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! 
                              

Saturday, August 13, 2016

On the beach

I'm standing on the beach. Rosa is asleep in my arms, the waves are rushing in and a cool, gusty breeze carries sounds of my family playing nearby. I lift my face to the sun and enjoy. Reuben is dancing around with his spade, his body reflected in the wet sand. Duncan watches over him, his jeans rolled to the knees, and I wonder what he is thinking. Is he wondering how to freeze time too? 

I love the beach and it occurs to me that I will miss it terribly - that I will miss a lot of things, terribly. And with that the faces of our furlough come, playing like a movie, moving me gently until the salt in the air, is also in my eyes. I am remembering times of connection - of small talk and deep talk, news of birth and news of death, hugs hello followed too soon by hugs goodbye, trying to get that one photo with everyone and trying to leave each one well. 

I can hear Reuben designing an airport in the sand - his imagination evolving with each stroke of the rake and I think of all the new experiences he has had...new foods, launching bottle rockets, watering strawberries, picking cucumbers, feeding a wild bird from his hand, play doh, jigsaws, using a saw (!), soft play, museums, going on the bus, shopping centres, swimming, chips and nuggets, television, going to the zoo, new friends, Octonauts, stickers and family.

It's all coming to an end and suddenly, after eight months, we must go. I push down the sense of panic, sadness, elation and anticipation that are all rushing through me. I close my eyes and the wind blows cold. But then Rosa stirs, Reuben advances bubbling with stories of his creations, wet shorts and sand everywhere and life continues. Loss and hope together - the many faces of furlough, this beach, my daughter in my arms and fresh salt in my eyes. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Enough

We have been in the U.K. since December and have had a busy time. Beautiful baby Rosa joined us in February and we have visited friends, family and supporters around the country as well as welcoming many to our home on Anglesey. Thank you to all who have travelled to us and to all who have hosted us. It has been great to reconnect and share lives again. 

Although we have been back from PNG for what seems like a long time, we seem to have always been in some kind of transition or another and now there are further big changes ahead. Soon we will return to PNG (after a short stint in America where Duncan will have refresher training) where we will continue to serve as support missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators. There are still around 300 languages (out of 800ish) that still do not have any Scripture in their language and we want to help change that in our roles - Duncan as a helicopter pilot and me supporting him from the home front! We believe people need to read the Bible in their own language so that they can make their own minds up about what it's all about. 

With only weeks to go there is much to organise. Whilst Duncan handles all the paperwork and formal side of the preparation, I have to make sure we have what we all need for the next couple of years. I have been slowly amassing things and many have generously given the children clothes and toys. But as I have been doing it and as I now try to review and check what we have, I am bothered by the question of when to stop. When do we reach enough? To be quite honest, I am rather concerned that deep down I think our future happiness and success in PNG depends on whether I have ordered enough stuff from Amazon. I know it doesn't but that's not how I'm acting!

When I look back over our first term in PNG I only encounter memories of needs being met. What we didn't have was provided by friends around us, or sent from home, or did not turn out to be that vital after all. I have blogged before about wanting the best for the children and how we have been repeatedly blessed with exactly that. So what am I worrying about? I think it is because when I look back, I also remember some of the tough times emotionally and it is embarrassing to realise that my inner self still thinks an extra pair of crocs will help in the inevitable future times of challenge. Sigh. 

It's also hard to focus on leaving in the way I think I should be because there are two small people with big needs who fill my day with fun, but also challenges as we navigate potty training, establishing good sleep and eating habits and build relationships between us. I am planning for lots more lovely visitors, cooking, doing laundry and somewhere in all of this I must decide how many pairs of socks my future 4 year old will need and what my husband might like for Christmas the year after next. Many have done this before me and with many more challenges to face, but I'm still struggling to juggle it all and keep everyone happy as we also begin the essential, but difficult process of goodbyes. 

In this rare moment of quiet I feel rather panicked by all that must come in the next few weeks. It would be nice to run away and just magically be in PNG again. Or what would be even better would be to arrive a few months in when friendships have been re-established, the house sorted and the cooking underway. But that isn't how it works. This transition must be lived and lived not just by us, but by those letting us go and those on the other side. But here's the thing - in all this exhausting anticipation I know that these shifting sands are underpinned by a firm path. As we step onto the bridge between our two lives as a family of four for the first time, we can be sure God has us and those we love in each place, in His hands. And that is more than 'enough'.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Christmas in June

Last July we were in Cairns and as we wandered around the shops and looked at all the things it is possible to buy for a baby, we felt overwhelmed! How did we know what Reuben would like to play with this time next year? It was hard to choose and I remember thinking, "We live in PNG, we need to get this right now! Who knows when we will be here again!" In my 'I want my child to have the best of everything' head, it felt like anything less than instant access to a toy shop was a sacrifice.

So fast forward a year and as I have already written about, it's June and some dear friends and neighbours have just returned to their passport countries. I think I established in my last blog that this is a sad time. But this year, we have experienced a very surprising silver lining. The truth is that people who are leaving need to get rid of most of their things and Reuben (and we) have been the recipients of some incredible generosity.

Reuben is now the proud owner of his own little table and chairs, new books, a huge crate of 'Thomas the Tank Engine' Duplo, a box of about thirty cars and a bag of shoes in the next few sizes. I look back at myself feeling sorry for him and laugh. As he played happily with a friend in a muddy ditch this afternoon I laughed again. Covered in mud and grinning from ear to ear he did not look like a child suffering from lack of proximity to shops. So thank you, friends - for your willingness to share toys and things that have been precious to your children and yourselves. You have made a little boy and his parents feel loved by you and by a God who provides in ways we rarely have the faith to imagine.

Friday, June 19, 2015

For Kate

I woke up this morning with a familiar ache spreading across my face. Ah yes, I thought. Of course. From time to time this memory of old tears comes back to remind me that I'm grieving, even when I think I'm doing rather a good job of pretending I'm not.  It is hard not to marvel at how my body tells me what my mind is blocking and I know from experience that this is not a reminder to ignore. Perhaps you think that this is too personal to share with the world, but if you are really interested in what it means to be a missionary then talking about loss is essential.

One of my very best friends left Ukarumpa today and she is not coming back. Before she left, I considered publishing a blank blog. I thought the white space might serve well as a picture of how I feel - empty, unable to find the right words, but also hopeful for possibilities to fill and find. Yet today, having stood in drizzle and watched the plane taking them away disappear, I find that in place of the blankness I thought I would encounter, there is instead a surge of something else. As we said our goodbyes I felt my body literally convulse. Frankly, it was not very British. I barely held it together. It was overwhelming, intense, physical.

Before she left, my friend instructed me not to turn to chocolate and I will obey. So what now? What do I DO? I remember when my brother died, that I turned to a friend and asked her to tell me the procedure. I wanted to know how grief worked and what to expect. In this case, my friend has not died - God willing, I will see her again. But I know enough about different types of losses, to know that the days ahead will be unpredictable and there is no point trying to pretend otherwise. There is no procedure and everywhere there are reminders. My plan is to feel what I feel and try not to be too hard on myself, or those around me - we are all navigating our way though the same sea after all.

Do you know what the best thing is though? As I watched her walk away my arm was linked through the arm of another beloved friend. As I felt the physical wrench of separation, I felt the joy of connection at the same time. How's that for God providing in every moment and in every way?

So...for all the world to read: Kate, you are wonderful. You have lovingly encouraged me through my early days as a missionary and a mother. I will miss you dreadfully, and will pray for you every day as you walk through your new beginnings and beyond. 




Saturday, May 30, 2015

Bugs

Bugs! That had been one thing we had been dreading before going on orientation. All manner of creepy-crawlies to come face-to-face with.

It started off pretty tame ... just an average beetle in the room.


 Then we had to run the gauntlet of this fella to get to the bathrooms.

We tried not to think about where the rest of his family might be!
Back in the room, geckos and small lizards were fairly common, but just outside we found this little guy.

Baby dragon?!
 Oddly enough, in the village the supply of wildlife was no less! We often had small tree frogs come and sit on Reuben's bath.


Their other favourite trick was to come inside our house and be on the ceiling above Trudie (always her for some reason). Then every now and again they'd fall off and make her jump out of her skin!

The greener-coloured tree frog also liked to come and visit...

but I wasn't quick enough with the camera to capture it.