the transit lane. Little ones playing on the edge of these crazy roads, as their parents make a living selling food there. The 'warungs' where people buy meals and congregate, engaged in lively chatter. People squatting, always squatting (how do their knees cope?). People crossing the roads, waving their 'magic hand' which is code for "Please don't hit me". Burning rubbish heaps. Smiling people.

Off the roads? Don't be in a rush at the shops, because no one who works there is! It may take three or four salespersons to complete the sale, even if you are buying a pencil. And you may need to go to at least two counters, maybe three to buy that pencil. Seriously. Being stared at is expected, and not noticeable anymore. I rarely open a door, because someone always beats me to it. I'm never on my own. Whether in my house with my 'helper', my car with our driver, or walking out of our home, someone is always smiling and greeting me. Our church has armed guards. And each time we enter our apartments or a shopping centre, mirrors are run around the bottom of the car as they check for bombs. Not very thoroughly, but they check. Speaking to my boys about why they should have their hands checked for explosives doesn't seem as strange. I no longer hear the 'Call to Prayer' five times a day. It certainly does still happen, quite loudly at times, but I only notice occasionally. Then there is That Smell...actually I'm not used to that yet.

I was asked recently what I like about living in Jakarta, by someone who doesn't. I answered that it is so crazy, so busy, so different, that it is a fascinating place. You could never be bored here or expect any day to be like the last one. And the people. The gorgeous people. The Indonesians I have met are kind, polite, generous and joyful. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be in their country.

Giving thanks:
  • Watching the Australian Open with my boys.
  • Tropical storms.
  • Meaningful conversation over lunch with a special friend.
  • Changes for the 'White Box Foundation' (more on that another time).
  • Chances to do Jesus' work.
  • Booking our mid-year holiday. Cannot wait.
  • Legs that seem to be growing longer - becoming a big boy.
  • Seeing my youngest in a costume - it's been a long while.
  • Ami, our new pembantu. Her gorgeous smile and quiet nature.
  • Ibu Sri being so understanding about our change in staff.