Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Question I Struggle with Answering

         The market is busy. I come here almost daily to buy vegetables and hopefully score a few free ones from my favorite stand. I politely smile and shake my head no at the old man leaning against the wall begging for alcohol money. I’ve learned discernment through the years of navigating the colorful landscape of city shopping. Food shopping is an epic journey in Tonga. It takes multiple stops with no guarantee of finding what you’re looking for. But I’ve learned this and have learned to be flexible. It’s shoulder to shoulder today as i maneuver through the bustle. “Hey, what’s your name?” a younger guy calls out from a stand. This is less frequent the older I get so i’m surprised and respond, “I’m Peanut Butter!” And then point to the girl with me, “this is Jelly!” I’m not sure where i pulled that from, so random, but i think my joke is funny and i’m glad i responded easily. Too often i freeze up when questioned on the spot. I’m not a fan of small talk, but I understand the necessity of it and try to manage my awkward social abilities the best I can. I get a few questions from these trips but I am asked frequently one question in particular from Tongans and foreigners alike, “So you like living in Tonga?”

I’ve answered this dreaded question in a variety of ways depending on my day, how many years I’ve currently been in Tonga, or how long they had for a conversation. I’ve never been satisfied with my answer and always want to have a follow up appointment to discuss my response. In the early days i might have scowled and said no bitterly. Or in later years i would respond ,”well, it’s complicated…” But, today it came to me simple, “I love Jesus.”

Well, at least I’m learning what it means to love Jesus.

It means I love my family and friends in the US, but i love Jesus more
It means I love good healthy food options and better healthcare, but i love Jesus more
It means I love American washing machines and indoor plumbing, but i love Jesus more
It means i love privacy and a quiet house, but i love Jesus more.
It means missing mountains and cool air, clean water, a roof that doesn’t leak on my bed, bug free everything, good cheap wine, and the sweet comfort of familiarity and easy entertainment.

But I love Jesus more.

And Jesus said in the book of Luke, “"If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison--your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”
And in the book of Matthew, “ Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Yes! It hurts losing these things, denying myself and children so many comforts and rights. Hearing my children are homesick. We are all called to a life of sacrifice in one way or another if we want to follow Jesus. It’s not an option and we will suffer the loss of many things that are even good things. But, on the flip side it’s not all a loss, it’s actually a win! Paul in the Bible agrees, “ I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.”

Part of the gain of knowing Jesus is a changed way of viewing things. Ironically, when i love Jesus more than anyone i love people better. I let go of grudges. I always find something to be thankful for even when the odds are not in my favor. I sing more. I smile and it’s not fake. We deal with deep heart issues of the kids we look after with love even when we’re tired and it's the hundredth time we’ve gone over this. I say no sometimes instead of trying to please everyone and say yes with a happier spirit. I’ve learned to be careful of what I let others speak into my life and be careful what i say out. And I’ve seen prayers answered even as i struggle with disbelief and doubt.

I haven’t given up everything and sacrificed everything. We all have days, weeks, even months of being so done with everything. I have to humble myself and admit when i’m wrong. I get weary from sleepless nights from storms or drunk visitors. I still doubt when resources are low or things i’m counting on change. I haven’t reached a perfect state of spirituality. But i’m getting there. Like Paul says, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[d] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

So do I like living in Tonga?

I'm learning to love Jesus here and i'm happy with that.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Treehouse !!!

Hi everyone!  As you know, i’m not the best with updates, but everyone who prays, sends a message,
or helps out with donations is close to our hearts.  You are not forgotten!. I’m a little sick today
with a head cold and EVERYONE is gone out of the house (crazy) so i decided to stop putting off the
inevitable and post an update.  

Since the cyclone, I think we went into a survival mode for awhile, especially Chris.  Seemed like one
thing after another for awhile. We had a family member visit which is always extra special for us
(hint hint family members), and the beginning of the building of our new house on the eastern side of
the island.  I’ve been hands off with the building of this house and staying in our current house
homeschooling the 13 year old boy. The tree house has been coming along bit by bit as we have the
funds for each step. We are soooo thankful the New Zealand power upgrade project was a village
before ours when we started looking into electricity hookup.  The timing was perfect! Thank you GOD!
They’ve put in power poles down the driveway to our land, run wiring, put in a transformer and box all
for FREE! We would not be able to afford any power, including solar, if this did not happen. It’s still
not hooked up yet but we are really close.

We are also happy to have Phil and Kylie Beman and kids here with us for almost a year along with
Ian Wells for 3 months.  It’s great to have a group of people working together on a project and to have
support from friends locally. Seriously, we are so thankful for the people who come along side us in
this! You guys mean so much to us!

Chris generally has around 2 to 6 guys helping on our house.  No one gets paid and yet they all have a
heart to help, it makes my heart happy to see.  It’s quite an impressive structure with the floor about 17
ft. in the air. Chris has been planning and re planning for years on how it will be done, constantly
tweaking this and that as things change.. He’s always balancing dangerously on beams with power
tools and then finding energy to skateboard for a bit at night. Soon we’ll build housing for all the boys
who stay here, they’re all in a tent right now, and rooms for the girls.  And once our house is built, we’ll
begin all the other projects for the land development which include ways of being self sustainable
while having free activities and training for the youth. Really our only deterrent is funding for all these
projects, but, we have seen God answer prayers little by little so we keep pursuing these plans!

We really want to see the kids we love here do well, they are amazing kids and they have grown so much; we really want them to experience the fullness of a life committed to Jesus.  They are our greatest blessing here in Tonga and we are privileged that we get to be apart of their lives.
God has been faithful, even though 6 years of being here seems sooo long for me and we don’t know the next time we will see our families.  I see the bigger picture coming together when I stop fighting and struggling with God and allow him to change what needs to be changed. God is good.

“Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won't also cost you yours.” 
― Rich Mullins

“So go out and live real good and I promise you'll get beat up real bad. But, in a little while after you're dead, you'll be rotted away anyway. It's not gonna matter if you have a few scars. It will matter if you didn't live.” 
― Rich Mullins

A visit from a Tongan/Australian family who SING beautifully

I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky

Alei and Ariel dressed up for cultural night performances

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Amazed by Grace

It's strange.
Life I mean.  Life is strange.
At times living in intense dramatic uncertainty about the future.  Living in survival mode completely in the moment.
And then the future arrives and everything changes, even moment by moment.  Predictably unpredictable.
I felt like an observer the first few months returning to Tonga, the feeling where you are functioning normally through life but internally processing everything like you're reading a story, not in shock, just processing.  Or maybe that's just my introverted norm,  I've unintentionally narrated my daily life activities in my head before, strange, but either way, I felt it more than ever.

Upon return we were unsure of where we live or if we would have to rough it out in the deep dark reaches of the Tongan bush.  We had rational and irrational fears as i mentioned in my last post.  Everything felt like it was coming to a head, again stepping out into a rapidly moving river of possibilities that could sink us or support us.
And then we did and it worked out fine (so far).  We were able to remain in our home and most fears were alleviated.  We bought our first piece of land in Tonga, a road.  A road leading to the land we will be building.  Some work was done to prep for the building, but we are still waiting on the road to be cleared and smoothed as well as the power to be put through.  Time slows as you exit the plane into Tonga and you quickly realize Tonga is in a different dimension of time than the rest of the world and you begrudgingly adapt or go home.  So despite these setbacks we slowly began buying building materials as we could afford them and still are.  It was peaceful. Very little drama or troubles the first few months back.  It was the most peaceful time I've ever experienced in Tonga.

The winds shifted, literally.  Category 4 Cyclone Gita ripped through Tonga laying waste to our sweet little hobbit home and much of Tonga.  Thankfully we had left to stay at a friends house during the storm and were safe and sound through the terrifyingly awesome fury of wind and rain.  It was shocking the next morning, even eerie,as i stood ankle  deep in water looking at the damage everywhere.  Houses ripped apart, trees uprooted and power poles and lines strewing the streets.  Our roof  had collapsed, hit by a chunk of another house.  Wind and rain had damaged the inside.  The weeks following were challenging and exhausting.  Mostly for Chris as he had a lot of work and resources that he had wanted to use to build a new a house now being used to fix our current house!  But, despite this, the storm proved how gracious God is as people rallied around us from overseas donations to friends volunteering to work hours in the oppressive Tongan heat to rebuild our home.  We saw how resilient the Tongan people were smiling through the wreckage, clearing and cutting branches, and the linesman working endlessly (still today) to restore power.  Chris has worked non stop to get our place back together, rebuilding our house for the third time (but who's counting?)  He's wiped out, discouraged, i see it in his face, but I can't help but admire his determination. We've both learned some hard lessons in endurance and perseverance.

It's comical in some ways, i look around my house and now and mostly everything is back to normal, if not better.  A few weeks ago i couldn't imagine moving back in.  It was overwhelming.  It still is as there is still work to be done, rebuilding our neighbors homes, clearing bush land, our daughter is doing school in a tent! But, if i narrate this part of  my story, I would call it Amazed by Grace.  I have been so amazed at God's grace to us allowing so much good to come from so much mess.  God providing the strength and persistence learned from the hardships in the past years to develop into character needed to handle today.  Providing endurance learned from wanting to give up but not giving up years ago. God has proven to be kind and good even when i don't understand. There are so many future plans we have that leave me bewildered at how they will work out.  I don't have all the answers and Chris and I are still frustrated with all the setbacks.  Some days the vision just seem impossible and I am harsh and unkind in my words. Each step forward is a new challenge. Or even in the wrong direction.

Overwhelmingly though I can say it is only God's grace that keeps us as we attempt to walk each day in obedience to what Jesus tells us to do, stumbling and tripping at times, but totally amazed by God's grace in the story of our life.

Called to Tonga on Youtube

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 28th we leave.
Waves of nausea come and go as peace like a river collides with coffee like jitters of anxiety. We're good, We're totally good...and then we're not.  Sad to say goodbye, happy to say hello. Anticipation muddled with fear.  We've learned to stop feeding the voices of anxiety and worry so they have less power but we also have to make preparations for real coming changes so concerns can't be ignored.   We need something bigger than us, something outside of us.  We need the presence of God. The awareness of our desperate need for God is not a curse either, it has been a gift.  It drives us to view situations through spiritual eyes and to cover our minds with scriptural meditations and truths.  Being in a state of complete satisfaction and happiness in God alone is our goal.  Not perfection! We're far from that! Come take a closer look and you'll be severely disappointed in our shortcomings.  I believe it is more relying on God to turn weakness into strength.

The desire of chasing after control and certainty sounds ridiculous now...i'd be an idiot to not have learned that these past 5 years.  And uncertainty is looming again, everyone experiences this.  After God gave us new land to build our home and One Love's camp, our plan was to slowly build while living off site and move onto the new land when things were established.  We also had high hopes of more funds and helpful equipment sent over in a box.  Plans have changed.  We have been living on land that's been in limbo for awhile, a temporary space that we were graciously allowed to live on rent free for the past few years.  It's had it troubles but it's been a great spot to jump start One Love's skatepark and build our crazy bush house.  If i had any doubts about whether or not we should move to the new land they are gone now, God has made it very definitive that we need to move forward and live almost immediately on this new land.  The old land is going to have an overhaul and be developed and everything currently on the land will be bulldozed.  Hard news, but not bad news.  We are grateful for the time we've been allowed and we were planning on moving anyways.  Thankfully, we'll have time to move the skate park and salvage what we can from the house and garden for the first month or so back.


The implications of this happening sooner than later mean we are starting over at square one.  Back to the bush with no power.  And not many fancy gadgets to make it easier!   The new land is much farther from the capital and the kids school so that brings concern on being able to afford to drive the kids back and forth to school, although we are considering ,if we get kayaks, kayaking back and forth as it's quicker and gasoline free that way.  I had hopes of upgrading my washing machine this year to a single tub washer and spinner, but that has changed!  Back to washing clothes by hand.  The instant gratification and convenience of America will soon seem like a fairy tale! Running water is glorious! Hot showers like mini spas! Chris has his work cut out for him as he must immediately dig a will so we have access to water.  With no power except a small solar panel we're not sure if we will have to use a bucket to bring up water.  I really really hope it's short term, simple tasks can turn into hard labor and make progress minimal. And focusing on survival means less focus on spreading the love of Jesus to people.  Being alone in the bush in an unfamiliar village causes us some fear and worry.  We will have no neighbors but it's almost inevitable someone will wander over to cause trouble or steal stuff.  I'm really hoping and praying we can be off the ground to sleep at night so i don't have to lie awake at night anticipating a bush knife coming through our tent!

We are extremely thankful though,  God has given us land at just the right time.  God has given us a few good, trustworthy friends in Tonga.  We have an amazing church behind us and awesome family. Several people are coming out short term to join in on the craziness!   Phil and Kylie Beman and their 3 boys will be come alongside us for 1 year starting July 2018!  So we see how good God is, how he provides,and know he has never abandoned us.  We want this next trip to be marked by thankfulness and joy because we know God is the ultimate treasure and He's worth losing everything to find.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Little bits of joy


             Some of you have followed our journey through the past 5 years.  You've read about the craziness, frustrations, sadness, and dreams of our family.   Some know how i went through depression. After two years into our new life in Tonga I was empty of joy or purpose and almost walked out on my husband to return to the US.  Nothingness gnawed at me, occasionally expressing itself through deep sadness and anger.  I felt God had either abandoned me or been a figment of imagination.  People said we were missionaries to Tonga, i'm not sure if thats the right description.  We were just a family trying to do what God told us to do, to live in Tonga among the people and not ask anyone for anything.  We wanted our faith challenged, to know for sure we were on a solid foundation.  So how could i be sinking?  Through the haze i saw my husband struggling to pull me through without sinking himself, he was torn, trying to obey God while watching me fall deeper into depression because of it.  The strange thing is- it felt somewhat familiar.  This emptiness, i recognized it, growing up it was disguised and easily distracted but it still haunted me.  Although i loved my husband and kids, marriage and children seemed to amplify it, but i hid it well.  Occasionally, my husband would ask why i was never happy and often negative.

Normally passive and mild mannered i was shocked at what was pouring out from inside me while in Tonga.  I was used to feeling nothing and yet here was anger pouring out like vomit.  I didn't grow up swearing or hearing many swears so it wasn't natural for me, but i unleashed f-bombs in fits of anger.  "I f****ing hate this!!" I would scream while throwing things.  And to be honest we were under a lot of stress, food and money was inconsistent and we would go days with only eating a small bowl of rice or noodles every night.  We learned to live without western comforts like running water and indoor plumbing.  It was hot, dirty, buggy, and daily chores were time consuming and exhausting after biking the kids on our 3 wheel bicycles.  There was emotional stress too as the surrounding community would randomly erupt with violent outbursts, prisoners escape, houses frequently burglarized. We had to be always alert and slept with a machete.

But this stress was necessary, it was the catalyst to reveal things hidden deep inside of me.  I saw who i really was and it wasn't pretty.  My goodness only worked up to a certain point, my love was incomplete.  I needed something outside of myself, someone bigger than me. I needed Jesus!

And Jesus has changed me, not overnight, not with lightning and thunder, but slowly and at times painfully as I am slowly learning to put to death my way of thinking and subsequent actions. Little steps of obedience.  It is odd.  i lived each day before expecting the day to please me.  I wanted the humans and circumstances that surrounded me to make me happy.  I wasn't.  It's exhausting and always disappointing to burden others with this uninvited obligation.  Now, I try (more and more) to live each day with the goal of making God look great and I feel free!  Free to truly love without expectations. What a relief!  It's not about me! It's about God. He is the treasure. And i'm starting to feel little bits of joy.  I have felt God's presence and it frees me to go anywhere He leads, regardless of surroundings.

But there is a cost.  The ugly things revealed in my first 2 years of Tonga had to die.  Sometimes i hold on to them.  I want to feed them.  But they never brought happiness.  They can't. Not in the long run.  Somehow i still love everything i hate. and bit by bit they must removed.  Not my will God, but Yours.

Even Jesus had to submit to God's will.  He had to die for us and he didn't want to. He begged God for another way.  The thought of it caused him so much pain.  But He still obeyed, "We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Now he holds the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne." -Hebrews 12:2

I love so many people in Tonga.  I love, love, love the amazing, talented, and funny kids on our land.  I miss them.  And yet, in contrast from my husband and firstborn, i really struggle with going back. I get a pit in my stomach when i think about it.  I want to stay where family is.  I struggle with living on an island, i get island fever. claustrophobic. I have a hard time with the culture. I don't like beaches and instead crave evergreens and mountains. Seriously?  What's up with that!  I'm scared to go back and slip away from what I've learned.  

God defines good and is patient with me, i'm not all the way there.  But I am excited we have a new direction when we go back the end of September.  We have land!!! If you've followed us you know this has been our biggest prayer and desire!  Boom!  God answered!  Chris is working hard in the US now to save up money to build us a new house on our land.  Along with two other amazing couples, if God allows, we will be starting several projects for the youth.  Skateboarding will be there along with bmx and an obstacle course.  We want to build a restaurant,back packers lodging, outdoor movie theater, and water slides to provide income for ourselves, create fair pay jobs, and to fund youth projects.  We want to bring in volunteers to teach skills like creative building with local materials, Tongan dance, and handicraft and workshops that provide opportunities to learn photography, videography, business management, or anything!  Even build a traditional Tongan village from hundreds of years ago!  

This all is overwhelming to me.  We don't have the funding for all this but Chris is creative at using local materials to build beautiful things.  We will start with building our house and moving the skate park.   Probably back packers, restaurant, and obstacle course next.  I don't know how it will all play out.  But i do know something needs to be done for the youth in Tonga.  They are the next generation and make up about 50% (from the 2011 consensus ages 0-24) of the population.  In the 5 short/feels long years i have been in Tonga I have witnessed the Kingdom of Tonga changing.  Crimes are more frequent, alcohol induced fighting, Seminary and government schools brawling in the streets, drugs are hidden everywhere with connections to nobles.  More deportees are brought back with no rehabilitation to Tongan society or means of creating income without resorting to hustling.  Programs for the youth are usually focused on the privileged or fail because of poor management or authorities trying to squeeze out a profit.  Most youth attend church but when words and actions do not line up they are quickly becoming disenchanted. The need is great.

As our adventures continue this October we want to thank all of you who have given.  You have given above and beyond at times at just the right time and our family is extremely thankful.  We thank you for your prayers and encouraging words, we think of you, some we have met and some we haven't, and we have courage to persevere.

"Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?... No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[p] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." -Romans 8:37-39

New land
New Land