Sunday, April 29, 2018

Life After Furlough

Three months ago we returned from our ten month furlough. (For those wondering what 'furlough' looks like, this article explains it well.)

At the start of this time I was excited to live life in the UK, visiting new places and meeting people who I don't normally get to see. 

We had a great time finding snow in the Lake District along the Hardknott Pass, one of Britain's steepest roads.
However, by the end of last year I was very ready to return to the country where we serve overseas and was longing for the familiar.  I couldn't wait to leave behind all the stresses of furlough.  

The adjustment back to life in our host country wasn't the easiest thing ever though.  This was what it looked like for me:

Day 1:
So, so thankful to be home.  When we got close to our final destination I felt a burden lift as I let go of the travel-related questions:  Are our bags the right weight and size?  Will our suitcases fall apart?  Are we leaving enough time to get to the airport?  How will the transfer between terminals go in Australia?  Will our baggage make it?  Are we allowed to carry cheese into the country?  Which batteries do I need to keep in my carry-on?  Are we going to miss our connecting flight? 

Days 2 - 3:
It's been wonderful to spend the weekend with friends, some of whom we haven't seen for over two years.  I'm delighted to be home, and in a place where I have so many good friends living a few minutes' walk from my house. 

Week 1:
I'm reminded of the harder aspects of living here: People wanting financial help for legitimate causes; a cold virus caught while travelling; repairs that are needed in the house; walking up and down the hill in the hot sun or pouring rain; having a lot of musty belongings to take out of storage and find a home for.   But I'm still so happy to be home and so grateful to God that we were able to return.

Weeks 2 -3
Time to ease back into work.  Well, perhaps it would be better to focus on getting my house straight, but going to work is much more fun.  I'm glad to be getting back to my role here, and am looking forward to putting into practice the training I took on furlough.  I think I'm feeling settled...or at least that I'm almost there.

Weeks 4 - 5
Life is back to normal...sort of.  I'm still not feeling quite right emotionally.  The thought of paperwork that I still need to do can cause anxiety to rise in me fast; especially with financially-related topics.  I remind myself that God provided for us incredibly on furlough in sending the provision that we needed to return to the field and that he's not about to abandon us now.

A couple of friends have reminded me that it takes a while to fully adjust after an international move.  That's the kind of advice I would give to someone else; I forget to apply it to myself though!

I'm still so relieved to be back here.

Week 6:
I really am feeling better this week!  Although our furlough went well overall, with some wonderful moments spent with people we love, it was still tiring and stressful; part of this could have been avoided if I'd made different choices.  But the fact is that I didn't return to our country of service in the most refreshed state; it's really not surprising that my body and mind have taken a while to recover and feel normal again.  

I think I now have the capacity to start typing the blog posts that I've been writing in my head!

Month Four:
I'm finally getting around to sorting out the cupboards that I threw items into when we first got back.  It certainly makes daily life easier when I know where to find and put things.  I don't think I've yet managed to have the whole living area tidy at one time yet, but that goal is now looking realistic rather than overwhelming.  I think I'll get there before our next furlough ;-)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Eleven Things I've Learnt in Eleven Years of Marriage

We celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary this year.  I've been learning a lot along the way:

1) The strength of my marriage is not measured by the intensity of my feelings.  I'm not someone who regularly overflows with positive feelings towards others; so it's unlikely you'll ever find me declaring that I fall more and more in love with my husband every year.  That doesn't mean that our relationship hasn't strengthened though.

2) Our marriage has strengths that I'm not even aware of.  I thought I had a good idea of the areas where our marriage is strong and not so strong.  And of course it's easy to focus on the 'not so strong'.  A couple of years ago though I took part in a small group study about marriage.  The issues talked about were ones that I'd never even realised people struggled with; I knew we didn't.  I wonder what other areas of strength we have that I'm totally unaware of.

3)  Forgiveness is vital.  Resentment quickly sours a relationship.   When there are ongoing disappointments about something that I'm still waiting for, I may have to forgive 'seventy time seven times'.  I have probably needed forgiveness this many times for some of my own bad habits!

4) I am not responsible for my husband's choices.  Whether it's the words he speaks to others, the answers he gives to questions on a form or actions he takes, I have to recognise that it's not my job to control his choices and I am not responsible for the outcome of his decisions.  Of course I can give my opinion; I can pray; I can decide how I respond afterwards.  If he has offended or annoyed someone, it's between him and them; it doesn't need to affect my relationship with that person or their partner.

5) It's a very bad idea to compare my husband with others.   And these comparisons are usually inaccurate anyway: It's too easy to notice someone else's strengths without noting their more unappealing characteristics.

6) It is good to recognise the things that I really appreciate about my husband.  Not so that I can gloat, but so that I can be thankful.

7) I've learnt, through my husband, about the habits I have that can irritate others.   Some of them I can understand (such as leaving cupboard doors open, and interrupting).  Others make no sense to me, but are easy to avoid.  There are some goals that are always going to be a struggle for me (eg keeping the kitchen neat and tidy) but I can at least try.

8) When circumstances aren't ideal, I can adjust my expectations.   There are many interests and views that I would love to share with my husband.  But I'm married to a real person and not to a reflection of myself.   Yes, it would be nice if we had more shared interests.  But it can also be enjoyable to do things separately and come back and share our experiences.

9) Caring for others needs to start with my husband.  I've learnt so much in the last few years about supporting people through difficult times.  If I don't apply my listening skills to my own husband though, something is wrong. 

10) Sometimes I'm wrong!  I tend to be overconfident in my opinions and recall of facts.  Being married for ten years has given me plenty of opportunities to become more humble :-)

11) I still have plenty to learn.  My husband's personality is so different to mine.  After eleven years I still have lots to learn about how to love my husband and communicate well with him.



Sunday, March 25, 2018

My Overseas Kitchen

I'm not someone who loves to cook.  However, we have to eat and so I spend a fair bit of time in the kitchen.

In our remote location, packaged food is expensive and availability is sporadic; this is particularly true for chilled and frozen items.  So we do a lot of cooking from scratch.  To make it easier to feed the family, I have a lot more gadgets and appliances than I would if I lived in my home country.  Let me introduce you to some of them:

The first is the water filter:


Although the rain water that we drink is clean, it might not be so pure after it's landed on our roof and poured through the gutters.  As well as drinking the filtered water directly, we also use it to make milk from powder. (Boxed UHT milk is a special treat ;-))



Beans (eg black beans, navy beans) are cheap; we eat a lot of them!  But it's a challenge to cook them at 5000 feet, especially if they are already old by the time I use them.  This is where the pressure cooker comes in.  To make baked beans, I soak the beans overnight and then cook them for 25 minutes in the pressure cooker:

Sometimes I'll throw potatoes, carrots and chicken into the pressure cooker for an easy one-pot meal.

My rice cooker originally belonged to a Japanese family.  Fortunately a previous owner translated the labels into English:

Rice is cheap and easily available.  We eat it; we feed it to our friends; when dog food becomes unavailable, we feed it to our animals.  I'll also cook rice in the oven, in the pressure cooker or, of course, on the stove.  (Yes, we do have a regular oven, microwave and kettle in addition to these other gadgets.)

Friday night is popcorn and smoothie night for us.  Unpopped corn and bananas are cheap and plentiful so, with the assistance of the blender and popcorn maker, I can put together a cheap and easy meal:


There are challenges living in a community where people come and go so often.  An advantage though is that used items often come up for sale when people leave!  This how we obtained the appliances in the above two photos.  Many appliances sold by other missionaries were originally bought in the US; this means that a transformer (the large, clumpy, metal thing) is needed to run them. 

Other items we've acquired over the last 12+ years include a tortilla maker, waffle maker, sandwich maker, immersion blender and slow cooker.  All of these help me keep producing food in a place where I can't just pop something into the oven at the end of long day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Break, But Not A Rest

We're away from Papua New Guinea (PNG) for 10 months, with no 9-5 job during that time.  I understand why we sometimes get asked whether this is a holiday (or 'vacation', here in the US). 

It certainly is good to have a break from living overseas.  When we're on Home Leave we leave behind (to a large extent) cross-cultural difficulties, security concerns, and limited resources.  We get to visit new places and enjoy the advantages of being in our home cultures

We are encouraged to take some holiday/vacation time during our home leave:  Andrew and I were delighted to escape to Edinburgh for a few nights in celebration of our tenth anniversary.  We've loved spending time relaxing with friends and family members.  But I certainly wouldn't describe the whole Home Leave experience as restful.

 
In my experience, Home Leave, mostly, is hard work; there's a lot to figure out.  Here are some of the questions I've been busy pondering this year:

*What will we do about our children's education?
*Who will we get together with, and when?
*What location will we meet these people in?*Which churches are we speaking at?
*What will we say in those churches?         
*What meals will we cook in this country?
*Which visa do I need?
*What clothes shall I wear for speaking in church?
*What kind of clothes do people even wear in this decade?         
*Where do I put my bank card if I want to pay for groceries?         
*What do I do when my child is too anxious to leave my side?         
*What shall we write in our next newsletter?
*What vehicle will we drive?
*How long will it take to get to the place we're going to?
*How many road trips is it realistic for us to make?         
*Is the amount of financial giving to our Wycliffe ministry enough for us to return to PNG?         
*What happens if we are still lacking in financial partnerships when my US visa runs out?
*Why aren't my children falling asleep at night here?
*Where can we go to get medical attention at the weekend?
*How can I best respond when my children are struggling with transition?
*How do I encourage my child to interact politely with new people?
*What clothes and shoes do I need to take with us for our next three-year field term?
*What size shoes might my son be wearing at the age of 12?
*How much should I bid on Ebay for a pair of Crocs?         
*What else should we ship to PNG, that we can't obtain overseas?         
*How do I use this 'Swiffer' mop?
*What's a GIF?
*How do I explain 'nine months' to a three year old who just wants to be back in her own house?         
*What can I do if I forget to take my cash from the cash machine?
*Do I want Cortana to help me?
*Is my UK driving licence valid in this country/state?
*Am I insured to drive this vehicle?         
*Which immunisations do we each need?
*Where will we get vaccinated?
*Where should I meet the person picking me up from the airport?         
*How many photo magnets shall I get printed?
*Which coins do I need to make 85c?
*How do I fill in this form when I don't fit any of the categories mentioned?         
*What is the law concerning child car seats in this country/state?
*Which mobile/cell phone plan do I want?
*When shall we travel back to PNG?
*How many hours should we leave between flights?
*What suitcases will we use in our travel?
*Which toys should we ship/take back/give away?
*How long will it take to pack up and clean our house?

As we've lived in two different countries on home leave, many of these questions have had to be answered at least twice!

Home Leave has been good, but it hasn't been easy.  It's been great to have a break from our work overseas.  But now I'm looking forward to being back in our own house, and settling into a normal routine.

The uncertainty raised by some of these questions has been a huge challenge for me, but God's provision has been incredible.  Time and time again I've had to surrender my desires and plans to God, rather than trying to control circumstances myself.  This has been especially true with regard to financial matters.  The increase that we needed to see in our financial partnerships was way beyond anything I could achieve in my own efforts.  I had to admit that our future plans, whether or not they involved a return to PNG, are completely in God's hands. 

But he does seem to be leading us back there.  It's amazing to see God provide all that we need to go back to PNG.   The stories of how he has brought us together with those who were looking to give monthly towards a Wycliffe ministry are so much more creative than anything I could have come up with! 

Just because we have nearly reached our financial goal, it doesn't mean I can stop surrendering control to God; there are so many areas where I still need to do this.  Especially with travel coming up, I need to continue to trust God in the details.  I can't do anything to guarantee that our trip will go smoothly but I know that we're in the best hands.  I'm not in control; and that's a good thing.

(Thanks to my Mum, Jenny Noble, for the pictures)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Living In The UK: Things I Love

It was great to spend five months back in the UK this Spring.  Here are some of my favourite things:

1) Seeing the friends and family who live there.  I might get in trouble if I didn't put this as number one; but it really does come first for me!

2) Complete strangers understand my accent and vocabulary.

3) Being anonymous when I go out in public.

4) Almost anything I need is within walking distance.

5) Being able to walk to the shops at 10.30pm.

6) I can buy pasta for 30p, baked beans for 25p and crisps for 7p; I even found some 17p toothpaste reduced to 3p!

7) Meat comes with instructions for how long to cook it.

8) I can travel alone to places I've never been to before (yes, I realise this one may sound strange).

9) I can catch a train to almost any place I'd want to go (unfortunately it costs more than 30p though).

10) We live next door to a library.

11) We live opposite a fish and chip shop.

12) Our church has a fantastic children's programme during the service.

13) I don't have to cook from scratch.

14) Hearing my children speaking more like me :-)

15) English villages are beautiful.

16) Clean tap water.

17) It's never too hot or too cold to go outside (though I may have contested this back in March, when I was quickly reminded what 'cold' feels like).

18) Free medical care.

19) Fresh milk.

20) The enthusiastic welcome of friends, family, small groups and churches.

21) The Puzzling Place Museum.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

You Know You're Still Adjusting When...

We've been back in the UK for over a month now.  Most of the time it feels completely normal to be here.  But now and again there are sudden reminders that I've been away for a long time.



You know you're still adjusting to British culture when...

1) ...the traffic lights are flashing amber but you can't remember what that means.

2) ...you proudly enter your PIN correctly at the ATM but forget to collect your cash.

3) ...every time you see people doing something sterotypically British, you get excited and point out the activity to the people standing around you.

4) ...you are impressed when the preacher uses the British pronunciation of the name 'Isaiah'.

5) ...you choose your clothes for the day assuming that today's weather will be roughly similar to yesterday's.  You spend the rest of the day feeling too hot or too cold

6) ...you find yourself asking a friend where the end of the queue is because you can't remember what the rules are (and you congratulate yourself that you remembered to use the word 'queue' at all).

7) ...you fight the urge to greet people in town with, "Good morning!" and to offer strangers a lift in your car.

8) ...you don't know what normal clothes look like: When you ask your spouse what the brown stretchy item is that you've just found on the carpet, you are informed that it's your sock.

9) ...you correct yourself after using words from a different dialect of English.

10) ...you still forget to take bags to the shop to put your shopping into.

11) ...you feel slightly awkward after using 'home' to describe the country you've been living in.

12) ...your children still don't understand the point of socks and so never wear them.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I Hate to Wait!

We now have tickets for our furlough travels next year.  Now that they are in hand I'm wondering why the process of purchasing them was so excruciating for me! 

It took seven weeks from sending my initial email of enquiry until the day the tickets arrived in my inbox.  For someone who hates to wait, that's a long time!  (If you're wondering why it took so long, it's partly that there are many factors to consider when visiting people on three different continents, and when paying for the tickets involves three different currencies.)

Of all the painful and stressful events in the world, why was I letting the small issue of waiting for plane tickets become such a big factor in my life?  Why do I find waiting so hard anyway?  I know that my inattentive/impulsive tendencies are a factor but what is it specifically that makes waiting such a big deal for me?


© User:Lokshen3ace / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

I don't know if I got them all, but I sat and listed the things that can make waiting so difficult:

*Fear that something will 'run out'.  This could be cheaper tickets, or the time I have left before I have to be somewhere.

*Fear that the thing I'm waiting for will never happen.  This fear is often irrational: the chance that a bus will never come, or that we'll never get tickets is pretty remote!

*Fear of something going wrong that will delay the waiting further.  In the case of the tickets, one fear was there would be a problem with the payment method.

*Annoyance because of wanting my time to be used more efficiently. 

In some cases I have no idea why I don't like waiting.  Even if I'm not feeling hungry, I impatiently wait for the trolley carrying meals on a plane to slowly trundle my way.  I don't know why it's stressful for me to sit waiting for an event to start even when I have friends to chat to, when it wouldn't be at all stressful to be talking to those same friends in a non-waiting situation.  Perhaps stopping to remind myself that it isn't actually a problem if I have to wait a bit longer will be helpful in future :-)

Early on in the process of buying the tickets, I read Paul Tripp's blog post about the good things that can come out of waiting.  I was challenged to deal with the difficulties of waiting in a more positive way.

Over those seven weeks of waiting, I discovered that the antidote to my hatred of waiting was Trust.  Over and over again I had to choose Trust:

I needed to Trust that God is our provider.

I needed to Trust God to work out the details, even if I made mistakes along the way.

I needed to Trust in God's timing.

Several times I surrendered the whole thing to Him, placing all the arrangements in his hands. 

And on various occasions I saw that leaving it with him yielded much better results.

As I was waiting for news that payment had gone through, I had a thought: What if it turned out to be better that things were taking so long?  What if we even managed to get cheaper tickets because of waiting to purchase them until a particular date?   That same afternoon, I got an email from the travel agent informing me about a new type of fare that had only just been released; I discovered we could save a substantial amount of money by choosing this new fare!

Yes, I really do need to Trust in God's timing!

The waiting for tickets is over but I know that as we make arrangements for our upcoming trip, and as we set off on numerous journeys, I'll have plenty of opportunities to put into practice the concept of waiting well.