June 02, 2016

The Hardest Goodbye

Here's a little bit of advice for you: on the day you say goodbye, the I-don't-know-when-I'll-ever-see-you-again goodbye with your close friend, maybe that's not the day to then watch "Little Women" with your daughter.

That scene when Beth talks to Jo before she dies, when she says "I can be brave, too" gets me every time, but especially on this day when I was already so weepy.  

It is the season of goodbyes.  The end of the school year is a time of transition for many people living here - not just seniors moving on to the next thing, but also others who are leaving for good. And it is a time of transition for those who are staying as they adjust to a new normal.

One of those leaving for good is the Feunekes family (known affectionately to us as the Feuneki), with whom we've become very close to in our four years in Papua.  They were with us through some tough times, like the waterfall incident, and adjusting to Pos 7 life.  We celebrated birthdays and holidays together. 
USA, Netherlands, Canada

The bonds of our friendship were most tightly woven not through the highs and lows, but in the "middle moments" of everyday life: carpooling to school, playing sports, borrowing cups of sugar, calling for a homework assignment, driving kids here and there, lunches with our Indonesian office ladies, doing ministry, kids playing, watching American Idol and Downton Abbey, endless texts ("is your power off?"- "drunks in the road"- "can you stop by the store for me"- "how are you doing?"). Our lives felt so tightly woven that now that the Feuneki are gone, I feel a gaping hole. I feel a sadness in knowing that our lives, which had reached a sweet spot with this family, will never be the same.
Me and my buddy Erica
Even our dogs were best buddies
The life we live here is characterized by goodbyes.  There are goodbyes with our loved ones in America when we leave there to come here.  Those are some of the hardest, but at least with those goodbyes there is the hope we will meet up again in a year or two.  There are goodbyes with loved ones in Indonesia when we leave here for furloughs.  Those are difficult, too.  
Z and B

But some of the hardest are of the "when will I ever see you again?" variety.  And in this category, the hardest is watching your children say these tough goodbyes.  I was groping for some words of wisdom and comfort the other day as we drove home from the airport, having said our final goodbye with the Feuneki.  I caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of my younger kids' sweet, sad faces.

"It's okay to feel sad," I told them. "It's okay to cry." 

And it is.  We will miss you, Feuneki!


May 27, 2016

Ruining our Children?

I think the phrase “all the feelings” is a bit overused these days, but it really does accurately describe my emotional state right now.  I am the mother of a high school graduate, and with this new status come varying degrees of excitement, fear, and sadness. 

For the reception held at school after graduation, we had to prepare a poster of photos honoring our graduate.  I printed out over 200 photos and then spent a few days making the poster.  As much as I dislike making posters, the process of sifting through all these photos of Carter was therapeutic.  I reflected on his babyhood, when he was such a sweet chunk, to his boyhood in Kalimantan when he loved all kinds of critters, to his teenage years that have been full of fun times with friends and discovering new interests, like art and music and writing. 

The graduation wasn’t as emotional as I thought it would be.  I think I’m saving up for the Big Cry that is coming in a few months, when we get on a plane and return to Indonesia, and Carter stays behind in the U.S.A.  I still can’t even really think about that moment without melting into a puddle of tears.

Recently I’ve been reading a book about the first missionaries to Hawaii.  Some of our friends in Hawaii recommended it to me years ago after I told them I had read Michener’s Hawaii, which is loosely based on actual events.  This other book, Grapes of Canaan, is based on the journals of the first missionaries who arrived in 1820, and it has been a fascinating read.  I can easily identify with some of their struggles of living in a new place, of having interpersonal issues, of being worried about their kids.

The book relates how some of the missionaries were concerned about how the culture was impacting their children, particularly their teens, and an older visiting missionary advised them: “No service you might give here is the worth the ruin of your children.” I would agree with this statement.  More than once I have thought, ‘are we messing up our kids for life by living here?’ Thankfully, living in Indonesia has not led to the ruin of our children, though I do think they are impacted forever for having grown up overseas. It will be interesting to see in the years to come just how that plays out in our kids' lives as they leave home and make their way in the world.  

April 30, 2016

Barang Sale

Sometimes, we have too much stuff.  I know this may come as a surprise to you.  You may think that people who have left the comforts and familiarity of their home culture to live in expats in a foreign culture have no problems with materialism.  You would be very wrong.  Missionaries can be some of the worst hoarders ever.  We hang on to stuff like nobody's business.  We are the people who wash out ziploc bags and jam jars for reuse, who keep old Monopoly games with missing pieces, whose children go to a school with a library that still has VHS tapes, if you can believe it.  Because somebody in this community is still using their VCR they brought over in 1992.  

But never fear, to help us with our excess stuff and fight the materialistic monster within, our kids' school puts on a Barang Sale twice a year (Barang=Stuff).  
Ready to sell!  We sold almost all of it, with the plastic totes on the floor being hot items.

There are a few reasons you might want to attend a Barang Sale.  You either have stuff to sell, or you want to buy somebody else's stuff, or you're there purely for the entertainment factor.  And entertaining it is.  People start lining up outside the fence a half-hour before the gates are opened, and the anticipation starts to build.  It always makes me think of Black Friday in America.  Once the gates are opened, it's pure chaos.
The crowds are ready

It took five of us (Grace was helping sell homemade snacks with her class - another bonus to the Barang Sale) to man our table.  At any given moment, 10 different people were crowding our space, elbowing each other to get a look at our stuff.  
First wave of customers

Each time we sell, I go with a firm resolve NOT to buy anything, or be tempted by the ubiquitous box of free books.  But last year we came home with two surfboards, and this year I came home with mint and a few books (I just can't help it).  We divided up some of the proceeds among the kids, so they can have some pocket money this summer to - you guessed it - BUY MORE STUFF!

February 11, 2016


I have been blessed to know all my grandparents.  Not just know them, but have wonderful relationships with each.  Three of them have passed away.  Papaw - Mom's dad - is celebrating his 90th birthday this weekend, and all the family will be there.  All but me and my crew.

I'm sure I've said this before on here somewhere, but this is one of the hardest parts of the expat life.  We have to make peace with the fact that the work we've chosen to do, that we feel called to do, will take us far away from the ones we love the most.

When we first told our families where we'd be moving to, part of me was afraid they might take it as a personal affront - I mean, could we get any further away from them and still be on Earth?
I would love to be one of those families that lives close to parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins.  I would love to drop the kids off with the grandparents for a weekend, would love for their cousins to be at their birthday parties, would love to have weekly Sunday lunches - the kind I grew up with - together.

 Our family has been so gracious.  Each wedding, birth, funeral, birthday, family reunion or retirement party we miss - they are so gracious.  They understand that we want to be there, but can't be.  But it's still hard to be the only one not there.

Okay, enough of that.  Here's a little tribute to Papaw.  

He has a sense of humor.

He is one of the most patriotic people I know.  He was in the Navy during World War II and patrolled the waters off of Borneo, not far from where we lived.

He is loyal to his family, and has a soft spot for grands and great-grands.

He calls me "baby" even though I'm over 40.

Happy 90th birthday, Papaw!

February 10, 2016

Through Rachel's Eyes

As I've mentioned on here before, our niece Rachel lived with us for five months.  Before she left a few weeks ago, she shared some of the photos she'd taken during her time here in Sentani.  As I scrolled through them, my first reaction to some of them was, 'Why did she take a photo of THIS?' And then I remembered that whatever 'THIS' was would be weird/new/terrifying to most Americans. The longer we live in Indonesia, the more familiar the foreign becomes.  And that is as it should be, I guess.

So here are a few of Rachel's photos, which give a glimpse into our world:
What, your cat doesn't snuggle up with the just-picked pineapples?

Ice cream flavors: sweet corn and yam
No dishwasher here - so every night we have a mountain of dishes like this.

Hotel bathroom with hose attachment. 

Our house is wired for both 110 and 220

This is the "taxi" our kids would ride to school. The jump rope is used to close the door.

Es buah - a drink/dessert with lots of lovely bits in it that, yes, do resemble frogs' eggs.

The horrific leftovers from a car crash - meant as a deterrent to reckless driving
Balloon man, who we later see....

...at the pasar. And yes, I bought one. That panda one.

Power's out - a frequent occurrence
Missionaries don't throw away anything. Case in point: these roller skates.  But hey, they work!
A baby goat in a printing store.  Why not?
Eating on the floor at one of our local eateries
Poetic English
Cigarette packs come with gruesome photos of what smoking can do to you.
Jus Alpokat - Avacado shake.  It's delicious - you just can't think 'guacamole.'

Indonesian airplane food. 

We hardly ever get to use a jetway - usually it's stairs then a bus to the terminal.

Thanks for the photos, Rachel!

February 07, 2016

Diary of an Injury

By nature, I am not a risk-taker.  No desire to go skydiving, or bungee-jumping, or even scuba diving. However, some might argue that the fact that I, at my advanced age, choose to play basketball, puts me firmly in the Risk Taker Category, right alongside BASE jumpers and lion tamers.  They might be right.

One of the things I love about our community here is the opportunity to be active.  Monday through Friday, there’s a different sport that moms can take part in at the school gym.  My days are Tuesday Volleyball and Friday Basketball.

Now, I should tell you that I am no athlete.  I played two years of basketball in high school that mostly consisted of me making jokes with my friend Tessa as we rode the bench, hoping Coach would put us in, but also slightly terrified that Coach would put us in.

But now, as an adult, playing pickup basketball is awesome.  I start EVERY GAME.  There is no bench to warm, because usually we’re lucky if we have enough players for three-on-three.
Some of the volleyball ladies, circa 2014

We play for about an hour, and exult in all the calories burned.  Then I go home and drink a 600-calorie “recovery shake” that negates all calorie burn. David accuses me of playing basketball just for the recovery shake (Recovery shake: a frozen banana, some milk, some cocoa powder, a few tablespoons of peanut butter).
So what makes this risky? The fact that I keep getting injured.  A few years ago at Friday Basketball I caught a crazy pass and when I looked at my pinky finger it was bent in a freakishly unnatural 90-degree angle.  Thankfully my friend Karen, a nurse, was there, and she popped it right back into place.  But it took weeks to recover.
Last Friday I was playing basketball, and we were having a good game.  Then, a loose ball, and Holsten tussles with another lady for the ball.  Did the thought, “Slow down, honey, and remember the pinky!” go through her mind? No! It was more like, “Ball, ball, must get ball!” and then boom, I was on the floor in pain. 
I had twisted my ankle, and it immediately began to swell to mythic proportions.  David was called, and he very graciously took me to the nearby hospital with a working x-ray for a scan, not once saying what he was probably thinking, “NOW, will you stop playing ball?”
"Where to, ma'am?"

Who gets real x-rays anymore?  A few years ago after the finger incident, I was back in the U.S. and saw an orthopedic doctor for his take on how I was healing.  I handed him the x-ray that was done in Indonesia, and he inspected it like a relic from Tut’s tomb: “Hmm, haven’t seen a film x-ray in a long time.”
This photo has nothing to do with this post, other than we saw this on the way to get the x-ray. A dude carrying a goat on the back of a motorcycle.

Yay for working x-ray machines! Now, just don't think about the dried blood on the table.

The waiting "room" outside radiology

But we’re just glad we can get an x-ray here, be it film or digital.  Karen was a big help, writing some doctors in Singapore for an opinion, and checking on my foot.  The pain has been intense, but it appears that it’s just a sprain. Our expat doctor Dr. Di took a look at me yesterday and put me in a boot, and that has helped (our little clinic has quite the collection of boots, crutches and braces that get passed around the community). David just got back from meetings the day before my injury, so he’s been able to chauffeur me and the kids around and help with everything.
In many ways, Indonesia is a wonderful place, but it is sorely unaccommodating to those with physical disabilities.  Trying to negotiate parking lots and stores in crutches is about as easy as roller skating at the beach.  And because most cars here – including ours – are manual transmission, I’m unable to drive with a gimpy foot.  This experience has made me more empathetic with those dealing with long-term disability here.  I think of the man who often sits outside one of the stores in town, and I understand better why he moves so slowly on his crutches. 
On Thursday, David brought out two medivac patients, both with foot injuries, and neither had crutches, so they got pushed from the plane to the ambulance on a luggage cart. It kind of makes me mad when I contrast that with the American experience of handicapped parking, handrails, ramps, and ECVs outside of every Wal-Mart that make it so much easier to get around with an injury.
David's medivac passengers catch a ride to the ambulance

A few people, after hearing how I hurt myself, have said, “Well now, that’s why I don’t play sports!” It’s crazy, but all I can think is, how long till I can get back out there and play? So maybe I am more of a risk taker than I thought.

December 30, 2015

2015: Year In Review

It's the last day of 2015 here in Papua, and I'm taking a moment during a brief pause in the fireworks and music from the pondok Natal to reflect on this past year. There were challenges for sure, but also moments of fun and much to be thankful for.  Here are a few highlights:

Safety in flying and travel
While David doesn't fly as much as he used to, he flew about 100 hours in the challenging terrain of Papua, all safe and accident-free.  We don't take this lightly, and if you are one of the people who pray for us and our safety, thank you! We also did lots of traveling - motorbikes on sketchy roads, car trips around town in heavy traffic, boat rides to the beach, airplane trips around the archipelago, and trips across the Pacific.  We are thankful for safe travels.
David with some passengers

 I turned 40 this year, and it's taken me almost a full year to come to grips with it.  But I think I'm finally okay with it, which is a good thing considering I'm almost 41.  Time to move on. 
Don't worry, young friends, 40 may not be this scary for you.

The end of teaching and the start of writing
The first half of 2015 I was teaching two high school English classes.  There were parts of it I loved - getting to know the students, rereading the classics - but for various reasons I decided to stop teaching, at least for now.  In its place I've been writing more, and with a friend started a writing group this fall.  There are about six of us that meet once a month to exchange critique on our writing and encourage each other in our writing projects.  It's been an exercise in vulnerability to put my writing before other people and ask for criticism, but it's been great.  One of my current projects is a children's novel set in Mississippi. One goal for 2016 is to finish this and read it to my two younger kids.  I've read aloud countless children's books over the years, and I know what makes an enjoyable read-aloud, and I know what my kids like, so I've been writing with them in mind.

In our family reading is the number one hobby, and there were some great books passed around this year.  All the Light We Cannot See and I Capture the Castle were two young adult books some of us read and enjoyed.  Quiet - a book about introverts and how our society tends to favor extroverts - gave me insight into the introverts in my life, and Boys Adrift challenged us about how to best help our boys grow into men, and not just stay boys. Cutting for Stone, State of Wonder, and The Invention of Wings were the best fiction I read this year. Neal Gabler's biography Walt Disney is a must for any Disney fan.  Grandma Gatewood's Walk was inspiring, and Same Kind of Different As Me made me cry.  I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and didn't really care for Heathcliff.  Of the books that I read with Luke and Zoe this year, Zoe liked The Wolves of Willoughby Chase best, and Luke liked The Master Puppeteer. 
A rare precious moment, no one tugging the blanket or hogging the pillows

We spent the summer in the USA, and loved our time with family and friends.  Aside from the usual speaking in churches, consuming vast amounts of blueberries and Chik-Fil-A, and dropping some serious cash at Target, some other positive things happened - Carter had his first jobs, he visited the college he'll probably be attending, and I started to get a handle on the anxiety I've been experiencing.  I haven't written much about that, but hope to do so soon.


Return to Tarakan
In November, I was able to return to Tarakan in East Kalimantan, where we served for 10 years.  I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones, and took many trips down memory lane as I drove around that little island.  
My beloved Orpa

MAF Ladies

New babies
This year we were able to meet the new little people in our lives - baby Natalie my cousin, baby Natalie my "grandbaby", and my niece Annalee.  And yesterday our newest niece, Georgia Mae, was born and we are excited to meet her.  
Aunt Mary and Baby Natalie

"Grandma" and Natalie, Orpa's baby girl
Grace and her cousin Annalee

Another "baby" of 2015 is Braveheart, a gecko that Carter found as an egg and kept in his room until it hatched and found its way to a crack in the wall.  Every night when we sit in the living room to read or watch tv, he comes out, never venturing more than a few inches from his home.  It probably sounds ridiculous to think we love this little guy, but we do.
Braveheart being brave

Our last baby of the year is Little Guy, our sugar glider.  He has the cutest little face, but watch out when you wave a grasshopper in front of his nose.  Then he's all teeth and claws.
That pretty much wraps up 2015.  As we look ahead to 2016, we know major changes await our family when Carter graduates and moves on.  We hope it is a year of greater dependence on God, as we trust Him to grow us in our faith and in our capacity to love others.

Happy New Year! Selamat Tahun Baru!