I’d never heard of an air plant before. These amazing plants somehow grow without soil by just soaking in moisture from the air and getting their food from the sun. How cool is that. When I first heard about the Velvet Ashes retreats the theme for that year was “Sustain” built around the idea of these amazing air plants. They survive in such unique environments sustaining themselves and even thriving on hardly anything. “These people get me.” I thought. The more I learned about Velvet Ashes it felt like a cold drink of water to my very thirsty soul. Even the name Velvet Ashes comes from the Velvet Ash Tree which is able to grow in the desert providing shade in harsh environments.
Sometimes this overseas life can very much feel like a harsh environment. I love it. It is very much where I know God wants our family in this season. It is so, so good and yet is it so, so hard. Yesterday my son pointed out that there is a plant growing out of the cement step right in front of our front door. Amazing. Life growing, even thriving, in a hard place. I want to be that plant. To be honest, I wouldn’t say I am thriving at the moment, but I hope by God’s grace that I am growing. During the most recent Velvet Ashes Unplugged Retreat “Prayer and Jesus” that I was able to be part of one of the exercises asked you to picture yourself as a potted plant. My plant was a cactus. Transplanted, survives on not very much, often misunderstood, the prickles at times can make it hard to get to know. I was told once in college that missionary kids are hard to get to know. It felt sad hearing that, because don’t we all long to be known and understood. But I get it. The childhoods we had often were complicated so, yes, it can be a challenge to peel back some of those layers and there might be some prickles along the way, but cacti are actually quite fascinating. I learned recently that cactus often bloom at night and their blooms usually last just for a day. Imagine that beauty in the quite of the night, far off in the desert often not seen by a single human eye, and yet they still bloom.
I was given a desert rose last week (Thank you Jim). It had a sweet pink blossom which my two-year-old promptly proceeded to pick. Two more blossoms are about to open. I was told that desert rose plants actually do best in direct sunlight, so it should thrive at our house (I’m melting in this summer Port Moresby heat). What a special reminder that we are all learning to survive and hopefully thrive even in difficult environments.
Velvet Ashes has been such a gift to me. We are with a small organization with no member care so, for me, the retreats with Velvet Ashes have become a time to mentally access the year and see how God has grown and changed me. I love how beautiful the material Velvet Ashes creates is and how honest and relevant it is especially for cross-cultural workers like me. From blog posts to connection groups there is something so special about feeling seen, heard and encouraged. So thank you to the team at Velvet Ashes for the ways you minister to women like me. Happy Birthday to an amazing community. The ripple effects of the love you pour out on so many of us is so life giving. It probably won’t be until heaven that the many fruits of your faithful labor will be seen.
Do you know what it is like to have plenty? Sometimes it is so easy to get stuck in hard seasons. But there are also seasons of plenty. There are times when, like Elijah, we get to rest under a Juniper tree. There are times when, just like Elijah, we find ourselves saying, “God, it is enough” and then often you will find that He overwhelms you with good gifts that only He can orchestrate.
At times I feel like it has taken me a full nine months to mentally feel prepared for this new baby to join our family. In some ways it has been an easy pregnancy no swollen feet, not much heartburn. In other ways it has felt very difficult due to prolonged morning sickness, next level exhaustion (in part because of having two other kiddos in very busy stages of life), and then a low lying placenta resulting in the doctor saying that if the position did not shift it would be very likely that I would need to have a C-section. With my other two births my parents have been able to fly over and even one of my brothers came the last time around. Now boarders are closed to visitors, and we just finished a four-week lock down in the city where we live due to a rise in Covid cases.
This season has felt weary at times—more then I could handle physically and emotionally. The stress has often left me weary. So much energy spent trying to keep the house somewhat clean, trying to parent and yelling at my kids far too often, trying to find peace in a neighborhood that often feels chaotic. Trying to deal with heat rash, power blackouts and water going off while attempting (and often failing) to maintain a good attitude. It has been a season-a challenging season at that and then…
And then God once again has shown me that He sees, He knows, He provides in ways that are so beyond what I could even plan. A friend recently offered to let us stay in her flat for the next few months while she is out of the country. It is a beautiful three bedroom flat over looking the ocean with a veranda that is the size of the place where we currently stay. It has a hot shower, air conditioning and is in such a peaceful neighborhood. Honestly, it is the perfect place to prepare for and recover from birth. To top it all off, a lady even comes once a week to help with general house cleaning! I about cried the other day watching the sun setting over the ocean. I’ve missed so much the beauty of nature and just having space to mentally relax away from fist fights breaking out in our compound or literally wading through the giant mud puddle in our front yard to hang up clothes. Peace, a place to get away and rest is such a beautiful gift.
Life can feel at times like a string of endless challenges and yet so often there are places provided of sweet retreat. I remember after my twin sister passed away my mom’s aunt and uncle paid for us to come and spend time at a guesthouse they managed on Mombasa Kenya’s beautiful coast. The guesthouse’s name was Amani Acres. Amani is the Swahili word for peace and that guesthouse truly was a place of peace coming after an especially traumatic season.
I was reading Philippians 4 :12-13 this week which says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” He gives strength. He gives peace. He moves, and He provides.
As my due date approaches this Saturday, I feel so surrounded by love and community. So many people have been praying all over the world for us and even helping carry us financially during this time of transition leaving us with a feeling of plenty after coming from a dry place. At my last doctor’s visit, the ultrasound even showed that the placenta has sifted enough that my doctor is now comfortable with me trying for a natural delivery, a relief to hear and yet another way that we see God working.
Just this week we settled on a name for our sweet baby girl—Abigail Jane. Abigail means “my father’s delight” and Jane means “God is gracious”. In this place, this space, this season we feel the delight of our Father so clearly, and we know that Abigail will bring so much delight to our little family. God has been so gracious to us, and we are so grateful for His love and care.
“If you’re a young mother and you’re getting up at five o’clock in the morning or maybe three o’clock in the morning with a fussy child, or a child that needs to eat, maybe the most spiritual thing that you could do in that moment is not beat yourself up because you’re not getting to read your Bible like you want to, but to recognize that right then, you’re serving! You’re serving! That’s a spiritual discipline. You’re serving your child and your family. Maybe the most spiritual thing you can do in that moment is to not be reading your Bible or practicing some more romantic spiritual discipline. Maybe the best thing you can do in that moment is to serve that child and then to go take a nap.”
Pastor Brad Evangelista’s words, on one of my favorite podcasts, sent a feeling of release over my tired soul. I felt my eyes tear up. There I was, multi-tasking as usual—listening to a podcast while catching up on housework and doing my best to keep the kiddos happy at the same time. An invitation—to just rest—not do one more thing, not to meet one more requirement in order to be successful, not to add one more “you need to…” on top of my tired shoulders—just rest. My frayed soul needed that reminder—the reminder that allowing for rest can have spiritual, not just physical benefits.
For the first two years of his life, my firstborn rarely slept a long stretch. I tried all the tired and true methods hoping for relief for all of us, but nothing seemed to work. As a first time mom, I often felt so depleted, worn out, on edge—physically, emotionally and even spiritually wrung out. Angry (to be honest) much of the time that this little person needed me so much. “By the time kids get to college they sleep through the night, right?” I remember thinking to myself in desperation. There must be an end to this at some point.
I would inwardly cringe anytime I heard someone cheerfully quip, “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sure it sounds so easy; but if I did that, when would I get a shower, catch up on housework or get any cooking done? Living overseas, there was no grandma living close by to just pop over and hold the baby. Most cooking here is time consuming, as it mostly has to be done from scratch. So, no throwing in a frozen pizza on days when it all felt like too much. Laundry was also a big chore as it needed to be hand-washed as well. Even when I would try to lay down for a quick nap, I could not seem to shut off my thoughts long enough to go to sleep. I would lay there thinking about all the things that needed to be done instead of slipping into needed rest. Even when my husband would tell me to leave the dishes, and he would get them when he got home from a meeting I would often just do them myself because seeing them sitting there in the sink drove me crazy. If you cannot let go, you cannot truly rest.
I’m not a neat freak, but I find it so hard to relax when there is still a mess to be cleaned up. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, there is always a mess to be cleaned up. You can get one room cleaned up just to go into the next room to find what looks like wreckage left behind by a mini tornado. My friend’s mom likes to say, “cleaning when you have kids is like trying to shovel snow while it is still snowing.”
So when that still small voice would whisper to my tired soul, “come, you are weary. I will give you rest.” I mentally answered, “just a minute. Let me finish folding these clothes.” Somehow I thought I could manage it—that I needed to manage it, but reality is I cannot. My weary self had to learn to let go.
Let Those Dishes Sit
There will always be one more job calling my name. I’m slowly getting wiser. Let those dishes sit. They will still be there after a nap, or even in the morning, and with renewed energy and a renewed attitude it is much easier to tackle them. Stop—take a breath, drink that cup of tea or coffee if you can manage to before too many interruptions break in. Reheat it if necessary (I’m learning to just put mine straight into a thermos mug so that it stands up longer to the interruptions). Sit—sit in the mess and just be for a moment. The Savoir is there. He is always there waiting. He sees and knows and truly does lighten the load if only we are willing to set it down for a moment.
In college my Psalms professor would often talk about how so much of the Bible points to themes of rest—with heaven as the ultimate resting point. No wonder our weary earth-worn souls long for true rest. Yes, there is work and there always will be, but there is something so satisfying about finally sitting down after an honest day’s work and just the peace that comes from putting your feet up. Don’t we all long to one day hear the words, “well, done my good and faithful servant. Now come and enter into eternal rest.”
I think one of the reasons that I have such a love for chai, the sweet milky tea that my time in Africa taught me to treasure, is because it is an invitation to stop. Yes, I love the spicy flavor; but what I truly love is the permission to just sit, with my hands wrapped around a steaming hot cup, and slowly sip. It is like the world and all of its problems are put on pause for those few moments because you cannot guzzle a hot beverage.
As I have adjusted to life with small kids I have learned that rest looks different in different stages of life. I used to love spending an afternoon at a good coffee shop—my laptop, a delicious pastry, the calmness of a quiet atmosphere. Now coffee shops (at least with kids in tow) are anything but restful for me. “Don’t touch that. Please don’t spill that. Ok never mind, let’s go.” Now I find that the local nature park is restful. The kids run. I soak up some sun, and if I’m really fortunate, some heartfelt conversation with other moms while we try to catch up amidst diaper changes and relentless requests for snacks.
Moments of rest may look different these days, but they are still there tucked between sticky kisses and runny noses. These days I find that some of the most restful moments of the day often happen when one of my kiddos wakes me up at 5 am (well before I had planned to get up). I am slowly learning that I actually find it surprisingly fulfilling to just roll with it and get up and do something that tends the soul like watching the sunrise, journaling or sitting down to write uninterrupted. These unplanned pockets of calm in the early morning hours have a way of giving a sweet peace to the beginning of the day which is much more restful then laying in bed fuming that I’m up again well before I had planned to be. Although, I will say, there are many days that I am able to roll back over and catch some more precious sleep, which can be just as spiritually refreshing for the soul as those quiet, contemplative mornings.
The Goal of Rest Should not Simply Be to Energize for More but to Appreciate More
It is so easy to see rest as a means to an end—recharging to gain energy for the next day, but true rest is so much more than a simple recharging of the physical batteries. What if we instead came to see rest as a way of life? Society today is so driven, driven to the point that it is easy to miss the beautiful life that is happening around us. We are given today. Let’s live it intentionally. This is what a proper theology of rest can help us to do. It is often in the contemplative moments that we truly live. Isn’t this what our Creator modeled when He took a Sabbath after His work, a time to just sit back and enjoy what was created. Children are often so good at this—naturally leaning in to touch, study and just gaze at whatever catches their interest. But, as adults, we often want those children (who are relishing in a moment) to hurry up and put their shoes on so that we can rush off to the next thing on the agenda.
Keep A Sabbath
Personally, I find the command to, “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” one of the most difficult commands to implement. So often I am addicted to the programs, the work, the schedule. As much as I like the idea of rest, in my pride, I often think I can keep going well after my strength is spent. I often say, “yes” to commitments without taking the time to think about if a new commitment is something our family can truly handle in this particular season. Just because something is good does not mean that it is necessary. So often less really is more.
Our Maker knows that we need the Sabbath. It is a gift. A time to sit back and appreciate the day, the week, a time to reflect and prepare for what is ahead. A true Sabbath is not a stiff ritual but a needed time to step away from the norm and do something that refreshes the soul like going for a walk, journaling, reading, creating something, reading a refreshing book or article or maybe even taking that nap that has been calling your name.
The result often is a new perspective, renewed strength and less feelings of being stuck in an endless cycle of work. What is the point of the day if we do not step back and take a moment to enjoy it? If we rush on to the next thing and the next thing are we even giving ourselves time to take it all in?
Don’t Mind the Mess
Sure there is a mess, storms can feel constant; but like Jesus, we can learn to take a nap in the boat even while the storm rages overhead. Just think about it, a storm is hardly an ideal setting for a snooze; but Jesus did not let that stop him. He needed rest, so He rested. I need this reminder daily. When rest is needed, rest—don’t wait for perfect circumstances. It is freeing, really, to let go and find ways to rest in the mess. Maybe it is just a few moments to stop and pray resetting your heart’s posture. Maybe it is as simple as allowing yourself to take in a quickly changing sunset. Maybe a moment of rest involves putting the laundry down and cuddling with your kids while you read them their favorite book. Take it in. Slow it down. Breathe deeply knowing that rest is something that you were created to enjoy. The mess will be there when you get up from that cuddle, and you will likely find yourself more energized to be able to face it all. If the Master of the Sea can find time to rest in the storm so can we.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Aunt Debbie with the wedding cakes she made for my siblings and me