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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Meanwhile, life goes on

In a week of nervous, frequent checks of the news, of edgy unsettled questions, it is sometimes hard to remember that life goes on.  When the Westgate siege began, I was up at RVA in the cafeteria making pizza for "Senior Store", a massive and precisely orchestrated undertaking every month in which the Senior class works for many, many hours on Friday night and Saturday morning to prepare and sell mountains of food to hungry boarding students and visiting parents.  Donuts, egg-mc-muffins, chicken tikka sandwiches, bacon cheese burgers, taco salads, cokes, ice cream, and many other somewhat comforting and otherwise-hard-to-find foods are prepared in massive quantity, and consumed.  Because of hospital duties on weekends, I had not been in charge of any particular aspect before. Thankfully the kids knew what they were doing, so I mostly cheerled and obeyed orders.  It was pretty fun, but exhausting, which added to the emotional exhaustion of Westgate that afternoon.

We were also hosting Nathan and Sarah that weekend--they had come on an overnight bus from Uganda where Nathan is doing some research in his final year of med school.  Purely wonderful to see them on this side of marriage and (nearly) med school, the people who poured into Bundibugyo and our kids and whom we love.

Then, of course, as we recovered from school activities, visitors, and non-stop following the siege, life went on at the hospital, and sadly, death as well.  

I had struggled to keep baby I alive all the week before after she was born with a severe and difficult-to-survive-in-Africa congenital anomaly where her bowels were outside her abdominal cavity at birth.  She finally had surgery on the Saturday of Westgate, but when I came in Monday the doctors on call for the weekend told me that she was dying.  They had been unable to stop her slow and steady descent towards death, as it turned out, from a terrible infection she acquired along the way.  

Her dad asked me to take a photo as he held her in her final moments, and I was struck by the peaceful quirky little smile on her face.

In the context of all the death and loss of last week, Irene's passing was concrete and immediate and hard.  I had not cried for a baby's death recently, but this one got to my heart.  My own daughter had been praying for her and I felt like we were so close to saving her, but we just couldn't.
So I was pretty excited today to discharge the next severe-congenital-anomaly post-op surgical baby from ICU after he also nearly died.  Baby S, partly because of our experience with baby I, got powerful antibiotics the minute he began to deteriorate, and he responded.  He was born with his esophagus ending in a blind pouch so that he could not swallow, and there was a connection between his lower esophagus and his lungs.  It is a privilege to work closely with excellent surgeons who can actually save the life of such a baby.  Just now I was in the hospital admitting TWO (!) babies born with problems on the other end-imperforate anus, so there is no outlet to the GI tract.  They will have surgery tomorrow.  I have no idea why we got two at the same time. (Look at the xray and see the ng tube curling up in the neck instead of passing down to the stomach)

Baby S's mom was SO HAPPY to finally hold him after a week of being attached to too many tubes.

Though I've been working in ICU I pop into the outpatient clinic regularly to help.  One day I picked up a file and had a happy surprise:  Baby Patience, who had been one of our smallest survivors after months in NICU care, back to visit now that she was over a year old.  So happy to see her.

These are the moments that make the nights worthwhile.  

And lastly, we are blessed with three residents in Paeds, an unexpected bounty and a provision of God in our time of stress.   They have been a delightful breath of fresh air, and I hope God calls them all back to Africa.  Two are a husband/wife couple from SC and the other one is med-paeds and married; his cute-as-a-button daughter is pictured below with Scott who it turns out is exactly 50 years older than her.  They have birthdays coming up in November.

So there you have the rest of life:  activities and cooking, Bible studies, prayer, visitors, mentoring, patients, nights of struggle, death and life, defeat and victory, football and tennis.  Jack has had two games so far with "hat tricks" (3 goals in a game) and is a formidable force.  Julia has won her doubles matches so far.  Acacia is coaching elementary school kids, and has her own team that plays others intramural.  

And in the background, the uncertainty of the mall, the rubble, the findings, the bodies, the escaped terrorists, the next attack.  And deeper than that, the reality that God sees, knows, loves.

An Alternative Script

This was my daily reading for yesterday, Psalm 94.  There is an end to evil.  We ask HOW LONG, but though it delays, justice comes with surety.  There is a God who created all the earth, who knows all the thoughts of terrorists and mothers alike.  And there is no other safety than in such a One whose MERCIES hold us all up, even when our foot seems to slip.  Those from any nation who plot against the innocent will be stopped.  Read Psalm 94 here:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Script

In the wake of Westgate, we have understandably heard the attack reported along the lines of a Muslim/anti-Christian script.  The majority of Kenyans are Christian.  The articulate news sources which dominate our feed are from Western countries where this script plays well in a post- 9/11 world. Witnesses reported the attackers announcing that they would let Muslims go free, though they subsequently shot some of them.  The group claiming responsibility, al-Shabaab, uses Arabic and Q'ranic verses and religious overtones in their pronouncements.

But is this script really true?  The majority of Muslims in the world would not identify with the ethos or tactics of al-Shabaab, even the majority of Somalis wouldn't.  Even the al-Shabaab themselves have had infighting about the violent brutality of some of the leaders (which is probably why there was a publicized attempt to appear to spare Muslims).  If a radical sect in the hills of rural America has a shoot-out with law-enforcement and quotes Bible verses, we don't present them as representative of "Christians".  Secondly, watching the funeral news, it appears that many of those killed were Hindu, Jain, Sikh, and even Muslim, not exclusively Christian.  Thirdly, the most prominent hero story to have emerged in Kenya is that of Abdul Haji, son of the former Minister of Defense in Kenya, who as a private individual citizen with a handgun joined with four others to rescue many of the trapped shoppers.  As a Muslim, he did not for one second consider these attackers to be on his side.  Lastly, the location and timing seems designed to attack Western commercial values which much of the world associates with Christians, but which are probably further removed from the Bible than the attackers are themselves on many issues.  If they wanted to find Christians, they could have taken down one of Nairobi's mega-churches.

So what is the script?  I really don't know.  I think we need to be asking the question:  why are we fighting over Somalia?  Is it about religion, or resources?  Who and what pays for all those machine guns and bombs and get-away cars and military-grade gear?  Does this have anything to do with natural gas and oil reserves under East African nations and off the coast?  Who stands to benefit from Somalia, whether Somalia in chaos or Somalia ruled by a Kenya-friendly force?

I'm sure there are sincere young people who join extreme groups out of deep conviction and even a willingness to martyrdom.  But is that what was happening at Westgate?  The facts are trickling out.  The attackers rented a space in the mall where they could stockpile their weapons and gear ahead of time.  Some were seen changing clothes and walking out.  They could have blown the whole thing immediately into a roaring mass of destruction, instead they carefully crafted a 4-day siege that brought terror and publicity on a deeper and more unsettling level than ever.  The killings were executionary and somehow more horrific than the anonymity of a bomb.  It is possible that they all walked out before the end; Kenyan news is speculating about a sewage tunnel escape.  This sounds like sophisticated planning with a political agenda, not a gesture of protest in the name of religion.

There are so many unanswered questions, and in a culture of information-is-power, need-to-know only, I hope we learn the truth.  In the meantime I think a more political and less religious script makes it less stressful to see Somali patients all over our hospital, and puts less pressure on missionaries to worry about "denying our faith" in a Westgate scenario.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


This was written as a group in the Senior English class:

A Cry to the Heavens
An elegy by the Senior Class, Rift Valley Academy

Scattered shoes and broken glass
Strewn on sparkling marble floors,
Sounds of trickling fountains
Drowned out by thunderous gunfire
Exploding from men with dark intentions.
Lives lost in senseless slaughter
Leave the hallways of our hearts empty.

Our spirits are heavy,
Minds full of fear and doubt.
Finding peace in the valley of the shadow of death,
To the Lord we cry out
with every labored breath –
For meaning, answers, forgiveness, hope,
Healing, and REDEMPTION –
Come before tomorrow
for we need light in the darkness,
a darkness wrought with sorrow.

We cry out to the Heavens for
An answer to the madness.

Restore to us the gift of peace,
The promise of life free of fear.
The days go on and on
Healing cannot happen fast,
But through love and strength and unity
The cowardice of evil men will not stand.
We can hope for another day,
A sky filled with joy and not with blackness
And the laughter of children
Will restore our halls to gladness.

It is with love and unity that we pray for all of you who are grieving and shaken by this horrendous act.  We stand together with you.  You are not forgotten. RVA Class of 2014

Open Letter to the Uncertain

Dear students and friends,
As we all process and grieve the tragic events of this past week near our home, I have heard a couple of you say that your biggest fear is that you would "deny your faith" if you were in a situation like Westgate.

I don't know if everyone will agree with me, but here are some thoughts I hope came from the Spirit today.  Read it and pray and think about it, and see what God shows you.  In my opinion, He says:


If you are ever in a similar situation, where angry ruthless armed men are firing into crowds to terrorize a country and make a political statement, and they start asking people to answer questions or recite verses from the Qran, one of two things will happen.

1.  Possibly, in some cases, the Holy Spirit will give you courage and conviction to stand up and even die.  YOU CAN NOT PREPARE for this.  Nor can you guarantee this will be God's path for you.  I believe the Bible promises that at the crucial moment, the words will be given to you as needed (Matt 10:19-20).  Rest in the assurance that if God wants you to do this, you will be able to do it.

2.  Usually, the God of all compassion will allow you to escape, by running, by reading a verse handed to you by a kind neighbor, by hiding.  This is not a denial of faith.  The Matthew 10 passage starts by saying we should be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  It is not wrong to preserve life when terrorists try to destroy it.  These are people bent on evil and destruction, people with a political agenda about wars and borders and publicity.  They are not empowered to examine your beliefs.  As a victim, it is heaping harm upon harm to blame yourself or feel guilty.  The terrorist agenda is about power, perceived injustice, resources, respect, and while a religious framework is used for justification, it is mostly not a matter of faith.  Rest in the assurance of grace, the charitable understanding of God.

In a week of uncertainty, misinformation, horrific photos, gunfire and smoke and funerals and sadness, we do not need more worries.

Instead we need truth.  Nothing can separate us from LOVE.  We can walk through fire and deep water because in all things we know God is overcoming evil with good, is bending the sadness to create redemption.  Not even a hair can fall from your head without His knowledge and permission and ability to work each detail for ultimate good.

Pulling for your healing and courage.
We Are One.
Love, Dr. Jennifer/Mrs. Myhre

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Back to the Mall

Not Westgate, which is still a crime scene, heavily shrouded in secrecy and collapse.

But to Village Market, a more out-door sprawling ad-hoc mall, which convoluted corridors and multiple loosely connected one and two-story buildings, another popular mall, this one nearer the embassy and UN.  We drove to the outskirts of Nairobi this afternoon for a Varsity Football (soccer) match, RVA vs. Braeburn Gardens (a British/International school).  Which was a wonderfully refreshing couple of hours in the midst of a very stressful and loss-filled week.  The game did begin with a minute of silence and bowed heads in honor of the national days of mourning, but then we were lost in the normalcy of sport.  After a tense first half in which Jack finally scored to equalize 1-1 against an aggressive and competent team, the Braeburn boys wore out, and we pulled ahead 6 to 1.  Jack had his second hat trick (out of only 3 games so far) and we rejoiced over impressive goals by his friends as well.  Julia meanwhile won her tennis match across town, but she and her doubles partner were the only victorious RVA students, so the team lost.

At any rate, after the games, we decided to stop off at Village Market for a few groceries on the way home.  Which was a glimpse into the new reality of shopping in Nairobi.  First, the gate we usually enter was closed, and we joined a queue of vehicles at a further gate.  We had to step out of the car while security guards searched inside, under our seats, opening the hood, looking in our bags.  Then once inside, there were abundant parking spaces since few people had ventured in.  After parking, the usual security guards at the open, out-door entrance points actually made the effort to look through my purse and scan me with a wand.  These guards have long been posted, but they generally only paid attention to men prior to Westgate.  Not today.  They were careful.  Once inside, the bakery had no bread.  The vegetable store had only one cashier.  Scott found Nakumatt nearly empty.  Clearly, people are still reluctant to visit the Malls.  Which is, I suppose a point of terrorism.  To impart terror.

However, there was also a good side to the post-Westgate reality.  A helpful but idle vegetable store employee helped me wheel my cart of produce out to the car.  As we stood waiting for Scott to unlock, he kindly asked if I had lost anyone at Westgate.  He told me he was thankful that none of his friends or family had been there.  We talked about the quietness of the shopping area now, about the sorrow of Kenya.  It was a small conversation, but a week ago I don't think that such a person would have initiated personal conversation with me, would have found that point of connection from shared tragedy.

Because Kenya has shared this tragedy.  Each and every person has taken it personally.  Many, many people had visited Westgate, as showcase for the country.  Many foreigners found it a place to feel at home, but the vast majority of the clients were Kenyans.  Most people seem to find some connection to a neighbor's relative, a friend's friend, in the victims.  Everyone spent four days glued to the news, to tweets, to discussion, to papers.  Unprecedented numbers responded with donations of blood and money and time and prayers.  In an attempt to harm and divide and terrorize, the gunmen accomplished something that prosperity never seems to do.  They brought the nation together, they gave a venue for the best to be seen, for bravery and kindness to prevail.

Scott also had a conversation with one of the security guards at Westgate when he was later waiting for me.  Was he reconsidering his line of work, Scott asked?  Absolutely not, the guard replied.  "I am here to help people. If anyone wants to disturb this place, they will have to go through me, and I will never back down."  Wow.  What makes some people terrified galvanizes others with a surety of what is right.

Yes, after Westgate, security is intense and public shopping is fraught with a shadow of potential disaster.  But after Westgate, people are reaching out to connect with each other in a way that is powerful.  They have clarified what matters, and are sure of their course.  We know we need each other, and we are one.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Westgate Mall

In the middle of Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood lies a gorgeous mall.  When one steps into Westgate, you could be in any city in America or Europe.  The Art Cafe on the first floor serves artisan salads and amazing coffee.  Java House makes my favorite espresso shake.  The movie theatres show films within days of their worldwide openings.  The Nakumatt grocery store is one of the biggest in the country.  Hundreds of other smaller shops specialize in jewelry or dresses.  There are wide spaces, skylights, tasteful posters, escalators.  We and most expatriates and Kenyan professionals find reasons to stop into Westgate whenever we can.  This summer we watched movies, took kids for a birthday, stopped for dinner, bought groceries, even shopped for a banquet dress (it was way too expensive).

On Saturday, Scott was in Nairobi a few miles from the mall watching Jack play in a football (soccer) tournament while I helped make and sell 180 pizza servings at Senior Store.  Julia's tennis shoes had developed a hole in the sole, so Scott planned to zip over to Westgate to see if he could find her some new ones.  Only before he could go, he got messages that began to spread among friends:  gunshots had been fired at Westgate.  He texted me saying he wouldn't be going.  It was mid day, and we thought it was a brazen time for a robbery.  Then he got more messages:  a family from RVA was in the mall, and as often happens had split up to accomplish more errands.  They reported lots of heavy gunfire, and were hiding.  Soon after we got emergency-system messages from the hospital and the embassy:  Don't go to Westgate.  I came home and turned on the National TV station, in disbelief, as cameras filmed people crouched in a run, streaming out in groups, gunfire echoing, the Red Cross already gathering.  There were bodies on the steps, police with guns drawn backing around corners, soon helicopters hovering, and bloodied escapees trickling out.  The parking lot where we always park on the roof had been hosting a cooking competition for kids, but now the cameras picked up people hiding behind and under cars.  The restaurants where we eat had upturned tables; the grocery store where we shop had blood smeared on the tiles.

Slowly the story emerged: about 15 armed men, some with checkered head scarves, some dressed as women, had stormed the mall.  Using grenades and targeting the security, they came in through outdoor cafe entrances, and fired on vehicles and people.  The few guards who would normally screen purses and pockets at the doors were overwhelmed.  Explosions, gunfire, confusion, hiding, hunting and shouts.  The gunmen announced that muslims should leave, and many were able to.  They asked a guard who Mohammed's mother was, and when he could not answer, they shot him in the head.  Then some of the muslims quickly wrote Q'ran verses for their fellow-hiding-Kenyans to use if questioned.  Within the day, Al-Shabab claimed responsibility.  Kenya invaded Somalia; now Somalian terrorists wanted to fight back.  So they took over the biggest, nicest shopping mall in the city at the peak of Saturday business, and started killing civilians.

The entire country watched in horror.  We could hear gunfire behind the reporters, we could see people coming out in clumps, terrified, hands up.  Occasionally a wounded person would stumble out.  A woman dropped out of an airduct into the arms of others.  A man who wanted to help simply ran into a service entrance and started helping people get out.  The police began to take back the mall, shop by shop, sweeping with guns.  None seemed to have bullet-proof vests or helmets.  Eventually the police had to use tear gas to drive back the crowd; so many separated families, anxious relatives were thronging around the periphery in dangerous reach of snipers.  We got the amazingly good news that the RVA kid who had been holed up for five or six hours with his dad had made it out.  We got the sad news that another RVA kid's extended family had had two killed (Kenyan of Asian descent).

The sun set, and we were stunned that the standoff continued.  And then all day Sunday, and all day today, the attack dragged on.  The death toll rose, to 62.  The injured, at least 175.  Hospitals were full.  The Red Cross appealed for blood and 1500 units were donated.  About 1000 people were escorted to safety.  No one knows how many remain.  Ten? Thirty?  By this afternoon, thick black clouds of smoke were rising from the mall, after intermittent sounds of explosions.  The Kenyan Defense Forces claimed to control all four floors of the mall, and to have the attackers cornered.  But the terrorists may be in a bullet-proof room, and the KDF is showing extreme restraint to save the lives of the remaining hostages.  Three gunmen have been killed.  We don't know how many remain.  After the Al-Shabab twitter feed was shut down, they started posting on another.

In the meantime, we gathered last night for "prayer and lament" with the lower station families and Moffat Bible College students.  And again this morning, and this afternoon.  Praying for those still trapped to have food and water, to be sustained, to have hope, to know God's presence.  Praying for the attackers to have second thoughts, to sense God's love, the possibility of forgiveness, the potential value of surrender.  Praying for the military and police to make wise decisions, to be protected.  Praying for Kenyans to continue to show the world unity, sacrifice, calm, determination, resolve.  Praying for students and friends who are shaken, as I am. It is hard to focus on anything else.  A patient for whom I worked and prayed all week died today.  it was a hard hard day, with the constant background of crisis.

 Ironically I taught Sunday School with a dozen girls in the middle of this on "A Theology of Risk."  Normal life is not safe.  Obedience sometimes leads us in paths of danger.  Psalm 91 was meaningful to us during Ebola, and here again people are falling at our sides yet we are safe.  Does this Psalm mean no harm shall ever befall a Christian?  No, just look at the cross.  There are times when the Kingdom comes via suffering, when risk leads to loss, and loss leads to glory.  There are times when evil strikes.  But there is NO TIME when we can be separated from God's love.  And there is no evil so dark that God can not redeem it.  This is what we hold on to on this terrible weekend in Kenya. '

Tonight we go to bed for the third evening in a row with terrorists holed up in "our" town, with victims cut off from our knowledge of their suffering or survival, with smoke and gunfire and confusion and the interminable announcements.

But we also go to bed having watched ordinary kindness and every day heroism, the commitment of Kenyans to peace and justice, the bonding of shared terror, and the assurance that Love is deeper and stronger than hate.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Of Strategies and Squid

For the last week, Scott and I have been out of town.  Way out of town.  Our mission's semi-annual leadership meetings for the Executive Leadership and Area Directors (15 people this time as a few spouses were missing) were held in the Canary Islands.  Which is geographically Africa, culturally and legally Spain, and in spite of looking ideal for a meeting of people from the US, all over Europe, and East Africa, turns out to be a bit challenging to get to from here in Kenya.  We had three flight legs, ranging from 2 to 8 hours each, which with early check-ins, delays, and layovers meant 24 or more hours of travel each way.

However, it was well worth it.  It was my first time to attend these meetings, because the decision was made recently to encourage couples to participate together in leadership at the AD (Area Director) level just like we did as Team Leaders.  So I enjoyed praying for our missionaries together, debating cultural trends and security issues and what God calls us to do and how to best fulfill our mission and achieve our vision.  We started with breakfast about 8 and went until after dinner about 9:30, every day, with an hour break mid-day for a swim in the salt-water pool, and another hour break around 6 pm for bocce.  Yes, bocce, these people are serious about the bocce.  So the schedule was pretty demanding, but the fellowship was fun.  I felt it was a privilege to get to know the leadership more intimately in this kind of setting.  Our mission is full of creative, dedicated people quick to admit their weakness and rest on grace.  People who are refreshing to be around.

Best of all, almost a week in a nice hotel at bargain rates with my husband.  In our life, ten hour work-days that involve no overnight call and include abundant food, hot showers, a view of a harbor into the ocean, well, that's pretty sweet.  Tuna carpaccio and squid on black rice and ice cream and . . . well, enough said on all that.

We landed back into real life on Saturday.  JKIA arrivals are now being processed in the basement of the massive new parking garage that was nearly complete when the terminal fire happened.  Professional, efficient, and a thousand times better than the chaos of the first days.  We were able to pause at a sports tournament where Jack's team lost in semi-finals, probably about second out of 18 teams, some great football (soccer).  And get back home in time to grill out pork chops for six seniors in our "Caring Community".  And this morning hold our first Sunday School for a dozen Junior and Senior Girls looking at suffering and risk and how to peer-counsel friends in crisis from a Biblical standpoint (Bethany is my partner in this effort, and so far has done all the work).  And take back-up call to support a rotating American Paeds resident, who is perfectly competent on his own.

And to run into the hospital mid day when a Kenyan doctor colleague needed an emergency C-section, the anxiety of potential disaster for dear friends, turning into relieved joy as a healthy baby girl was born.  Beautiful to see the Kenyan staff rallying around her, and rejoicing with the parents.

So we're back to normal life.  To homework and call schedules and meetings and a pesky rat, to friends and ideas and African sun.  Tonight I'm thankful for:

  • Bethany, who stayed with the kids and held down the fort.  And our kids who graciously wanted us to go, and loyally bemoaned the fact that we never even made it to the beach.
  • The richness of community that at the nearly-three-year mark has taken a turn for the better somehow.  I have new friendships in the WHM leadership, in the TL's we support, and growing depth of relationship here at Kijabe which I'm glad to come back to.
  • New life, waiting in the theatre with my intern and nurse, telling the story of having my own babies here, holding the hand of my doctor colleague, praying over her baby with the whole surgical team.
  • The turn of season towards warmth, the promise of many afternoons of cheering on sports teams, the amazing kids in our loose orbit whom we can feed and pray for.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A new week, a new year, and General Happenings

The kids are off to a new school year:  Luke a senior in college, Caleb a sophomore which at the USAFA is officially a C3C-Cadet Third Class, Julia a senior in high school, Jack and Acacia Juniors in high school.  Meanwhile our Paeds department lost colleagues to further training and higher jobs, with Mardi now the Medical Director I am working pretty much full time.  We'll see how that goes, and there is hope that we will get more help again soon.  Bethany came to RVA from Sudan to work as a counselor at RVA, so now we have the Maras, Myhres, and Bethany as a WHM contingent and are eating together several times a month.  We're starting back into RVA rhythms with Caring Community and Class Sponsor activities.  And just to keep us thoroughly off-balance, this coming week I am joining Scott for the first time at WHM Area Director meetings.  Bethany will stay with the kids and we will fly tomorrow to a location that sounded quite exotic until I saw the schedule:  7 am to 7:30 pm meetings, with a couple of half-hour breaks.  Please do pray for the kids while we're gone, and for the WHM leadership to be sensitive to God's presence and leading.

Meanwhile here are a few images of the week:

It is amazing to work with our Neurosurgery team.  The ten-year-old girl whose CT is above had a huge mass occupying a large section of her brain.  But this non-malignant tumor was removed, and we watched over her in ICU a couple of days and she should fully recover.  Sadly a different neurosurgical post-op baby yesterday developed a severe pneumonia complication and in spite of trying three hours to keep her alive, she died shortly after I got her into the ICU.

First Thursday Lunch with the kids we sponsor.  Only now I work on Thursdays.  Thankful for Abigail, so I could just zip home and say hi while she had prepared a lunch of rice and beans.

Mardi in her new office!  She is gifted and dedicated and we are thankful for her new role.

Monthly Medical Staff Meeting:  16 Kenyan and 16 Expatriate consultants, a great group to work with.  Ann Mara just put together our new Kijabe Hospital web site:

My last clinic patient yesterday.  They were missing this sewing needle then noticed that the 1 year old had a swollen foot.

It's also great to have an excellent general Paeds surgical team.  Not only can they remove the above needle but also treat many congenital malformations, like this infant born with his liver and a large part of his bowel in an external sac by his umbilical cord.

Caleb's friend and class mate Aneurin stayed with us a good part of the week, always a joy.  Here he is with his brother Ali and our kids after a goodbye dinner, before he headed back to St. Andrew's.  Love the connections this place allows with amazing families from all over the world.

So that's the week:  colleagues, xrays, patients, death, smiles, kids, food, meetings, homework, phone calls, early morning psalms, schedules, music.  

Praying the next week allows Scott and I to join together for the good of all our Africa teams.

'tTis the Season

Julia's common app is nearly done, and when she hits "send" it is as if her fate is being thrown out into cyberspace for the colleges to affirm or reject her.  Luke's med school application document (something with initials like AMCAS) is similarly hovering in digital limbo somewhere waiting for opinion.  Jack is trying out for soccer and ran the fastest mile of all the ?60 boys who are vying for about 30 spots on two teams, but injury or mistakes always lurk around the corner.  Julia made the tennis team for which we are extremely grateful as the sport enjoyed a surge in popularity this year so competition was stiffer.  And Acacia has hung in there for a week of girls' basketball, as cuts pare the pool slowly.  She was also fastest in suicide sprints yesterday, but the coaches' opinions are still unknown.  Caleb rejoiced in getting to solo (yes, truly fly alone) in his soaring class this week, something he was far from sure of achieving when he started a few weeks ago.  Most of his classes are going well, but one is particularly obscure and difficult.  He lives a life of constant evaluation and competition.

'Tis the season when my parental heart skips beats and holds breath, waiting to see what paths open for my kids.  

Which is why I keep going back to one of the passages that most convicts me in the Gospels. In Mathew 20:20-28, the mother of Zebedee's sons comes to Jesus to ask for her sons' honor and success. Jesus has one question for her:  are they ready to suffer?  To drink the bitter cup of death?  Because in God's Kingdom, to lead is to serve.  The place of honor is the place of laying down one's life.

So when I pray for my kids, I want to pray that they will make teams and be accepted to good schools, that they will be chosen for honor.  These are good gifts and I believe God has often given them to us.  But I hear a still small reminder, a voice saying, "Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  Because Kingdom leading is about suffering.  For my kids, and for me as I watch them.  Redemption passes through pain.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A New School Year

20 years ago next month, we landed in Africa.  5 years ago exactly, we sent our 15 year old son off to boarding school at RVA in spite of being sure we weren't that kind of parent, thereby ending family life as a majority-of-the-year normal forever.  4 years ago, we sent the second son at age 14.  Both of those years we attended New Parent Orientation, overwhelmed by grace in the midst of bewilderment and painful separation. 3 years ago, we accompanied the first son at age 17 to America to start college and sent the second at age 15 back to boarding school in Kenya on his own.  2 1/2 years ago we moved to Kenya from Uganda ourselves, just outside the school gates, to work at Kijabe hospital, adding our other two children to this school as "station kids".  2 years ago, we added another daughter for 9 months of the year as our dear friends and mission colleagues sent their oldest to live with us and go to school.  That year was my first to participate in New Parent Orientation as the school doc, welcoming parents on tour.  One year ago, the younger kids started school being tended by colleagues so we could attend the Parents' Weekend at the US Air Force Academy for son 2.  And this year, thanks to all that crazy experience, we are officially part of the welcoming committee for RVA, helping new parents assimilate.

This is an inclusion that I do not take for granted.  I was the ONLY parent on the panel of six who was a first generation missionary, who had not grown up going to boarding school myself.  Twenty years is small potatoes around here, and I was honored to be asked to help.

New families took tours and met teachers and drank chai, and eventually all the parents listened to us panelists discussing issues like how to say goodbye well, what is the impact on the siblings left behind, what to expect during vacations, and how to communicate when far apart.  We told our stories, and I told our mistakes, with the assurance that in spite of us our kids are thriving.  Mostly I listened to my fellow more-experienced panelists and marveled at their parenting.  Towards the end of the first session, the moderator asked if we had anything to add.  I did, of course.  And this is the thought I believe the Spirit gave me to share.

The central story of the Bible is one of parental separation.  Jesus left home, and left full communication with His Father, and entered a distant school of difficulty and obedience.  A placement that led to His great suffering and loss, and yet through that loss, the redemption of the world.  So for parents saying goodbye, for hearts torn in two (or three or four), the truth remains that this may be the very means of redemption working through our lives.

I was preaching this to myself, of course.

A new school year means that our oldest is now choosing classes and finishing up applications and juggling responsibilities alone for his last year of college.  Our second is in the midst of Parents' Weekend again, but this time without our parental presence.  Thankfully our dear friend whose daughter we have here is serving as our surrogate there, going to classes and meeting professors and being an encouragement.  Meanwhile we're here with a full hospital schedule and three kids to parent in their own new school year start.  It's a lot of transition, change, absence, pulled hearts.

So I cling to the facts. At my first New Parent Orientation, I saw clearly two things.  One was that RVA was full of godly gifted people who could give more to my child than I could alone.  Another was that God had led us in this direction, and would redeem the losses for good.

The pattern of healing this world was set by Jesus, it is the path of the cross, and a new school year reminds me of this again.  The cross of separation brings the Kingdom to the far reaches of the earth.  I thank my parents for realizing that, and all the parents who said goodbye today, and all the kids who are on their own, praying we all see hope.  The valley that is watered by tears will pool forth in flowering fruit.