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Sunday, March 11, 2018

A blanket, a mirror, and a gift

Scott preached at our church today, the wrap-up sermon of 1 Peter as we have been working our way through the book, a sermon that aptly addresses this season of approaching the cross.  So here is a brief summary of what he said from one listener, me.  1 Peter is a book written to believers who were suffering, countering the false idea that trials cease when faith enters.  Chapter 5, the final chapter, gives them three ways to persevere in the midst of suffering.  A blanket, a mirror, and a gift.

First, we are called to a path of humility, which is contrasted to a life of anxiety (5:6-7).  The cares of the world we often wrap around ourselves like a blanket.  Success, jobs, the future, financial security, popularity, admiration, look like they will comfort, but instead they distract and choke.  If we throw off that false security blanket, cast our cares on God, then we relinquish illusions of control and embrace a humble dependence on God's goodness.  In humility we surrender our will to seek the good of others and the glory of God, which paradoxically bolsters our perseverance.

Second, we are called to be alert (5:8).  Scott reminded us that we are in a battle, in a world broken by evil where that very breaking, where our own sin, where the deceiving prowling lion of personal spiritual forces, where the discipline of the Creator's merciful order, all mysteriously embattle us in troubles.  So we hold up the mirror of truth to examine our own hearts and to look behind us for the ill-intentioned devil ready to pounce.  Like real soldiers (even the one in our own family!), lethargy and denial can be deadly.  To persevere, we need situational awareness.

Finally, chapter 5 ends with the reality of grace in the fray of suffering (5:10-11).  Being humble and being alert are not states we dredge up by sheer will power, they are states of being we receive as gifts from a merciful Father. God works with purpose through all this hard life to strengthen and purify and transform us for our own good (v10), and for the glorious growing reality of God's putting the universe to rights (v11).  Or as we say in Serge, the world's good and God's glory.

Well, we're preaching to ourselves, so hopefully these thoughts from Scott encourage you too.  Throw off that red woolen blanket, hold up that little yellow plastic hand mirror, and accept that lovely gift bag.  Don't be surprised when trials come (I know I always am), but sink deeper into trust in the One who holds us all.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Direction: Death, a Path of Mercy and Truth

(3 babies squeezed onto one resuscitaire bed this morning, two were dead by this evening)

 (note neighborhood name on this file .. "Jesus Winner", still pushing the Gospel of Triumph)

One of my Lent devotions this week contained this paragraph: 

Therefore, let no confusion remain. Lent is not self-improvement. Lent is not self-denial for the sake of some moral gratification. At its most basic, Lent is about awaiting death. It is the uncomfortable and unwelcome reminder that we will grieve and we will die. For this reason, we can embrace the pain rather than avoid it. We can lead one another in lament over death’s temporary reign.

Jesus' disciples in the 40 days prior to his crucifixion certainly were not, for the most part, anticipating a march towards death.  They were still expecting the angel calvary, the miraculous zap to all enemies, the dramatic vindication.  Even as Jesus talked about losing your life to save it, taking up the cross, being a servant . . . they were arguing about seating arrangements in the palace.  That is me, too.  Lament and embracing inevitable pain all sound noble in a devotion.  But the actual determination to keep moving into areas of suffering, to keep facing death without fear, well, that's another story.  Just when I think we are faithful, it becomes excruciatingly hard.

For us, the walk towards death occurs every morning when we get up and go to another day at the hospital.  There is literal death, sometimes way too many.  Yesterday I lost four patients, today so far two.  Women arrive hourly with preterm twins, with a baby delivered on a bus still attached by her cord, with a convulsing lethargic infant, with an unconscious one-year-old deflated by diarrhea.  There's no screening here, no shielding, the raw effects of poverty and stress and physical labor and not-enough-to-eat just wash up on this doorstep over and over and over.  Yesterday as we tried to round and review the 38 babies we already had admitted in Newborn Unit, a nurse from radiology walked in with a rough wool blanket, inside was a 885 gram 26-week grey-blue limp newborn with no sign of life except a barely perceptible slow pulse.  The mom had been sent for an ultrasound because of abdominal pain, surprise, that was labor and this was a baby.  While I got the heart rate up and some response and breathing initiated the prognosis was very poor, and I had to decide to just leave this one on oxygen by pressure in an incubator while I ran to the operating theatre where Scott was delivering another 985 gram very small-for-age 32-week baby to save the life of the mother.  I literally walked in as the baby came out, and that one also needed a lot of resuscitation, and by the time I got him stabilized on his airway the other baby was dead.  And so it went.  We lost a 1-week old readmitted who had meningitis, and another baby with severe lung damage from a too-slow too-stressed birth with meconium, and a 29-week baby who delivered at home and was brought in infected and jaundiced.  And then 25-week twins, whose mother worked hard manual labor on farms.

(the very small-for-gestation baby delivered early to save his mom's life, so far still fighting)

But the walk towards death occurs in subtle ways, too. When we walk into that hospital, we never know what the staffing will be (38 babies, one senior nurse and one brand new one brought over from a dispensary to help on NBU, 50-some kids on the ward with two nurses as well).  The patient with asthma is just not improving . . only to find out no treatments had been given.  There is always something:  your colleague has to go to a meeting, pick up a document, appear in a court case.  The government is fighting with the university and interns are delayed in posting.  We're out of almost every antibiotic, or none of the labs are done because the machine is broken.  There are no gloves, or no IV cannulas.  Or bigger picture, there are protests in Nairobi, or roads closed, or political uncertainties.  There are wipe-you-out issues with people you care about.  There are rebel threats on borders, or potentially fatal illnesses. 

And death comes to certain dreams, or hopes.  Like not being with your med student son when he has surgery, or your soldier son on his pre-deployment vacation, or ever seeing your youngest son playing sports, or being able to reassure your graduating yet-to-be employed daughter that she can always live with you for a while (she can, but it's a long journey!).  Never having seen the rooms/homes/dorms of 3 of the 4 kids.  Moms who we never spend a birthday with.  Sisters who do almost all the attention for our mothers.  Planning that needs to happen but keeps getting pushed off to late evenings, funds that need raising.

I guess this week I've just been reflecting that the determination to keep going back into that fray, to keep plugging on in hard places, wears one down.  In my head I do believe that's what Jesus calls us to.  OK some people glorify God by being stars, speakers, well-known, moving in circles of the powerful, but that's not really our jam.  God asked us, we believe, to go to very dysfunctional places where injustice skews the outcomes, where every. single. day. something new doesn't work.  

So later in the week, in another devotional time, this verse popped out in Psalm 25 (v 10):  All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth . . .David wrote that, David who suffered hunger, who suffered betrayal, who committed adultery and murder, who lost and regained his Kingdom, whose heart was broken by his son.  David wrote about humility, and then asked to be taught God's ways. 

So the Lent rubber meets the road, day after day, in our lives.  Can we accept that the quiet plod of faithfulness in the dirty corners of the world, even when it is frustrating and exhausting and unrewarding and costly, is a path of mercy and truth?  That being called to borders, to refugees, to cities, to isolated rural areas, to places where people are suspicious or hostile or demanding or incessantly persistently needy, is the very place where God pours out that mercy on us, and shows us the truth of who God is?

Let's lament the 6 babies who slipped away from life here in the last day and a half, and the uncounted others all around us.  Let's lament the broken jagged edges that centuries of sinful unjust choices have created.  Let's support each other as we call out the false Gospels of continuous triumph, always winning, comfort and ease as our birthrights.  Let's challenge each other to keep walking towards the margins.  Let's look for hints of mercy and truth, even as we walk straight into shadow, truly believing that this movement towards death paradoxically leads us to life.  

(another peri-natal collaboration between Scott and me, this one had a rough start but is peacefully anticipating discharge tomorrow)

(In honor of International Women's Day, with my two interns at lunch as I gave them a talk on TB.  These are two hard-working, unperturbed, non-complaining women and teach me to walk into challenge)

Friday, March 02, 2018

Jack Myhre, a 20 year journey

Twenty years ago today, God gave us one of the greatest gifts of our life.  We had evacuated from war in Uganda, and were taking refuge working at Kijabe.  Scott was my OB (not our preference but choices were limited) and after months of displacement, illness, terror, uncertainty . . a healthy big baby boy joined our lives.
(The weight of responsibility seems to be sinking in for big brother Luke. . )
Back in Uganda, his baptism party descended into a tribal conflict, his first birthday party Scott missed because he had a potentially fatal infection, and we spent the next few years of his life trying to hold on in spite of frequent temporary evacuations.

Grammy and Grampy came to visit

The "balongo" (twins) . . these two have stuck together through thick and thin for 20 years.
And so he grew up, playing football every day, fiercely determined to do anything his big siblings did, riding a bike with no hands and running miles and reading everything in sight.  He said the deepest things, big thoughts, tender heart, a "great dane who thinks he's a lap dog" a friend once said and that summed him up.

Fearless and funny, loud and boisterous, a "one-man tomato".  Until one day he was taller than the rest of us and playing three varsity sports and debating in MUN and surrounded by a diverse group of great friends from all over the world.

And then he was graduating and heading out of Africa to go to school in America for the first time.

God's last-minute provision of an amazing scholarship allowed him to join Julia at Duke, for which we are ever grateful.  More sports with club football and rugby, more studies with engineering, more fun with intramurals and motorsports and Cameron Craziness, more friends and fellowship.

Which brings us up to this 20th birthday.  This is a young man who is . . . . 
A scholar and a gentleman
A gifted artist
A creative cook and barista
An athlete playing in a rugby tournament today (praying for MY birthday gift, no injuries please!)
A loyal loving little brother

And a delightful son to us his parents and to the many others who have helped us raise him.

As you can tell from all the photos, another birthday apart makes us miss him even more.  Today he'll be playing on the Duke men's club rugby 7's team in a tournament, and serving as the official Duke yearbook photographer at the Duke-UNC basketball game.  Happy Birthday Jack.  We love you.

Watch out world.  Here he comes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

CSM, 23 years of faith

Ours, that is. Well before he was born, with our history of loss and preterm labor, living in the era of no phone coverage/power/running water/paved road/post office for hours in any direction . . .  we had to cling to faith in the goodness of God without a guaranteed outcome.  Our first flight out on the new airstrip was to get to Kijabe for what we thought was an imminent slightly preterm birth, only to wait until within 12 hours of his due date.
(back at Kijabe exactly three years later for Jack's birth)

This child.  Some serious life-threatening illnesses.  Some evacuations.  Some tragic injuries.  Well before being deployed to Afghanistan, he brought stretching challenges into our life, time and time again.  The juxtaposition of loving someone so much, and not being able to control the circumstances around him at all.  
Friends and a dog and a sandpile and mango tree and soccer ball.  That pretty much filled the days.

From the beginning he was adventurous and affectionate.  He tuned into music. He loved airplanes and tech and guitars and computers.  He was fierce when provoked, but could also be happy for hours alone.
These two.  What a bond of loyalty and understanding.
These two (note the progression to wear the bigger shirt . . I guess we didn't have many or always took photos in the nice shirts sent by grandparents), surviving the squeeze in the middle, very much alike in many ways.
These two.  Bonding even more as they grow up, similarly strong and independent, after an epic backpacking adventure.

This kid.  We proudly celebrated his graduation from the US Air Force Academy.

His commissioning as a 2nd Lt into the US Army.

And . . his successful completion of Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course and Ranger School. 

This boy.  Yes, he's been pushing us towards faith from the time he was in utero, right up to today.  We are grateful to be the parents of such a young man, who quietly strides into the hardest path possible at every turn it seems.  He cares deeply for his friends and family, he strives intently to become a leader of integrity and skill, he works to build strength and wisdom, he never complains.  In the course of building our faith, he's developed his own, and for that we are even more grateful.

We wish him Happy Birthday on the 28th, and a clear sense of God's mercy and grace in a hard place.