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Monday, August 11, 2014

In my father's house

 . . are many mansions.  I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also. (John 14)

This idea of home and family and place is pretty fundamental to the human psyche.  Jesus even used the image to explain to his followers his post-death trajectory.

In a small way, that's where we are now.  Literally in my father's house, preparing a place.  And since West Virginia is called "almost Heaven" . . .well, the point is that all this preparing is so that we can have a place to be with people we love.

In 1973, my parents bought a farm up in the hills of central WV.  It was a half-mile from property where my grandfather and great-grandfather had been born in log cabins.  As the youngest of 15 himself, my dad didn't wait around to inherit any family property.  Instead he found two inexpensive, deteriorating farms.  One he fixed up as a family "camp" where we spent weekends and summers in the vicinity of our relatives. The other, this farm, he rented out to people for a small income, until it became more of a liability (like when the schoolteachers who lived here were busted for growing marijuana on site).  He added a bathroom and started some other projects to make the hundred-year-old house more liveable, but then became ill and died and the place sat unoccupied, a bit shabby and crumbling.

Last year Scott and I anticipated that with more kids in college every year, we would eventually need a place to gather when we're in the States.  Our parents have moved out of childhood homes with lots of bedrooms and space, into smaller retirement homes, which are not really available for extended stays by a family with four teen/twenty kids.  We have never owned a home.  So with my mom's blessing we decided to invest in a new roof and floors for this farmhouse, and to make it a home-away-from-Africa-home.  From a distance we contracted with a local builder.  In May Luke moved umpteen boxes of mostly photo albums and dishes, and some furniture we had inherited when my mom down-sized.  He fixed the hot-water heater, and met the neighbors, and hooked up the coffee machine.  A good start.

So this week we've been sorting, cleaning, painting, fixing, running errands, and making progress towards making the place home.  Scott put up a clothesline and I washed all the musty quilts that have been in storage 20 of the last 21 years (we lived one year in the US, in 2001).  We unpacked some dishes and pots and pans and linens that were wedding gifts 27 years ago.  We visited the local furniture store where the proprietor and his wife, in their 80's, went to high school with my dad and uncles, to order beds and mattresses.  We peeked into every box and then stacked them, filling two closets with the accumulated photos and scrapbooks and letter-jackets and souvenirs of our childhoods. We put the remnant of our books onto a shelf.  We now have an account with Southern States for propane, a fridge, and a wood-burning iron stove.  We hauled the few pieces of junk left in the house from former occupants off to the dump.  We took walks and invited our nearest neighbors over to visit.

In short, we came to prepare a place, and though it's far from a mansion it is becoming a home. We aren't leaving Africa (as far as we know) for a long time, but we are thankful to have a spot that connects our souls to a particular patch of American soil for the times we are on this side of the ocean.

And as the passage makes clear from John, the essence of the concept of home is a physical location where people who care about each other can enjoy each other's company.  It may be a tent, or a mud-brick building with no water or bathroom.  It may be a guest-house room or a rented house or a century-old handed-down farmhouse.  Our home has been all of those things.  That where Jesus and our kids are, we may also be together.


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

North of Carolina

The Myhres are, at this moment, all in the US of A.  And right smack in a whirlwind of transition.  We've started a month-plus of travel, 13 different stops with different beds and people and traditions.  Two kids moving into completely new school environments, one starting a new on-line class (which is proving rather complicated) in addition to his senior year of high school things, and the other re-committing to a decade of intensity of engineering, military, and stress.  I am now comfortable with Bed, Bath, and Beyond after being overwhelmed disastrously by its numbing detailed excess of choices four years ago.  We have a car Scott bought used on a trip in January, so for the first time in two decades we are driving around on our own.  Somehow we managed to fit everything two kids own (which is about two suitcases each, not much), everything the rest of us have for a month of travel, and five people into this Volvo.  
And for a brief few days, we were six.  We had planned a family biking vacation as a way to transition from the intensity of Kenya, medicine, graduation, patients, exhaustion, to the route of visits and moving.  30-40 kilometers a day of back-roads biking, scenery, picnics.  Evenings eating and talking.  A couple days into this Caleb showed up at our door one morning, having gotten away from his overseas deployment a week early (perhaps his proximity to two wars prompted the Air Force to get the students out, or just the kindness of some colonels who moved up the orders, or the gift of God to this mom).  He flew back to CO, processed paperwork in record time, got an unscheduled leave, and flew to find us as a surprise.  Glorious.  
Our real America trek began with a wedding in southern PA.  Two of Luke's classmates married each other, and he was a groomsmen.  Thomas is one of his best friends in the world, and we love both sets of parents whom we've become friends with working at Kijabe.  The RVA class of 2010 showed up en masse, about 20-30 kids.  The weekend was on a rural farm, with lots of music, dancing, hugging, stories, a pig roast, home made wine, and an atmosphere of palpable love. 
Which has been the surprise of this America journey so far.  It is the first time I have flown into the familiar Dulles airport with no parent to meet us.  When the plane was descending, I was mourning my Dad's death freshly, even though it's been 8 years.  And even though I know my mom's new home is best for her and the right decision, it gave me a sense of loneliness to know that 118 Lake Drive no longer awaited.  By the time we navigated the 14 loops of lines at immigration I was wondering what it would be like to enter America without family.  But on the other side of the airport doors two women from our main supporting church waited for us, having driven our car to meet us.  Ellen S has quietly and efficiently stepped into the gap, organizing mail, advising on finances, providing a storage and stop-off point and food and friendship and a thousand details.  Sharon B gave up her day to circle the parking area in July heat.  We stayed in Baltimore at the home of Suzanne and Dave T, who even had grilled salmon (they couldn't know it was a favorite and often our first meal at Grammy and Grampy's) and beds waiting.  The T's lived in Uganda for a year and they understand a thing or two about transition and homelessness and the need for space and a kind ear.  The wedding was a glorious abundance of relationship, at least 9 missionary families intersecting and dozens of kids.  We were able to make it to Virginia in time for church at Grace, another warm reminder of being loved and known.  And for the last two days in Charlottesville we were hosted in absentia by Lisa, Craig, and Ashely W who left us their house (and a friend, and three dogs) while they were on a family vacation.  The style, furniture, layout, everything about this home is so similar to 118 Lake Drive.  Whenever I was looking for something as I prepared dinner I just thought:  where would my mom have put that?  And there it was.  A missionary-kid who worked with us in Uganda, Tim W, appeared to help us navigate moving Luke into his apartment.  Dear friends from Uganda, Nathan and Sarah E, have moved to Charlottesville for a surgery residency.  So last night we spread a table out on the patio, grilled meat and vegetables from Sarah's job on a farm, fresh fruit and corn, candlelight and laughter as we pulled Luke's new apartment-mate Jake into the family.  (Who has been a delightful gift and surprise, seems like a solid, friendly, wise guy whom we are very thankful for Luke to live with).  Wonderful.
Which goes to demonstrate that community is fluid and re-collectable, in disparate times and places.  That the celebration of a meal and stories re-builds connection.  That what seems to be lacking can be abundantly filled by God.
And we need that faith this month.  Julia has said goodbye to all her friends, and her home, and everything she's grown up with, and is in the limbo of heading to Duke.  I don't think I was prepared for Luke's transition from college to medical school, from Yale to UVA, from north to south, to feel as weighty as the high school to college jump.  He's lived away from home in dorms for six years, after all.  He's risen to a thousand challenges, formed friendships from ground zero.  But here he is again, 21, nervous, living in an apartment for the first time, buying a used bed, thinking about groceries and health insurance, surrounded by an entirely new group of people in an entirely new place, with a very long and hard road ahead. 
So while God has given us some incredible reassurances:  Caleb's surprise arrival on vacation, a memorable wedding to celebrate with people we love, a good apartment and friend for Luke, scholarships, and entire team of supportive people to help us along the way, reminders of the constancy of community . . . it still takes time and work to walk through these transitions.  Change involves inevitable loss; resurrection has to be preceded by death.  Thanks for your prayers.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lasts and Leaving

Last hikes with Julia (note that the "lasts" in this post are because Julia is leaving.  We will be back in Kijabe after we take her to the States, working at least another year here):

And playing with the panorama feature as we took the dogs along the railroad last night.  Today the kids did an all-day hike with another family while we worked in the hospital, bushwhacking up to the high ridge road.  And they have the scratches to prove it.

Last decisions, throwing things into trunks that stay and trunks that go, tossing clothes, lingering over memories like athletic letters:

Last meals with team, Sunday at Bethany's and Monday at Massos.  Ali looks like he can't take anymore lasts.

Last Sunday brunch.  Last AIC church service.  Last meals at home.
Last run on Barns trail.  Julia quite patiently plodding along with me.

 Last days of work, so this was a treat.  Mary who survived Guillan Barre, and a long ICU stay, came back to show us she is WALKING and smiling and about to resume school.  I was on call the night she crashed, and was the one who intubated her.  I made the decision to give her a tracheostomy, and cared for her during long weeks.  We so rarely get to see the kids later, back almost to normal after weeks of paralysis.  A bright spot in a week of too many deaths.

Below is the chaos in casualty as I left tonight, the bustle of our excellent staff receiving 13 victims of a military lorry rolling over.  No one was too interested in Pediatric help so I got out of the way pretty quickly, but it seems only one needed surgery and hopefully all will recover.

Work is continuing to the last minute.
Tonight I finished the last work on three scientific posters and one oral presentation our AIC Kijabe Paediatrics team will present at an International Congress of Tropical Paediatrics meeting in August.  I hate to miss it, but I'm thankful for the research we've been able to pull off, and hopeful the ideas will spur better care for kids in Kenya and generally in Africa.

 And so the lasts build up to the leaving.  Tomorrow evening we will pile in a taxi and head to the airport. A week of family vacation and then a month of moving and settling and greeting and thanking.  We start at the Rabenold/Letchford wedding in PA, then to Charlottesville to sort Luke into an apartment for medical school, then almost a week in WV where my Dad was from to work on an old farmhouse he left us that we're fixing up as a home base now that half of us are stateside, then Charlotte NC to see my mom and sister, then a quick jaunt back to Charlottesville for Luke before Julia's International Orientation starts in Durham.  Once she's settled, we have a couple days with my family again, then north to Dulles where Jack heads to Kenya and Scott and I to CA to see his parents.  From CA to CO for Caleb's parents' day weekend, then PA again for Serge meetings the first week of September.  A visit to our main supporting church, Grace, and then we fly back to Kenya September 8.  We're staying 14 places in 5 weeks in the States.

Our focus this trip is family:  seeing parents who have had health challenges this year, settling two kids into new universities and seeing one who has been through a lot.  We'll see a few of you who support us, but that will mostly come next year when we take a longer furlough.

Would you please pray for us?

  • A blessedly restoring week together with Jack, Julia, and Luke, that we would have memorable meals and talks, that we would love each other.  I so wish Caleb could come. It will be a reminder that even on vacation, the world is not as it should be.
  • Smooth travel, connections, finding our hosts, safely moving every few days to new places.
  • God's provision.  Two generous gifts have erased our deficit for now.  So grateful.  We are needy people in every way, and we believe in pouring out more than we receive.  So there you have it.
  • A healthy embrace of America for Julia and Luke as they begin new phases of life (college and med school) and a healthy connection to remain to their home in Africa.  For sweet deep friendships, and thought-provoking classes, and God's leading in their lives.
  • That we would be a blessing to those we visit, particularly our parents.
Thanks!  Now back to packing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paradox Parenting

"Exclusion and Embrace" is the title of an excellent book and a description of the paradox of parenting at this stage of life.  This week we celebrated Julia, and her graduation from high school.  A lot of embrace.  Photos, parties, last events.  Special food, dressing up, hugs.  And the beginnings of separation, the inevitable sending out.  Throwing out old clothes, papers, mementos.  Plane tickets and health insurance and bank accounts without us.  One thing we have learned about paradox in the last few years is that both polar ends are true and to be fully lived.  Seeking a middle, a compromise, is not the way. One might image that being less attached would make the goodbye easier.  Or that holding the child closer to home might blunt the parting.  Not so.

Instead we have to jump in, both feet, full immersion, in the love and the leaving.

Wednesday night Karen hosted a birthday party for Liana (15!!) which started with a short recognition of Luke and Jhamat's graduation.  She baked a Davenport (their Yale residential college) cake and we sang "How Firm a Foundation", a hymn that has bookmarked my experience of Luke's life from a troubled pregnancy I trembled to believe could result in a hold-able baby, to the day we dropped him off at Yale and heard the organist practicing in the chapel.  Karen knows me so well.  Her parties and Bethany's slide show (see here and have your tissues handy) have been beautiful, meaningful ways to soak ourselves in the poignancy of graduations.  I am so thankful to have friends here as we walk through these milestones.

That evening, the entire school and parents gather in the auditorium of Downing Hall for "Senior Night".  The seniors themselves had prepared a program with four sections:  elementary, junior high, 9th/10th grade, and 11th/12th grade.  Each section had funny skits, musical numbers, reminiscences, letters from old teachers read aloud, and a slide show.  It was beautifully done.  We did not enter this picture until mid-9th grade for Jules, but it was sweet to see the kids who went all the way back to Kindergarten together (and Julia had known them when we were evacuated here and she was a baby, though she doesn't really remember that).  At the end of the evening, everyone but the seniors and class sponsors left.  We stood in a slowly growing circle whereby each person greeted/ hugged/ farewelled every other person, ending in a dark room with candles being lit around the circle, then a symbolic turning outward to cary the light into the world.

I think that night helped me see that depth of embrace, how this community is a bit unusual.  We have deep ties, whether they are 2 years or 12, because of shared vision, isolation from other supports, shared faith in most cases, similar life experience.  And we have a perhaps a depth of loss that is more ripping, because these kids come from disparate countries and continents.  They won't be "home" for Thanksgiving and happen to run into each other.  This goodbye is one that may be forever.  It hurts.

Thursday was graduation day.  Sunshine, laughter, greetings.  As we arrived early for great seats, we listened to multiple senior musical ensembles.  What talented kids.  Julia sang with Small Group.  Then pomp and circumstance, the seniors marching in in pairs and sitting up front.  Mugisha, whom we visited in Rwanda, gave the senior address with a great story about fear from his childhood, and being carried home by a stranger, with the message that God is always present in the moment of greatest need.  There were a few awards, hymns, choir numbers, and then the presentation of diplomas.  Our whole row stood on our chairs and yelled "We LOVE YOU JULIA" which was the most dramatic of the claps.  As the kids march out, paired according to the alphabet, they jump to slap a sign board over the back door.  It is a tradition.  Some get a running start and really smack it loudly, some barely get their fingertips that high.  This year I watched to see what would happen with the one girl in the class who is paralyzed in her legs.  She walks with crutches from a childhood spinal tumor.  She was paired with a star basketball player and all-around great guy.  Sure enough, as they went out, he and another boy lifted this girl up to slap the sign.  It was a beautiful moment that typifies this class.  Thoughtful, solid, caring for each other, lifting each other up.

The graduation was followed by milling about, congratulations, and photographs too numerous to count.  The kids gathered to throw their hats in the air, then all went for lunch in the cafeteria.  Soon the buses were loading and leaving.  We hosted a pizza night for a few families of kids we were guardians for, or who weren't leaving yet.  It grew into quite a large party.

The next day we took Luke and Jhamat to the airport, leaving here at 4:30 am.  Then Karen and Bethany had organized a group hike up and around Longonot which took most of the day.  Strenuous, dusty, full sunshine, spectacular views, gasping breaths, fellowship, and a good way to say goodbye to a landmark spot.  The weekend has involved work and packing, packing and work.  Going through every closet, sorting shoes, throwing things away.  Gathering gifts, making piles for packing.  Washing sheets to catch up from 5 guests.  Hugs, goodbyes, last brunch, last AIC church service.

So that's where we are.  Saturated with the beauty and love and celebration of a remarkable 17-year-old girl whose academic and athletic and service and leadership records are nearly perfect.  And drenched with the sorrow of letting go, of sending out, of walking by faith.  The first separation was birth, and since then we keep pursuing that bonding love and that freeing independence, both extremes, not letting one blunt the other.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An emotional week, already, and it's only Tuesday night

The emotions of this week have barely begun.  Gaby Masso's 6th grade "celebration" (which was really a graduation complete with band, choir, speech, certificates, and handshaking) had me fighting tears this afternoon.  I was there with his mom in labor, after driving all the kids across Uganda when her water broke early and she, Michael, and Scott flew ahead on a MAF plane.  I was the person who received and held him as Scott managed the delivery, and Karen did all the work.  Now here he is in his bow tie, playing the bass drum, and getting ready for middle school.  Then the news came that Liana made the wind ensemble for next year, and I made such a noise reading the text that I had to explain the whole thing to my hospital team.

The weekend was jam packed with sick babies on call, distraught parents, puzzling labs.  And Alumnae games, cheering, food, guests.  Dressing up for the Alumnae banquet, running in for emergencies.

Greeting former students, celebrating lasts.
And as if we weren't already emotional enough, Senior Sunday, with Small Group singing, four excellent and thoughtful talks, and a beautiful closing benediction.

In the midst of all this, the victorious "honey-smugglers" returned, 94 driving hours, 5200 km, Kenya through Tanzania to the Zambia border, then west and north through Burundi, Rwanda, to Uganda, then home, then east through Kampala, Sonrise acres for old times' sake, and back to Kijabe.  Oh, and right in the middle, the huge crisis in Bundibugyo with the team evacuating.  But we let Luke go see friends are are glad we did.  The matter of 85 people dying is still stressful and important and impacting the future . . . but it didn't stop the reunions.  Here he is with boys he grew up with, and our friend and former neighbor who cooked for all of them:

What a relief to have them home, safely, with not even so much as a flat tire.  THANKFUL for prayers.  And Caleb has better communication at his undisclosed location in SW Asia than he does in America, so we can talk and hear about his flights, the humvee driving, the Arabic practice, the heat.

And while all that's going on, Scott's had five call nights and I've had four in the last week.  Yes, we're working as hard as we've ever worked.  It is nearly 3 am and I just got home from a total foray of intensive care to try and save the life of a baby after Scott performed an emergency C Section:  intubation, fluids, a ventilator, pressors, steroids, surfactant, sedation, tweaking this and that, trying everything in the book, stressful.   Which is why I'm taking fifteen minutes to write and wind down.  Baby of Maureen is still alive, and looked the best she had in her four hours of life as I left.  When your baby doesn't move much for three days, you should come QUICKLY for help and then not refuse it when it's offered.  It's been days of juggling scarce beds, evaluating super-complex patients, applying detective-work to the spate of infections we're seeing, tying up loose ends, planning ahead. 

And today I put together my first scientific poster presentation.  Because all four abstracts I submitted, research we've worked on here at Kijabe, were accepted for the International Congress of Tropical Paediatrics in August.  Which I am sadly missing, but helping my team to present our data.

So the emotions of hard work, victories and losses, closures and lasts, goodbyes and hellos, distance and proximity, worship and games, massacre and evacuation . . . all of that in the context of sleepless nights and sheer exhaustion, made it pretty hard to get the email we've only had one other time in our 20, nearly 21 years of missionary service:  our fund is in deficit.  We know we need to get the word out, cultivate prayer, ask for help.  And we will, soon.  But it was discouraging and ironic to hear that our salaries will be cut, even as we're working harder than ever.

So, give us some grace if you bump up against our weepiness and weariness.  Pray for Baby of Maureen tonight, a precious girl struggling to live.  Think of Julia, one day from graduation.  Rejoice with us that the wanderers have returned.  And ask God to care for us and give us stamina to make it through this last week until we travel USA-ward for a month of college-settling and family-connecting.