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Friday, October 19, 2018

Basking when the light breaks through

This happened yesterday:

As did this:

Both are pictures of a glimmer of light through some dark clouds. In the first, Scott and I were talking our evening debrief walk with the dog (sanity 101) after a heavy rain, and startled by a spectacular rainbow.  In the second, I was walking back into hospital after teaching a core lecture on sepsis to our interns on Paeds, and they were in high spirits having just had a good teaching time and lunch, and suggested a photo together.  The pharmacist stopped the group and said, what's going on?  And it clicked for me:  we were having a good day because we had stopped to celebrate some victories.  In fact I had snapped photos of several milestone patients who were healing, and shared them on our patient-care what's-app group, which unexpectedly led to a totally changed atmosphere for the day.

The power of noticing the good, when mostly we are steeped in murkiness and sorrow.  This is a hospital where a baby or child dies on about half of our days (that's actually probably an underestimate).  A dear Kenyan friend who had been away in England two years took her first Kenyan call this week, and had a rough night over a critically ill child who ended up dying.  It was the first death she had had in two years of work.  Let that contrast sink in.

So somehow, by prayer or the Spirit or confluence of noticing hopeful events, yesterday we took time to celebrate.

Baby L was our first thanks.  He was admitted for two weeks, with kidney failure and crazy high sodium in his blood due to dehydration, infection, a mom without milk . . and he went home completely normal.

These two preems (unrelated) had been with us for 55 and 57 days, both 28-weeks out of 40-weeks gestations, dipping below 1 kg (2 lb) and they went home healthy and well after many struggles.  The intern who carefully monitored them really felt the sense of accomplishment.

This little girl came in so anemic and sick she was nearly dead. She turned out to have TB and some other issues, and after two weeks of anti-TB medicines she is headed out the door with a new chance at life.  Her mom turned from somber to hopeful.

The triplets:  All boys, and though one is Shadrack the other two aren't Meshack and Abednego (much to my disappointment).  The first-born as usual is the biggest, and being about 200 grams ahead of his brothers, he graduated from the incubator today!

Here are two incubators worth of babies on the bench, while their moms make their beds.  I don't think we've had less than 50 babies in the Newborn Unit any day all month.  

This preteen (face blurred) lost both parents to AIDS, and came in weighing less than the average kindergardener.  After weeks of nutritional rehab, and much advocacy, she got some more advanced treatment for her primary problem, a miracle worth celebrating.  She gained 4 kilograms and went home with her older sister who is her caretaker.

Scott explaining how to monitor labor to all the interns . . including the basic stuff by which lives are saved.

So join us in that moment when the light breaks through, when the clouds are not the only reality, when team work produces some life-saving results, when we get a view of redemption.  Bask.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

25 with our 25 year old--home in East Africa

Last night, the three of us back at another East African Airport celebrating an arrival

25 years and 3 days ago today, Scott, Luke (8 months old) and I landed at the old Entebbe airport.  It was October 14, 1993.  The airplane doors opened to the familiar smell of wood fires in the early morning air, and we walked across damp tarmac to the terminal.  We cleared immigration and customs with our stack of trunks, and piled them outside to wait.  And wait.  And wonder.  No one had come to meet us.  Those were the days before cell phones, and we realized we were in a country where we knew very little with no plan B.  A few taxi drivers tried to talk us into their hotels.  We knew that the small Serge team sometimes stayed a night at the Sheraton (formerly a place of glory, but in the early 90's emerging from the days when guests had to scrounge for their own food to cook over charcoal on their balconies) because it was the sole place one could place an international phone call, from a wooden booth in the lobby.  Lake flies swarmed, which I mistakenly thought were mosquitoes, sure that our baby was going to die of malaria before we could even get our bearings.  After a couple of hours, Atwoki pulled up in the Herron's truck.  They were all sick, and unable to come get us.  It was the first of many times Atwoki would rescue us over the years!

We spent the first few days in the Namirembe Guest House, simple dorm-like rooms and group meals.  Lynn L gave me a grocery list on a piece of yellow legal paper that I saved and used as a reference for many years:  staples like flour and sugar by the kilogram, luxuries like toilet paper and powdered milk, we purchased from duka #24, a small open street-side shop in the massive Nakasero Market area.  No malls, no grocery stores, no bottled water (it was boil and bring your own).  While Lynn helped me (who had hardly ever even cooked) stock up for survival, Paul took Scott through the process of claiming the imported Landcruiser we had purchased months before.  And then we left for Bundibugyo.  The paved road ended just an hour outside Kampala, and from there it was a twisting, rutted, mud-holed trek west, about 12+ hours of driving that had to be split over two days.

When we pulled up to Bundimulinga, and stepped out, I clearly remember my very first thought:  there are mountains!  Of course I knew that from a map, but seeing a map symbol and the real thing are two very different experiences.  The rainy season clarity revealed snow-capped peaks rising up behind our new home.  For a girl from West Virginia, those mountains felt like a personal gift from God, unnecessary beauty and connection just because of God's love.

And so the story goes for 25 years, 1993 to 2018.  Unnecessary grace, overflows of love.  Right down to the detail that 25 years and 2 days later, that 8 month old would be returning to Africa as an orthopedic surgery intern to work on establishing a research collaboration, the three of us back in East Africa at an airport once again.  Stay tuned for the next 25 . . . .
Sunday night the 14th, our actual 25 year mark, waffles and ice cream with the Ickes kids to celebrate

Catherine's commemoration

Last night on the way to the airport, Ethiopian with the Rigbys and the Niharts (Nairobi). Balm to the soul.

Miss Salem in 2018, the exact age of Luke in 1993.

This morning, entering Kijabe Hospital to greet old friends and connect Luke with the fine orthopedic surgeons who provide excellent care for the vulnerable in this place.  Quite a full circle sort of day.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Quarter-Century of Eyes Lifted

I will lift up my eyes unto the hills--
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD, 
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth,
And even for evermore.

Psalm 121.
My dad's favorite, and the lectionary for yesterday, as we climbed Mt. Longonot.
A lovely confluence of poetry and life that reminded us of our God's attention to details.

Today we marked 25 years since landing in Uganda to begin our work with Serge.  A full post about that is coming.
But yesterday, we wanted to carve out a time to bear witness in our own hearts to God's faithfulness over that quarter century.  So we camped at the base of the dormant volcano nearby in the Rift Valley, started our ascent in the dark, and watched the sun rise from the rim.  We've done a lot of going out and coming in, seen a lot of smiting sunshine and shifting moons, felt a lot of near-stumbles and nearby evil, over these years. Yet here we are, climbing and praying and leaning into the God who preserves our souls.

Rejoice with us, enjoy Scott's photos, and stay tuned for some more nostalgia.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Vulnerability, humility, Hagar and Naivasha

This is what a week looks like.  Tiny feet, too many of them, waving from the broken doors of four over-stuffed incubators (we have 14 preems in 4 incubators today, that's 4-4-3-3).  Moms carefully expressing milk, sitting patiently on benches, breaking into smiles when released to go home.  An HIV-infected 5 year old with TB revived by a blood transfusion and TB meds, whose mother's apathy seems to fade with each day of her survival. Abscesses drained and packed with guaze, IV cannulas inserted, oxygen tubing connected, weights charted.  Gathering interns for teaching, buying them lunch as we go step by step through the complicated fluid calculations for dehydration with kidney injury.  A departmental review of all the deaths in a month, the sorrow of each case, the obscurity of trying to discern what went wrong.  A holiday, whose celebration was unclear up until 12 hours before . . . Scott and I sense we should just bike over mid-morning to check up on things . . . and find a mother referred on a public matatu unconscious from ecclampsia (high blood pressure and convulsions associated with pregnancy) . . . Scott mobilizes the emergency cesarean staff and calls me to join as the mother shakes with seizures.  He pulls out a nearly dead, totally limp and still baby from a womb thick with meconium (stool). There is a faint heart beat but nothing else, but slowly the baby comes to life as we give breaths and oxygen and dry. Mother and baby are both in critical condition but alive and possibly will be fine.  

 A week also looks like this: for every exciting save, another sorrowful death.  Today I walked into the ward and found a mom making fun of my Swahili, loudly, with the others laughing.  I know it's not typical, but it was surprisingly humiliating. Or the antibiotics are out of stock, or the person on call was not found to help so there is a terrible outcome, or the oxygen runs out, or we get messages one after the other of absences. Or a c-section gets delayed by the reluctance of the anesthetist or someone else to step into their job, and the next day Scott checks for a fetal heart rate, and it's not there. Or we get a glimpse of how our own mothers feel our distance, or how our own kids have challenges we can't help with.
 This is what living vulnerably in the real world looks like.  We are not in control of a thousand things around us, we are just showing up and trying to do our best.  Trying to be a flickering light. Trying to bring a small measure of order, accountability, education, healing into a place where some people are eager for the mentoring and burden-sharing, and others may resent the intrusion. Trying to walk a line of faith, of praying against injustice, of seeing the best in others, of waiting for God to act . . . without feeling complicit in a system that is deeply flawed.

And as we continue, a few things happen.  First, we get a front row seat to redemption and restoration.  Baby A. above finishes 17 days of treatment today, finally with a firm lifeward direction after a severe pneumonia that required a powerful, expensive antibiotic.  Second, we find our in-this-boat-together powerlessness draws us into community with others.  Our weekly prayer time has a few new attenders.  This week we talked about Hagar, and the interns could deeply relate to feeling used, feeling without choice, feeling lost and alone and desperate.  Hagar the foreign slave tries to escape, but God sends her back.  Her path of humility leads to the dangers of childbirth (still dangerous now, imagine several thousand years ago) and the inglorious, demeaning life of a captive.  Yet Hagar gets to see, and be seen by, God.  So the third perk is just that:  this is the paradox of the Kingdom, the taking up a cross, the all loss becoming gain.  God is here. With our interns, with us, with our patients, and it is a worthwhile calling to point to that truth.
Ending with a reminder:  this is a personal forum to bear witness to our experience of God and the world.  We seek, imperfectly and haltingly, to walk into the mess, and to try to apply the logic and love of Jesus around us.  As we do that, we get a hundred things wrong every day.  Please don't think that our writing reflects any official Serge theological stance, or political either.  We love ideas, and passionately desire to reflect on what is wrong and what could help . .  and to spark others do the same.  But not everyone enjoys the process, so please forgive us for diverting into American issues the last two weeks.  Stick with us and don't hesitate to share with us your feedback and struggles too. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Truth, Reconciliation, and Africa shining

Last week we Americans experienced a national, collective convulsion of desperation and pain and feeling victimized and feeling justified, only that collective experience tore us more apart than bringing us together.  (see earlier post below)  Those who supported the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh won, though you'd hardly know that as the narrative continues to emphasize a sense of injustice.  Those who opposed his nomination feel disenfranchised, as if their concerns did not matter.  The false dichotomy between due process (innocent until proven guilty) and #metoo (listening to survivors of sexual harassment and abuse) continues to be assumed and perpetrated.

So, as an American living in Africa 25 years, I offer a glimpse of the way this continent has shone in matters of truth and reconciliation.  Two of the places on this continent which have seen some of the most horrific violence and sorrow in my lifetime are South Africa and Rwanda.  In both, the survival of one group was posed as threatened by the presence of another, and the solution was to fight to the death over presumed limited resources.  Years of injustice and smoldering imprisonment, death, suffocating poverty, in one; weeks of all-out slaughter in the other.  How to recover? So many acts of hate carried out on such a large scale by so many average people overwhelmed the criminal justice capacity.  So South Africa set up their "Truth and Reconciliation Commissions", and Rwanda set up their "Gacaca Courts" (justice amongst the grass).  Neither were perfect, but both were attempts to allow for restoration in the process of justice, and not just retribution.  Both took as fundamental the need for the community to be the basis of justice, the importance of all sides being able to tell their story and be heard, the opportunity for forgiveness, and for some form of reparation.

In America in 2018, we are floundering for ways to look at the truth about our slave-holding racial-injustice past (and present) and our objectifying exploitative approach to sexuality, without crumbling into a litigious, court-clogged, angry mass.  I don't know how Dr. Ford feels now, but certainly many of the #metoo stories seem to have been told in a sense of relief that one's experience can be uncovered, heard, with an attempt to understand.  If the stakes were lower, perhaps Judge Kavanaugh could have listened and even if he truly believed himself to be innocent of this particular night's events, he might have at least acknowledged her pain and the way his high school and college behavior could have hurt several women.  In South Africa and Rwanda, some cases still were so grievous as to require criminal prosecution, and that is needed in America too.  But we have such a vast backlog of sexism and racism that we need some fresh ideas.

So . . . let's tell stories.  Truth.  That can come in personal narrative, or fiction, or art.  And let's react to them with compassion, questions, empathy, repentance.  Africans, I find, are not as worried about punishing as they are about holding together the fabric of community.  The idea is not so much to identify, isolate, shame or imprison a particular person who did wrong as much as it is to restore relationships.
Our friend Greg posted a photo of this painting this week, and I found it powerful, and keep thinking about it. The artist is Titus Kaphar, and he just received a MacArthur Fellowship to support his work.  I think it captures the essence of getting behind the facade to the complexity of racial and sexual injustice that we would rather paint over and not acknowledge, to the layers of reality upon which our stories are built.  Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man who did much good; he was not a perfect man who did all good.  

Happy Columbus Day? Indigenous People's day?  Ugandan Independence Day? Moi Day?  It's a big week in October as many countries celebrate their stories.  One group's tale of salvation is another group's tale of loss, and both are true.  We can have complicated, deeply layered stories that require listening to one another.  Let's stop letting ourselves be divided into camps that must choose sides, let's learn to embrace a bit of discordance.  Let's hold onto the sinner-sufferer-saint mix that characterizes us all (thanks Serge for that language) and not turn each other into flat caricatures of heroes and victims.

One of the best ways to raise kids who can think this way? Good literature, stories from diverse points of view, getting behind the eyes of someone else.  So while you're at it, remember to go to the library or buy a good book this month . . . that's partly a plug, but it's actually true!

Friday, October 05, 2018

On Condemnation and Fear and False Dichotomies

As I write, the tumultuous week of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination continues. A week ago, we watched Dr. Ford's compelling testimony and Judge Kavanaugh's emotional response.  And since then, pretty much everyone I've read has felt justified in their binary lens, and in feeling increasingly self-righteous, increasingly persecuted, increasingly frustrated, increasingly alienated, and increasingly angry.

This week, a Bible verse jumped out at me:  Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem and some Samaritan cities did not seem to be welcoming him.  His followers, high on their own power and expectation, breathing the atmosphere of unambiguous surety, wanted to call down fire upon the inhospitable towns.  Jesus replied, don't you understand, I didn't come here to condemn, but to save! 

What?  God isn't mostly about putting the sinners in their place?  God is mostly about opening a way for all of us to thrive and grow and love?  Who would have thought that in anything that's been said?

Jesus, evidently.  Instead of condemning, Jesus walked right into the hate, misunderstanding, corruption, horror, and pain of bearing our world's brokenness.  Instead of condemning certain people, cities, ethnicities, groups . . He condemned evil by taking the brunt of it into his own body, to the point of death, and then offering life.

We are all sinners, sufferers, and saints in a massively mixed bag.  And yet we are living in a time and context where, lacking any credible lens with which to make sense of such human mystery, our leaders latch onto our fears and whip them up.  "This woman is out to ruin a man's life for political purposes/greed, watch out men, you might be next, your survival is under attack!" "This man represents all that is wrong with every privilege of race and gender, and if you doubt his guilt you don't support the huge numbers of women in the world who have been sexually assaulted!"  Moral high-grounds abound, fueled by fear and false dichotomies.

Could we take a deep breath and try to embrace what is true?

  • A significant number of women experience sexual trauma (1 in 5), and Dr. Ford gave us as a nation a gripping, credible, painful, honest description of hers.
  • MOST of those girls and women keep silent, blame themselves, fear disclosure, seek to move on.  When they do speak, MOST of the time allegations of sexual abuse turn out to be true.
  • The courage and poise of Dr. Ford sparked a useful national reckoning and awareness of sexual abuse of power, deeply meaningful to many humans.
  • Teenagers are still developing their brains, and do things that range from foolish to evil.  Maturity requires we acknowledge our wrong-doing and seek to change, grow, and where possible, make amends. 
  • Alcohol dis-inhibits the brain, and people who are drunk perpetrate even more sorrows than people who are not, and they don't always remember what they do.
  • We live in a democracy where almost half of people voted knowingly to elect a person to the highest office whose character includes numerous documented sexually abusive/ inappropriate/ immoral/ unkind/ mean statements and actions.  People have chosen to overlook his personal characteristics in order to feel more powerful or secure.  Those same people will most likely also approach the approval of his nominees in the same way, willing to overlook morals and behavior if the nominee can offer them something they feel is worth their vote.
  • The Senate judiciary committee hearing was not a court of law to try a case from three decades ago, it was an attempt to listen to witnesses who had serious concerns about the capacity and character of the nominee.  Dr. Ford was heard; Judge Kavanaugh responded, and now the Senate must decide how to weigh his record and potential to serve in view of the unproven but possible criminal deeds he committed many years ago, and in view of the way he has handled himself in the review process.  
  • If this case were to be tried, like many others, we must be careful to extend the justice of innocent-until-proven-guilty to all.
  • If you want to make America great, it won't happen by glossing over abuse or by shaming the innocent in order to get your side in power.  It will only happen by the day-to-day slow sure transformation that comes from living authentic lives of sacrifice and love.
What would Jesus make of half of us wanting to call down fire from Heaven upon the other half?  I think Jesus might listen with care to each, and then sigh.  From the Gospels we can guess that if he had to take a side, he would side with the less powerful, the wounded, the suffering.  But in so doing he would also see the pain of the other.  He would very likely speak up on behalf of the #metoo movement.  And he would forgive anyone who asked for it.  

This was in my devotional reading from Matthew 27 today: "This is how he is shining the light of God's love into the dark corners of the world:  by taking the evil of the world, the hatred and cruelty and unthinking mockery of the world, the gratuitous violence, bullying and torture that still deface the world, and letting it do its worst to him.  Never let it be said that the Christian faith is an airy-fairy thing, all about having wonderful inner, spiritual experience, and not about the real world.  This story takes us to the very heart of what Christianity is all about; and here we meet, close up and raw, the anger and bitterness of the world, doing its worst against the one who embodies and represents the love of the creator God himself. . . . we are of course outraged that such things should happen.  Yes, Jesus will say to us, and they are still happening around the world today; what are we doing about it?" (NT Wright commentary on Mathew)

Could we channel some of our angst over this very disturbing week into taking up our own crosses, and following Jesus into the hard path of healing?  The world is waiting.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018


Happy Birthday to Julia!!  It's been quite a year leading up to #22--graduating from Duke, taking a job for the summer on a therapeutic farm for people with mental health issues, then starting in the Fellow's program in Greensboro.
Oct 4 1996

2018 has been a banner year . . .

We had celebrations with family and friends . . .

And then a fantastic cross-country escapade with brothers and mountains and way too many car miles . . .  

I love this one, from Utah, of just the two of us.
And then she went to take her quite brave job in Vermont, then came back to Greenboro NC to begin a 9-month mentored leadership development program encouraging the integration of faith and work. She takes classes 1 day weekly, works 3 days a week for a sustainable agriculture project, and volunteers 1-2 days a week for a church, with this group:
All these pictures show facets of the jewel that is Julia--spunky and sparkly, a committed friend, a kind soul who serves others, a thoughtful young woman who is delving into her faith and identity, a human thirsty for true friendship, a lover of trees and plants who works hard and gets her hands dirty, a steward of this earth for the good of others.  We pray for her to grow deeper in Mercy and Truth this year.
And a accomplished and mature and gorgeous as the 22 year old Julia is, in my heart she is still the 2 year old Julia too, taking charge of daddy's motorcycle and her baby brother.  And off to conquer the world.

A Fever, A Flight, and a Fight for the World--the book is OUT!!

It's October, which means rainy afternoons in Naivasha, the 9-months-post-Christmas baby boom wreaking havoc in the hospital in full swing, Julia's birthday tomorrow, Rugby for Jack and snow for Caleb and trauma rotations for Luke . . . and for me, the fourth and final Rwendigo Tale being published this week.  (Link to New Growth Press here where it is on SALE, Link to Amazon here).

My favorite reviewer comment so far:  don't start this one right before bed.  

As I wrote these four books, my kids moved from age 7-12 to age 10-15.  The stories move from a magical-realism talking-animals kingdom quest to a more action-drama mystery young adult flavor.  Though each one stands alone, the characters are loosely related and the storyline does connect.  This final volume was written a few months after we survived an Ebola epidemic in Bundibugyo.  It is being published in the midst of another Ebola epidemic, that is creeping closer and closer to our teams in Nyankunde and Bundibugyo.  Our confusion, terror, sorrow, and soul-searching in 2007-8 informed the process these characters take in resisting evil; and are very much relevant to our daily work in 2018.  After the 2007-8 epidemic, we were given a 3-week leave to stay in a very simple, open, thatch-roofed house on the coast of Zanzibar as part of our recovery process, and I started writing this book during that short sabbatical.  The rhythm of the coast provides the setting for the first half of the book.  

Each of the books was written with one particular kid in mind.  Three have male main characters and one a female, because that's our family, though there are key male and female roles in each.  They aren't about any real person, but the personality of each kid comes into the stories, the sibling relationships, the pets, etc.  This last book is dedicated to Luke, who ten years ago was a young teen.  In the decade since, he put a hand-written note on his wall for a while that says "I will sacrifice for those I love."  And that pretty much sums up this book.  It's a story of choices, courage, the way the struggle against evil requires real risks, the difficulty of a path that leads to sacrifice, the tenderness of friendship and empathy, the mystery of forces beyond our sight and control.

I don't want to give more than that away, you have to read the book to find out what happens.  You can be sure that the setting immerses you in a fictional universe where almost all characters are authentic East-Africans.  You can expect the usual vocabulary, both English at a level that is middle and high school appropriately stretching, and terms that give flavor from other languages.  You can expect some hard majority-world topics to surface (loss of parents, corruption, danger) in a way that honors the reality that most kids must live, but also points to the resilience and hope that is possible to grasp.

Please consider buying a few for your kids, your friends, your relatives, your library, your youth group or church.  I have been swamped by life and am pretty much out of marketing ideas, and NGP the publisher has little reach outside their usual church-based audience.  If blog readers averaged ten copies . . we'd be set (I know that's not realistic, but buying a few and promoting others to buy a few . . you never know). You can also help me a LOT if you post a review on Amazon, Google, or elsewhere after you read it. You can feel good about this investment because: books are the best gifts that keep giving, and the author portion is split equally between me and a Rwendigo Fund that can be used for blessing actual people in real-life Rwendigo-like places.

Since I'm in Kenya, I haven't actually seen or held a copy yet . . . so I have no photo to post. Instead I'll post one of a Serge kid whose expression perfectly matches how I feel about this book coming out, and about books in general (photo thanks to his mom Brooke West, used by permission).

So you can do your Christmas shopping now, though you probably won't want to wait that long to read your own copy!  Enjoy and ponder and let me know what you think.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Crushing news, truth, and the mystery of love in suffering

In the last week, cancer has sent shock waves through some lives close to ours.  One of our team leaders learned their father has a very aggressive brain tumor with a median survival just over a year.  Our former Bundibugyo team leader, Travis, learned that the immunotherapy trial he has been on this year is no longer helping him; his metastatic tumors are growing.  He's already beat some serious odds surviving over 5 years since his diagnosis, but this news was a sobering blow to him, his young family (he got cancer in his 30s), and all of us.  A dear friend and supporter (our age) learned this week that she has ovarian cancer, and it has already spread across her abdomen.  Two of our Serge founders' grandchildren, young 30-40 year olds, died of cancer within a week of each other in September.  That's 2 deaths, 2 new diagnoses, and 1 treatment-no-longer-working, all in people from their 30s to 60s, all Serge-associated in some way (2 of them are on our board), all in the last week to ten days.  That gets our attention.  These are five people who have loved well and lived well and for whom, it would make sense to us, the balance of good would benefit from keeping them all on earth for many more decades.

It's not that we should be so surprised, suffering is all around us, every day.  Perhaps the suffering that is part and parcel of our hours tends to be more palpable and fightable.  Surely we can infuse the right antibiotic, fix the oxygen supply, counsel with the right words, lance the boil, perform the surgery, raise the funds, that engages evil and changes the outcome.  But cancer doesn't work that way.  It is a brokenness insidious and hidden and pervasive and costly. 

So here are two books to recommend.  The first, I read this weekend.  Kate Bowler is a Duke Divinity school professor and another 35-year old upended by cancer.  This is a personal account, funny and raw and reflective and brutally honest.  It is not a treatise on theodicy, it is her story (which is mostly how the Bible writes about God and suffering too).  She grapples with the loss of control, and learning to live in the now. She grieves the sorrows loudly and she holds onto the good. But mostly she tells us the only true thing:  in the worst moment of her life, she knows God is love.  There are two appendices:  what not to say, and how to be helpful.  

The second book is equally profound.  Langberg writes from her lifetime experience as a counselor specializing in trauma, particularly sexual abuse, about the way evil wounds us and how we as a church and community can respond.  This book is more of a text, with illustrative vignettes but not a narrative.  Her solid affirmation of a theology of suffering rings true, and her wisdom in walking alongside the sufferers is clearly and carefully laid out.  In a week where not only fatal diagnoses abounded, but the trauma of sexual abuse of power was powerfully and articulately personified by Dr. Ford as millions watched the senate confirmation hearings, Langberg's book is one I would like to return to.

Neither book purports to have all the answers, which is appropriate for people who are supposedly centered on something like a cross.  Mysteriously, God does not end cancer or abuse or war or the sadness of missing our families.  Not yet.  Instead we are plunged into this unpredictable story which arcs towards good, but passes through a thousand dark valleys on the way. We follow Jesus, who did not crush the Romans or raise every widow's prematurely dead son, but walked straight into unimaginable suffering as the means of introducing a quiet and slow redemption. Immediate incontrovertible victory sounds good, but that's not what God usually does, which is why we are still here on this earth. Kate, and Travis, and others, will probably not have their cancers disappear, but they will experience the Mercy and show us how to walk with courage on a path of love that gives space for all 7 billion of us to find God's love.  Which is a miracle. And we can walk with them as friends who pray, and care, and cheer, and weep.

Let me close with one of our songs from church today: New Wine, by Hillsong. In the crushing, there is new wine pouring out.  It sounds poetic until you are the one being crushed, but it is an image of Jesus and a prayer of faith all the same.