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.

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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.

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I Wonder How She Felt

I doubt they had a donkey, you know, even though there is a donkey present in most Christmas pageants. They didn’t have money for a lamb, what the law required when consecrating a baby, so they gave the less expensive (but still accepted option) offering of two pigeons.

A mud soaked road gave me a new appreciation for Mary. Last year I was newly pregnant and trying my best to make my way up the mountain road with a sister-in-law on each side of me very kindly reaching out to grab my arm when I started to slide which was frequently. Humbling to say the least. It was about an hour worth of walking before we reached the spot in the road that was finally dry enough for the bus to make it down without getting stuck. Mentally, I worried if this hilly climb would put any unnecessary stress on the little life inside of me. Sure the PNG ladies did it all the time, but they were in much better shape then I was. After six hours worth of bumpy bus rides, no restrooms (apart from stopping on the side of the road) and, greasy gas station food we were dropped off on the side of the road and wait for over half an hour for our ride to pick us up. Stunningly beautiful scenery, but hardly ideal traveling conditions when expecting. I was just so thankful that I didn’t throw up.

I wonder how Mary felt as she travelled during one of the most inconvenient times to travel. I’m sure she had swollen ankles and felt keen disappointed as, after such a long journey, inn after inn was full. Finally Joseph managed to find them a spot in a dirty stable. I’m sure she worried, as most new moms do, about keeping her baby clean and avoiding sickness especially during those first crucial hours. I wonder if, as she wrapped his tiny frame in strips of cloth (swaddling clothes), she thought, “does God see me here, bringing His son into the world in the midst of dirt and dung. Is this how things are supposed to be?”

I find myself wondering the same thing sometimes while hand washing dirty dippers in a tiny sink when I’d much rather be in bed. “Does God see me, my situation, is this how things are supposed to be?”

He does see, especially in those humble, dirty times. When no one else sees. He showed Mary that he saw her right where she was. Angels filled the night sky singing of the birth of the new born savior. But, he not only sees; he has been there himself. The most high God entering the world in the most humble of surroundings.

A King born in a manger.

 

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He Knows About the Potatoes

I stayed up late making a batch of apple muffins and got up early to throw in a batch of chocolate ones before the guests arrived. This is PNG, so no telling when exactly to expect the group of anywhere from five to thirty ladies; but I figured before 10 a.m. was unlikely. It was a safe bet. The muffins had plenty of time to cool with no sign of company in sight. I was glad I hadn’t stayed up late to finish the second batch. My husband, on the other hand, had stayed up quite late getting the bathroom cleaned.

10 a.m., 10:30 a.m. 11 a.m. 11:30 a.m.—no one, no phone call. Those muffins started to look pretty tempting, and I started to wonder if somehow plans had changed between Sunday and Wednesday. “If no one is here by noon,” I thought, “I’m having muffins for lunch.” It took a few phone calls to confirm that, yes, during the morning plans had apparently changed; and the ladies weren’t going to make it. No problem, this is PNG. You learn to go with the flow.

The muffins got divided up. Some went to the neighbors, some to the pastor’s family and another plate we dropped off to friends who just had a baby boy. As we drove home from that visit, I found out that more company was coming over this time for dinner. No worries, Simon’s aunt had recently given us a chicken, which I hadn’t gotten around to cooking yet. I had a few carrots and potatoes to do a roast so with rice, I thought, that should feed everyone.

“I could really use a few more potatoes,” I told my husband. “But let’s just use what we have.” Two people coming over turned into four people coming over. I needed to get the roast going, but Simon told me to go lay down for 20 minutes first, which was a smart decision.

When I got up from my nap, Simon was peeling potatoes—more potatoes then we had in the house. The neighbor had returned the muffin plate bringing it back heaped up with potatoes. It was perfect. We got the roast in late—really late, but the guests didn’t arrive until well past eight, so it all worked out. And I just had to smile because as crazy and unpredictable as every day life can be here in PNG, God knows. He knows whose coming over and who plans to but doesn’t make it. He knows who needs a visit or even something as simple as a plate of muffins. He knows the right timing for everything especially when I don’t. He knows I need those extra potatoes and as small a thing as it is he takes care of it every single time.

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The Story I couldn’t Write (Part II)

It’s indescribably hard to trust strangers with your child. But, he needed the medicine, the care that I was unable to give. So, with struggling hearts, we left. The nurses told us visiting hours started at 7 a.m.

Back across the road we went to the private hospital where I had given birth and was yet to be discharged. The evening is mostly a blur. Two friends from church stopped by with some bags of fruit. Trevor’s first official visitors, except Trevor wasn’t there. Later, Rachael, one of the widows we work with came with her daughter and ten month old granddaughter Mya. They brought a delicious dinner for us. I just held on to little Mya. God knew I needed a baby to hug right then since I couldn’t hug mine. Rachael told us that Mya also had to stay for a few days in that same intensive care unit—calming news to my anxious heart.

I slept. The first real sleep I’d had in three days. Simon slept on a mattress on the floor next to my hospital bed. At 4 a.m. I woke up. I couldn’t think about anything but Trevor. I got myself ready and packed up a few things to take over to my little guy. As soon as the sun started to peek up, we headed back across the road. It wasn’t visiting hours yet. The nurse allowed Simon just a few minutes to look in on Trevor before saying that only the mother was allowed in the intensive care unit in order to protect all the sick babies there.

Trevor’s neighbor to the right was incredibly tiny barely over a kilo. On his left was a little guy born the same day, but well before his due date. Across the room was a set of twin boys so thin that they reminded me of the pictures you see in National Geographic of severely malnourished children.

I looked down at my son lying there under those bright hospital lights. His face was all smushed up, and he had so many tubes connected to his tiny person. As I held him, I didn’t feel that instant connection. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was the fact that this whole motherhood thing hadn’t had time to really sink in, but then Trevor looked up at me with those precious little eyes. The way he looked at me right then seem to say, “Mom, I need you.” In that instant, my heart melted. He was mine. There was that deep connection and it stuck stronger then any glue ever could.

Those five days of caring for Trevor felt like five weeks. To write down everything would take a small book, so highlights will have to suffice—the moments that stick most deeply in my mind.

I went to change Trevor for the first time and realized the diapers were still in the car. I asked the nurse for one and was told that diapers were available for sale in the hospital store. Buy enough, I was told, so that the nurses could change him when I was away.

I tried to feed Trevor for the first time holding him while he was still connected to oxygen and an IV. The oxygen tube kept falling out of his nose. I kept having to go and call someone to put it back in again. His little cheeks were chaffing red from the tape holding the tubes down.

Trevor’s first bath wasn’t exactly a proper one. A nurse handed me a silver bowl, a handful of cotton balls, and showed me where the sink was. Because he had been put on oxygen right away, Trevor never got a real bath after he was born. I tried my best to wash his hair out with that handful of cotton balls.

That first morning one of the nurse told me not to hold him for too long because they didn’t want him to get too used to being held all the time. That made me blink back tears. All I could think of was a study I had read about how babies in a Russian orphanage had a lower mortality rate after volunteers came in just to hold the babies. That little bit of physical love ended up saving some of those tiny lives. I told myself this was only for five days.

Scheduled feeding times were 4am, 6am, 8am, 10am, Noon, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm, and midnight. Nurses took care of the 2am feeding. We live about a half hour drive from the hospital. There was a place where the moms, who weren’t already staying in the hospital, could stay. Location was great—just one building over from the baby nursery. But, the rooms had no doors. They did have ceiling fans installed, but they didn’t all work. No men were allowed to stay in the building, so that meant that Simon wouldn’t be able to stay with me.

Thankfully, my parents were staying at a missionary guesthouse just down the road from the hospital. Originally, we had planned for them to stay at a guesthouse close to where we lived. But for the first part of their stay, that guesthouse was overbooked; so they ended up at the one near the hospital. Thankfully, that guesthouse also had a room free for us.

So we went back and forth, back and forth—hospital, guesthouse; guesthouse, hospital. We got to know the names of all the security guards that worked at the missionary guesthouse front gate. Although sometimes in our sleep deprived state we would call them by the wrong name.

By the third day, Trevor was off oxygen and the feeding tube. The nurses even let me take him out to the hall to spend a bit of time with his daddy. On the fourth day, he was moved out of the intensive care unit and into the recovery room. A clear Plexiglas window separated the two sections, so I could still wave to Trevor’s neighbor’s mom (the baby to the left of him). She came so faithfully every feeding. Her husband even started to join Simon in the hall. Their baby was their first child as well. The husband told Simon that they didn’t have a watch, but every time they saw us coming they knew it was time for a feeding. The husband had been sleeping outside the hospital at night. Simon actually ran into the couple and their little boy a few weeks ago while at the store. He is doing well and they asked how Trevor was. Sadly, the tiny baby to Trevor’s right passed away the second day we were there.

The twins moved over to the recovery side as well. Their mom was still in recovery herself. The nurse used to scoop them up and tell them, “Your mommy is doing better, but for now I’m your part-time mom.” The twins were still so, so tiny but starting to eat better. It made my heart happy to see them in the recovery room. When their mom was finally able to walk over and visit them, she held those tiny little boys both in the same arm and sang to them as she walked back and forth up and down the room.

On Monday we were told that once Trevor got get his last dose of antibiotics on Tuesday, he could come home with us. It felt so good to be on the recovery side one step closer to the door.

I sat on the white plastic chair that was provided feeding Trevor and chatting with one of the other moms. She was new and worried that her milk hadn’t come in yet. I told her mine took a few days too. That seemed to give her some comfort.

Through that Plexiglas window I saw one of my favorite nurses standing with one of the mothers. The mom’s face was twisted the saddest expression of pain that I have ever seen. She wasn’t crying, as if the pain was too much even for tears. The nurse swaddled the baby lying in the incubator in front of her in a fuzzy blue blanket with yellow flowers. But, this time she swaddled the child’s head as well. Right in front of me, a mother was having to say a final goodbye to her child. I felt utterly helpless. Tears welded up in my eyes. I wanted to go to her, say something, but what? Here I was holding a healthy baby about to be discharged.

That night I had terrible dreams. I woke up at 1am and felt an overwhelming need to go and check on Trevor. I woke Simon up and told him we had to go over to the hospital right now. We talked, prayed, and finally I felt settled enough to wait a few hours and go at the normal time.

I held my breath, as I always did, walking through the front door and turning the corner to go and see Trevor. A bright colored quilt that my grandma had sent lined his little basinet, so I could always pick out his little bed quickly even if he had been moved. There he was— fast asleep. The nurses told me he had a very peaceful night and could be discharged at 10am after his final dose of medicine and once the head nurse had a chance to clear him. Sweet words and even sweeter the feeling when we finally got to carry him out of the hospital and to the car.

I’m thankful for each one of those nurses. They work so tirelessly and really have a heart for what they do. Talking to one of the head nurses she said that they are often understaffed and the nurses work long hours on days that the nursery is especially full, which is frequent. They have a great need for more equipment, but do the best with what they have. Trevor’s care was completely free of charge.

It wasn’t an easy road to walk, but God was there each step of the way. I learned so much about trust, taking one moment at a time and finding strength within yourself when you feel like you have none.

Sometimes when he’s asleep, I just look at my little guy’s sweet little face and my heart wells up with a mixture of gratitude and joy. He’s here. He’s safe. He’s such a wonderful part of our little family. Every single day is a gift. A gift I can never take for granted.

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Hanging with Daddy in the hospital hallway

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The Story I Couldn’t Write (part I)

Exif_JPEG_420I lived each moment over and over in my head to the point where I told myself I would write it out so that I could have peace again. That thought gave me peace—the peace I needed to survive, but then I never brought myself to put pen to paper or (in this case) fingers to the keyboard.

It is still vivid—although parts have started blurring into the background as life moves on. It is still raw in places especially when I think about the fragility of life, the feeling of utter helplessness and the undeniable grace of God that gets you through.

My son was hours old when they took him. After over 20 hours of labor, the strongest feeling that overcame me wasn’t wonder or that instant bond of love mingled with joy (that all the birth stories talk about) it was relief—a pure flood of sweet relief. I survived. He was here. All was right with the world. My husband held him and Trevor peeked open one of his little eyes as if trying to decided if this new world he had joined was worth waking up for. He barely cried, gave a little cough and closed his eyes again.

When everything seemed stable, my husband left to go pick up my dad who had been anxiously waiting for news and the chance to see his first grandchild. My mom and the midwife took Trevor over to give him his first bath while I rested. Mom was a bit anxious that Trevor had barely cried when he was born. I told her not to worry saying the midwives knew what they were doing.

I laid back in bed and waited for them to bring my little guy back. No one came. I wanted to get up and take a shower before visitors arrived, but a feeling of light-headedness kept me from trying to stand while no one else was in the room.

It seemed like an eternity, but finally my mom came back. During delivery, Trevor had sucked junk into his lungs. His skin was turning blue. The doctor came around and put him on oxygen. The nurses had left my mom (an RN) to try and suction his lungs. After some time on oxygen his coloring started to look more normal.

Mom handed my little buddle of joy back to me, but as I got ready to feed him for the first time his skin started turning blue again. Back he went on oxygen and this time the midwives recommended transferring him over to the hospital across the street which was better equipped to care for sick babies. I had wanted to avoid that public hospital after learning that my brother and sister-in-law had lost their first child there.

It was late Friday afternoon. My regular doctor went home and the newly hired weekend doctor took over. He started giving Trevor antibiotics through an IV and told us he would need them for the next five days. Simon and my dad came back. They got an ambulance ready to take us across the street to the general hospital. My mom held Trevor while the midwife and I held on to the oxygen tank, which was apparently a faulty tank and if not held at just the right angle would stop working.

So there he was hours old, lying in a clear plastic basinet in a room full of other sick babies. An oxygen tube was taped to his little cheek and snaked into his nose. A yellow IV port was gingerly taped down around his tiny left hand. They told me he was too sick to nurse. They told me my mom was not allowed to stay with him. They told my husband only the mother is allowed to enter the intensive care unit.

We left. It was awful. I couldn’t think about it and blinked back tears as we walked to the car. Of course, a story I had read in the newspaper awhile back popped into my head. The story told of a biracial couple in South America who gave birth to a light skinned baby.  Shockingly, the baby was switched by hospital staff with a different baby and the couple was never able to recover their son. It was all I could do to push those thoughts and more from my mind.

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Planting a Legacy

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It was a single seed planted before I was born by a man I never meet. A simple act, but as I ran my hand over the wood that formed the structure of our home I could not help but be thankful for that simple act that gave us so much.

It is common in my husband’s tribe for fathers to plant trees for their sons. Years later those trees are harvested for wood which are then used for building. On a wet, cold evening my husband grabbed a bush knife and a raincoat and headed out to plant trees for our son. He had just turned six months old. We were about to leave the village, so he made it a priority to finish before we left.

We spent a little over a week sleeping in the house built from that tree. The house has come along way, and I am so thankful. Not only do we now have a permanent house for our little family, but we also have a place for teams to come and stay and a place for family and friends to sleep when they visit.

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I never had a chance to meet my father-in-law. Sadly, he passed away the year before my husband and I met. But, he left a legacy with that simple act of planting a tree for my husband when he was just a boy. I think about him when I walk past that huge tree stump still sitting in the churchyard. He never had the chance to meet his newest grandson, but he left a legacy, and we are all grateful for that.

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