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Stories to tell: Life and loss, joy and mourning in Papua New Guinea

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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?)

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The truth is, my time away was hard.

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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.)

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And really? Most days I was in tears at some point.

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When out in the villages my cheeks hurt from all the smiling and hello-ing and admiring and learning. My heart truly was full.

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I adore wandering and meeting people and discovering their stories and becoming friends and giggling and blushing together in the newness of it all.

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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.

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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.

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It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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?)

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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?

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Love,
Adriel

31 Comments

  • Reply MarshaMarshaMarsha 17 September 2013 at 12:04 pm

    You capture hope and heartache, joy and sorrow, and beauty from ashes very well. Continuing to pray for each face… May God be glorified.
    MarshaMarshaMarsha recently posted..5 yearsMy Profile

  • Reply Bek {Just For Daisy} 17 September 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Oh Adriel… this has me in tears. Your words are so perfectly woven together and the photographs tell your story so well. These women. Their eyes. Their smiles. Their surroundings. Thank you for sharing this with us! I bow my head shamefully as I remember a promise to you of some sewn eyeglass cases… long forgotten/pushed aside with my own menial tasks and worries of home. How great is the need and how little time and energy do the masses give to these. Thank you for showing us. Thank you for bringing this into my home as I sit here with my two girls… contemplating selling lots of our excess baby clothes/toys at a local market as we have too many. Looking in the fridge at lunch and dinner and lunches and dinners for many morrow’s more. I won’t make any new promises here… other than that I WILL pray. For you. For these women. For their country. And for our Kingdom. Praise God for putting people like you in places like this xxx
    Bek {Just For Daisy} recently posted..Recipe:: Strawberry and Apple Crumble CakeMy Profile

  • Reply Alana 17 September 2013 at 12:26 pm

    This is beautiful. So many beautiful people with incredible stories that the world needs to hear. As I read your words I felt the pain of poverty you describe as I to have held babies that are dying, hugged mothers that were ready to give birth any day in less than ideals situations, played with the child that is malnourished..its hard, but worth it to bring a small but of hope to people that desperately need it. We work in India in some of the poorest villages and life for these beautiful people is so hard. Your words also bought tears when you talked about your miscarriage as I to have in the last few months lost a precious baby. My heart hurts when I think of the child I lost and once again I am reminded that mothers all over the world are the same, our hearts beat for our children and the pain of a child lost is the same the world over. Thank you for your words.

  • Reply Kate 17 September 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Bless you for empowering communities in need! I love your stories, you’re a great inspiration to the world!
    Kate recently posted..Rainy Day Button PlayMy Profile

  • Reply Angela 17 September 2013 at 12:42 pm

    God bless you for the work you do! I just finished a Bible study during which we discussed being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and you are most definitely doing that!! Thank you for sharing these photos and stories, thank you for sharing your love, and thank you for showing us how God is working for these families through you and the organizations!
    And, yes, I absolutely will join you in praying for these families!!

  • Reply Rachel 17 September 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Wow. The pictures… breathtaking, and yes it is very clear that you….have heart.

  • Reply Rachel 18 September 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I love that your job was/is story teller! Its a role I wish every base and mission had because its not an easy job to do. I can see your heart is still raw from your own loss and I pray for continued healing. I bet your littles (and your big one!) were pretty happy to have you home though!

  • Reply Lauren Anne Clement 28 September 2013 at 1:45 pm

    “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.”

    Wow… the strong message within these few lines reminds me of the change that great leaders of our faith in the past contained within their own steps of faith. Keep walking, my new friend. People are reading your story and following your kingdom movement! #Solideogloria

  • Reply Aprille @beautifulinhistime.com 28 September 2013 at 9:59 pm

    This post is so beautiful. Wow. I love seeing all of the pictures of these nursing mommies and babies but they are so painfully thin – really puts things into perspective about how good we have it!
    Aprille @beautifulinhistime.com recently posted..What you didn’t see {Dear Judgmental Woman at Story Time}My Profile

  • Reply Amy 28 September 2013 at 11:20 pm

    What an amazing, and amazingly hard, job you have. I feel like I have so much to say to you. About so many aspects of this. I will just say thank you for being willing to tell these stories, and for doing it so well and so emotionally. God’s beauty shines best through raw openness. Something I’m learning myself.

    Oh, and one other thing – This is my personal rule: My most emotional writing — the stuff that feels like I’m bleeding on a page — I never let an editor touch it. Maybe I’ll get to a point where I can, but for now I just think its better that way. Not having an editor isn’t always a bad thing. 🙂
    Amy recently posted..Worth the waitMy Profile

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  • Reply Megan (boho mama) 8 October 2013 at 9:17 am

    Your heart for women and the way you tell stories is so raw and beautiful. What a blessing to be a part of the Love A Mama Community!
    Megan (boho mama) recently posted..31 Days of Life {Unplugged} and TWO Giveaways!My Profile

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  • Reply Anna paul 24 September 2014 at 2:24 am

    So amazing my friend
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