Category Archives: Contemplations

Frosting and Barbie Dolls

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Contemplations, Grief

The Christmas New Year Lull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ageless Compassion

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

All my trust I give to you, Oh Lord;

Because you are my God.

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

Do not let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep me humble. Guide me in what is right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the eyes of my enemies I feel vicious hatred.

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

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

eXamine me. My integrity and honesty protect me.

You Lord, are my hope.

Zion, may God ransom you from your trouble.

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Sufficient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Noble Heritage

Being up at 3am sorting through baby clothes was not my plan for the day. I’d rather be in bed, but baby girl seems to have other ideas for the day; which apparently includes an early morning snack and once I’m up—I’m up But, sitting on the couch surrounded by baby clothes; I have to say I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Grateful that hopefully (in the next week or so) I’ll get to actually hold this tiny new person who is joining our family. Grateful for all the little outfits, diapers, washcloths, blankets, hair ribbons… such an abundance.

I’ve complained a lot this pregnancy.  I’m seriously huge with swollen elephant feet, frequent heartburn and yeah there is the whole not being able to sleep normally thing (good practice I guess for the coming year). But, goodness, it is so amazing to have so many people from all over the world excited with us as we wait (a bit impatiently) for the arrival of this gift that God has blessed our little family with.

We actually had our little girl’s name picked out before we even got engaged—Allyson. For the longest time I’ve longed to name a little girl Allyson. But, I never knew if that dream would materialize. When we were dating, Simon flew out to visit me in Kenya and during the flight over he told me, after he arrived, that he was thinking if we ever had a girl he wanted her name to be Allyson.

My twin sister, Allison Rebecca, passed away when I was just eight. She was named after Alison Joy Sharpe one of my mom’s classmates who was killed at the age of seven along with her family during the Simba Rebellion, which took place in Congo in the 1950s.

The name Allyson means noble. Her middle name Elise (a variant of Elisabeth) means Consecrated to God. My younger sister’s middle name is Elisabeth, so I love that my little girl will be named after both of my sisters.

Allyson’s life verse is Psalms 16:6 “Fair are the places marked out for me; I have a noble heritage.” This is my prayer for you sweet girl. Even at 3am in the morning. May the paths of life that stretch before you be fair and sweet, full of God’s rich blessings. Your heritage is noble, and your little life is already such a blessing to our family.Allyson Elise

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When God answers “Yes” and it Hurts

It was a year ago today that I was enjoying one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone had ever given me. My aunt paid for me to fly across PNG and paid for my registration fee so that I could attend a Thrive Retreat, an amazing retreat designed to encourage and sustain North American women who work around the globe. I almost did not go. It was my first time spending a night (well three nights) away from my son, but my husband graciously encouraged me to go and the time was incredibly refreshing. I had an amazing roommate who also knew what it was like to live in a remote village. The speakers were challenging, the music uplifting and the small group discussions were especially life giving. Just being with other women who understood the joys and challenges of living and working in a country different from your passport country was beyond incredible. In our small group discussions, we were encouraged to honestly share prayer needs or personal struggles. I remember sharing how hard it had been for me to make friends in the expat community.

During my first year in PNG, after spending a good chunk of time in my husband’s village (where I am the only foreigner) I was so excited to attend a conference which was being held on one of the larger missionary bases in PNG. The conference was over the 4thof July weekend, and I was so excited about the possibility of connecting with some fellow Americans around my same age. As the days drew to a close, I found myself surprised at how hard the expat community, in which you have no connections, can be to break into. In PNG, I find that it is easy to get to know someone new. When someone comes into a room they often take the time to personally shake hands and greet each person there. Then there is the Wantok system where if you are travelling and see someone else from PNG or someone carrying a bilum (a string bag from PNG) often there is an instant connection and friendship simply because you are from the same place. This beautiful idea does not exist among Americans. Without having a previous connection or a mutual friend it is rare for two strangers, even from the same place, to strike up a conversation. I felt this deeply as I stood in line at the grocery store on the mission base. I was surrounded by Doritos and other familiar brand names that I had not seen in months. Two Americans around my age laughed and talked loudly in the line in front of me. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked similar to me and a lifestyle that felt familiar. But, even though we shared a common space and accent; no one made the effort to even say a simple, hello. No one bothered to ask me where I was from. I went away from that conference with several new PNG friends, but not a single new expat contact. As I shared a bit of this experience with my new small group friends at the conference, (several of whom lived on the very base I had visited) my group leader commented that often, “it takes a friend to be a friend.” Wise words that reminded me that maybe I needed to be more intentional at pursuing friendships with expats and not just expecting them to magically happen or waiting for someone else to always initiate.

Less then two months later, God answered my prayers for an expat friend in a similar stage of life. My heart longed for someone who understood the joys and pains of raising toddlers, someone with whom I could have a conversation with without worrying so much about saying something culturally inappropriate, a friend to pray with and pray for and a friend to share things with. God graciously allowed me to meet Erin. I first met Erin’s husband at a Bible Study that I love but do not often have the chance to attend. When I heard that their family had two boys one just a bit older then my son and the other just a two months old I got excited about the possibility of meeting someone who could relate to late-night feedings and attempting to have a conversation while managing an active toddler.

We met for the first time at the Bible study Christmas party. My almost two year old had never seen a Christmas tree before. He loved the colored “balls” and with lightening speed managed to throw and break several of the ornaments on the tree in the lobby of where we were meeting before I could get to him. Great first impression, right? But somehow in the midst of sweeping up broken Christmas ornaments and attempting to get toddlers to, “please just eat something.” We managed to exchange numbers and a friendship started to grow.

Now, nearly a year later; I cannot even properly express how much this beautiful friendship has meant to me. Our boys have become best buddies (even though half the time they are fighting with each other). We have laughed together, cried together, prayed for each other and shared so many sweet every day memories. As we’ve celebrated birthdays, enjoyed play dates, and have had many fractured conversations while our boys also bonded; my heart is just so thankful for Erin and what her friendship has meant to me this past year. Erin, and her whole family really, have an incredible gift of hospitality and connecting people. Through her I’ve meet even more incredible friends who have become like family.

And now they are moving. Her husband recently accepted a new job in a different country and, as often happens in the expat community, we got together recently for one more goodbye party. It hurts to see them leaving. Honestly, I’m still probably in a bit of denial about the whole thing; but I know God has great plans for their family as they start this next journey and I’m just so thankful that our paths crossed. We do not know when we will see each other next. Maybe we will have to take a trip to Canada to catch up again if our home assignments ever overlap. But another thing you learn when your life involves a lot of traveling is that friendships, the real ones anyway, continue even over distances of thousands of miles. God brought us together, and I am sure He will allow our paths to cross again in the future.

We have an Irish wall hanging up in our living room that a good friend gave to my husband and me as an engagement present. As people weave in and out of our lives the words serve as a fitting reminder that God goes with us and watches over us wherever our journeys take us.

 

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

And the rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

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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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