Category Archives: PNG

Reduced to Fragments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Wonder How She Felt

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

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

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

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

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

A King born in a manger.

 

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He Knows About the Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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The Story I couldn’t Write (Part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hanging with Daddy in the hospital hallway

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The Story I Couldn’t Write (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just Enjoy Your Breakfast

It was one of those mornings. I hadn’t even made it through breakfast, and I already felt overwhelmed. January was full of birthdays to celebrate, meetings to attend, and ministry opportunities. February—well, February stared back at me blankly. Apart from counting the days until my parents’ and mother-in-law’s arrival, (we’re ecstatic to see everyone) the calendar is painfully empty. It’s a waiting game. When will he come? A week from today? Tonight? Two weeks? No telling. We wait.

With 90 degree weather, water rationing, and frequent power blackouts, I’d rather this baby come sooner then later. I feel huge. It’s hard to sleep. The neighbors seem to think that playing their music at night club volumes (at all hours of the day and night) is somehow OK.

“I just don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next month” I told my husband.

“Don’t think about it so much,” he told me. “Just enjoy breakfast.”

Simple advice, but so true. I slowly stopped feeling so sorry for myself and just enjoyed my pancakes. The day ended up being a pleasant one, and on Sunday morning, without any warning, our noisy neighbors moved out. A cool wind blew in while we were at church sending tiny white flowers sailing through the open windows. That soothing wind was followed by a sweet, gentle rain.

It’s a moment by moment kind of life, and yet I’m always so tempted to live in the future worrying about problems that may or may not even come to pass. So many times tomorrow ends up just taking care of itself. That’s not to say don’t plan for the future or set goals, but just a reminder not to let tomorrow’s potential problems steal the joy from today.

Enjoy your breakfast. Enjoy those little memories that make life what it is. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their daily bread. I tend to get so focused on the monthly needs at times that I miss that simple but beautiful promise of daily bread. There are times that we don’t have the money we “need” for groceries for the month, but we have what we need to buy lunch. And, somehow every time when tomorrow does arrive those needs are taken care of.

It’s a fascinating process learning to live not driven by worry but by thankfulness. I have such a long way to go when it comes to learning to live this way, but it does lift a huge burden when you really can let go of the worry and just be thankful for the pancakes in front of you. Life has its seasons. Enjoy each one without letting tomorrow’s potential worries keep you from the simple joys of today.

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Don’t Live a Dead Faith

There is a custom in my husband’s tribe when it comes to nicknames. If you share, say an orange, with a friend from that moment on instead of calling that friend by his or her given name you can agree to call each other “Orange”. The tradition can go even further. You can agree that if one of you forgets and uses the person’s name instead of the new nickname the person who forgets then has to buy the other person say a coke or whatever is agreed upon.

So when you hear someone called “peanut” or “carrot” you know that at one point, usually early on in the friendship, they shared that particular food. The little guy we have been taking care of for the last several months calls one of our neighbors “Lolly” the name of a favored gum because when we first moved in she shared a lolly with him.

I had been in Papua New Guinea less than two weeks when my brother-in-law organized a welcome gathering for me. My husband’s tribe is about an hour flight from the capital city where we were, but a lot of tribesmen and their families live in the city and many turned up to the gathering to officially welcome me to the Kukilka tribe. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever been apart of. As we ate chicken, caucau (sweet potatoes) kumu (greens), and bananas, several people got up and gave speeches thanking me for joining their tribe and expressing their gratitude that I was willing to leave my family and country and join them by choosing to live in Papua New Guinea.

I first met Alex that night. He broke a cooking banana (called a Kenga) in half and shared it with me. Now we call each other Kenga. Alex is a taxi driver. He and his wife have two children a girl who is in seventh grade and a little boy who is five. Alex’s brother recently died of a heart attack, and earlier this year tests showed that Alex has a blocked coronary artery putting him in danger of this same fate unless something is done soon.

In the past, this life giving procedure was not available in Papua New Guinea. Those who could afford it flew to another country to have the surgery done which of course costs an enormous amount of money. Now the hospital here in the city is able to perform the operation. At the end of this month several doctors from Australia are traveling to Papua New Guinea specifically to help people with this condition. Alex is now on the list to see these doctors when they come and hopefully get the treatment that he needs. The trouble is that, as a taxi driver, Alex doesn’t have the 45,000 PNG Kina (around 15,000 US dollars) needed for the operation and hospital stay.

My husband put together a committee to help Alex raise the needed funds. So far the committee/community has raised about one ninth of what is needed. One thing that we seek to do as missionaries here in PNG is to help people rethink certain mindsets and behaviors. Helping Alex is one practical way of doing just that. My husband doesn’t want to see people just contributing to someone’s funeral after they have left this earth, but to take action and take care of their families and tribesmen while they are still with us. Change can happen. Lives can be saved, but it takes action not just talking. It takes people being willing to “put their money where their mouth is.” Like the Biblical book of James says, “faith without works is dead.” We don’t want to live a dead faith. We serve a living God. A God of action and as children of God we need to be active as well. Not just praying about things but doing what we can to actually bring change.

There are just two more weeks left to raise the needed amount for this operation, but I’m excited to see how God will work through His people to bring in what is needed. If you would like to contribute to this need. You can do so online by clinking here. Any amount is appreciated. It’s a big need and a daunting goal at times especially with the time limit, but God has a way of working through His people in a big way. He has already started to do this, and I am excited to see how He continues to work. It’s a story. His story and our story. It’s excited to be apart of change and to be able to see a man given a second chance at life.

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