Clothed in Purple

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She picked the project, she picked the style and she picked the color—a soft purple. One of my favorite things about helping facilitate the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship is seeing how the ladies know what they need so much better then I ever could. For the first sewing project, Rachael, knew exactly what she wanted to teach her fellow widows. They needed to make a uniform, she said, a full-length round-necked meri blouse. Complicated, I thought, for a first time sewing project. I probably would have chosen to make a pillowcase or something like that, but okay. As the name suggests, a meri (Pidgin English for woman) blouse is the common item of clothing that women in Papua New Guinea wear. They can be compared to a long peasant blouse, loose fitting and very much expected to be worn especially during childbearing years. (As if a woman didn’t already feel huge during pregnancy why not wear a small tent). At least the meri blouse cuts down on the cost of maternity clothes as one size gets you through to the end. But, I digress.

Uniforms, or matching meir blouses, are common here for conferences, church groups and things of that nature; so it made sense that Rachael wanted this to be the first sewing project for the ladies. As she picked out a bolt of purple cloth, I had to smile. Purple—the color often associated with royalty during Biblical times. Lydia, who is mentioned in Acts 16:14, made her living from selling this special purple cloth.  During Biblical times the dye used to produce the deep, rich purple color came from a marine mollusk called Murex trunculus. It was not an easy process to extract the color as the shells of these mollusks had to be broken in order to access the milky fluid that was used to make this natural reddish purple dye. It is said that it literally took thousands of mollusks to dye a single yard of fabric. The process was so intense that 1½ grams of pure dye is said to have had a value of more then 10 grams of gold. No wonder purple was considered the color of royalty. The average person would not have been able to afford it.

So, purple, the color of royalty a fitting choice for a group of women who are precious in the sight of their king. Seven meri-blouses were completed during the first sewing class thanks to several seamstresses from church who came and helped the ladies with their first project. Several of the widows had never touched a sewing machine before and there was an abundance of laughter and joking as some touched their foot to the machine’s petal for the first time. Some were hesitant to make their uniform because they did not want to spoil the beautiful material in front of them but with future classes confidence grew, and by the third class the ladies had organized themselves into teams of two or three and were sewing the blouses completely on their own.

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Watching those moments of learning, seeing confidence being gained, hearing the laughter and singing that takes place during those classes is sweet music. These ladies truly are walking along side each other, encouraging each other learning and growing together—what richness, what beauty even more beautiful then that royal color purple.

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The Struggle is Real

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I’ve been slowly making my way through the Old Testament. I say slowly because if there is one thing I’ve learned about this whole parenting thing is that everything has a way of changing especially those precious few moments of quiet available (or should I say not so available). So, reading smaller chunks it is. But, maybe that is not such a bad thing because I find that I take a bit more time to really process what I am reading and do more meditating as opposed to just getting through the reading and on to the next part of the day.

One theme that continues to jump to the forefront as I have been reading is the idea of struggling. It first hit me with the meaning of the name Israel. The name given to Jacob after he physically wrestled with God. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, (which means he struggles with God) because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28 NIV).  As a society, it seems that we frequently shy away from struggle. We love to overcome, but we don’t often want the struggle that goes with it. I remember hearing a pastor preach once and saying, “don’t pray for me to have more patience because I don’t want the trails that I will have to go through in order to be more patient.” He was joking, but was he really? Why is it that the minute that hard things come into our lives there is a tendency to pull back from God, to feel that we are being treated unfairly, to wish that we were not walking the rough path. It reminds me of a quote from the movie Fiddler on the Roof  when Tevye says to God, “I know, I know we are your chosen people, But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

“Please, God, choose someone else.” We might not admit it freely, but I think many of us think that in the back of our minds when it comes to walking a painful road. We often don’t care that it will make us a kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more mature, more patient person. We would rather just stick to the soft grass.  But, the Old Testament is full of story after story of struggling—Abraham and Sarah’s struggle to have a child, Leah and Rachel two sisters struggling one because she did not feel loved by her husband and the other because she desperately wanted children and she wanted them now. Joseph was sold into slavery and then thrown into jail all because of a lie. Then, the growing nation of Israel struggled in slavery to the Egyptians for over 400 years. Clearly, struggle is a necessary ingredient for growth and character development.

But, we live in an Instagram, instant messenger society where we want the abs without the sweat of exercise, a magic pill to lose weight instead of the hard work of diet change. We want to be able to potty train a toddler in a day. We think we should have an amazing marriage but would rather walk away when things get hard instead of struggling through the hard work of learning to communicate properly, working through our own selfishness and learning to love when it is not easy. The idea of the importance of struggling is just not valued enough in modern society. But, any Olympic athlete will tell you that triumph does not come without struggle.

Maybe it is time to welcome more struggle into your life. I say this as much to myself as to anyone else. Instead of avoiding the hard stuff or camping out where you feel comfortable maybe God has something to teach in the midst of the struggles that come. The purpose of struggle is not to destroy or to overwhelm, but to take you to that next level in life that can only be reached through hardship. As the psalmist so eloquently puts it in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (NIV). God promises not to leave us alone in those valleys. He does not want to bring us to a point of breaking or shutting down emotionally when those hard days come. Instead, He longs to comfort, to lead, to bring us through the struggle stronger and triumphant.

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She is the Reason

One of the main questions we were asked last year when we went back for our first furlough was, “why widows?” I guess people wanted to know if the need to work with widows was really worth traveling half way across the world and allocating resources towards. A fair question, but to be honest, the question and the frequency that it was asked surprised me. I hadn’t prepared an answer for that question because over the last few years I had seen and heard so many stories of injustice, heartache and need that I didn’t question why God had led us to work with widows in Papua New Guinea. So, I often found myself giving weak answers like, “there are many widows due to short life expectancies in PNG especially among men” and “there is a lack of government (and even church) support systems in place for widows,” all true facts but they fail to truly show the full picture of just how difficult life can be for widows here.

We were away in the village when we received news that the husband of one of the members of our support team had passed away suddenly. It was a shock. She is still young and has been apart of our support team these last three years as we launched the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship that meets monthly in the capital city.

Her husband died unexpectedly in his sleep, and as terrible of an experience as that must have been her story gets more heartbreaking. Not long after her husband’s death, her in-laws came. They took her car (a car she had paid for with her own money) they took the family laptop, they even took her rice cooker and cooking utensils. They left her simply with her clothes and nothing else. And, as if that was not enough, they even managed to change names on her husband’s bank account and empty that as well. They did not manage to take away her physical house because it is a company house, but I know of cases here in PNG (even among some of the widows we work with) were in-laws went as far as to kick the wife out of her home after the husband passed away. Coming from a western context, it is honestly hard to fathom that these types of things happen but they do! Too many widows here find themselves in very vulnerable situations without the proper law or family support to protect them.

When it comes to working with widows, James 1:27 states, ”Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So, if you ever need a reason to work with widows, there is a clear one. As a couple, we felt God leading us to work with widows during a prayer trip to Mombasa, Kenya while volunteering with YWAM. Simon had recently graduated from Bible college. I had finished an amazing but hard season of working at a children’s home in Kenya. We had recently gotten engaged and were looking forward to our upcoming wedding. We both knew that we wanted to continue to do mission work as a couple, something we had both been doing individually before we met. But the question was- where and with whom? We didn’t want to just go for the sake of going. We wanted to go with purpose and with God’s guidance and blessing. It was during our time in Mombasa that Simon received news that Yasameng’s son had passed away leaving two young children ages two and four. Yasameng lives in the village where Simon grew up. She lost her husband when her son and daughter were only two and four. Now that sad history was repeating itself again. You can read more of their story here. One of the first projects God put on our hearts was to help finish building a permanent house for Yasameng, her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. This project is almost finished now. During our time in the village a few months ago, Yasameng shared with me that when she is out working in her garden she often looks up at that nearly completed house, amazed and reminded that even in the midst of hard circumstances, God does care and people all over the world care as well. She said that she is strengthened daily by this knowledge.

That is why we are here in PNG, to simply be a channel of love and support to these precious women and their children. The problems can often seem daunting but when faced together, especially as the body of Christ, there is new strength. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121 “My help comes from the Lord.” It is our prayer to be apart of that, helping in whatever ways we are able.

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Yasameng standing on the porch of her nearly completed home.

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To the Chosen Lady

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Ever have one of those brief (well brief for me) parenting moments when you think, “I got this whole parenting thing,” just to end up with bath water all over the kitchen floor, a half cooked breakfast and all your confidence vaporized before the clock even hits 8 a.m. That was my morning when I thought I’d save some time and bring Trevor’s little bathtub out to the kitchen so he could wash up while I cooked breakfast. Save time, right? Yeah, not so much, at least at the end of that bad idea the floor got mopped which was not on the to do list but I’m sure needed to happen.

I think one of my biggest challenges with motherhood (I’ve only reached the toddler stage) is how quickly little things can get out of control. Life can often feel like a huge mess (literally). A large portion of my day frequently revolves around wiping up spills and saying, “don’t touch that, throw that, hit that, break that…” There is no turning around for a second or, yup, one more mess to clean up or one more thing gets broken.

I stumbled across an encouraging gem recently. I’ve read it before, but this time on one of those rare mornings when I actually managed to get up before my little guy and have a bit of a quiet time I read through the book of 2nd John and it resonated with my tired soul. I read it, then read it again, then read it one more time (not too hard as it is the second shortest book of the Bible with just 303 words). I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon preached on 2nd John but in its short, simple, loving tone it is a beautiful letter of encouragement written to a mother.

I love that God tucked this treasure into the New Testament knowing that this letter of staying faithful and walking in truth and love was a message that future mothers would also need to hear. We don’t have the original envelope (or scroll) of the letter so there are no proper names used. John refers to himself simply as “The elder” and addresses his recipients as “the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth.” Some scholars say this woman hosted a church in her home, which is very likely. John encourages her to continue to “love one another,” “walk in obedience” and he warns her of deceivers. “Watch out,” he says, “that you do not lose what we have worked for.” It is clear that John saw this special lady as a partner in ministry. He says he has more to say but prefers to talk face to face, “so that our joy maybe complete.”

As a mom in the midst of the constant toddler training days, the sentence that struck me most in this short letter was when John wrote, “it has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth.” Were these her spiritual children or her physical children? I don’t know, but this lady was an influencer and she influenced her children for good. That is what I long for—to influence for good.

Interestingly enough she didn’t have perfect results, John says, “some of your children.” That honesty hit me as well because I long for perfect; I want the best for my child. I want a guarantee that if I do this, he will turn out this way. I often have the unreal expectation that my child needs to be perfect in order for me to be doing a good job, and when that perfection isn’t there (a daily, ok hourly, occurrence) I often feel that I am failing in my role as a mother. I remember when my son was born and he had some baby acne on his face. Immediately I thought, “oh no, already his skin isn’t that perfect newborn baby skin,” and, as his caregiver, I felt that it was somehow my fault even though he was barely a few hours old.

But, perfection is not the goal. Let me just say that again, perfection is not the goal! Not an easy truth to believe in this Photoshop/picture perfect society. Perfection will never happen this side of heaven. There is no formula, no parenting method, and no amount of programs that will guarantee you a perfect child. Instead, we have to walk in the truth like 2nd John says; model grace, love and mercy and leave the rest in God’s hands.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Rose with her freshly baked bread

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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.

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

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