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! 
                              

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'.