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