Comfort, Joy and Hope on Olivia’s Birthday

IMG_0393Olivia was born on December 20, 1988. She was delivered in a doctor’s office by a Papua New Guinean doctor and his down to earth, blunt nurse. In America if the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, the nurse might say, ‘Hold off on pushing, dearie. Breathe, breathe, Ok, there we go, all good now.’ My PNG nurse simply shouted, ’You are keelling de baby! Stop pushing! You are keelling de baby!’ That works too. I obeyed her, the cord was untangled and our little girl was safely born.

That was Monday. Kim and I and our new baby came directly home to the Lae guest house and introduced our fifth child to the other four.

On Wednesday of the same week, I went to the local hospital for a minor surgery. In no time at all I was wrapped in a stained -but clean -white sheet. What looked like baling twine was tied around my ankle and attached to it was a note which had my name, procedure and doctor written on it. I lay on a gurney as it was pushed out one building, down an outside alley and into another building to await my turn in the operating room.

That done, home we went again to anticipate Christmas two days hence. Because we were away from our island home and in Lae City to have our baby, we did not have Christmas decorations with us. A friend gave us a small plastic tree complete with lights. We put it on a coffee table, made a few decorations and called it good. It was a lovely time. We had our new baby. Our family was complete, 3 boys and now 2 girls. How happy we were.

On Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed Kim and I put the presents we had brought back with us from the states under the tree, filled the stockings, snuggled our baby and counted our blessings.

hibiscus flowers in treeEarly Christmas morning I went outside and picked several hibiscus flowers, brought them inside to place among the branches of our little plastic tree. Now it looked extra pretty and festive and PNG appropriate!

Hibiscus flowers, once picked, live only a few hours. For the time we opened gifts they remained bright and beautiful. By afternoon they were drooping. By nightfall they were closed up and finished.

This month of Olivia’s birth I think of her short yet lovely, bright, happy life. I push past the pain and bewilderment of loss to savor with love and thanksgiving the dear lovely happy gift she was and is to our family.

Last Sunday in church we sang, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be His name. He gives and takes away. My heart will say, blessed be his name.’ My husband and I cannot sing that song without tears in our eyes. Our trembling lips can barely form the words. But I like to think this. God did give us Olivia and for her short life she brought joy, delight and laughter to our family. And God did not just ruthlessly take her away. He took her away to Himself. His grace was in the giving her to us and his grace is also in the welcoming her home to be with him forever.

I don’t know if there will be hibiscus flowers in heaven but if there are, they will forever be alive and vibrant. As will Olivia. As will we. ‘And forever we shall be with the Lord.’ This then is our comfort and hope.

Across the Gully

Clink clunk clink….dawn is close to breaking, the sun is barely coming up and across the gully between our two bush houses, I hear the clink of ice being put in a thermos for the day’s drinking water. It is 1984 and we are in the Mouk village of Gigina on the island of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Our coworkers are up and at wimg542ork. They breakfast early, ‘red up’ the table and continue their study of the Mouk language. Mark and Gloria worked hard; after all, said some, at 35 they were a bit old to learn a language.

But learn it they did – and well. Then Mark started teaching. Beginning with Genesis he told the story of God – creation, the fall of man, and OT stories showing the character and plan of God. And then he told the rest of the story – Jesus, his sinless life, vicarious death and victorious resurrection. The Mouk people, amazed by God’s grace and love in sending a savior, believed. They rejoiced in their salvation boisterously, singing, dancing and even grabbing Mark and tossing him in the air. I remember hearing Mark say (via an old cassette tape) that ’If I were to die today, I would feel my life had been worth it.’

1923578_524149119358_4225_nOur part in the Mouk work was temporary. My husband Kim built the airstrip and I did medical work; when the airstrip was completed we headed off to another village to do the same thing. Across the island in the Yombon hamlet of the Asengseng people group, we rejoiced when we heard via our two-way radio the news that the Mouk believed the truth of the Gospel.

Many years later, in 2011 we were back in PNG helping where we could. One of the Mouk men who was visiting Hoskins town where we were living handed Kim an envelope with a letter of thanks and a one hundred kina note for the work Kim had done in building the airstrip. To say we were humbled would be an understatement. We were touched by the sacrificial gift – a way to show their ‘tenk yu tru’ for something done years ago. It seemed to us to be another evidence of God working in their lives.

Later that year we flew into the Mouk village of Gigina for a weekend. As the plane landed on the small airstrip, a midweek church service had just finished. The people came to greet us, the women with Bibles on their heads.

Those Bibles, by the way, were translated into the Mouk language by those ‘early to rise, hardworking people’, Mark and Gloria. Now, more than twenty-five years later, the next generation in the village was reading their Bibles and faithfully following God. So much had changed from the time long ago when we had lived with them. Fear of the tumbuna was gone. Family relationships were healed. Husbands were kind to their wives. Children were learning to read. There was a school, a church and a medical building.

We visited with the people, telling them about our family and hearing about theirs and we laughed together as we remembered the olden days when we were young and our children were little. And then we had a good time worshiping with them in their dirt floor, plank walled church building.IMG_0126

As we chatted about life in general and the things important to us, one of the women said to me, ‘Life here is hard but we are trusting God every day.’ I thought of that as I got on the plane to leave. I was going back to a clean house in town with running water. There would be bought food which I could prepare on my stove – or perhaps microwave and I would be sleeping in a comfortable bed. My Mouk friend would be walking a mile or two to her garden for food which she would cook over an open fire, bathing in the river and sleeping on a stick bed in her thatch roof house. Her life was hard but her faith strong. She was clear and emphatic about that! There is no question that God’s truth had brought hope, joy and freedom to these people.

Just weeks ago, Mark passed away after a short battle with cancer. All of these memories came dancing across my mind – the challenging and blessed beginning days, the early mornings, the hard work, the reward, and the continuing faith.

I think of Mark and his split second journey across the ‘gully’ to his new heavenly home. He has joined the many Mouk believers who have gone on before – all a part now of a great cloud of witnesses from various tribes and tongues and people and nations singing praises to God in a place not bound by time, limited by language or touched by sorrow. With complete joy and hope realized, they are at home with Jesus. For them the beginning of Forever is at hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Lovely Boy

Sometimes God uses children to show us His magnificence. Today, as I listened to a little boy talk of his teacher -the bestest in the world- and his friends -also the bestest- I was reminded of the work God does on a daily basis. It seemed the only thing to do was  to write about this beautiful child and God’s perfect work.

Our Lovely Boy

His chocolate eyes are sparkling bright.
His brown skin glows with health.
His smile can brighten any room;
I bask in it, myself.

He came to us an angry soul,
Surrounded by his rage.
We sheltered him and showered him
With love, applied each day.

And slowly, oh so slowly
His soul turned to the light.
The goodness of a gentle love
Shone strongly through his night.

Today I watched his face alight
With happiness and hope.
I heard him talk of joyous days.
I smiled as he spoke.

Was this the frightened, angry child
We met this time last year?
I do not see his anger now
And where is all that fear?

It’s all of God; His love shone bright
And forced away the pain.
That hurting, hopeless little boy
Will never be the same.

His world is new; he knows he’s loved.
He’s learning everyday
That God is good and though we hurt,
We needn’t stay that way.

So here’s to you, our precious boy.
Your life brings hope anew.
And when I see that lovely smile,
I can’t help smiling too.

Isaiah 54:13 – All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.

Don’t Forget to Look Up!

Don’t forget to look up. I say this to myself when I am in the ‘home place’. Greenville, Maine is a beautiful picturesque town with mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. But here, as everywhere, there are things that must be done so it is easy to be busy.  There is wood to stack, windows to clean, dishes to wash, card games to play and so on and so forth, as Gramps would say.  And I need to get my daily run in. I enjoy these wonderfully normal moments of everyday life but sometimes I forget to look at the beauty all around me.

So this week at the end of a run as I was walking up the last hill, I purposely turned around and looked up to see this.IMG_6205

Amazing. Beautiful. Lovely. Truly awesome. I think the beauty of this place is a reflection and reminder of the Creator. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, says the Psalmist; My help comes from the maker of all.

As I look at all the beauty around me I realize I need to look up with more than my eyes. Like how about my heart, my soul, my mind. It is easy to get all caught up in the everyday circumstances of life. I am in that muddled state on a regular basis. So look up, I say to myself.

Look up …..at Jesus on the cross. See his love.

Look up…at the Risen Christ. See his power.

Look up …..at the Author and Completer of your faith, the Lover of your soul, the Keeper of your heart.

So I am looking up and sighing and resting and smiling and laughing with thanksgiving and joy.

He is more amazing than his creation, more beautiful than the stars, more lovely than the most exquisite flower. He is powerful, and loving and truly awesome.
There is a phrase in Pidgin English that expresses the superlative in a simple and clear way. Bilong winim ol. The nth degree. The most. The extreme. That is the God we look up to. He is good and powerful and just and loving – bilong winim ol!

I was thinking about all this while on my way to visit a friend this week and the song, Turn Your eyes upon Jesus just happened  providentially played on the radio. So I have been singing it both reviewing and anticipating God’s kind and never-ending work in my life.

The first verse begins, O soul, are you weary and troubled? I have been making up new verses to fit my day. Oh soul, are you muddled and harried? Oh soul, are you sad and worried? Oh soul, are you happy, busy, hurting, rejoicing, desperate? Every day’s story is unique and different with an infinite number of circumstances or choices.

But the chorus is always the same….

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in his wonderful face.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace.

Yes, indeed. Whatever your story is today, don’t forget to look up.

 

You Can Call Me Gramma

DSCN1521I’ve never liked the name Gramma. It goes against the grain to hear this grammatically incorrect version of what could be a lovely name for a lovely position. I mean, think of the alternatives— Grandmama, Nonna, Nanny, Mimi…anything but Gramma!  At least that’s the way I always felt.

And then it happened. There I was, wandering through Hobby Lobby —- not really for any reason since I am not a ‘craft’ person. I think I was simply there to support their business, but that is an entirely different issue — yes, there I was with my little granddaughter, wandering.  Now, normally, Sofya calls me Baboushka and I call her Sofya, with the accent on the first syllable, not Sofia. That is the American translation.

When suddenly, she said it! She called me Gramma! What? And not once, but repeatedly. Each time she spoke to me, she used THAT word. Her mom looked at me and chuckled,

“She must have heard it on TV. American children call their Baboushkas Gramma.”

Hmmm, I’d never really thought of myself in those terms. That was for someone with a house dress on. (Forgive me if any of you wear house dresses. I remember older women, somewhat heavyset,  wearing those unattractive articles of clothing when I was growing up. I don’t DO house dresses. And now would I be relegated to THAT group?)

The next time Sofya visited, Gramma was forgotten and the familiar Baboushka was back in her vocabulary. I breathed a sigh of relief.  We would escape the dreaded word yet.

This year Sofya will begin her first year of education at home. It brings back all of the glorious memories of placing curriculum orders and the excitement of materials arriving in the mail. It was like Christmas each year when our books arrived. I remember those years as some of the best of our lives; books, books, books, and the delight of opening the world of learning to my children. What a privilege it is to see Sofya beginning this same journey. A shopping trip for school supplies was just what she and I needed.

We made our plans for a sleepover and the next morning Sofya and I hit Office Max and Walmart with a vengeance; we had important work to do. We found construction paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, even some nice little school dresses….when suddenly in the midst of it all, Sofya exclaimed,

“You’re the best Gramma I ever had!”

My eyes filled. My throat constricted. I held her tight.

“Oh Sofya, I’m going to cry right here in the store!”

And I did. Then, I wiped my eyes, pulled myself together, and rejoiced that I was a Gramma. Because it’s really fine. It’s a fine thing to be a Gramma, especially to a little girl like this.  As we finished up our shopping trek and headed for the registers, Sofya humbled me with one more comment,

“I hope I live in America forever!”

You will, Sofya, if this Gramma has  anything to say about it. Get those house dresses ready, I’m up for this!

My Eyes Can’t Believe It!

Me and Sofya

Sofya fishing

Here I stand, blubbing, as I watch my granddaughter place a ‘fishing pole’ gently over the top of a cardboard wall and watch excitedly to see what she will ‘catch’. It’s a Pollyanna world and I’m falling apart. I’m not gently tearing, wiping a stray bit of wetness from my eye. No! I am actually BLUBBING! Blubbing means that you can’t hold it back. There is nothing attractive about it, you simply BURST! And this is me, on this hot July 4th, in central Arizona, on the town square with all the other revelers, unable to hold it in.

I don’t care. It’s all just too wonderful. I look at Sofia as her mom drapes red, white, and blue beads over her neck. She waves her patriotic fan. It is all excellent. This is so hard to believe and yet I know….it’s true! I am standing here watching my granddaughter enjoy her first Fourth of July in America!

This week will mark the one year anniversary of her arrival. What a year it’s been! Today will be the last holiday of her first year of American holidays. Next week begins her second year in America and she enters it chattering along in English and reading her first words, like any other five year old.

She woke up this morning knowing today was a special day. Her mom’s been teaching her the meaning of Independence Day and she probably knows it better than the average American child. She’s been read the story about the King who demanded too much from his subjects, the colonists who threw tea in the harbor, the war that took place, and the new country that was formed. She read this in a book her mother wrote for her in preparation for this day. Blessed, lovely mother.

When it’s time for the National Anthem and everyone stands with their hands over their heart, there is a little girl standing right along with them.

At the end of the day, as fireworks light up the night sky, I listen to our Portugese friends next to us, Noel and Maks chattering along in Russian, Spanish and English from our native Arizonans, and I look over to see a little girl with face uplifted,

” My eyes can’t believe it!”

No, Sofia, my eyes can’t believe it either. I can’t believe you’re really here! God bless America and God bless this wonderful girl.