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Friday, February 17, 2012

Thoughts on rainbows, sacrifice, transition, and hope

Early morning darkness, a faint smattering of rain staccatos on our plastic mbati roof then peters out. After two weeks of daily all-day commutes to our continuing medical education conference at Brackenhurst, there is finally time to squeeze in a short run with Star before the day begins. The dust of a nearly two-month drought has been dampened by the scattered drops. By the time I reach turn across the escarpment the clouds are breaking and glowing pink with a new sun. I'm thinking about Leviticus, my current waypoint in the year's chronological Bible read, about the difference between burnt offerings and peace offerings, waves and heaves. And remembering the clear message in late Exodus: the point of the sacrifices was presence.

Which is a good thing to remember this moment. Because the whole two-week conference was another milestone of closure and grieving and moving on. For the first time, we were FROM Kijbabe not Bundibugyo. Our kids were in school, and living at home, rather than missing school in Uganda. We were listening to lectures and pursuing workshops to improve health care in Kenya, not Uganda. Heidi and Jessica graciously came for an overnight to connect with the kids and our life here and talk about Bundibugyo, which is good and home-sick-inducing all at once. And though it never worked out to have the Johnsons connect with us and our new colleagues the Steeres (we figured they'd become great friends so we really did try) we did get to at least have a lunch with Travis and Amy, and take them to a soccer game, and visit the kids and grandparents at their lovely nearby tea-estate location. So once again our present reality intersected with our past, which can be both good and unsettling.

Ruth VanReken reminded us of the hidden losses, the discordance between how you think you SHOULD feel and how you DO. Ahh, so familiar. In the two weeks I can't count how many times people asked us "how do you like Kijabe" or "what made you leave Uganda" or "are you glad to be with your kids" or some such evaluation of the last year. These are the same brave souls we hug and chat with and compare notes with every two or four years. And every time I am asked I summon up cheer and confidence and repeat the list of ways God opened this door and told us to walk through it, and the list of ways that we are thankful He did. Only every time I still feel like I'm convincing myself. Repeatedly hoping that God really DID lead us. Guilty for not being completely ecstatic that I'm here in this great hospital with a home full of kids and pleasant weather. So it was helpful to hear Ruth say that this is normal. Many losses are hidden. They don't make sense to others, particularly not those who are feeling the weight of their own loss to BE in the place that I miss.

Then there was the medical education workshop I mainly went to in order to support the speaker who was covering for me in the hospital these two weeks. And by the end I was floored with the realization that the Spirit was speaking. He talked about leaving a program he had set up, and seeing it discontinued and changed. But then seeing that what mattered were the people whom he invested in over the years. Education as discipleship. The programs may come and go but the individuals and the community persist. And that is still true for us, as we read the notes sent our way from Bundi, as we get the texts and emails.

Back to the rainbow. Sacrifice is cost. But not destruction. The rainbow symbolizes that what is lost (the whole world) is, in God's mystery, redeemed. Genesis and Leviticus are telling one story. This is a messed-up world, and we are called to sacrifice if we would approach the One who is Holy and Other. But the sacrifices are ways of inviting, of cleansing, of preparing, of approaching. They are not wanton wipe-outs.

So this morning I was reminded that it is OK to feel the loss, and in some mysterious way it is perhaps necessary to clear the space for the cloud of glory that comes and fills and guides. That what goes on God's altar is transformed and redeemed to bring relationship. That it's not just about counting the cost, but seeing the hope of what it brings. For most people that probably means leaving their kids, and going to a hard, hard place. For me that has meant leaving the hard, hard place and coming to my kids.

And I did see that, in some concrete ways these weeks. The heart ache was there, of not being in harmony with our old life in the same way. But then the gradual permission blossoms, to become rooted in this new life. In the middle of the conference two of our interns came over one late evening for dinner to bring us a thank you gift for being part of their lives this past year. We brought our old friends to the soccer game, and were reminded of all the new friendships that are deepening here. Perhaps it is the magic milestone of passing one year and entering the cycle for the second time, but as I hug and chat and cheer, I am with some women who have shared deep pains in prayer this year, I am with some kids who have been in and out of our house, I'm with people who are walking our same path. I'm with people whom I am growing to care about and feel part of. And best of all the evening that one set of friends needed to spend on an alone date, we ended up with new friends having a real time of fellowship and celebration.

This transition started exactly two years ago, when our replacements arrived in Africa at this very conference. It took a major step a year ago when we moved to Kijabe. And I think I feel more at peace now, in February 2012, about actually living here, not just temporarily serving, but living, than I have since we arrived.

The rainbow painted that truth, that our God does not delight in destruction. That if He wounds He also binds. That the tears have meaning and water the new harvest.

As the colors disappeared this morning, ephemeral in the mist, I'm sure this sense of moving through a milestone will also evaporate. Reminders will be necessary. But for today I am embracing this new life.

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