Saturday, August 20, 2016

On bending

In my last post, I wrote that one of my hopes and prayers as we returned to PNG this spring was that our roots would be put down deeply enough that in times of difficulty or stress, we would be able to bend and flex without breaking.  Well, this last week sure tested that idea!!

Like most of America's kids, ours recently started their first week back at school.  Aren't they just adorbs :D

 Actually, we began with a gentle half-week two weeks ago, and this last week was the real deal.  I knew in the weeks leading up to our first day, as I prepped our material, that this year would be different than last.  We are doing second grade and kindergarten this year, and while Levi's days are still short, they are definitely more structured and involved than during Pre-K.  I estimated that Anna would still be able to get all her material covered by lunch time, but assumed that second grade would also require more of us than first.  In preparation, I made a list of all the classes each child would be taking, figured out which would involve hands-on help from me and which could be done independently, and which classes could be shared.  Based on that, I then created a daily schedule in which I planned for one child's independent work to be completed while I worked one-on-one with the other, and vice versa.  Interspersed were times of shared learning (like Bible, History and read-aloud time), and recess at their usual snack time.  I rearranged furniture in our house to create an individual space for each of the kids to have a desk area, with bookshelf space nearby for their books, rather than doing everything at the kitchen table and having a massive clean-up mission before lunch every day, like we did last year.

It was a well-thought-out, logical plan, and we were ready!!

The Plan. You can tell it's going to work because it's colour-coded.

 Hard at work on her first day!

Except for one thing.

In all my planning, ignoring the nagging voice in my subconscious, I just assumed Lucy would be cool with this new routine.  Like Levi was when I started homeschooling Anna. (I mean, seriously. The kid would just sit with us at the table when he was two years old and listen or colour until he got bored, and then hop down and play by himself until we were done.  Apparently this is not typical toddler behaviour that you should count on being repeated by successive siblings???)

Lucy, unlike either of her big sibs, is not a laid-back child.  I hesitate to use the words strong and willed, mostly out of blind panic, but that is definitely the personality type she leans towards! (She is also pee-your-pants hilarious, approaches life with bright eyes and excited curiosity, showers me with spontaneous affection, and has enough personality to totally fill our very high-ceilinged home; her little package definitely includes a lot of perks too!)

She never leaves you in the dark regarding her opinion. Like if she hates the song you're whistling? You won't be whistling for long.

But even as a baby, for a long time she resisted a day-time routine in a way neither Anna nor Levi did, was fussy with pretty much anyone who wasn't me from the time she could distinguish different faces (ask anyone who lives with us at Kudjip whether I am exaggerating!), and just required more of me than the other two ever did.  I'm regularly grateful that I've had a couple run-throughs of this parenting thing already and have some perspective I definitely did not possess as a first time parent ... but still, she's stretched and challenged me (*usually* with good outcomes!) much more than I ever have been before as a mom.  God is certainly teaching me that it's possible and necessary to deeply love one's child even while their actions are making you feel like a crazy person!
(As a side note, I recently read an account of one mom's discovery, on pausing homeschooling to search for her quiet toddler, that the kid had methodically covered themselves, the carpet and the oversized rocking horse with Desitin and then a generous sprinkling of baby powder.  To which her optimist friend commented, "Well, at least it wasn't poop!!" -- I can now recount a similar quiet-toddler story, without that final repartee. Please be truly horrified for me and pray earnestly on my behalf that it never, NEVER happens again. And maybe be glad not to have a photo at this point.) 

So, to return to our first week of school, Friday turned out to be the day none of the stars in my life aligned. I don't think any of them were even in the same hemisphere of sky.  My amazing friend Lena who comes on Friday mornings to help me clean the house was unable to this week (which she did, in fairness, warn me may be the case).  I was still physically tired from doing a heavy town trip/ grocery shop the previous day, after which I hadn't slept well at all.  Lucy was in fine toddler form and got sent to her room to throw a blood-boiling fit in solitude at least half a dozen times between 8:30 and 11:30, causing significant interruptions to the flow of our school day each time.  And it turns out this mama is just unable to be a kindergarten teacher, second grade teacher, daycare provider/ toddler disciplinarian, cook/cleaner/laundromat staff-person, and mother all at the same time on a poor night of sleep.  You are as shocked as I was on discovering this, I'm pretty sure.

I told Mark at the end of the day that there was just no way I was going to be able to do this for an entire year, and he had some super helpful ideas that I am planning to implement over the next couple of weeks.  Like getting the bulk of Anna's school done during Lucy's naptime, when I normally have the big kids just rest and/or read in their room.  (I'll be honest -- giving up my sanity-recovering alone time after lunch was a hard sell. But after our day on Friday was absolutely the perfect time to pitch it to me!)  I did an hour or two of homeschool-mom-blog research (HOW do moms who homeschool more kids than I even HAVE, and also have toddlers and babies hanging out in the background, have time to write these articles that the rest of us find so helpful??) and pooled some ideas.  I'm now armed with a good page and a half of things Anna or Levi can do to help keep Lucy busy while I'm working with the other child, a basket of 'Lucy school' baggies that she can choose from to play with by herself, a more realistic timetable for the day, and the paradigm shift that school can no longer simply happen without taking the toddler into account!

I'm praying it's enough ... but if not, we will just keep bending until we find something that works.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

This life of ours

Today we begin the trip back to Kudjip, to start our second term there. It feels very different this time; I remember sitting on the plane two years ago writing that it felt like I was being swept along by a river that I jumped into voluntarily, but was helpless to get out of should I suddenly want to. This morning, I feel more like I'm trading homes. Leaving the one where my roots and memories and the strings of my heart run deepest, but returning to a home that I have found myself missing and wishing for even while being perfectly content here. The blessing and curse of being a missionary....!

Next to me now, on the little red coffee table, is Anna's to-do list for when we're back, entitled "My list for PNG! Yes!!!!!!!" My heart breaks and smiles at the thought of their goodbyes in a few hours and reunions a few hours after that (those of you who have made this trip before - stop laughing at my use of 'a few'! I'm trying to stay optimistic...).  I am giving our kids the same life that I have known; their hearts will forever be scattered across the globe, never fully complete in one place, being already acquainted with the feeling of bittersweet ... but getting to drink deeply of two lives, not just one.

Having sights and experiences etched into their minds that very few of their friends will ever know. And having a path in their hearts, worn smooth by repeitition, that leads them through transition, loss, resettling, and into the comfort and excitement of putting down new roots into the ground. ~ In this case, the rich, dark, beautiful and fertile grounds of the Highlands.

And my prayer as we move back is that even as the soil nourishes and sustains the people of Jiwaka, that each of us would pull rich sustenance from this life we have been called to, and from the One who called us to it. That our hearts would be deeply planted in Him, with roots that hold fast so that we bend well, but do not break.

So Tulsa, I love you dearly. Thank you for a near-perfect furlough, and I'm already looking forward to the day that I put my feet back on the floor of your arrivals terminal.

And Kudjip ... I am so excited to drive through your lush green tea fields, down that pot-holey driveway, and be home.  I'll see you in about 45 hours!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

My thoughts on Refugees and Immigration

(A couple quick points to clarify before we begin.

1. I have spent multiple hours rewording this in an effort to ensure that my written tone is respectful, and doesn't carry judgement, condemnation or a 'holier than thou' attitude towards those who do not share my opinions. If I have still failed at some point in this post, I am sorry! It's not my intention to appear divisive - I intend to try to provoke thought on a subject that is extremely important to me, perhaps more so given my international upbringing.

2. I have a large number of friends and relatives who have past or present served with the US military. Again, my intention is not to belittle this service or the nation being served. I fully support both the concept and act of protecting the freedom of one's nation, and am very thankful for those willing to risk their lives to do so! However, as a follower of Jesus, my primary allegiance is not to an earthly nation or establishment.  I deeply love each of the countries on the four continents I have gotten to call home - flawed though they each are in different ways.  But this world is not my home, and the Kingdom to which I owe my first allegiance crosses the boundaries of nations.  My countrymen and brothers and sisters are those across the face of the earth who follow the same King, and I feel about this Kingdom the way I would imagine a soldier feels towards the nation they love and fight for: willing to sacrifice what it takes to remain loyal to its ideals, its leader and its people.
With that said, onwards!)

I've refrained from blogging on the subjects of immigration, refugees or Islam until now (and as I write I'm not totally sure I'll even post this) ... but I am so disturbed and saddened by so much of what I read and hear that I want to add my voice to those in disagreement with the majority public opinion.  Opinion which often seems so strongly and desperately held that I don't really write in an attempt to change anybody's mind - simply express my own.

I think what disturbs me the most is the climate of fear that is growing in our culture.  It's being fostered by the media, by Presidential candidates, it's causing an increase in targeted attacks against Muslim Americans , and it's causing us to forget that as followers of Christ, we are called to more than just self-preservation. (In fact, that is the opposite of what Jesus came to earth for!) Even after the Paris attacks, France is remaining committed to its promise to accept 30,000 refugees  over the next two years, with President Hollande citing "humanitarian duty" and France's status as a "country of freedom" as his motivating factors.  But we, with the luxury of the Atlantic Ocean that Europe is not afforded as a buffer between us and the refugees, are increasingly afraid.

Yes, the underlying reason that we as a nation are wearing fear like a coat is that legitimately frightening things are taking place around us.  Maybe if Muslim Americans weren't shooting their own co-workers at the Department of Health, white Americans wouldn't feel the 'need' to attack Muslim Americans.  Maybe if we could say with certainty that it's only young Syrian males known to to the UN and USCIS to hold extremist ideals who would carry out terrorist attacks, we could continue letting in families who are fleeing for their lives.  Maybe then we could stop being afraid.

However, I cannot with good conscience take up a position that closes doors to those who are fleeing a brutal civil war in their own country, many of whom have lost friends and family members in the fighting, simply because the risk of missing a terrorist in the screening process is too great.  

The Bible uses the phrase "poor and needy" 30 times in the Old Testament, and every one of those is either God's instruction to care for those in need (this included both fellow Israelites and foreigners living among them), or warnings about God's judgement if they failed to do this - for "precious is their blood in His sight." (Ps 72) The word "stranger" is used even more times in both Old and New Testaments, often within the context of God's command to welcome and care for them when they reside within Israel's borders.  In the New Testament, this sentiment is reinforced when Jesus answers the expert in the law with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Jewish leader asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied to love God and love your neighbour, and then told the parable when the leader tried to justify himself by asking who is neighbour was.  Jesus' concluding statement was that the man who truly loved his neighbour was the Samaritan man who showed mercy to his enemy at great personal cost - and exhorts us to "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10)

I think it is too easy to forget, in our fear, that those attempting to escape death at the hands of ISIS in their country's civil war are running from the same enemy we are afraid of.  The same enemy!  Refugees are experiencing the fear that we feel when we see news headlines describing shootings, violence and suicide bombers in their own country - but for them, the stories are not headlines.  They are the realities of daily life. 

So what if we do let in that one innocent-looking Syrian refugee who has managed to conceal their ISIS ties, and we pay for our neighbourly compassion? What if we allow another 9/11 or worse by opening our doors?
First of all, let's remember that America is no haven of peace even without the question of potential refugee terrorists. White American Americans are doing a more-than-adequate job of turning on each other in violence, murdering innocent children and adults because of their own personally held extreme views towards society at large or their targets in particular.
Secondly (and please understand that I do not write this lightly or without some measure of fear myself), as followers of Jesus, we are not called to a life of safety.  Obeying God's commands is inherently risky; God Himself chose to act in ultimate love, on our behalf even while we were His enemies, and sent His Son knowing that we would kill Him!  Yes, I do think there is a risk that a Muslim terrorist willing to live and die for the destruction of America might possibly slip through the net (even though only 9% of refugee applicants from Syria are actually allowed into the US and it takes an average of two years for them to arrive). Or, as in the the case of Syed Farook in San Bernadino, they might already be here looking like any other American of Middle Eastern/South-East Asian descent.  Like I do.  However, does that risk justify my choice to ignore God's heart and commands towards the needy of the world simply to prioritise my own safety? I can't answer yes.

Mark and I moved our family to Papua New Guinea, an island in the Pacific, nearly two years ago.  While the culture and people are truly beautiful in many ways, there is a deep layer of violence below the surface.  My children know that when they hear gunshots while they're playing outside, they run into the house and can't play near the back fence to our yard until tribal tension is resolved.  They have heard the sounds of domestic violence at night coming from the village nearby.  They make friends with our (excellent) security guards who are present day and night on our missionary compound.  They know that much of what Mark deals with in the hospital is a direct result of unrestrained violence between individuals, sometimes members of the same family.  We don't have access to any kind of advanced specialist medical care in case of an emergency in our own family.  And while we are certainly not in the most dangerous place we could live, this is the reality of our family and our kids' childhoods.  It is risky.  It is not always safe.  And we sometimes feel afraid.  But it is where God has called us.

Is the answer to stop opposing refugee immigration from Syria?  Is giving towards aid organisations directly caring for refugees, like the Red Cross or Samaritan's Purse, sufficient?  Or perhaps being more targeted in giving, and sponsoring a refugee family living in a micro-camp whose purpose is to foster hope, provide trauma counselling and offer spiritual care and job training?  Honestly, I don't know.  I have a nagging feeling that the change required is such a drastic cultural and individual paradigm shift that it may never come about.  In which case, truly, Lord have mercy on us.  What I do know, though, is that as followers of Christ we are called to a higher standard than we are currently attaining on this subject.  As a group of Christian college students wrote in an excellent Op Ed piece, "Even when our neighbours are violent, we are called to love as Christ did, to the point of death, for Matthew 5:43 says, 'You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I tell you the truth, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"

Like the Jewish expert in the law in Luke 10, we seek to justify ourselves by asking, "But how do I define love? Must love mean letting Muslim refugees in??" I think Paul gives us the answer in I Corinthians 13:
"And now I will show you the most excellent way:
 ... Love is kind, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 

May we be known as people who protect, trust, hope and persevere for those in need - because we ourselves are loved in this way by the One who calls us to follow Him.

**A note to Mom and Dad, if you ever come across this post: thank you for my upbringing. I love you!