Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Christmas and A Wonderful Year!

Merry Christmas from the Stephensons!

            As we approach the end of this year, we are so thankful for the adventurous journey that the last 12 months have taken us on. In November of last year, we moved to Papua New Guinea, and since then we have had the amazing opportunity to live and serve in this country.

            Morgan has been working with the Field Workshop to improve the mission housing, fix and maintain mission vehicles, begin work on a new lodge building for the mission station, and many more projects that generally keep life running smoothly here at Kudjip Mission Station. He has rebuilt a clutch (that is something that goes in an engine), laid wood flooring, moved tonnes of rock and gravel (a great workout program!), and even gone swimming in a septic tank! (It was a brand new tank only full of water.)

            Danielle has taught the Missionary Kid highschool, finding herself doing everything from explaining 8th grade Pre-Algebra to drawing diagrams for 11th grade Consumer Math to “explaining” (googling the explanation for) 12th grade Physics. She has also subbed in as a PE teacher, taught a cooking class (donuts, anyone?), and passed a rule for the classroom which allows only correctly constructed paper airplanes to be flown.

            Theron has learned to talk while we have been here, and now liberally sprinkles his conversations with non-English words. His favorites are “pundown” (fall down) and “apinun” (good afternoon). He knows by name the Strawberry Man (John) and the Asparagus Man (Wapi) who come by to sell us produce every couple weeks, and he enthusiastically greets them. He also finds it important to shake the hand of every security guard, jump off of every rock, and pick up every stick on the way from our house to Grandma’s house.

            Lula was born while we were here, and now is already crawling around and pulling up! She loves exploring the kitchen cabinets, and removing the labels from tin cans. Fortunately I only buy two types of tinned food, and the cans are different sizes easily told apart even without labels. Lula believes all people should be equally grinned at, and makes a practice of dispersing her smiles liberally.

            We will return to the States in March of this year to begin working at a Christian Camp ground in Colorado, so we are entering the last couple of months here in Papua New Guinea. We have loved our time here, and are anxious to squeeze as much as possible out of these last few months. Morgan is working to get some vehicles up and running before he leaves, and Danielle is working to hand over the running of the highschool to the new teacher arriving in a couple of months.

            To you who have allowed us to be here this past year with your support through prayer and over $24,000 of donations toward our financial requirement to be here, THANK YOU!!! You are amazing and we are so humbled that you have seen us as worthy of your support. We have never gone hungry, we have always had enough for each day, and for every need that arose.

            We ask you to pray with us and consider partnering with us during these last three months as we wrap up our work here and buy tickets home. We still need about $2800 to be able to return home. 
Pray for safe and tantrum-free travels. 
Pray for us to finish strong. 
Pray for us to be able to pour ourselves out to accomplish as much as possible during our last days here.
Thank you for journeying with us this year!
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Judging Her

I looked at her with her slightly baggy jeans that had given up on life a while back and yet she just kept wearing as if she did not realize that they were barely hanging on. 

Her tummy pooched a little, the pooch of a woman who had gotten pregnant again before quite regaining her former shape after the first baby. The pooch of a woman who now realizes she probably won't ever be quite exactly the same again.

I looked at her hair... Not quite short, not quite long, not quite brown, not quite blonde, not quite straight, not quite curly. It was scooped up in little twists and bobby pinned into submission far from reaching grabbing baby hands. 

I looked at her, like I had looked at so many others like her, and to my surprise, I found that I had no judgment for her this time. I did not mentally criticize her clothing, or her lack of makeup, or her obvious unenthusiasm for sit ups. 

I thought abought the dishes that piled dirty in her sink, and the tupperware and pans piled haphazardly in her cupboards, and felt only kinship, and even pride in her for choosing to play with her kids or kiss her husband or even just be without worrying that for this moment in time, the dishes remained unwashed.

I noticed the toys scattered about the floor, the spilled juice from her toddler's breakfast, her kids state of undress as they were all still in pajamas at this hour of the morning, and I did not feel condemnation. I did not compare her to all the other moms who surely had it all together this morning. I only smiled at her in the knowledge that sometimes... Life is just chaos, and that is just fine.

I thought about how I sometimes disagreed with her choice of sleep training methods, about how I had so many times in the past secretly blamed her children's misbehavior on her inability to stick with cry-it-out for more than two minutes, or her tendency to feed the baby every time she cried in the night because it was just easier and she was so tired. 

I thought about how I had passed quick judgment on the times she used too sharp of a tone of voice in scolding her son, or the times she let things go she really shouldn't have because it was just too much work to correct this time. I had looked down on her for her lack of that holiest of grails of parenting: Consistency.

But this time, to my surprise, I found that the judgments had, somewhere along the way, faded, leaving me with a sense of understanding. A sense of the faultiness and brokenness of all of us. A sense of grace. 

I stood there, contemplating this turn of events, and wondered when I had stopped criticizing her so sharply. 
When I had stopped judging her and all of her fellow women who did not have it all together. 
When I had stopped mentally comparing her to the ideal which we all surely strove for. 
I wondered when I had decided to just let her be. 
To appreciate her.
To smile at her, with no underlying castigation.

I wondered when I had started extending grace to her. 

I wasn't sure. 
I felt perhaps it had to do with a day when I realized that judgment is contagious. 
It does not stay neatly confined to the one I would like to be judging, but spills over until I am judging everything I see.

Perhaps at some point I had come to realize that I could not contain judgment. 
That in allowing it to flow through me to others, I had deal with it flowing back to me. 
That judgment is not picky.
It sticks to everything in its path, washing away the colors of joy and peace and thanksgiving.

At some point, I had started choosing grace instead. 
I had taken the judgmental thoughts, one at a time examining them and choosing to cast them aside like refuse and choosing instead to clothe myself in grace. 
To extend grace to every one I met, adorning them, too, in priceless pearls of acceptance and love that saw their faults and made them beautiful.
 The grace which flows around all of us, pulling us in closer instead of separating and pitting us against each other. 
The grace which forces me to see the humanity of the women around me, how we are all in this together, how I am not above or below any of them.

The same grace which I found myself extending to the one in front of me now. 
I smiled at her, a smile full of grace and joy and knowledge that she is beautiful and loved and an amazing mom and wonderful wife and that the dishes and tummy pooches and spills and baggy jeans just are the trappings of chaotic, joyful life right now, and are made beautiful by grace. 
She smiled the same smile back at me,
And I turned from the mirror to face the next moment of life with grace. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Shonders of the School

We had to think long and hard about how to decorate the school room this year. 
It had to be something that did not require paint (very expensive here) or anything which would be permanent, and it had to be able to be made by us...
But it still had to be INTERESTING, darn it! 

Rachel got us kicked off with a delightfully artsy chores chart.


Well, if you know me, you know that I really cannot resist bright colors. So when she started with that, well... I had to continue the theme.

I do realize the days of the week are out of order. It was easier to shift the day labels around to change from September to October than to completely rearrange the calendar. Easy won. Also, #31 has not been made yet. Don't judge. 

The students voted on a theme of "Wonders of the World" for the rest of the decorating. 
But then, of course, a discussion ensued over WHICH wonders of the world and there were people who wanted particular things which were not technically wonders of the world, and so finally we decided to just do whichever wonders we decided were wonderful enough for our walls. 

Then came the issue of how exactly to make these wonders. It is hard to make a good looking wonder from posterboard.
 Should we draw them on posters? (Boring and overdone, of course) 
Should we construct them from construction paper? (Wayyy to much work. Also doesn't look great. Also boring.)
Should we construct them from paper mache? (Uh... No.)

Finally, inspired by Rachel's chore chart in striking black and flourescent, we hit upon the perfect solution: sillouhettes! Black shadow-wonders! Or, as Caleb brilliantly dubbed them: Shonders! 

The students set forth enthusiastically making their favorite wonders. As the classwork has picked up, construction has slowed, but we have thus far: 

The Lighthouse of Alexandria


The Temple of Artemis

The Great Pyramid

And the Taj Mahal


Friday, September 12, 2014

Cocoa-Roach Ice Cream

Life is all about the decisions we make. 
The hard, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other decisions.
The I-have-to-remake-this-decision-every-hour decisions.
The why-me? decisions.
The oh-this-is-gonna-be-FUN decisions.
The oh-boy-I-never-saw-this-coming decisions.
The well...huh. decisions.

I made a decision recently. Really, it was the only obvious choice, because... DUH.
But it might not look that way to you. I'll let you decide.

I made chocolate ice cream. 
And, as I poured the cocoa into the pan with the other ingredients... This.

Do you see it? It is a beautiful specimen of a cocoa-coated cockroach.

I'm not a screamy bug-hating sort of girl, but cockroaches... Just... No. 

However, this is the point where I had to make a decision. 

You see, in that pan was a can of sweetened condensed milk, a box of cream, quite a bit of milk, chocolate, sugar, etc... Items worth a fair amount of money here. 
Also, items that require a town trip to procure. 
A town trip I had just taken... And would not take again for 6 weeks.

So, you see, if I chose to throw out this pan because of one measly crunchy cocoa cockroach, I would be choosing to forgo ice cream for Six. Weeks. 

Hence, the obvious decision. I fished that cockroach out of that pan and deposited it in the rubbish (see above picture). And carried on with my ice cream-making. 

But, of course, it would be wrong to share that ice cream, contaminated as it was. So Morgan and I sacraficed ourselves for the greater good, and ate it all. 

Tough decisions, people.
Tough decisions. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Case of the Jet Lagged Toddler, finale: My Magic Toddler Flight Tips.

Well, we have arrived safely back in our little corner of the world.
Actually, we arrived on the 20th, but since there is no Starbucks or Macdonalds to run down and steal internet from (not that I would ever do such a thing. Shame on all of you for knowing what I am talking about.) it has taken me this long to obtain the means to give you an update. 

As most of you know, the getting here process includes several prolonged periods in enclosed Toddler Torture Chambers known as Airplanes. These infernal devices are designes specifically to drive toddlers and the parents of toddlers and everyone unlucky enough to be seated near the toddlers certifiably Insane. 

Over the last couple of monhs since our less-than-stellar experience on the 13 hour flight going to the states, I have been systematically, frantically searching for some magic substance, trick, restraint system, noise muffler, or other device to make the return trip less traumatic. 

Well, I am happy to report to you, that I Won. I did it. I achieved Plane Ride Happiness in the form of Toddler Sleep. And being the incredibly generous and giving person I am, I am about to tell you how I did it, so that you, too, may achieve this peace and harmony and goodwill of fellow passengers. 

Now please do not tale this to mean that a plane ride with toddlers will ever be Fun or Relaxing or anything remotely close... No, a toddler is still a toddler and toddlers and 13 hoir flights do not, under any circumstances, mix well. But, with some tricks and forethought, Non-Horror can be achieved. 

My Magic Toddler Flight Tips

1. Car. Seat


This amazing restraint system is The. Key. The flights on which we had the car seat were happy little strolls in the park beside the flights on which the evil airline people did not allow the car seat. Traveling tip: in Australia, they do not care if your car seat has "approved for use on airplanes" stamped very clearly on the manufacturer's label. You have to have an ORANGE STICKER that says "approved for use in airplanes." And of you do not... Well, 3 hours of Screaming Toddler on that flight. I did not have warm fuzzy Christian feelings towards those airline employees. Quite the opposite. 

But this experience does prove that the major thing making a difference on other flights was the carseat. It seemed to make Theron realize that he was strapped in, he wasn't going to be getting out, it was familiar, and it meant that we were not physically wrestling with him the whole time. 

We almost got the carseat taken away on the 13 hour flight because of the whole orange sticker issue. I almost had a heart attack, and sent up many desparate prayers while they were deciding if my manufacturers label was good enough. With what I am sure was Divine Intervention, they decided to let it pass on that flight. I'm not sure what I would have done if they had not... Probably better to not contemplate it. 

2. Melatonin

This was my magic Toddler Knockout Substance. Yours may be different. Let me encourage you, however, to test your magic Toddler Knockout Substance before the plane ride. Benadryl, for us, was the opposite of a Magic Toddler Knockout Substance. Research options and test them. I settled on melatonin because for one, benadryl didn't work, and also because it is somewhat natural and after research the only possible negative affect I found was possible dependence on it if you use it all the time. So I decided that once or twice on a flight... Well, the benefits outweighed the possible consequences. He only needed half of a 3mg pill to help him get to sleep, and he them stayed asleep for about 8 or 9 hours. 

Beware of overusing your knockout substance, however. Toddlers are active creatures and it really is not reasonable to expect them to sleep longer than they would at home, even with help. 8 or 9 hours straight is about my toddler's limit in non-crib situations. Giving your toddler more knockout substance when they really can't sleep anymore is just a recipe for a tired, cranky, angry, hyper, drugged toddler. Not cool. Just try to prolong the sleep as much as you can and then turn to other activities, such as walking circles around the plane. 

3. Take care of yourself

This is a version of the old advice "sleep when the baby sleeps." 
On the first journey, I was so stressed I didn't sleep at all, I didn't drink enough water, I didn't eat well, and so I was sick, tired, dehydrated, and miserable on top of having a screaming child. 
If you get Sleeping Children, SLEEP! Rest. Breathe. 

Drink TONNES of water. It is so easy to get dehydrated on airplanes.
 Take healthy snacks for yourself and the kids, and eat them. 
Take turns with your partner, if you are lucky enough to be traveling with them, and remove yourself for a walk or a nap during your "time off." On the Flight of Screams (thanks to the stubborn airline employees) I took Lula back to an empty row so I could feed her and let her nap, and I relaxed and read for a while myself. Then, when she woke up, I went back up to help Morgan with Sir ScreamsALot. 

 Take dark chocolate. Buy a coffee on a layover. Do yoga. Stretch. Use the stupid looking eyecover thingy, if it helps you sleep (it helps me). Extra changes of clothes on a long haul trip can make a big difference, as can toothbrushes and a hairbrush. 

Take lotion, comfortable (WARM) clothes, and generally do everything possible to make the flight better for yourself. A happier, more relaxed parent will result in happier, more relaxed kids. Nobody benefits if you don't take care of yourself.

4. When they are awake

Have a plan for when the toddler wakes up. Be realistic- they aren't going to sleep the entire 32 hour trip, on 6 planes and 7 airports. So, don't let their waking hours come as a surprise. Be prepared.

I took snacks of all shapes and sizes and flavours because one gets boring to Toddler. Goldfish, sunflower seeds, wholegrain crackers, fruit snacks, raisins, fruit leather. I made sure to have his water bottle so I could fill it on the plane and keep him hydrated. Lollipops are amazing time consumers, and are great for the up and down portions of the flight because sucking on them helps keep their ears clear. Nursing Lula during takeoff and landing did the same thing for her. 

Kep in mind with snacks, that this toddler is trapped. Sugar is probably not something you want to be feeding a trapped toddler. I kept the snacks completely sugarless, and tried to also limit refined flour because it has a similar effect on Sir Squirm. Know what triggers your child's hyper behavior, and avoid it. One friend of mine figured out that her grandson has a super hyper reaction to a certain food dye! No red plane snacks for him! 

I also took toys- trucks, plastic animals, little toys. And books. And I loaded our ipads with toddler friendly games. Some good free ones are: 
Thomas and Friends Engine Activities
Shapes and Colors

I also put some cartoons on Morgan's ipad... Theron is a little small to figure out headphones, so the plane cartoons didn't have sound for him, although he still enjoyed them. But the smaller airplanes didn't have movies anyway, so he watched some cartoons on the ipad with the sound turned low. Check on itunes... They sometimes have free cartoons. I got several episodes of Finley the Fire Engine, which turned out to be really cute. Wordless cartoons are also wonderful things. The Snowman is a favorite of mine, although I cannot find a digital version of it. 

We also did a lot of walking behind Theron as he explored the airport, and as he ran up and down the aisles of the planes. His little doggy backpack-leash is AMAZING. He loves it, and it makes it possible for us to let him run around without having to hold our hand (tiring for little arms) or worry about losing him. 

5. Routine

Giving the Toddler a sense of security and familiarity can make a world of difference not only on plane rides, but also in hotels and unfamiliar relatives' houses. I do a few things to try to provide this.

Eeyore: Theron carries Eeyore EVERYWHERE. 
PJs: the kids both wore their PJs for the long overnight flight. Warm footy pajamas make the, comfortable and warm and are familiar and associated with sleep.
Essential Oils: I use essential oils in their bath every night at home, because I like the way they smell, and I think they have really made a difference in Theron's sleep. Wiping them down with a warm washcloth with Pillow Potion (auracacia brand oil blend) and putting it on Eeyore gives them a familiar sleepy, calming smell. 
Carseat: as I stated before, this is key. Most airlines in the states will let you bring on the carseat if it is certified for airline use. Even if Toddler is a lap child, ask at the gate if there is an empty seat you can put the carseat in. Most airlines will let you do that. They want your flight to go well, too! Unless they are Australian, evidentally. (Boo.)

6. Stress free accessibility
When you have a screaming toddler with a poopy diaper, or who is hungry and losing it, timing is everything. You don't want to lose precious minutes of sanity by digging through a suitcase fore diapers or snacks. Make sure your carryon is easily accessible and well arranged. I used a bookbag from my college days, and put my ipad in the computer pocket along with tickets amd boarding passes,snacks in the little compartments along the back inside, and organized diapers and toys in the book compartment. Water bottles went outside in the water bottle compartment. I put enough diapers in my bag for each leg of the journey, and then Morgan carried extras, and extra changes of clothing, in his backpack. 
We only had the one carryon each and then I pushed Theron in his stroller and Morgan carried Lula in a carrier. The gate-check stroller was wonderful for Sir Squirm, and no extra purses or computer bags meant less to juggle and worry about. 

Also, I dressed both of the kids in outfits that were easy to change diapers in. No pull-off shorts or fancy ruffles. Easy one-piece suits with snaps around the diaper area. 

7. Perspective
Finally, when all else fails, the carseat is rejected, the snacks have run out, the melatonin is no longer working, and 32 hours of traveling is just too much for anyone, let alone a toddler, try to keep some perspective points in mind: 

It will end. No matter how bad it is, it will eventually end. Don't be afraid to use your magic knockout substance one more time when you get to your destination and collapse at a hotel or relatives house, or hand your child over to Grandma and go pass out. It will be over, and you won't die of Screaming Toddler. Probably. 

The ones who matter don't mind and the ones who mind don't matter. Don't add extra stress to your already full plate by worrying overmuch about your fellow passengers. The majority of the time, they understand and feel sorry for you, not annoyed by you. And if they do happen to not have children of their own or empathy of any type... They just don't matter! You will probably never see them again. Their opinion of you does not matter. So, throw out a general apology to your fellow travelers, smile at them, and them carry on with your life and don't worry about their eye-rolls. 

Toddler. Not adult. Remember your child is just that- a child. Traveling is really hard on anyone, and even the most mature adults who know when it's going to end and have impulse control get tired and cranky and grumpy on long haul journeys. Imagine therfore how much harder it must be for a toddler, who has no idea how much longer this is going to last, what is going on, why we are doing this, and how to express displeasure, tiredness, and general fed-up-ed-ness. Give grace, try not to get angry, and perhaps leave the lesson-learning for another time. Traveling is not, in my mind, the best time to teach new manners or be overly strict on behaviors. At the same time, though, toddlers need boundaries and throwing all the rules out the window, in my experience, just contributes to the overhwleming bewilderment they are already experiencing. So pick your battles. 

So there you have it-- what I have learned from three long haul trips with Sir Squirm, two of which also included his baby sister. Hopefully it helps somebody. :) 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Case of the Jet Lagged Toddler, update

Well, it has now been an entire furlough of experimenting with Toddler Knockout Potions. Except, the experiment didn't end up going very far... I tried essential oils, and he calmed down considerably for bedtime, to a point where we could put him to sleep holding him (which we have not been able to do consistently since he was about 4months old). For a night in an unfamiliar hotel room, I tried a tiny dose (about 1.5mg) of melatonin... Knockout success! It really helped him drift off to sleep with no problems. Although, more recently, after a couple months of using essential oils, he didn't even need the melatonin to go to sleep in a strange place. 

Our last flight from OKC to Boise went so well! He drifted off to a nap on the first flight and sat and watched movies and played Eensy Weensy Spider about 374 times on the second flight. We took his carseat on the plane this time as well, and he seemed to realize that this meant he should just settle in. He has spent a lot of time in his carseat this furlough with traveling to churches, so he has practice at that. It was amazing! 

So we are very optimistic about the flights back to PNG and dealing with jet lag better this time around! We'll see how it goes, but I think with minimal Potion use, our toddler will do much better this time around.

And... I'm a firm essential oil convert! 
But no fair not praying for us. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hello. Goodbye.

There are two ways to approach this.
Two equally true realities.
Two truths that stare me in the face every day.
Two rituals that I have been forced to live in with an urgency that many are not forced into. 

And I think that both are equally necessary to living a healthy life of relationships. 


As a missionary kid, I have lived my life in the space between and within these two words. 


As an adult who has friends that I sort by continent, I face these overwhelming feelings on a daily basis.


I spent a long time fighting these realities. I refused to say hello for fear of having to say goodbye. I refused to embrace places, people, feelings because I did not want to have to let them go. I refused to process goodbyes, preferring to ignore them, trapping myself in the tiny space outside of hello and goodbye. 

Hopefully, I am learning a different way of living. Learning to live in the space between and within the hello and the goodbye. Because these realities are not unique to the experience of a global nomad. Everyone has to face the twin realities of hello and goodbye.
Of birth and death.
Of now and then.
Of yesterday and today and tomorrow.
Of things loved,
Things lost,
Things gained.

Life lived.
Life yet to be lived. 

I believe that the fullest life is lived within these realties. To ignore either one is to refuse to experience life as it really is. 


I have heard two 'inspirational' statements that reflect a life lived in these realities.
How would you live if today were your last day? 
Live like you are going to live forever. 

Allow me to explain. 
If today were my last day, I would tell everyone I love that I love them.
I would worry more about whether my son needs a book read to him than if the dishes need washed.
I would make sure to tell the person I am standing in front of that they are valuable. 
If today were my last day, I would hug my husband and hold my daughter and care more about moments than dollars.

But if I were going to live forever, then I would plant a tree. 
I would make sure my son was learning how to say 'please' and 'thank you.'
I would make jam and fill my pantry for next winter.
I would make my house a home. 
I would start a garden. 

If I live only like today is my last day, then I never invest in tomorrow. I never embrace life where I am, never put down roots, never dig deep and make sure my friendships will last the long run. If I live only in the Goodbye, I will forget to embrace Hello.

If I live only like I will live forever, I will worry constantly about tomorrow. I will pass over today because I am too busy planning for the future. I might forget to tell the person I'm facing how much they are worth, because I have all the time in the world. If I live only in the Hello, I will forget to prepare for the Goodbye.

Life is lived to the fullest only in the space between and within both the Hello and the Goodbye. These equal  realities can govern a life lived lived fully embracing today and fully investing in tomorrow. 


And now.

Two sides of the same coin. 
Two truths. 
The push and pull,
The dance of a full life.