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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Until we sit under the vine and fig tree . . . .

Today a goodbye to my two dear friends was disguised as a birthday party for Liana, who graduated a few days ago from high school and takes off for America in a couple more.  We sat around the table at a very nice restaurant, dressed in our best, circling to share 18 things we love about Liana as we reach the end of her 18th year, sampling each other's food, toasting and reminiscing.  As we got ready to leave, Karen was so intent on being sure we had a good hugging goodbye that ONLY THEN did it hit me, this is the end of an era.  Not only Liana, but Karen and Bethany are leaving.  How did this happen so fast?

Michael was a single guy engineer in Bundibugyo in our early days in the 1990s, who went back to the USA and proposed to Karen (best move of his life) then brought his bride to be our neighbor.  We have walked through pregnancies and deliveries, evacuations and decisions, school and church, vacations and ministry together for over 20 years.  Bethany joined us in the early 2000's and has been part of our teams or working while studying from the US or a bit of both for the last 15.  Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya.  Countless prayer meetings, walks, insights, care.  When we moved to Kijabe I never expected to get these two friends back in my daily life, but the war in South Sudan and the needs at RVA and Moffatt Bible college and the friendships we held and our kids' lives meant we became team mates again.  Even moving to Naivasha they have been intentional faithful friends.  I am 17 years older than Bethany, and Karen is just about in the middle of us, but we feel like close classmates or sisters, with different personalities and gifts but similar joys and motivations and goals.

Now the Massos are beginning a long slow transition to juggle the needs of all their kids and family, which will see Karen spending more and then most of her time based in Philadelphia with Serge.  Bethany is heading back to start a PhD in clinical psychology at Fuller, with research in community based resilience-building for trauma care.  Their lives continue to arc with ours in commitment to the marginalized of East and Central Africa, and in connection with Serge.  Still, it is the end of one era, one that seems quite pivotal in our life.  

In college we gathered our own "Africa Team" with a vision for serving together.  A few of us did, but over the decades I've seen God's grace in building His own teams and bringing amazing people into our lives (and us into theirs) to show us more of His love and grace.

Here's to friends who stick with you over the hardest times of life, and to life-long commitments in spite of distances to come.  In church this morning our leader read Zechariah 3, a vision I don't remember noticing too much before, but the scene is Heaven, and Satan is accusing a man named Joshua who represents Israel.  God steps in to rebuke the accusations and personally provide clean clothes and a promise that points to Jesus.  And the sign will be "In that day declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree." (v. 10) . The defeat of evil is pictured as a picnic in the shade of grape vines and a fig tree, sweet abundance of food and fellowship.  That's where we are headed, and I have to believe I'll see more of that in this life with these two, and in eternity unending.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Re-Entry Repeated, it never gets easy

Here is why it never gets simple to live a fractured life.

We should be experts at this, but sometimes the reality just smacks us in the face once again.  I'll describe a bit of it here so you can remember not to glorify the exotic cross-cultural worker life too much.  First, there is the aching grief of goodbyes.  Our kids are now ages 20-25.  This is a stage of independence and accomplishment and they are all admirably brave in navigating those realities:  moving across countries and states, finding apartments, buying plates and beds, writing papers, finishing labs or exams, changing drivers licenses and car registrations and insurance forms, dealing with medical care and taxes, connecting with churches and friends.  They do 99% of this without our input.  And that's hard.  Sometimes it's nice in your college and launching years to know that your parents are within a day's drive, or could show up for a weekend or attend an event or buy you a meal.  So being immersed in a fraction of that for two months and then flying several continents and 8000 miles away hurts. 

Likewise our moms are in their 80's.  This is a stage of independence and accomplishment of a different sort, they are plucky and resilient in their own brave ways, driving, cooking, connecting, serving, supporting, exercising.  They lean a little on our sisters, and on their friends and community, but they also live 99% without our input.  And it's also hard to know that we can't show up for a doctor's appointment, or take them out to a meal, or surprise them for a birthday.  Neither expected to invest their lives in mothering and then live with such little contact for so many decades.

So the return starts with hard goodbyes.  There is a little suspended out-of-time journey of darkness, video screens, cramped legs, meals on trays, that I actually love (movies and food and dozing and no responsibility).  And then we land right into the chaos of the airport in Nairobi, where luggage is being randomly thrown on two different belts and taken off by any and everyone, trying to find our bags (we did), and we drive in the darkness of a throbbing city and up the Rift Valley escarpment and it feels like home as we are embraced by old friends and team.  But we're tired and jet lagged and pretty quickly the sheer onslaught of minor difficulties reminds us that we aren't called to ease.

For example, in our 48 hours back, we found:  our internet modem exploded and had to be replaced (trip to the Safaricom shop and about an hour of forms and reboots), our toilet is leaking so the bathroom floor is wet (at least we have one), our clothes left in the closet have rat droppings enfolded and chew marks (laundry, traps) and our shoes molded, someone tried to break into the front window (they broke it but didn't get in), our houseworker who cleaned while we were at the hospital one day a week quit because a family she worked for previously returned (sounds small, but trusting someone in your home with everything for two years and then returning to find her unavailable was sad), the path we ran/walked on for daily sanity has been closed off by a wall of rock and thorn (for security they said, so now we have to find a new longer route around), in our absence our landlord did projects with our water tank that destroyed our little sustenance garden (we'll have to replant and wait), and we are sharing our home for the rest of July with college students on an internship (which is big-picture great but of course another change to come home to). Kenya also decided after we left in May to give two months for all foreigners to do a biometric registration exercise (as our friend says, in the days of Caesar Augustus . . ) so we barely made the deadline of spending our second day back going to Nairobi to report with our documents and be counted, which is always a stressful and unknown process.  Scott almost lost his life to a speeding motorcycle going the wrong way on a divided highway we were crossing as pedestrians. The Massos and Bethany are departing for a long season, and we will say goodbye tomorrow.  They are some of our best and longest-term friends.  More grief.  All to say, that from moth-and-rust-doth-corrupt realities of a two month absence to re-orienting to life that has shifted in significant points while we were gone, re-entry is HARD.  

And that's just the background stuff.  There are already so many Serge issues with teams and the retreat that we've tried to keep up with while in the USA (and it was much harder than one might think to keep our minds/hearts divided and focused back here, so we dropped a lot of balls), so we are hitting the ground running but already feeling out of breath.  Plus we haven't even gone back to the hospital until Monday, where no doubt there will be new people to work with and habits, rounds, meetings, medicines, etc. will have changed and we will be disoriented and catching up from behind once again.  I probably can't remember any Swahili.  Sigh.
There are bright spots for sure, a dog thrilled to see us, a comfortable bed and mosquito net, new neighbors who are also old friends come to spend six months on a research project, meals proffered and community restored.  We do love and choose this life and work.  But some weeks the cost is more evident, and more steep, than others.  Jesus said it would be, we just like to forget that.

Thanks for journeying with us by reading and praying.  And remember that if we're this disoriented by a transition we've made uncountable times (though it's always a little different), redouble your empathy for all the people we lead for whom this cycle of loss and learning and the constant imbalance of re-entry hits hard.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy Independence Day America(ns)!

Today the USA celebrates Independence from Britain, which is something all three countries where we have spent our life have in common.  All three countries had people living in them who to various extent welcomed the first British explorers; all three could not have foreseen the impact of the influx of humanity that would follow, and probably if the had they would have taken a more violent resistance earlier. In America, this day was organized by the British-origin and other European-origin people who over the course of a century and a half came to see themselves as Americans, who espoused noble ideas about freedom and truth for themselves and rejoiced to have the opportunity to implement them.  Independence day celebrates their achievement of those goals personally, and then in fits and starts for other immigrants from all over Europe, Asia, Africa, the world, though the outworking of that equality is still not complete.  Like many current Americans, our roots include immigrants from many places, those seeking economic opportunity, those fleeing injustice, those looking for religious freedom, those who were imported against their will.  Very little of our ancestry comes from original Americans, the people who were driven from their land by our other ancestors.  This makes America different from Kenya and Uganda; the relative extermination of the indigenous people within East Africa was less extensive, so the independence celebrations are more about throwing off colonizers rather than celebrating the colonizers throwing off the distant king.  It gets complicated as soon as you start thinking about it.  

Anyway, today we remember our American roots, and thank God for AMERICANS.  Yes, the mixed bag of people from all over the globe who inhabit this vast land and in spite of everything are basically full of kindness.  The last two years have not been our most shining moment for graciousness and maturity on the world stage.  But when you come to America and interact with Americans once again, you are reminded that the basic cultural values of this place DO shine.  Willingness to help, to be involved.  Generosity.  Courage.  Idealism.  Faith.

Today then a tribute to the hundreds of Americans who support us, who love us, and who have made these two months of "home assignment" a pleasure.

Day three or so in the country, wish we had snapped a photo of the Stemplers.  Ellen has been our power-of-attorney, handling all our paperwork, logistics, banking, taxes, mail, etc etc etc for way over a decade.  A hidden part of missionary service, the person who quietly and effectively has our back.  She's moving, so we had to go through that filing cabinet in her basement and throw most things out and re-sort.  She's still going to help, but we can't use our Virginia address anymore . . .

Our main purpose of travel was to celebrate Julia and Luke's graduations.  So a shout-out to the professors, bosses, friends, deans, etc. whom we did not even know but who watched out for our kids.  And to the families in both Durham (Harteminks) and Charlottesville (Turners, Woods, and others) who were ESSENTIAL when you live a continent away.

Then there are the random-acts-of-kindness people, like the woman (mother of a classmate we happened to meet in the restaurant and eat with) turned towards another guest in the back of this photo who picked up the bill for graduation lunch.  That kind of unexpected generosity reminds us over and over of God's goodness.

A thanks to the many families who let us descend upon them across the country.  Some we had barely met but were friends of our kids, others were relatives we had not seen in years, others were supporters.  (The Harries family in Annapolis above)

My Uncle Joe, Aunt Patsy, cousin Janet.

Scott's Aunt Lynn and family.

Jack's room-mates mom made space for all of us as we passed through.

The Bolthouses always lift our spirits with their fun and kindness.

A friend of Luke's gave us tickets to a MLS game!

Another Duke friend who showed us around her city and squeezed us into her family's house.

Not only college kids need "sponsor families"; Caleb has been blessed by the Hatters in Alaska and we were delighted to spend an evening with them.

Cathy takes the cake though . . . for not only supporting us for years, but offering a cabin on a remote island in a wilderness lake, complete with air-miles to get to the nearest town from Anchorage, boat transport to the island, various things we would need including moose steaks from her freezer, stories of real Alaska and a warm welcome.

The Shadids in Chicago, heart friends for decades.

Scott's residency partner, our friends Fran and Larry. 

Emily who hosted all of us on short notice after only having moved into her house the week before.

And of course family cared for us deeply, including the Aylestock Family reunion last weekend:

These two friends drove many hours through many challenges to be with us in WV.

And our church here in Sago, WV, who gave us this flag for Caleb and who greet us with warm hugs and sincere interest even though we disappear for months to years.  Happy 4th of July from us to all our fellow Americans, with prayers that this year we turn a corner back to our ideals and away from fear, isolation, or greed.  God has blessed us through you, and together we can bless the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Road Trip Birthday--over the speed limit and accelerating

Monday was the last day of our 6,500+ mile month-long road trip (Sago, WV to Seattle, WA and back by road, not counting the Alaska loop by air).  It was also my birthday (hint for which year in the title . . ). In honor of the event, I got the FRONT SEAT for the final leg AND the option to call the stops.  This is a family in which I am the shortest/smallest so generally I sit in the middle of the back, and a family who can get in the car and drive 17 hours stopping only minutes for gas/bathroom breaks,  so that is a bigger gift than you might realize.

Amazing pastries and smiles at Birthday base, ground zero:
Baby Luke and Emily, a medical-mom hero.

A small-batch local roastery gave us Birthday stop one,
Because a caffeinated mom is a lot more fun.

A throwback to childhood for birthday stop two,
the turtle-pecan-cluster blizzard for lunch at DQ.

A hike in a park amidst chipmunks and trees
Immersion in nature for birthday stop three.

After a month away, a practical stop number four,
Stocking up on food from the grocery store.

Reaching Buckhannon for stop number five,
we caught half of a world cup match live.

Home at last, my true love and the flowers he picks
As we walked to meadow for treat number six.

In West Virginia, also known as "Almost Heaven," 
We met my mom at our farm for Birthday treat seven.

The Birthday draws to a close with event number eight,
Family, dinner by Julia, and gifts to celebrate.

Thanks to God for 56 good years, thanks to my Mom for my life and my Dad for this farm, thanks to Scott for family and love.  And to friends and supporters for partnering with us all these years.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Token of the world's remedy---

That line appears in a poem by Thomas Wolfe, found in a book of his poetry Julia picked up in a delightfully dusty and disorganized used book store here in Salt Lake City.  He's writing about his lover dancing in the crook of his arm.  But human love, romantic and familial, truly does function that way.  A token, a downpayment, of the redemption that is remedying all that is broken.
surveying my kind of feast, courtesy of Luke's photo

The last month has been beautifully full of such remedy.

So full, in fact, so fully in our view and in our arms, that we've been out of the communication loop almost entirely.  And so much has happened, this will only be a token sample of gratefulness.

Hosting celebrations

After Julia's grad, we spent the days between Duke and UVA ceremonies at our family farm in West Virginia hosting friends of the kids.  Bike rides, river dips, tubing, gardening, cooking and more cooking, hikes and pizza, long discussions and games around the table.  Throughout May we had numerous kids for a few days at a time, sharing the wonder of WV and adding to the family.

Luke's housemates, a real community through med school

Luke's graduation

Both grandmothers, my sister Janie and nephew Joshua, and 3 of the 4 siblings plus Abby plus a Congolese refugee who works as a janitor at UVA hospital whom Luke befriended, joined us for another weekend of marking this milestone.  33&34 years after our UVA college graduations, we sweltered through a festive weekend of our son's medical school graduation.  Who would have dreamed?  Now we are a three-doc family.  Very grateful to God, and very thankful to Dr. Luke for his perseverance, integrity, passion, values, community, scholarship.  He presented his first research poster and power-point at a Global Surgery conference in Toronto the week after.

Family celebrating Dr. Luke!

Baluku Morris, one of the Kule Leadership Ugandan Med students we sponsored, and Luke at the same Global Surgery meeting in Toronto!

Cross-country Marathon

As May turned the corner to June, we departed the farm and began a cross-country trek.  We're over 2000 miles into the 3000 mile journey to Seattle (from whence we will fly to Anchorage to see Caleb), then we have to come all the way back.  Luke's Honda CRV easily held his limited earthly possessions for his move to Salt Lake City, plus Julia's Prius rocking the gas milage and bringing the rest of the family and camping gear. Along the way we stopped in on Abby plus a few relatives and friends, certainly not everyone we could have as this trip included at least one 17-hour driving day, aiming for distance over depth.  Still it was a plus to see my aunt and uncle, and Scott's aunt, who are all in their mid-to-late 80's, doing well, to hug cousins, and to reconnect with some of the kids' friends.
Luke's car with all he owned, plus one borrowed bike, the morning we left

Julia and the Prius, before the windshield crack that spread slowly across mirroring our progress across the USA

Dropped in on Jack's room mate from Duke's family . . 

And my Uncle Joe, Aunt Patsy, and cousin Janet . . 

Plus Scott's Aunt Lyn and family . . 

And our dear friends the Bolthouses.

America the Beautiful

To keep sane in our dozens of car hours, we have camped or hiked in a few lovely places.  The Rockies (CO), Arches NP (UT), and Canyonlands NP (UT) so far.  Our experience of the American West is fairly limited, so we have reveled in the scale of the vista, the color palette of rocks, the clarity of the sky, the bright specks of wild flowers.  So far our sightings include two moose, numerous elk, marmots, chipmunks, squirrels, hawks, thrushes, various lizzards, and a bull snake that Scott nearly stepped on.  My maternal agoraphobia has been pretty intense.  (stay tuned for Scott to add better photos here . . )

Utah's symbol, the iconic Delicate Arch in Arches NP

Ten thousand feet up in the Rockies

I used to be tall. Sweet times with Julia.

A New Home for Luke

Tuesday afternoon we reached Salt Lake City, home to University of Utah's Orthopedic Surgery training program where Luke will begin his residency on June 22.  He signed a lease for a small but bright studio apartment, and we've spent the last three days learning the ins and outs of procuring reasonably priced home essentials in this city. Ikea nearly sent some of us into full blown catatonic mental overload, and it took us a while to figure out that all the grocery stores here are called "Smith's" (as in Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism).   But we made it to the weekend with a bed, table, couch, and two chairs in place, plus a broom, some pans, sheets and pillows, and most importantly, a way to make coffee.  He has electricity, gas, and internet set up.  And on breaks from scouring the city (checking used furniture stores off our list when the chairs were priced like pieces of art . . . or realizing his small studio's inches of counter-space won't accommodate a dish-drying rack . . . ) we were treated to tickets to see the US National Women's Soccer team play an international friendly against China, and the local MLS team Real Salt Lake (a friend Luke played soccer with at UVA is now working for the Royals here in SLC), and we drove half an hour into the mountains east of the city for a spectacular (steep and exhausting though!) hike to an alpine lake fed by glacier-covered peaks.  Salt Lake City has been surprisingly fun city so far, and we are thankful for Luke's opportunity here.

Meanwhile, Myhre's crossing oceans

C. finished his 9-month combat deployment to Afghanistan and long-delayed trek back to the USA, landing in Anchorage a week ago.  We are so thankful for his safe return, and can't wait to see him IN THREE DAYS.  It's been over a year.  Jack began the cross-country drive with us, but flew to Burundi a week ago.  Literally he lifted off US soil one hour after C. landed on US soil.  He'll be working with the Kibuye team engineer Caleb Fader as they prepare for a team coming to install a massive solar array to power the hospital there.

The 1rst Lt. last night at his battalion's welcome home ball

Missing Jack already.  Thankful he could celebrate with Luke, and travel the first legs of this journey with us.  But a little sad that the six of us won't be together at one time this year (last time was Christmas 2016).

And life goes on

As we drive and engage, shop and cook, focus and listen here in the USA these two months . . . we also continue with phone calls, emails, zoom meetings, reports, plans for our teams in East and Central Africa.  Two hopeful and productive recruiting calls, many hour-long mentoring calls with leaders of 8 of our 11 teams plus a few others, personal meetings with supporters, speaking at our key supporting church, face-to-face retreat planning with our invited speaker, and more.  Sliding across American time zones while trying to connect with African ones can be challenging; the new reality that our family life and work life now have almost no overlap brings its own aches.  Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, South Sudan, and Malawi are never far from our awareness.

So, the world still needs remedy.  We need it as our rough edges of sin and self grate on each other in dozens of hours cooped up in cars, in the grinding gears of being a family after years of kids being independent adults.  Our world needs it this week as would-be immigrants have their toddlers taken away from them wailing, as lava flowed across Hawaii, as our Serge team in Nicaragua faced roadblocks and forced evacuation, as Ebola continued to spread in the DRC, as our new team leaders for Litein landed into immediate sickness and infestation and exhaustion trials.  But we look for tokens that the remedy comes.  That Jesus heals, reunites, celebrates.  And we see those tokens in the profusion of wildflowers and the graciousness of ordinary people who love us so well.

Aspens in Utah

Salt Lake City Saturday Farmer's Market this morning