Saturday, June 29, 2013

Five-minute Friday: In Between

“Don't be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.” ~Richard Bach

So, I just found this blog challenge to write for five minutes, unedited, on a specific prompt each Friday.  Not sure if I will continue, but today's (well, yesterday's for me) prompt seems appropriate.  So, here goes ...

Today begins the in-between. 

Today, after two weeks of suffocating under the weights of goodbyes, our community attempts to pause and catch its collective breath.

For two weeks we have been saying farewell, whether we wanted to or not.  Whether the words actually came out of our mouths or, like my own so often, whether they were only thoughts that got caught up in our throats and died on our tongues.

Whether we drove out to the dirt airstrip and gave up hugs and tears in person, or whether we stood on our front lawns and waved frantically as the single-engine plane carrying our besties, our buddies, our co-workers, classmates, or confidants banked left and soared into the next chapter of their lives while leaving us behind to carry on without them.

She didn’t see me waving from my yard, by the way.  I asked later in an email.

Almost everyone who is leaving has already left.  This week I spoke with one graduate who does not leave until next week - she's still in the in-between.  She said it was hard being the last one, having to say goodbye to all of her friends, but that she was grateful for the extra time with her family.  Because this gal spent her grade 10 and 11 years in her passport country, her family has decided that she will be fine going home and getting started in university with only the help of her stateside brother and grandmother.  But, as the mass exodus of entire families so far testifies, this is not the norm.

So, here we stand in the in-between.  While the community breathes a bit more easily this weekend, we begin to feel the giddiness of anticipation because in the next few weeks goodbyes will be replaced by “welcome backs” as people who have been gone for six months, one year, two years or more return from their furloughs en masse. 

Exodus is replaced with influx.

Tears are replaced by joy; mourning is turned into dancing.

It’s a time of celebration.

It’s a time of breathing deeply once again.

Five Minute Friday

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Happy Half-Christmas

“Christmas, children, is not a date.  It is a state of mind.” ~Mary Ellen Chase

“Christmas makes me happy no matter what time of year it comes around.”  ~Bryan White

Half-Christmas has arrived.

Two days ago, the kids and I finished the puzzle below, complete with eighteen hidden wolves.  As we did so we talked about how my parents had sent the puzzle to us for Christmas of 2011 (doing a puzzle over the Christmas break is a tradition we have started, and that year they were kind enough to support the habit).  Because the package actually arrived after Christmas, and we were already trying to pack up and get ready for furlough, we never even opened the puzzle.  Until now.

Maybe it was the snow depicted on the puzzle, or the talk of the holidays, but the kids wanted to know how much longer until Christmas.  Andie pulled out the calendar and tried to figure out how many days had transpired since the last one. 

“What’s 31 plus 28 plus 31?”

Seriously?  You just finished Algebra, right?

“And then add 30 …”

Don’t forget the, uh, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 … six days after Christmas in December.

Short story, she figured out that the very next day, Tuesday, was exactly half a year out from Christmas Eve, which means today, Wednesday, is half a year out from Christmas.

Happy Half-Christmas!

We joked for a few minutes about how a half-Christmas celebration should look and sound.

… On the fourth day of half-Christmas my true love gave to me, two calling birds, one-and-a-half French hens, one turtle dove, and a partridge--.

At that point the kids had been out of school for a full six days, which apparently is long enough for full boredom to set in.

“We should decorate!  Mom, can we decorate?”


“We should put up half a Christmas tree … and bake Christmas cookies …”

Then they asked if we could invite our close family friends – who happened to be leaving for a year furlough the very next day, today - on half-Christmas, thank you very much - to come over and celebrate with us … since we were unable to spend last Christmas with them because of our furlough, and we wouldn’t get to spend this next Christmas with them because of their furlough.

Plus we needed their signatures on our holiday table cloth.

And thus the planning began.  Tuesday we spent the better part of the day decorating (lights around half of the front door, half a wreath, half a tree with half a paper star on top, half-boxes (open on one side) wrapped in holiday paper, half a nativity scene.  Then we baked cut-out sugar cookies … stars, trees, angels, gingerbread men, stockings … all cut in half prior to baking, of course.

We even made faux snow in a bowl.  Decorations courtesy of Andie.  

"So no one thinks it's coconut."  :)

Our friends came over after dinner and we served homemade eggnog – half a glass per person.  As the Christmas music played in the background, we signed the tablecloth, frosted and sprinkled half-sugar-cookies and chatted, trying to ignore the fact that we wouldn’t see each other again for nearly 400 days. 

These are the same friends who have become “aunt” and “uncle” to our kids, and to whose kids we have become the same.  They cared for Evan when Paul and I were in Thailand in 2011.  And as if that wasn’t enough to prove their loyalty and friendship, they looked after our goofball dog for much longer than they bargained for while we were on furlough.

And they didn’t even remind us of our extreme indebtedness … at least not very often.

After an hour or so of cookies and ‘nog, their just-graduated 18-year-old son who affectionately treats my children like a younger brother and sister and even cuddles on the dog (when he’s not painting her, that is) stood to leave.  His mother had been told to expect that each evening during Cry Week the graduates would have a party of some kind or other, “with whoever is left,” hence the 8pm departure from our chronologically displaced holiday festivities. 

I don’t blame him.  I've been to more exciting parties, and I'm old.

But as I watched him walk out the door, knowing that it would likely be much longer than 400 days before we would see him again, I felt a wave of sadness.

Seeing as I don’t do goodbyes well, I sent him off with a “take care” and “keep us posted on how you’re doing - Facebook, Facebook, Facebook.”  He smiled at the reference to one of his recent status updates.

This may have been our last “holiday” with him, but I’d sure be appreciative if he would, someday, plan his wedding around our furlough schedule.

And if you do, ‘Siah, I’ll promise to make you a batch of homemade eggnog, and to let it chill longer than seven hours.

And you can even have a full glass.  :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Week in Review: 3-9 June

"Australia is so cool that it's hard to even know where to start describing it. The beaches are beautiful; so is the weather. Not too crowded. Great food, great music, really nice people. It must be a lot like Los Angeles was many years ago." ~Mary-Kate Olson

"I love Australia. My dream would be to have a place to live there and be able to commute back and forth." ~Sarah Michelle Gellar

So, I am a couple weeks behind on my "Week in Review" posts.  I knew as soon as I published in our newsletter that I was updating more regularly that it would slip.

I have also been trying to figure out what to say about the week of June 3.

You could say that several weeks ago my friend, sort-of-jokingly, asked me to consider going to Cairns, Queensland (Australia) with her the week of June 3.  You could say that the reason she was going was to meet up with her mother and niece and to fly back with them, at her mother’s request, into this third-world country.  You could say if she was going to go that far, that my friend was smart to not just go for one or two nights, but that since she was involved in Banquet the weekend before, her options were limited.

You could say Paul and I are both too practical and conservative to seriously consider doing something like this.  But, you could also say the idea nagged at me.

You could say that I was torn, knowing it would mean spending a largish amount of money on something that wasn’t completely necessary or practical, but that it would also mean the world to my friend because of all she’s gone through in the last nine months.  You could also say that a large slice of me didn’t want her to have to travel by herself, or be there by herself, and that she made it clear that it would be nice to have some company, especially during the long layover in the Port Moresby airport.

You could say Paul eventually, but graciously, gave his full blessing.

And, you could say that in the end I bought the ticket.

You could also say that the day in the Port Moresby airport was, indeed, very long, but that we made it to Cairns on schedule.

Now, as for why I went, you could say I went because I just wanted a vacation.  Of course, you could also say that to “take a vacation in PNG” is a bit of a misnomer, so anything out of the country naturally has the potential to be counted as a real "vacation."

Or maybe you could say that I went because I had recently been involved in multiple situations at work where people weren’t happy with other people and I just really needed to get out of here for a while.

In fact, you could say that I went because on several fronts I had been under ongoing stress and I just needed a change of pace.  You could also say that I tried to ban those particular topics from the conversation for the week.  Then you could say that other than one or two brief instances, I met with success.

Alternately, you could say that I went simply because my friend needed a friend.  You could say that she thought she would feel much more comfortable navigating the Cairns bus system for the first time if she wasn’t alone, or that she would have less free time to think about all she had been through if someone else was there, or that maybe that if she needed someone to talk to, she would be very grateful for my presence.

You could even say that I went because it was a good opportunity to have a routine - but important - medical test done.  You could actually say that the test (and therefore the trip) was in fact necessary because I have family history.  And you could say that this test involved some awkward tissue squishing, but you certainly wouldn’t have to if doing so made you blush.

You could say that I also made an appointment for my friend and that we both independently discovered that the Australians don’t utilise changing rooms and robes like we do in America.  But, having said that, you could also say we found the whole process to be much more efficient, if slightly more awkward for the uninitiated.  Fortunately, you could say that in the end the radiologist had nothing to say and that that was a good thing.

You could say that once we got there we were happy to be able to eat at actual, real live restaurants.  You could say that even though the steak special on Tuesday night was an attractive price, it wasn’t actually anything “special.”  But you could also say that the fact that we were able to walk to the restaurant, at night, by ourselves, and not feel afraid or be particularly vulnerable was special enough for us.

You could say that we even had ice cream.  Twice.

You could say we each took along a pretty decent shopping list.  You could say mine included things like “basketball” for the boy, “swimsuit” for the girl, “240V ceiling fan” for the house, and “dual-control queen-sized electric mattress cover” for the people who graciously took in Stacey while I was gone.   If you were daring you could even say I managed to fit all those items in my return luggage.

You could say that my friend and I had a wonderful time together.  You could say that she loved it when I taught her to play Cribbage.  You could say we had good, meaningful conversations and got along famously.  You could say we each bought a bottle of (temporary) hair colour and that I applied hers and she applied mine.  You could also say that while her colour change is more striking than mine, it suits her.

You could say that on the day we were to pick up her relatives, we rented a car and successfully navigated the roads - paved, smooth, high-speed, and driving-on-the-left-side-of-the-road-through-all-manners-of-roundabouts though they were.  You could say that we successfully fetched the fam from the airport, went to lunch, and enjoyed the botanical gardens.  You could say the gardens had free entrance.

You could also say we went downtown and wandered along the “Esplanade,” and that the 11 year old niece and I waded around in the “Esplanade Lagoon,” a swimming facility that overlooks the Pacific.  You could say that even though it is winter, since Cairns sits on the coast and so close to the equator, the weather stays pretty nice this time of year.  You could say that the Lagoon also has free entrance, and that, of course, free is good - especially twice in one day.

You could say that as we got to the Night Market, the 11 year old niece told her grandmother that she would eat a tiny little octopus-on-a-skewer if she would.  You could also say, pretty confidently, that the grandmother refused.

You could say that we went in looking for good Asian-style foot and lower-leg rubs for four.

You could say we turned in early that night because the taxi would come at 5:15am the next morning to pick us up for our flight back to PNG. 

If you want, you could say that the flight to PNG was eventless, but that the single-engine number from Port Moresby into the Highlands was the roughest air travel I have ever experienced.  You could say that was because it was afternoon in PNG and the weather had moved in, and you could even say that the pilot tried to warn us.  You could also say that every time we went through a rain cloud, I got wet, but that I tried not to think about it because when I started to investigate the source of the flying droplets, I realised that the exterior door I was sitting by opened outward, as did the cargo hatch on American Airlines Flight 96 that resulted in the Windsor Incident about which we had just seen a documentary while we were in Australia where they actually have television which we watched just because it was a novelty and not because it's a smart thing to watch plane "incident" documentaries right before you get on a plane. 

You could say I tightened my shoulder straps. 

And you could say we were all relieved to land safely at Aiyura.

You could say all of these things and only one of them would be false.

Maybe it was the hair dye, but Cribbage apparently makes my friend’s head hurt.

We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

For the Bibleless Peoples of the World ...

(Updated 13 April 2013)