Archive for ‘transition and adjustment’

January 29, 2018

Rusty Ole Missionary

by mendibpng


As many of you know, we spent the last six months in Spring Hill, Tennessee, USA,  to help our oldest son transition to life in the U.S. It was a fairly big undertaking, to uproot our family for that period of time, but we haven’t regretted the decision to do this. We feel satisfied that he is doing well with college life and adulthood.

Thoughts on returning to the field after a six month absence…
I realize my experience isn’t unique, in some ways, as many of my fellow missionaries have come and gone from their place of assignment, only to feel the gears inside them noisily turning to adjust to being back. Papua New Guinea is home to our family. We wholeheartedly embraced the land and culture here in 2002, and haven’t looked back. At the same time, we have had trips away, and each time the process of transitioning hits us painfully. It’s a costly venture, this twisting and turning and questioning the space and longing for the stability that seems elusive. All of this has been compounded by dealing with grief of losing one of the most important people in my life, and I’m finding this transition to be the most challenging and painful one so far.

The first week of our return, I hiked up and down my porch stairs hanging up laundry multiple times per day. Although I was grateful to have a covered space to hang out everything, I inwardly groaned because every muscle in my body ached from the exertion. This should tell you how much exercising I did on furlough… little to none!  Added to the physical adjustments, my mind felt like an empty balloon. One of my friends called and was asking me some very simple questions and I couldn’t even answer her. It made us laugh later but was an ‘aha!’ moment… yep. I’m not running on all cylinders as they say.  Then there was that time when I overreacted emotionally… actually it was more than once!

Added to all of that was the great feeling of being back amongst our community. After six months of not living in close proximity to friends, it felt extremely refreshing to see our loved ones again. The youth directors rented two vans for friends and teens to come to the airstrip to greet us, what a feeling to step off the plane and hug so many friends!  The friendships that we have here are deep and comfortable. Ben and I sat in complete gratitude to be back with our small group, knowing that this was a safe place for us to just be ourselves, without having to justify or explain who we are. It felt good to be amongst people who were sincerely interested and invested in us. The years we have spent in that group have paid off a million times over.  Similarly, other close friends have also circled up and welcomed me back, giving me a chance to debrief and process while also sharing their last six months with me.  To say I’m grateful is minimizing the feeling… it’s much more than that.

Along with the joy of seeing loved ones again comes the challenges of community. There is the question of when to speak up in love or when to stay silent. I am sure it’s the same anywhere, but perhaps more intense here in a small community where we have people from many cultures and denominational backgrounds.

Before I left the U.S., a friend gave me ‘Of Mess and Moxie,” by Jen Hatmaker, and yesterday I read this timely advice from Hatmaker

We listen sincerely, we don’t just reload while someone else’s mouth is moving. Dialogue is easily spooked, so you must be vigilant against fear, dismissal, manipulation and apathy—true enemies of safe dialogue.  You’ll feel it at first, deep down, the urge to rebut, rebuke, refute. It will be a cold rock in your gut, tempting you to correct or disagree, or to be offended and center yourself in that person’s story. But that instinct can be overcome, and the results of someone feeling heard and respected are immediate and palpable. It takes a fairly high level of humility, empathy, and courage to keep a space open and healthy. It’s a developed skill that takes practice. To me, that is what love looks and feels like. (p. 81)

My biggest problem is that I want to add something, anything to make a person feel better when she’s pouring out her heart to me. But as my training in debriefing has taught me, the best way to help someone is to listen and not put myself into her story. I struggle especially with my older kids in this area because I want to fix them so badly. I realize that they need my love and empathy more than my fear that something bad will happen if I don’t say the right thing. That’s what I’m rusty on, and where I’m wanting to grease my squeaky gears so that I can be the kind of friend and mother who offers safety and love.

And so we press on…

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14

May 14, 2017

A New Kind of Transition

by mendibpng

(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


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.

February 10, 2015

Why I don’t have very many spoons…

by mendibpng


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)

October 30, 2014

Life in America: by Ellie

by mendibpng

(photo by Ellie) Arboretum fall leaves.

Coming home to America is different then coming home to Papua New Guinea. It is a total shock when you go to restaurants and see how many choices on the menu. Or when you get overwhelmed by Walmart by so many things to buy. In Ukarumpa, there’s only one tiny little store with not a lot of choices. It runs out of things sometimes and it’s really expensive.

When you go to Papua New Guinea there are different rules, because it is totally another culture. Women have to wear skirts below their knees. Here we can wear shorter skirts or shorts.

Here we have the chance to do different things, like maybe swimming. If you live in Ukarumpa its not everyday you get to go swimming in a pool. But you might not get to swimming as much, but I did. Here, there are smooth roads; over there there are rocky and bumpy roads.

There, I have more friends because we are a close community so we get along very well. My friends are very close, I can walk to their houses. I do a special club with all the girls in my class. We play games and go outside every day.

Well in Ukarumpa, in PNG, also part of being a close community is welcoming everyone new. But here in America there is so many more people and you can’t go up to everyone and say, “welcome to America!” They might think your weird or kookoo. I feel shy here but over there I feel very funny. Here I’m serious, there I’m not. And here’s a tip. Don’t tell people about some gross stuff that you eat or do. They will stay away from you for the rest of their life. Or don’t eat off the floor in public!

Being a missionary kid means first goodbye to your home and your friends. Then transition….then you get over with it. I try to feel good about the things that are about to happen here in America. But when I trust in God he hears me and helps me through. I like this verse: Joshua 1:9.
By Ellie I Pehrson. (Or PIE. My initials spelled backwards)
Ahhh I love pie.

September 14, 2014

Furlough: some old and new thoughts

by mendibpng

(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.

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.

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.

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 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

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?


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.

July 30, 2014

Furlough: first two weeks

by mendibpng

IMG_7731 sm
(above) Our kids reconnecting with their Aussie cousins after 4 years apart!

There are times when I feel like I’m drinking through a fire hose over the last few weeks. I keep thinking about updating this blog on what is happening but we haven’t had much time to sit down and reflect on our big transition. I apologize for the delay in writing! Here are some random observations and thoughts:

  • I’ve been trying to find joy in small moments, since transition can be so disorienting. I find myself noticing all kinds of small things, like the flowers (chicory) that you see everywhere in the summer here in the Midwest. Beautiful things make me happy.
  • I drink a lot coffee to help with the mental and physical exhaustion. Even though I’m going to bed earlier each night, I guess I still have a lot of sleep to catch up on!
  • The joy in seeing friends and family we haven’t seen in four years is really hard to put into words. Some friends/family we saw for a few days, others a few hours. But in all these cases, we’ve been able to pick up where we left off–no time for small talk!
  • We’re getting used to the long summer days (in PNG it turns dark at 6 pm!)
  • What a blessing it is to live close to grandparents who happily take the our children on outings. We love being able to call on them anytime we need help. This isn’t something we normally have, so we area really grateful for it.
  • We’re having fun eating things that we can’t get in PNG (or can’t afford there, like cheese and cereal). I should add that I haven’t had to make any bread at all. I am loving the convenience of feeding our family here!
  • We notice a lot of changes since we lived here four years ago. Cell phones, more and more choices in stores, and incredible amounts of things to recycle, for example.
  • Although a lot of the ‘new’ things are fun to experience, the kids especially grieve the separation from their friends and home in PNG. Jacob and Jenny Beth keep asking me when it’s time to go back to our other house, in Ukarumpa, and when will they have play dates again with their little friends. I answer that we’ll be here for all the birthdays and holidays. It’s so hard for them to understand.

IMG_8819 sm

Since there’s so much to report, I thought it might be fun to write things out in numbers:

1 week. The nights I couldn’t sleep before and after all the packing and leaving stress.

8 the number of cousins together in Melbourne, Australia. My sister and her family have welcomed us to their home so often, since their place is an easy stop on the way to PNG. We love the easy way we pick up with them.

3 friends from high school who met together for a weekend with me the week after I arrived in the US. We laughed, talked, shared struggles and ate a lot of really good food!

2 nights with my mom and dad in Florida last week. I love being with them because they are my haven of safety, always loving me unconditionally.

8 the number of beds ready for us in our furlough house as soon as we walked in. It has been a huge relief to move into a home ready for us. Not only is the home set up really well with items needed for living, but one of our supporting churches coordinated filling up the fridge and pantry to the brim with tons of food!

1 hour: how long it takes for us to do a load of laundry from start to finish. Our washer in PNG takes 1.5 hrs and then we hang up the clothes for several hours (or days).

3 gallons: the amount of milk we are consuming each week.

5 the number of time zones I crossed in 2 weeks.

1x driving. I drove for the first time with my daughter to get some things we desperately needed. It was a funny ride because I kept trying to reach the non-existent clutch and kept using the windshield wipers when I really needed the turn signal!

2 nights with PNG friends who stopped by on their road trip this weekend. It was so good to exchange experiences and empathize with each other’s re-entry issues. We have been missing our PNG community so it was great to get a little taste of that again.

2 the number of people I recognized in church our first Sunday back. I could barely keep my eyes open because of jetlag. In PNG we know about 75% of the people we go to church with, whereas here we are rather anonymous.

Infinite: (seemingly) with the things we have been teaching our kids since arriving here. Here’s a glimpse of some of them:
-recycling (we do recycle in PNG but in a different way!)
-walking on the right side of stairs or a walkway
-staying together when in a crowded place
-wearing shoes
-what they are allowed to watch on TV

All this to say, we are really thankful to be here and are looking forward to getting into a routine (at the moment we’re just getting through each day). Our hearts are still full of PNG and the people we love there but we are enjoying the chance to see family and friends who we haven’t seen in 4 years!

May 26, 2014

Stones of Remembrance

by mendibpng

noah rain
Our son Noah (above) graduates from grade six next week…I found this picture of him in the rain at age 4 when I was looking for pictures to send in for his class slide show. He is not only transitioning to the U.S. this month, but he is finishing his Primary School days.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about our upcoming furlough. I know I’ve probably said it before, but it’s worth repeating…it’s really hard to stay in the ‘here and now’ when there is so much involved in getting ready for the next big thing, which is literally moving our family from this side of the world to the other.

A few things I’ve realized:

  1. Traveling with five children is trickier than I ever thought (and we haven’t even left yet!). Being a family of seven means we won’t fit into a medium sized car, or even one hotel room. Thankfully for most of our trip home, we will be able to stay with family and friends and either travel with them or use local transportation!
  2. Making airplane bookings is agonizing from this distance! Having been gone from the US for four years makes us wonder when the best time is to buy or whether we would use a travel agent or book everything ourselves. Thankfully, we have made all the decisions needed to get us back to Wheaton, IL between leaving here in June and arriving there mid July…it involved hundreds of smaller choices like where we would stop, how long we would stay (and where) and how would we get around in each place!
  3. Leaving for furlough is a lot harder this time around because the goodbyes are for longer or more final than ever before. We have friends of 13 years leaving for good (they leave before we get back) and we have other friends going on furlough before we get back, which means we won’t see them for two years total, or more.
  4. All seven of us experience different symptoms of transition. Noticing how each person handles the grief and stress is a necessary part of parenthood and marriage because it helps us have grace for each one.

Being thankful/grateful for the good things we have had as a part of missionary life has been a source of comfort to me in recent weeks. A friend in our small group led us all in a night of “Stones of Remembrance” where we watched a slideshow of the last 10 years together and then talked about the ways that God had answered prayers for us. These friends, and others, here, have truly walked through some dark valleys with us and have celebrated joys as well. So, in honor of my friend Kelly, who started this whole topic for me, here are a few stones of remembrance for our family that I want to publically thank God for: (this is by no means a comprehensive list but it gives the general idea…)

  •  The births of our five children, including the safe delivery of our high risk twins.
  • Jenny Beth’s heart defect healed the year after we returned. (I took her to Australia twice, the second time we were told she had no hole in her heart anymore!)
  • On several occasions where either us or our kids were in physical danger, God protected us.
  • Provision of all of our physical needs during our entire career as missionaries. We have had some (unexpected) gifts come in when we had medical trips to Australia.
  • A purposeful job, where we get to see people hearing and reading God’s Word in their own language for the first time.
  • “Fun nights” with our small group, where we have literally laughed all evening.
  • Opportunities to host short term personnel and interns in our project. Each one has left a stone of remembrance with us.
  • Close friends, who have journeyed with us through hard times.
  • Community: I love being able to walk to my close friends’ houses in under 5 minutes! I love having the possibility available to me.
  • Supportive family and friends who have prayed for us.
  • A market where I can buy fresh fruit and vegetables three times a week. I know I am going to miss this!
  • Our PNG friends and colleagues, especially Mama Hana who has been a part of our family since 2002.
  • The wonderful school that our kids go to. It is very common for me to bump into one of my kids’ teachers, who will tell me some little tidbit about that child and I am reminded that we are so blessed by the educators here.
  • The other support workers here–too many to list–who have also been called to serve Bible translation, providing technical, medical, financial, transportation and food services. We couldn’t do our job without them!
  • Teammates. Usually you get who you get and you make the best of it, right? God placed some really gifted (fun) and great friends in our team. Some of them work remotely and some we see often.
  • And finally, I’m grateful for the pace of life here. Sometimes I complain about the lack of opportunities to eat out or have ‘date nights’ with my husband. But I know I will miss the minimalistic life we have here.

It’s my goal to have an attitude of contentment wherever I am. Some days I am able to live that way and other days I sink into self pity pretty quickly. I’m anticipating seeing friends and family who we haven’t seen in four years. I can’t wait for my kids to know their grandparents and also to create some memories with family and friends.

I know from previous furloughs that there will be some reverse culture shock and that there is no way to avoid it, just to walk through it while hopefully not taking myself too seriously. It means being unbalanced and a little crazy at times and giving freedom to my kids to do the same.

Because we’re not shooting for perfection here: just reality.

And sometimes a little bit of sanity.


March 11, 2014

The Difficulty of Living in the Moment

by mendibpng

This week has flown by, with multiple things taking our attention: our son Josiah is in the high school play, the translation office solar system had a huge problem, the airstrip was closed due to the grass not being cut, and we are simultaneously packing for a village stay plus taking care of furlough details for June. On top of that, all of us are in some stage of transition…and some of us are feeling it more than others.

It turns out sleeping can be difficult with so many thoughts and ideas racing around my head. I’ve experienced the ‘stiff upper lip’ (keep going) stage, the meltdown stage, and now the numb stage where there’s still quite a few things to do but a lot of the urgent stuff is done. I sent several pieces of cargo off to our aviation department, and I have my lists of the few things that need to be packed up Sunday night or Monday morning, like toothbrushes and beloved blankies/stuffed animals. I personally struggle with coping with transition a lot more in recent months than I ever have before in my life…I suspect this has to do with being at the end of a long field term and feeling stretched in so many ways, or maybe I’m just getting old?! At any rate, I’m just feeling weary and moving my family towards a big transition is not My Favorite Thing.

The great thing about walking through a rough week is that the blessings end up being very meaningful.

1 A colleague in the U.S. literally spent hours (often in the wee hours of the morning for him while it’s daytime here!) talking with Ben about the solar system crisis. Others here on the ground have also given him input.

2. Noah and Ellie independently created their own costumes for the Annual Book Parade at their school with no help from me or their daddy (We would have helped if they wanted it, but they wanted to do it themselves.) We just showed up and took pictures! They also packed their own clothes and backpacks, as well as helping the twins with theirs.

3. We had four evenings out to see our Josiah’s performance in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ We never tired of seeing him and his brilliant co-actors in the play!
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4. We learned this week that we have furlough housing as soon as we land in Wheaton in July. This means that we won’t have to find a temporary place to live first: a huge blessing for a family of seven about to face a huge transition. On top of that, we have a furlough car booked as well!

5. We added a wall and a couple of doors to our covered driveway, making space for our bikes and other bulky things, which were making it impossible for us to walk through our storage room. Now that the big stuff is out of the way, it’s going to be so much easier to organize everything when we pack up before leaving for a year! Last Saturday Ben and the kids painted it, and it makes us both really happy to see it completed every time we walk by it.

6. One of our children who struggled in a subject area received 100% on a test. The grade itself is inconsequential to me, but the fact that the emotional stress of that subject has reduced is a big blessing. The exceptional teachers teachers and administrators at our school here take great care in their jobs, a fact which is often highlighted by stories our kids tell us when they get home each day.

7. Ben found out on Thursday that they cut the grass on the airstrip for the first time in many months, making it possible for our team to land there (we have many flights going in and out during our village stay!) We have encountered this issue a great many times over the last 12 years, and this is nothing short of miracle!

8. We have five days in our regional town of Wewak as a family to relax a little bit before our translators and their wives arrive. (They are coming to Wewak for our first-ever spiritual retreat!)

9. A friend on home leave wrote me recently with good news. I’m rejoicing with her from afar!

10. My five kids remind me to stay ‘in the moment’…once in a while, I’m on the verge of a meltdown when one of them makes me laugh…just look at this face!

11. I couldn’t resist adding this last one in: this is the view we had flying over the Aiyura Valley yesterday. The thick clouds looked like huge snow drifts, with the mountains peeking up over the top of them! I find that noticing beauty in God’s creation is a huge help in times of transition.

I’ll end with a quote from my favorite transitions writer, William Bridges
“It is ironic to realize that one of the gifts I have received from getting old is the ability to be in the moment. I’ve been trying to learn to do that for the past thirty-five years, but it has been only with the natural slowing down of my mind with the losses I’ve been through that I am starting to find the present moment sufficient in itself. Loss has given me that gift, not by “teaching” me that moments are limited and precious. (That would be learning it the conceptual way.) And the writers I used to read, who urged the same shift in awareness, couldn’t “teach” me that either. It is something that came only with time and with the natural sorting process that goes on after loss. As the mud swirls around in the watery pan, the gold-flakes settle of their own weight. Time doesn’t fly–it swirls, and the moments settle from their own gravity. Without serious loss, the water isn’t agitated enough for that to happen.” (The Way of Transition, p. 206)

I haven’t arrived yet at the same level of contentment that Bridges talks about, but I feel myself moving more and more towards this awareness. I love the metaphor he uses of the gold-flakes swirling about. That’s exactly where I’m at with finding joy in the small and big things this week.

January 21, 2014

Furlough Fever: decisions, transition & adjustment

by mendibpng

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It’s not just the kids who are experiencing emotions and thoughts about furlough. Ben and I are navigating them as well. There’s the plain ordinary side of transition and grief that I can feel beginning to well up. As is often talked about in transition seminars, we haven’t left yet…we haven’t arrived, either, so we’re caught in the middle. I think of it all lumped together as The Great Unknown. Steven and Jocelyn Head, our friends who work with Heartstream ministries (member care to missionaries) explained it to me like this:  it’s as if we are in a river: we haven’t quite put everything behind yet, but we haven’t reached the other side, either. There’s the good expectations, like seeing loved ones who we haven’t seen in years–former missionaries, friends, family, coworkers who are home based. But then we are also leaving our friends behind who understand our life here and have become like family to us. We don’t just live life together in community. We carry each other’s burdens in the hard times, and our friendships are deep. On top of all of these things, I suspect I take goodbyes rather hard because of my history as a TCK (Third Culture Kid).

It doesn’t matter where we go in the world, we will always be missing someone somewhere.

Next, there’s the decisions. As the parental units for our family, we have millions of options weighing on us. Some things can wait, but other decisions need our attention sooner rather than later. How long should we stop over in transit to Chicago? Will anyone live in our house while we are gone? What repairs need to be made in that case? How much traveling can we do as a family without burning ourselves out? Will it be as fun as we anticipate? Where will we live? What will happen with our team while we are gone? Will we hear from our village friends in our absence? What expectations will people have for us once we get to the U.S.?

Finally, there’s the physical adjustments we’ll have to make. Some of them we know will happen since this is our third time to go on furlough or “home assignment;”  however, it doesn’t make them any less shocking.  Some call it ‘reverse culture shock.” Things like: hearing our mother tongue (English) spoken constantly, recovering from jet lag for days, driving on the other side of the road with all the different traffic signs/signals (we only have stop signs here on our center to obey), shopping with a plethora of choices, helping our kids navigate their new world and trying to make sense of the culture that has moved on in our absence (For instance, we don’t own a smart phone yet!) I remember feeling very disoriented for a while after arriving last time, almost a surreal feeling like I had just stepped off the plane from another planet.

The only thing that keeps my insanity at bay is stopping whenever I am starting to feel anxious is to invite Jesus into the center of what I’m thinking about. I have claimed Psalm 23 repeatedly, picturing myself walking hand in hand with him through green pastures. I went there again today when I started thinking about Ben’s 3 1/2 week trip starting tomorrow.

I’m going to quote it from the King James Version because I love the sound of it:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23 King James Version)

After I got to the “surely goodness and mercy” part, I heard God say to me, “put on your banquet shoes.” I shook my head, wondering what on earth that meant. I had that feeling that I was making it up. But then I knew. I’ve been exercising three mornings a week, and during that time it’s just Me and God. No kids needing a drink or snack. Nobody’s bottom to wipe. No phone ringing. No other noise except the two of us (and sometimes worship music). And it all made sense, as these things usually do when He speaks. I need to keep my sacred places intact even in the midst of the unknowns ahead because that’s where God will meet me. Those banquets are where blessings begin to pour out on me, where I can stop thinking about myself and ask Him to replace those self-focused thoughts with desiring Jesus more than I want all my concerns resolved. That’s where he restores me, leads me beside still waters, and is present in my fears and anxieties. I’m still going to have to go through this process over and over again before our departure date of June 25 rolls around, but I know that goodness and mercy is going to follow me the whole way.

“My cup runneth over.”

January 19, 2014

Furlough Fever: TCK thoughts

by mendibpng

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.
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(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:
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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!

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