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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My first book club, and second book!

I actually published my first book before I ever attended my first book club.

Last week my mom's book club in Charlotte invited me to attend their annual luncheon.  Though they meet monthly to discuss a book, once a year they do something a little special.  This May they all read A Chameleon, A Boy, and A Quest and asked me to come as their guest.  This was a peek into the gracious  world of Southern hospitality: a decorator-lovely home, welcoming women, artful salads and sandwiches, deep kindness.  Though they are not exactly my target age range of 8 to 15 year olds . . .they are actually my audience I realized, because they are the ones who BUY books for the 8 to 15 year olds.  I was able to explain a little about our life, how I came to write the four Rwendigo Tales books for my own children and why.  And in the process I got to meet my mom's friends and thank them for their time in reading my book.  The only thing missing was Acacia, to hear how much they liked the illustrations!  My sister sat through the whole thing patiently and took those photos for me, for which I am also grateful.

This week I got the excellent news that the second book in the series, A Bird, A Girl, and A Rescue, is now available for pre-order at a slight discount from New Growth Press.

I won't be in the USA when this book comes out in September, though I'm not sure I did much in promotions this year anyway.  I did quite a number of radio call-in shows, where I sat alone in a room with the door closed and the phone cord stretched under it at my aunt's house in town, and answered questions from cheerful big-voiced radio-show people.  When I went to the book club I realized it was the first time I was really talking about my book to actual people whom I could see and did not know.  Which was a little uncomfortable.  Being an author must be a little like being a model (or things less savory)--you are exposed, you are putting your heart and ideas and words out for people to like or not like, to judge.  It's a little easier to hide behind the virtual interfaces.  So I guess I'm a bit of a whimp for my one experience being in the epicenter of politeness, but it was a good way to start.

Keep reading!

Monday, May 09, 2016


Thursday marked the 40th day since Easter, which give or take a couple millennia was the day Jesus left for Heaven.  And since that event stretches over the same weekend as many graduations, one might look for the parallels.

There were the disciples, thinking that against all odds they had made it, that their teacher and friend and loved one had SURVIVED and that everything was going to be OK. Things were looking up, ushering in decades of living and working together.  They were ready.  But just when they thought they had arrived, Jesus ascended to glory.  One day he was there, and then next thing they knew it was clouds and distance and obscurity. 

Which is a lot like a graduation for us parents.  You can’t believe it all worked out, that those exams and papers and late nights and dangerous drivers and bureaucratic snafus (and for some of us, those accidents and illnesses and wars and heartaches) are all behind us now.  Your niece or your son, someone you care deeply about, made it.  They came through the challenge and they passed the test and now they are ready to live a life of creativity and service.  Honored.  Prepared.  YES!  Only just as the diploma is handed over, the reality ascends.  For most of us, this milestone means more distance.  We Myhres have been at this goodbye-kids thing for 8 years now.  Graduation means separation.  Into the clouds, literally, for many flying off to new homes or jobs or training.

But the primary idea tied to Jesus’ ascension in Scripture is the victory of a King who rules in ways never before possible, for our good.  The Spirit’s coming was promised that day, and fulfilled about ten days later.  The one whose form was marred now stands in dazzling wounded glory, a sure victor.  And sends us help, presence, guidance, gifts.  Love, joy, peace.  The intangibles that make life rich, the very things for which we long.

OK, I know I’d rather have all four of my kids at arm’s length, and Jesus in the living room too. 

But that’s not the way it works.  We’re all working together and loving each other, and we all get glimpses of the final goal, and sometimes we can revel in each other’s tangible form.  But most of life plods on out in that time when those we love most are also following their calling from God in their own spheres.  We are not alone.  The Holy Spirit and group texts keep reminding us of that truth.  But there’s still a fracturing of the heart that Mary was warned about, and since it’s also Mother’s Day, that seems to be a good place to end.  Birth begins the gradual graduation of another being, a separation that is good and necessary, that we work towards and affirm.  And yet mourn.  Birth, death, ascension, Mary felt her heart tear those three times, as we all do in the uncountable micro-sorrows that mar our days as well as in the milestones of independence that we celebrate with photos and parties.  But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Pink Month, or the beauty of Dirt

March was the yellow month:  daffodils and forsythia which we glimpsed between trips.  April then seeped in with pink, azaleas and dogwood and tulips, again glimpsed between trips.  As our own burst of pink drew butterflies, we had a couple of stretches in Sago.  Hikes through the woods, more trail work, nailing the snow-destroyed gutters back up, work under the house putting up a vapor barrier. . . . the tinkering to settle in a home that is more than a century old never ceases.  Late snows notwithstanding, we noticed the garden work starting to go on around us.  Nearly every home, be it a trailer or a cabin or an old farmhouse, has a vegetable garden.  It's the mountain way.

So last week, when we have five whole days at home, while Scott was productive with more skilled projects and Serge supervision work, I set out to reclaim the two flower beds my kids did for me as gifts last Fall from a springtime surge of weeds.  Once the weeds were gone, they looked pretty empty, so a trip to Lowe's later and I had new flowers to set out.  Feeling ambitious, I added a small herb patch around the corner.

But I still really wanted a vegetable garden.  Scott pointed out that we now had tickets to fly back to Kenya in 68 days, and the minimum time-to-harvest on my seed packets was 60-80 days.  So why plant?  I'm not sure what compelled me.  A dream of making a home.  A lifetime missionary habit of "when in Rome".  A way of saying that we are investing in this ground not just for ourselves, but for our children when they have time to visit.  An affirmation of our daughter's environmental major and love of growing things.  More than two decades of living in Africa where I always had so many other people to help me garden and I was stuck in a hospital.  Good old stubbornness?  

It was a rainy week, the ground was soft, Scott had a full day of meetings, and I decided about 11 am that it was now or never.  Our house is up on a rock, and so it made sense to locate the garden down off the ledge in the green grass over the septic field.  I began.
I was lacking in technology and expertise, but I figured I had a shovel and time.  So I measured out two hoe-lengths as a radius of about 9 feet, and started removing sod in a circle.  Piece by piece.  Filling a wheel barrow, shaking off the dirt, carrying the grass plugs to a weedy leafy area on the other side of the driveway, a transplanted carpet.  It was slow going.
About an hour and a half later, I had a ring, and started moving in.  Wow, this was taking a LONG time.  Hmm.  250 square feet, and probably 4 struggling shovel attacks per square foot, could I last for a thousand repetitions?  When what should I behold but Scott in between meetings, using mechanized brilliance:

It was trickier than it might look to scrape up a thin layer of sod with a tractor bucket and not remove too much dirt . . . and to deal with the heavy folding patches of grass he lifted up.  In 20 minutes he made more progress than I did in two hours.  But then he had to go back to meetings and I kept plugging on by hand.

The day was slipping towards evening faster than I thought.  About 4 I removed the last of the grass and scott reappeared to help me loosen up the ground that was left with a shovel, incorporating a barrow full of compost from the pile we'd been collecting all winter.  
And just then, the first in a series of very helpful events occurred.  Our neighbor pulled by in his truck, and I ran out into the road and waved him down.  Do you have a rota-tiller, I asked?  Sure, let me run home and get it, he said. Frankly just what you need after 5 hours of back-straining work is a 20-something young man with a machine he knows how to use.  He returned and I kid you not in ten minutes or less, my rough clods were soft plowed garden-like earth.

Sometimes angels look very much like this.

And just in time, because as he loaded his tiller back up (he said it was older than I am), the clouds let loose.  Another perfect timing, all that tilled soil turned pliable, sopping wet.

The rain stopped, and I quickly hoed my circle into my dream of a sun-burst pattern.  

Sunflowers in the center.  A ring of corn around that.  Then spokes of tomatoes, beans, lettuces, and herbs.  All surrounded by a rim of wild flowers.  Well, none of that may actually happen, but in my mind that's what I'm hoping comes up!

A messy muddy day, but we were done.  

Except for one problem:  every garden in WV has to fight the encroaching hunger of the deer.  We routinely see a handful, or even a flock of 8 or 9 moseying through our yard from one section of forest to another.  The two main pass-times of Sago are hunting deer, and devising ways to keep deer out of your garden.  The third is talking about the first two.  

So in closing, here is the 7-foot fence we wrapped around that circle the next day:

I'm not sure why this project made me so happy, but it did.  If anyone I love gets to eat a tomato, I'll be even happier. 

I think it is the ultimate picture of redemption that draws us back.  Dirt becomes food.  Barren ground brings out nourishment.  Seeds break open to birth beauty.  Something dies, so we can live.  The ground was cursed, but we sweat to fight back and transform this patch into a New Creation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Out of step but entering mansions

Last week we spent in Omaha, Nebraska, which just goes to show that you never know where life will take you to work on neonatal survival in Kenya.

Over our years at Kijabe we occasionally came in contact with the government hospital about an hour west of us, Naivasha sub-county hospital (NSCH).  Located in a congested town between the highway and the lake, this hospital serves a catchment area of nearly half a million people.  Almost a decade ago a retired Labor and Delivery nurse from Omaha was in the area with her husband, whose company sells irrigation systems to the flower farms around the lake.  She toured the hospital and found the conditions for women who work on the farms appalling.  And being a can-do person of compassion, she set about to develop a plan to help.  In the process there are now two “Friends of Naivasha Hospital” organizations, one in Kenya and one in Nebraska, a new maternity wing was built, and containers of beds and incubators made their way across the ocean.  More importantly, she then brought in a connection with international Rotary grants and a very gifted academic pediatrician from the University of Utah to inspire the Kenyan leadership to address their outcomes.  In the last year they adopted a program to teach Helping Babies Breathe, a neonatal resuscitation course, as part of an ongoing quality improvement process.  The result is a busy government hospital (600 deliveries/month, about three times the Kijabe rate with much less staff) now has a sense of empowerment.  They are proud of their facility and taking ownership of the new programs.  Their desire to make an impact, combined with the disparate resources and needs, attracted us to consider working there as we were seeking discernment on our next assignment.   Long story short, we believe this is a good place for us to continue our work with Serge.  And our leaders have agreed.  Close enough to our Kenyan teams for fellowship and connected enough to continue supervising our area in Africa, but a slightly new venture that someone with kids to educate might find difficult to do.    

So when this nurse decided to fly the four Kenyan doctors and one nurse from the leadership team of the hospital and sub-county, plus a Kenyan Rotary representative, to Omaha for a week, she invited the University of Utah pediatrician and us as well.  Not to mention the department of pediatrics from University of Nebraska Medical Center, and various other donors and doctors.  We appreciated the opportunity to start building relationships with our new Kenyan colleagues, and to get a glimpse of just what the collaboration can accomplish.  Lots of tours, meetings, reports, ideas, discussions, dinners.   We listened, and learned a LOT.

All in all, a great time.  The people of Omaha that hosted us were the types who believe in using their wealth to bless others.  At our last dinner, the Kenyan medical superintendent, who can be an intimidating and nearly silent presence, made a point of stopping conversation at the table to address us.  Dr. Scott and Jennifer, he said, you are very welcome to come join us.  Though we’d had the paperwork previously inviting us officially, the warm personal affirmation was encouraging. 

But like any new venture, the transition requires a deep breath and an acknowledgement of the many ways in which we will be slightly out of step, and working to come alongside.  We’ll be the only foreigners on site working with the Kenyans.  We’ll be living in a congested town rather than on a mission station.  We’ll be facing all the inherent dysfunctions of a government system.  We’ll be the only missionaries in a secular work.  And when meetings like this occur, we’re also crossing economic and academic chasms between our bumpkin selves and people who wield some power and influence.  It’s a new road to forge and we will make some mistakes, and most likely shed some tears.  I think it’s a good place to be, finding the intersection of health care, research, missions to the margin, justice.  A point that draws on our experiences in medicine and public health and education, and our connections with institutions from both the government and church.  It will be worth it when we can teach Kenyan interns and deliver Kenyan babies and encourage Kenyan nurses.  But all that potential is tempered by the nagging reality that to be the intersecting point of so many tangents, we don’t really have a home in any of them.  We’re outsiders, and we’re facing change.

So when we boarded the flight to return and I opened the day’s reading in my Bible, the words jumped off the page.  John 14:  Let not your heart bet troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions.  I go to prepare a place for you . . .

On that airplane, climbing into the clouds, those words felt alive in a way that most reading have not for a long time.  Moving into risk can be that way.  Dread, yes.  But then the reality that Jesus is there.  We saw some literal mansions in Omaha, and we will find metaphorical ones in Naivasha.  That’s the promise.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dysphoria, bathrooms, smoke, and mirrors

In America this month, it’s difficult to miss the strident panic over bathroom rules.   I’m not sure most of us realized there were laws, or who enforces them, until the powerful lobby of political correctness decided to make this a litmus test of civilization, and then North Carolina threw down the gauntlet.   At first I really couldn’t understand the issue, since a) transgender people are a small minority and b) that minority may be even LESS likely to assault a stranger in a bathroom than the rest of the world, but at least not more so. 

Reading both sides charitably, what I conclude is that those who proposed that individuals choose the bathroom where they feel most comfortable wanted to make the world slightly less hostile for people whose spirits and minds are at odds with their bodies.  On the other hand, those who want laws based on anatomy at birth are not so much worried about the handful of gender-dysphoric types the whole brouhaha is meant to protect, but they believe that sexual predator men will jump on the opportunity to pose as transgender XY-but-feel-females and stalk women’s bathrooms to peep at girls, or much worse. 

In essence, both sides have honest and potentially positive points.  This world contains a lot of lines that categorize and exclude, which a shocking verse in Galatians promises that the Gospel erases.  At the very beginning, in a surprising story, Phillip was sent to the Ethiopian eunuch, to invite (him) into the Kingdom.  We are told to be sensitive to those who are on the margins; to lay down our own rights when someone is offended.  Good principles.  We are also empowered to protect vulnerable girls and boys from predators.  We should not fear the scorn of being out of step with our culture when our culture normalizes pedophilia, for instance.

But honestly, this entire issue is a smoke-and-mirrors distraction from real problems, and it’s time for someone to say that the emperor is naked.

First, I’ve been going to women’s restrooms for half a century, and I can’t recall a single time that I’ve seen more of a woman’s genitals or breasts in a bathroom than on the beach or for that matter on the street.  Women’s bathrooms have stalls or doors with locks.  We generally like a bit of privacy.  Yes, an evil person could choose to plan an assault in a bathroom, but that was possible before and it will be possible no matter what is on paper.  Second, the fact is, that this is a super first-world-problem.  Much more harm comes from the fact that a majority of women in the world don’t have any sanitation, than from the labels on American bathroom doors.  Billions of people go through life with little privacy or cleanliness.  Let’s worry more about that.  Third, no amount of friendly labeling will change the brokenness of sexual identity.  Because sex has been a central aspect of our humanity, sex has been a central battleground of the Evil one attacking us.  Fourth, our communal humanity demands a constant negotiation between rights and protections.  As a 50-something female, frankly, I can feel threatened/sad/inadequate when I face my own body dysphorias.  To what degree we protect every person from feeling excluded needs sane discussion not strident paranoia.  Yes society needs to protect the vulnerable, but our culture has extended the obsession with safety to the kind of illogical rejection of reality that makes us unable to function.  But all of these points are minor.

HERE IS THE REAL POINT.  Bathrooms aren’t the battleground.  Pornography is.  Instead of fighting each other, let’s turn our attention to the real problem.  There is an industry stealing the souls of our children and making billions of dollars doing so.  Research is emerging that our boys and girls are exposed to a barrage of images and misinformation that turns sex into a violent conquest, denigrates women’s bodies, and divorces true giving, loving relationships from physical pleasure.  Pornography and drugs are public health problems as much as they are moral issues, they are tangles of bad choices, physiologic dependence, a massive economic pressures.  Let’s get up in arms about human trafficking, and about the relentless effort online to suck children into dangerous habits.  Let’s question the money that enriches people whose success comes at the expense of this generation.

Because they may be the very people who are fanning the flames of the bathroom debacle, to distract us from the real issue.