Unexpected Gifts

When I left Papua New Guinea I received many gifts.  Most of them were bilums which are traditional bags, and in our area they are made with hand rolled fibers.  This is a laborious process and I was blessed by each bag I received that represents a relationship with an individual or a whole family.  I also received some other gifts but one in particular stands out.  One of my co-workers presented me with a spoon but this spoon came with apologies.  He had hand-carved a large, beautiful spoon out of dark wood but was sorry that it wasn’t a bilum.

IMG_0528Now that I am back in the US, I still am grateful for my pile of beautiful bilums and all the memories but it is the spoon that lives on my stove.  My husband used it yesterday to stir chorizo while we were making breakfast.  And each day that I see it, I am reminded of PNG and my sweet co-worker who apologized for the gift that I now use the most.

This gift is also a reminder to me that sometimes what I think isn’t right or good enough, is actually wonderful and often more than ok.  I’m very hard on myself and most of the time assume the worst in a selfish way.  For example, if you text me that we need to talk, my mind immediately thinks that I did something wrong or you’re mad at me.  You could have good news to share or have some important prayer request that’s personal to you but unfortunately that’s not what I would think of first.  In conversations I’m often worried more about what the other person thinks of me instead of concentrating on the topic.  I worry that people aren’t comfortable or are noticing the mess when they visit my house.  I think that my husband doesn’t like the meal (despite taking seconds!) just because it isn’t his new favorite of all time.  And when I give gifts, I worry if people will actually like them.

Whew.  That list isn’t even exhaustive but enough confessions.  This isn’t about my insecurities, it’s about a great spoon.  The unexpected gift that came with an apology.  It’s the gift that reminds me that it’s ok that something isn’t perfect or what everyone else would do, it’s often ok.  And more often than not, even better.

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Singleness: How to Encourage and Not Discourage

I’ve been married all of two months and a day.  Ryan and I are both still pinching each other because we really don’t believe it.  We’re also still battling through all the changes that take place when you start living with someone who you’ve given your heart, your life and your future to.  It’s not all rose petals and fairy dust but there is a lot of laughter even during the tears and our vows and commitment to each other keep us holding hands.

Although marriage changes pretty much everything, Ryan and I both hope to remain sensitive to singleness.  We realize that just because we’re married doesn’t make us experts in how to find a spouse.  And it definitely doesn’t make us marriage experts.  I had a lot of advice pre-marriage but I am especially thankful for the advice that was conflicting but completely sincere.  This is an important reminder that all marriages are different and we have to find our way together.

And that’s kind of a long introduction to my main point that comes from a blog entry called What Not To Tell Single Girls (And some things you should do.) This is a good article (click on the title and it will take you to it so you can read it for yourself) that elaborates on why certain platitudes said mainly to single women (although I am sure some single men have heard them too) are not helpful nor edifying.  I think that her words can be an encouragement to singles but also a call to those who are not single to watch our words.

So in that spirit I want to respond to her six points with observations now on this side of marriage.  It’s not too long that i’ve forgotten what it is like to be single but my perspective has definitely shifted.

1. “I know the Lord has someone special for you.”

This is just not true unless that someone special is Jesus.  Yes, God could have a spouse in mind for that person but he may also have a plan that includes a beautiful, fulfilled life as a single.  Do not lie to single people.  It doesn’t make anyone feel better.

When people would say this to me I remember thinking- How do you know?  I don’t know if God has someone in mind for me so how could you possibly know?

What did actually help me was the reminder that God is sovereign.  2 years ago with no Ryan even close to the picture and even now that I am married- I need to constantly remind myself that God is sovereign even if I had never dated again and God is sovereign even though i’m married.  That is the truth.

2. “You’re just so great; guys are intimidated by you.”

This point is definitely one to read from the other author.  She points out that this is emasculating to guys and not helpful to women either.

I heard this a lot and I took it as a challenge.  I wanted a husband, not a puppy.  But I did date a lot of guys who would have followed me around like a puppy.  That was not God’s plan and in his grace he provided me with a husband who is not intimidated and also not overbearing.

I can’t really explain it but somehow God provided me with a man who lets me be strong while at the same time loving and encouraging my vulnerability with him.  I’m still observing this and trying to figure out how it even works but I know that it’s beautiful.

3. “The Lord is preparing both of you.”

Ok so this point may actually be true in some ways but it is definitely not helpful for a single to hear.  And getting married is not about being perfect and ready.  Praise God or we would all still be single.

God was preparing Ryan and God was preparing me.  Now that we are married he hasn’t stopped preparing us.  God is still working in us individually and now he gets to work in us together as well.  This will continue.  It’s a process called sanctification.

4. “He’ll come when you least expect it.” 

Could be true but was not true for me.  I was expecting it.  Each time I went on a date I was wondering if this was the guy.  Each time I updated my online dating profile, I thought about what I would need to write to interest the one who would marry me.  I thought on my first date with Ryan, “This could work”.  I, of course, didn’t say that to him but I was thinking it.  I had no idea how it would unfold but I was anticipating each step.

If I wasn’t married to Ryan, each new guy at church, each random encounter at the grocery store, each new seat mate on an airplane, I would still be waiting, anticipating.  I’m not ashamed.  I wanted to be married.

So maybe this isn’t the most healthy outlook but that’s where I was.  I was living my life with my eyes wide open and my heart was waiting.  This could have been disastrous if I had met a smooth talking liar who was good at telling me what I wanted to hear.  But by God’s grace I met a man with character and an amazing heart.

If I could go back I would tell my single self that it’s ok to anticipate and it’s ok to hope.  And just because a guy is over 6’4 doesn’t mean he’s perfect for you:-)

5. “Enjoy this season of singleness.  You have so much freedom to adventure and find out who you are.”

Yes!  Enjoy this season of singleness but don’t tell singles to do that.  I enjoyed being single but that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to be married.  These aren’t mutually exclusive.

There is also a part of this that comes in how it is said.  Is the married person unhappy in their marriage?  I have a divorced friend who continually reminded me that being single was better than an unhappy/unhealthy marriage.  This was actually a good reminder for me to be careful who I was choosing.

And now to that other part: the freedom to adventure and find out who you are.

First of all, the adventure for Ryan and I didn’t stop with marriage, it just changed.  And everything superficially I thought I knew about who I am is also going through the spin cycle and becoming something different.  Marriage changes things.

But the core remains.  The other author hit the nail on the head with this.  She writes:

“I also probably will never find the end to finding out about myself. If I did, I would think myself pret-ty boring. I am the daughter of the Most High, the Great I AM. You know why I love His name? Because He is. He IS kind. He IS good. He IS just. He IS mercy. He IS jealous. He IS patience. He IS love. He IS truth. He IS. We cannot find an end to Him… Why would the Creator of it all make us so finite that we could find an end to ourselves? Science has not even found an end to us biologically. The matter of the heart has not yet been tackled. So HOORAY for never finding an end of myself or of God and ALWAYS living a life a discovery and adventure!!!!”

Those words can remain true whether single or married.  Amen.

6. “Enjoy this season of singleness.  It is a special time with the Lord.”

Once again, Yes! But don’t say this to singles.  It is not helpful or encouraging.  I am so thankful for all the special time I had with the Lord as a single.  I am also thankful that God does not revoke the special times with him now that I am married.  They are both special, both worth celebrating and both are possible and lovely.

Adding Ryan into my relationship with God has been a very challenging thing for me.  God and I were getting along just fine together.  I knew (but was still constantly learning) how to talk to God, listen to God, commune with God and worship God.  But then this man came into my life who is not Jesus and who is definitely not God.  But he wanted to be a part of this relationship and became a part of it when we said “I do”.  I’m still struggling, learning and stretching as we figure out how this whole being-one-thing works when it comes to communion and relationship with God.  Ryan and I now have our own time to be with God but we also have time to commune, worship and pray together.  It’s part of the great mystery of becoming one and it’s good but it’s by no means easy.

Prayer and Encouragement

The author ends with an exhortation for people to encourage and pray for singles.  Her words are lovely so I won’t try to summarize here.  But I agree that there are so many worthwhile and easy ways to encourage that don’t include cheesy platitudes.  It’s a reminder for all the married people to think before they speak.

I will add this.  Although I did want to be married, I have come across many single women (as well as men) who are not actively praying for or seeking marriage.  This is perfectly acceptable.  So please don’t assume that just because someone is single necessarily means that they want to be married and just because they want to be married don’t assume they are not content with their singleness.

I had a few friends as well as strangers over the years ask me how they could pray for me while I was single.  They weren’t making assumptions, they were listening and genuinely wanting to pray how I was praying.  To have someone treat singleness not as a disease to get rid of but a normal part of life is amazing.

Whether single or married, God is sovereign.  How’s that for encouragement?

Support Raising, Anticipation and Trusting God

When do you leave for Australia?  What is your current timeline?  When do you think you will have the financial support? How much do you have to raise!?  How do you currently to support yourself?  What have you been doing since you returned from PNG?  What do you do on a typical day? Why are you not going back to PNG?

These are pretty normal questions that tend to come up whenever I have conversations about Australia.  I spent this past weekend in Santa Clarita having lots of interesting conversations, sharing about the work in Australia and building relationships.  I I did my best to answer the questions that were asked but, like usual, as I answered I wondered if people wanted the easy simplified answer or the longer more complicated, sometimes confusing answer.

There are a few current realities in my life that impact the answers to these questions.  God has opened my heart and put me on this path towards Australia.  I want to be in Australia.  My full-time job is support raising and I work for MTW.  I am dating an amazing man and we are discussing what the future might hold for us.  I am NOT engaged.

So what does this mean for my current work and direction towards Australia?  I am having to trust that God’s timing is not my own.  And I need to be faithful even with the current uncertainty.  I wondered early on in my relationship with Ryan, if I should just say no to Ryan and yes to Australia.  In my mind it was an either/or thing.  But then I realized that even saying no to Ryan wouldn’t  ensure the financial support for Australia.  Maybe I would have gained more supporters if I hadn’t been dating Ryan but there is no guarantee that I would be any further along in the process.  This is my job and I need to be faithful and continue to do the work that I have been given to do until God directs me elsewhere.  God is in control and it is his will that will be done.

And what does this mean for my relationship with Ryan?  I am trying to simply enjoy the place we are in.  Even though we can’t anticipate all the ramifications and changes that will come after engagement and marriage, we are fully aware that things will change.  And while we are trying to be intentional with our discussions and planning, we also just want to continue getting to know each other and enjoying the time we have together now.  For me this means being patient, being faithful in my current circumstances and looking to the infallible God of the universe for guidance as I learn what it is to trust a wonderful yet fallible man.

Hopefully this also answers the question of what I do on a typical day.  I may not have a set schedule but each day I am raising support, anticipating the future and trusting God through it all.

101 Questions to ask Before you get Engaged

101 Questions to ask Before you get Engaged by H. Norman Wright has been the most recommended book since the beginning of my relationship with Ryan.  As people began to find out that we were serious and discussing the possibility of marriage, inevitably this book would come up in conversation.  However, it is also the least recognized book when I mention it to other people.  So I am saying it now so that more people can know.  If you are dating or even already engaged then pick up this book.

9780736931038_p0_v1_s260x420Because Ryan and I are dating long distance, this book has been the catalyst to many conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have ever thought to have had.  And each conversation has been beneficial.  Even if you live close to each other and see each other on a regular basis, you might never have the opportunities or think to discuss the wide range of topics that are brought up in this book.  Many of the conversations are difficult and touch on uncomfortable subjects but it is better to start now than to realize there are issues once you’ve already said your vows.  This book has also indirectly helped us to work on how we communicate.  It is written from a Christian perspective so the questions get at the whole picture of marriage and have a good biblical foundation.  However, even if you aren’t a Christian this book has a lot of questions that would still be worth discussing and it might also give you another perspective on the purpose and goal of marriage.

The topics range from parenting styles to whether or not you even want to have children.  There are also questions about emotions and specific things like dealing with grief.  The book digs into past relationships and asks about relationships that have influenced or shaped your views.  Other challenging topics are sin, money and expectations.  But this is just a brief overview.  This book covers everything except who will clean the kitchen sink, although even that falls indirectly under questions about expectations, love and dealing with conflict.

I don’t think this book, or any book for that matter, can solve all your problems or answer all your questions.  However, I do think that it is a great way to assess your relationship and find out if you and the person you are dating are on the same page when it comes to major and minor life decisions.  It is about getting to know someone from their head to their heart.  Who you marry is one of the most important decisions you will ever make and this book is a tool that can help you say “till death do us part” and mean it.

Thoughts on Friendship

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE people but recently I have found myself thinking and saying that I don’t have time for anymore friends.  This is not a Facebook thing.  This is not a vanity thing.  And it isn’t because I am getting too much people time.  If anything because I am an extrovert I want more.  Instead I think that this has to do with the dilemma that arises when I think about what kind of friend I want to be.

I have friends scattered all over the globe.  Not just acquaintances but friends who I could show up on their doorstep and be welcomed into their homes.  Friends who keep up with me even though we haven’t seen each other in years and might not see each other for a few more.  Friends who pray faithfully for me.  Friends who I talk to on the phone.  Friends who read my newsletters and blog.  The random text message friends.  Friends who I pray for.  Friends who I skype with.  Friends who I email.  And the true friends are people who after a long time apart, I would love to just have an afternoon with face to face.  Time to really catch up and be together.  But unfortunately this is a challenge because the world is a big place.  And of course there are those people, who for various reasons, I have not kept up with.  I still think about them and pray for them but the contact just hasn’t remained.  These days I am thankful for blogs, family and work newsletters and Facebook because it helps me to keep up with more people.  However, sometimes I wonder if we settle for the illusion of friendship instead of the real thing.

I ask myself often, how is it possible to truly invest in people’s lives if our friendship affections are completely scattered.  Would we be better friends if we gave up a few?  We were created for relationships.  We need people but do we really need 1000 closest friends?  If we do then we are setting ourselves up for failure or at least watering down what friendship should be.  Of course there are people who come and go from our lives in seasons.  Sometimes we can accept this easily or for me, I tend to mourn the loss of someone who for a time I shared my heart and life with.

This creates quite a dilemma for my life in general.   I need community and I need people, I need friends.  So each time I move, I try to work and build myself that community.  This doesn’t mean that I want to or can ignore my other friends but instead now my time is even more divided.  Those who are geographically closer to me automatically gain more time.  This is how it should be but I can’t help but think, as I get to know a new friend, that I am just going to have to say good-bye to them sooner rather than later.

There are no easy answers.  I am comforted by the fact that I know my friendship network is strong and there are many people who feel torn between their friendships just as I do.  I know I am not alone in this.  Maybe we haven’t seen each other in years but when our paths cross we will be able to pick up where we left off and rediscover the friendship that is there.  This may not be the case with everyone but when that happens, I can remember and be glad for the time of friendship that we did have.

This musing just leaves me with more questions than answers but I can say that despite all ambiguity, I am thankful for my friends.  I am thankful for those relationships which sustain me.  I am thankful for the people who I can laugh, cry, love and live with.  I don’t think I will ever stop making friends.  My mobile life just won’t allow for that but I will do my best to continue to cherish and work on the friendships I do have already.

Falling in Love with Perth

IMG_0394

This year for Valentines Day, I am choosing to fall in love with a new city.  We currently have a long distance relationship but I’m hoping to move over there by early November.  We are taking things slow but that’s the best way to start what I hope will be a long term relationship.  The city is exotic, multi-ethnic and beautiful.  And I need to thank Tim for this lovely picture of my new sweetheart.  If you want to know more about my new love then please read my latest newsletter.  But be careful, you might fall in love with Perth too!

What did I do yesterday?

Every day in the village yields a different answer to the question, “What did you do today?” Yesterday I had a great optimistic plan but plans don’t guarantee anything and I should be use to it by now…plans change. In the morning I handed my co-workers the little push mower and the rake and said good-bye to them as they walked down to the airstrip to work. I then went over to the literacy office, printed some books and worked on some fixing some numbering mistakes that I had found in the curriculum. Then I plugged in the computer to charge and headed over to the house to do emails. I was followed by an entourage of little girls who were waiting with me and would walk down with me to the airstrip when I was ready. I checked my email, did some other things around the house and got myself together to go down to the airstrip. The plan was to see what work was being done and give them some encouragement, come back to the house and keep working.

The walk down to the airstrip was quite amusing because one little girl had a sore on her foot and so her friends who were about the same size were taking turns carrying her. I finally convinced her that she wouldn’t break my riding on my back so (except for the bridges) I carried her most of the way down the hill. Part of the way because I was hot they also took turns carrying an umbrella over us. This was probably a sight because I am so tall, the little girls were walking beside me on their tips toes trying not to hit me or my little human backpack in the heads. We finally got to the second to the last bridge and spent some time discussing what the best way for me to cross would be. Two of the four logs had already split and the other two were far apart. However, thanks to a wiggly hand rail I walked across the smallest log just fine. The little girls were relieved that I didn’t tumble into the creek on their watch. We finally made it up to the airstrip and there was no work being done and I could hear the sounds of wailing coming from the village.

We crossed another bridge into the village and I left my airstrip tools at a house before making my way around to where the funeral was still going on. The body of John Malimi had been buried on Saturday but earlier in the morning a helicopter arrived with some of his children who live in cities so they were now having their chance to grieve and mourn. There were groups of men and women sitting throughout the area and so I approached the group with the largest concentration of women. I then chook hands with John’s oldest daughter and greeted some other people before sitting down next to a friend and her daughter. My friend explained who the people were on top of the grave crying and wailing. John had 5 wives and lots of children and one of these children had not seen his father in 5 years but was planning on coming for Christmas. However, since his father died before Christmas, he will never see him again. This man in particular was showing his grief very loudly and openly.

The body was buried in the middle of a large open area, on top of a trapezoid-ish shaped mound so when the sun was up, it must have been blazing hot to sit or lay on the red clay covering the burial area. The mourners closest to it would sob and beat the ground and return with their faces and clothes covered in the clay. I watched as many would mourn and then leave to go bath and return some time later in fresh clothes with the dirt removed from their faces. Others wept silently near the grave and many more looked on speaking in hushed whispers from the shade underneath the houses surrounding the area.

We all noticed the rain beginning to come closer as the wall of white swept down from the hills towards us from Mt.Bosavi and we everyone moved in under the houses where it was drier. I sat on a log with a group of women, listening to them talk, watching other women cook and the children playing a game like marbles but with rocks instead. Some of the kids would try to play with me but most of them were sent away by their mothers who were afraid I would fall off the precariously placed log. We sat for a long time as the rain poured and slowly the conversation turned to the airstrip. The man’s children from town had chartered a large plane to come and bring supplies for the gravesite and other relatives in from other places. However with the airstrips poor condition and now with the rain, no one was sure if the plane would come or not. I listened to the conversations around me and told them that I was afraid what would happen if I large plane landed now. If small planes were not happy landing here, I couldn’t even imagine what would happen if a big plane landed.

The conversation ended as the ripples of what was said slowly moved through the groups of people sitting together under the houses. I was offered a slice of pineapple and munched happily while the kids continued playing and watched as the women started removing the sago from the fire. Sago wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over the fire leaves the outside the consistency of a firm gummy bear and the inside dry and flakey. I was given a hunk of sago and tried not to laugh as the women around me used me as an excuse to get more for our area. Since they had to share with the white lady, they should get another bundle to eat. I ate the sago happily since it was well after noon by this time.

The rain had let down and there were now some young men moving towards the airstrip. I noticed one of my co-workers standing on the outside of a group of men so I thought I would ask him what he knew about the plane and the airstrip. Sometimes being a white woman has its advantages because I can approach a group of men more easily without being offensive. My co-worker explained that some of the young guys would cut a bit of the airstrip now but that the plane was delayed and might not come until tomorrow morning. While I was talking with the men I was handed a plate of greens, sweet potato and 2 minute noodles. One of the other perks of being white is if there is any food being served, you will probably at least be the recipient of something. I ate my plate of food and then spent a little time talking with more people about the airstrip before deciding to go home.

While I was walking back through the village, I said good-bye to a few people and bribed a few small girls with the gift of peanut butter back in Walagu if they would walk with me. I had heard them complaining that they were hungry so they happily agreed. The walk back was much more slippery and the bridges a bit more slick since the rain storm but we made it into the village without incident. Everyone came into my house, drank water and then happily ate cracker and peanut butter sandwiches.

The rest of the afternoon I did computer work while different groups of kids rotated through playing with the puzzles and games. I was exhausted by the time I closed the door at 6 wanting nothing more than I quick shower and a hot cup of tea. I had just finished my shower and was getting ready to put up my wet hair when there was a knock at my door. I answered the door clad in my pajamas, covered in a laplap (piece of cloth used like a skirt) with wet hair hanging down my back. Another co-worker and his wife were at the door wanting to discuss the possibility of him leaving the following day for Port Moresby and not returning before I left. We spent the next hour talking about what he needed to do and why he was also needed here. We prayed together and they left.

Needless to say I didn’t really sleep well last night but prayer is powerful and this morning I woke up and the day started and my co-worker had straightened things out with those in Port Moresby and will be staying in the village. It may seem like just a little thing but after such a long day it was almost too much to have to think about saying good-bye so soon. Each day brings new challenges but the memories and good time with the people especially the children, make all the struggles worth while.