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

Adventure Awaits

**On July 22, I will begin a journey to Madang, Papua New Guinea to visit my dear friend, Sharon. She serves as a missionary there with Pioneer Bible Translators. Below is a recent letter that I sent to my prayer and support team.**

Precious friends.

In two weeks and two days, I will board the first of five airplanes, beginning the lengthy trip to see our sister, Sharon, in Madang, Papua New Guinea. The best I can describe my current state of mind regarding this trip: surreal.

What God has done and is doing to get me there is nothing short of miraculous. Your prayers and generosity are mind blowing, and His provisions bring me to tears. Just this weekend I unexpectedly received a check from a friend who happened to hear about my trip. Another friend of the family played an integral role in booking my airfare - I have never even met this dear soul. Not to mention the beautiful sacrifice of my parents and Matt's parents who have agreed to stay with our kids during my time away. Already I feel like God is moving things into motion faster than I can pray for them. I am deeply overwhelmed and humbled - His grace continuing to knock me to my knees.

Many people have asked what I will be doing when I am there with Sharon. My honest answer is this: I don't know. I am reminded of the Israelites journey to the Promised Land. While they knew the destination, they had no idea what God had in store for them along the way. Looking back they could see the whats and whys of that significant trip, but none of it they could foresee.

I know that my destination is Papua New Guinea, but what God has in store for me remains unclear. I expect to have a much deeper and greater understanding of Sharon's work with Pioneer Bible Translators, allowing me to develop a deeper partnership with her ministry. However only God knows what my days in Madang will bring.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your prayers and support thus far. I am deeply grateful - beyond words. Continue to pray for me as I prepare for the three days on airplanes (each way), the weeks away from my precious family, and the shock of being immersed in a culture dramatically different than my own. I also know that Sharon covets your prayers, specifically for her safety and the safety of the beloved people she has come to love. While she assures me that she is not in any danger (Mom, I promise!), her concern for the nationals and natives around her cause her heartbreak as they suffer at the hands of one another.

It is with joyful thanksgiving that I share this update with you as I prepare for my trip. Enjoy this visual update of my travels - the flights alone will provide such adventure!

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=cmh-lax-syd-cns-pom-mag-cns-syd-lax-cmh

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Grace upon grace,

Ali

My 6-year-old is dating.

Henry ran off the bus today yelling, "Mommy! Mommy! Guess who my girlfriend is?"

I about passed out.

Upon regaining my composure, I muttered, "Um, what did you say?"

Seeing that I was near-convulsing, Henry slowed down and said, "Wait, how old do I have to be to have a girlfriend?"

I'm pretty sure I gave him a blank stare except I couldn't feel my eyeballs so I'm not totally sure.

My mind could not compute what was happening.

Finally I said, "Let's go inside and sit down."

It seems that the walk inside gave Henry some time to rephrase his initial insanity. "Mommy, I have a new best friend."

I was slowly beginning to breathe again. "Okay, why don't you start at the beginning."

He handed me a drawing. It was a picture of a girl with blonde hair and a boy with light brown hair, standing side-by-side, inside a HEART.

It's safe to say that my blood pressure at this point was near stroke.

"Mommy, Elizabeth gave me this."

Carefully and feeling quite numb, I said, "Oh, okay, that's nice. How did this happen?"

Henry: "Well, I gave her a picture first."

Me: "Oh, okay, what was the picture you gave her?"

Henry: "A picture of a heart with me and with her and our hands were touching."

Me: BLANK STARE. NUMB EYEBALLS.

Henry: "Mommy?"

Me: LAMAZE BREATHING.

Henry: "At the end of the day we could color or read a book and I decided to color."

Me: "Is she on birth control?"

Henry: "What's that?"

Me: "Nevermind, just. just. just. What is happening?"

Henry: "I told Elizabeth she's my girlfriend."

Me: "Wait, you TOLD her that she's your girlfriend or you asked her to be your girlfriend?"

Henry: "Are you suppose to ask?"

Me: "Nevermind. just. just. just. What is happening?"

Henry: "And then I asked her who her boyfriend is and she pointed to me."

I should probably mention I've been passed out unconscious for the last two hours, but I'm okay now, or whatever. Is today Flag Day? What is happening?

My first thought upon coming back to life - is this a dream - "Elizabeth, I will find you."

Determined to find what I'm sure was going to be some floozy, I wasted no time logging onto Henry's teacher's blog.

Me: "Henry, get over here right now and show me who Elizabeth is."

As I scrolled down the page, Henry's finger reached out and he said, "There she is!"

Me: "Are you sure?"

Henry: "Yes, that's her, Mom!"

Me: "Oh."

I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't that. She's, she's, she's perfect. Darling. Wholesome. She really is everything I would ever want for him. Oh, and her mom's the art teacher. Cancel Christmas and somebody get Martha Stewart on the phone! Those Wedding magazine people are going to be all over this.

I know, I know. They're in first grade. But of all the girls in his class, he picked Elizabeth. I think his selection is especially hopeful considering as I type this Harper is eating Cheez-its with her toes.

Something tells me that Elizabeth never eats Cheez-its with her toes.

And that's it. Henry's dating. My six-year-old is dating. I don't know what else to say. A girlfriend. I don't even know how he knows that word. GIRLFRIEND. He ran off the bus to tell me that he has a girlfriend.

I can only pray he'll always be that excited to tell me about his personal life.

Now where's the tequila?

31 days UNFILTERED - aunt jerry

Day 30 The real bummer about yesterday's cat shenanigans (if they wanted a ride into town, all they had to do was ask) was that I spent most of the night coughing and cat luring so when my alarm rang at 5:45am, I knew I couldn't make the 8-hour round trip to Pennsylvania with my mom.

Yesterday my mom and dad visited my Aunt Jerry (my dad's aunt) in Western Pennsylvania. I was supposed to go. But with the no sleep and the ugly cough, I had no business visiting a precious ol' gal in a hospital.

Aunt Jerry was one of the few women who provided for my dad growing up when his own mother could not or would not. All of my "dad's side" memories feature Aunt Jerry, the star of every trip-to-Pennsylvania episode. The baked apple pie on the counter, ready for dinner, the scrapped dough rolled into tiny balls and baked with cinnamon and sugar, a teaser of what was to come. The crinoline petticoats from when she and her late husband used to go square dancing, if you added up all the hours Morgan and I have spent in Pennsylvania, the majority of that time would be us dressed up in those skirts. The hours spent around her kitchen table, all the generations, shoved into her tiny kitchen, the shits and damns flying quick and sideways, never have I heard such an old lady cuss so much. Her under five foot frame, a tiny cannonball of hospitality, opinions, generosity, four-letter-words, and love.

She had been living in a retirement community until recently when her back started to collapse, putting her into the hospital. Her already frail bones breaking, the pain cruel, the prognosis crueler.

My parents made arrangements to visit her, not expecting it to be as bad as it is. A sedated shell of a lady, my mom and dad both devastated by the reality that Aunt Jerry's days are few.

The pain medication kicked in during the final few minutes of my parents visit, gracing my dad with a small gift from his beloved aunt. My dad was giving his cousin, Susan (Aunt Jerry's daughter), his business card so that she would have his contact information. Aunt Jerry wanted to know what he was giving her. My dad told her, and Aunt Jerry insisted, "Read it to me." They did as she asked, and before Susan could tuck it into her purse, Aunt Jerry insisted again, "Put that on my board." She was referring to the bulletin board in her room that displayed the cards she had received during her time in the hospital. My dad reasoned, "But it's just my business card. It's only a bunch of phone numbers." Aunt Jerry didn't care, "I want it on my board."

I wasn't there, but in my vision of the story, I can hear her demand, "Shit, Steve, put it on my damn board."

That's my Aunt Jerry. Fiercely determined to show her pride of her family.

Mom called tonight and said that it's just a matter of days. Hospice has been called and papers have been signed and there's nothing left to do but wait for Aunt Jerry's body to stop.

I'm terribly bummed I didn't get to see her yesterday but then again, I'll always remember her as the tiny ol' spitfire who always greeted me with a quick hug and forever love.

Love you, Aunt Jerry. Get up there, give 'em heck, and dance on those streets of gold.

31 days - UNFILTERED - 2am

Day 29 (yes, I know I skipped 28.) I must have been pretty desperate, climbing out of bed at 2:00 in the morning, throwing on clothes, surely something on backward, and driving four miles into the town Kroger. My constant coughing was either trying to kill me or make me want to kill, so I surrendered myself to the drug aisle.

On my way into town, about a mile from respiratory relief, I heard a noise that made me question my consciousness.

"Meow. Meow. Meee-ooowww."

nononononononononononoooooooooo.

No.

This cannot be happening.

I prayed my way into a gas station, my heart pounding as I parked and turned off the engine. I began walking around my car, making clicking noises, trying to lure a cat from out under the hood.

It was the middle of the night when the crazies come to life so no one seemed to mind that I was talking dirty to my car, "Come on, baby, it's me, come to mommy," but at least one dude seemed intrigued.

"Hey, you having some car problems?"

"Well, not exactly. I think my cat is under the hood of my car."

He looked confused. And disappointed.

"How long you think you've been driving?"

"Oh gosh, maybe three or four miles."

His question made my mind see dark, for the first time I realized I had been driving - who am I kidding, I had been hauling ass - for four miles, trying to get to Kroger so I could finally sleep.

Mercy.

I looked at my new friend, and I gave him no choice. "Hey, since you're standing there, I'm gonna pop the hood, but I'm super nervous. So just stand there, will ya?"

He took a step back, hesitating, "Sorry. I just really like animals."

He kept some distance but stayed close while I nervously lifted the hood, please-God-please-let-her-be-okay. As the hood released, there she was.

"Oh my gosh, Millie."

My Millie girl. Not even an ounce of panic in her eyes. There was my Millie girl, as if all she needed was a ride into town.

I scooped her up and brought her in close, and as I stepped back to shut the hood, little Rusty boy squeezed his head up from behind.

"Oh my goodness. They're all in there."

"How many cats do you have?" I had almost forgot about my new friend.

"Three. Only three."

With Millie in my arms, my friend reached for Rusty, scooping him out, and together we peered down, both expecting to see number three.

But no Ginger.

I turned back to my friend, "You think, I mean, if something happened, you think . . . you think we'd smell it?" Not the kind of thing you ever expect to ask a stranger at 2am.

"Yeah, sure, I'm sure we would." He had his phone light out, peering into the maze of steel, hoping or not hoping to find number three.

No Ginger.

"I'm just gonna take these two back home. Thanks so much. Really, thanks for your help."

I put the two cats in the car, and we headed back home, my heart not fully recovered from the scare.

Ginger, where are you?

I pulled into our drive, parked, opened the car door, and scooped Millie and Rusty off the passenger seat. As quickly as I set them down, my Ginger girl ran out to greet us. I could tell she was as worried as I had been.

Call me crazy or deliriously exhausted, but I swear I saw them group hug.

It was now almost three in the morning, and I still had to run to Kroger. I pulled back onto the road, my mind finally at ease and my heart trying to catch up. I glanced out the window and there they were, all three cats, one right after the other, running up to the porch.

Oh, thank God.

There's no greater peace than to know that all your babies are safely home.

31 days UNFILTERED - tonight

Day 27 Tonight has been one of those not-so-special evenings that I know I will look back on and miss deeply.

I made dinner - like homemade everything (a rarity) - and Greta pulled up a chair to the counter and asked to help over and over and over while I responded, "Not yet, Greta, the stove top is too hot." We pushed all the arts and crafts to one end of a messy table giving us just enough room for our dinner plates; I ate over half my meal with Greta on my lap while she begged to be excused so she could go outside and play with the kitties who were staring at us from the window. "Just one more bite, Greta." The two of us together are such broken records.

I unloaded the dishwasher while Matt cleaned up from dinner and the big kids played football out back and Greta walked around with a kitty dangling from her forearm.

Darkness brought them all in and we shared cobbler from the same plate and I made a cup of coffee. Matt hung pictures on the wall and the kids played make-believe and there were many tears and bossing each other around and so many I'm sorrys, but it was all okay because we were together just living life.

Nothing special. Far from perfect. Forever precious.