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
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.
I remember where I was sitting when I heard the news. He’d been killed—the little boy I used to play hide and seek with. Him, his mother, brother, aunt, and cousins. They had been our neighbors when my family lived in Congo the family of my dad’s very good friend Bura.
Bura had moved his family and his brother’s family into town where he thought they would be safe. He had stayed with the house sleeping in the shamba (garden) at night incase of house to house attacks. The house to house killings happened again, but this time in town not in the village. All but one of his sons was killed.
I’d been reading a Redwall book, a fun little series about mice and various other animals who lived in an abbey. With each book some greedy rat pirate or fox king would attack the abbey and an unlikely hero would rise up and save the peaceful inhabitants from the evil that threatened them. Well written books but at times violent. I couldn’t finish the book after hearing the news. I picked it up several times, stared at the same page for awhile, and then eventually returned it half read to the library. I was in jr. high and learning quickly that the world can be an ugly, uncertain place to live.
Awhile ago a friend of mine recommended that I read the book Stringer. A journalist’s story of living in war torn Congo. I’m at the part of the book where the journalist is arriving in Bunia not far from where I grew up.
Bunia—the first place I remember lying awake at night unable to fall asleep because an occasional truck would rumble down the road. To me, a girl who had been living in a rural mountain village, it felt like a big city. It was the first time I remember sleeping under a mosquito net, and it was where my brothers and sisters and I read Calvin and Hobbes comic books for the first time.
Now I think about Congo, and while I long to visit the places where I grew up, I know they wouldn’t be the same. It’s still a war torn country corrupt and broken. A country full of natural resources but constantly under bad leadership. It’s a forgotten country. The holocaust of my generation ignored except for the occasional news story. But, when I read about names of towns and statistics of rape and death I don’t just see numbers and maps. I see people I knew and loved. I see places full of memories.
Some day, God willing, I will go back. I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t given up hope of again seeing the place I once called home. Congo is always on my heart. It’s pains affect me. Its stories have changed me. I haven’t forgotten. I can’t never forget.
The stockings are hung on the windows. Popcorn chains wrap the tree. There’s a roll of brown paper just waiting to wrap the carefully sorted out presents. Christmas eve—the count down chain finally says one day remaining until Christmas. It’s finally here the day to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Apparently we are going to grill a goat and enjoy some nyama choma, that and lasagna to get a little taste of America at Christmas as well.
The kids are excited. They keep calling the homemade stockings socks and ask what goes inside of them. They are excited about the tree. When I came home last week from taking a day off the first thing George told me was, “our tree has torches that light up.” Good job Richelle for finding Christmas lights in Kenya. I didn’t have as much luck finding wrapping paper. The only paper I found was very shinny and had pink hearts all over it. Not very Christmasy, so we’ll have to do the brown paper packages tied up in strings look. But, no worries it’s Christmas and that is all that matters.
I love Christmas the music, the presents, the time together as a family everything just seems extra beautiful at Christmas. This will be my first Christmas away from my family, which will be hard, but I’m excited about spending my favorite holiday with my kids and the other volunteers here at the children’s home. It’s going to be a day of memories, laughter, and love. What more could you ask for on Christmas.
The kids were inside eating s’mores for the first time. It had been a crazy day so while our guests from the US (one of our volunteer’s parents) entertained the kids with sticky marshmallows the rest of us retreated to the front porch to steal some sweet silence out under the stars.
The generator had run out of gas so we watched the fading sunset in untainted silence and broke into the Reese cups that my parents had sent out. “It’s the little things,” Jason said as he enjoyed his chocolate. He was up visiting for the weekend and with 17 kids to take care of we always welcome having an extra set of hands to help out around the house.
I leaned my head back against one of the porch pillars and watched the stars appear. The kids were squealing in the background as they enjoyed their sticky treats. They brought us marshmallows toasted over the jico, and I thanked God that nothing had caught on fire.
Our semi-silence didn’t last long as the kids (now on a sugar high) joined us outside. They raced each other in the darkness, sang at the top of their lungs, and Zippi started telling us a story about how she was going to fly us all in a rocket up to the moon. Michelle climbed up on my lap with her fuzzy red blanket. She twisted her fingers in mine and as I looked down at those little fingers and then back up at the sky I thought, “this is life, and I won’t trade it for anything.”
Even with the sticky messes and problems that come with working with kids from difficult backgrounds, it’s so rewarding—seeing them grow, seeing them learn, seeing them realize that this is a stable home and it’s ok to just be yourself, seeing them take care of each other, seeing them understand the heart of God. Every minute is precious. Every day so full of purpose. I’ve found my place, my heart, my home. God creates everyone with a purpose a reason to be on this earth and when you find that purpose complete and fulfilled in the middle of a starry night it’s a beautiful thing. I know He has even more for me. I know this is a path, a journey with even more stories to write, but for now I’m content just to be where He has me. To wrap my fingers in His and to take in each moment one starry night at a time.
Last Thursday I headed to Florida, but it wasn’t a happy spring break trip to Florida it was for my grandma’s funeral. I was put in charge of collecting pictures for the photo board display at the service and also creating a background slide show to run during the visitation.
Grandma and her camera
I love pictures especially old black and whites and also those adorable cute kid pictures, so I spent several hours pouring over my grandma’s photo collection. I know I inherited some of my love for pictures from my Grandma Pontier. She had books and books of neatly organized and labeled albums lined up on shelves in her bedroom. Every grandchild has a book stuffed with baby pictures and almost every out of state trip earned a book as well. My pictures are nowhere near as organized as Grandma’s, but I’ve massed quite a collection myself.
Due to a limited amount of time before the funeral, I didn’t finished the slideshow to my satisfaction, so on the 13 hour car ride home I decided to finish it. When I think of my grandma, her love for pictures is one thing that I am very thankful for. The memories she captured on film I’m sure will continue to touch generations for years to come.