Beneath the Wrinkles and the Dirt

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 9.01.47 AMI chose peanuts—twisted up, knobby raw peanuts right from the highlands soil, still attached to their stems, with dirt clinging to every crevice of their wrinkled skin. We flew back early for the retreat. The flight went as well as a solo flight with a two-year can go. It had been a long day, well a long week, OK a long five weeks of village living full of the typical emotional highs and lows. But, we made it.

The assignment was for each retreat participant to bring an item that represented where she was in life at that moment maybe spiritually or emotionally—an object to help give the group a snapshot of what you were carrying with you to the retreat. My mind was blank. My thoughts went back to a similar type of icebreaker assignment in college that had seemed so easy. I had my pens to represent my love for writing and my little stuffed elephant made from colorful African cloth to represent my time growing up as a missionary kid. Now, life felt too scattered. Yes, I am a tired mom. Yes, I am carrying burdens and hurts that many missionaries face. Yes, my life is often in transition. What one object comes close to showing all the facets?

I thought about bringing the boarding pass from the latest flight. Oops, already threw that away and took the trash out to the road. When you travel as much as our family does you stop saving boarding passes for scrapbooks. Then I thought—peanuts. Yes, that is me right now—dirty (it takes a few good showers to really get all that village dirt washed off). Raw—emotionally from seeing so many problems spiritually and even physically that I don’t have the strength or knowledge to “fix.” (I got to bandage a bush knife wound this trip and if you know me at all you know that is waaaaaay out of my comfort zone).

I often feel knotted up and tangled like that bunch of peanuts, but peanuts also represent another aspect of “me.” They reflect how the same thing can be so different in so many countries. Peanuts here in Papua New Guinea are often eaten as a snack and usually sold still on their steams tied up in a little tangled bundle of four or five peanut clusters. Sometimes they are lightly roasted in the fire (sill in their shells), but often they are eaten raw.

Where I grew up in Congo, peanuts were also a popular snack; but they were shelled, roasted and salted. I still remember the plies of bright red peanuts sold along the side of the road. They were sold by the can (an empty tomato paste can) and so yummy; still by far my favorite way to eat peanuts.

And, of course, we love our peanuts in the US as well with our staple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacking on cleanly shelled and packaged roasted peanuts.

As this past weekend’s retreat came to a close, we were encouraged to reflect back on our found object and see if we saw it in a different light. I was surprised and encouraged to find that I did.

The peanut is a humble legume for sure, but this time I was able to look past the dirt and crack open that protective shell just a bit to consider the heart. It is a versatile and nutritious substance. It takes time and patience to crack the shells and get to the “meat” of the plant, but it is worth it. There is more to the knobby, twisted peanut then first meets the eye and living a sometimes complicated life I relate to that so much. Underneath the dirt, and rawness of reality I do feel so blessed to be here in PNG. Is it challenging? Yes, but it is also a rich experience if you are willing to take the time to crack open the different elements that make up life here.

On a side note, I highly recommend the Velvet Ashes retreat to anyone involved in cross-cultural work: deep, refreshing, honest and challenging. I am coming away from a challenging season emotionally and am blessed to leave the time of retreat soaked in gentle truths and covered in a sense of fresh joy knowing that God does sustain, and He can use each one of us even in humble or desolate seasons.

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

-Mark 6:31

If you had to pick an object to represent where you are in life right now what would your object be?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under missions, PNG

When it Rains…

“When it rains it pours,” the saying goes. This definitely has been true for us these last several weeks. It started on such a high (yet soggy) note. It rained buckets for days and days and then some more days. Our street flooded, the neighbor’s house flooded, a pair of flip flops I left outside by the door floated away to—I‘m still not sure where, wet laundry hung in the bathroom waiting for the sun to peak out. The outdoor mumu (pig and sweet potatoes roasted in a pit) we had planned to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the widows’ fellowship somehow got underway. Simon pulled our car right up to the front door so we could load all the remaining supplies needed for the celebration into the car without getting utterly drenched.

Trevor was still enjoying his morning nap, so I scooped him up, threw a blanket over his head and off we went. I thought back to the first Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship (WEWF). Trevor was not quite born yet. Now he runs around with the other kids like he owns the place. A lot has changed over the last two years; and as I look back, I am so humbled and thankful that our little family gets to work with such an amazing group of ladies.

The downpour dampened our efforts for an early start. We were an hour late to the venue (still ok by PNG time standards). The ladies had been invited to come help with the baking (if interested), but only Rose managed to brave the rain and come early. So we started: first bread, then muffins, and finally we finished off with some cookies. As we baked we laughed, reminisced and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Rose was one of the first widows we visited when we first came to PNG. After her husband’s death she told us that she had stopped coming to church. She said she felt forgotten when the initial support from people at church slowly faded. Grief—it is just hard and sometimes such a lonely process.

I remember that first visit. I barely spoke any Tok Pisin. We brought a bag of rice and Simon and our good friend from church, Elizabeth, prayed for Rose and her children. Rose’s little guy was just a toddler then. It wasn’t a long visit, but as we baked together Rose brought up again how much that initial visit had meant to her. It ended up being a turning point for her, she said. She started going back to church again realizing that people were there to walk this difficult road with her. She is a faithful attendee of WEWF; and as we celebrated the 2nd Anniversary I couldn’t help but think, “this is why we are here.” It matters. Each lady, each one for their kids matters and getting to walk along side them on their journeys is a privilege.

IMG_9881

Baked Goods for the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship

On the drive home from the celebration, the car started making banging noises—again. Sunday, coming home from church the noises grew even worse. So, back to the mechanic it went. He fixed it only for the car to die again on Wednesday. Now a week and a half later, two new tires, a new fuel pump and a few other things fixed we believe that we’re mobile again. Well, at least for the moment. The reality is that it is an old car and slowly (or not so slowly) dying. We are saving up for a new one, but it is hard to save when money has to continually go towards repairs.

This week brought other hard news. One of the widows we work with was sentenced to three years in jail due to a land issue that took place while her husband was still alive. Her children are now all young adults, but one of her kids has special needs.

Then we received news that one of the ladies who has been a support/encouragement person for WEWF passed away suddenly after a short illness. She and her husband have a young daughter.

Some weeks are just hard. It is hard to know what to say, hard to know how to move forward, hard to know how to be a support and encouragement. But, we do stand together not knowing the future, but knowing and trusting in a God who does. On the hard days I go back to that moment with Rose baking bread in the kitchen. We are here for a reason to stand together, walk together in the midst of broken cars, flooded streets, prison sentences and the painful reality of grief. It is not easy, but it is easier when you face it together.

IMG_9865

Rose with her freshly baked bread

4 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, PNG

Mayonnaise Jar of Joy

I struggle with the stillness, the slowness, the days without appointments and weeks without a clear plan; but that is the season now. I struggle, and yet when I finally make peace with the situation I find that sometimes these “slow times” are the richest.

Just as the seasons in the US and PNG are opposite, (yes, it’s super hot here at the moment) the busy times seem opposite as well. I’m used to December being packed with activity, and here in PNG the tendency (at least in the city) is for everything to close up allowing those who are able to travel back to their villages during the holidays. Plane ticket prices are high, vacation time gets used, even kid’s programs and Sunday schools often stop for a good two months. By February, things slowly start to pick back up.

So that is where I have found myself these last few months, in that lull. We had a delightful close up program with the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship in November and are set to reconvene at the end of this month. We had a quiet Christmas and an even quieter New Year (I’m a tired mom and went to bed at 11pm because it just is not worth losing that extra hour of sleep when every hour is beyond precious).

This month has had some good family time, but sometimes I find myself getting a touch of cabin fever. Partly, it is the reality of the toddler stage when going out is hard (he might miss that all important nap) but staying in is hard too (he is climbing the furniture again and “wheels on the bus” is starting to get permanently cemented in my brain). I guess that is why I cling to the idea of a full schedule. Survive today, tomorrow we are going out. I’m just done.

I’m done just surviving till bedtime. My resolution for 2018 is finding joy in the small moments—because small moments are big part of life right now: ice cream cones, paper airplanes, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

I’m learning that joy really is a choice and it often takes effort. I’ve started writing down a memory or “joy” from the day and sticking it in a jar (currently an empty mayonnaise jar that I hope to get around to painting before 2019). What I’ve found is that stopping through out the day to savor those little joys calms me when I start to feel overwhelmed. It reminds me to laugh, and so far (even on the slow days) I’ve written down at least two “joys” because I can never seem to pick just one.

During these quieter days I’ve been going through photos getting a slideshow together to help celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship. I have been bombarded by simply joys. I love that the ladies bring their kids and, even sometimes grandkids, to the monthly fellowship. Right outside the door there is always a pile of flip-flops and sandals of every sizes. That sight never fails to bring a smile to my heart. Yes, these ladies and their children often have difficult lives, but they keep on living. We eat together; laugh together, sing together.

Last month we were able to attend the graduation of one of our widow’s daughters (a young, single mom) who wanted to do more with her life. We were able to partially sponsor her school fees at a local vocational college, and her family chipped in the rest. The hope and joy on her face that graduation day is one of those moments that stays with you. If it wasn’t for these quieter days I guess I wouldn’t have the chance to truly reflect on those moments and just how beautiful they are.

It isn’t an easy life. At times hearing so many hard stories, wishing you could do more, feeling tied down during this toddler stage is just hard, but those little moments matter. Anytime you enter into someone else’s life it can get messy, but it matters. We are one body, here for each other. It is often a slow process, but I’m learning to hang in there because there is so much joy woven into each day.

IMG_9741

Enjoying some simple joys with Trevor’s cousins visiting from the village

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, PNG, Uncategorized

The Church on the Mountain

20171203_105237There was jumping, dancing and singing—the kind of singing that springs from the joy of the soul. People waved branches and pieces of cloth. The atmosphere was infused with a feeling of genuine joy. A smile crept across my face as I thought; “I’ve never seen an offering with so much feeling take place in an American church.”

It was thanksgiving Sunday, a Sunday to come and thank God for His faithfulness over the past year; a time when people brought special offerings, sang songs in their local languages, performed cultural dances and just spent time celebrating. The last group offering seemed to peak with a new level of joy. It touched me so much because this was the group who, as a congregation, had lost the most. The church we attend is made up of three separate fellowships that meet individually on a weekly basis but come together once a month and celebrate communion as one body.

The last group to give their thanksgiving offering was from the church on the mountain. The church that had their building bulldozed to the ground. I happened to be there the day it happened. A road was coming through. Most people in the area were given eviction notices. We had dropped by the pastor’s house on some quick errand, and he was heading up to the church because some people who had been given eviction notices had moved their things to the church property.

There was a feeling of chaos and helplessness on the mountain as people stripped tin sheets off the roofs of their buildings and threw them into the back of pickup trucks. I met the pastor’s wife from the church at the bottom of the mountain. Their church, even though it was not in the direct path of the road had been told to move.

Then the shock—bulldozers drove up and started bulldozing the trees around the mountain church as well. Even though no eviction notice had been given and the church was well off the path of the road, the mountain church somehow also fell in line for destruction.

Despite documents being shown by the church leadership that talks had been happening between the University (who were said to own the land) and the church, the documents and pleas were ignored. There was no official land title (something very difficult to obtain in PNG). No verbal or written evacuation notice had been given; but, while many congregation members watched helplessly, the building was demolished.

20171203_110819

We did not stay to watch. It hurt too much. I thought of the first church service I ever attended in PNG at this very church. The children welcomed us with flowers sprinkled along the walkway and colorful leis. I thought of the little boy Bradley that we took care of for nine months and how he loved climbing those beautiful trees surrounding the church building. I thought of one of the widows that we worked with and how her husband had been the one who did all the masonry work on the building.

The next Sunday, after the building was destroyed, we met in the hot sun with just umbrellas for protection. A few reporters from one of the local papers stopped by to take some photos of the rubble.

That Sunday now seems like ages ago. The road is nearly finished now. Both the church at the bottom of the mountain and the church at the top of the mountain still meet under makeshift tarps and temporary structures. My husband preached there yesterday to the faithful congregation that a week ago sang and praised God with their whole bodies as they gave their thanksgiving offering.

What a year they have had. It is humbling to see that in spite of unforeseen circumstances, injustice, and pain they still meet. This is their fellowship. They meet with the sun beating down on the wind blown tarps. They meet in the rain (like yesterday) pulling the wooden benches back out of line of the drips. They meet with a generator buzzing in the background to provide power for the sound system.20171203_103543

20171203_105948

They meet with gladness among the rubble and it is a beautiful testimony—thanksgiving and genuine joy in spite of hardship.

20171203_105916

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, PNG

Take My Messy Fingers

He loves to “help”, with the dishes that is. As soon as he sees or hears the dish water running he starts crying out, “Trevor, do it, Trevor do it.” In typical toddler fashion water goes everywhere. A dirty bowl somehow ends up on top of his head, clean dishes end up back in the dirty water. But, he loves it. Me—not so much. I let him “help” sometimes. Usually, we make it through the “fun-filled” ordeal. Other times I loose my cool half way through and stick him back on the floor while I hurry to finish the job myself.

I am glad that God has more patience then I do. I cannot help but wonder how helpful my “help” is at time. “Let me do it,” I cry and rush in with excited emotion and the eagerness of a toddler mirrored on my face. But, is my “help” really helpful? Sometimes I look back on the cultural blunders I have made or the relationships that have suffered from misunderstandings and can’t help but wonder, “God am I doing more harm then good?” Yet, He still allows me to be where I am “helping” in spite of the many messes.

That is what we do as parents, right? We allow “help” even though the processes is much messier and much longer then if we just did the task ourselves. Why? Because children learn by example, by doing, by observation, by being close and getting their fingers (and every other possible body part) messy. Slowly, there is maturity. Gradually, the messes take less and less time to clean up. Characters are built, skills are acquired and eventually a child’s help actually does become helpful.

So, this is my prayer, God. Take my messy fingers, my eager but imperfect self and make me more like you. That is what happened with the twelve disciples, right? They were constantly trying to “help” with their bad theology, selfish agendas and short-sited thinking. Thankfully, time with the Master changed them. They matured, grew bold and through them the entire world was changed.

Thank you, Lord, that you never give up on us and that you delight in using the messy fingers of your children.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, Parenting, Uncategorized

Reduced to Fragments

My fingers smelled dusty. An old papers and torn movie tickets kind of dusty. As I sat on the floor of my childhood bedroom sorting through shoes boxes of papers and odds and ends from high school and college days, I came across a yellow sticky note with the words “reduced to fragments” scribbled on it. “That’s how I feel,” I thought to myself—“fragmented.”

Pieces here, pieces there—part of my heart always stays back in the US when we get on that airplane. In the US I have the ability to jump in a car and easily spend time with family and friends I have grown up with, people who know my history; people who have walked with me through the bumpy spots.

I would be lying if I said I did not miss the hot showers and machines that wash your clothes with the push a button. I love the ability to wear jeans without worrying if it will offend someone. I love walking into a store and buying eggs without calculating the exchange rate in my head. Then, of course, there is the luxury of high speed Internet and a million food choices. Maybe it is good for my waistline that our trip has a clear end date.

Now, time in Australia is a buffer as we wind up our furlough and prepare to head back to Papua New Guinea in October. As fragmented as it feels at times, overall; it has been an amazing trip—road trips, new memories, new friends, and new interest in what God has us doing in PNG.

I’m ready now as all these pieces float together to form some sort of fluid picture I am ready to return. As fragmented as this life may seem at times, all the pieces and places are important—each one giving its own flavor and flare.

It’s true life can be reduced to the fragments that make us who we are—culture, family history, experiences and memories. The past is the past. The future has its own stories to offer.

So I am taking this new day, this chapter of the story, and choosing to live in the present—thankful for what each place has to offer. Thankful for this fragmented now.

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, PNG, Travel

Those Things You Learn the Hard Way When You Have Your First Child

This isn’t my typical blog post, but this past year so many things have been swirling around in my mind that I feel the need to write them out (and yes it has taken me well over a year to do so). Maybe what I’ve learned the hard way will help someone else; and please I would love to hear from other parents or care givers what shocked you, surprised you or melted your heart in a way you never thought possible. So here goes… Those things I learned the hard way.

Did you know that after you have a baby your hair can literally falls out in clumps for weeks? That is a fun one. Thankfully, it is temporary as your hormones attempt to balance out. Something called BPA (which you may have never even heard of before) suddenly seems important, but you are not even sure why. Did you know that it is actually possible to be allergic to your own child? I didn’t (google Pups rash—so not cool). Thankfully, this too is temporary and due (yet again) to an overload of hormones.

When you have a baby, you quickly discover that some people have an irresistible urge to give you advice on EVERYTHING from how your baby should be dressed, to when to feed solid food, how often your baby needs to bathe, when you should sleep, how often to cut finger nails and on and on and on. Frankly, it’s exhausting. And speaking of exhausting, I think the thing that has been the hardest for me as a new parent was the discovery that some babies (no matter what you do) just don’t sleep well at night. Welcome to motherhood. As my dad told a young, overwhelmed mom at church; “if it was easy, guys would do it.”

I vividly remember one night during that first month getting up—for was it the fifth or six time—(I’d lost count) and thinking, “It’s a wonder any of us survived to adulthood. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for my mom (and she had twins! God bless her).

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started to babysit, maybe twelve. My first regular babysitting job was watching a three month old when I was 15. For five months, I worked as a nanny (best job ever). Then, I had the immense privilege of being an aunty/parent for ten months to 19 of the most amazing children in Kenya. So, when it came to having my own little guy, I guess I expected things to be—well—a little bit easier. I had experience, right?

Needless to say, I got the biggest wake up call of my life. It is scary, to be honest. You are responsible. A little life is in your hands and the pressure of that can be daunting. I learned this the hard way during those first few hours when I went to feed Trevor for the first time and, instead of a sweet bonding moment, he was whisked off to be put on oxygen (read The Story I Couldn’t Write part one and two for more on that experience). The fear is real, but you cannot give into the fear because that only brings unneeded stress. I’m learning that you have to choose to focus on doing the best job that you can over worry knowing you are an imperfect parent living in an imperfect world where disease and tragedy are a very real reality. Thankfully, as tiny and vulnerable as babies are, it amazes me how tough they can be as well—a calming grace for my often over-worried soul.

As a nanny, you join a family who has a specific way of taking care of their children. You’re responsible for looking after the kids during a specific amount of time. There might be some light housework included in your duties, but mainly your focus is 100 percent on the kids. As a parent, you are responsible for the kids, grocery shopping, teaching proper ways to behavior in society, education, health, financial needs and the list goes on. Instead of following someone else’s methods and preferences, suddenly you have to make the decision on everything from car seats, vaccines, and tummy sleeping to how best to discipline and whether or not to co-sleep, sleep train, or do a mix of everything. It is on you and the choices are daunting. Opinions on both sides of every argument seem so strong. For example, take the vaccine debate. Mom A will say, “if you have your children vaccinated and something goes wrong they could die.” Mom B will point out, “if you don’t vaccinate your children and they get sick they could die.” Then there is tummy sleeping. Mom A, “back is best due to the risk of SIDS.” Mom B, “My friend’s baby died in her sleep from choking while sleeping on her back.” What is a mom to do?

I have learned the hard way that you have to do your own research and make the decision that works best for you and your child. There is no one perfect or even right way to raise your little guy or gal. There is a reason there is no baby manual. Each child, family, and situation is different. So, instead of stressing about decisions, focus on learning your baby and what works best in your particular situation. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter what route you choose, someone will think you are making the wrong decision. That is all right. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your child. So when it comes to all the opinions, options, and advice learn to sort through it. Pick out the helpful stuff, don’t waste your breath with debates, and just change the subject if someone gets hostile. You are not going to change their mind, so just move on to lighter topics.

This last year I’ve also learned the hard way that the name of the game is change. Just as you get a rhythm or a schedule it changes. I remember one morning cooking breakfast while my son sat on the floor happily playing with a toy. I thought to myself, “ this is a nice stage.” He had his balance to the point where he could sit by himself and not fall over. I could actually focus on what I was doing. It was heavenly. Well, that didn’t last long. Next thing I knew he was crawling, so much for concentration. Change can also be a good thing though. It does get easier and harder, easier and harder as your little one hits growth spurts, developmental milestones, and pops out those little pearly whites. Each little stage has its joys and challenges. So on the hard days remember, it will change sometimes the best medicine is deciding to have a positive attitude.

Another thing you learn quickly as a new parent is that naptime is never long enough. Part of this might be more of a personality thing, but the minute those tiny eyes close; I start thinking of all the things I want to do: the dishes, laundry, blog, finally get a shower, sit down in peace and read my Bible. The floors need to be mopped. There are emails to answer. The bathroom could really use a good cleaning. Of course, it is unrealistic to do all of this. When my little guy wakes up and I have not even gotten through an 1/8th of the things I wanted to do, I end up feeling so frustrated. This, of course, does not help anyone. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to lower my expectations (keep that naptime to do list to one or two items), prioritize, and if I really want to get something done either stay up late or get up early.

That being said, another hard lesson I have had to learn is—ask for help. This one is a constant struggle for me. I want to do it all, handle it well, and be there whenever my son needs me. As a result, I often find myself overwhelmed, overtired, and easily frustrated. Then I get extra frustrated at myself for being frustrated. I should be able to handle this right? Well, I can’t and that is OK because my son needs more then just me. Not having immediate family close by has been a real challenge this past year. Part of the year we do live near my husband’s family and that makes a huge difference, but there are a lot of times that it is just us and our absolutely adorable bundle of joy is a ball full of ENERGY. I have learned the hard way that it makes a huge difference to ask a responsible teenager to come with to the coffee shop so that you can actually get some Internet work done (and not just be frustrated by the entire experience). Sometimes it takes swallowing your pride and admitting that, no, you can’t handle it. Other times it takes knowing your limits and admitting that you need some peace and quiet and time to recharge yourself in order to be a better parent.

And finally, remember to have fun. It is easy to get so caught up in the caretaking side of being a mom that you forget to just enjoy and play with your child. I was reminded of this on my birthday. My husband very thoughtfully booked a couple of nights for us at a guesthouse. There weren’t any distracting dishes staring at me, so at one point Trevor and I just played with a little tennis ball that I had brought along to keep him amused. I remember sitting there on the floor listening to my little guy laugh and thinking I need to do this more often. In the midst of the challenges and the huge learning curve there are so many joyful moments. Embrace that.

What did you learned the hard way as a new parent? Were there things that really surprised you? What advice would you give new parents expecting their own little bundle of joy?

Trevor and his daddy checking out how much his tree has grown over the past year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Parenting