Archive for ‘grief’

May 14, 2017

A New Kind of Transition

by mendibpng

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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.

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February 10, 2016

Nothing is wasted…

by mendibpng

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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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May 5, 2014

A Missionary’s Lament

by mendibpng

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This is a bit of a different post. I began writing this as a gift to some close friends who are leaving next year, before I return from furlough. Our missionary career has been rich with friends, and for that I am grateful, but it makes the leaving and goodbyes all the more difficult. No one in our family is exempt from this kind of grief. But it’s part of the whole package of missionary life. And so, I dedicate this poem to you, my friends.

When you leave, I’ll grieve a death,
Saying goodbye to possibilities
Of seeing you whenever I like.
I carry conversations
And confidences shared in secret,
When you and I walked
Through difficult times together.

The things we laughed about
No one else would understand.
My inner pockets are full of small treasures,
Each representing some sorrow or joy.
Now they are all just memories
With varied surface and tone.

The places we met will now be
Sacred monuments to me.
I’ll search them for pieces of you
Whenever I walk by.
I know that our relationship will change,
But you are forged in me deep.
I haven’t left yet.
Neither have you.
But the grieving has already begun.

You face the great river of great unknowns
And though you haven’t crossed over it yet,
The grieving has lately begun.
Your family will be uprooted.
You will leave your home of memories
Where your children grew and played
And learned so many new things.
Yet you bravely chose to follow the Spirit,
Who’s leading you to the next place.

I grieve that I won’t be there
To walk through the next journey with you.
All I can offer is my loyalty
Despite the long distance
And the hope that we’ll meet once again.
So before we both leave here,
We’ll have more cups of coffee
And we’ll create more small treasures
To put in our pockets
To remember each other by.

-by mendib & bzephyr

February 16, 2014

A world where norm will no more be

by bzephyr

Robertson Norman
The lines below were penned after I received the news a bit more than a week ago that my great uncle Norm had left this earth after 88 years and gone to be with Jesus. He and my dear Aunt Doris had recently celebrated 65 years of marriage. At nearly 6’6″ Uncle Norm was the biggest man I had ever seen when I first met him as a small boy. Even more than his sheer size, the stories my father told of him pioneering in the Pacific Northwest made him larger than life to me. With his big “Cat” bulldozer and his crew of men and logging trucks, he would contract work from the forest service, and the adventures that he had as they pioneered new roads and slipped down rugged mountain slopes are the stuff that hero tales are made of.

Yet more than all that, Uncle Norm represents to me the strength of character and firm faith of one who was confident that he served the King and Creator of the majestic world surrounding him. And he also served his family, community, and fellow man with the same kindness of Another who had stooped so low to care for a world in need to lead them to a higher place and a better Home. My family and I have benefited from Uncle Norm and Aunt Doris’s daily prayers on our behalf. I wish that I’d have had the chance to live closer to him and experience life with my Uncle Norm more intimately. I know that Norm provided a certain exceptional quality of life that is joy and peace and strength to those who lived within the shade of his shelter, anything but the norm in this present world with dark valleys and with devils filled. But Uncle Norm and I share in the confident hope of an abundant adventure of the new and glorious creation of our Savior, whose life and light will have no end for those who trust in him.

A world where norm will no more be

…a giant tree’s been felled this morn
this norm, i hardly knew
and though half a world away i too am shaken
and long that i could go
home,

where my dad grew roots
with other boughs of family line,
had nearly split apart,
yet for this sapling and my seed
the Wind has carried far
and we know not our mountain land
that beckons in my blood.
it’s kin is dear to them who are so very close to me
but i mourn the loss i can not now find,
this giant of a man.

…a servant of creation’s King
this norm, i hardly knew
is summoned forth to hear “well done”
while i, in service yet, remain in this world
history,

where relations whom i wish i’d known
impressed their hands like works of art for all to see
deep in the planet’s soil
engineered behind the scenes
not only earth’s terrains,
fine landscapes brushed on hearts and souls
in a little place that calls to me,
a dale, with those to whom i’d flee,
a town where faithful home was made,
a world where norm will no more be.

…a big ol’ rig has slipped down new road
this norm, i hardly knew
and too, though in another world, my view is cleared
to use whatever Master’s “cat” might cut new bush
highway,

where humps and roadblocks bar the way
and trail’s end is yet uncharted
by brothers, sisters too, in fellowship,
heirs who share our Pioneer’s faith
on paths to home or distant shores,
blazed with blood and sweat and prayer,
roads revealing old and New, tracks to reunite.
earthly routes both smooth and worn, dirt and stone,
will not endure like narrow Way that we must seek,
converging on that golden Street.

such norm of life that some have known
through highways, history and house
has come and gone, though we’re not surely left alone.
a taller Tree has toppled death and new creation grows,
uniting every clan on earth to serve their King,
alive again, and bound for our true Home…

printersornament1

The verses above are a poetic duet that I wrote with some help from a fellow pilgrim of the faith after reading this other poetic duet moments after I heard the news that my Uncle Norm had waved goodbye to this earth. Thanks Hasty for your thoughtful input on stanzas four and six.
January 19, 2014

Furlough Fever: TCK thoughts

by mendibpng

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In June, we’ll be flying on a Kodiak airplane like this one on the first of six flights which will take us from: Ukarumpa–Port Moresby–Brisbane–Melbourne–Fiji–Los Angeles–Chicago, IL. It took us (well, Ben, actually) over four weeks to figure out each leg and which flights would be the most economical for the family.

We’ve been in PNG now for 3 1/2  years, having left the country only a few times for medical reasons to the closest neighboring first world country, Australia. As I’m going about my daily tasks and ministry, I’m constantly thinking about our return to the U.S., planned for July of this year. I started writing what I thought would be a short blog post but it turned out that I needed to make it into a series because I had so much to say. So this one is dedicated to my thoughts about our TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and the transitions they will face in a few months.
5kids1stBirthday sm
(above: This is what our kids looked like a few months after we arrived in PNG in 2010). When we left the U.S., our twins were nine months old, Ellie was five, Noah was eight and Josiah was ten. Now Josiah is in high school, Noah and Ellie are in primary school, and the twins are four! Here are all of them together at Christmas this year:
kids sm
I talked to my older boys about friends and relatives we want to catch up with when we reach the U.S., and one of the first things they started joking about was how people would say how much they had grown. It’s just a fact of life that if you are gone four years, your kids will look different and they will be that much less connected to All Things Related to their home country.  So a great deal of my thoughts circle around how to make the transition back the U.S. a happy one for the kids, and how to help them with grieving the loss of their home and close friends for an extended period of time.

I’ve spent many hours researching homeschooling materials for the kids and thinking through logistics related to schooling on the road. Our oldest needs a program that is accredited, while we have more flexibility with the younger ones. I am not quite sure how we will keep a routine while traveling and get work done. That might be something we’ll have to scale and adjust to as we get started. We have dreams and expectations of visiting some historical sites in the U.S. and spending time in national parks as part of our homeschooling experience.

Even though we live in the bush a lot of the time here, we don’t have the opportunity to do tent camping as a family. Our plan to travel on furlough involves quite a bit of camping as this is the most economical way to visit a lot of places with our family of seven. Some of the questions we have may become clear after we’ve seen what camping looks like with five children like, “how will we make significant amounts of food while camping?” It could be a blast….or…it could be difficult. I’m just going to add that to the list of unknowns, but I’m comforted by the fact that this is our first furlough without a baby in diapers. Plus, we can always find info and ideas on the internet once we get there!

I know that we can’t physically prepare our kids for everything they experience they arrive, but we want them to have the freedom to talk to us about anything.  It’s fairly common for Third Culture Kids to grieve the lack of belonging anywhere and to feel like strangers in their home country. (I know this because I am a TCK).  It’s also common for them to feel antagonistic about things that they don’t understand, whether it’s cultural differences or simpler things like the lack of autonomy and freedom to be outside as much as they are used to. Incidentally, the loss and grief side feels significant this time around because Josiah has hostel brothers and sisters who will be graduating while he is gone, and he doesn’t know when he will see them again.

So what are we doing to prepare our kids?

  • We’re talking with them and consulting them about our plans, so they don’t feel like everything is completely out of their control or that they are blind sided by decisions. The decision to home school, for instance, came easily for Ben and I, but we had to make sure that the kids were on board. My impression is that they are excited, even the ones who were reluctant in the beginning.
  • We’re showing them pictures of friends and family they will see so that it’s not a complete shock to meet unfamiliar people (to them, not to Ben and I.)
  • We’re planning to visit some of their former PNG friends/colleagues along the way so that not every single visit is a new encounter and those friends will know where we have come from.
  • We’re planning on significant ‘down’ time here and there, where it’s just us so that we can relax and not worry about being on our best behavior.
  • I’m planning on creating photo books for the younger kids of all of their favorite places and people here in PNG so that they have these to look at whenever they are sad and missing their home here.
  • We’ll create a scrapbook of our travels for the kids to remember all the fun places we’ll visit and wonderful people we will see.
  • We’re also talking about the fun food we will get to eat (grapes! cheese! Doritos! Portillos hot dogs!).
  • All of us are working on a ‘bucket list’ of things we want to do while in the U.S. (we might not get to everything but it’s a good way to find out what each of us values.)
  • We’re taking advantage of Wycliffe Connection, a program for our whole family, focused specifically on reentry. Some of our friends will be attending as well, which I think will make it very fun and relaxing!
  • We’re planning to have significant time with both sets of grandparents to strengthen those connections.

I hope that we will be able to be an example to our kids of trusting God and ask Him for wisdom for every small and large decision. We often use our family time to pray about the decisions we need to make, and we will continue ask God to show Himself to us in supernatural ways, rejoicing when He answers, as He did last week by providing all the money at one time that we needed for our return travel to the U.S.

As with most things in life, there are no set of rules or one good checklist that works for every family. There are just too many variables and too many different personalities to navigate. It all just boils down to the fact that we can’t plan enough ourselves or rely on our own wisdom for all of it. The only solution I can clearly see is just simply laid out in verses like this:

James 1:5-8 (NLT)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

What about you? If you are planning a big transition for your kids, what kinds of things are helpful/useful to do? I’d love to hear comments if you have any to share!

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

September 8, 2013

The ‘My life is hard’ fallacy

by mendibpng

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In the last few weeks, I’ve digested ‘The Prodigal God’ by Timothy Keller rather slowly. I’ve seen myself in the younger brother character some but more recently in the older brother character.

Let me explain how this applies to my life.

I am wary of preachers who exhort people to ‘take up your cross’ and ‘give up your lives for Jesus.’ I am wary of visitors who come here, not knowing my situation and who question the way in which we live.

Haven’t I given up enough already? Haven’t I left the comfort of the First World to be here, far away from my family, in order to do my part in spreading the gospel through Bible translation?  I left modern conveniences and entertainment/eating out options behind when I signed up. Oh and my stuff. I packed away or gave away a lot of my wedding gifts if they weren’t practical on the mission field. I grieved for the lack of stability while also seeing our life as an adventure. I’ve put myself voluntarily into constant transition and have dropped myself into a culture that I still don’t understand after 11 years of [cheerfully] trying to assimilate and understand. Some days I feel really comfortable, and some days I really hate the skirts I wear here. I really miss being able to walk around at night without worrying about encountering ‘rascals’ (thieves, rapists, etc.)  What I wouldn’t give for a quick trip to a bulk food store to stock up on things I’ve [again, cheerfully] greatly reduced in our budget to save money, like cheese, cereal, and meat. Oh and I will just give a brief mention about how the stress and burnout (in doing work for You) has taken it’s toll on our marriage and family life. I handed my husband over to You, God, keeping a loose grip on him, knowing that You had important work for him to do. I did it all for You, God. I am [mostly] content in all of these things!!!!! (or am I?)

Please Don’t Ask Me To Give Up Any More. PLEASE.

It might be obvious where I’m going here.

The two brothers in the prodigal son (you can read the story here) came from two perspectives, the older brother (which Keller refers to as the way of moral conformity) and the younger son (the way of self-discovery).

The person in the way of moral conformity says, “I’m not going to do what I want, but what tradition and the community tells me to do.” The person choosing the way of self-discovery says: “I’m the only one who can decide what is right or wrong for me. I’m going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way. Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live. If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God)

I had always thought that the story exposed raw jealousy that the older brother had for the younger one…maybe that is true in part, but Keller says that the older brother in the story had even deeper sin issues. By ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘avoiding wrong,’ he really was trying to control his father to get what he thought he deserved. I can see how I’ve leaned towards the same thinking. When something unexpected comes along (or when we meet with our own prodigals) I look at God and say, “Haven’t I been doing what you asked me this whole time? Why is this [bad] thing happening?” A lot of expats I know here in PNG would not even fault me for having this perspective because they get what I’m talking about, I think. At least the people I’ve talked to recently do! But let me go back to Keller, because he explains it so well:

 Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself–in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him. So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.

Here, then, is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God, Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God)

My prayer now is, “Jesus, please help me see where I have put myself in Your place. Help me see where I have tried to ‘follow the rules’ and ‘do good’ to use you to get what I want (comfort, peace, contentment). I’ve tried to control my circumstances by worrying about them. I’ve allowed my mind to circle through things over and over without giving time for You to come in and restore me. Help me to rest in the fact that You have everything under control.” And echoing Peter, “Help me in my unbelief!”

I know that the more I release myself to this way of thinking, the deeper and richer my walk with God will be. He speaks. He gives wisdom. The distractions I dabble in will never satisfy me like He does. I love how the Message translates this verse I learned as a young child:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7)

p.s. Friends, if you have persevered to the end, thank you. I do want to insert a caveat here: all of the things I listed above are true and I have gone through the grief and loss cycle for some more than others, particularly the one about leaving my family behind. I don’t want to minimize the grief/loss side of this, and I still expect to feel the grief from those things from time to time. I just want to make sure that my attitude towards God is right when I’m doing that.

July 22, 2013

Belonging: having a rightful place

by mendibpng

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When I typed the word ‘belonging’, I stared at it for a long time, without really knowing where to start. Why, all of a sudden am I back to talking about Third Culture Kid issues? Well, that’s a good question! There are often triggers for me, like when I was asked in two separate conversations where I am from last night. I stumbled in this question, as I usually do, but ended up saying “I grew up overseas, in Indonesia, but Ben is from Wheaton, IL, so that is where our home base is now.” But then there are the next real triggers: Goodbyes and Transition.
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Goodbyes: We just left our village again, this time for six months…life is really hard for my neighbors who don’t have good access to medical care. As I shook hands with the men and hugged the women, I thought, “I don’t know how many of them I will see again.” It is not uncommon for us to come back to our home there, having heard that someone we know and love has died. Then, a few hours after having left the village, I got teary as I waved goodbye to teammates Beth and Missy, who we won’t see for several months. Those two women have been lifelines for Ben and I in more ways that I could write here. And finally, our intern Luke left last week after living with us for 9 months.

And of course, the other big trigger. Transition: Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who are we? All these questions jump around in my head as I process the road ahead for  my family and me. One of the perks of coming back from the village this time of year is that a good number of our friends have arrived back from a year or more furlough. All of us are looking forward to catching up with old friends who we haven’t seen in a long time. But along with the good parts of transition, there is always the ‘anticipatory anxiety’ I wonder, “how are the twins going to do in preschool?” and “what the next few months are going to look like?” After a grueling two years work-wise, I can’t quite picture it. Why? Because we haven’t lived in one place for six months in a long long time. Maybe this is an indication that this is a long time in coming!
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I went here and looked up the word “belonging” and ended up skipping over the definitions and going straight to the synonyms:

fellowship
relationship
association
partnership
loyalty
acceptance
attachment
inclusion
affinity
closeness
rapport
afflilation
kinship

If you scroll down a little, you’ll see “go, fit in: have a rightful place”
(Taken from CollinsDictionary.com)

When I read those words, I think of the people I belong to:

  1. Ben, my husband and best friend
  2. My family as a whole. A close friend who has known us since we came to PNG told me a while back that she thinks my family is MORE cohesive and close since the twins arrived.
  3. The Aitape West Team (our expat and PNG colleagues, the ladies who cook for the translators, the people in my village)
  4. Our Bible study group in Ukarumpa
  5. Friends and acquaintances we live in community with in Ukarumpa
  6. Friends and family back in our home country
  7. Partners back home (churches, individuals and groups) who pray for us

After I wrote this, I asked my twins, “where is ‘home’?” Jacob said “in A-grumpa” (Ukarumpa) Jenny Beth piped up, “and the Billage” (Village)Then  Jacob shouted, “and Wewak!” (that’s where we are right now) Yes. Next year, they will find out what their passport country is like and hopefully they will feel like it has become their ‘home country.’ We brought our twins here to PNG at nine months old, and they will be nearly five years old when we arrive on U.S. soil.  I can’t resist this picture of them, it’s from 2011 we first arrived back to PNG and they were skyping with grandparents:
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And now, I must get them their second breakfast…

February 21, 2013

Confessions of a missionary wife: homesick

by mendibpng

joe and noah

I’ve been thinking a lot about Heaven lately. At least once a day and sometimes more, I feel the ache of missing someone I love. It doesn’t matter that I live in Papua New Guinea. I would feel the same way if I were back in the U.S. because I would be missing family in other parts of the world. I wish I could share in the greatest joys, like when my cousins got married (and we couldn’t attend) or when loved ones celebrate the birth of new babies. Oh how I wish I could give little Katie (and other babies that I haven’t met) a cuddle! I wish I could see her mama laughing at her antics and share in those moments.

Added to that, it’s also really hard to be here when our loved ones are struggling with a great difficulty or dealing with the grief and loss. I wish I could physically be present for them during those times. Instead, I resign myself to saying a prayer and sending them a quick email or Facebook message.

When I think about heaven, I think about how much I long to see Jesus finally face to face. I wonder if He will look like the friend I’ve pictured all these years of knowing him.

I also think about all the friends and family who are dear to me, and how we will have such great reunions once we get There. I know I can’t sit down and have a cuppa with those of you on the other side of the world right now, or my sisters, who are in the same time zone but who live miles away…but if I can just keep my gaze on eternity, I know there will be so many opportunities to be together AND there will be no more goodbyes!

Some days the sadness starts to creep up on me, (it happens often when I see status updates or pictures on Facebook)  I work at being thankful for the people I DO see every day. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on what is NOT rather than what IS. And even though I can’t see Him, Jesus is right here. He knows the grief and pain of what we humans go through, although ours pales in light of what he went through. I often try to escape the feelings but I have found that they just weigh me down. Soooo…for me, I have to stop and embrace the loneliness for a bit, tell Jesus about it and let it go.

And now I’m off to do some serious playdoughing with my three year old twins, who are with me every day. Some day they will go off to school like their big brothers and sister and I’m gonna (for sure!) remember how little they were, and how they seem to appear everywhere I go in the house. My best moment this morning was looking down at Jacob who had squeezed into a comfy chair with me this morning, just content to be close to me. That’s the way I want to think about Jesus every day.

February 7, 2013

Thoughts on Being a Third Culture Kid: Why would you do this to your kids?

by mendibpng

ellie

A while ago, when we were discussing transition and loss that we as a family have experienced, a newcomer to PNG asked me why anyone would chose to raise their kids overseas if we knew our kids would experience so much hardship. I replied that although it’s painful to see my kids suffer (oh how I wish I could shield them from it!), I can see how God can use it in their lives to make them stronger, more compassionate people. One of my kids told me a while ago that a new kid had come to the school and was having trouble relating to the other kids. He said “I think he’s just in transition stress right now, Mom. He’ll be okay in a few weeks.” This is the kind of thing my TCK/missionary mom heart really enjoys hearing…because it means that they are internalizing some of the things that we value as a family: being real and also having compassion for those who are struggling.

Sometimes we are the cause of our kids’ struggles. We fight. We sin. We struggle with boundaries.  I don’t think this is too different from any other family. But the unique challenge is to be a healthy family while living cross culturally and dealing with transition all the time. I am certain my kids are going to need counseling because of how we have raised them and because of the life we have been called to. I’m just going to put that out there so that what I’m about to say can be balanced with the reality of our sinful natures!

I see my kids gaining a wide perspective of culture as they search for the Truth . Understanding truth within the context of culture is something that takes a great deal of maturity, I think. One time our boys were riding down our hill on a skateboard in the rain making a mess of our grass. At first, Ben went out and told them to stop. They were getting muddy from head to toe and in particular were creating a huge mud pit under the laundry line. His concern was mainly for me and what I was going to deal with later. However, when he came inside to talk to me, he realized I didn’t care about the grass, and he went back and told the boys they could play out there again. Later, one of my cheeky boys said something like, “Mom,  it’s not important in your culture to have a clean and neat lawn but it is to Daddy’s .”  We all had a good chuckle because Ben has often joked about the biggest sin in his hometown being  ‘lawn envy’ whereas here, it is not as much of an issue at all.

Dealing with adversity from time to time has given Ben and I the opportunity to point our kids to Jesus. The two kids I’m homeschooling this year during village stays would rather go to school in Ukarumpa with their friends. They find it hard, to be honest, which is in direct contrast to their older brother who would be done with school by 10 am most mornings (and who didn’t require a lesson plan!)  Sometimes when Ben comes home at his 10:00 am break, he sees one or more of us crying in frustration. He and I try to take the opportunity to encourage the kids to pray because Jesus can help us when we have to do things we don’t like or enjoy. He walks through it with us. We’ve seen them grow significantly in this area this year. We’re all grateful, like right now

A final observation I’d like to make is that being a TCK gives my kids the daily opportunity to interact with people from different cultures. Not only do we have Papua New Guinean friends and family who we love and respect in Ukarumpa and in Arop village, but we have many nationalities represented here in our mission community. Countries like the United States, Korea, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan, Finland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Papua New Guinea (and others!)  are represented at my kids’ school in both teachers and students. It sometimes leaves the kids confused…for instance, when one of my kids had a lesson on Culture, he was supposed to bring in a couple of things that represented the culture he is from. He showed a dollar bill, saying “I’m bringing an American dollar because I’m from America.” Next he held up a Thai cookbook, saying “I’m also Asian because my mom grew up in Asia and cooks a lot of Asian food!” The other day he told me how much he enjoys using Commonwealth terms for things because he is more Commonwealth now than American. Heh heh, I didn’t even know the term “Commonwealth” until I was in high school!

When asked if they would choose to be an MK here in Papua New Guinea or to live elsewhere, all of my kids would choose here. That is a relief but also a challenge.

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