Archive for November, 2013

November 27, 2013

Desperately Needed New Computers…

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(above) Sissano translator Kenny (in the blue hat) using one of the old computers during consultant checking with his two village consultants last July. Ben tells me that every time they would click on something on the screen, they would have to wait 5 or more minutes for the cursor to be ready to move on!

Rarely am I ever motivated to write about computers….until now. Our project computers have served us well for the past 3+ years but earlier last year began to show signs of being worn down due to age and the hot and humid climate of our village. One by one they started malfunctioning: the keyboards, hard drives, and other things. We have a small graveyard of broken computers in our house, having come back to us with word that they were not repairable.

Last year our project funders agreed to purchase new computers, which Ben and computer specialists here spent time testing and researching. Their goal was to find the best computers for the cost, which would also be able to utilize power well (since we use solar power during the day and generator at night.) After they had agreed on the best computers for our needs, Ben spent more time looking into the cost of getting them here, which was going to be very expensive. He found out in April that a team coming from the U.S. could bring them in their luggage saving the project a lot of money. The man who packed them figured out how to get them all into three suitcases, and he had no trouble in customs bringing them in. Knowing everything that could go wrong in traveling here, we were amazed and thankful that they arrived safely!

On Monday, Ben carefully packed each computer into a Pelican Case (think airtight and water proof, which is much needed for traveling over the dirt roads) and as he did, I prayed that he and the computers would get to their destination safely and that none would go missing on the way. Yesterday around 2 pm, he called to tell me he had made it to the village in record time, and everything was safe in its place. Again, knowing all the things that could go wrong when traveling, I marveled at how swiftly everything arrived safely in the village! As I type this, I am shaking my head because I often expect things to go wrong here…so it feels like nothing short of a miracle that they came all the way from the U.S. with no problems at all.

If you think of it, please pray for Ben this week as he sets up all of the computers. One of our computer support personnel set up an ‘Alpha’ computer before Ben left. This computer is the one Ben will use to reimage the others (meaning, all of them will look exactly like it if things go well.) Ultimately, it would be wonderful for the translators to be able to use their new computers this week. Praise God with us for technology that allows us to do Bible translation in 10 language groups in our remote village!!!

November 21, 2013

thankful for…the mess

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I spent a great deal of time away from the house yesterday so the messiness factor has increased to huge proportions…but I’ll be honest here, even if I were home, the amount of mess that comes from a family of seven (the two four year olds being the key instigators!) and dishes from cooking and eating seems to be a never ending battle I work with.
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I should even mention here that I have a wonderful house helper/friend come three times a week to help me, particularly with hanging up clothes, dishes, and cleaning the floors. So yes, even though there’s tons to do, I don’t have to do it all myself. And yet, it doesn’t take long for the house to look crazy minutes after Mama Hana has left.

A friend left me the book, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp before she went on furlough (thanks Cindy!) and something in there jumped out at me,

There is a way to live in the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.

and

Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.

If I didn’t have five kids (which sometimes feels like a lot!) I wouldn’t have this mess! So I’m thankful for the mess and for the people in my life who help me create it.

If I spent every waking minute cleaning, then I think perhaps I would have a clean house. The truth is, it’s not what I want to devote my life to. I would rather interact with my kids and friends–doing things I love (which happen to make messes, like cooking and doing crafts)

Below is a garland the twins and I made using washable markers, water and coffee filters–dead easy and really satisfying in the end. Our family wrote what we were thankful for on them during dinner the other night and came up with 61 things, one for each leaf the twins and I had made. Sure enough, it made a mess but we had fun so it was worth it.
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I do my best at keeping the home going, since this is my full time work right now. The kids do take more and more responsibility especially as they get older to help out…but in the end, I am trying not to sweat the small stuff. I just like the fact that I can give myself the freedom to walk away from it all and go for a play date and catch up with a friend.

That’s all. I’m thankful for all the chaos that my loved ones bring me because that means that they are here with me.

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November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks for Unmet Expectations and Burnout

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This topic is a little heavy for the week of Thanksgiving. However, I can’t seem to get away from the burning issue that is upfront in my heart and mind today. Here it is:  I’m thankful for every crack in the road that took Ben and me from our fledgling newly married life to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. I guess you could say we grew up together here. I think about the deep caverns of richness that have built up from the struggles we have had. I don’t really ever want to go back and do it again. (well, if I did, I’m sure I’d do a lot of things differently, but that’s another story.) BUT I am thankful for each of those hardships because I’m essentially not the same person I was twelve years ago. I started writing this post weeks ago, after reading Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss. It became a reflection of the expectations I had as a brand new missionary. I wonder if I had read the book before I came here, would it have opened my eyes to things I hadn’t been aware of, or if the ideas would have been way over my head?  I am not quite sure!

Here are some words that come to mind when I think about the “new missionary” me:
idealistic
untested
dreamy

Back in 2002, I knew I was heading into one of the most beautiful, untouched lands. I was going to share the Love of God with Those Who Did Not Know Him. Little did I know about God’s love myself and little did I know Him like I do now! I will add here that I didn’t really know much about  joy, either, because I didn’t believe it was possible or necessary. I had blocked off many of my strongest emotions–anger, fear, joy, sadness–in order to protect myself.

I knew that mission work was going to be hard–I had seen my missionary parents suffer in many ways as a child–but I knew that God had called me to it. I knew I was leaving for a great adventure with Ben. I was all in!

There was NOTHING wrong with being idealistic or excited. But I was unprepared for the traumatic realities ahead of me. Some of my most guarded secrets began to rise to the surface within weeks, even months of arriving. I didn’t want to admit that depression consumed me, making it hard for me to function or sleep at times.

Expectation #1: I was tough. I was a missionary kid after all…shouldn’t I be able to handle cross cultural living with a smile on my face?
On the day we first met, I rolled an apple on the floor and took a bite out of it, after Ben challenged me by saying “you really are a missionary kid, aren’t you?”
I stomped through the creek and slathered myself in clay.
I walked barefoot over rocks at a national park.
And yet, that college girl looks a lot different from the woman I am today. I’m still up for adventure, but only safe ones! (I suspect the change in my desire to go after safe adventures now has to do with me being a mom.) I’ve learned that my highly sensitive nature is both a blessing and a curse: it’s ok to be vulnerable because it creates safety for others who might relate to my struggles….the other side of it is, I have to deal with strong emotions as they come and respect them because they tell me a lot about what I think. (as opposed to squishing them and living in the world of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts.’)

Expectation #2: I thought that service to God meant denying myself the ability to say “no.”
I spoke to counselors on furlough and learned from a good friend that it takes practice to look at my life and see what I could say “yes” to and what I had to say “no” to. If I didn’t notice where I was spiritually and emotionally, I quickly began to burn out. I began putting things in place, like a self care plan, before heading back to our second term here.

Expectation #3: I thought that God needed me to do work for Him. That’s all.
I didn’t really understand or believe that He loved me. (I never could have verbalized this though!) I had a vague idea of Him being distantly aware of what we were doing, providing enough money for us to be here and being pleased if we followed the Right Way of doing things, rather than the Wrong Ones. My perception included a lot of pretending…that we were o.k. even though we weren’t.

I am still devoted to serving God as long as He gives me strength to do it.  In all honesty, there’s not much of ‘me’ left to boast about now. Don’t get me wrong. I am not speaking as a jaded disgruntled missionary. Rather, I’m writing as someone who realizes that I’m nothing without God’s help. It’s so easy to write those words but even now as I write them, I must admit that I have so little understanding of how that works practically because I tend to grab control back as soon as I’m starting to feel on top of things. I suppose my life has been a constant ‘catch up’ game between what I believe and how I truly act or speak in my heart.

Newer Realizations: If I believe God loves me…then…He is enough
The authors of the “Expectations and Burnout” book say that we often don’t even know what expectations we have until they are unmet. I planned on having infinite strength to do literacy work…until I realized that the bare essentials of living, cooking, and caring for my children took a great deal of my time and mental energy. I could do both literacy and my work at home until we went from a family of five to seven when the twins joined us.

Similarly, I had planned on having harmonious relationships with the people I lived amongst, both expats and Papua New Guineans. Once again, my expectations began to slide into a completely different picture. Not a bad one, just different than I had expected. At the time, it looked like I was being used, rejected, left to navigate my stresses by myself, or that my family was being targeted. Even if those perceptions were true, they were the best things that could have ever happened to me. Because, if I had everything I had expected, I don’t think I would have been quite as willing to throw myself at God’s mercy.

Now that I’ve been here a few years, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who has had to shift her expectations. Some come here grieving the loss of convenience food or comfortable furniture. Others come, thinking that it’s going to be easy to maintain relationships at a distance but then realize how much they miss their families back home, particularly in times of great joy or major crisis. Some grieve the loss of autonomy or freedom to travel safely that they might have in their home countries. Still more find it really hard to maintain a close relationship with their spouse when there are no places to go for date nights and the stress of work and living cross culturally and raising Third Culture Kids piles up. It can also be a shock and sorrowing to see a spouse struggling with his or her own issues, which, essentially cannot be separated from the rest of the family. The possibilities are endless. Whatever one’s expectations are, it’s not fun and sometimes it can last for months, even years, for some until their service overseas is completed.

Some things I’ve been able to process and receive healing from but I suspect there are other things that I will find hard until the Lord takes me Home. I’m thankful that I’m here despite all of that. I’m thankful for the things I see now that I never noticed before–the deeper things I had thought were just a part of me that are coming to light. Where God is taking those broken bits and putting them back together in a healing way.

A couple of days ago came the Voice I have come to recognize and love so much whispered, “Just wait and see what I’m going to do with you…” every time I think of that, I smile, because that’s what I deeply desire the most. I am all in!

for further reading (or, “Books I wish I had read before heading overseas….”)
“Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission,” by Sue Eenignburg and Robynn Bliss“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
“Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
(there’s a whole series: “Boundaries in Marriage,” “Boundaries with Kids”)
“Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Peter Scazzero
“The Way of Transition,” by William Bridges
“The Inner Voice of Love,” by Henri Nouwen
“Grace Based Parenting,” by Tim Kimmel

November 15, 2013

Thanksgiving is….stability for the kids

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The biggest benefit to being in one place for an extended period of time, aside from all of my own personal reasons, is that our kids are thriving. It’s not that they weren’t thriving before, but having months and months in one place affords a sense of Normal to their relationships to each other and to us. The older kids really give their younger siblings a richness to their every day experience. The little ones, in return, give the older ones a chance to maintain their childhood. When I came back from a run earlier this this week (on a day off from school), Noah and Ellie had made tents for Jacob and Jenny Beth out of blankets in the living room. Noah had set up a movie under the ‘boys tent’ and Ellie played dolls with JB in the ‘girl’s tent.’ Later the girls played hide and seek, and afterwards all four of them played with the army guys set. All of this happened without parental involvement or supervision. I don’t think my almost 10 year old and 12 year olds would stoop to those childish games if they didn’t have four year old siblings around. I love that!

Having stability has also given us a chance to address some underlying frustrations between the older set and the younger ones…the little ones nick off with the big kids’ stuff or generally do attention seeking things that drive the older ones crazy. We sat down for a family meeting a while ago and talked to the older kids about what was happening. Before we did this, Ben and I agreed that we should do the ‘say 2 positive things’ before addressing the problems, and I think that really helped. We also gave the kids time to say how they felt things were going and to talk about what bothered them the most, while we offered validation and perspective on their little siblings. We talked about strategies to handle stressful situations and in the following weeks, we’ve tried to encourage them to use those strategies. I often don’t like the results when we are trying to teach things under duress, which is usually all we can do when we are in constant transition. Having more time to deal with things regularly is really helpful!

In the recent months I’ve noticed moments of harmony that had been lacking for the last couple of years–our teenager actually seeking out and enjoying the company of his little siblings or all five kids doing something fun together at their own initiative, like a spontaneous dance party last week. There have been times when I’ve looked around my living room after school to find all of my children in the same place, just hanging out and talking to each other.

I love it.

I think, too, that all of the kids are thriving in school, not only because they are benefiting from the amazing school and teachers that they have, but also because they aren’t in transition so much. I’m not saying that we won’t put ourselves back into transition, or that we regret the life we’ve been called to, but I’m thankful for times like these–a ‘working sabbatical’ if I can call it that–where we’re giving ourselves time to enjoy stability.

November 12, 2013

Thanksgiving is….stability for me

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As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I see thankful statuses on Facebook. I love that focus because I believe being thankful is an antidote to a lot of things: self pity, greed, bitterness, etc. It makes me get my head out of my own concerns and helps me to look beyond myself.

One of the things I’m most thankful for in recent months is stability. I have so much to say about stability that it’s turned into two posts, so please bear with me. The first one is about me, because I naval gaze rather easily, and the second one is about my kids.

The life we’ve chosen/been called to includes a lot of travel between our village and Ukarumpa, the center where our kids go to school and where Ben is involved in academic training. If you’ve followed our blog, you’ll know that our wise administrators suggested we have a good six months out of the village to avoid burnout. Ben has plenty of project work to do from here, thanks to cell phone coverage and internet connection in the village, so we knew we could follow that advice while still being involved with our project.

Having been without stability for a while, I had forgotten the benefits to my mindset:

I’m not constantly packing and planning for weeks at a time. In addition my normal tasks, if I know a village trip is coming up I will spend a lot of time with my Village Food spreadsheet:

  • counting up how many of each item is needed
  • factoring in ‘extras’ who might be eating with us (visiting consultants and construction workers, team lunches, etc.)
  • deciding where to buy it from and filling out the purchase request form for Wewak (if bought in Ukarumpa, I pay $2 more per kilo to bring that item, so sometimes I ask the regional managers in Wewak to buy my rice/flour and other bulk items)
  • buying and dehydrating veggies, black beans and ground beef in massive quantities, making sure that things like broccoli and green onions don’t go into the dehydrator when we have guests because they smell bad when they are drying!

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(above) I had time to make bagels with Noah yesterday on his day off of school. (When I’m in transition I don’t really feel at all like doing ‘extra’ tasks like this!)

Another perk of stability is having time to ‘reclaim my house’ as my sister calls it. I’ve gone through our kitchen and bathroom and removed all unnecessary items. I went through baby/toddler toys and gave away three huge bags of things to a local friend who has small grandchildren.  We had so many village trips in the last year that there were times when we didn’t even unpack our bags because there just wasn’t time.

A third benefit for me personally is that I actually have one morning a week to myself to do whatever I want: spend time in prayer or journaling or just ‘being.’ I haven’t had this for four years and it has really helped me find myself again.

And finally, I have been able to help friends who are leaving (we’ve had four families leave in the last month!) and be there for some who are here and struggling. In crazy transition mode, I am not really able to do much outside of keeping my own family going. Added to that, I have time to run with a friend three times a week, go to the sauna, meet with close friends every week and hosting playdates with moms and preschoolers here and there.

I am thankful that Ben is able to work remotely so that these six months of transition-free time were possible. I am thankful for the mental and emotional peace that comes with having a time to do the things I mentioned above. And most of all, I’m thankful for the sweet times of communion with God and the spiritual awakening I’ve had these past few months, more so than any other time in my life. It hasn’t all been easy or even pleasant this whole time–I still get dangerously tired at times, and we still have outside stressors to navigate–but overall it has been the best six months I’ve had in well over four years.

November 11, 2013

Missionary Kids ‘Movies’ Carnival

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Every year, the high school students put on a Carnival for our community and to raise money for a worthy cause (usually a charity). For the younger kids, Carnival is one of the highlights of their entire year!
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Jacob lucked out with Auntie Donna as his face painter!
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All of our kids had a crack at dunking the teachers at the Dunk Tank. Ellie was graceful during her turn!
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Joe led some ninth graders in the Kunfu Panda/Thor booth. Jacob and Jenny Beth practiced sumo wrestling there…
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…although JB thought that dancing in circles was more fun than bumping into her brother!
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Another highlight is always the homemade Ferris Wheel….
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Auntie Donna took Jenny Beth on the Ferris Wheel, much to JB’s excitement
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Ellie said the sky was beautiful that day…I agree, it turned out to be a great day for Carnival!

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Jacob had a chance to play with his brother’s Thor hammer…
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Watch out…this one’s dangerous!
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Jenny Beth’s turn at the Dunk Tank…
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Noah at ‘The Lord of The Rings’ mini golf course…we didn’t actually get many pictures of this guy because we only saw him occasionally to give him tickets! [This is one of the perks of having older kids…]
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If you ask our twins what their favorite part of Carnival was, they would tell you “THE BOUNCY HOUSE!” and “THE FERRIS WHEEL!” My favorite part was being able to buy food that I didn’t have to cook–in fact, I had the whole day off of cooking, which is a special luxury for me, as we don’t have the opportunity to ‘eat out’ much.

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November 5, 2013

My chains are gone…Amazing Grace!

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I found myself praying this morning that God would help me become humble and reliant on Him amidst the chaos that I’m juggling. I often feel like I am not adequate for the tasks in front of me: missionary, wife, teammate, friend, and mother of five. They all seem to all be vying for space in my heart and mind.  In his book, “A Praying Life,” Paul Miller recommends coming to God like a little child, all messy. Our twins (pictured above) are four and full of questions and excitement over things. They don’t take time to form intricate sentences–they just speak whatever comes to their minds. They often ask us over and over again about things (and then some more). Their child-like joy spills out constantly. If you came over, they would show you their ‘babies’ (also known as little herb seeds sprouting on our porch) or the beetle that visited us this morning, who unfortunately ended up squished in Jacob’s excitement. Although there is a lot for us to teach them, they delight all of us in the cute things they say and in their playful approach to life. I think Miller was getting at this very thing. Sometimes I come to God stiff and formal-like, without thinking of Him as a father who delights in me, as Ben and I do with our children.

As I was praying, the wonderful song Amazing Grace, started playing in my head. I can’t remember ever not knowing this song–I heard it so often as a child. I have seven different versions of it on my computer but my very favorite is Chris Tomlin’s version, where he adds:

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Will be forever mine.
You are forever mine.

In case anyone else is a visual learner, like me, and would like to see Isaac Newton’s original words, I am pasting them here:

Amazing Grace
Amazing grace!
How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil, a life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.

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