Archive for ‘Confessions of a missionary wife’

May 14, 2017

A New Kind of Transition

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(above) Noah, Joe and Jacob after the school play “Almost, Maine!”

Transition is this wildly unpredictable Thing that happens constantly to us. In our 20 years of marriage, we’ve lived in over 10 different locations in three different countries. We travel between our village home and Ukarumpa home 3-4 times a year when we are in PNG.  We’ve done the Moving Transition many  times and we usually know what’s coming…

a week of chaos and misery on either end
challenging travel
lots of preparation (food, homeschooling materials, computer updates)
anxiety and stress
heightened emotions
goodbyes and grieving
reverse culture stress

and

anticipation of seeing friends again
a chance to use the transition for good (and reestablish good habits)
purging and try to make a stab at a more simple existence (this has been elusive, but without transitions it would be completely unattainable).

However, we are now at the precipice of a transition we’ve never had before: launching Josiah into his new life as a college student/adult. In the past two years, he has proven that he’s ready for this. He capably makes all of his own decisions and manages his own schedule. He processes hard questions in an emotionally intelligent way. We’ve raised him, and the rest of his life is up to him.

But, as with most transitions, this one comes with plethora of emotions and sometimes they come all at once. At other times, there is just an overwhelming amount of one or another. If I had a picture for my emotions at this point, it would look like a child’s scribble. Lots and lots of colors. No real pattern. No easy answers.

In the past decade, I’ve worked hard to notice my emotions, be authentic and tell the truth to others. However, there is still the stubborn independent part of me who refuses to allow negative emotions to surface or to tell the truth to myself.  One of my best friends has noted that if I say “I’m okay” enough times, it’s an indication that I’m really not. So as this transition for our first child to college begins, I’m admitting to myself that I’m sad.  But alongside the sad comes other emotions: happy, excited, proud. I have moments where I think my heart is going to burst when all five of my children are together, laughing, giving advice to each other and debriefing their days. I know that in a little less than 9 months, we’ll be be back here in PNG with only 4 kids around our table.

Joe’s a grown man, I know that. But there’s a bit of loss that comes with this transition that is more costly than the others we’ve experienced thus far in our missionary career. We’re preparing for all the lasts for a while: last birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and most of all what I’ll miss is the daily sight of him and being able to know how The Things in his life are going.  I’ll miss making his favorite meals for him and trying to trick him into eating breakfast.

But, most of all, I want to savor the time we’ve got left, and be thankful for the opportunity we have to have a short furlough to get him settled into his passport country.  I’m thankful he’s going to a school that has the degree he feels called to study, and that he has family and friends who will look after him when we can’t be there for him.

In the quiet moments when I start to feel sad, I want to focus on these words of David:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.

These nine words are what keep me from being a perpetual martyr. I don’t need to feel sorry for myself, because God is GOOD. He will sustain us through this next transition, as He has done through every single other one. He’s got Joe, as He’s often reminded me. He’s our counselor, comforter and friend, and as we mourn, He will lift us up.

He is Good.

He’s got this.

March 15, 2016

His Strength is Perfect

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I took this on Saturday on the road to Lae, normally a 3 hour drive away. Impossible to cross? No, thanks to our friend’s all wheel drive car. Difficult? Scary? Yes.

His Strength Is Perfect
I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength
But sometimes I wonder what He can do through me?
No great success to show, no glory on my own
Yet in my weakness He is there to let me know

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
Hell carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect

We can only know the power that He holds
When we truly see how deep our weakness goes
His strength in us begins, where ours comes to an end
He hears our humble cry and proves again

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
Hell carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect

–Steven Curtis Chapman

Since I revealed my struggle with anxiety and depression a few weeks ago, I have heard verbally and electronically from many other expats that they struggle with similar issues. This morning, I read through an update from a colleague that I had met as a teenager. His life has been full of physical hardship, sickness, loss and grief. He also suffered alongside the people he served as they faced persecution and even the threat of losing their lives for following Jesus. Throughout the email, he emphasized the power of prayer and praised God for the believers who exist now because of the translated Word of God’s transforming power.

How does this relate to me, as I plan for our next village stay? Those who have gone before us in extremely difficult circumstances and yet remained faithful are the encouragement I needed to persevere today. My colleague’s experience challenges me to look to our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Everlasting Father. This isn’t something I am able to do on my own. I might as well pack it up and go back to the U.S., where my kids could see their grandparents regularly, I wouldn’t have to hang out my laundry, cook everything from scratch and to deal with the cross cultural and relational stress our family regularly experiences along with this life . No, I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength, as the song I quoted above says. [I want to emphasize, too, that God has used the songs and verses I learned as a child innumerable times during my career as a missionary.]

My prayer today is,

Lord, in my weakness show your strength. Use me for your glory and help me to be your instrument in everything I do today.


March 11, 2016

“I’ve got this.”

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(above) The flowers in our village and here in Ukarumpa lure a multitude of butterflies so I rarely go a day without seeing several. Each time I see one, it is a reminder to me of God’s love for me and of his transforming grace. They often appear at times when I need encouragement the most, or when the daily grind of the mundane has me teetering on the ledge of self pity…

Periodically, I encounter the “what if’s.”

  • There’s a decision we need to make about our near future. What if we make the wrong decision?
  • Ben and I are leaving for the weekend. What if one of our children needs a medevac while we are gone? What if the little ones end up being a lot to handle for their aunties who have kindly offered to look after them?
  • Our son is researching colleges and universities. What if we don’t know how to best help him with this process?
  • There are often concerns in the missionary community where we live. What if the truth gets minimized or buried?
  • We encounter needs and important tasks for our our project and family life: what if we can’t handle it and end up burned out again?

These are just a few of questions swirling around (incidentally, it actually helps to get them out of my head an write them down because some of them I wasn’t even aware of until just now!)

This morning, I fed my soul with God’s Word. Comfort and direction come without fail. Here’s what I read today:

Easy come, easy go, but steady diligence pays off. Proverbs 13: 11 (The Message)

My coffee is cold, vegetables waiting to be soaked, bread dough is unmade….but I can’t give up.

I read Acts 22-23 as well as all of Proverbs 13 and once again felt encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I may not hear an audible voice as the Apostle Paul did at times, but I do receive clear direction from the Word and from the Voice speaking to my heart. I’ve come to rely on it, so much that it’s easy to discern it from my own thoughts.

But here’s the difficulty. I know I need Quiet to hear. I know I need Solitude. Yet, as a missionary, mom of five, and wife to Ben, I feel like I can barely remember to brush my hair sometimes, much less sit down with my Bible. The crazy seems to be hiding in the next room and being quiet is often a luxury I don’t give myself. I’ve come to realize, however, that spiritual food is as necessary to me as physical food. My awareness of God in everything and worship is also as necessary as me being conscious of my ‘to do’ list.

That night the Master appeared to Paul: ‘It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best.’ Acts 23:11 (The Message)

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….to me, the Master says, “I’ve got this.”

 

February 10, 2016

Nothing is wasted…

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Nothing is wasted,” says Brene’ Brown, in her book, ‘Rising Strong.’ Those words marinated in my heart and mind for he past week. Why would they be so important? And, after so many months, why would I take up blogging again?

Regrets:

The girl/teenager/young woman Me was a person who, though unusually resilient, (according to a counselor who knows me well) was an extremely numb people pleaser. Sometimes I cringe thinking about what I was like back then.

The expat life:

I’ve covered topics like transition, culture stress, living in community, parenting and marriage here on this blog. What if I had known earlier what I know now about myself and boundaries? Would I have been able to bypass some of the grief and pain?

Goodbyes:

This one is a hard one. We have extraordinarily deep friendships with our missionary friends and colleagues. I have heard it said that this is not only due to a common purpose and sacrifice, (leaving behind the comforts of our home countries) but it’s also because we live and work in the trenches together. We don’t have our family around in times of crisis or trauma, but we do have our expat friends and colleagues. Also, since we live in community, we do life together easily. The longer we stay overseas, the more of these precious friends are led elsewhere. It is an intense grief that I have talked about here. So, why invest in people if the parting will bring such grief?

And now to the reason I have had a break from blogging. While we were on furlough last year, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. My main symptom was extreme fatigue….until I sat through several hours of testing, and we were surprised by the severity of my depression and anxiety.  While we were overseas, I knew I was not well and so I began doing everything I could to get better….exercise regularly, take vitamin B tablets, cut out sugar (but not coffee!) and practice good boundaries. I saw a doctor who ordered tests for my blood sugar and thyroid, and those checked out fine. What he didn’t know was, both my husband and I were burned out and that resiliency was used up. My furlough doctor described it as ‘air in my tires.’ I began taking medication to help me sleep and also to ‘get the air back in my tires.’ Ben went to every appointment and completely supportive me. By the time we were ready to go back overseas, I was taking meds that I felt good on, and we had strategies in place to ensure that we wouldn’t end up in burnout again. The single thing that haunted me once the meds began to make a difference in my ability to thrive was, why didn’t I pursue this earlier? What if it all started with adrenaline depletion and post partum depression after having the twins five years before?

Fast forward now to today. We arrived back in country, and we poured ourselves into our family and into team building. We navigated some devastating news of friends leaving, worked through some difficult issues in an expat relationship, and helped our kids transition back to life here. I decided to focus on living in the moment.

Brene’ Brown also said this in her book ‘Rising Strong.’ (I can relate to this because of being in boarding school self at age six, this is NOT how my family operates)

You were raised in an environment where emotion was minimized, seen as weakness, invalidated, shut down, perceived as wasteful (e.g., crying won’t help), or even punished, then giving yourself permission to feel, recognize, and explore may be a bigger challenge. You might be the first person in your life to grant yourself the permission you need to experience emotion. If you’re worried that giving permission to experience and engage with emotion will turn you into something you’re not or someone you don’t want to become— it won’t. It will, however, give you the opportunity to be your most authentic self. We are wired to be emotional beings. When that part of us is shut down, we’re not whole.

I don’t know the answers to the questions of why I went through so many things as a child, or had to face myself now, instead of early on in my career in missions. But those words from Brene’ reminded me that the broken pieces exist for a reason. I don’t need to go on as if my history is not important to who I’ve become today.

I’ll end with truth from God’s Word:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15New International Version (NIV)A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2     a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot, and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6     a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7     a time to tear and a time to mend,

and a time to speak,

8     a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil?

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; no one can fahom what God has done from beginning to end.

12 I know that there is nothing better for people to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat or drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.  13 know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

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March 21, 2015

Mercy, not sacrifice

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I have been thinking a lot about the word “mercy” because this week I took several Spiritual Gifts inventories online. It turns out, that was my top categories in all of the inventories. (By the way, if you are interested in taking one, I thought this free one was the most detailed/helpful.)

I looked it up online at Meriam-Webster and the definitions were

: kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly

: kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation

: a good or lucky fact or situation

The gift of mercy does resound with me because I gravitate towards righting injustice, caring for those who are downtrodden, and showing compassion to those who are left in the gutter. (A note here, this gifting can quickly lead to compassion fatigue, but that is a post for another time!)

As our return to Papua New Guinea fast approaches, I have begun praying for a renewed sense of what God wants for me over there. In December of this year, I clearly heard Him tell me that we would return and He would provide for all of our needs. But the question I have now is…what does He want for me? So far, my roles of wife, mother and team leader (a job I share with Ben) keep me busy. But I don’t want to end up tired and burned out again because I was seeking my own list of tasks without pursing what God has for me.

I usually like to write posts AFTER I’ve figured things out, because that makes me feel less insecure and more justified in writing. Credibility is something I value…but as I said in my last post maybe it’s not as important as being authentic.

I have loved the book “The Emotionally Healthy Church,” by Peter Scazzero for many years now, and end up re-reading it once a year. This year, I came across his wife Geri’s book called “The Emotionally Healthy Woman.” While her husband was pastoring a church that they planted, she quit. Her book explains the things she had to quit in order to become a more healthy person. I haven’t progressed in the book because I got stuck on chapter three, where she says,

“Quit dying to the wrong things”

I’ve never asked myself that question, ie, “what am I dying to that I shouldn’t be?” quite so succinctly. When Ben and I joined the Bible Translation movement over 15 years ago, God spoke to me personally. I asked Him to speak to me clearly because I didn’t want to wake up one day overseas and blame my husband for dragging me over there. He did. I left relationships, material things and cultural comforts and traded them for new relationships, a labor intensive lifestyle, culture stress/conflicts and a ministry where we could see God’s Word directly impacting people’s lives. As I often say, it’s hard, but good. Painful, but purposeful. There are some days when the sacrifices feel like they are too much. Then there are the days when we feel encouraged by the stories we hear or by prayer times we have with our PNG colleagues who face constant injustice and hardship and we know we are in the right place.

So, as we prepare to go again for our third term, I’m asking Him again, “what do you want of me?” and adding to it, “what am I sacrificing that I shouldn’t be?” and “Am I really ready to say my goodbyes and pack up my family again for another term overseas?”

So, back to my spiritual gift of mercy…the ideas of mercy and sacrifice are actually together in the Bible, but for some reason I never linked them, even though the following verse is one I memorized as a small child. I don’t understand how they fit together (if you do have some insight for me please comment, because I really want to know!) I can’t have mercy without sacrificing some part of myself, either in some material way or an emotional one…but maybe the key is in “acknowledgement of God.” So once again I’m asking for His wisdom, rather than seeking my own.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 (NIV)

March 5, 2015

On putting on my Mandy face…

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Just before leaving for a missions conference last Thursday, I emailed a friend last week that I had to go “put my missionary face on…” and she replied, “put your Mandy face on!” I had to smile at that, because she was right. Even if I try to put on a façade, the real me will eventually seep out. As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), it is much easier for me to go straight to a deep conversation, rather than making small talk (which I’m not very good at!) I always have the fear that I’m over-sharing and that I’ve scared someone off because of the things I share. But, it’s how I operate and I can’t seem to help myself. I found myself voicing these insecurities during the missions conference a few times to another adult TCK who assured me that this is what is good, and necessary. I’m thankful for people in my life who ‘get’ the whole roller coaster of emotions that go along with what to share and how far to go….

When Ben and I speak in groups, whether small or large, it is always a goal of ours to be authentic. Sometimes that means admitting some of the things we struggle with. Other times it means sharing where we feel like we have failed in our work, in our marriage, or as parents. The life we live can seem glamorous at times, and although we find a lot of joy and purpose in it, it can be really hard and full of struggles at times, in some cases even traumatic.

Letting our true selves hang out has a lot of benefits, like connecting with those who want to have a grasp of our situation and know us well (I call them the ‘unshockable’ people!) Also, some of the themes in our struggles are the same whether you are overseas or living in the First World, like parenting, marriage and cross cultural conflicts. It gives a level of safety, where you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to have a meaningful conversation.

Opening up has risks. Sometimes well meaning people think they assume they know you after having only a small glimpse of your life. Other times, they might give unsolicited advice that isn’t always helpful (and although I want to have a loving response–it’s extremely awkward to find an appropriate one!) I am all for a word of timely advice! I’m just talking about the kind of advice which isn’t so helpful.

Also, a side note here: as someone who has struggled with boundaries my whole life, in the area of vulnerability, I have found Henri Nouwen’s advice in my favorite book by him “The Inner Voice of Love” to be really helpful,

You must decide for yourself to whom and when you give access to your interior life. For years you have permitted others to walk in and out of your life according to their needs and desires. Thus you were no longer master in your own house, and you felt increasingly used. So, too, you quickly became tired, irritated, angry and resentful…

and

It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property where anyone can walk in and out at will. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave but you will soon find yourself losing your soul.

As I speak with people and feel my insecurities invading, I try to remember to pray “Lord, let me be who You want me to be today. Let me only speak Your words.” If I choose this, He always comes through for me, and He is my place of safety every time. I suspect this is going to be a lesson I come back to often because I am a fallen & sinful person…I am always going to feel the pull to ‘put my missionary face on,’ as I was going to do last week before my friend encouraged me to be me.

All this to say, I had the opportunity again yesterday to ask myself, “how much am I willing to let others, even strangers, see my deepest struggles?” Almost as soon as that thought appears, I fall back to, “if my life is not my own, and it really belongs to Jesus, then all it really matters is what He thinks of me.” And if me being transparent opens the doors for people to extend grace (and care) to themselves and especially to my fellow overseas workers, then that is well worth it. Authenticity, transparency….this is where I want to live.

And to my brave brothers and sisters who have gone before me in living authentically, thank you. You are the hands at feet of Christ to me.

 

 

February 10, 2015

Why I don’t have very many spoons…

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As I drove to a doctor’s appointment last week, I noted how exhausted I was, and how few things I had accomplished each day that week. All of a sudden, a light went off in my mind…transition is upon us again.

With 5 ½ months left before leaving the U.S., my mind is starting to absorb the reality that change is coming. There’s a work permit to apply for, a shipment to pack, support to raise, doctors, dentists, and a whole host of other appointments to set and people to see who we haven’t had a chance to catch up with yet. With all of that comes the awareness that my mental and emotional energy is more limited. I hate to admit that 1) I can’t do everything and 2) I am limited.

Even with that realization, I took four of my children to see the dentist…by myself. I could have asked Ben to go with me but I literally expected to find out that each of them had a cavity or two and that I’d need to make a few more appointments. Nope. Two of them likely need oral surgery and the two younger ones will need extensive dental work, requiring a hospital visit with anesthesia. As the emotions spilled out in the dentist’s office, the Office Manager said to me, “I used to work with Wycliffe Bible Translator members in Huntington Beach…I know what you do.” It might seem like a small thing, but to a mom sitting alone trying to absorb all of the overwhelming information it was a little piece of comfort that I clung to, that this woman who I had never met knew something about the work we do.  I asked myself later, “why oh why, knowing the state I was in, did I go there in the first place on my own???” Because. I keep thinking I can, even though I have a partner in life who is ready and willing to share the load. Those closest to me know that this is a common problem I have: thinking I have everything under control, and that I don’t need help. Usually by the time I am asking for help, I’m in a right mess.

At the beginning of our year here in the U.S. when I was overwhelmed with adjusting to life in the First World, I came across this idea of The Spoon Theory. It was developed for people with a long term illness, to help them realistically plan what they could do in a day. Even though I don’t have an illness, the fact that my life is overturned by transition frequently (and have I mentioned I have five kids?) leaves me with little energy for things I would consider ‘normal’ for someone to be able to do in one day. And that day in the car when the light came on, I realized, “I don’t have very many spoons left.”

No matter how many times we pack up our family for a big trip, or prepare to leave the US for a few years, the work of transition hits me every time. And often, it’s a surprise….which is in itself a surprise if that makes any sense!

One of the things that I rest in, with this transition ahead and all of the unknowns, there is a Strong Tower where I can go to anytime, day or night (night time is when my mind doesn’t want to stop planning, scheming and organizing!).

You’ve always given me breathing room,
a place to get away from it all,
A lifetime pass to your safe-house,
an open invitation as your guest.
You’ve always taken me seriously, God,
made me welcome among those who know and love you. Psalm 61:3-5 (The Message)

September 14, 2014

Furlough: some old and new thoughts

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(above) I saw these flags at Navy Pier a few weeks ago and found myself surprised at the emotion they evoked in me. I must have looked like a crazy person, yelling at Ben, “look at the flags. THE FLAGS!!!” and then I proceeded to take like 10 pictures in a row. Although I have lived overseas most of my life, my passport country is a big part of who I am. Coming back with our five children to the U.S. who are going through major transition similar what I experienced as a child is helping me appreciate the heritage I have.

Transition is tough. Furlough can be a significant stress because physically we are fighting jet lag and going through all of the emotions of grieving and letting go at the same time. On top of that, we have to figure out how to get everything from storage and get oriented to our new surroundings while our kids are falling apart. We did what we could to prepare our kids for our furlough year by talking about new things they would experience, and the older kids helped educate the little ones so that helped a little. But that was just the ‘prep-work.’

First, my disclaimers: these are just a few thoughts that I’ve collected from the last few furloughs and now this one….my apologies that it ended up being so long. Also, other missionaries will have their own lists and ideas which could completely look different. And, I planned to write 1-2 paragraphs but apparently the thoughts just kept coming! Sorry for the extreme length of this post!

Boundaries with Speaking Events
We don’t plan to attend or speak at any events right away. On our first furlough, we attended a missionary get together the day after we arrived in Wheaton. I can remember a huge panic trying to find something decent to wear, and ended up taking our 18 month old daughter to the event because she was having a hard time with transition.

Expectations and Stability
We asked ourselves really hard questions before we left PNG: what do we want to do on furlough and what is going to be realistic for our family? The truth is, we’ve been gone for four years and haven’t been able to take family holidays very often, so we’d love to go coast to coast and visit every friend and historical site. The reality is, we came home with very little margin and we all (especially our kids) need stability. So we had to scale down our expectations and work on compromises.

#iloveamerica
We’ve tried to be really positive about things we love about America. Leaving the home they love (and their friends) is hard for our kids, and part of the grieving process is letting go of (not completely) what they love and embracing things they enjoy here. With the older kids, we’ve had to balance required events and giving them a choice. In recent days, when we’ve given the teenagers a choice on an event (even ones that might seem like ‘little kids events’) they have chosen to do it, and have enjoyed themselves. Also, having preschoolers and teens means that sometimes Ben will take the older kids and I take the little ones to age appropriate events.

Purpose
We’ve been giving the kids something purposeful to do. The first couple of weeks after we returned, Ben and I were busy trying to get ourselves sorted, getting driver’s licenses renewed, changing the utilities to our name, buying homeschooling materials, registering our oldest for online home school, etc. We expected our kids would just entertain themselves as they do in PNG. However, they had no friends close by and being out of their normal environment meant that they didn’t know what to do with themselves (besides ask repeatedly to watch movies) We had planned to start homeschooling after a family trip in August but I could see that some of our kids were struggling with lack of purpose to their days, so I started school earlier and had them write out a list of (non-screen) things they could possibly do on their own. Also, Ellie initially hard time getting into reading, so I’ve offered a reward for 10 chapter books she reads: going out for breakfast with Ben. Likewise, Noah wanted to increase his cooking skills, so he has a similar list going for new recipes he tries.

Shopping
To avoid being overwhelmed in stores: we research online for items we need. This week I googled “top toys for 2014” From there I had ideas of prices and what might work–my goal was one or two small presents for each of our twins birthday this week. It turns out we had a coupon for Learning Express close to our house, and their prices were really similar to Amazon.com. So we went there to see the items in person. We bought different things but I wasn’t overwhelmed at all because I already had an inkling of ‘what was out there.’

stained glass

Marriage
Another thing we discovered is that we have to be really intentional about taking time as a couple…Ben and I left the children in the care of his very capable parents (thank you mom and dad!) for 3 days while we went to Chicago. We took this photo at the free stained glass museum at Navy Pier, that was one of my favorite things we did! We don’t always plan time for ourselves with having five kids and others we want to spend time with, but this is something we are working on more intentionally.

Other People’s Expectations
I’ve tried to steer myself away from worrying about other people’s expectations for us on this furlough. Ben doesn’t struggle with this but as a ‘people pleaser’ I have really had to make a conscious effort to stop, ask myself the truth and then be completely honest. Sometimes that means disappointing people (or dealing with my own perceived expectations of their disappointment) but as my friend Kay Bruner says “do the right thing and learn to live with a little guilt.” I love that.

Kids in Transition
We’ve been really open about each kids specific reactions to transition to family members or friends we might be seeing. One furlough I wrote ahead to people we would visit about each child, thinking it would help them understand what each kid was going through. (From comments I heard at the time, our kids’ behavior looked odd or unreasonable  to some people.) At the same time for us as parents, we’re still trying to figure it out and it can be really distressing to not be able to ‘fix’ our kids when they are distressed. Ben and I are learning, however, that overreacting to our kids makes things much worse! Mostly, they really need assurance and validation in the middle of transition.

Some examples from the last two furloughs and now the beginning of this one:

  • screaming for a week every time we arrived at a new place.
  • hiding or throwing a tantrum when it was time to go through leave taking…
  • finding a quiet/private space for hours (like under a table) and read
  • making strong statements about missing ‘home,’ like last week when one of our preschoolers said “I really miss my friends. I feel like they are dead.”
  • having potty accidents at every big transition. At first we were bewildered until we realized transition triggered the accidents…
  • daily crying and vomiting from stress
  • nightmares
  • more behavior issues from being tired and disoriented. It doesn’t mean we don’t discipline them, but we try to apply grace.
  • acting ‘unsociable’ when people come to visit[I’m not saying that all of our kids do all of these things all the time, these are just examples of a few things we’ve experienced through the years.]

Last thoughts….
There is much more to be said on this topic but I thought I’d get the ball rolling at first. This furlough is unique for us because we decided to home school in order to give ourselves freedom to travel. It turns out it’s quite a challenge and we’re trying to figure it all out, especially because we’re supposed to be spending time recuperating and preparing to go back to PNG. I guess it all comes with giving grace to ourselves as well in the midst of all the chaos.

Yesterday I read this verse from the Apostle Paul, “don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6 NLT) I used to think about this verse primarily about our physical needs but what if it also applies to our emotional, spiritual and mental well being? Can I trust God to give Ben and me the grace and wisdom to parent our kids through this transition? Can I trust Him to bring healing to our marriage and emotional well being while we’re doing the hard work of home schooling and transitioning to life here?

Yes.

p.s. I thought I’d add a couple of book recommendations to this topic:

“As Soon As I Fell” by Kay Bruner. A few weeks after I arrived, I had the chance to read Kay’s memoir. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants a glimpse into a life of a missionary who struggled with a lot of things that those of us who serve overseas deal with. I loved the message of hope she gives!!

“The Way Of Transition” by William Bridges. I bought this book on my first furlough and have read and re-read this book. It has been helpful in framing my thoughts about transition, which you can see mirrored here often on my blog.

“Expectations and Burnout” by Robyn Bliss and Sue Eenigenburg. Ben bought me this book last year for my birthday. I loved it because it explained how we as missionaries come to the field with expectations that we don’t even know we have (often they are only revealed when they are unmet!) As a result of reading this, I ended up writing a document about our project for new members (still in draft) so that we can help them transition to our team.

December 5, 2013

My achy breaky house…

by mendibpng

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So it seems that there is an unwritten “law” that when the man of the house is away, things start breaking or going wrong. Here, it is nothing short of a crisis or traumatic experience when a major appliance dies because we are remote. If it isn’t repairable, then it is really costly and time consuming to get a replacement from another city or from Australia, even. These are options that we utilized this week.

In our case, it all started a couple days before Ben left…first the microwave stopped working, then the washing machine gave up its ghost. After Ben left, my computer had virus that flashed ads anytime I logged onto the internet. The stove later started smelling strongly like gas (plus parts were falling off due to rust). Over the weekend, we completely ran out of LP gas for the stove (which was entirely my fault–I had inadvertently forgotten to get the spare one refilled!) and our bottom floor flooded when I ran the ‘loaner’ washer for the first time (the hose wasn’t secure in the hand basin!) On Tuesday night, we had a HUGE rain, which caused a ¾ inch flood in my son’s bedroom and the laundry room downstairs. On top of that, we have two broken faucets, a toilet that is constantly running and a bathroom door without a handle…woe is me?

Simultaneously, at our village house in the Sepik, Ben had flooding, a broken washing machine and a computer virus as well! (The stove broke last time) At the time, he worked hard to get 28 computers set up to do translation and kept running into multiple problems at every turn. He told me at one point the Alpha computer (the one the others are all patterned after) turned itself off, and he laid hands on it and prayed, and it came back on!! As I type this, he is traveling home so I don’t know if he was able to get all of those computers going after all his work on them.

In my last post I mentioned a book by Ann Voscamp called “One Thousand Gifts,” which explains how the author wrote out 1,000 things to be grateful for and found joy in the process. Well, this week is as good as any to count the gifts, large and small, God gave us (and our team) this week:

  • According to Felix, one of our translators, his son Elias died. Felix and his wife laid hands on the boy and he began breathing again and even laughed. When Ben told me this story, it encouraged me that we serve a God who raises people from the dead!!! He still performs miracles today.
  • It turns out that the big flood happened while my friends were here for a birthday party, so they helped us clean up the sopping wet floor. Having four friends laughing and talking made the whole thing less overwhelming. I told them later that if they hadn’t been there I would have been crying instead of laughing.
  • A couple from one of our home churches wrote us to ask if they could get anything for us for Christmas, as the man was traveling through Port Moresby this week for business. They packed up some goodies from the U.S. to make our holidays special (and also bought us some much needed USB/SD cards for the project). It was completely unexpected and such an encouragement to anticipate getting some fun things from home this year!
  • Our computer support people not only fixed my computer here but some of them helped Ben long distance this week with his computer problems out in the Sepik.
  • Ben talked and prayed with many of our Papua New Guinean co-workers this week. I think that even if he didn’t get as far as he wanted with the computers, just being out there with them was an encouragement to them and well worth the journey.
  • My older kids have stepped up to help when things have been difficult with their dad gone. Over the weekend, when our stove ran out of gas, Noah volunteered to make spaghetti noodles in our electric deep fryer (it can boil water!) and we used the griddle to cook the rest of the food.
  • My friends here who know about our challenging events have shown the kids and me a lot of compassion. It helps knowing that we are not alone!
  • Here’s a small thing: when the big rains started coming, the children and I rescued our small herb seedlings (in pots) and they are alive and well on our porch!
  • And one more small thing: I have all the ingredients I need to be able to make Vietnamese Beef Pho, one of Ben’s favorite meals, for his return home tonight.
  • Finally, one more ‘big’ thing. I can admit to being frustrated over the last few weeks and have longed for Ben’s return to speed up…but at each turn of events I have had hope the whole time. God has spoken clearly to me in my quiet moments and through his Word that He is with me.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way.
Lamentations 3:25-33 (The Message)

If you come across any missionary veterans and ask them when they felt the most vulnerable or exposed to adversity, many of them will tell you that it’s when things were progressing in their ministries. We are seeing this: the gospels of Luke and Acts are finally done (about 30% of the New Testament!), they are recorded in most of our languages and on digital devices, and people have begun learning to read and do Bible studies thanks to a Scripture Use Walkabout our teammates went on recently. In the last few months, we’ve seen more interest from the communities in Bible translation than we have in the last twelve years of being here! Please pray for us, and our team, that we will glorify God, and that we will trust God to help us take care of all the things that threaten to discourage us. We serve a God who can raise people from the dead, after all, he can take care of all the big (and little) things.

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November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks for Unmet Expectations and Burnout

by mendibpng

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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

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