Stories to tell: Life and loss, joy and mourning in Papua New Guinea
I’m standing here in the corner waving my hand shyly while I know many are waiting to hear about my time in Papua New Guinea. And I want to tell you, but I also want to move on and pretend that life is simple and easy and—hey—maybe I’ll just keep posting snippets on social media since that’s so much less complicated than unraveling my words or giving voice to stories that seem sacred in ways I don’t know how to articulate. (And what if I can’t do them justice?)
The truth is, my time away was hard.
There was so much life and death and poverty and hope and hardship mixed up into my own recent experiences of life and death and birth and miscarriage and faith and expectations and fears and desires and pregnancy and loss and longing and hope deferred and separation from the ones I love most.
(There was also too much work and not enough sleep.)
And really? Most days I was in tears at some point.
When out in the villages my cheeks hurt from all the smiling and hello-ing and admiring and learning. My heart truly was full.
I adore wandering and meeting people and discovering their stories and becoming friends and giggling and blushing together in the newness of it all.
My role as storyteller affords me the opportunity to connect with people in ways that our medical professionals don’t often have the time for as they wade knee deep in immunizations and prescriptions and gauze and long lines of patiently waiting patients. I’m grateful and I take seriously the role of being a good ambassador for their important work while bearing the gifts of friendship and a platform for a people oft forgotten to be counted and heard.
And the gift I receive as I try to offer mine is a heart beating faster, truer to who I really am. I capture stories and images so I can give a microphone to those who usually go unheard and find another layer of my own in a noisy, distracted world. And I try my best through it all to represent a kind, generous, and good God well.
It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
Long days and muddy feet and tousled hair left me happy to have been with people I’ve grown to love—people who’s stories need to be told and heard and digested and remembered.
But then I’d return to the ship and tackle my hard drive full of images and stare into the eyes of friends I’d just met. I’d try to detach myself during the editing process so I could Get The Work Done… and often would end up crying over my keyboard, overwhelmed by the beauty and pain of it all.
Poverty can be hard to look at but it gets even harder when you’ve held her in your own arms and she’s being fed coconut water out of a dirty bottle by a mother not her own because her father couldn’t afford to pay the bride price for his wife and so a tiny baby was transformed into a commodity to settle a score too old to comprehend. Poverty becomes harder when you know her name is Angela and she’s starving to death under the oppression of a lack of choice and a deep need for education.
And when we strip all the press releases and polished responses away we know what is really needed: an actual revolution for our daughters, a world transformed into a place where Love prevails, a work that actually requires we not even worry about rolling up our sleeves. We just hold hands and hold hearts and worry about the laundry later.
We live in villages and skyscrapers and slums and suburbia but through our ordinary days and average acts of kindness we all hold the power to pull down the Kingdom and remind ourselves what matters most.
(But—oh—would someone please tell me just how I should feel when watching a mother hear her baby’s heartbeat for the first time as delight spreads across her face, while the sting in my own heart reminds me that the last time I was near a doppler I was not hearing my baby’s heartbeat for the first time? How should I feel when joy hurts so bad and life reminds me of death?)
Do you ever wish you could go back? Just feel numbed to the ache? Return to the blissful ignorance of being self-consumed, not aware of a world that is happy and hurting, hoping and healing all at once?
I do have stories to tell: a willing wet nurse found for a starving baby, mother after mother being given the gift of opportunity through a simple baby sling, seeing men have their confidence restored after receiving glasses for the first time, babies alive that should have been dead, old rags replaced with clean blankets, mothers lives saved after birthing in unbelievable situations, a clinic receiving light for the first time through solar-powered innovation, witnessing (through tear-blurred eyes) a midwife of thirty years learning how to use her new doppler for the first time, traveling for hours in a small boat upriver to deliver mosquito nets to families who thought they were forgotten, the young mother who needed help detaching her placenta a full day after giving birth, an entire village worth of women—young and old—learning about clean birth and breastfeeding and babywearing and nutrition… and having the midwife tell me I did it better than she could have because of my heart (heart matters, friends—yours, too), seeing young men open up about HIV and domestic violence and a hope for the future all because another young man had the courage to ask them to, demonstrating how a bucket and hose and sand can help purify muddy water, seeing with my own eyes a baby that God brought back from the dead when the odds were utterly stacked against her, seeing another carried off by his parents into a world that never looked bleaker, not knowing if he’d last through the night…
There are too many stories to tell, and too many still unknown (and the ones forever untold). They are mixed up with my own stories of life and loss and joy and mourning and the stories of distant neighbors that are just too hard (oh Syria, oh Egypt…) and the promise of another day where Hope Will Surely Rise even though we seem to screw it up all the time and then turn around and do it again.
But I’ll try my best to unpack some of those stories now that I’ve finished unpacking my bags. I suspect they will trickle out between my real-life moments of deciding what’s for dinner and making lists and playing hide-and-seek… but they will come.
I can’t promise that I won’t ramble. (You’d be used to that by now?) I can promise there will be grammar mistakes and a lack of proper sentence structure and a lot of improper use of punctuation. (I have no editor, y’all. Just myself and my fingers typing the way I hear myself pour it all out it in my head.) But there will also be heart and truth and I promise to always look for hope along the way. (It’s always there, you know, if we’re looking.)
Thank you to my girls—the Love-A-Mama Collective of women—who have given light, given slings, given a bazillion clean birth kits, given clothes, given encouragement, given prayers, and given of your hearts to help make the world a better place.
I could easily get overwhelmed by the need and the heartache and the work yet-to-do, but there’s a beauty and a hope that escalates as we link arms and lift our eyes to heaven and give of ourselves, imagining a brighter future for our children, for our neighbors, for our enemies, and for our now.
Dear friends, thank you for caring. Thank you for believing. Thank you for lending your heart to help shape the world. Are you praying with me for these dear ones tonight?