Aunt Stephanie's Favorite Weather
Let me do some explaining about the weather in the highlands of PNG. We refer to it as eternal spring, and there is a lot to that definition. When you think ‘spring,’ what comes to mind? Flowers? Birds? Baby animals? BUT, if you live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, maybe spring means something different: ice/snow that comes out of nowhere, buckets of rain, gloomy skies, mud. Here in PNG, ‘spring’ is marked with the end of rainy season—“wet” time-- (nobody really knows when it begins or ends, so it’s just a guess), and we say it’s the beginning of the “less wet” time of year. The temperature doesn’t change much, year-round. It’s typically 60’s at night and 80’s in the daytime. It can get hot and humid, but because we’re in the mountains, there’s no need for central a/c or heat. It’s rather pleasant most of the time.
Most people who hear this say something like, “Oh, I would love that!”
I have to say, after the time we’ve spent here, especially not leaving the country once for fifteen months, IT GETS OLD. Having only two seasons that are ultimately not very different from each other was a shock to my Tennessee system. Ah, Tennessee…where we have four distinct seasons, and just when you feel you can’t take the heat of August for one more second, a crisp breeze starts to blow and you can breathe again until the following June.
So, now that you have the background of weather here, on to the story that’s been swirling in my heart for a few weeks.
A couple of months ago, I was walking home after dropping Amber Joy at school. My friend Esther was on her way home to the other end of station after walking her daughter to the high school. We often pass each other and stop to chat. Her youngest, Gabe, 4, rides his balance bike next to her, getting to the side when there’s a car, and observing everything from the moths and flowers to the excavators working on construction projects. Gabe is absolutely one of my favorites of our kids here at Kudjip. Well, they all are in their own rites, but Gabe is…well, Gabe. Trust me, you gotta meet this kid. 😉
Gabe has been learning about the weather in preschool at home with Esther. Every morning, they look outside and mark the weather on their calendar. On that particular morning, it looked a bit gloomy on one side of the sky, but the sun was shining on the other. This is typical in the mornings and late afternoons in PNG and sometimes, you can swear it will rain, and it never does. Gabe told me about the weather and how they had marked that it was sunny on their calendar, but then I told him that one of my favorite times is when the sun is shining, and it rains too! I love the shadows and the smell of those times. The birds still sing and there’s no thunder or lightning. Everything gets quiet, and it’s as if every living thing is getting an unexpected drink. Simply, it makes me happy.
A little later that day, we got one of those unexpected showers as the sun continued to shine. I went out and sat on my porch swing and just took it in. A few minutes later, I received a video of Gabe from Esther, and in his sweet little voice, he explained excitedly that it was “Aunt Stephanie’s weather” outside—a mixture of sun and rain.
Fast forward a couple of months to April. I decided that, in the midst of packing, saying goodbyes, and having one foot in two worlds as we prepare to go back to the States next month, I needed a retreat. I went away for 30 hours to Kugark, the Evangelical Brotherhood Swiss mission station. It’s 20 minutes down the road from Kudjip, but I felt like I was a world away. It was glorious. *If you’ve never tried retreating alone, do it. Yes, it’s a little intimidating at first, but the gift is undeniable. I used retreat materials written and produced by Velvet Ashes, an online community for women who serve in cross-cultural settings. I’ve used a Velvet Ashes retreat before and really enjoyed it. Their retreats are accessible to women in many different settings around the globe, and this particular one had videos, music, printables, and even a virtual goodie bag. I could do as much or as little of the provided resources as I wanted, and there is a lot of room for rest, reading, napping…whatever.
The theme was “Invited in the season of your soul.” The videos talked about different seasons of the soul and the similarities, however loose, to the seasons of the year: autumn, winter, spring, and summer. I watched, took notes, read the scriptures presented with each video, and journaled on my reactions. But as the leader talked about Autumn, describing it as a time of lament and brokenness for what wasn’t, I had to stop and consider autumn for me. Autumn has always been my favorite season. I love the colors, even of the dead things, and the crisp air and the smells remind me of home. I think of the woods and crunching leaves, fireplaces, and Thanksgivings spent with family. I’m one of those pumpkin spice girls who rushes to Starbucks on the first day of August when they release the PSL’s.
The next video was about winter, with descriptions of ‘barrenness, desolation, and wilderness.’ I’ve always been a bit of a non-conformist 😉 and I found other images coming to my mind. Because it’s been so long since I experienced real winter, my words to describe it were ‘quiet, beautiful, hopeful.’ I have always loved snow, and even ice (except when I have to drive). It’s as if creation is holding its breath, because of the anticipation that something is waiting, just beneath the surface. The cold air wakes me up and makes me aware of every sensation. The scripture used for the ‘winter’ session was Exodus, when the Israelites who have just been freed from slavery, begin to grumble and complain that they are being led around aimlessly. Some even dare to whisper that they would be better off had Moses just left them where they were. It was explained that Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God established in Exodus 3 was actually located on the FAR SIDE of the wilderness at the end of the Sinai Peninsula. God, on purpose, had led the Israelites way off their course to the promised land for the sole purpose of having them worship at God’s mountain.
With each season’s description by the retreat leader, I was aware that I agreed to a point, but that I also had other images in mind. It was both. Autumn can be a season of lament and sadness, of bringing our complaints to God for what we thought would be, for unmet expectations. It can also be a season of relief from the heat, of looking forward to the holidays, and enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds that only come around at that time. Winter can feel barren and lifeless, AND it can also be fraught with anticipation. Spring brings new life and rebirth, together with rain and sometimes floods. And summer, with its outdoor celebrations and harvesting of fruit has, at the same time, relentless heat and finds me longing for structure. I love these metaphors because they are both literal and spiritual. After living in PNG, experiencing these contrasts daily, I suspect they are laying the foundation for paradigms that will define the rest of my life.
Gabe was right. Aunt Stephanie’s weather is sun with rain. It’s how I’m choosing to make sense of these four years in PNG. It’s never been fully one or the other, but always both. In our first term, when we missed home and the familiar so very much, God was there, poking holes in the darkness. We saw Him at work and we were honored to be a part. In our second term, we opened ourselves up to this life even more and experienced intense joy in the midst of the hardest year of our married lives so far. When we couldn’t get back to the States to be there for our families when our dads were both diagnosed with cancer, God provided assurances and peace that we couldn’t have imagined. When the days were long and we just didn’t know how we would make it, we’d get a box, or someone would invite us to dinner. And sometimes, we’d sit with the yuck and be thankful we were together.
As I write, we’re a little over two weeks away from our departure. We’re selling and giving away lots of things, trying to learn how to say goodbye, all the while trying to re-establish our living in the US. I’m so grateful for what the Lord has taught me through this experience, and what I’ll continue to learn as we process it over the coming months. We’ve seen walls come down, literally and figuratively in our time here. We’ve cried together, laughed at really inappropriate times, walked through deep sorrow and uncertainty, and seen God’s redemption firsthand. And that may have just been on Monday.
At the beginning of the retreat, the leader read from Ecclesiastes 3. As I heard the familiar passage, the Holy Spirit revealed something new. I’ve always read those verses as either this is happening, or that is happening…a time for this or a time for that. But it doesn’t say or. It says and. What would happen to the way I look at my life if I embrace AND? What if we're meant to see how all of these seasons are happening at the same time. They do. All over the world.
People are being born AND dying in the same hospital, steps apart, right here at Kudjip. Many days, as we see the suffering around us, we can't help but weep AND laugh, because we know that the God of the universe is here, now, and He will continue to bring redemption . Right now, as I sort through what we've accumulated over the past four years, I'm keeping AND throwing away. Oh that I would learn to see the sorrow and the joy in any given situation and be grateful. Maybe I wouldn’t be quite so quick to try to fix the things I can’t. Maybe I would finally learn contentment. May it be so.
There is an occasion for everything,
a time to give birth and a time to die;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
a time to search and a time to count as lost;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to love and a time to hate;