Stretched Between Worlds

“Jesus did not heal everyone,” my professor’s words shocked me. The Pool of Bethesda was full of sick and hurting people that day, all in search of healing, yet the Savior chose to heal just one. “Why?” I wondered. It almost does not seem fair. I mean, He had the power, and yet he singled out a man who had lay there for 38 years and chose to heal him (and just him) over anyone else. 

“So, why then do I feel so much tension at times to do it all?” The pull, the demands, the weight of the needs, I often feel that I have to fix everything. That pressure threatens to pull so tight that I feel myself breaking at times.

Then there is the tension of blending multiple cultures. How much should I change to fit in and be heard so as not to distract from the message that needs to be shared, and how much bending and blending is too much so that I actually start to lose the authentic me that I was created to be? The life of living between different “worlds” can seem nothing but constant tension at times. How best to spend time and resources, when to work, and when to rest.

On our first furlough I remember a kind friend offering to let us swing by for a quick breakfast before we headed off to our next destination and I responded with a,  “Thanks but we had plans to grab a bite at one of my favorite restaurants.” I later wondered, “Am I being a good steward of the money people sacrificed to give?” And yet it is only once every 2 to 3 years that I even have a chance to eat at the places I often miss so much while overseas. Yes, Panera, I’m talking about you. 

I feel the tension attending a playgroup complete with trampolines and a gorgeous pool overlooking the ocean. Then my eye wanders to the local fishermen’s houses tin sheets and built on wooden stilts without even a proper restroom, and I think to myself, “I don’t truly belong in either of these worlds.”

I have slept in grass huts and been woken up by a rat running across my legs. Then there are days, like our daughter’s first birthday, when a friend gifted us tickets to a local hotel’s dine and dive night. We enjoyed a delicious buffet while watching Finding Nemo and enjoying the rooftop pool. There just seem to be so many extremes to this life at times and maybe that is part of what makes it sustainable—every day being so different. 

The needs are constant. Balance is required, but how do you decide who to help, how to best use your time, what projects to invest in? I think back to Jesus at the pool of Bethesda following the Spirit’s leading and healing the man, who that day, was supposed to be healed. It makes me think of Elisabeth Elliot’s wise advice, “do the next thing,” which also echoes the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

Is this the answer for how to live amidst the tension? Do the next thing. Enjoy the day that is today. Meet the needs that you can meet in this moment. Maybe doing the next thing is mopping the kitchen floor. Maybe it is translating John chapter 10. Maybe it is rocking a child to sleep or bandaging up a wound from a machete. Maybe doing the next thing is enjoying a Sabbath rest so that you have the strength and calmness to face a new week. Maybe doing the next thing is writing an encouraging email or teaching a workshop for local farmers. 

The tension is real. Even something as “simple” as grocery shopping can threaten to break you. “Should I buy the expensive imported cheese?” Then there are newsletters. What stories should be shared and which ones should be left out. Tension simply comes with the territory when you step outside your norm and work to create a new norm, a world of blended cultures and often difficult choices. 

May there be beauty in the tension. Days of rest sprinkled amongst the days of hard work. Days of fruitfulness along with days that just seem dry. May the tension bring balance not a sense of feeling stretched to the point of breaking knowing that we are not called to heal everyone or solve all of the world’s problems, but we are honored to get to be the hands and feet of the One who holds everything in His hands. Amidst the tension we get to see so many beautiful facets of life. We get to do the next thing.  

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Setting Successful Goals when a Year Like 2020 Leaves You Asking “Why Even Try?”

Anyone buy a planner for 2020? Anyone throw away a partially filled out planner from 2020? If there is ever a verse to describe last year, James 4:14 definitely fits “Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”  Truth—so why bother to make goals? Is it a waste of time and energy simply setting oneself up for disappointment? No, even after a year like 2020 there is still value in setting goals. “Shoot for the moon,” the popular saying goes. “Even if you miss you will land among the stars.” Without goals less tends to happen. It’s the scientific principle of Newton’s law of motion: an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will to stay in motion… A well-set goal can be that push that gets someone moving. But just setting goals is not enough. A goal has to be realistic and attainable in order to be a successful.

What is a well-set goal? Why are so many gyms packed in January but mostly empty again in April? Let’s look at five steps for setting a successful goal—a goal that you can get to at the end of 2021 and say, “I actually accomplished that.”

1. Be ok with failure; adjust and try again– For many people it is easier to not set any goals then to admit that a goal might fail. Guess which goal I failed to keep in 2020? My long awaited goal to travel, spend time with my nieces and just enjoy time with family and friends in the US. I actually thought this would be the easiest goal to keep when I set some goals for the beginning of 2020 (haha). We had tickets booked but then flights were cancelled and the visa process closed, so we wait and try again.

2. Be ambitious but realistic-One of the biggest issues people have when setting goals is being too ambitious wanting to write a best selling novel, lose 20 pounds, motorcycle across the Sahara desert, and spend more time with family. Try picking one or two big goals and really focus on that. Although, I suppose it would be possible to lose 20 pounds while motorcycling across the Sahara, and it might make a great setting for a best seller; but then there would still be the issue of figuring out how to bring the rest of the family along with. Be honest with yourself.  What goal or goals can be realistically accomplished in the time frame that you have set up for yourself? The more realistic you are when setting goals the more likely you are to succeed. One of my goals for last year was finishing the first draft of a book that I started writing eight years ago. But I have two young kids now, so I can’t just lock myself in a cabin for two months and write (as tempting as that sounds). My goals needs to fit with my other current responsibilities in order for them to be successful and for me not to neglect other responsibilities already on my plate. 

3. Be Clear in your Steps- Breaking a goal down into steps is so key for success. For my book, I wanted to complete 13 chapters by the end of the year, so my goal was finishing a chapter a month with two chapters in December. I also had weekly goals which involved setting aside 3 hours on Thursdays to write and working towards a word goal each week. Having a specific day to work on my goal made such a difference because, of course at the beginning of the year, I wanted to write 24/7. But, I have kids who like to eat and a house that’s constantly needing to be cleaned and ministry responsibilities as well; so when I would get an idea through out the week I would jot down a note on my phone knowing that on Thursday I would have time dedicated to writing. Thursday became my favorite day of the week as I looked forward to that writing time. But, then Thursday would come and I would feel so tired or distracted by so many other things that I often did not feel I had the energy to write. Knowing that this was the time I had for the week to write would give me the motivation to push other things aside and work on my goal. So don’t just set a yearly goal. Break your goal down into monthly goals or even weekly or daily goals. If you want to lose 24 pounds, for example, a goal of consistently losing 2 pounds a month will get you to that goal by the end of the year. Then break down what changes will you make each week to get help you lose those two pounds. Slow and steady really does win the race and can keep you in the gym in April when others have lost their steam. 

4. Be flexible- Make plans knowing that they will likely change. Don’t see a change of plan as necessarily a bad thing—adjust, be flexible. When I started writing on Thursdays the time I was pretty certain I could dedicate to writing was 9pm until 12pm. The kiddos were usually in bed by then and I could write without interruption. As the year went on and especially now as we are expecting baby number 3, this time frame no longer worked. I was just too tired to think straight. I still was able to stick with Thursdays, and thankfully my husband would often take the kids for the morning so that I could write. If a Thursday did not work for him to take the kids, I would often write on Fridays or write for an hour or so on Thursdays and then another hour on Friday. I also adjusted my page goal for the book from 250 pages down to 200 pages. As I said, I’m still in the draft stage, but as I work on it more, I think what I want to say fits within 200 pages so no need to keep adding pages just for the sake of the goal. Adjust the goal for the project when necessary not the project to fit the goal. 

5. Be willing to give something up to get what you want- If you truly want to reach a goal what are you willing to give up in order to make it happen? For me it was less sleep and less time on Netflix. Maybe you will need to be willing to give up those daily soft drinks or spend less time on social media to make time for the new thing you want to do. Maybe it is eating out less with the goal of putting that money towards paying off debt. It is possible. It takes sacrifice and discipline, but there is something truly satisfying about reaching a goal—one flexible, but determined, step at a time.

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Quilts and Calla Lilies: Are We Ever Home?

I made the bed, not our usual mattress on the floor, but an actual bed. Not only did I make the bed, but I used the quilt that my grandma made for my husband and me as a wedding gift six years ago. On our little dinning room table sits a makeshift vase holding Calla Lilies that my daughter picked and brought to me. I love Calla Lillies and almost used them in our wedding when I thought I would not be able to find my first choice of speckled tiger lilies, but that’s another story

            As an MK who has moved over 15 times in my life (by this point I’ve kind of just stopped counting), I never expected or even really dreamed of having my own home. Sure, it would be nice, but that just has never been my reality. So now whenever we get the chance to come to our house in my husband’s village it really leaves me feeling a bit in awe of the whole situation. We have a house—a home, a little haven where we can have people over and just be us.

            I’m in awe because none of this is really even our doing. Years before I was born, Simon’s dad planted a tree for him that we later cut into boards and used as the main structure of our house. Then, the year our son was born, my parents came out for a visit and used some of the money, that my grandfather had left for my mom as an inheritance, to buy even more building supplies. Several of the guys in the village have volunteered their time to physically build our home. A friend from Australia later came and installed an indoor toilet (yay!) Last year another team came and set up a solar shower so now during the day it is actually possible to take a hot shower as long as the sun is out.

Trevor and Allyson standing on the stump of the tree Simon’s dad planted for him which we cut into boards to start building our house in the village.

            It all blows my mind at times. The day we hooked up the lights (we use a generator at night) one of the older men in the village told me he was walking by and looked down and saw the lights of the house lite up. He said it brought tears of joy to his eyes, as our house was the first permanent house that has been built in the small area where my husband’s immediate clan members live. What brings me joy is now seeing a couple of the guys who helped us build our house now starting to build their own permanent homes. 

            Sometimes the most beautiful things in life are not things you worked so hard for yourself, but the things that have graciously happened because of the love of others. As an expat, missionary, MK, nomad (whatever name you want to give it) I truly appreciate the few months out of the year that we are able to spend in our little village home. It is a gift that I do not take lightly. Even thought there is still a lot of painting and tiling work still to be done, in my mind, it is already home- something I never thought I would have. 

Home Sweet Home

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May His Face Shine Upon You

If there is a word that I would NOT use to describe PNG life that word would be comfortable. The capital city especially gets hot this time of year and our tiny tin house feels especially stuffy. Now that’s on a normal day not just on days when the power goes off for hours or running water is shut off  for a whole day.

I was sitting on a backless wooden bench this Sunday sort of attempting to keep my one and a half-year-old from getting completely covered in the dirt at our feet. I was trying not to worry too much about my four- year-old who was off climbing trees and playing in the rubble of the knocked down stone church building which was demolished in the name of development when a road was put in several years back. The church is nowhere near the road, but when all the evicted settlers started moving their possessions onto the church property a sudden decision was made to just bulldoze down the church building as well. Of course there have been talks that the church should be compensated for what happened; but, as of yet, no money has actually been given to rebuild.

So we sit under a makeshift tin roof, moving benches out of the drips if it starts to rain too heavily during the service, and I try not to sit too close to the edge of the structure; or I end up with a sunburn on one side of my face. 

I didn’t catch every word of the sermon between taking care of kids and concentrating on Pidgin, but I agreed with the opening- life is hard. City life can be especially hard. Sometimes you have enough food, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your boss pays you on time, sometimes he or she doesn’t. Sitting two benches in front of me sat a family who lives at 14 mile and whose permanent house is currently in danger of being demolished, once again, in the name of development. Already this week, the newspaper reported that 400 people were evicted from their homes in that area. 

Life in PNG is not what I would describe as comfortable. In our own little compound there are frequent fights both outside in the street and even within the corrugated metal walls of the living space we share with around 10 other families. These sudden, often violent, outbursts leave me feeling on edge, the strain of feeling that I constantly have to watch the kids’ every move leaves me saying “no” more then “yes’ to their frequent requests to play outside. 

As the Sunday service wrapped up, the message did end with a word of hope. A reminder that in all of our discomforts Christ is our ultimate comforter, a reminder that trails we go through are opportunities to minister to others. The youth closed the service with the beautifully simple song, “The blessing,” A song that has become quite popular during this recent pandemic. I closed my eyes and just let the simple words really soak into my soul.

The Lord bless you

And keep you

Make His face shine upon you

And be gracious to you

The Lord turn His

Face toward you

And give you peace

Amen

In the midst of my discomfort I did, I did feel the Lord’s gracious face turned toward me. He is so gracious to me. Tears welled in my eyes for a moment as I realized that He does keep us each and every day and while life in PNG may not be the most comfortable it definitely is blessed in many ways and in the midst of it all God does send His peace.  

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Pressing into the Positives

“I would have missed this,” I thought, as I blinked back tears that were creeping into my eyes. He shared how growing up he was more of a street kid hanging out at the local dump. He wasn’t drawn, he said, to smoking, drinking or chewing beetle nut; but he was pulled into destroying property through graffiti. It almost cost him his life when in the early hours of the morning he was caught by a property owner from Wabag who swung a machete at him with full force. Somehow the long knife turned whipping him instead of cutting into his flesh. “Run for your life,” an observer yelled out, and Sammy ran shaken by the experience, which became a wake up call in his life. Sammy shared his testimony at a prayer breakfast we helped organize for him to raise funds to start his training with YWAM. 

One of our goals when we came to PNG was to help be a support for those interested in doing missions. It has been three years now that we have had the privilege of helping organize a missions week at our local church. Last year our friend George, from Wabag, come and shared his testimony. His story and message touched Sammy’s life to the point that Sammy came forward wanting to dedicate his life to missions. He walked to the front from the side since he was part of the music team. George didn’t see anyone coming forward so he started to say a closing prayer. Standing there awkwardly during the closing prayer Sammy felt himself wondering, “Why did I even walk up here?” But, Simon noticed him come up and pointed him out to George who prayed for him. “A man from Wabag nearly took my life,” Sammy shared, “and then a man from Wabag prayed for me.” 

 What a testimony, one of those only God could have arrange something like this, and yet if everything had gone according to my plan I would have missed that moment one of those rare moments of knowing that, yes, God has us here for a reason. He is using our often weak and broken efforts to advance His kingdom.  

Sammy at his commissioning service

Like it has been for many, 2020 has been a year that hasn’t gone as planned. We were supposed to board a plane for the US on May 25th for a very much looked forward to furlough. We were supposed to fly back just in time for my grandma’s birthday and my newest niece’s birth. We were supposed to be there to celebrate my other niece’s 3rd birthday (I only ever got to hold her the day she was born as we were set to fly back to PNG right after that from our furlough three years ago). We had hoped to celebrate my other niece’s 2nd birthday and to finally get to actually give her an in person hug for the first time. None of those things have happened, and I’ll be honest it has really been a struggle “watching” those events take place from afar. 

Due to cancelled flights and the visa process being indefinitely on hold, 2020 is not a year conducive to making plans or ticking goals off the carefully written list. It seems to be a year when everything I had been counting on got striped away and that vulnerable feeling of—how do I even get through this day? Has been popping up more and more. It seems like half of my expat friends here are either suck wanting to travel but can’t and the other half are stuck because they did travel but now can’t return. 

But, in all the stuckness (is that a word?? It should be the new word for 2020) and all the plans that have been turned upside down, God continues to be faithful. He continues to show us that He has a bigger plan then all the plans we try to make. He continues to show us that there are reasons that we are here this year in PNG even though that wasn’t the original plan. One of our goals with the widows we work with is to buy as many of them as possible a small oven and a sewing machine. As covid-19 has slowly hit PNG, masks in public places have become mandatory. So, we have started to teach several of the ladies how to sew facemasks. With part of the profits that have come in from this project (the majority of the profits go directly to the ladies who make the masks), we have been able to save up and now buy three new sewing machines to give to widows who previously did not have one. The first machine we bought we gave to one of the widows who previously had a machine but after her husband died her in-laws took it. Sadly, we have heard of this happening so often to widows here. After their husband dies sometimes in-laws will take back the house where they lived, vehicles, money in a savings account, and even things like rice cookers. There can be so much injustice, which is one of the reasons we first felt called to work with this often vulnerable group. 

So, yes, this year in many, many ways has been so hard, but I choose to press into the positives letting go of plans and seeing what God has planned. It is not an easy exercise letting go, but there is so much good tangled up with the hard, and I am thankful that God sees and He knows. No pain or disappointment is wasted and I rest in that knowledge.

Christina the second widow we were able to buy a sewing machine for.

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Dengue Fever, Covid-19 and a Stranded Husband

Psalm 71

As I emerged from the fog of Dengue fever feeling much more myself but still tired, the rest of the world began bracing for the rapid spread of Covid-19. It feels strange to have PNG in a semi-normal state while other (more stable countries) are far from normal at the moment.

Like many parts of the world, PNG is currently under a state of emergency. But, honestly it has just been so quiet. I’m actually impressed with the country’s response as a whole. When the first case was confirmed, a two week lockdown period was put into place which included: no incoming international flights, no domestic flights, no gatherings of over 100 people, no buses running and no traveling from province to province without a permit. The two-week school holiday was moved up and many people stayed home from work. Large markets closed (or were very scaled back) and people were encouraged to stay home as much as possible while health workers did testing. A second case has now been confirmed, so that province (not the one where we live) continues to be in lockdown; but the rest of the country, while still under SOE, is no longer under lockdown. All that could change again as the days unfold and circumstances change quickly, but for now life has been simplified and is mostly just quiet.

Since PNG has had a chance to see what has worked and not worked in other counties affected by the virus it is encouraging to see the government take things serious from the get go and now easing things up a bit. Here in PNG there has not been so much of the mass panic buying that seems to be happening in other places; and, for the moment at lest, things are semi-normal.

Unfortunately, Simon was stuck up in Hagen as he had just traveled to the village a week before the ban on domestic flights was put into place. So the kids and I were in the capital city with prayers that he would be able to come home if the lockdown on domestic flights was lifted. Every day Trevor would take a ring off of his little count down chain and count the days until Daddy was coming back. I’ll admit it was not the easiest thing to be in the midst of lockdown while Simon was away. But, if there is one thing that I have learned during this time it is that God is so very faithful; and the active body of Christ is beyond beautiful. It is not until you are put in a situation where things are not going as planned that faith is really tested.

Times that shake your routine to such a level as they have been shaken over the last month often force you to take a step back and ask- what am I really leaning on right now for strength? Am I leaning more on my husband, my color-coded weekly schedule, my carefully crafted count down chain then I am on God? The collective world is learning a lot of lessons these days and one of the biggest lessons is that things change, and we are not in as much control as we think we are. Circumstances can change quickly and even the best planning can let you down in an instant. I’m very much a planner. I love when things follow the mapped out route that I have in my head, and I often stress when they don’t. Parenting has shown me that many, many things are actually out of my control; and it is a daily struggle for me to let that go of that control. When pandemics happen it becomes even clearer that we are not promised a stable future. We just have today. As Christ followers, we are told to pray for our daily bread and; we are promised peace because the God we serve is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

If we believe those promises-not just recite them but believe them, then it is wrong to continually live in fear and give into the mental “what ifs”. Now is the time more then ever to trust- trust the God who sees the future. Trust the God who knows the past. Trust the God who sees you in your struggles and promises to walk with you and provide for you as long as you seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Mathew 6:33 just happened to be my son Trevor’s memory verse last week. Now is a good time for each of us to be asking are we truly seeking first God’s kingdom? If so then we should not worry about tomorrow. If not, how can we adjust our lifestyles to do so?

While down with Dengue, I read these verses from Psalm 71:20-21, “You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.” We are not promised an easy life. In fact, sometimes it is in the most difficult days that God draws us closest to Himself, so let us not run from the suffering but rest in the one who promises comfort and restoration.

If there is one lesson I have learned from having Dengue fever, this Covid-19 lockdown and having Simon stranded in Hagen it is that we need each other. It is not easy asking for or accepting help, but we must do so. Allowing the body of Christ to minister to you and being the hands and feet of Christ to those around you is what can lift the burden of all of this heaviness. I could tell you so many stories of how people have blessed me beyond belief over the last month- emails of encouragement, a friend taking my busy preschooler for the morning so that I could really rest. The day before our city went into lockdown a friend asked me to send her my grocery list so she could pick up some things for me at the store. I responded that I really needed to go myself so that I could get out some cash (I literally had 20 Kina around $6 cash in the house, but she didn’t know that). She responded by saying that she had actually already taken some cash out for me last night. I about cried. The amount she ended up giving was more then I had planned to take out, so I was later able to bless several other people who have been financially affected by this lockdown.

We need each other. We need to be ok with people helping us, and we need to look for ways to bless those in our circle whom we can and feel led to bless. We need to trust God who sees our every need over trusting the government, family, or even our job. God is a loving God who abundantly cares for His children. There is no need to fear the future. He cares about even the smallest details. Halfway through our lockdown weeks, a couple from church stopped by the house with a boxed filled with snacks, rice, chicken and some veggies. Trevor loves his snacks so it was yet another reminder of God’s faithfulness. Another friend messaged that she had some food to share with us from a friend who had recently left the country leaving behind a fully stocked pantry. We pick up two huge bags of food from her and swung by the store for a few essentials while we were out. While shopping, Trevor wanted to add honey to the shopping cart. I told him not today. When we got home and unpacked the bags of food we had just been given there was a full, unopened jar of honey inside. Even though my husband was stuck in the village, my amazing friend Erica was not working during the two weeks of lockdown so she stayed with us and kept our little family sane. Thankfully, domestic flights started running again; and Simon was able to make it home last Tuesday.

I just wanted to share these few stories with all of you lovely people. I’m sure many of you have stories as well from this time of lockdowns, quarantines and just general uncertainty. I could share many, many more. God is so faithful- so very, very faithful; and it is during times of trouble that His faithfulness is often the most evident. May we each be a light in our little circles of influence today accepting help from those around us and offering help when and where we can do so.

 

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Frosting and Barbie Dolls

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Her frosting recipe is my favorite- not too sweet and easy to work with when you have the correct ingredients available. I have to make a substitution when I make it here in PNG, but it still turns out mostly ok as long as it doesn’t start to melt in the heat before I have the chance to actually ice the cake. My aunt Debbie made our wedding cake. It wasn’t nearly as big as the wedding cake she made for a Chicago Bear football player (a cake that ended up being taller then she was). With our cake, her eyesight was declining due to blindness brought on by diabetes, so my cousins helped her do the finishing touches. The cake was of course delicious. My aunt told me that one of her tricks is to substitute milk when the recipe calls for water because it makes for a nice moist cake.

My aunt passed away last week. She had suffered a stroke this year and when my sister sent me a message two weeks ago to tell me that Aunt Debbie was in the hospital due to having water in her lungs, I knew that was not a good sign. She was just 60; my dad’s only sibling. My heart hurts especially for my grandparents, my uncle and my cousins. Aunt Debbie was someone who loved to help people. She loved to bake and she loved to spoil her nieces and nephews with gifts when we were young.

There is one gift in particular that I will never forget. It was our first Christmas back from Africa. My sister had passed away that year, and it was not an easy adjustment moving from a country where I felt comfortable to one where I had to completely relearn social rules.

That year I remember walking around in the toy section and a Barbie doll caught my eye. She had brown skin, long black hair down to her waist, bangs (who didn’t in the 90s) and her accessories included rollerblades and ice skates. I was so drawn to that doll. I loved to rollerblade. Her bangs and waist long hair mirrored mine just in a different color and her brown skin reminded me of the country that I had recently left. I didn’t tell a soul that I wanted that doll, yet when I opened my Christmas gift from Aunt Debbie there she was.  My cousin had been given the matching roller skating/ice skating doll with red hair and I was given the exact doll that I had longed for. Somehow, my aunt knew. It was a sweet reminder that God saw little eight-year-old me in the midst of my grief and cultural adjustments.

Due to living on the other side of the world and still waiting for our daughter’s passport to be sorted out, I won’t be attending the funeral service this Saturday. Times like this make it especially hard to be far away, a very real challenge of the expat life. I know my aunt touched many people’s lives from her work with Make a Child Smile, and volunteering at a local food pantry to the many, many cakes that she decorated helping make sweet birthday and wedding memories for countless people. She will be missed. She touched the world in her own unique ways, and I will never forget the ways that she touched me.

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The Christmas New Year Lull

IMG_6204

I had to check the calendar. “What day is it?” Tuesday, Sunday I’m not really sure. Somehow the six days between Christmas and New Years feel like a strange time warp, a bit of a prolonged blur. But, I actually really appreciate those days because I’ve come to see them as a chance to slowly pack up the Christmas decorations, reflect on the past year and think ahead to the new one just around the corner. Do years have corners?

I managed to give out a few Christmas cards to friends on Boxing Day (see how organized I am). I got the salt dough Christmas ornaments, that my friend gave me, decorated during that six-day lull. It took a couple days to finish them, and we did markers instead of paint because I didn’t feel up to cleaning up a paint mess. My 3 year old colored one, and I made a cute one for our daughter’s first Christmas. With the final two, I used them to reflect back on 2019 and look forward to 2020.

I find that years often have a theme or a word that keeps popping up. I noticed this particularly in 2013 after getting through a particularly rough year (See To Butterflies, 2013, and New Beginningsthat was tainted with the sudden death of a close friend and a car accident just before Christmas that landed my grandma in the hospital with a broken hip and eventually cost her life. I felt completely stuck running a newspaper in a small town that I had opened not because I had wanted to do it but because other people had wanted me to do it. I battled some serious depression that year until I finally decided to stop living other people’s dreams for me and to go out and live the dreams God had tucked deep into my heart. 2013 was a beautiful year. I moved to the amazing city of Saint Louis, worked as a nanny, travelled, met the man who would later become my husband, and got the privilege of parenting 19 beautiful kids in Kenya. After one of the hardest years of my life, it was one of the best. Through out that year butterflies (a symbol of freedom and new beginnings) kept popping up. Sometimes it was a butterfly sticker on an envelope. Once it was the mom of the little boy I nannied for buying a butterfly shaped cookie for me as a way of thanking me for giving her the peace of mind that her little guy was in good hands while she took a few days a week to pursue her dream of opening a coffee shop. Those butterflies that popped up were always little unexpected reminders of God’s love throughout the year.

This year it was during a retreat in April that the word Healed was impressed on my mind as the word for 2019. At first, I thought it referred solely to physical healing. At the time I was in the midst of recovering from a painful wound that had resulted from an abscess steaming from mastitis that had burst and took several months to heal. Then, mid way through the year, I got a deep cut on the back of my ankle that at first seemed to be healing but then became very infected and took months to heal. Both those wounds have healed now although the scares remain. As they healed, God has used a variety of things throughout the year to show me that He longs to bring emotional healing not just physical healing. I struggle with anger, people pleasing, a constant fear of losing those closest to me. I struggle with feelings of bitterness and feeling unseen as I pour many hours into taking care of two little people who seem to constantly need me when emotionally I just want some space. This past year God has shown me my emotional wounds of anxiety, insecurity, and rejection; and as we have journeyed together this year the healing process has begun. There are still scars, but God has shown me that for anxiety- perfect love casts out fear. I no longer have to live in that place of fear but can settle my heart in a secure love. For anger rooted in the chains of legalism, insecurity and feelings of never being enough- God has shown me the beauty of living under grace and I pray as I continue to grow in this area, I can pass that lifestyle of grace on to my children. For feelings of being unseen- God has shown me that He sees me even when no one else does and that I need to let go of unnecessary burdens and duty and just sit at His feet.

So Healed is the word I wrote on the salt dough ornament surrounded by some PNG inspired designs that almost hide the word. Healing is such a slow, intimate, messy but needed process. What is the word for 2020? I asked, and the word JOY came. Joy? I was a bit skeptical. I tend to be a more of a glass empty type person, a realist I guess. But, yes, I would love for my life to reflect more joy. So that is the word I wrote on the last salt dough ornament and hung it on a push pin tacked to the shelf in my room. This coming year I choose to look for Joy. I read Psalms 43 after the impression of the word joy came verses 2-4 resonated with this search for a joy filled life. “Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies? Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God- the source of all my joy.”

I got a message from my sister on Sunday. My aunt, who recently had a stroke, was taken to the hospital with water in her lungs and heart. “How I thought, in that moment, “is this going to be a year of joy?” It is so hard at times being on the other side of the world when difficult things are happening in your family over on the other side of the world. But joy does not mean a year without trials. I have the verse from James 1:2 on my wall- “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

So JOY- joy in trails, joy from the one true source of joy, joy in each day of 2020. May 2020 be a year of joy for you as well.

Do you have a word going into 2020 or a word from 2019?

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Ageless Compassion

Inspired by Psalm 25. Originally an acrostic poem in Hebrew.

All my trust I give to you, Oh Lord;

Because you are my God.

Can those who trust in you be disgraced? Never- you keep me from disgrace.

Do not let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.

Everyone who trusts in you will be safe from disgrace. It is those who practice deception that come to disgrace.

Following the path that you point out for me, that is my desire.

Guide me by your truth—teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.

Holding fast to your ageless compassion and love, Oh Lord, sustains me. .

Iniquity, the sins of my youth, blot them out forever. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love for you are good.

Just- Lord you are just- doing what is right. Teach me, a sinner, your ways.

Keep me humble. Guide me in what is right.

Lead me with your unfailing love and faithfulness as I obey your covenant.

May I always honor your name. Forgive my many, many sins.

Now, as I fear you, show me the path that I should choose.

Oh Lord, those who trust you will live in prosperity. Their children will inherit the land.

Please, Lord, confide in me. I reverently fear you. Teach me your covenant.

Quickly, rescue me from the traps of my enemies. My eyes are always on you.

Release your mercy on me. I am alone and in deep distress.

Save me from anguish. Rescue me from the problems that trouble my heart.

Take this pain away. See my troubles. Forgive my sin.

Under the eyes of my enemies I feel vicious hatred.

Vindicate me. Rescue me. Let me not be disgraced. I find refuge in you.

Where does my protection come from? Only from finding refuge in you.

eXamine me. My integrity and honesty protect me.

You Lord, are my hope.

Zion, may God ransom you from your trouble.

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Sufficient

There is something about a new baby that takes weakness to a whole new level. At least it does for me. Maybe it is the interrupted sleep or the vast amount of energy that nursing takes. Maybe it is the mental tiredness from trying to remember everything from wipes, blankets, water, snacks, diapers, stroller, extra outfit, and changing mat to finally making it out the door just to realize that your phone is still back at the house where you left it charging. Maybe it is the physical tiredness from lugging all that baby stuff around, or the tiredness of the recovery process from the actual birth. All I know is that it is a good thing babies are so mesmerizingly cute (even at 2 a.m.) because, wow, do they have a way of completely sucking up every ounce of energy that you have and then some.

A month before my sweet girl was born I wrote down my New Year’s resolutions which included- enjoy the new baby stage and enjoy the visit with my parents and brother (who crossed oceans to be with us while we welcomed baby number two). I remember thinking, “this will be the easiest New Year’s resolution ever,” haha! A month after my sweet girl was born I remember sitting at the Highlander Hotel sharing a goodbye meal with my family. Tears filled my eyes (I partially blame postpartum hormones) as I reflected on how I had failed to keep the easiest New Years resolution ever.

Allyson’s birth went so smoothly which, after her older brother’s birth (the story I couldn’t write), was my biggest prayer. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, did not go smoothly at all unlike it had with her brother. Just about every article you read about breastfeeding says the same thing- nursing should not be painful. But, just about every new mom you talk to says the same thing; initially nursing is often quite painful. Maybe her latch wasn’t the best. Maybe she had a tongue-tie. I don’t know. All that I know is that by day three it was painful, really painful. I knew that I wanted to continue because I love the convenience and health benefits of breastfeeding. Especially because, for me, living in a country where keeping bottles sterilized is not the easiest and refrigeration is not always a guarantee; breastfeeding gives me the peace of mind that trying to bottle-feed would not. So press on, I thought, things should normalize soon.

It was awful. I have never been someone that deals well with pain and this was a whole other level of pain. I ended up having repeated mastitis, multiple clogged ducts, two of which turned into abscesses (I did not even know that was a thing). At the worst point, I had to stop feeding my daughter on the side that was giving me so much trouble. One of the clogs was so bad that it broke into an open wound, which took two months to heal. (I won’t get into all the gory details, because it was pretty gory).  During the worst of it I was in a rural village with no hot shower, no close access to medical care and then my husband’s cousin passed away which meant a week long house cry and my husband needed to fly to the city to arrange for his cousin’s body to be flown back to the village for burial.

I was in so much pain I couldn’t even hold or hug my three-year-old because he would accidently bump my sore. I was so weak and tired yet still had late night feedings. During the few days that my husband was travelling, at night I kept telling myself, “just make it until 6 a.m.” At 6 a.m. I would go and stand out on the front porch of our house and hand the baby off to the first person who walked by (usually my brother-in-law or my mother-in-law) and go back to bed for an hour or so until someone brought her back to me to feed her again.

I do not think I have ever felt so weak in my life. I remember telling my husband at one point, while we were in the village, that I felt bad that my sister-in-law was coming by every few days to do all of our laundry (hand washed in the nearby river). His response was, “well, you can’t do it.” True statement. It is not easy being weak. As amazing as it is to have people jump in and help, I think it can be hard especially coming from a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture to let go and let people help. But, we need each other! I think that is one of the biggest lessons that weakness has to teach.

2 Corinthians 12:9 often came to my mind when I was praying for all the pain to just go away already. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometime God does allow for physical thorns to remain in our flesh. Painful, yes, but not without lessons to teach. Our bootstraps get broken. We are not meant to or able to be everything for our children all the time even when we wish that we could. Sometimes we are flat on our backs barely able to move and that is often when the beauty of community shines through the most.

In the midst of the mastitis struggles, I got a message from a friend asking if we had a wash machine. She later raised funds for us to purchase one and let me tell you after four years of hand washing clothes, when you have a baby in cloth diapers and a toddler who is potty training- a wash machine is an incredible gift. In the midst of the mastitis struggles, my amazing niece took care of my toddler so well that in the middle of the night he woke up calling for her not for me. In the midst of my mastitis struggles, my sister-in-law, who had a similar experience with her first born, prayed for me and we bonded on a whole new level. In the midst of my mastitis struggles and having to walk 45 minutes up a mountain just to get to the main road in order to get a ride into town to then drive on some very bumpy roads to get to a clinic I was reminded again just how needed a clinic is my husband’s village.

As healing has now happened, I come away with lessons learned in weakness- community is precious, we need each other, and there is more work to be done. Perhaps the lesson that sticks with me most is that God is there in the worst of it all. He is sufficient especially when we are at our weakest point. He is sufficient and that is enough.

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