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Monday, September 15, 2014

Baby Hope

Just talked to R this morning, and she mentioned that she has named her baby "HOPE".  How perfect is that?  Rom 5:3-5.  Let this Hope not disappoint.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Friday night lacked subtlety.  Evil overplayed its hand.  In the disturbing trauma of the grabbing shadow violating my lap, the helpless confusion, the jumpy gang, Scott running . . . we called on the name of Jesus when there was nothing else to do.  We were up against darkness but also unwise in our decisions.  So many people have been kind and supportive, my sense is that the whole over-the-top nature of the situation has backfired into victory.

Most of life, the struggle is way more subtle.  Insidious loss or eroding frustrations are much harder to name, to share, to rally against.  

Pictured above is R, whose husband gave her HIV then disappeared.  She came to our hospital 3/4 of the way through her 5th pregnancy.  All four previous babies had died, either as stillbirths or within hours of delivery.  She is diabetic, malnourished, and depressed.  With vacant eyes she let her sister do the talking.  Her amniotic fluid was increasing dangerously fast; her baby had slowed in his movements, and even though she was very premature the OB team felt she had to be delivered.  We felt the chances of her baby's survival were already low and falling by the day.  So to the theatre she went.  And out came a plethoric, bloated, but crying baby boy.  He's breathing well, a bit jaundiced, and it is taking time for his blood sugar to stabilize.  But all in all we are very hopeful that R may at last take home a live child.  

This battlefront is every bit as important as thieves in the darkness, but the life-threat is to a nameless infant and much harder to see.  

R smiled when I greeted her today.  She has recovered something precious, hope.  And she welcomes your prayers for her and her child, who still face weeks of intensive care and years of struggle.  For the little boy to survive, his mother needs the kind of care that can hold her virus at bay.  A more insidious evil means she's a functional widow, and is eking by on first-level anti-retro-virals with a poor response.  She is determined to feed her baby formula to lessen his risk of AIDS, but that may mean great sacrifice for her.  Yet today she is courageous and full of plans, as she looks at a breathing child of her own who has lasted four days for the first time.

This is only one story in dozens already, as we move through day 5 back in Kijabe.  More subtle lines between good and evil, life and death:

 Surprise twins, when we thought we were getting only one preemie, they turned out to be a matching brother/sister pair.
 This is not normal.  A baby born in Dadaab refugee camp, within 36 hours is noted to have a massively swollen abdomen from blocked intestines, and makes the arduous trip to Nairobi to see our surgeons.  Because this church hospital is the preferred center of healthcare for an entire nationality and people-language-group to our northeast, even though Kenya is at war with them, even though we're smack dab between the anniversary of 9-11 and Westgate, this little girl will have her life-saving procedure tomorrow.  And probably neither she nor her family will be recruitable to the kind of terrorist cell that Uganda is trying to thwart this weekend.
This, below, is just plain sweet perfection in a tiny package.  Her mother suffers from severe pre-ecclampsia and risked dying unless she was delivered today; and she probably would not have made it much longer in that hostile inadequate environment either.  But there she is, pink and relaxed, about thirty minutes old. 

And just to keep things interesting, we landed back into a weekend on call and the first Caring Community (families have a small group of dorm kids over monthly) . . . . 

 . . . and our first-ever Senior Boys' Sunday School. 

Between the two we have the opportunity to support, feed, love, encourage, and point to Jesus a bunch of great guys from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.  Like most high school seniors they are concerned about college apps, sports injuries, and time management.  But they also ask prayer for elections in their unstable countries, parents who are working in dangerous places, wilderness flights and Bible translations.  

And lastly, a shout-out to friendship and teamwork.  Because the subtle borders of the Kingdom struggle demand reinforcements.  One of the greatest surprises of this return was the quick embrace of friendship.  We have a Serge team here now where we came almost 4 years ago alone.  We have meals and walks and prayer and concern.  Karen, Bethany, and Ann to the rescue.  And this month, we have Carol.  Carol L grew up in the same church I did (though decades later).  Her parents are our friends and supporters.  Once upon a time she came to Bundi as an intern and got talked into staying half the year.  Now she's in her third year of a Med-Peds residency, and brought her calm laugh, good sense, quiet can-do, smart competence right into our lives again.  She's staying with us and working with me, which is why I can be typing this on a Sunday evening on-call.

I hope that as many readers who were caught up in the drama of highway robbery will also see the more subtle moments of goodness, sacrifice, and hope in the stories of the weekend.  Moms who get years to love, boys who want to use their strength for service, babies who can breathe and grow.  Evil losing its grip on iPhones and on lives.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A no-good very-bad night and power in the Name

Some dear friends of our had a no-good, horrible, very-bad day.  Our team leaders from Burundi were flown by air ambulance from Bujumbura because a chronic disc problem in the wife's back took an acute turn for the worse.  She was unable to sit or walk and in constant pain.  Surgery that they had tried to avoid is now necessary.  They spent the night arranging the flight and the day getting here to Nairobi where they had a contact with a neurosurgeon at one of the two private hospitals in town.  A hospital that most westerners would actually recognize as such:  clean halls, spacious, lighting, curtains, wheeled gurneys that don't look like museum relics, abundance of staff, no visible blood or grunge.  By the time we got off work and went to meet them they had been settled in a small cubicle for a couple of hours waiting for a doctor to come.  We had a good visit, used our Kenyan cell phones and email, made calls to our office in America and the insurance company, interacted with the staff, prayed, and just generally tried to keep them company and help move the glacial admission process forward.  It was good to be with them and try to be helpful.  By a bit after 9 pm they encouraged us to go home, knowing we would arrive quite late already.  They were scheduled for an MRI in the morning, and hopefully surgery to follow.  Please pray for a safe and successful procedure.

That's when our no-good very-bad night really kicked in.  On our rather fast and surprisingly low-traffic ride into town we had abandoned plans to buy groceries or dinner because there was a huge jam around the shopping area, and we wanted to get there.  We had missed lunch and dinner and we asked the guard at the hospital if we could find something at 9 pm,  He directed us down the hill, where we could see a sign for a restaurant.  We turned onto another road and looked for parking.  Dark.  No street lights.  No cars.  The parking lot locked.  Confused we came to the end of the street and saw that there was a narrow curved connection to the main road that was clearly designed to bring traffic off the main road in the opposite direction, so we stopped.  Out of the darkness THREE police appeared, and demanded to see Scott's license.  You have committed a crime, they said.  This is one-way and you are driving the wrong way.  To make a painful story shorter they were lurking there for the sole purpose of extracting money.  There was no signage to indicate one-way, and we never entered the narrow connection, but they said Scott would have to go to the police station right away, pay 20,000 KSH ($250) and then return to court on Monday.  Of course they just wanted money. They produced a "boss" who had "authority" to hold court roadside and avoid the hours of delay.  I pleaded.  They were nice, then not nice, then nice again.  We finally settled on 9000 KSH (a little over $100).  Feeling discouraged, exhausted, three-days into jet lag, and hours from home, we again abandoned plans to eat and just headed towards Kijabe.

Which was fine for a few miles, except for numerous life-threatening buses running lights and barreling down on us with impunity, and no police in sight except for the ones lazing at round-abouts, stopping traffic at one point for 25 minutes straight while we sat doing nothing.  Oh well.  The night was about to get much worse.  As we headed up out of town the same traffic snarl we had seen coming in was still there, now 4-5 hours later.  We stopped.  We inched.  We crawled.  We were actually at a point where we were slowly rolling forward in our two lanes of the 4-lane divided highway when suddenly a dark long shape shot in my window.  My window was only down about 3-4 inches and I was texting my kids in America about one of them being sick.  I had my iphone held on by lap.  It took my brain a second to process what was happening.  It was frightening, this arm violating my space, reaching into my lap and grabbing my phone from my hands in a slowly moving car.  I screamed, Scott braked, I opened the door and yelled again, he ran between the lanes of cars and disappeared.  People stopped, asked what happened, looked sorry, but there was nothing to do.  It was pitch dark.

That phone is my connection to my kids.  And my number one work tool.  Scott pulled over into the median strip and got out of the car to look for the guy, but he was long gone.  He got back in and we tried to use his phone to get on the internet and wipe my account clean.  Of course, the page wouldn't load.  Then we decided to just call the phone and see if the thief was still close by and would sell it back.  He answered, Scott pleaded.  The thief was worried we were trying to trap him.  We offered just over a hundred dollars (again) because the hassle and expense of replacing the phone would be many times worse.  He said he'd come back.  Scott waited, even crossed the lanes of traffic to look for him on the other side (against my yelled protests).  Scott called him again, he kept saying he was coming, giving landmarks of where he was.  Then Scott decided to walk back in the direction we'd come from and cross the road again.  I could no longer see him.  It's after 10 pm, we're in the middle of a busy highway, but the sides are in shadow.  I have not been so scared in a long time.  In fact I could only pray over and over "Lord Jesus, have mercy.  Lord Jesus.  Lord Jesus."  It was odd, but that's all I could do, over and over and over.

For good reason, because while I was imagining an unstable, maybe violent guy, it was actually much worse.  Scott approached the person he saw who turned out to be a bystander, and while he was talking a gang of six men surrounded him.  At that moment he knew we had made a huge error in judgement.  It's only a phone.  Not worth a life.  They could have dragged him away from the road and beat him, taken the money and both phones.  But God protected him in that helpless situation.  He held out the money and talked calmly.  The thief held out the phone.  They tentatively had their hands on both for a second and then the exchange was done.  Scott backed away reassuring them over and over that he was not tricking them.  They counted the money and left, and he ran back to the car glad to be alive.

OK if our kids did that I would be so upset at their foolishness.  We were not using good judgement.  Blame it on jet lag and the late hour.  Or on the spiritual darkness of this evening:  A seriously ill team leader.  A bureaucratic tangle prolonging suffering while the insurance company dragged its feet.  Corrupt police.  Thieves working with impunity.  One guy against a gang.

But for reasons I can't explain, this time God protected us from ourselves.

We are still a bit shaken at midnight, and not looking forward to heading into a 48 hour call in only 7 more hours.

This night reminds me that we need, desperately, our partners in prayer to keep us and our teams in God's hands.  The reality of ebola has really hit us being back.  The tenuous nature of everything.   And the direct confrontation with palpable evil.  Thanks for praying.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rainbows and Paradox

Rainbows require two weather extremes: rain and sun, at the same time. Not a median between them, say cloudy weather with dim sunshine, or a light pleasant mist. Rather both seemingly polar truths held together. In other words, paradox. 

Which is how GK Chesterton explains faith, and God. Mercy and Justice, the ultimate depths of each, simultaneously. Sovereignty and Choice. Life and Death. Beauty and Brokenness. We have a human tendency to mute one with the other, to seek a comfortable compromise that keeps our minds from being stretched. But truth requires us to embrace paradox. 

This weekend we headed with Caleb out to Breckenridge to spend about 40 hours on the ranch of friends (where I spent 40 days on retreat two years ago). These people are wise and generous and have blessed us with respite and space. Their ranch is a place where spiritual unseen reality breaks through. So when we got on the road in the evening after a full day of Air Force events and passed into rainy weather, it was a little disappointing at first. Then just as the sun was setting Caleb looked back and noticed this rainbow. It was even more spectacular in real life, glorious depth of color and a full double arch. We pulled off the road in awe, whipped by strong wind and bathed in golden light. The next morning we awoke to more rain with a full arch brilliant rainbow outside the window. In spite of rain we hiked all day, with alternating moments of sun and storm, and more rainbow glimpses. 

When a pattern repeats, it gets our attention. Rainbows are reminders of hope, of promise. But they are also symbols of paradox. The reason we need the hope is that we are living in the storm that looks like destruction and judgement. There is danger in the post-flood rain, but there is also God's love. 

Holding the two truths of difficulty and blessing together is our challenge this season. Two kids are facing the challenge of transition: hard schools, competition, disjointed loneliness, some disappointments.  Two others are forging into junior and senior years with responsibility and hard work. Our hearts long to be in all four places. We are heading now into a week of Serge meetings where the frontiers of the restoration are before us. New team leaders head to South Sudan in two days. Ebola is a hovering threat on our continent, and our hearts grieve. But in all of this the rainbow promises that God's love is sure and true. In fact, is the foundational truth, deeper than the storms of sorrow. 

So remember the rainbow today, and please pray we would too!

Friday, August 29, 2014


Today we watched Caleb march onto the parade field with 4000 other cadets, a precision spectacle of blue uniforms, white gloves, drums and flags.  All the parents and spectators rose, instructed to put our right hand over our heart as the national anthem played.  A cannon fired, bugles sounded, and a formidable number of healthy strong young men and women moved into position.

And in a surreal moment of self reflection, I wondered about how we got here. A kid born in Kenya, raised in a fluid chaotic world of dirt and sun, soldiers who wore flip flops, an army that borrowed fuel from us when rebels attacked. Whose only prior year of American school was kindergarten. Who has a healthy skepticism for dominating absolutes and an eclectic view of the spectrum of cultural beauty. Yet this morning, an indistinguishable member of a force whose purpose is to fly airplanes on the side of America. One of uncountable pale faces, short hair, uniform clothing, unified steps.

I know some of the answers. If you aren't rich (as in if you're a missionary kid) and want to learn to fly, this is he ticket. If you want a superb education emphasizing engineering science, this is the place. (We toured workshops full of machines and viewed steel under an electron microscope in one of his labs). If you are attracted to the difficult, thrive on the integration of physical and mental challenge, the military academies will provide plenty. If you believe in the brotherhood of shared danger and hard labor, the military and the mission field meld well. Bottom line in this case, if you want life to be about something more than personal comfort or gain, if you want the discipline of serving others, this is a very valid route.

But the America theme is pretty prominent, and I wonder how it will play out. In our best moments our country is about justice and equality, about the prevention of tyranny, about freedom to think and believe and pursue. In those moments, a missionary kid can feel at home. John the Baptist baptized roman soldiers and told them to go back and do their jobs fairly, to not oppress, to protect. In a world where evil sometimes takes on national violent proportions, justice needs some legitimate enforcement.

But there is also an undercurrent of fear in America, fear of losing our wealthy advantage to the dilution of immigration or the pluralism of democracy when the majority no longer thinks like we think our founders did.  Or perhaps an undercurrent of hubris, the sense of entitlement or superiority. The same forces that drive tribalism when small language groups on one continent crowd up against each other could drive nationalism in unjust directions as America rubs shoulders with the world.

So I rejoice in the opportunity and provision of this place, and appreciate the potential for good. These kids with their values of excellence, service, and integrity are exactly who we want flying lethal aircraft and controlling dangerous weapons. And I pray for my own son's sake that being American and being African never conflict for him, that he can serve with confidence and pride a country that serves the global good. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

California (Paradise?)

With family scattered to the winds, a month of touching base means a month of serious movement.  CA is our sixth state (and CO tomorrow will be our 7th).  This is at least our tenth place to stay in August, but I may be losing count.  If West Virginia is "Almost Heaven", and we've been showered with kindness and connection throughout our visits, California needs some special mention as well.  Scott's parents moved over a decade ago to be near his sister in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.  It was a good move.  They live a block off the Pacific Ocean in an agricultural, coastal community of friendly neighbors, public access to the winds and cliffs and surf, flowers and breeze.  And though they are both over 80 now, they've treated us to walks and meals and a great few days.  Ruth even treated Scott to his favorite, a triple-layer homemade carrot cake.  We feel blessed.

And in this stage of life, we're trying to learn to be a blessing in some small way too.  Our siblings do the lion's share of this.  Both of our sisters lived near our parents most of their lives, and have made graceful gradual transitions from receiving grand-parent child-care help to providing moral support through doctor appointments and moves.  So it is a drop in the ocean, but we're glad to be a listening ear, or put up smoke detectors and fix doors for a few days.  It is also sweet for me to see this patient side of Scott, who was always charming with the older generation, shining in this role.
And to think about marriage and the resilience needed for challenges ahead.  I look at my mom and the way she has walked through the heartbreak of ALS and widowhood, and moved into a new state and neighborhood, new church and friends, new home and car.  I look at my mother-in-law and they way she's learned to use a computer, do all the driving and communicating, risen to the occasion in a hundred ways.  Good women to be following through life, even though we are too often far away.

So for today we're thankful to be with parents once again, breathing in the ocean air and treated to fine home-cooked meals, with walks and projects and the grace of time together.

Collaboration and Research

This picture, from Mardi, makes me very very happy.  One of my most important goals this year as head of Paediatrics at Kijabe was to get our department to share our data and experience.  We set a goal of presenting two papers at the International Congress of Tropical Paediatrics, since it was to be held in Nairobi in 2014.  And this week, we presented three.

We, as in a very royal "we".  Everyone on our team cares for patients and collects data.  We all participate in entering it into databases on a shared google drive.  We all pour over it, and analyze it in audits and presentations.  About six months ago I selected some of our ongoing projects and wrote them up in abstract form.  When they were accepted, with the advice of a more experienced colleague and lots of googling, I created the posters.  Dr. Ima (pictured above), former intern Dr. Cathy, and long-term CO Bob, are presenting them this week.  

A brief description of the projects:  1.  We compared the survival of preemies before and after the introduction of bubble CPAP, a low-cost appropriate-technology intervention to deliver oxygen and airway pressure to newborns, and showed a significant improvement.  2.  We reported on the overall survival of newborns by weight, gestational age, and whether they were delivered at Kijabe or transferred in, which is an important benchmark to show what is possible in a low-resource African setting.  3.  We compared two strategies for the management of a particular obstetric risk to newborn infections (prolonged rupture of the amniotic membranes, colloquially "water breaking") and showed that a lower-cost algorithm was safe and effective.  

I like being part of a team that is not only caring expertly for sick kids, doing so with the compassion of Jesus, teaching others to do the same . . . but also trying to evaluate what we do scientifically and add to the body of knowledge in the world.  Most sick and dying children are not in places where most researchers want to work.  Medicine needs to be driven by evidence, not just assumptions.  So the potential to address real questions, and look for real improvements in care that matters, is great at Kijabe.

Though it is a real loss for me to miss this international meeting, I am cheering from afar as my friends and colleagues go and discuss and learn and share our experience.  Yeah team!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Collective genius and generosity, and thoughts on comfort

Launching has been our life this month.

First Luke to UVA med, transition and tradition all rolled up in taking the stride from being an undergraduate in a dorm to becoming a white-coated medical student in an independent apartment, already learning about diabetes and acid-base equations and ethics. We helped him assemble the bed he bought used, purchased him sheets and groceries, cleaned and organized. A week later we were back for the ceremony when the students receive their coats and give a solemn pledge of integrity and honor as doctors-to-be. There was lemonade on the Lawn, handshakes and greetings, and then a relaxing evening when our friends Stephanie (who went to UVA with us back in the day . . . ) let us invade her deck and grill steaks and relax. This is a young man who will ask hard and good questions, who will wrestle with the implications of everything he learns for the majority-world, who will foster relationship as he moves through a new cohort of colleagues. It will be a joy to watch, and we will feel the heartache too.

Then Julia to Duke, which was a multi-day process due to International as well as regular New Student Orientation, for which we are thankful. We set her up in her quaint top-floor no-AC dorm room, spreading her new comforter, putting up pictures and a bulletin board, buying hangars and cleaning supplies, hanging the Kenyan flag. We all attended lectures and tours, with helpful people explaining the ins and outs of health insurance, student advising, the history of the institution. We met couples from Singapore and India and Taiwan, all traveling to see their child off like we were. And we were well cared for by the Harteminks, friends with a long history of support for Christ School who actually came and taught in Kenya at RVA a few years ago. It all went as well as possible when you are letting go of something so precious. She met us for breakfast riding the more than 30-year-old bike I had when I was in school. In an atmosphere of nervous new students spouting off their grand plans for majors and careers, she resolutely sticks to "undecided". This is a young woman who will hold onto her core beliefs, who will watch out for others, who will have moments of intense longing for home but who will ultimately thrive.

So here are a few thoughts on this particular launching process.

First, since I grew up in Virginia, and have been living cross-culturally ever since, I was reminded of how great it is to be back in the South. UVA and Duke are southern schools at heart. I admit it may not be the same for parents from elsewhere, but for me the Duke atmosphere in particular was wonderfully friendly and hospitable. Perhaps we suspected those Duke fans were a bit into exaggeration. But no, it really is an amazing place, and I mean that in the literal sense of causing surprise and wonder. On Freshman move-in day, there is an orchestrated traffic pattern, even the police are super-friendly, and when you pull up to the dorm an army of older kids in matching t-shirts clap and cheer and descend on the car to whisk everything up to the room. The janitorial staff is there shaking peoples' hands and introducing themselves. There were multiple social events with really good food, handed out with an atmosphere of festivity and welcome. There was at every turn a helpful, informed, smiling person. Usually wearing a Duke t-shirt. These people genuinely like the school and genuinely want to share it with you. Refreshingly without pretentiousness.

Second, the Dean of Arts and Sciences today spoke about collective genius. The idea is that accomplishments are most often the result of team work. Each students stands on the shoulders of those who went before, parents who prayed and sacrificed, teachers, colleagues. An advance in science that moves health forward is still only a piece of the puzzle. Luke's curriculum is integrated and team-oriented, and Duke seems to foster collaboration in their students. Individual gifts are celebrated, each person's unique contributions valued, but not elevated. The beauty of the student body is collective, which I found to be quite biblical. Together we are the presence of Jesus making the world new. So I add to the collective genius the idea of collective generosity. We certainly would not be taking children to medical school and university without the care and support of hundreds of friends.

Lastly, President Brodhead of Duke (after 32 years at Yale) spoke today about comfort. He was warm and engaging in acknowledging the homesickness almost all the Freshmen are feeling right now, and the common suspicion that everyone else is smarter or more deserving of admission. He wanted to be comforting. But then he warned about comfort as a societal value and goal. Because other values we hold more deeply may require a good amount of discomfort to achieve. He challenged students to try hard things, new things, uncomfortable things. A good speech and again solid truth. Take up the cross, because the path to glory passes through loss. As helpful and organized as Duke and UVA are, the transitions are inevitably painful. But there is a purpose to these places, and that pain is not something to avoid.

Which leaves us, the launched-from, driving west into the dusk of a North Carolina evening, parents with only one child left under the roof. Grateful for southern hospitality. Acknowledging the collective action of achieving this moment. Decidedly uncomfortable, but trusting that it is worth it.

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.