Monday, September 29, 2014

Are my children pre- or post- grievers? Or...The art of saying goodbye.

I recently posted a blog that explained I am a post-griever. You can read it here 

A couple of weeks ago a friend of Liam’s left for furlough. I didn’t think he was that affected. He saw this friend at school but didn’t spend that much time with him outside of that. But, yesterday he announced he was going to make a card for this friend to send to him in America. Then he said he also wanted to make a card for another friend “for when she goes to America too.” That’s when I realized Liam is already aware of his own feelings of loss and finding ways to deal with it.
As our own family gets closer to our own departure from the place we, and more particularly our children (they have lived in PNG now more than half their lives), call home; I have been pondering what is my children’s grief going to look like and how can I help them process it?

We all experience good-byes. The impact and our ability to verbalize and process these goodbyes vary widely based on many factors including our age and mental well-being at the time. Jesus experienced goodbyes the same as us. In Joyce Rupp’s book Praying Our Goodbyes she writes:
“He, [Jesus] too, had many moments when he felt pulled apart, knew the hurt of leaving behind, felt the emptiness that comes with deep loss. Jesus was not spared the ache and the struggle of letting go.  He knew the price of goodbyes.”

As our MK children grow, they will experience more goodbyes than their non-MK peers. My hope is that I will be able to learn the art of saying goodbye like Jesus so that I can teach and help my children to do the same. I don’t know yet whether they will be post- or pre-grievers but either way I am determined to be there with them, if they want me, so that they won’t feel they are alone in their grief.

Liam, at least right now, shows signs of being a post-griever like me. He doesn’t seem that bothered or sad before his friends leave. But, his melancholy and upset words and attitudes a week, two weeks and even sometimes a month afterwards speaks differently. Those words and attitudes say, “I miss them. I am sad. I am looking forward to when I see them again, but I am unsure when that will be. That uncertainty makes me a little sad and frustrated.”
He certainly is not that verbally articulate, neither is his brother for that matter. Nor will they be when it is our turn to depart. In fact, I anticipate that in addition to these emotions, they will also be wrestling with thoughts similar to, “I am worried I won’t have friends in America. What if no one likes me? What will happen to the friends and things I leave behind?”

I write these things now to not only remind myself but to also ask you who read this, and will be part of our lives when we are in America, to please be aware of how hard this will be for them. After the novelty of the new place wears off, they will go through a period of missing their friends and home. And when they do, they will likely be more grouchy, tearful and generally unpleasant from time to time.

They will be little boys who have had to say goodbye to all that is familiar and home them. And they have a mom who is only just learning how to do this well herself. Thank you in advance for graciousness and patience.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Positive, positive, positive

After my last posting I felt the need to focus on some of the very positive and wonderful things about living here in PNG.

1.   Friends: Both for the boys and for Evan and I. We have settled into Ukarumpa life and have a close-knit network of some incredible friends who have become like family.
Miss Alice our regular babysitter and our friend with granddaughter Liz
"Aunt" Jessica and "Aunt"Narelle

Andrew Kwimberri



2.       The wondrous and diverse creation of God: We have enjoyed hikes, swimming, snorkeling, off-road motorcycling (even we are on the road it qualifies as off-road as there is little pavement.), and observing wildlife of varied kinds, amongst other things since we arrived in-country.

3.       Seeing and contributing to the effort of getting God’s word into the hands of people, in their heart language for the first time. Looking forward to our first ever Bible dedication on the 27th of September. Pictures and blog to follow!

4.       Fresh veggies and Fruit. Our local market supplied from villages surrounding us offers a plethora of yummy and diverse foods year-round.

I am grateful to God who chose this path for our lives. Thanks to my parents for some of these pictures.

Finishing Well

Over the last couple of months, I have been really struggling with what we term as “finishing well”. Finishing well means to be in the moment right up until you leave the country, to not be daydreaming all time about when you get to [fill in your passport country], how much better it is going to be. Because the truth is no matter where you are, Satan will try to kill, steal and destroy every good thing. And you are called to be here, therefore you owe it to God and to yourself to serve with your whole heart right to the last day in-country. I know this and trying to practice it, even going to the extent of sharing my struggle with our very supportive Bible Study. Despite my effort I found myself, after Evan reported the latest in a recent conflict between two language groups, putting my head in my hands and saying “I wish we could all go with you to Thailand because that means we leave here a month earlier.”.

I don’t write much about certain aspects of our life here in the Eastern Highlands Province (EHP) of Papua New Guinea (PNG) for various reasons. One of the most prominent is that frankly, if I did it would scare some of you. You would begin to question why we have our children here and such like.
So, I will start by stating some points. Yes, PNG is sometimes a dangerous place to live. Everywhere Evan and I have lived with and without our children has been sometimes dangerous to live in too. We both believe that the best place for our family is under the umbrella of God’s will regardless of where that is geographically. We believe us living and serving in PNG is God’s Will. That does not mean we live as if nothing bad could ever happen to us. If we ever felt that our lives were in true immediate danger we would not hesitate to do anything in our power to get away from that danger.

I also want to reiterate (as I state in the “About me” section of this blog) that the words that are expressed herewith are mine and mine alone. They are not to be affiliated with any other person or group.

First I will start with some general things that contribute to my almost daily prayers to God that He help me to be joyful in my day and His light here in PNG.

1.  Theft and other destructive behaviors: We, thankfully, have never had even an attempted break-in of our home. Probably aided by the fact we have a very large German Shepherd in our yard. However, we have some friends here who have had repeated successful or attempted break-ins of their homes, things stolen off their wash-lines (that only happened once to us) and other wanton persecutions that make me at one time angry and heartsick for the salvation of this nation.

2. “Askims” – a pidgin word meaning someone asking for money or favors because they claim to have some kind relationship with you, but in reality it usually is someone who is being lazy or irresponsible and they want a quick buck from the “rich” white person.

3.  No vehicle – My four-wheeler has been out of commission since April because the parts have to come from overseas. Which means weeks of waiting only to discover that while that part was broken, there is another part or two that also needs to be replaced that you didn’t discover until the first part was replaced…) On the positive side all the walking is good for my health. And it will help me to even more grateful for my “wheels” when they are fixed. However, it makes me more reliant on other people and in general restricts my movements because I cannot always go somewhere walking that I could go if I was on or in a vehicle.

4.  Unpredictable and limited hours for all business activities: A regular schedule goes something like this: Monday – Wednesday and Fridays all departments (includes: store, hardware counter, post office are open 9-Noon and open again (mostly) 1-4 (except for those things like finance (where we get our cash) and the post office service window which are only open in the mornings) Thursdays they are open at 9:30 or whenever the department finishes devotions. Of course, if someone is retiring/leaving, there is staff meetings or trainings that need to be done we will usually be told the night before that it will open late or close early. Then there are the periodic stock-takes which close the department for a week or so. When on top of this, it takes my entire morning to accomplish three errands, I get a little graceless about the lack of time-awareness that is PNG culture. How I long for a place that is open when it is advertised to be open and is open on a weekend at all.

5. Having “things” (medical, vehicle, house issues, or trips or…) come up that we just don’t have the money for because we have never been funded to the point where we can save a whole lot (plus we have had partners end their regular support in the last few months) and we have to appeal for more. Sometimes it is just hard for me to not be a little wistful for the time when Evan was making enough we had savings and IF we needed some extra that month he could work a little overtime. Here he works overtime A LOT and our income is always the same…right on the edge between making it and not.

Those are some of the things that have contributed to the wrestling in my mind and heart over finishing well during the last few months. Now a conflict has arisen that is making the struggle even harder.

Two of the largest language groups in PNG are fighting and it doesn’t look like it is going to end anytime soon. All because of someone throwing stones at a passing PMV. This kind of idiocy is making me very frustrated and grief-stricken. Frustrated because it makes it even more difficult to function in the day-to-day. Grief-stricken because this lunacy shows the kind darkness that has this country gripped. It is why we are here of course, but where is the light at the end of the tunnel?
There has always been tribal tensions, fighting, killing (often in the form of “pay back killings” – meaning someone in your group has done something to someone in our group therefore we will find ANY person from your group and seek our revenge….). Laws of course have come into effect at different times in hopes of curbing this kind of stupid behavior. Because that is what it is, setting aside the morality of murdering another human being, going back and forth killing people (think Hatfields/McCoys or Capulet/Montague  on a country-wide scale) rather than resolving things in a sane and mature manner.

No, not every National does this. In fact there are plenty who deplore the mindset. We are friends with several who are among the most intelligent, Godly and amazing people we have EVER met. But, mob mentality and a few thousand years of tradition very often outweighs a calm, well-thought out response.

The common way to get around the country is in public transport vans or trucks known as PMVs. They run from all over and depending on how far you want to go, you pay accordingly. One such PMV was traveling from Mt. Hagen to Lae last week. On the way through Kainantu (our closest tiny town), they picked up a passenger. For reasons unknown, a drunk man threw some stones at the vehicle. The passengers from Mt Hagen then realized one of the passengers was from Kainantu, blamed him for the drunk man’s actions and proceeded to torture him until he died somewhere along the road to Lae. When they reached Lae they dumped the body at the morgue. Another passenger from Goroka stayed with the body and went through the dead man’s phone until he contacted a family member.

The shockwave that has followed these actions, riot and destruction in Kainantu, road blocks (they are stopping all passing PMVs and making people speak in their tok ples (the language of their tribal group to determine if they belong to one of the offending groups), burning of PMVs…
Since this feud involves the largest and seventh largest language groups in the country (out of approximately 800) it could go on for a very long time and result in many more deaths.

I wish for no more deaths, for cooler, more rational heads to prevail and for peace to come again to the valley. I love this country and its people and pray for peace and joy to reign. I wish to only have my “daily struggles” to bring before God.

For those who wish for it, below is a link to a news story about the above.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Went to post and realized this never got posted for some reason. So quite late here it is...

So much has happened since I last blogged I have been advised the only way to tackle this is to just write snapshots if you will of various times that stand out as they come to mind regardless of time sequencing.

A little background. Evan came to Papua New Guinea for the first time in 2004. He went through the Pacific Orientation Course in Madang as all new Wycliffe people do. But, since he was only with Wycliffe Associates are not required to do the full 14 week course, but only a 6 week course. However, Evan wanted to do the 14-week course, which he did. The full course includes a 5 week stay in a village in the area. This helps the participate to learn Melanesian pidgin (the trade language) and to gain a better understanding of the culture and people of Papua New Guinea. Over 80% of the population lives in villages. The village Evan was allocated to a place called Bagame. It is basically a village made up of members of one family and their spouses and children.

At that time one of the sons, Charlie, as single and close in age to Evan, so Evan lived with him. Through Evan’s willingness to work, participate, learn and laugh he became a part of their family. When he left after 5 weeks they held a traditional sing-sing to say goodbye.
A sing-sing is similar to a luau. There is a large feast, dancing, singing, story-telling…in short it is a great time. At this sing-sing Charlie wrote a song for Evan and they cried and said goodbye as if they would never see him again.

Evan stayed in PNG for another year and then returned to the US with the intention of returning as soon as possible. He then met me…fast-forward about 9 years.

We have returned as a family to Papua New Guinea. During our time in America Evan has talked about returning “home” and wanting to reconnect with all the people who loved him and he loved. Since I am new to the country we are going through the POC course again as a family. Evan is there primarily as a help to me, but learns a lot too. When it comes time for our village assignments we both talk about how neat it would be if we ended up being close to his old host family village (Bagame) so we could visit. We get assigned, drumroll….a village a mere 2 miles down the road from Bagame! One week before we go, Evan is in town gathering supplies, and runs into Charlie. He is able to tell him that he and his family are going to be in a near-by village next week and Charlie is so happy he says when we can to send a message to them that we are coming to visit and they will have a sing-sing for us.

So, the day we go to our village assignment, we stop at the last place before ours to drop off some other students. Waiting there is an older woman who turns out to Charlie’s mom (Evan’s wasmama) she see’s Evan and instantly recognizes him, despite it being almost 10 years  and Evan’s hair (both head and facial) being different and starts to cry. She hugs him tightly, and then when she is introduced to me she says “pikinini bilong mi!” (my child) and hugs me and kisses me. She then turns to the boys and calls them booboos (slang for grandchildren or grandparent). She takes Julien into her lap (he is asleep) and carries him the rest of the drive to our village. Hugging me the whole time too.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we are planning to go to Bagame. However, plans change when I come down with Dengue fever and Julien becomes ill again (some of you know his saga of being ill while at POC) and it is decided the two of us must be taken out of the village to recoup. Evan and Liam go anyway, have a wonderful time but are asked to come again when I am back and well as they are disappointed I and Julien are not there. Evan and Liam are bilas-ed. (decorated). Liam gained the nickname “muscleman” because of his habit of walking as if he had large muscles emulating super-heros. They let him play the kundu drum and he danced like a madman making everyone laugh with joy.

When I returned about a week later, we went again. This time we were told it was a celebration for me, as it was the first time I visited.  

As we walked up the road the family came out and ushered us to the “front entrance” of the village where they had hung flowers and they sang and danced a welcoming song that Charlie had written.
Then after we had rested and eaten a little and drank kulaus (green coconuts) I was ceremonially painted and dressed in traditional costume. Charlie’s wife Joyce gave me a shirt that was hers so that I would always remember her. She had me take off my top and put it on which was interesting. She didn’t even blink with all the men standing around asking me to strip to my bra. Of course she was wearing nothing on top BUT her bra so I guess it’s all relative J.
Then she and other ladies there taught me some dances. Evan got video. I look pretty silly but we were laughing and having a great time. Joyce called me her sister and that I was to go back to America and tell them all about her, my “crazy PNG sister Joyce”. We were also given two bilums made from natural fibers and the grass skirt (purpur) that I wore, made especially for me by the mama. Also, Liam was given all the shell and boar’s teeth bilas he was wearing and the malu (men’s ceremonial loincloth) he was wearing. Then we had a feast.
Joyce, Charlie and their daughter walked us most of the way back to our village. When they turned back their daughter cried and cried for us.
Joyce and Charlie's daughter with Liam

Me and Joyce dancing, Charlie is in the background

And then when were being picked up to return to the training center wasmama, Joyce, Charlie and their daughter all came to say goodbye. Mama cried again and hugged us like she would never see us again. We have promised to return and visit when we can.  

Living with transition and letting go of Chiang Mai

A year ago Evan and I went to a visiting member care (ie counseling, respite, anything related to helping missionaries live and not have breakdowns or burnouts) ministers Jocelyn and Stephen Head to talk about the year and how it has affected our family. During the course of our conversation we came to realize that this last year or even the last two years haven’t been our only examples of transition in our lives.

Basically, as Stephen and Jocelyn pointed out, we have been in an almost constant state of transition for the past 6 years (our entire marriage). The very fact of us getting married is a point of transition. We went from living apart to living together, we moved to a different town, I was no longer in school, no longer had a job (and continued to not have one for over a year)…then we moved into our first home, had our first child, were accepted into Wycliffe Membership, began fundraising, went to various trainings, had another child, went to more trainings, grandparents passed away (two of mine within months of us leaving to come to PNG), had to sign our house back to the bank, lived with friends, the list goes on and on and that is BEFORE coming here.

Since that time we have continued to go through transitions. Everyone experiences transitions; perhaps we all think ours are the most acute. Constant adjustment is the lot of missionaries. However, just because something is always present, doesn’t mean it is always easy to deal with. 

As parents of Missionary Kids (MKs), watching out for your children’s mental, emotional and spiritual well-being trumps looking after your own.

Evan started his manager position back in April. This was quite a change for us.  Additionally, in the last few months we have had a few partners drop financial support. We are also anticipating some more discontinuing as we finish our term here in Papua New Guinea. Every month we are very close to the line being able to pay our fixed expenses or not. To that end, we have tightened our belts as much as we can. Frankly, some days I feel like an Edwardian lady. Never mind SAVING for anything. Hence, the appeal for the money for Evan to go to Thailand for the training. As I have been really trying to focus on making sure the family, especially the kids are okay, I am doing a bull-dozer of a job over my own life. And probably not always being as kind and patient as I should be.
A few days ago I realized I was waking up every morning with my jaw tightly clenched. This is something that started doing when overly stressed when we were still in the US. Most of the time during the day I am aware enough to keep my teeth a little apart so I don’t clench. But when I am sleeping I can’t control it. I realized in doing some journaling (something I don’t do often but when I do it usually helps to clarify and organize my thoughts and feelings) that morning, that it wasn’t just our monthly money woes causing me to clench my jaw. It was also me dealing with the idea of letting go of being able to travel with Evan to Thailand. Because, let’s face it, $3,500 is a LOT easier to come up with than $8,500. At least in human terms, I fully acknowledge anything can be accomplished if God wills it.

Ultimately, the training is for Evan and I don’t NEED to go.
I do WANT to go. Our friends the Cheeseman’s are there and it would be great to see them again, who DOESN’T want to visit Malaysia and Thailand, I would be able to get yummy take-out food on weekends and during the week someone else would be cooking for three weeks, and I would be able to process leaving PNG and re-entering America BEFORE I get there. I have discovered through various comings and goings over the last couple of years, I am a “post-griever”. Meaning I get through events and transitions, leave places and THEN I cry and process through.

ANYWAY, the point is, I came to the realization that perhaps God is going to use this as another molding experience. An experience where I have to let go of the hurt and jealousy over Evan being able to go to Thailand and I having to stay in Ukarumpa for almost four weeks (4 days to travel there and 3 weeks of training) on my own with the kids. Processing on my own in the midst of it all.

I always thought I was destined to be a wife and mom. I guess I never really thought about WHERE I would be doing those things. I guess I thought it wouldn’t matter, but as I have lived here and felt over and over a failure at the things I thought I was supposed to just be able to gracefully do (since I was called to be this right?) I have come to realize I had set expectations for how it was supposed to be and how it was all supposed to look and that is just not possible, for me, here. Solo travel, other family members taking care of the kids for the day or weekend, eating out, take-away, expendable name a few things that I must have unconsciously thought would always be a part of my life, and they aren’t going to be. And, well, I just have to get over it. And it will take some time and some hurting from all the stretching and letting go, but I am beginning to accept and adjust my expectations. I have spent so long here going from crisis to crisis and transition to transition I haven’t really had the time to fully process through what is hindering me and hurting my family. And what I need to do and ask for, to help me.  But I am starting to understand now; growing in God and in life. Ultimately, I think I will be able to finish well our first term here and I am already looking forward to our return more than a year away. And for that I am happy and content.