Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stranded in Goroka

The line at Kundiawa
The road workers
Scenes from the drive
Markham Valley on the way to Lae
Two years ago today, according to my Facebook feed, we were approaching our first Christmas overseas -- our only Christmas overseas, and we were stranded in Goroka.

After seminary graduation at the end of November, we all embarked upon a cross-Papua New Guinea trip.  Harry, Donna, and my family were all headed to Lae to get things we each needed to move forward with our work.

I love road trips, and driving in PNG took them to another level.  The Highlands Highway is a two lane highway that travels east-west across the center of the country, snaking to and fro through some pretty impressive mountain ranges.  Some places it is paved, others it is not.  Because of daily rains, even with asphalt, it is littered with giant potholes and obstacles. Lanes are only suggestions - cars drive where the potholes aren't, on either side of the road.  The highway goes through villages where people walk alongside the road or sit and watch the traffic go by.  Pigs or dogs can dart out at any moment.  As isolated as it feels, it is astounding that there are ALWAYS people everywhere along the road.  They usually  smile and wave at us, and it would be rude to not smile and wave back.  A drive was always a good cure for a bad mood.  It was hard to do that much smiling and waving and not start to feel better.

November had been very rainy, and the Highlands Highway had literally collapsed just east of Kundiawa.  The line of cars went on for miles. Semi-trucks weren't getting through at all, and the only smaller vehicles that were getting through paid for the privilege, but that meant they were paying to take on the risk.

I think Jeff enjoyed this part a bit.  Okay, a lot.
It sounds selfish, but the only way to get things done in PNG is to put yourself forward.  This was sometimes a challenge coming from a culture where we have been conditioned since preschool to stand in line and wait our turn. Jeff could astound me how well he could assert himself when he had motivation.  He led our little convoy down the right side of the road to the very front of the blockade.  The machines that were there clearing the road were out of the way; our way was open.

Jeff steeled his will and made to go, but was stopped by a worker who was very upset.  In Pidgin, he hollered at us "You white skins come here and you don't respect our laws."

"I respect your laws," Jeff responded in his most diplomatic tone. "I am a missionary, and I am just trying to care for my people," gesturing to us and the two cars behind us.  The man calmed down.  Missionaries are respected in PNG.  They know we are trying to help, and usually do not get much gain from being there, and unlike a lot of the businessmen, we respect the nationals.  A culture so centered on family and tribe, it is hard for them to fathom that we would leave everything to come be with them.  Jeff spent a few minutes commiserating with the guy, and then the guy told us he would let us know when we could go.

We waited for over an hour.  I'm pretty sure the foreman received tokens of appreciation from all three of our cars. He pointed the way we should go, and it seemed impossible or at least insane.  It just looked like sludge and piles of loose dirt, precariously close to the edge of the highway.  Jeff threw the Land Cruiser into low and shot forward.  At one spot, we had to swerve sharply to ascend a mound of mud and caught air at the crest.  I could hear the mud splash underneath our tires as we landed, and the edge of the road and the precipice loomed a little too close for comfort, but we all made it and were on our way to Lae.

With our business done in Lae (which is a series of other stories), we headed back toward home. The road was still blocked at Kundiawa, only now it was completely impassable.  Abandoning any thought of repair, the road crew had cleared the road away and started building that stretch of the highway anew, adding huge pipes underneath to channel the river that had wreaked such havoc.

So we stopped at Goroka, at the New Tribes mission in Lapilo and made ourselves at home for the next several days.  Some of it was nice.  The guesthouse had a bathtub, and the internet was fast enough to do things we couldn't do at home.  But it was a restless layover.  Donna needed to get back because she was due to leave on furlough, and so every day that the road was still closed was bad news.  At two days from her flight date, Harry drove her to Kundiawa where she trekked across the construction to where Anton was waiting to bring her home.  Harry was also feeling restless so he decided to go back to the coast to Madang where he could do some repairs on mission properties there.

If we had to be stuck anywhere, I am glad it was Goroka. Goroka sparkles in comparison to Mount Hagen when driving east. The roads seem cleaner and more organized. They city actually has trash cans along the roads.  The grocery stores and supply stores are new and huge.  Goroka is the first refreshing stop driving west as well.  After the oppressive heat and smells of the Ramu Valley, the cool air and beautiful hillsides seem otherworldly.

After Harry left, we went grocery shopping, and it was the first time we heard Christmas music. Somehow, in the midst of our travels, we forgot about Christmas. We were in the third week of Advent and there had been nothing to really point the way, until then.  November was full of graduations, and then we were contending with sweltering heat in Lae.  Nothing had said "Hello!  It's Christmas!"   I am usually the Scrooge of the family, and even I began yearning for Advent hymns and all things Christmas.  Getting home and back to Timothy Congregation became urgent.  We felt like we were floundering, and needed church and our traditions to steady us.  Even though our Christmas things were still in a container somewhere on the ocean (or more likely, still sitting at the Port of Los Angeles), we ached for lights and Christmas trees; anything that would restore our sense of time.

A couple of days later, there were rumors that it might be possible to get through Kundiawa. We gave it a shot, and it worked.  A few hours later, we were in Mount Hagen getting supplies for the next few weeks, including a fake Christmas tree.  Any other year, a fake tree would've been unthinkable to Jeff.  Now, that little tree WAS our Christmas.

 A couple of week after we planned to arrive, we were home. we set up the little tree and decorated it as much as we could, with a Singapore Airlines toothbrush and a few Kina coins hanging off of it (they have holes in the center, so we could put string through them).  We waited for the fourth Sunday of Advent and church with anticipation.  What would they sing during Advent?  What traditions would be here?  We could barely wait....

....And the songs were the same eight or so songs that we sang EVERY Sunday since we arrived, sung with boisterousness, energy and love, but the same songs all the same.  And they were the same songs on Christmas Eve.  And they were the same songs on Christmas Day.  Nothing was different.  Nothing besides the sermon itself marked the birth of Christ and the liturgical year.  It was more disappointing than I ever could've have imagined.  It was our first encounter with culture shock.

There were still good things, we were able to feast and sing with other missionaries and friends who knew Christmas carols, and returning to our regular life rhythms provided comfort as well.  And ahead of us were new things -- moving to the new house, working with our friends and neighbors, and the coming school year when Jeff began teaching. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Dear A: Your Country is Not Exploding

I have a friend whose family lives overseas. Sometimes, when big things happen in the news, it is hard to put it into perspective.  It's easy to forget that when news happens, normal life is still going on, too.  The subsequent reaction to the Center for Medical Progress's investigative videos is one of those things.  To them, and especially to their teenage daughter, it feels like "my country is exploding."  It is hard to watch from afar.

Dear A:

Over the last couple of months, we are finding out that so many terrible things, far worse than we ever imagined, are being done to little babies in the name of "freedom." It's horrible. It's awful.

But our whole nation is not exploding. In fact, for the first time in a long time, there is hope.

There is a saying "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, and those who do are doomed to know that we are repeating it," except it isn't always tragic to know that we are repeating it. Sometimes, it is a comfort.

I know history.  I know that within the history of mankind, there is a continual cycle of committing atrocities against another people -- a people that can be defined as "other," and then gradually, realizing that the people are not so "other," and then they repent and they stop.

It's not even unusual for cruelty to be proclaimed as a virtue.  Look at "The Irish Question" that the British contended with.  Look at colonialism in many countries.  Look at the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocides.  These are just recent examples.

In our own country, there are many examples too, but the most clear is slavery, and that is often what Pro-Life advocates try to use to highlight the evils of abortion.  For the sake of our own comfort, Americans enslaved many and treated them horribly based on the color of their skin.  Even the slaves who were treated well still had the most basic of human rights denied them.  The laws and the Supreme Courts sided with the slave-owners, even binding the consciences of those who were opposed, making them obligated to turn in slaves striving for freedom even when they had reached so-called "free states."

As time went by, more and more realized how terrible slavery was, especially when contrasted with "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Eventually, the reality becomes too clear.  And when reality is that clear, and evil is seen for what it is, people become willing to work in one way or another for what is right.  It was not a quick process though.  It took a few hundred years.

Planned Parenthood has been killing babies for decades.  We all know that and have been helpless except in our prayers and our outreach to mothers to try prevent each individual abortion.  The selling of body parts, of killing babies being born alive, of making profits off of them -- this has also been going on for thirty years.  But now we know.  We can't unknow.  And so many people who have turned their eyes to abortion before can no longer do so. When hearts and minds change so do laws.  When laws change, court decisions are reversed.

The strength of the U.S. isn't that we are always good.  It's that we have the means as a people to change our minds and change our government.  We do that every election year.

I know it looks like evil has suddenly appeared, but it's hasn't. It's been hidden, but it has been there all the time. We've needed this "explosion" to bring it out in the open. Historically, investigative journalism has been good at doing that (think: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, the works of Nellie Bly, and the journalists who brought about Watergate).

Now we can see it. For the first time in decades, we have a greater hope than we have had in a long time.  The stubborn will continue to refuse to watch the videos, to remain in the dark, and to not even seek the truth.  But others are changing their minds about abortion, and even more are disillusioned with Planned Parenthood. 

This particular outcry may not bring about the end to the practice of abortion, but it is already bringing about fewer abortions.  These videos are making us aware that it was worse than we could've imagined.  And when we are aware (and appalled), there is hope we can change.  Pray.

note:  I also know that if we continue to equate "good" with pleasure and ease instead of virtue, we will go the way of many cultures that no longer exist, so we are back to "doomed to know that history is repeating itself."

Thursday, September 03, 2015


A few days ago, I left my kid at college.  For all intents and purposes, I am done.

I know, I know…I don’t mean that I am finished with him…he’ll always be my baby, and I will always be there for him, and there will be many ways that he will still need me – and his bed is still waiting.

For the last 18 ¾ years, we had a relationship where I was the one responsible for teaching him how to function in this world and how to learn.  He learned how to read on my lap.   I walked him through arithmetic and over humps through algebra.  We learned about Paul Revere’s ride together, learned Latin vocabulary, and recreated the ecosystem of the Nile Delta.
That part is done.  Learning is now the responsibility of others – and most of all, it is his responsibility.

How do I feel about that?  Mostly happy.  Fairly satisfied.  Incredibly grateful to have had that with him.  There have been times—sometimes years—that I have struggled in that role, but I am oh so thankful to have been there with him through all of it...the laughs, the learning, his passionate interests.  

There are places I slacked off – I forgot to teach him to iron his clothes (but in truth, he may have only seen me iron anything once or twice in his lifetime).  And before I dropped him off, I was going to show him how to polish his dress shoes – but hey, I’m sure that’s on YouTube.  As a homeschooler, one of my biggest comforts was the memory that my school teachers never finished the textbooks either…and somehow, I managed.

He’s not without scars, either.  There have been times that I’ve been hurtful – sometimes I was just being stupid.  The family is not without the effects of sin, and I certainly am not.  I feel it permeate my bones.  We hurt each other.  I do hope he knows how so very deeply he is loved.

I’m proud of him.  He’s a good man.  He has a strong faith in Christ, a good mind, and an honest heart.  That’s all by the grace of God.  I am humbled by how incapable I am of having ownership in that.  We did raise him in Christ, we did try to give him a good education, and we did try to teach him right from wrong.  But somehow, he seems so much more than those simple daily efforts.

So I am honored…and happy.  I leave him in the hands of his school and look forward to getting him back for Christmas.  I’ll miss having him around all the time, I’ll miss the way he makes me laugh like no one else can.  I’ll miss his daily spontaneous insights.  But he is ready.  I know he’s ready.  And so I guess that means my work -- this work that has been mine for as long as I have known him --is done. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blogging and Structured Procrastination

A few years ago, I came across the concept of Structured Procrastination.  The author, John Perry, a Stanford philosophy professor (Emeritus) puts forward that procrastinators actually get A LOT done in the act of avoiding the specific thing that they really do not want to do.  So, the secret to getting that particular something done is to put something else at the top of your list that you want to avoid doing even more (only one of his suggestions).

I finally got around to reading his book this last week (See what I did there? Why yes, I am avoiding stuff.  How could you tell?)

I heartily recommend it.  Dr. Perry is most assuredly a structured procrastinator, he approaches the topic with humor and reframes where he can, which takes some of the bite out of the embarrassment we procrastinators can feel about our mode of relating to the world.  The good doctor is not trying to get psychological, he just describes what is going on in his head with more accuracy than most of us can do, while letting us laugh as well.

The chapter on perfectionism (chapter 2) got me thinking about my blog.  Since I got back from PNG and especially since we have become settled here in the San Diego area, I have wanted to come back to it.  I am RPW, after all, and as many times as I have tried new approaches, I always come back to this one.

But blogging is BIG now.  It has to look right, has to be marketed correctly, has to have sponsors and make money....and then there's the fact that the Lutheran Blogosphere just isn't the nice place that it used to be.  So I keep pinning articles in my Pinterest that I will probably never read and I keep thinking there is a boatload of stuff I have to do before I can actually just sit down and write.

Dr. Perry writes:
 I think perfectionism leads to procrastination.  Many procrastinators do not realize that they are procrastinators for the simple reason that we have never done anything perfectly or even nearly so...

Perfectionism of the sort I am talking about is a matter of fantasy, not reality.  Here's how it works in my case.  Someone wants me to do something-- perhaps a publisher wants me to referee a manuscript that has been submitted, which involves giving an opinion about whether it is worth publishing, and if it is, how it might be improved.  I accept the task, probably because the publisher offers to pay me with a number of free books, which I wrongly suppose that if I owned I would get around to reading.
Perry goes on to describe his fantasy about how well he would do at this, and envisions the process he could take in order to do an exemplary job on this recommendation.  He would do such a fabulous job that the publishing house would be more successful than ever and the author would be propelled to fame and tenure.   So of course, the first thing he would have to do in order to be able to do work on this late into the night is to set up a connection to the library server at home, something which he has, until this time, procrastinated.  Hours later, it is finally set up-- time that could have been spent actually reviewing the actual book.

So after all that investment of time, his daily tasks are now much more urgent and he needs to set the review aside for a little while, which becomes a long while.  Calls start coming asking about when the review is going to come.  So now his success fantasies get replaced by fantasies where his negligence causes the termination of the editor who asked him to write the review and the author being stuck in community college forever because he can't get published.  Once the perfection fantasy is destroyed by the "utter failure fantasy", he buckles down, writes a review that is "perfectly adequate" and sends it in at the 11th hour.

You have to get into the habit of forcing yourself to analyze, at the time you accept a task, the cost and benefits of doing a less-than-perfect job.  You must ask yourself some questions:  How useful would a perfect job be here?  How much more useful would it be than a merely adequate job?  Or even a half-assed job?  And you've got to ask yourself:  What is the probability that I will really do anything like a remotely perfect ob on this?  And:  What difference will it make to me and to others, whether i do or not?

Often, the answer will be that a less-than-perfect job will do just fine, and moreover it's all I am ever going to do anyway.  So I give myself permission to do a less-than-perfect job now, rather than waiting until the task is overdue.  Whic means I may as well do it now.  (or at least start on it tomorrow).
So I decided that it is time to let the blog be good enough to get started.  Over time, I might make it look better or start networking it or move it to a better site.  But for now...this is good enough to get these thoughts out of my head and let you deal with them instead.

Thanks for continuing to follow my blog and going over to read The View From My Mountaintop as well.  I've had several people tell me that they want to see me write again, so here I am...doing this so that I don't have to fill out financial aid paperwork.  But I should go do that now.  Maybe after I check Facebook.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Hard Times

New post at The View from My Mountaintop:

The Hard Times

Monday, February 02, 2015

Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Favorite Book

Post at The View from My Mountaintop:  My Favorite Book