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To the Chosen Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mayonnaise Jar of Joy

I struggle with the stillness, the slowness, the days without appointments and weeks without a clear plan; but that is the season now. I struggle, and yet when I finally make peace with the situation I find that sometimes these “slow times” are the richest.

Just as the seasons in the US and PNG are opposite, (yes, it’s super hot here at the moment) the busy times seem opposite as well. I’m used to December being packed with activity, and here in PNG the tendency (at least in the city) is for everything to close up allowing those who are able to travel back to their villages during the holidays. Plane ticket prices are high, vacation time gets used, even kid’s programs and Sunday schools often stop for a good two months. By February, things slowly start to pick back up.

So that is where I have found myself these last few months, in that lull. We had a delightful close up program with the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship in November and are set to reconvene at the end of this month. We had a quiet Christmas and an even quieter New Year (I’m a tired mom and went to bed at 11pm because it just is not worth losing that extra hour of sleep when every hour is beyond precious).

This month has had some good family time, but sometimes I find myself getting a touch of cabin fever. Partly, it is the reality of the toddler stage when going out is hard (he might miss that all important nap) but staying in is hard too (he is climbing the furniture again and “wheels on the bus” is starting to get permanently cemented in my brain). I guess that is why I cling to the idea of a full schedule. Survive today, tomorrow we are going out. I’m just done.

I’m done just surviving till bedtime. My resolution for 2018 is finding joy in the small moments—because small moments are big part of life right now: ice cream cones, paper airplanes, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

I’m learning that joy really is a choice and it often takes effort. I’ve started writing down a memory or “joy” from the day and sticking it in a jar (currently an empty mayonnaise jar that I hope to get around to painting before 2019). What I’ve found is that stopping through out the day to savor those little joys calms me when I start to feel overwhelmed. It reminds me to laugh, and so far (even on the slow days) I’ve written down at least two “joys” because I can never seem to pick just one.

During these quieter days I’ve been going through photos getting a slideshow together to help celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship. I have been bombarded by simply joys. I love that the ladies bring their kids and, even sometimes grandkids, to the monthly fellowship. Right outside the door there is always a pile of flip-flops and sandals of every sizes. That sight never fails to bring a smile to my heart. Yes, these ladies and their children often have difficult lives, but they keep on living. We eat together; laugh together, sing together.

Last month we were able to attend the graduation of one of our widow’s daughters (a young, single mom) who wanted to do more with her life. We were able to partially sponsor her school fees at a local vocational college, and her family chipped in the rest. The hope and joy on her face that graduation day is one of those moments that stays with you. If it wasn’t for these quieter days I guess I wouldn’t have the chance to truly reflect on those moments and just how beautiful they are.

It isn’t an easy life. At times hearing so many hard stories, wishing you could do more, feeling tied down during this toddler stage is just hard, but those little moments matter. Anytime you enter into someone else’s life it can get messy, but it matters. We are one body, here for each other. It is often a slow process, but I’m learning to hang in there because there is so much joy woven into each day.

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

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Take My Messy Fingers

He loves to “help”, with the dishes that is. As soon as he sees or hears the dish water running he starts crying out, “Trevor, do it, Trevor do it.” In typical toddler fashion water goes everywhere. A dirty bowl somehow ends up on top of his head, clean dishes end up back in the dirty water. But, he loves it. Me—not so much. I let him “help” sometimes. Usually, we make it through the “fun-filled” ordeal. Other times I loose my cool half way through and stick him back on the floor while I hurry to finish the job myself.

I am glad that God has more patience then I do. I cannot help but wonder how helpful my “help” is at time. “Let me do it,” I cry and rush in with excited emotion and the eagerness of a toddler mirrored on my face. But, is my “help” really helpful? Sometimes I look back on the cultural blunders I have made or the relationships that have suffered from misunderstandings and can’t help but wonder, “God am I doing more harm then good?” Yet, He still allows me to be where I am “helping” in spite of the many messes.

That is what we do as parents, right? We allow “help” even though the processes is much messier and much longer then if we just did the task ourselves. Why? Because children learn by example, by doing, by observation, by being close and getting their fingers (and every other possible body part) messy. Slowly, there is maturity. Gradually, the messes take less and less time to clean up. Characters are built, skills are acquired and eventually a child’s help actually does become helpful.

So, this is my prayer, God. Take my messy fingers, my eager but imperfect self and make me more like you. That is what happened with the twelve disciples, right? They were constantly trying to “help” with their bad theology, selfish agendas and short-sited thinking. Thankfully, time with the Master changed them. They matured, grew bold and through them the entire world was changed.

Thank you, Lord, that you never give up on us and that you delight in using the messy fingers of your children.

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The Art of Imitation

IMG_3266She grabbed a long, thin stick and started to sweep our little dirt yard. She tucked her chubby left hand behind her back as she bent down and “swept” just like the grandmas do here, the grandmas with worn out backs that is. I had to smile. It was a bit of a sad smile though. Her mom passed away in May from cancer so now it’s often her elderly grandmother or her nine-year-old sister who carry her and her twin sister around on their backs. All the village mamas, aunties and sisters look after them now—washing them, handing them a piece of fruit. But, life has changed. Instead of learning from their mother, they now look for new lives to copy.

That’s how we learn after all—imitation. My five month old loves to imitate sounds. The “ba” sound is currently his favorite. He does it over and over only stopping to break out in a huge smile. That’s how babies learn. That’s how they learn the language, learn to walk, learn to clap, learn to behave in society—imitation.

“Be imitators of me just as I also am of Christ,” Paul tells his readers in 1st Corinthians 11:1. This is how we must learn. I learned a song as a kid that says, “practice makes perfect, practice makes perfect, so watch what you practice ‘cause perfect you’ll be.” The same is true with imitation. What you imitate is often what you become.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” What a sad analyses. If our lives don’t imitate Christ can we really be called Christians? What do people see when they look at our lives, angry facebook posts and judging looks, or the unconditional love of Christ—the Christ who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors (sinners), the Christ who fed the poor, the Christ who had no earthly home and gave his very life to save the lost. It’s an unreachable standard, of course. He lived a sinless life. We could never do that, but we can mirror his love, imitate his actions, and live his teachings. Then people will look and see a true love, a life worth imitating. They will come to know the Christ through his followers.

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Humbled by Love

My ten-year-old nephew just stopped by our little grass hut, “I want to kill a kakaruk (chicken) for you.” The meal was in need of some rice, so I dragged the 10 kg bag of rice over to the door and scooped three mug fulls into his tin pot. I guess it’s chicken for lunch today.

Since coming to my husband’s village in PNG nearly a week ago, I haven’t cooked a single meal. People stop by the house daily to drop off fresh fruit and vegetables and sometimes even eggs and scones (bread rolls). We ventured into town a few days ago and while shopping I loaded about a week’s worth of boxed chocolate milk into our shopping cart. Life without electricity makes it hard to have a fridge, so I figured that the shelf milk would be a nice way to get some calcium since these boxes don’t need refrigeration. A couple people must have noticed my love for chocolate milk and for the last two days two different family members have dropped by the house to add more boxes of chocolate milk to my growing collection.

It’s so humbling to be shown love in such practical ways. I’m the first foreigner from my husband’s tribe in Papua New Guinea to marry someone from their tribe and then come to live in their village. To be honest, everyone’s kind reception has been so overwhelmingly loving. A generous crowd met us at the airport hugging us and crying with joy. We then piled into two buses which took us from the airport into town. In town, we caught another couple of buses which took us as close to the village as the roads allowed. From the end of the road we walked. As we got closer to the village, first the kids appeared yelling their welcome and running to greet us.

Further up the road we meet the mothers and some of the elderly men of the village. Even though rain was starting to fall, they stood on the road waiting to greet us. Only one little girl started to scream when she saw me. She had never seen a white person before, and I guess the experience left her a bit frightened.

Coming down the main hill to the village the light rain turned the mountain path into a bit of a slip and slide. When I started to slip, two people grabbed my hands and helped me make it down the mountain in one piece. It’s humbling to feel so helpless needing basic assistance for something as simple as walking down the road, but it’s so beautiful to see such kind demonstrations of love. Yesterday, when we were out on that same road two of the guys had taken the time to cut steps all the way up the slippery part of the path so that I could walk up and down the hill without any problems. It’s hard to even find words to express my gratitude except to say that I’m so humbled by everyone’s love.

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Once we made it down the path and through the welcoming arms of everyone who came out to say hello I was shown to our new house—a beautiful two bedroom grass hut complete with passion fruit and oranges hanging from the ceiling as a welcome gift. Again, I was blown away. We had told everyone that we were fine staying with my husband’s mom until we had a chance to build our own house, but my husband’s brothers decided that we needed our own place to live in until we have time to build something more permanent. Again, I was blown away—such love. I am humbled and grateful to have been given so much especially by people who, according to the world’s economic standards, have so little. What love.

Our beautiful little hut

Our beautiful little hut

What a welcome

What a welcome

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Here’s to Love

Wrote this several years ago but these are still my thoughts on Valentines Day so I thought I’d share it again.

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There are plenty of blogs floating around the cyber world lamenting the state of being single on Valentine’s Day, and I’ve seen enough “I have the best husband in the word” facebook posts to make me question just how many best husbands can live on a single planet. To me both the “Woe is me, I can’t get a date” group and the “look everyone and be jealous” group seem a tad self focused and well, a little insecure. If you’re really so in love please get off facebook and spend sometime with your man, and if you want a date so badly why not try picking up the phone and asking someone out. I don’t want this post to be a rant, so I’ll stop there. What I do want to say is love is beautiful and painful. It’s often messy and usually quite unexplainable which is no surprise…

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Unsupervised Memories

She thought we were a school out on a weekend camping trip. I smiled and said “no, we’re from a children’s home.” I’m sure we looked like a school 17 kids 5 adults, four big tents, and an extra tent for all the food. The kids had Monday off school due to a holiday so kind of on a whim Alyssa and I decided to organize a camping trip.

The weekend was a blast. We camped on the lake, the kids sang songs the entire hour drive from our house to the camp sight. We split up into teams and thanks to Alyssa enjoyed everything from a scavenger hunt to three legged races. The kids made friends with some of the other campers, and we spent a lot of time on the boat dock just hanging our feet in the water.

I have to confess that my favorite part of the camping trip was actually when Jeremy and his friend Jason took the kids for awhile while Alyssa, Ruthann, and I escaped to enjoy some amazing food at the restaurant attached to the camp site. I have to say I was a little apprehensive leaving 17 kids with the guys. All I could think of was the giant lake and Jeremy’s philosophy of letting the kids run free. But, I let go (sort of) I’m learning anyway and for a sweet hour and a half I enjoyed some good girl talk and some incredibly amazing tacos.

When we came back, Jason was sitting on the grass with a couple of kids and Jeremy had gone off to take a shower. The kids had scattered—climbing trees, sitting on the dock, playing with new friends, trying to catch fish with a stick. They were all happy, having fun, and everyone was still in one piece. So I relaxed, let them be kids and worked on not worrying as much. It’s a freeing feeling (a bit scary) but at the end of the day it’s nice knowing that I can trust my kids to be responsible and as hard as it is for me I’m learning to step back a little. I’m working on letting go of having to know where they are every second. I’m learning to let them make their own memories and enjoy some times of just being unsupervised kids.

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