Saturday, January 6, 2018

Pancreas 2, George Family 0

My pancreas took us out of the tribe and is now taking us out of Papua New Guinea. After three months with little to no change in my pancreatic enzyme levels, my doctor here and my rheumatologist in America said it was time to come back to the US to figure out what is going on and how to treat it.

Based on the tests I had in Australia in May, it looked like autoimmune pancreatitis, which makes since because of my autoimmune diseases.However, I was already on immunosuppresssants, so it shouldn't have happened in the first place. So, we are going to do more tests, and hopefully find a new medicine that works for my joint pain and my pancreatitis. We leave the country tomorrow to start our journey back to America.

My doctor suggested we stay in the US for a year to make sure that whatever treatment I am on will work long term, before we come back to PNG where we have no access to advanced medical care.

We are frustrated and confused about this turn of events in our lives and ministry, but are trying really hard to focus on the Lord and trust Him in all things.

Though, I can't help but continually ask "Why?"

My husband was just beginning to teach elder and deacon lessons to the Hewa believers - a major step in them developing a strong, healthy, and independent church.

We've had so many interruptions over the last two years that have kept us going in and out of the tribe, and made our family life full of upheaval and instability. For the last two years the longest we have been in one place is four months. FOUR MONTHS!! And that four months was March to July of 2016. We did have a 3 month stretch in the tribe in 2017 (May through August), and that is longest we'd been in one place for the last year.

I've been begging God for stability for our family and a long stretch in one place (particularly our house in the village), but He decided to answer that prayer in America instead.

My mind drifts to the many possible answers to the "Why?" Could it just be spiritual warfare? Satan trying to stop God's message from spreading through a territory that he has had claim over for centuries?

More frequently, though, I continually wonder, "Is it my fault?" (classic child of divorce)
I read the parable of the talents and wonder if I'm the unfaithful servant? I think of all the ways I have failed in our ministry life and think maybe I've just wasted everything God gave to me and now it is being taken away.

And I also wonder if it is just the consequences of the sinful world we live in and that sickness, death, and chaos are part of that and something we will have to persevere through until Jesus comes back. And it doesn't really have anything to do with me or my actions, specifically, except for how I respond- either in faith or frustration. Either dying to self or wallowing self-pity.

The truth is, it could be any of these, or a million other reasons, and all of the responses are the same. God's response to me is the same. He is faithful, He will not abandon me, even if everything is all my fault. He will work to restore my life and relationship to Him always. And He will fight for me, my family, and the Hewa people whom He loves no matter what the cause of all the frustration. And my response should be the same...repent of my areas of sin and unfaithfulness and trust Him with whatever He wants to do in my life, my family's lives, and the lives of the Hewa believers. And persevere through all circumstances.

When we left the tribe, my friend Emiyas came to say goodbye, and I told her I was really sorry we were leaving them and did not want to go. I told her I was scared that we wouldn't be able to come back, but we were going to try our hardest to at least stay in PNG, so John Michael could come in and out of the tribe to teach. She told me, "Jessi, stop thinking on this. Think only on God. Only He knows what will happen. Will you stay here? Will you go to America? Will you live? Will you die? Only God knows these things. So think only on Him and nothing else."

Emiyas saying goodbye to and encouraging me the night before we left the tribe.

Such a challenge in all this. I have one billion things that my brain wants to think about during this huge transition. But I will try to heed my sister's very solid advice and think only on Him.

"I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely." Psalm 63:6

"And I said, “This is my fate: the Most High has turned his hand against me.” But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works." Psalm 77:10-12

"I rise early, before the sun is up: I cry out for help and put my hope in your words. I stay awake through the night, thinking about your promise." Psalm 119:147-148

Sunday, October 22, 2017

My Pancreas has a Name

We are back out in town (again) thanks to my pancreas (again).

In my last post I mentioned that it was just gently waving at me so I wouldn’t forget it.  For the last month it has decided to gently punch me, so I will give it lots of attention.

I have decided that my pancreas has developed Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

I guess in “reality” it has developed autoimmune pancreatitis, but no matter what you call it, it's continually disrupting my entire life.  I can only eat small portions of bland foods, and we have had to come out of the tribe so that I can be monitored more closely by our mission doctors. At this point we have no idea when/if we will be able to go back to the tribe full-time. John Michael will still make trips in and out to continue with discipleship and teaching the Hewa church, but we know that as family we will be at the mission center for an indefinite period of time. And worst- case scenario, if I do not improve in the next month or so then we will have to go back to America so I can been seen by a rheumatologist and gastroenterologist.

So… yeah… basically, my pancreas is taking over all our lives and making our world revolve around it. I would say that is pretty narcissistic.

Rather than thinking about how our lives might totally change forever and dealing with my emotions in a healthy manner, I decided to do what I always do and deflect with humor and sarcasm.  

The treatments for autoimmune pancreatitis have not helped, so maybe if I just give in to my pancreas’s need for attention we will see some results. Like maybe I will give it it’s own facebook, twitter, instagram, and any other social media pages that I am not cool enough to know about right now.  I have no doubt that its pages will be filled with duck-faced selfies with all my other organs being cropped out of every picture.

A couple of people suggested that I give it a name, which I thought was a great idea. At first I decided that because it was being pretentious and annoying, it needed a hipster name, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my pancreas actually has a celebrity doppelganger and must be named after her.

You see in both the MRI I had done in Australia in May and in the ultrasound I had last week, the “tail” of my pancreas was the area that contained the inflammation and therefore enlarged.

In the strictest of medical terms, my pancreas has a fat tail. 

So with the fat tail, the constant need for attention, and being totally high-maintenance, I have decided that my pancreas shall be named Kim Kardashian. They are basically twins, so this is really the most appropriate option. If I had any of the images from either the MRI or ultrasound I would put up comparison pictures, but I don’t so you will just have to take my word for it.

For now, here is a picture of the human Kim Kardashian*. Now just picture her tiny and living underneath my liver and you will know exactly what pancreas Kim Kardashian looks like in my body. 

If my pancreas was on social media, I'm pretty sure this is all you'd see.

* It was actually quite difficult to find a picture to add here. The human Kim Kardashian has blessed the internet with many MANY duck-faced selfies, so quantity was not the problem, but finding one where she is wearing adequate clothing was kind of like searching for the lost city of Atlantis. Like most treasure hunters, I had to decide if I wanted to invest so much time in something that probably doesn’t even exist.  But, alas, I prevailed. So take heart all those who hunt for the treasures of myth and legend! If human Kim Kardashian can be found in clothes on the internet, then anything is possible!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Three Months

After our whirlwind trip to Australia to find out that I had autoimmune pancreatitis, we returned to Hewa with cautious optimism. I have to admit that we were reluctant to post or write about any plans because it seemed like as soon as we did those things our plans would change dramatically.

But we went back into the tribe...and actually stayed there for three months like we planned and then recently came out again for me to have my routine blood work. All those labs came back fine, except my pancreas is still acting a little funny. Not enough to cause alarm or another trip out of the country, but it's just like my pancreas got tired of being ignored my whole life and just can't let go of what little attention we gave it last Spring.

It's just waving its little hand to say, "Hi, I'm still here. Don't forget about me."

Over the last three months my husband made some videos of our time in the tribe, and I thought I would post them here (because who reads blogs anymore??)

Here are the links for you to enjoy!

My husband teaching 1 Thessalonians:

A walk to "church":

Checking on a sick child:
Random fun stuff:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Comings and Goings

We arrived back in PNG on February 25th. Four days later I got sick with a bad stomach bug. Four days later I got better.

We flew to the coast to our mission center there and attended our annual missionary conference for eight days. We flew back to the mission center here in Goroka.

A week later I got another bad stomach bug. This one lasted for eight days before I went to the doctor for some antibiotics, assuming I had some sort of amoeba or infection.

I ended up spending two days on IV fluids because along with the infection, I had pancreatitis. The antibiotics worked and I felt better...just not ALL the way better.

Our doctor was kind enough to let me go home with my IV. Notice it hanging from the curtain rod here.

I went back to the clinic last Tuesday because I was still having stomach pain and it turns out that I am still having pancreatitis, and my pancreatic enzymes are increasing even though my stomach bug is gone. Our doctor here did every test he possibly could to figure out why this was happening, but nothing showed up.

So after just two months in the country, we are leaving... again. We are packing up to spend at least two weeks in Cairns, Australia to get to the bottom of my grumpy pancreas. Our hope is that it is my gallbladder that is causing the pancreatitis, I can have it removed in Australia, and then come back quickly to PNG and head back into the tribe.

Our worse case scenario is that they can't find a source for the pancreatitis and I have to come back to America until it resolves or we find a reason.


So yeah...we're tired, and frustrated, and broke from all the unexpected medical and travel expenses that are CONTINUALLY happening to our family. We are having a really hard time understanding why we keep getting derailed when all we want to do is JUST GO BACK TO THE JUNGLE AND FINISH OUR WORK.

We are so close. We feel like if things would just BE NORMAL we could probably finish the Hewa work in three or four years. BUT WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO BE IN HEWA TO DO IT!!

I will admit that I'm kinda giving God the side eye right now... "Not sure what you're doing here, Lord. I'm pretty sure you want the Hewa people to know your Word and be discipled into maturity, but you keep pulling the missionaries you sent in there out..." (ps- our coworkers are currently out of the tribe as well helping their daughter who was recently diagnosed with a life-long debilitating disease...see what I mean? Side Eye)

John Michael just flew into Hewa last week to tell the people that we would be moving back soon. They were so worried that our coworkers were never going to come back, and that we would never be able to come back because of my sickness, and he reassured them that I was getting better and we would see them in two weeks. Now, who knows? And their radio is broken, so we can't even tell them. My heart hurts just thinking about that.

JM took this picture of my friend Ana and her baby Jon for me last time he was in Hewa. He was just a tiny infant when I last saw him.

Just some kids hanging out at my house playing with the blocks we keep on the porch for them. I really can't wait to just sit on those rocks and watch them play with my girls again.

And then I just wonder WHY? Why, God, did you call us to this work, this life, if you knew we would have all these health problems? Surely someone more healthy and capable could accomplish this task in a more timely and more economical manner. But then I remember reading a biography on the the life of Lottie Moon, a single missionary woman to China in the late 1800s/early 1900s who was questioned by someone about why she thinks God sent her- a single woman- to a place that obviously needed men in ministry. Her answer was that maybe God called a man first, but he didn't go, so He called Lottie Moon and she said "yes".

So maybe that's it. Maybe God has called some really healthy people to the mission and they said no, so here we are. Fighting with our feeble bodies and depending on God to get us through one issue after another. And we'll just keep doing it until we can't anymore or until it's finished because we said, "Yes."

For now we will trust Him to get us through this, and praise Him that all our troubles have been ones with resolutions. We have many friends and co-workers dealing with so much worse right now, and their testimonies of trust and faith in our God encourage us to keep going... and to be thankful that we CAN keep going... and coming...and going...and coming...and going.

And we find comfort in the fact that-

" the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore." Psalm 121:8

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Walking Barefoot Down the Mountain

It's Monday at about 9:30 am and I am sitting in the middle of a pile of clothes and shoes and curtains and medicines and toys and books (though not many books- thank you Kindle!) and many other random items that we are trying to take back with us to PNG. My 5th grader approaches me with a math question. Because like a masochistic lunatic, I am simultaneously trying to home school and pack. I gave a quick glance and "hint" and told her to try the problem again.

Five minutes later she comes back, still needing help. I sigh in annoyance and give a slightly longer glance and firmly convince her that she can do it herself if she just tries hard enough.

Five minutes later and I was wrong. This time I lost my "patience" (yes, I know the above display was nothing resembling patience) and fussed at her for needing help. Of course that's not what I said...what I said was some jumble of sharp words about "trying" and "not doing your work" when really I was just fussing because she needed help. And you know...that's kind of  actually is my job as a home school teachermom. Sure... it's also my job to pack and make sure my children and windows aren't naked (go ahead and laugh, but if my windows don't have curtains, then people will actually see my children- and anyone else in the house- naked, so they are important...very important). Anyway...

Yeah, I needed to pack, but not on school time. The problem is there was/is a lot of things I needed to do and they weren't looking like they would fit in the eight day time frame we had left. So after that I finally realized I was being totally unfair to my child, apologized, and helped her with her math problem.

Then I locked myself in the bathroom and cried.

Then I felt better.

 And then I decided that this would was the last day of school until we get back to PNG*! Hooray for home school and making my own schedule! I have been trying so hard this whole furlough to keep us on track school-wise and it hasn't been easy with all the traveling, moving, and doctor appointments. But on Monday I realized that just pushing through in order to "get done" was not really helping my kids and it would be better to just wait for a time when I can give them my undivided  slightly less divided attention...even if that means we don't finish until the end of June.

Home school is one of my biggest areas of struggle. I constantly feel inadequate and overwhelmed. I am never confident that I am making the right decisions.  I am never confident that they are getting an adequate education. I am never confident that I am not actually making my children dumber. I am never confident.

And this lack of confidence frequently sends me into a downward spiral of doubt.

"What am I doing here?"

"Why am I a missionary?"

"I am terrible at all the basic requirements of this job."

"God, why do you have me here?"

"Isn't there someone WAY more qualified at all these things?"

"God, do you have me here? Or is this something I got myself and my family into?"

You see I had very different expectations of what I would look like as a missionary. I grew up reading Elisabeth Elliot and Amy Carmichael and I had grand delusions of being someone at least somewhat resembling those ladies.

Turns out I'm just kind of a housewife whose house happens to be in the middle of the jungle...and not a very good housewife at that. I'm not really a great cook. Or decorator. Or teacher. And I'm not great at plenty of the other aspects of my job either... I don't like packing. Or flying. Or transition.

I did kind of know all of those things going in, but I just had this idea that God would miraculously grant me those skills as soon as my feet made first contact with PNG soil.

I didn't really understand the concept of God using the weak and foolish in His work. I kinda thought, "yeah, I'm weak and foolish, but God is going to make me strong. Make me capable... equip me" with gifts and talents. I didn't realize that I was just going to be the same old me. Introverted and awkward and a mediocre cook and a terrible teacher.* But somehow God was going to make it work.

He takes all of my lack of talents and abilities and somehow makes everything work. People are fed and children are educated... and even more miraculously people come to know Him and grow in their relationships with Him.

He turns my mediocrity into the miraculous. All I have to do is just keep going. Keep doing what He asks even if it doesn't look as good as someone who is particularly gifted in that area. Sometimes He works through incredible talents and sometimes He works through the overwhelmingly mundane.

It reminds me of the time my husband went on a hike with some of the Hewa guys. On the way up the mountain (you either go up or down on hikes around our village- flat ground is scarce) he wore some nice hiking boots that not-so-nicely rubbed huge blisters on the backs of his ankles. There was no way he could get the boots back on his feet for the hike back down so he decided to go barefoot. This is not an easy task. Words like "perilous" and "atrocious" come to mind.

John Michael's feet while walking down the mountain barefoot. He had just pulled a leech off of this blister. That's why it is so bloody.

But he did it. Without falling. It's not something that white people can usually do. And man was he proud. The guys he was with congratulated him, "Now you're one of us!"

I was proud of and for him. And the next day I sat with some of the Hewa ladies telling them all about it. But their reaction was a little different than I expected. One particularly bold and saucy friend told me,"Yeah the ONLY reason he was able to do that was because we prayed for him. We saw that he was about to go down the trail with no shoes and we stopped and prayed that he would make it. God carried him down that mountain, and that is why he didn't die (yes they fully expected him to die from walking barefoot down the mountain). "

And I realize that in everything we accomplish over there and for every day that we simply don't die it is only because God intervenes. He takes our feeble offerings and turns them into something useful. Something eternal.

So when I feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and completely useless in this ministry, I can be confident that as long as I am faithful in my mediocrity then He can turn it into something fruitful. I can walk barefoot down the mountain knowing that He will carry me.

*We decided not to do full school, but are still doing our reading everyday.