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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Not the Christmas We Expected

We should have known better when the Sunday sermon emphasized interruption.  God interrupting plans.  Mary's, Joseph's, the Magi's, the Shepherd's, pretty much everyone in the story.  But especially Mary's, because everything she must have dreamed of before the angelic interruption (a happy marriage, a peaceful life) and even after the angelic interruption (victorious overthrow of the rich and proud in her lifetime by her son) was turned upside down.  Her heart was pierced when her son came into the world suffering, and a few decades later left it the same way, in blood and cries, seemingly at the mercy of cruel and indifferent authority and injustice.

We welcomed Caleb home on Friday.  Together at last, after six months.  Stories slowly eeking out about his first term at the USAFA and Luke's at Yale, good food, Christmas movies, too much rain, decorating cookies, puzzles, pizza, visitors, church.  

This is our second Christmas at Kijabe.  Last year we were both on call, and we missed out on most things, somehow on the outside of the season.  Yet this is my favorite time of year, steeped in patterns and traditions over two decades in Africa, welcoming Jesus anew.  So last year was a hard transition. I missed our home in Uganda, our team, our neighbors, the rhythms and patterns of community.  The predictable cow slaughter.  Visiting our neighbors.  Knowing the songs, the expectations.  The pace.  The hot dry wind blowing in, the cocoa drying.  Our own dairy cows, an every-ready real manger in our own yard.  This year I really wanted to anchor our family in the continuity of some of our old habits and grasp onto the Kijabe versions of some new ones.  We did advent Sundays, inviting different groups over, both missionaries and Kenyans.  And I tried really hard to sync the hospital needs where we're still working, the RVA we're-all-on-holiday cascade of events, the Myhre family traditions, our new WHM team mates, figuring out Kenyan culture, and the new realities of kids home from college who need space and rest.  Tried too hard, probably.  Planned, dropped, added, negotiated, re-evaluated.  Chose which services and events we'd do with the community, with RVA, with the hospital, with friends and neighbors.  Planned a big camping trip for four families of people who know each other well and often do things together, but with whom we've never been able to spend that time.

And almost none of it came to be.  We see pictures of our old team in Uganda and our sister team in Sudan doing the kinds of things we loved; we hear about all the great things people around us here managed (gift baskets to needy families, visiting rural churches, candlelight services, caroling).  But our Christmas was quite different.

On Christmas Eve morning I was in the hospital, catching up on the details of ICU patients from the weekend, checking in with our ward and nursery teams, examining patients.  There were contract issues for our new CO, and payment issues for some TB meds, notes to write, phone calls, prayer.  

The new 3-bed HDU (High Dependency Unit, a room with monitors and oxygen and a more intensive nurse-patient ratio than the general wards, but a step down from ICU) had finally been finished, so we gathered our surgical and nursing and chaplaincy colleagues in to dedicate it in prayer.  I was trying hard to be efficient so I could sign out early at 2 pm and take my kids to join the maternity and nursery nurses as we took gifts of food and clothes and crafts up to a children's home a couple miles away, something the Kenyan staff had arranged themselves.  Then we planned to do our traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve white dinner, and join the hospital staff once again for caroling in the hospital, concluding with an 11 pm candlelight service at RVA.

Instead, an interruption.  

"Mom, there's been an accident, it's Caleb, he's OK but his knee is swollen".  

After this it was hard to concentrate, but Scott was able to quickly leave in the car and go get him.  All the kids had gone down into the Rift Valley on pikis (motorcycles) for a picnic breakfast and just visiting time with friends.  They were on a road, but the road had been washed out, which they didn't know.  The first riders went right but Caleb was on the left side and suddenly the road emptied into a crater.  He swerved, the bike nosed into the hole, and stopped, throwing him.  It took Scott an hour to get there and another to get back, with Caleb's leg splinted using the car jack, in excruciating pain.  I met them in the casualty (ER), where Caleb's knee was terribly swollen, but his attitude was as usual calm and stoic and selfless.  An IV, morphine, exams, xrays, discussion.  Looks like 3 of the 4 ligaments which hold the lower leg on to the upper were torn:  ACL, PCL, and MCL.  Bad news.

In that first hour, all I wanted was a rewind.  We had discussed him not going.  Yes, it's part of this culture, it's the way to get around on these roads.  But the consequences of an accident for Caleb are potentially more than for most of us.  His life involves physical training.  LOTS of it.  His dreams involve things like jumping out of airplanes.  His days are full of stress and abuse that will only be worse on crutches.  Scott and I felt sick with sorrow.  He had to face calling into his commanding officers.  The Air Force doesn't always take kindly to disability, and will hold him responsible for taking this unnecessary risk on his vacation time.  He's looking at surgery, or several surgeries.  Months of crutches.  A year of rehab before he can do the things he loves, like run and play soccer and go for the parachute training and flight training he is pursuing.  If we had seen this unwanted, extremely interrupting moment, we would have done almost anything to change his path.

But we didn't see, didn't prevent.  And now a new hard road opens up before him.  We have a lot of decisions to make about travel and medical care, and I'm sure many things we haven't thought of.  But with 48 hours' perspective here are the lessons I've been tossing around again.

1.  We live by community.  When Caleb was wheeled into casualty our neighbors flocked to help.  One couple had accompanied Scott and held Caleb's head on the bumpy road back, providing comfort and advice.  The paeds surgeon did his head to toe trauma exam, the ortho surgeon evaluated his knee, the casualty doc checked in, the PT person came up with a brace and crutches, someone led us in prayer.  My paeds colleague covered the rest of the day for me, and Scott was relieved of call that night.  We were even given ice.  When you are in need, then you find out that great friends support us.
2.  It could have been worse.  This was one of the first things our friends said.  He could have injured his head or broken his neck.  He could be dead or paralyzed.  A knee can heal.  In our grief for all the suffering this interruption involves, it helps to remember that this is NOT the worst case scenario, no matter how sad it seems to us.  In the same 24 hours two women we know died in Uganda, one the wife of our pastor and translator from complications of pregnancy, the other a woman who suffered from HIV from complications of chicken pox.  A destroyed knee impacts life, but does not end it.
3.  Parents make mistakes.  Kids make mistakes.  Accidents which might have been prevented, aren't.  This is where GRACE is needed.  To save us from ourselves, even when we fail.  A washed out road can still be redeemed by God's purposes.  I don't feel that way right now, but I do know it is true.  I would not write the script this way.  Caleb has already had plenty of pain, already had three previous surgeries, already broken bones two other times.  He worked very very hard the last six months.  And now the next six, the next twelve, will be even harder.  I don't know why he has to face this, and how exactly our bad choice (to let him ride the piki) and God's providence work together.  But grace trumps.  Worse outcomes were prevented, and the hard one he got will be matched in some way by mercy.
4.  Parental love never rests.  With every milestone survived, new dangers open up, and our kids are always at risk.  A sword shall pierce through your own soul also.  Repeatedly.
5.  Our kids are amazing and resilient. Patient in suffering.  Remarkable in hope. 

Tomorrow instead of a camping trip we're heading into Nairobi to get an MRI (we hope) and begin to make more concrete plans.  Prayers appreciated for miraculous healing.  For sustaining courage to face all the implications.  For wisdom as we figure out how to support Caleb.  For our family to roll with the unexpected.

To accept interruptions in the spirit of Mary:  behold the servants of the Lord, let it be to us according to Your will.


talitha said...

Hi Jennifer, I'm praying for Caleb and you. I'm thankful for your ability to articulate your thoughts in the midst of crisis, and your willingness to share them with others. As I think on all the adventurous things that Caleb loves to do, my prayer is that God uses this slowing down to direct him to a particular adventure that he might have missed otherwise.
I'll ask the Brauer fam to Talitha for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Feeling greatly for Caleb and you guys :( We had the same distress when Jordan had his stroke ... what would happen about VMI? what would happen about his scholarship? what would ... what would? God worked it out, bit by bit, day by day. We will pray that Caleb's knee heals faster than normal, that the academy will be as accommodating as they can be, etc. Take a deep breath and soldier on! Caleb might take it better than you two will, that's what happened to us. Robin

Jill Donnelly said...

What one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day. #CSLewis
This was my facebook post today before I read your blog. Maybe it will help you a bit? I will pray for Caleb...and for all. Don't be hard on is what it is and God is ever present. I will pray for peace and miraculous healing.

Rosita said...

Praying for you all. Thank you for finding time to share your reflections in the midst of it all.

PoppyG said...

We are praying. Thankful it is only the knee, though it is difficult. The Greens. Grace OPC.

Heather Pike Agnello said...

Love you guys so so much. Nothing much more than that for me to say right now. But thank you for this. -Smeth

Frances Worsham said...

We are praying, as well. So sorry to hear of Caleb's accident but nothing is truly "an accident". God sees the big picture. Give Caleb our love.
Frances and Michael Worsham

Suzanne said...

We're praying as well. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to come along side your family in this way.