Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The internet is back! (maybe)

For the last couple of weeks our internet has been patchy to non-existent, but things seem to be running faster today so I'm going to try uploading a catch-up blog post. So ... what has been going on in our little corner of the mountains recently?

Well, we have gotten back into our school groove and are in our third week of Abeka K5. We have a teacher and classmates on our school DVDs, and Mrs Reese is Anna's kindergarten teacher this year.

Reviewing her accomplishments last year on her first day of this school year.  She needed some spelling help, but got a lot of it on her own!

 Reciting the Pledge with Mrs Reese

This is a very different approach from our first year of school, but it's going pretty well.  The first month or so of DVD lessons is reviewing material already covered last year, so at some points in the DVD we just switch to our own material and continue where we left off before the summer.  A definite strength of the Abeka program is their focus on memorisation.  In the first three weeks of classes, Anna has committed to memory the Pledge of Allegiance,  the Lord's Prayer, three Bible verses, three poems and numerous new songs, and is also learning to write in cursive.  Levi will often sit with her and listen to her classes, and has started reciting bits and pieces of her work with her, which is fun to listen to :) 

This little girl is growing quickly; hard to believe she is approaching 7 months!  She is almost sitting up by herself, and can squirm her way around on the floor now.  She's started eating solids, although I think I may have ruined her for life by making the rookie mistake of starting her on delicious bananas instead of some bland vegetable.  So now she has her mama's incurable sweet tooth and rejects her vegetables, silly girl! 

Family dinner, times five

Over the last few weeks, the measles outbreak seems to have slowed down and Mark is barely seeing any new cases at the hospital.  We have been staying home from church since the beginning of the outbreak since Lucy is not old enough to be vaccinated, and whenever she is out and about with me she receives plenty of attention, love and touching from our PNG neighbours :)  So we have had a couple months of family church at home in our living room in an attempt to not expose her to the illness.
However, Mark and I have each had the opportunity to take one or both of the big kids out to a bush church. Recently Mark stayed with Lucy while I took Anna and Levi to the church of a nearby orphanage.  We went with another missionary family and were able to take part in leading the service. Anna helped me teach a Bible verse to the kids - "Ol sipsip bilong me i save harim maus bilong me" (John 10:27 - "My sheep know my voice") - and explain the analogy of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  

Pastor Ruth leading the service

This lady, Jenny, gave Anna a bilum (bag) she had made as a gift

 Trading babies after the service :)

Since we're a little short on recreation/ free time options here, Mark has been developing a new hobby that makes use of one thing that IS here - the workshop.  He has been learning from some of the guys on station who are responsible for maintenance and construction, and has built a porch swing, night stand and now a much-needed bookshelf for our house.  Levi has been learning right along with him, and is always glad for the chance to go see (if not actually use yet) the power tools :)

Levi enjoying the fruits of his (dad's) labour 

 On the 16th of this month, PNG celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Australia.  We invited one of Mark's colleagues from the ER, Petrus, and his family to our house for lunch and were able to learn a little more about traditional celebrations and customs that mark this day.  After lunch Petrus and Mark walked to his village to watch some of the local fun, while Francesca and I visited and the kids played. 

Anna spent the afternoon catching butterflies with Grace, Emma & Ruth (L-R), Petrus' girls

So, there you have a little glimpse into what has been going on here while our more regular updates were on hold :) 

Prettiest girls I've ever seen

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The unfair answer to prayer

(Note: I started working on this post several weeks ago, but delayed posting it because I don't feel like I answered any of the questions I've been asking since I started writing it! I am still posting it, though, because I would rather be honest about not having answers than give up asking difficult questions :) )

When I wrote about Levi's recent hospital admission, I briefly mentioned a patient in the next bed to his in the ER - a little girl about his age who was also in respiratory distress, with a possible diagnosis of pneumonia (like Levi), but whose breathing sounded even worse than his and who even in the couple of hours we were there, deteriorated noticeably.  Her parents stood on either side of her bed, her mother making phone calls in tears, presumably updating relatives or friends on the condition of her child.

I don't know whether this little girl lived or died; my guess would be that she didn't make it through the night.  I don't know her name, or where she was from, how long she had been sick ... but what I do know is how her mother felt as she watched her child struggling to draw every breath, and the uncertainty they faced about what the next hours and days would bring their family.

Praise God, Levi improved after a terrifying 48 hours.  We are so thankful!  As Mark and I have talked about what happened during that first night, we certainly feel overwhelming gratitude towards Dr Erin, whose skill and attentiveness as his doctor were amazing.  However, we also know that literally hundreds of people across the world - even many who we are unlikely ever to meet - were praying for Levi.  And although modern(ish!) medicine definitely played its part in Levi's recovery, we know that without the incredible prayer coverage of family, friends and total strangers, Levi's outcome could have been shatteringly different.

What if we had been that other family in the ER? The one who didn't have hundreds of people standing in prayer for the life of their child? I still get to watch my son run around and play with his big sister, and hug him every morning when he comes running out of his bedroom to find me; did that little girl's mother deserve any less simply because she didn't have a phenomenal network of believers across the world who were willing to drop what they were doing and pray for her child? What makes me any different from her? Why was my son spared when her daughter very likely died that night? Or what about the lady Mark cared for just yesterday, who came to the ER from the remote Jimi Valley after being in labour for many days with her deceased baby's arm presenting when she arrived? All of my pregnancies and deliveries have involved some level of complication requiring skilled medical intervention in a hospital setting.  The mother from the Jimi loved her baby no less than I love mine, the life of her child held no less value than mine, but I had access to the care I needed and she didn't.

I have thought about these questions many times in the last few weeks, and not come up with a satisfactory answer.  In fact, my questions have multiplied as I have mused.  Do the prayers of many people hold more weight before God than the prayers of one desperate mother?  What is my responsibility, knowing that prayer changes things and there may be patients here who don't have anyone other than their doctor or the hospital chaplain praying for them? How do I invest my heart in the hurting people around us, without emotionally incapacitating myself from caring for our own family's needs?

I don't know the answers to these questions.  I do know that Jesus was well acquainted with sorrow and suffering (Is 53), that He has promised comfort to those who are mourning (Matt 5) and that He uses us to meet the practical needs of His people who are hurting (Rom 12, 1 John 3).  I also know that while I may not be able to care for the lady who shows up in the middle of the night for an emergency C-section to deliver her dead baby, or for the teenager diagnosed with cancer or the victim of a bush-knife attack, there is one thing I can do.

Ezekiel 22 and Isaiah 6 both describe God searching for someone to stand or act on behalf of His people who, even in their sin, He loves desperately. In the Isaiah account, God found what He was looking for. But in Ezekiel, there was no-one whose heart was moved to stand between God's people and their destruction.

The one thing that I can do, even while hanging laundry or putting children to bed or sweeping crumbs off the floor, is to allow my heart to be moved to prayer.  I am being more deliberate in my praying.  Stopping what we're doing when Mark goes back to work for an emergency, and sitting down with the kids to pray together for those he is going to care for. Knowing the names of his patients so that I can pray into their lives in a specific way.  Pausing throughout the day to pray for the spiritual and emotional (and physical!) reserves of each of the doctors who are caring for patients here every day.

I may not be given answers to all my questions, but I do know that prayer is effective and has the power to change reality.  It changed Levi's on that awful night last month, and that experience motivates me both to thankfulness and to prayer for the hurting and needy around me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Close call

Last Thursday started off quite unremarkably: Anna and I did school after Mark left for work, the kids had their snacks when school was done, I started on the morning's housework ... but by lunchtime, the runny nose Levi had developed the previous day was turning into something more significant. This was actually not unusual; we have learned over the course of the last 10 months that Levi rarely has a normal cold. For whatever reason, his colds usually turn into big chest infections that require nebulised breathing treatments and involve lots of coughing, wheezing and once a diagnosis of pneumonia. I cancelled our dinner plans for the evening, and called Mark to have him bring his pulse-ox home at lunch time so we could check Levi's blood oxygen levels. Mark wasn't very excited about the way Levi looked, and at the end of the afternoon clinic he had one of the other doctors, Erin Meier, come check on him at the house. By this point, Levi's breathing was very laboured and faster than it should be, he was wheezing badly, he hadn't had any food or drink all day, and he was acting sick. Erin advised us to take him to the ER so he could get some IV fluids and antibiotics. We dropped the girls off with our neighbours and headed to the hospital.
I have been a patient at the hospital here on a few occasions - my prenatal visits will Dr Bill, Lucy's delivery, and her two month well child visit.  But those were planned.  This time was different. I found myself in the ER surrounded by people in exactly the same situation that we were in: a medical emergency had arisen, they headed to the hospital, and were now in a holding pattern of uncertainty and anxiety.  The patient in the bed next to ours was a little girl younger than Levi, also in respiratory distress, and she sounded even worse than he did. Her parents stood on either side of her bed holding her hands, her mom was crying into her mobile phone as she spoke with relatives ... even in the couple hours we were there, the girl's breathing sounded worse and worse.
(This little girl sparked a thought process that I hope to be able to write about too - but it's too much to try to fit into one post!)

The nurses couldn't get an IV into Levi's hands, but after several attempts they were successful in his foot. He was so listless and was working so hard to breathe that he didn't even fight them. Every now and then he would start whimpering and ask us if he was better yet and could he go home and see Anna ... I think it would have been much easier on my heart if he'd been kicking and fighting!

After a couple hours of getting IV fluids and some antibiotics, Erin told us we could go home for the night. She wrestled an IV pole and oxygen concentrator into the Cruiser, drove us home and we got Levi situated on the couch.

 Erin went home for a couple hours, but while she was gone Levi started to worsen. His breathing became so laboured that each breath was a gasp, he showed all the signs of being in severe respiratory distress, his oxygen saturation levels were falling, and he just looked awful.  When Erin came back and saw him, she decided he needed to be admitted to the hospital overnight. One of our other neighbours came to stay with the (now sleeping) girls so Mark and I could both go with Levi.

We were given one of the hospital's few isolation rooms, which afforded us a little more privacy than a bed on the ward. And so began the worst night of our lives.  Erin ordered every available respiratory medicine in the hospital, and for hours it seemed to make no difference at all.  Levi lay on the bed gasping for breath, breathing 70-80 times a minute, sometimes crying but not able to catch his breath enough to talk. Sometime around midnight, I went home to be with the girls and get a little rest, and be home when Lucy woke up in the morning to eat. A couple hours after I left, Erin had the anaesthesia officer bring pediatric intubation supplies to the room so they would be close, since Levi would need to be intubated if he got any worse.  She got the contact information for our insurance carriers who would be able to med-evac Levi to Australia.

By this time, although Mark and I didn't find out until later, several urgent prayer bulletins had been sent out both here and by our families in the States and England.  And at around 4am, Levi slowly started to stabilise.  He was able to get a few 30-minute naps in, and either the rest or the accumulation of medicines or prayers (probably all of the above) seemed to allow him to turn the corner. 

In the morning, after I fed Lucy and dropped the girls off with neighbours again, I switched out with Mark so he could come home and sleep for a few hours.  Not long after I got there Levi needed to go for a chest Xray, which he despised and which showed pneumonia on one side. During the course of the morning he steadily kept improving, both medically and in how he was acting. We were still hitting him pretty hard with breathing treatments and IV medicines, but now he seemed to be responding better.  His Rocephin (an antibiotic) burned when it went into his IV, and after the first dose he would cling to me each time a nurse walked in, and ask me not to let them hurt him. But by the time Mark came back just after lunch, Levi had been able to have a few visitors and was enjoying sitting up and colouring while we listened to the Frozen soundtrack on my phone!


Mark and I switched out again for the afternoon, and around 4pm as I was getting ready to head back up to the hospital Erin and Mark drove up in the Cruiser to bring Levi home.  I've never been so happy to hear his miserable little cry coming up the path to the front door!! Once again, Erin helped us get him settled back in and went over his new regimen of medicines before she left. Since getting home, Levi has steadily improved.  We are still giving him nebuliser treatments around the clock, but have been able to space them out to every 4 hours rather than every 30 minutes. His lungs sound much better, he's not exerting effort to breath any more, and he is acting close to his normal, playful self. Perhaps a slightly whinier version of his norm, but hey - I'll take it! 

So what now?  This was the fifth episode of this type that we have seen in the last 10 months, although this was by far the most severe.  He met all the criteria for a diagnosis of asthma, which there is a chance he may outgrow but this is not a given.  He will be on multiple daily medicines for the foreseeable future in an effort to prevent any more exacerbations, which we will have to have sent from the States since the supply here is unpredictable. We may need to make some dietary changes since he has mild to moderate food allergies to a whole host of items, and an allergic reaction to food can precipitate an asthma exacerbation.  We will be Skyping soon with a Pediatric Pulmonologist/ allergy specialist in the States to discuss the best cocktail of maintenance medications to put him on. But at the same time, we want to give him as normal a childhood as we can without compromising his health. It is a balance we will have to find over the coming months and possibly years, as we learn the severity of his asthma and how well we can control it.

There are so many unknowns when I think about this new element to our lives, which has both a chronic and acute side to manage.  Had we been in the US Levi would have been admitted to a pediatric ICU; how do we incorporate Levi's diagnosis into the call we know God has placed on our lives to medical missions?  Should this affect where we live? Will this be the last time we aren't sure that Levi will make it through the night? Or not? Will his maintenance meds enable him to lead a totally normal life from now on and this incident will remain the first and last of its kind? Or not? I think the passage of time will help answer some of our questions, but in the meantime I am just overwhelmed with gratitude that Levi is still with us. Our lives were impacted in a very real way by literally hundreds of people on at least three different continents praying for us, most of whom we have never even met.  And our phenomenal doctor Erin went so far beyond the call of duty to ensure Levi was well taken care of - from planning to spend the night at our house, to staying by his bedside the entire night at the hospital to make sure his medications were all being given correctly and monitor for any signs of toxicity (normally labs would be drawn for this, an option we don't have here), praying for him through the wee hours of the morning, combing through the hospital pharmacy to find the right medicine to send home with us ... had we been flown to Brisbane we may have had better medical facilities, but we would never have had a doctor willing to go to those lengths to ensure her patient received the best possible care she could deliver. 

So, although this was not an experience I ever care to repeat, we have so much to be grateful for on this side of it.  Not least, this little boy running around the house again!

To all of you who prayed with and for us over the last few days, and helped us take care of Anna and Lucy while Levi was in the hospital, thank you more than we will ever be able to express. You made a huge difference to our family! And if you made it to the end of this mammoth blog post, well done :)

Saturday, April 26, 2014


A couple weeks ago, I posted some of my thoughts on the season of learning that I and my family are in (you can read the post here). I described feeling vulnerable, not being in control, and facing the choice between giving up (easy to do, but results in continued incompetence) and persevering (the more difficult road, but one which brings growth, character and hope).

Since writing that post, a few things have taken place to give more shape to my learning.  I got a GI bug that has been going around and was totally dependent on Mark for about two days; our sister-in-law Tiffany came and spent two weeks to help after Lucy was born; Lucy became the all-time fussiest baby I have ever taken care of, especially when we're out in public (actually, second fussiest - I once nannied for a family whose youngest could probably out-fuss her!); and Anna spent the night throwing up. Not just any night - the night we had no power and therefore no lights or water, which somewhat complicated the clean-up efforts!

What do these events have in common that is shaping me right now?  They all involved other people helping me, because I needed it.

When I was sick, it was about all I could do to feed and change Lucy.  Mark took care of the entire rest of our lives and praise God it was a weekend when he wasn't on call!
Tiff flew half way around the world because she knew I was out of my familiar environment, trying to figure out how, in my sleep deprived state, to take care of three kids instead of two, and wanted to help.
Every time we have taken Lucy out to a Kudjip 'event' of some kind, there are many people willing to hold her - sleeping or fussy - to give me a break.  (As an aside, this could - and may at some point - be a whole blog post on its own; my oldest two, it seems, spoiled me and allowed me to coast through my first five years of parenting without truly facing much challenging behaviour!)
And when they found out Anna had been sick all over her bed, Levi's bed and multiple people's pyjamas, two of my neighbours immediately told me they'd come pick up all my laundry and take care of it so I wouldn't have to juggle extra chores and a sick child.

Leaning on others and receiving help is not something that comes easily to me.  I know people who are so gracious in this area - they ask for help when they need it, they cheerfully receive the help that is offered ... and I am so not one of those people!  I am self-sufficient, in control, able to figure it out on my own - and deluded, often tired and prone to grumpiness!!

But today, because help was offered and received, my heart is filled with thanks instead of fretting over the insurmountable post-sick-child to-do list.  When I admit I need help, my pride takes a hit.  I'm not self-sufficient after all.  But when my heart is humbled, I am able to receive the love being shown to me by the community I am in, and that is a precious gift I don't want to miss. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I have been mulling over this word for the last several days, wanting to sit down and gather my thoughts on 'paper', but have had neither the time nor energy to do so until now.  Our sweet princess girl has either hit her two week growth spurt, or has come out of her newborn sleep-of-the-dead phase and is having trouble figuring out how to fall asleep, or is developing a sensitivity to dairy in my diet, or SOMEthing ... but the last couple days and nights have been stretching!

However, they have contributed to my thought process.  This whole season of our lives is one of learning.  Learning how our life as a family needs to flow living in a very different environment.  Learning medicine in a missions hospital, in a rural setting whose inhabitants contract different illnesses than patients in the States and who routinely 'settle' disputes by hacking at each other with bush knives.  Learning who this new baby is and what she needs from me.  Learning a new language. 

Now, I know one could argue that our entire lives should be spent learning; being teachable and willing to learn is part of having a flexible character that can adapt well to change.  While I do agree, I also think there are times in life that require more learning than others.  And it is hard!  I just spent nearly two and a half years learning how to take care of our family of four - learning what routines worked well, how to balance my time between husband and two children and house, and how (hopefully!) to also take care of myself in amongst all of that - and now I need to relearn that process for our family of five, including starting totally from scratch for the fifth member! Mark just spent what at times feels like a lifetime of education learning how to practice medicine - in the States - and now he needs to relearn a lot of those lessons in a totally different setting.  And yes, there is some overlap in both cases; only one member of our family is totally new and different, and much of what worked in our family before will continue to work, with some adaptations for Lucy.  Anatomy and physiology and pathology remain the same for humans all over the world, although diagnoses and treatments may differ depending on where in the world one practices medicine. 

However, my point is this: learning is a time of vulnerability. Of not being sure of ourselves. Not being in control, and not having a familiar answer to fall back on when problems arise.  What worked for Anna or Levi will not necessarily meet Lucy's needs.  In getting to know her, I will have to try things that may fail, and then confront my own frustrations at failing as well as her needs!  Communicating with the people around me in a language not my own reduces me to simple, superficial conversation - and even then sometimes fails to truly communicate!

So how do I deal with this season of learning, of being vulnerable and subject to failure?  Well, a lot of the time, not very well!  It is much easier for me to give in to frustration, and then give up.  To pass off the wailing baby to Mark at night to figure out what she needs, because I know I will be up again in three hours.  To avoid developing relationships with non-English speaking people so I don't have to struggle just to speak.  But -- in giving up, I am making a choice not to grow.  A choice not to allow the Holy Spirit to develop my character and abilities.  A choice not to learn, and therefore (ironically) to remain incompetent! 

It is so easy for me to get bogged down in seasons of relentless learning, and lose sight of the fact that at some point, growth does happen.  Lessons become learned.  New people, surroundings, language and routines will become familiar with time.  James 5:11 says,

            "As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy."  

When I persevere, I am counted as blessed because of what the Lord will bring about - even if there is an element of 'finally' in His timing - and in my perseverance He will be compassionate and merciful.  As Paul writes in Romans 5, perseverance produces character and character brings hope.  And hope, surely, takes away the frustrations and fear of failure, and replaces them with changes in my heart that make me look just a little more like Jesus.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lucy's big debut

I'm not exactly sure when labour started.  My water may have broken about 48 hours before she was born, but not very definitively.  I went to see Dr Bill on Thursday and we started talking about inducing labour, since the risk of infection in the baby goes up once the mom's water breaks. We decided to hold off for one more day and see if labour started on its own.  However, I seemed to be 'leaking' more by the end of the day, so once work was done at the hospital, Dr Bill stopped by with a tiny, innocuous-looking quarter of a pill for me to take to induce labour.  That was about 5pm, I was in the middle of making a cheesecake, and hadn't even gotten dinner going yet.

6pm and my sweet and infinitely practical neighbour Steph stopped by to see how things were going.  And bring a delicious pot of soup for dinner so we wouldn't starve while I was baking dessert and neglecting to get actual nutritious food on the table for my family.  Contractions weren't strong enough at this point to really notice.

By the time dinner was over at 6:30, the contractions had started but were still pretty easy.  By the time Bill called around 7 to say that he and Marsha were going to head our way soon, I was definitely having to stop and breathe through each one, but didn't feel anywhere near ready to head to the hospital.  Good thing Mark didn't relay my message to Bill to not rush over quite yet.

 When Bill and Marsha arrived at 7:30, contractions were about 2-3 minutes apart and hard work to get through.  My sweet children were putting on a dance show to distract me from the pain, I definitely did not want anyone touching me or talking to me while I was contracting, and focusing on relaxing was getting tougher with each one. Bill checked me to see whether I'd started dilating yet, and said I was 3-4cm.  This made me not want to go to the hospital yet; when I was induced for Levi, I was 3-4cm when we arrived at the hospital and he wasn't born for another 8 hours.  However, Bill in his wisdom told Mark to gather my hospital bag and get the kids situated with Marsha so we could drive the less than quarter of a mile to the hospital - "I think this is going to happen quickly, guys."

I had one contraction in the car, and a couple on the walk to the labour room.  (There is one private inpatient room at the hospital, on the labour and delivery ward.  This is where the missionary mamas go for their deliveries, rather than the less-than-private 'bays' adjacent to the ward.)  Our nurse Staci met us there, and as she and Bill prepared for the delivery Mark helped me through another half-dozen contractions - each noticeably more intense than the last.  That Cytotec is truly something else.

At 8:20pm Tiny Baby made her appearance, Mark burst out laughing and said "She's a girl!!" (he'd been pretty confident we were having a boy), and we finally got to meet the person who makes our family five. Labour was over 3 hours and 20 minutes after I took my quarter-dose of Cytotec.  Heaven help any woman who gets a bigger dose than that!

I tore quite badly and had some fairly heavy post partum hemorrhaging.  Having experienced one epidural and two medication-free births, all of which involved a good hour of repair for tearing afterwards, I am appealing to the world of medical research to come up with some form of post-delivery pain relief that is more effective than local Lidocaine!

After a couple hours of recovery and getting settled, Bill offered us the option to go home rather than spend the night in the hospital. We gladly took him up on that, and he drove us home around 11pm.  Anna got up to come out and see us, and was delighted by Uncle Bill's news that she had - as she'd been hoping for - a baby sister!

 Although having such a short induction made things just a liiiittle intense, we are so thankful that Lucy was born when she was.  Bill and Marsha were leaving PNG a few days before my due date, and while any of the other doctors here could have very capably delivered her, Bill had been taking care of me since we arrived here.  Also, he and Marsha have been close friends with Mark's family long enough that Bill was in the delivery room when Mark and Luke were born.  So it was very special for us that he was able to deliver Lucy before leaving.

We are settling in and getting used to being a family of five.  Lucy figured out nursing much faster than either of the other kids, and is gaining weight well. She's starting to stretch out her night-time feeds so I'm getting three whole hours of sleep at a time now :) Mark has just gone back to work, although he's able to take extended lunch breaks and be home for a couple hours in the middle of the day.  We love our little Lucy girl (despite the fact that we deliberated over what to call her for so long that she remained Tiny Baby for four days after being born), and are enjoying this new season of our lives.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

38 & 2 ... and counting!

As I approached my due dates for Anna and Levi, we painted my belly according to the nearest holiday and took some fun maternity pictures.  (And when I say 'we', I mostly mean my sister-in-law Tiffany and I.  Mark graciously participates in any family photo shoots I ask him to, but is just a little less thrilled by the opportunity to create seasonal belly portraits than I am.)

I don't know whether I'll make it all the way to the 17th, but this baby is our St Paddy's pot of gold :)  Our artistic friend Rachel came over yesterday morning and we got the paints out, and here is the end result!

(Our SLR is acting up right now and having trouble focusing, which is making me a little crazy but there you go.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Various and sundry, and the post that didn't post

Over the last week or so, I have tried only about a thousand times to upload a post that refuses to be published ... so, my apologies for the recent silence on the blog front - I really did try, though!

A couple of highlights from the last two weeks:

Valentine's Day package from Tiffany and the girls! (and I'm sure Luke was also heavily involved in the selection of candies and stickers and the making of cute crafty gifts for the kids... :) ) It arrived on the evening of the 14th, stuffed with goodies, and made our whole week. Never in my life have I made a tin of honey roasted almonds last this long ... and it's *still half full!!*

And a week later, we (along with most of the other parents here) had A CHILD FREE DATE NIGHT!  Apparently we have the most thoughtful group of teenagers on earth living on station with us, because they planned a fundraiser evening involving not just taking kids for the evening and keeping them fed and entertained (hey, I'd settle for just keeping them *alive* if it meant an evening at home to ourselves!), but they also cooked for each couple and delivered a hot and delicious meal to our homes so we didn't have to cook or clean up after ourselves.  So, we enjoyed an amazing four-course, all-from-scratch meal complete with cake and chocolate dipped strawberries for dessert, in the comfort of our own home, without ONE SINGLE INTERRUPTION in our conversation, no diapers to change or dishes to wash or crumbs to sweep up afterwards ... it was glorious.  (And yes, we were delighted to see our beautiful children again at 9pm when they were brought home for bed :) )

PNG power contributed to the romantic atmosphere by interrupting electricity provision for the evening..!

This last Saturday, we had our first skype date since getting here! We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the video (although we've since been warned by those more seasoned than we are not to expect that every time, ha), and LOVED getting to see four of our favourite faces again for the first time in a month and a half.
Since we pre-purchase our internet data in bundles and pay per MB of data that we use, we weren't sure whether it would be feasible to indulge in video calls.  However, every few weeks a 'double data day' is announced by our internet provider, when we can buy two data bundles for the regular price of one.  So we think we will be taking advantage of those days whenever possible, and are looking forward to 'seeing' some more of you over the next couple of months :)

On Sunday, Mark was on call at the hospital. While this wasn't necessarily a highlight of the week (!), the kids and I also had the opportunity to spend some time there for 'church'.  The highschool students (again - our teens rock!) planned a morning of praise and worship, Bible stories and prayer with patients, and invited anyone who was interested to participate. So a group of us met at the hospital and got to spend time on the wards, bringing church to patients.  This definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but is something I really hope to be able to do on a more regular basis.  It is one thing to pray for patients whose stories Mark shares with us at home (and I love that in this way we can affect the lives of those we can't physically be with) ... but sitting on the edge of someone's bed while his wife tells us he is dying of cancer and asks for prayers for strength - that's a little different.

So, that is some of what we have been up to in the last couple of weeks.  Also, lots of playing in the mud, taking care of 'our' kittens, Levi narrowly avoiding hospitalisation because of breathing difficulties, homeschooling with Anna, and inching our way closer to being a family of five extra-utero people!  (On which subject, we are hoping I deliver a little early since my doctor has to leave the country slightly before my due date.  If it doesn't happen there are several other doctors who could very capably deliver, but since Dr Bill was in the delivery room when Mark was born, we've been hoping he could be there for this one too! We'll see... only three more days till I'm officially term, woohoo!)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Back to normal, a little differently

Before leaving Tulsa, one of my prayer requests for the few weeks following our move was that I would be able to establish a new routine - a new normal - for our home life before the baby arrives and turns everything on its head again! :)  I am thankful to sit down at the end of the day and now be able to see routine as I reflect back on the last 14 or 15 hours.  (Actually, I'm thankful to just *sit down* at the end of the day, never mind reflecting on routines..!)

I think the biggest event enabling our home routine to become established was actually Mark starting at the hospital.  He and I have talked about our (or my) tendency since residency to treat his time at home as a rare treat not to be interrupted by things like chores and housework that could happen while he was gone - which, during residency, was pretty appropriate.  It has been difficult to shake that mentality even though he's home so much more now, and this can result in me slacking on taking care of the house purely because Mark is home.  They say that the mood of the house depends on Mama, which I definitely agree with, but I think at least in our home the presence or absence of structure depends a lot on how structured Mark's hours are. And now that he has a regular work pattern established, our home routines are also falling into place, which makes our home a much better place to be :)

So, here is a little glimpse into what that routine looks like...

My day starts a little after 7 when Mark's alarm goes off.  We get up and have coffee together, and I get some time with these two before the kids get up around 7:30/ 7:45 -

I don't know anything about John Baillie, but his little book of morning and evening prayers is fantastic.  The simplicity and foundational truth that characterises his prayers is a beautiful way to ground my day before it truly gets started.

Between whenever the kids wake up and about 9am, we have breakfast, Mark leaves a bit before 8, I start the laundry so it has time to wash and line dry before the afternoon rain, fill up the water filter so we have drinking water for the day, get the breakfast dishes washed, kitchen wiped down and floor swept so we don't collect any ants, get everyone dressed, check my meal plan and start thawing meat for dinner, and cast a quick eye over Anna's lesson plan for the morning.

I try to start school by 9am. Try :)  We're having fun with our science class right now - we're looking at the human body, and I found this little guy at a consignment sale -

- all of his squishy organs come out, you can take apart his skeleton and muscles ... we like him!  We've been looking at digestion the last week or so, and made little ziploc bag stomachs into which we crumbled chips (our morning snack), mixed with water (saliva) and some vinegar (stomach acid). Then we smooshed the bags in our hands while we ate our own snack (to mimic the muscles in the stomach wall doing the same thing to our real snacks), and got to see what our food looks like once the stomach is done with it :)

School is done by 10 or 10:30. Snack time!  Then the kids go outside to play so I can get some housework done.  Usually our neighbour Reegan is ready to play too, and I can count on finding them anywhere from up in the lemon tree to under our house in the dirt to building our (apparently) adopted stray cat a nest behind the workshop by our house.

If life gives you lemons, just ... eat them?

While they are outside, I hang the laundry out to dry, get some housework done and do any dinner prep that I need to.  At some point it's likely that Wapi, our door-to-door asparagus salesman will come knocking.  He is a very sweet older man who started out selling asparagus to missionaries on the station, but has since added cherry tomatoes and cabbages to his bag of goodies.  I get to practice talking Pigin to him, and he can pretty much count on my business since buying veg on my back porch is MUCH easier than a trip into town if I'm running out! And on Thursdays, our garden mari (= lady who works in the garden) Beti comes over for a few hours to take care of our little plot behind the house. Right now it's in such an overgrown jungle state that she's just hacking back weeds, but soon Mark will be able to plant and harvest to his heart's content.

Our plot is that knee-high stretch of weeds between the tree stump and the cleared patch of ground in the background, to the right of the tall Taro plant.  Yes, Beti has her work cut out for her..! :/

Mark gets home for his around 12:15, which is AWESOME, and is home for almost an hour.  It is so fun to hear the kids playing outside and suddenly yell "Dadaaaa!!" as he comes walking down the path from the hospital :)
He leaves around 1pm, I clean up lunch, and put the kids down around 2.  Once they're down it's usually time to bring in my loads of laundry, and then I sit down and catch my breath!  This is my time to read, catch up on facebook and emails, write the next few weeks' lesson plans for Anna...

When the kids get up they take their snacks out onto the porch and then often disappear for an hour or two, especially if the 'neighbourhood' kids are out playing after school gets out :)  (Anna has taken to keeping an eye on our windows any time she's inside, just in case "the girls" are out playing together and she's missing out. There are about half a dozen other MK girls all under about 12, and she has been quickly absorbed into the group!)

Mark typically gets home around 5pm, depending on whether any labouring women or emergency cases arrived at the hospital towards the end of the day. By this time I've usually started making dinner, since (mostly) everything needs to be made from scratch. There are some 'cheater' meals that I can buy premade sauces for, like spaghetti, and yes I have introduced a weekly spaghetti night to our menu ;) (Although I haven't found garlic bread anywhere so that still gets made from scratch, doh.)

 My little sous-chefs :)  And the quiche they helped me make, which surprisingly was a hit even though they don't love eggs (except Mimi's devilled eggs!) and definitely saw at least half a dozen go into the filling!

There is often a power outage later on in the day, which can be just ten or fifteen minutes long, or last from mid afternoon till bedtime.  (Or sometimes things get shaken up a little and it's out in the morning. Or both, or not at all!) When the power goes out we also lose water, since the pump is electric, and I've been caught out a few times by being lazy with the dinner dishes/ bathtime routine/ laundry etc, and then losing my chance to do them at all!

Kids go down around 8/8:30, and by about 10pm we're ready too..! And there you have our typical day.  (Or at least, the household half of the day.  For what Mark is doing during all this time, you can read his awesome blog here) :)

Since there are limited, um, social opportunities in the middle of the mountains, getting together with other missionaries for dinner is a popular event.  We also happen to live right next to the bonfire area for this end of the missions station, and cookouts happen at least weekly.  Mark and I have also discovered the 'lending library', which is a wall of books and DVDs in the mail room here that are available for borrowing.  So we've started a weekly movie date night to work our way through the collection - can't remember when that was last (or ever!) a part of our relationship..!

So, although our routine is quite different now, it has begun to settle into place.  It is simpler in some ways than when we lived in the States, funner in some ways and more difficult in others.  But it is here, and for that we are thankful!  Thanks for taking the time to read through this post that turned out to be much lengthier than I intended, and for sharing in a little of our day to day life.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Apenun, nem bilong me Esta na me stap gut.

[hi, my name is Esther and I am doing well]  :)

The last two weeks seem to hold two completely separate and dissimilar lives for me.  The last bits of packing, the 'last things' in Tulsa, last hour at the airport with the people we love and were saying goodbye to ... and then the deep breath, the walk through security ... and the new beginning.  Even as I look through photos, choosing a few to include in this post, some seem so far away that it's difficult to imagine being near enough to them to take the picture.  (Difficult.  Not impossible, as evidenced by the lump in my throat as I remember being there!)

Our send-off the Sunday before we left, and the prayers that we still feel holding us

Enjoying one last snack together at the airport playplace, courtesy (of course) of Aunt Tiffy :)

The drive home to Kudjip from the airport in Mount Hagen - on their knees in the Land Cruiser with arms dangling out of the window!

We were lovingly welcomed to our new house when we arrived - a day later than expected because of a missed connection, and without 5 of our 12 pieces of luggage, but home all the same

The view two days later from our village house.  We spent a week in Ambang for language and cultural immersion, living next door to a missionary family with New Tribes who are currently translating the Bible into Tok Ples (the local dialect; all dialects are referred to as Tok Ples by those who speak them - "the talk that is used in this place").  

Wagon rides with new buddies :)

Some of the teenaged girls from the village helping me with my Pidgin vocab and sentence structure :)  (Having a group this large was actually far from helpful - previous days when I got to sit with just Nomi and Susan, the two girls on each end of the row, were definitely when I learned the most!)

And now, we are well and truly HOME.  I can't begin to describe the sigh of relief that accompanies that statement!!  Or at least, the sigh of relief that can really happen when we are completely finished unpacking  :)

Our week in the village really was helpful, since the other American couple was able to give us a lot of cultural insight and our language learning will be harder here at Kudjip where English is spoken by almost everyone.  Things were slowed down a couple days in, though, when Anna started running probably the highest fever she has ever had.  Think waking up in a delirium, hallucinations, talking gibberish ... thankfully we had Tylenol to give her (although our thermometer didn't make it out of the trunks before we left Kudjip), but she was pretty out of it for almost three days.  That wasn't this mama's favourite...! She is back to her playful self now, though, and we are so thankful the fever just ran its course without any complications. 

And now that we are back at Kudjip, our orientation to life on the mission station has begun.  We have a trip into town on Monday to stock up on food for the next several weeks (no weekly grocery trips here!), a separate trip to take care of business (open bank accounts and get driving licenses etc), meetings with the finance people to make sure we can access and appropriately manage our funds here, an orientation at the nearby Bible college ... Oh, and Mark's hospital orientation too :)  So between getting the house unpacked, keeping everybody fed and clothed, gestating baby #3 (who is determined to kick, roll or claw its way out through my skin, ha), getting to know our new friends and neighbours, and just figuring out life here, I should have my work cut out for me for the next week or two!
Mark's first hospital shift is the 27th, so I'm very thankful to have him around the house for a bit longer as we get settled in.  We have pretty reliable internet access, although we're noticing that it gets used up pretty quickly, so we should be able to at least get online and check messages daily.  We are loving hearing from you, so please keep it coming!