Saturday, May 13, 2017

Leaving day

The clouds, still sleepy, are lying low in the valley and the moon is high. We slowly walk round the house, stopping in each room to say goodbye. There is a rush of bags, coats and last things and then we are standing outside in the cool clear morning, waiting. Reuben is very excited about going on the bus and skips around us. It comes. We get on. We go. So simple.

At our small airport we hang about with a group of loyal friends who have come to say goodbye. We discuss the journey, our upcoming holiday, how late to leave it before we go to the bathroom, whether the fog will lift and the weight of the luggage. We take photos. Inside we brace for the parting and when it comes, it is there and gone and then so are we. The small plane's engine drowns out the sound of my crying and in the blur I see our friends waving and Duncan's colleagues all lined up along the tarmac. As we flash by they walk forward, their hands in the air in farewell. Then there is sky and the views below take the rest of my breath.  For a moment I am numb, stuck in sorrow, and then I breathe. Rosa starts wriggling and the rest of the journey is spent wrestling the little ones and trying to help them settle. The day goes by in the throes of travel and then, almost as if by magic, we are in Cairns and I can see the horizon from the window. Our valley walls are down and in all the openness I am finally and quite suddenly overwhelmed by the day. 

So there it is. PNG is once again across the sea. We are facing in another direction and for all those who have encouraged us, there are those who don't understand too. That stings. We so wanted to finish well but we have realised it isn't entirely in our control. We are sorry for that and for pain caused, for things left unsaid and expectations left faltering. It is the same for us. Thank goodness for God, His grace and HIS control over this whole crazy wonderful experience.

For a moment I am numb, stuck in sorrow, and then I breathe. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Wings

saw them! For the first time I really saw them! Walking home a group of small parrots flew out of a tree and I actually saw them. (Forgive the repetition, but I'm so excited!) Usually they are a frustrating blur and then they are gone. They hide in the trees chattering away and even if I stand for ages they evade my view. But today they almost seemed to pause and turn their wings so that the sun caught them in all their glorious technicolor and I truly SAW them. After they had gone I paused to soak in what had just happened and to enjoy the sun on the valley. How beautiful it is here and so full of life to be witnessed in unexpected bursts of motion. 

The beauty is not just in the view though. It's all about people for me. This extrovert has loved living in community. It is true that I have felt culturally isolated and misunderstood at times but those moments are massively outnumbered by deep connections and day to day togetherness. Losing friends and being lost is no fun. I have seen the colour of their wings and they have seen mine. I will not forget friendships that have sprouted from washing up liquid (dish soap), shared experience, proximity and coincidence. There are things that no one else can ever understand. The blend of life that we share is unique. But it is also characterised by constant parting and now it is my turn to go.

The goodbyes have begun in earnest and my heart feels raw. I want to stay. And I want to go. I want to be whole but I shall ever be in pieces. But God is constant and gracious. He is truly beautiful and He has given me more than I could have thought of asking for. 

I shall not forget the parrots. Or the people. Or the broken beauty of this place and this life. Perhaps it will weave into new opportunities to glimpse colourful wings. I truly hope so.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bare walls

The walls are bare and it's thundering outside. Both children are napping and I know I should be doing something. There is something else to clean or pack, or throw away. For you see, we are leaving PNG. 

I close my eyes and try to imagine him. He's 17 and he's reading a book about a missionary pilot. His heart starts to beat faster. His eyes drink in the words. The floppy hair flops forward and right in that moment everything changes because he knows. Hundreds of miles south I am blissfully ignorant that my future is also forming from the words on that page. It is the beginning of so much.

So what do you do when God takes your dream, makes it real and then shows you that it is part of another beginning you hadn't thought of? What do you do when He redirects you so emphatically that you cannot but walk through the doors He has opened even though to do so creates such a whirlwind of mixed emotions you feel exhausted? For those of you who don't do God stuff, I'm not sure how to explain it any other way. You thought we were mad anyway. 

The lived dream has been beautiful, broken, surprising and transformative. We are irrevocably changed. We are not returning to the UK because we are angry, in trouble or unwell. We still believe that the work of Bible translation is vital in both senses of the word. We have seen it change lives and communities. We have witnessed God's power in this incredible country and we will carry it all with us forever. We are grateful to have been here, to have loved and been loved. What we thought was fact finding research into the helicopter job market in the UK for use a few years in the future became an application to learn from, which led to an interview and a job flying helicopters with the Wales Air Ambulance. God is a God of surprises! And adventure. And hope. And new dreams that remember old ones and are thankful.

We have walked through the jungle at dusk and now it's time to come home. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Not my classroom

Of course it has to be the 'Paw Patrol' shorts and yellow 'Thomas' t-shirt. It's rained fairly constantly for the last two days so they are a little bit damp, but the sun is out to shine on this first morning of school and he is delighted to wear his favourite clothes. I chase him round the house attempting to apply sun cream, direct him to the bathroom, make sure he has drunk some water and hasn't hidden any toys in his backpack. At last, I pull him onto my lap and as he wriggles with bubbly excitement, I pray. Dear Lord, thank you for precious Reuben. Please bless this first morning of school...He plants a kiss on my cheek and I feel tears prick. It's only two mornings a week for goodness sake, but it's the beginning of everything too. It's only pre-school but it's the start of a long journey that I just know will be packed with stories. There is no only about this. 

Unusually, he pauses patiently to grin for photos in all the right places and only then do I realise that he too is aware that this is a special moment. As we walk up and down rocky roads slick with mud and the odd dead frog, I am struck by the fact that this is hardly a normal beginning. Whatever normal is. Here it won't matter if he arrives with muddy knees and of course, we do. To begin with he holds my hand as we plod up the hill, but as we reach the top he lets go and dances ahead all the way down to the school. He is literally quivering with joy as he skips, but he must be nervous too. You wouldn't know it though as he kicks off his crocs and hangs his dinosaur backpack (a present from Granny) on a peg that has his name above it. He rushes off to greet friends and I am left at the door. The teacher assures me I may go in and watch these first moments but I know that this is not my classroom. He reappears briefly to give me a kiss and a wave and I go. I remember discussing this with him. 
"Will you leave me mummy?" 
"Yes my darling, but I will come back." 
"You will come back?" 
"Yes."
Yes. With all my heart. 

On the way home, back up the big hill that Reuben has just hurtled down, Rosa snuggles into me and I look out across the valley. It is a gorgeous morning. Sun after dreary rain. A welcome breeze and the promise of my precious son's future in my thoughts. It's all in God's hands. 

                                

     

     

                                


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sounds of Life

An alarm that is hurriedly hushed. Whispered goodbyes. Footsteps trying to be quiet and a door closing. His motorbike engine fading into the dark. Quiet again and then the birds, some so insistent that their voices rise in a crescendo of excitement. Perhaps some dogs and the sound of thick tyres on dusty rocks. Maybe the rain. And then the rustling, snuffling of awakening and a squeak. A happy sigh as tired arms reach for eager ones and the joyous scramble for food. Gentle sucking, happy sighing and of course, a burp. Now comes more rustling from behind the wall. "I want to wake up!" The sound of my assent and the rush of footsteps thundering out of bed. And so it begins - the chattering, laughing, cajoling, whining, chattering, whining, giggling, shouting, whispering, chattering, laughing symphony of the day. In the background the washing machine grinds, the bread machine thuds, clean dishes clink as they make it into the cupboard, soap sloshing round dirty cereal bowls, toys joyously dumped, floorboards squeaking, the rhythmic swish of the brush as I sweep away crumbs. Then the rush of leaving, shoes on, the excited skip of feet on the path and squeals at the sight of a friend. The adults speak low so the little ones don't hear as we tell stories of their exploits. Instead they giggle and shove, bustle and push. The sound of life at high pitch, full on, full tilt, full. The click of the nursery gate, snotty kisses and my feet sliding on wet grass as they try not to rush away. Sweet sighs from the little one relaxing into her morning nap, door closing and brief quiet. My finger tapping on the iPad screen, clothes pegs pinging and jumping on the line, a whoosh of parrots' wings, their chatter and a shouted hello to a friend walking by. Footsteps on the verandah and another language spoken. Stories of family, life and death, sorrow and joy, needs and hopes. My screen door closing and water running in the sink. Sometimes the sound of sitting, of silence, maybe of prayer. Sometimes, depending on the day, of tears for the stories just heard, for far away faces or just for release. But then there is the getting up again, the brushing away, the little one waking and the rest of the day coming.

Later there will be more - the beat of the helicopter returning, the grind of his motorbike engine getting louder and the creak of the shed door. Heavy boots on the path, excited children and greeting. His face brushing mine, stories of the day and togetherness drenched with squealing, chattering, laughing, bath time splashing, bed time praying and finally gentle breathing and doors closing. So many sounds. So much vibrant living. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The little things

Ants. Let's just say I hate them. They bring out the absolute worst in me. There are just so many varieties and my house has enough cracks and holes to welcome them all. When we first moved to PNG, a friend advised me to let my ant anger go - it's a battle you will never win she said. She was right, but I have not let it go.

We have been back in PNG for nearly two weeks now and I'm already being reminded that it's the little things (literally in this case!) that get me down. I hate ants because I think their presence means I haven't cleaned. But here the ants have unusual (as well as usual) tastes. They like water, lettuce, sweat...I think they just like going for a walk, having a look round, saying hi. I hate it when they walk across the baby's mattress, when they are in the kitchen or on the sofa or on my face. They refuse to leave no matter how rude I am to them. 

It is true that I hate ants but I realise too that they represent a target at which I can aim general frustration. My reaction to discovering some is usually a good barometer of how I'm doing. When we were in the UK we went on holiday in the Lake District. The place we were staying in had an ant problem and I, well I freaked out. They were big and black and they were walking around the kitchen. I was shocked by the vehemence of my desire to have them instantly eradicated. Inside I was thinking, 'THERE ARE NO ANTS IN ENGLAND. THIS CANNOT BE!' Looking back, this is rather funny, but at the time I was genuinely unsettled and distressed. When I discussed it with Duncan, he said he was surprised by how strongly I reacted too but as we talked about it we were able to recognise it as a symptom of transition. It wasn't and isn't really about the ants (although I do still hate them). I have accepted that ants are not only a problem in PNG, that neither of my 'homes' is without significant challenges, and that I must stop trying to make things perfect, without flaws, without ants. 

As we stepped off our final flight we were met by friends. We felt loved and wanted. In the joyful rush of return I did not think about ants. We soaked up the welcome and did not dwell on the little things that can make life hard here. Now I am reminded again, I can't pretend that they don't exist. In fact it is better that I admit it and develop strategies for coping. It's not going to be perfect, but it is already wonderful anyway  - ants and all - to be back. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chairs

Outside, the sky is completely clear and although the air conditioning is trying its hardest, it cannot not cut through the hot afternoon rays of North Carolina sun bursting through the window. But the chair is comfortable and the baby sleeps in my lap and so I sit on. These special times are when I think and now I am thinking about this chair and more importantly, who has sat in it. 

We are at JAARS in Waxhaw, North Carolina. It is an organisation that exists to facilitate Bible translation by offering practical services such as aviation training, which is why we are here. Duncan is receiving refresher training before we return to PNG in a few weeks.

Four years ago, I was sitting very close to here, but I was alone. We had a smaller apartment around the corner, so the view we have here is similar but from a different angle. Oh how true that seems of life now too! Back then, Duncan was gone during the day learning to be a missionary pilot and I was struggling to imagine how we had got to this point! We were headed to Papua New Guinea to work as a teacher and a pilot and we had little idea of what lay ahead. Whilst we were here people poured encouragement and love into our hearts. We learned a great deal and when we were in PNG, I lost count of the number of times I thought back to it and tried to apply what we had been taught. Now we are here again, but this time we have lived and worked in PNG for three years - we have friends and a life there - and Reuben and Rosa are with us. As I write that, I am struck afresh by how completely and utterly amazing that is! If I had known when I sat at our kitchen table in the apartment round the corner four years ago, that I would sit here now, I would...well I'm not sure at all what I would have said. Having these weeks here is a powerful reminder of God's blessing and just when I needed to hear it. For you see, even though we have come through so much and seen God work mightily, I still let fears creep into my heart. 

Rosa is stirring a little. She lets out a sigh and I try not to laugh at the intensity of her seriousness! She is so, so precious and I suddenly feel fiercely protective and uncertain that we are doing the right thing in returning to PNG. I wonder if others who have sat in this chair have felt the same niggling doubts or if I am alone in the lack of trust department. I suspect I am not. I decide to get brave and instead of pressing the fears down, I take each one and talk to God about it. The air conditioning whirrs as I lay out my anxieties. Once again, I have a feeling that many, many people have sat here doing this and that they, like me, wonder at the graciousness of serving a God who will listen. 

My mind flicks back to my chair at the kitchen table in the apartment round the corner. I cried a lot at that table. I was grieving for a life we were giving up, hopes we were laying down - I was trying to acknowledge the losses we were about to face so that we could step forward healthy. But I got too consumed in the loss and nearly forgot the gain. But God picked me up and sent me anyway. The truth is that God has given us much more than we could have hoped for - and I don't just mean the children. And yet I fear for them?! They are His. THEY ARE HIS. And so are we. 

It has been so wonderful to reconnect with friends here at JAARS and to sit in their chairs! We feel refreshed by this place in between our homes and by the God who has given us this space. Thank you, JAARS...PNG...ready or not, we are coming!