papua new guinea

He protects.

Written before I left Papua New Guinea, I chose not to publish this until I left the country. My Mom recently told me that my Dad hasn’t said much since I’ve been gone. I know his silence means he is worried. I didn’t want to fuel his angst.  It’s not safe here. I’m told I can’t walk alone, it’s best to have a national with me, and never ever set down my purse. “Place it across your body and keep it tucked under your arm.”

Daily we venture across town in Sharon’s 4Runner, and each time I’m told, “If I see anything funny, I’m gunnin’ it. Let’s hope there aren’t any people in the way.” If you live here long enough, you’ll have your own story about the “rascals” who staged a street blockade, placing logs across narrow sections of road with the intent to stop traffic, overtake vehicles and steal from passengers. Machetes are always involved.

I knew this coming here. For months I’ve been on the other side of the middle-of-the-night text messages: “They are throwing rocks at my roof again.” Just a week before my arrival, Sharon text me, “Two men jumped the fence onto our property. Martha heard them and turned on her alarm. They ran but we know they are watching us closely. Pray for our protection.”

The properties on this small missionary compound are all fenced in with double-bolted doors, barred windows, and fierce guard dogs. A crop of banana trees belonging to a neighbor have provided quick access for the “rascals” to climb and jump the fence. By God’s grace, the neighbors agreed to cut back their precious trees. This missionary team is now looking into the installation of a taller fence topped with barbed wire.

I ask Sharon if there’s any chance someone might try and harm the dogs who serve as the greatest protection (Papua New Guineans don’t have pets, and they are especially afraid of dogs.) She tells me, “There have been incidences of poison.” Constant barking makes for sleepless nights, but I’d rather be tired than hear silence.

Sharon tells me that 18 months ago when she arrived in PNG, it wasn’t as bad. But recent rival tribes that behave like gangs, flexing their cultural muscles with machetes and makeshift guns, have increased what danger there already was for a single white woman living here.

Most assure me that the rascals don’t want me, they just want my stuff. I am a white skin, a target always on my back that says, “I’m rich.” But Martha, the missionary who has been here for over 30 years, isn’t as reassuring. She tells of the decline in safety that she has continued to experience. Nightly she and Sharon walk their dogs together. It’s their way of saying to the neighbors - don’t mess with us. The women train their dogs to attack men, praising them for growling and barking at passerbys.

I tell Martha that it feels like imprisonment. This gorgeous South Pacific island town and yet the wisest way to enjoy it is locked inside an SUV with a full tank of gas. Martha affirms what I observe. Martha spends her weekends 20 minutes north of town off the coast of a nearby resort with the best safety reputation. She’s an avid snorkeler, and though she lights up when you ask her about fish, I know snorkeling allows her moments of independence and freedom not afforded to her in the city.

I must say, the people I met during my 10 days in PNG - the nationals - they were all so incredibly kind - every single one of them. From the moment I landed in the country’s capital, wonderful people reached out to help me. The airport security woman who assisted me when I was alone and somewhat lost upon my arrival in PNG, met me at my recent departure and said, “I am going to miss you, Ali. We are best friends now. I am making you a gift. I am sorry it is not done yet. I promise to finish it and get it to you.” SHE IS AN AIRPORT SECURITY GUARD I MET ONE TIME. Yet she embodies the heart of the majority of these precious Papua New Guinea souls.

Like all cultures, there are a few bad apples in PNG. The depravity in this culture, the corrupt justice system, the lack of civilization - it all breeds desperation. Mixed with a few bad seeds, excess alcohol and men who carry machetes as part of their livelihood, and it’s no wonder a dog breeder can get away with selling german shepherds for $1200 (USD) in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day.

The irony of this place is that the villages pose the greatest health threats with their jungle diseases and parasites and yet they offer the greatest personal safety. Village life breeds a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But densely populate an urban area with those same people, from their diverse villages and rivaling cultures, and that’s when problems occur.

As I reflect on this place and these missionaries, I am reminded of two things: 1) They are here because of the desperation. The people of PNG need Jesus - it is so incredibly obvious. Their ancient belief systems engage witchcraft and sorcery, a ripple of demons throughout this culture that is palpable. 2) But God. These beautiful missionaries have followed God right into the middle of this darkness. They live squarely in the middle of God’s protective angel army. Though the battle is fierce, God remains God. His Presence is woven throughout PNG - its precious people gradually reflecting what is already evident in the majestic splendor of the countryside.

Papua New Guinea is not alone. All around the globe, dark places pose great threats to human life. And all around the globe people are giving up their safety, their comforts and their freedoms of speech and religion to live among the darkness so that one day every precious soul may know the love of Jesus. Pray for them. Pray for the native people in these countries. Pray for the missionaries who have left behind statistics of safety to live in danger. Pray for them. Support them. Visit them (Yes, visit them - I have never felt more protected by God as I did this last week.) Love them - love and pray for them all.

**For those of you worried about our dear sister, Sharon, let me also say this - The longer she is there, the safer she is. The more nationals that she befriends, the greater the hedge of protection around her. Her neighbor is a 30-year-old missionary who was born in PNG. Though she is a single white woman, no one dares harm her because she is so well respected by so many nationals. And the agency that Sharon serves is a good agency. They are a beautiful mix of expats and nationals and they have a wonderful reputation in the area. They are taking good care of our gal. Sharon is strong, faithful, and resting in the center of God’s Will for her life. Keep up the prayers - they are sustaining her.**

Jesus told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:2-3

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25

He makes us family.

From the moment the smooth dirt rises to meet the souls of my shoes, my heart beats different. I know I’m the same person here, but the peace of home washes over me for the first time since I left my gravel driveway in the sticks. Mawan village, we are family now. Mama is the first to greet me. She carries the shoulder strap of a handmade bilum, a woven bag made from plant reeds, and she stretches the straps over my head, placing the bag around my neck. Another woman approaches me with the same gesture, my neck now adorned with two gifts from my now family. The women position the bilums so that each one can be equally displayed across my body, their respective colors and patterns uniquely beautiful. The bilums fall upon me in such a way that each one lies across the curves of my chest and we all laugh at the comedy of my bilum bra.

For the next hour, Mama parades us around her village. I can’t tell if she is more proud to show us her village or to show her village us, but either way, she is beaming. At each stop we hug the women tightly while dodging spit from the Betel nut they constantly chew. Lips and smiles stained red from buai, the combination of ingredients they add to the bitter nut that creates blood-red juice they don’t dare swallow. Only the youth maintain relatively white teeth.

The longer we stay in Mawan, the larger the mob of children that engulfs us. They giggle when we smile, many shyly reach out to touch our skin. Many of the babies look on with panic, burying their heads in their mommas, wailing in fear at our sight. Without electricity, mail service, or Internet, there is no means by which many of these young children have ever seen a white person. We are the first. The brave ones run to us and weave their small brown fingers into our own. Others excite at the idea, joining in the hand holding. We soon run out of fingers.

We come to the center of the village - a school, an aid post and a trading store. As we approach the dirt-floor school, each of its four rooms reminiscent of a park shelter, I immediately feel sorry for the teacher as I realize the havoc we wreak on an otherwise orderly classroom. The children sit shoulder to shoulder along the ground, their stares, giggles and squeals now a cacophony of noise. We sneak away before I learn how the teachers discipline the disorderly.

We return to the bamboo hut that Mama calls home. The haus cook (house cook - kitchen) stands independently. Women and children have gathered in and around, their noses telling them what I was too overwhelmed to realize: lunch is ready. Mama escorts us to a small folding table with two plastic chairs. We are the first to be served. After our plates are loaded high with rice, sweet potato, chicken, and green leaves - all soaked in coconut milk - the others begin to fill their plates. They sit along the ground and makeshift benches; we are the only ones offered chairs. Mama won’t eat until we finish. She tells us that she cannot. Though we don’t understand the cultural honor she has bestowed upon us, we accept.

The newest addition to Mama’s section of the village is a lik lik haus (little house - the bathroom). Inside the small bamboo shelter, a deep hole centers the dark room. For us, they have fastened a toilet seat to four table legs and positioned it over the hole. Mama tells us that the lik lik haus has been fastened shut until this moment - they have been saving it for us. I am the one to christen it, an honor I awkwardly accept.

After lunch I am told that the young women will take the dishes down to the water to be washed. I insist on helping, and they finally oblige. Mama fills up a ratty, tattered sack with the soiled dishes and places the strap around my forehead, the weight of the bag hanging down my back. Even the youngest carry immense loads using this method - many mommas carrying their young in bilums hanging from their foreheads.

The path to the water is rugged yet defined. Three women and children already at the water look up and laugh at my arrival. They begin the chatter of Tok Pisin with Mama, I assume she explains why the large white skin is among them. Before we reach the water, Mama pulls leaves from a nearby plant, shredding them into thin grass strips. She wads them together and hands me the nature-made scrub brush.

She pats a rock indicating where I can sit. I squat and the rock’s rugged edges cause immediate discomfort. I remove the stone that Mama placed on the stack of dishes now in the water and immediately the plates begin to float downstream. Mama and I scurry to catch the floating valuables as I now realize the crucial role of the heavy stone.

I scrub. Next to me a momma washes clothes while a young naked boy splashes between the rocks, occasionally remembering my presence with a shy smile and thick giggle. The women chatter. I don’t know what they say but I know they spend their days here, joined together to wash dishes, clothes and selves.

On our way back from the water, a young boy, maybe six years old, scurries up a tall thin tree carrying a knife between his teeth. He begins severing the stems of Betel nut from the treetop. To my untrained eye, the tree is identical to a coconut tree. Two more boys stop to greet us, both with machetes in hand and slingshots looped around their foreheads. I realize that no age is too young to contribute to the survival and sustenance of the village.

As the hot fierce sun marks our imminent departure my emotions begin their fight. A day in the bush nearly over and I want more. My soul scattered throughout this jungle village, how will I ever leave?

But it is time. The young family escorting us back to town must catch the last return bus. The jungle mountain roads prove too treacherous for two white meris (white women), this precious family joyfully offers to be our escorts in and out of town. It is an hour journey each way, and they do it twice over. I don’t know how to show my gratitude but I am assured it is their privilege.

As we begin our goodbyes, I squeeze the women, wrapping my soft arms around their small frames and I feel their strength. My heart humbles at our differences. Like the varied colored threads of the bilum I now carry over my shoulder, we are uniquely different yet woven forever together. I wrestle with God that oceans divide us, the travel between us nearly impossible.

As we drive away my mind replays the beauty I traveled today. The village a life I would never have imagined for myself, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. I want its power to move me closer to the earth and farther from the world. I want my village family and biological family to share in the joy I now know from being one, a glimpse into our eternal home.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:19-20

He radiates: You are worth it.

What no one tells you about Bible translation is that the closer these faithful soldiers get to completing a translation, the more unbearably awful it gets. And not because the editing and publishing process is so grueling (it is). Rather the closer these heroes get to completion the more intense the disaster-inducing stones thrown at them by the enemy army. I even hesitate to share the details of the stories I’ve heard because they are so devastatingly sad, the most recent involving a translator who lost his three year old to drowning. The stories of destruction at the enemy’s hands have destroyed me.

The translation team is fierce. The majority of the team consists of nationals (native people who share a particular language group) who commit to voluntarily working on the project. Many of these groups begin without a written language (only 12% of PNG lives in urban areas - the rest live remotely and rurally in villages). The village languages are without clear boundaries which means that the first missionaries begin by immersing themselves in a village, making note of every word they hear, and then walking through the village to find the invisible line where the language changes to another.

Most of these projects take decades. Pioneer Bible Translators has been in Papua New Guinea since 1977. They have only completed three New Testament translations in that time. There are 7 others in the works, two of which are in the very early stages. For these missionaries, this is a life work. There is no instant gratification to offer momentum. Almost exclusively, they are sustained by extreme prayer.

The translators make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of completing a translation. The nationals commit voluntarily. Because they live in remote parts of the country, they leave their families behind in the village, and one month at a time, they stay in national housing provided by Pioneer Bible Translators. Think frat house minus beer pong. Every other month, the translators spend five days a week, 7 hours a day, confined to a conference room while going through the entire New Testament. Word by word, verse by verse, they review it. At the end of the month, they return to their villages with a few basic goods given to them by PBT (PBT also covers their living expenses during their stay in national housing). This is not a for-profit commitment. It is purely sacrifice. The current translation nearest to completion was ready for print last December. One week before publication they discovered hundreds of inconsistencies in the text. Just when they thought the 34 year project had reached completion, they were back to month-long stays away from their families in national housing. It will most likely be another 18 months of sacrifice before they can dedicate this book.

As I have spent much of my time learning from this team, one thing keeps coming to mind. All this work - all these man hours - all these viscous attacks from satan - all of it is worth it knowing that precious souls will hear about the love of Jesus for the first time in their history. The people living in tiny villages all throughout Papua New Guinea are worth it. Every single one of them is worth it.

God says so. And these missionaries and these translators share God’s value for these people.

The people are worth it.

Pioneer Bible Translators and the other translation organizations in the area have only scratched the surface. There are over 800 languages in PNG. 12% of the world’s languages are on this small island (PNG is the size of California. Whereas California’s population is almost 40 million people, PNG’s is 7.) That’s 7 million people, most living remotely, speaking over 800 distinct languages. The numbers are overwhelming.

But these people - these missionaries and these nationals - they don’t talk about that. The numbers don’t discourage them, not a one of them exudes even a hint of fear. Rather every single one of them does not hesitate to offer the same response to my question, “Why?”

“Because I love these people - deeply. If it wasn’t for how much I love these people, I’d be long gone. But I love these people.”

The people are worth it.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear no, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

He brings good news to the poor.

We pull into the primary hospital serving Madang, a province of a half million people, and the dirt parking lot is empty. Though the hospital is not short on patients, most visitors travel by foot or bus. My modern assumptions about healthcare are mocked as we begin our walk to the maternity ward - the entire hospital is built around outdoor pathways covered haphazardly in various metals. Along the paths are mismatched bedding and towels, the hospital’s laundry clasped to clothespins hanging out to dry. A man wearing no uniform - only his latex gloves identify him as a hospital worker - carries a large yellow bucket to an open sewer canal that perimeters each ward. He stops and overturns the bucket, vulgar-colored fluids spill into the canal only a couple feet away from the entrance to labor and delivery. We pause momentarily before crossing over the sewage and into see the mommas. The door is left ajar, light and insects enter the room as we do. There are 30 metal beds, stacked two feet apart, each with a thin plastic mattress housing a momma, her newborn, and a watch person. Those admitted to the hospital receive minimal care. The nearby mess hall serves only one thing - rice and tin fish. If a patient is fed beyond that, it is thanks to a watch person, often a family member, who commits to visiting daily. Often that person traveled with the patient and while the patient is treated in the bed, the watch person sleeps on the cement floor directly underneath.

Today the room is full. Mommas are curled up on their sides, baby still latched to nurse, both asleep. Only the babies in neonatal care are given bassinets. Co-sleeping is expected. My heart swells as I consider my co-sleeping years with both my daughters, a practice often shamed in America.

We begin making our rounds. Sharon, my guide, has been given full access to the ward. Several months ago Sharon came to this hospital to visit a national who delivered here. During that visit Sharon was overwhelmed by the need for baby items as the mommas and the hospital have nothing to offer the newborns. Sharon started by teaching herself to crochet a baby hat. She then taught her village momma, and together they made hats. Word spread and Sharon recruited friends from the States to send baby hats, blankets, and money for formula. Since then Sharon has also realized additional needs including underwear and food for the mommas. It was her genuine heart and generosity that prompted the nurses to allow Sharon complete access to the ward.

The native Sharon first visited here has since lost her baby to heart failure. Baby Joni, as she is called, is still very much alive in this place. When Sharon distributes the hats and blankets, she tells the mommas, “Someone in America made this for a Papua New Guinea baby. God loves you.” When she gives the mommas food, she tells them, “Please eat this, it will help you produce milk so you can feed your baby.” Lately she’s been giving each momma a brand new pair of underwear and a bar of soap, a recommendation by the postpartum nurse. “Sharon, what you are doing for the babies is very wonderful. Thank you. But what these mommas need is something to make them feel like a woman.” I’m humbled remembering the weeks before I delivered my first baby. I packed my hospital bag with a brand new nightgown that would allow me to nurse and still feel pretty.

I never met her but I am so grateful to Baby Joni. Her legacy here is tangible. As I walk between the rows of beds, my prayer is that these precious babies and mommas feel the love of God in these small gifts. My prayer continues, that one day these beautiful mommas and their beautiful babies will come to know Jesus as Baby Joni now knows Jesus - as their Papa God for eternity.

Jesus said: "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven." Matthew 18:10

Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

He became poor.

People and potholes confetti the roads, cars and buses weaving between. The Pacific’s power bursts the rugged shore, children sprint with laughter, playing tag with the waves. Women carry vibrant woven satchels and scrawny-limbed babies. We pass a field scattered with men joyfully in the throes of rugby. In front of us, the door of a moving car opens, blood red spit splatters the road, the excess juice from chewing betelnut stain pavement and teeth. Everywhere I turn clothing boasts colorful patterns though shoes and hygiene are optional. This is Papua New Guinea.

Its tropical climate overwhelms the landscape with nature’s finest - birds, trees, and plants exotically varied in species and beauty. A rich backdrop to a culture only one generation away from its tribal ancestors still tucked away in the mountain villages.

Our first morning graces us with Sabbath, the community gathers down the street for worship. We arrive on time. The open pavilion is empty. I’m told time doesn’t matter here.

The church stage is filled with instruments and musicians young and old, three small boys stand near a microphone, one sings occasionally while the other two just stare. A dog runs up the stage’s stairs, finding a shaded spot near the drummer to rest.

Though humidity beats thick, men are dressed in white button-up shirts, slacks, and ties. Some wear loafers but most are in sandals. Women wear oversized blouses and long skirts, thick afros made thicker by today’s heat.

We sing and we stand and we hallelujah and we amen and we tithe and we praise and on and on and on for three glory-filled hours.

By the time we dismiss, every bench in the pavilion is packed to overflowing, families filling the surrounding lawn.

I don’t want it to end.

It is true what they say. The less you have the greater you must depend on God, if you know Him at all. These people, the ones who call Him “Papa God,” they are rich - rich in joy, rich in faith, rich in love. I don’t know their wealth and they don’t know mine. My heart cries out, “Teach me what it means to be truly rich.”

Today’s message in a language I hardly understand was about humility. These people with nothing encouraging one another to pour it all out for Jesus, as if they have anywhere lower to go. But I take notes because no matter the tongue, it’s God’s Word and it washes over me and for the first time in a long time my soul feels fuller than my wallet.

I don’t want it to end.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

His heart overwhelms.

On my flight into Papua New Guinea, it hit me. I don’t know what exactly, but it did. As I looked down onto the clouds, Papua New Guinea soil finally within reach, days of airplanes and airports and sleeping upright behind me, I was overcome with emotion. It’d be easy to chalk it all up to exhaustion, but my heart was engaging something different - something I couldn’t quite place. It felt as if this trip and this experience was no longer my own, but rather, it is God’s.

Here I was at 30,000 feet, looking down with the sun as my guide, and I sensed emotions not my own. Compassion - for the lost and broken of Papua New Guinea, for the missionaries who have given their lives for these people, for the travelers on my flight soon to land in Port Moresby for I don’t know what. Sadness - for the depravity that leads to hardened hearts, lives pursuing earthly means to fill an emptiness that if only they’d soften - Lord, please, soften their hearts - that emptiness, it belongs to Jesus. Love - intense wondrous love for each of the 7+ billion people in this world, most of whom look nothing like me on the outside but know the same longing for more that we all carry on the inside.

God - He had my heart in His clutch, and all I could do up there above those clouds was let the tears fall down.

As we began the descent into Papua New Guinea’s capital, I sighed heavy releasing it all, leaving me soul cleansed and heart full - with gratitude, humility, grace. I don’t know why it took me so long to get here, this was God’s trip all along, never my own.

Only God knows His intentions, His heart, His plans for this trip. I pray I can stay in the moment, one foot in front of the other, at His pace, in His time.

Lord, give me your heart.

And God said, "I have found David, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do." Acts 13:22

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

He is beauty.

What a tease, to pass through the continent of Australia. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, only second to the Swiss Alps. One of the reasons I so love what little of the country I observed is because it is relatively uninhabited. In terms of land mass, it’s only 25% smaller than the United States, and yet it is over 90% less populated. And it’s an island. Imagine ocean for days, lush green mountainous landscapes, the living breathing Great Barrier Reef, and FEW people (relatively speaking). It’s breathtaking - literally. Countless times the majestic view caused me to gasp, my eyes filling with tears. It’s the countryside as it has been since its creation. The pocket of Australia’s shore I experienced was gorgeously peaceful because of the threat of jellyfish and crocodiles. And though I only engaged the reef by plane, the intensity and dimension of its blues and greens clutched my soul. I was embraced by royalty and I never wanted her to let go. Albeit brief, the time I spent in and flying through Australia churned my entire being as I remained in awe of God’s beauty. I realized the depths of Australia’s glory as I watched one helicopter after another leave the nearby lagoon, allowing people to experience waterfalls tucked away in the mountainside and miles of magnificent Barrier Reef. The country’s wondrous waters, undeveloped green mountainsides, and sparse population give a rare shot into God’s initial creation, with little mucked up by humanity.

It’s beauty abounding. Humbling, wondrous beauty.

What a gorgeous God.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? Exodus 15:11

He delights.

I’ve flown in and out of LAX all my life, and I always expect to step off the plane, through the gate, and into a world of celebrities and their beautiful doppelgängers. But instead I am dumped into a shock zone of mass chaos sardine-packed with foreign dialects and their respective odors. This time I walked through the airport thankful to have received travel vaccines, not because of the threat of disease in Papua New Guinea, but because I am certain that using the restroom in LAX poses an equal threat. Nonetheless, the vertigo-inducing energy quickly softens as I step out into the City of Angels, the scent of the Pacific subtly reminding my soul, “This is your first home.”

I love LA.

It’s far less glamorous than I ever imagine, and yet in so many ways, it is far more. The dichotomy fascinates this suburban-raised girl, LA’s homeless stack tents down the beach from multi-million dollar ocean front homes. The record-setting drought has forced an emergence of turf grass and succulent landscapes. Traffic mocks the rat race of the city while the ocean breeze compliments the chill of the SoCal vibe. Today I encountered new discoveries - a flock of wild parrots, the Venetian-style canals of Marina Del Ray, grandiose construction projects built into the cliffs of LAs mountainside. All the while engaging the comfort of the home I remember - an oceanside fragrance distinct to its beaches, the rainbow of individuality that is its people, the loving sincerity of family.

This brief yet refreshing pitstop left me basking in the ways He delights in us. His creation bold. His intimacy significant. His love forever-reaching. The timing of my Los Angeles to Sydney connection was determined by the availability of fights, however I now know that the opportunity to spend a few hours in LA was part of His forever narrative, “Ali, I delight in you.”

As I sit at the gate preparing to board my next flight, the melody of Aussie accents filling the air, I swell with gratitude for God’s delight in this California-gone-country girl. What a gift of grace - His overwhelming delight - to carry with me on my travels.

He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with victory. Psalm 149:4

He will overcome.

My heart was in the right place. It was three days before the start of my adventure to Papua New Guinea - three days before I would squeeze my family goodbye, and I was packing up and leaving for a three-day work trip. My heart could not handle. So I packed three small bags and declared, “You’re coming with me, kids.” My work demands allowed me to build breaks into my schedule, affording me "fun time" with my Henry, Harper and Greta.

And it was fun. We went swimming. We rented a paddle boat. We jumped on beds. We dined lakeside and studied the movements of a grass-nibbling groundhog that Harper named, “Ground-y.” When work beckoned, I set up the kids with their devices and headphones and activity books. Given the circumstances (single parenting, working mom, memory-making dreams), the kids did great.

As for their mother, well, her heart was in the right place.

The reality was that swimming included a lot of, “Out of the pool kids, Harper has to go to the bathroom which means we all have to go,” and then I would lead three kids with towels dragging and a chorus of whines (“I have to pee!” “I’m too cold!” “Why can’t I keep swimming?!”) back inside the lodge to the bathroom. The paddle boat that they begged me to rent resulted in Hot, Sweaty and Tired bickering in a boat in the middle of the lake. The only legs that could paddle us back to shore? Mine. The bed jumping always resulted in kid tears and mom yells. The meals never came fast enough and were usually too crunchy, too sticky, or too little, depending on who you asked.

The literal breaking point occurred when my 50-pound 7-year old and his pipsqueak sister were foolishly playing with the stroller, tipping it over with the 7-year old in it. He walked away without a scratch, but momma’s cell phone did not.

With less than 36 hours before my trip and still another day’s worth of work ahead, I was in the middle of a state park with three small kids and a shattered cell phone (and a lodge room without a mini bar).

I did not have the time to deal. And I certainly did not have the mental health to deal with a shattered cell phone on top of work on top of three tired kids on top of where are we?

I called for back-up.

It was 9’o’clock at night, and my knight-and-shining-armor answered without hesitation, “I’m on my way.” His sacrifice required much - he had finished a marathon of a day at work and then completed a construction project at home. He needed a shower and his own bed, and by making the hour long trip to us meant he’d stay the night, take off work the next day, and scramble to find someone to help with our dog.

It didn’t phase him in the slightest. When he arrived at the lodge greeting me with the same smile that stole my heart the day we met, I collapsed into his arms. For the first time in two days I felt rest, my most genuine offering, “Why did I ever think that I could do this without you?”

That brings us to yesterday, my last day before boarding my first of five flights to Papua New Guinea. In retrospect, I can see the battle, the last couple of weeks littered with hiccups and breaking points and increasing irritability. A force of darkness stepping up its game, working to beat me down as I have been following God’s lead in preparation for my trip.

But God.

Yesterday I felt the force of the Overcomer - the One who is fighting for me, leaving nothing and no one to come between me and His love. By His overwhelming grace, I wrapped up my day at work, found a store to replace my phone screen, and made it home in time to squeeze my people. The kids unknowingly offered my heart just what it needed to carry with it these next two weeks. True to who they are, they each gifted me through their unique personalities. Greta, still groggy from her nap, grumpily responded, “No!” when I asked for a hug goodbye. She ran over anyway, curling her body in my lap as I cocooned her, the cuddle rhythm that is our own. Henry, my literal-thinking son with a tender heart, considered the facts of my trip - fifteen days we would be apart - and following a moment of deep thought, he softly offered, “I think I miss you already.” And Harper, with a spunk that speaks louder than words, squeezed me breathless, and then ran in for another hug as I walked to the door, and then another hug as I walked to the car, and then as I started to drive away, she stood nearby on the sidewalk and said, “I’m going to keep watching until I can’t see your car anymore.”

Heart full. Grace victorious. Mercies anew.

He will overcome.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. 1 John 5:4

Jesus: "I have said these thing to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33