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Friday, January 17, 2014

A Rooted Pilgrim

Last weekend our pastor preached on Psalm 1, and the entire idea of meditating on Scripture.  So the main idea that has stood out for me in this chapter is rootedness.

Perhaps that is because the missionary life often feels so uprooted.  Right now I have a husband sitting in an airport in Qatar, a son in CT, a son in CO, my sister and mother in NC, my inlaws in CA and Norway.  Today I was on long and short phone calls with team in Uganda and boys there who were our neighbors, talking to my mom in the US, emailing with team in Burundi, and others formerly South Sudan now in limbo, and texting with team who moved from Bundibugyo to America.  While I was talking to Scott in the Doha airport, a text came in from our embassy here warning us that an IED had been exploded in the airport in Nairobi.  It sounded small, but not exactly encouraging a few hours before a loved one travels through.  My mom is preparing to have back surgery on Monday. My heart is diffused by the dispersion of those I care about and the threats they face without me, and that can lead to a sense of being disconnected from any particular place or time.

But Psalm one contrasts the people who are like chaff, blown away, with the ones who are like trees, planted and firm.

And the difference is in where a person seeks their wisdom, counsel, thoughts.  In the passing fads of our philosophies and fashion, or in the ever-flowing river of the Spirit?  It seems that it is possible to be a mobile tree, a rooted exile, a pilgrim with connections.  A centering occurs in meditating on the Word of God that gives roots strong enough to bear distant fruit.

So to start 2014, I am praying for that rootedness.  And I know it requires space, discipline, time, desire.  Which led to another epiphany this week.  I am a person who works until the job is done, not until time is up.  That is the nature of motherhood and medicine.  Task not time oriented.  No particular limits.  A baby has to be held, a meal has to be prepared, and patients have to be seen even if there are 30 instead of 15, or if they show up dying at the last minute.  But that seeps into all of life, so that if it is 10 or 11 pm and I still have a lot of administrative work to do, I plow on.  This year I would like to develop habits and limits and boundaries in the areas of life where they are possible.  Not necessarily in patient care, but definitely in computer time.  I've practiced this week turning off before the work is done.  Freeing, but unsettling too.  The requests for schedules or evaluations or plans pile up.

But to stay rooted requires day and night focus on the Word, and to do that requires ceasing from some other words.  Pray for discipline to make the space to meditate, and survive.

A Gift Update

Gift lives.  It was touch and go for weeks, but he came out of the ICU in early January and is doing his best to turn into the kind of baby you don't expect to die every minute.  His surgical wound is nearly healed.  He still needs oxygen, so we were able to get a cardiologist out to confirm the pressures in his pulmonary blood vessels are too high, and recommend a medication.  He is mostly fed through his tube still, but starting to swallow from a syringe and even attempt the breast.  His infection is gone.  But the days and weeks stretch on and his mom is getting a bit discouraged.  I try to remind her how far we've come.  Would you please pray once again that Gift could go home?  To do that he needs to be able to breathe without oxygen and feed without tubes.  God has miraculously preserved his life . . I am reminded of Romans 8 . . how shall he not also, with him, graciously give us all things (v 32).  Thanks.

All our incubators are full, and nursery is popping.  Lots of stories, some as dramatic as Gift's, some simpler.  Baby D arrived in a veritable bus-like ambulance from Western Kenya one night.  I had agreed to accept a transfer of a premature baby with meningomyelocele, since this is the best place in Kenya for such a child to receive care.  Only it turned out he was a twin, so both preemies were put in, and since they were coming, the threw in a bigger term baby with the vague diagnosis of "anomalies and distended stomach".  This baby had a cleft lip and palate, problems that paled in comparison to his tense and grossly inflated abdomen, a big jaundiced balloon laced with distended veins.  Since the original referral baby arrived dead, and we tried for some time to revive him, it was about half an hour before I could look at baby D.  One look at him and I checked for an anus.  Not there.  Well, that explains a lot.  No opening for his GI tract, so all that air and stool and secretions and food just kept blowing up.  Our surgeon rushed him to the operating theatre, and he's a thousand percent better now and nearly ready to go home.

I love working in this nursery. Yes, it's HOT and crowded, and there are hourly ethical dilemmas, who to move when the next preemie arrives unannounced and all our incubators are full, how to share 7 monitors among 20 or 30 babies.  Yes, it can be heartbreaking when we lose one.  Last week we spent several days almost constantly at the bedside of a baby with very very very sick lungs, and then she died.  But these are balanced by the preponderance of infants for whom we can offer life-saving assistance.  Wednesday I stood by and watched and coached and cheered for six babies being born, all doing well, even the 3 pound one.

So pray for Gift and his mom Dorcas to have a happy ending too!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Motherhood, the battle

A month or so ago I witnessed the mother ibis, who had built a nest in a tree in our yard, successfully defend her eggs from an onslaught of monkeys.  She raised a racket, extended her wings, hissed and jabbed with her beak, and the dozens of monkeys who were scampering through the branches finally gave up and went on to scavenge easier prey.  It was impressive, this glossy squawky ungainly bird holding off much larger and more agile mammals.  I've been rooting for her ever since.  Three eggs hatched, and one of the small birds died when he fell out of the nest early on (or after he fell out, not sure, but found the carcass).  The other two have been making noise, venturing out a bit, over the past weeks.  Saturday morning I was awakened by a ruckus of the dogs going crazy.  That can mean that our neighbors are on a walk, or the world is ending, hard to tell.  By the time I walked out I found that the monkey troupe was chasing through the trees and over the roof, and another baby ibis was injured but alive in the yard, and the mama ibis was flapping and screaming and berserk.  I let the dogs off to chase the monkeys, and kept an eye on the young bird.  Our dogs obediently left it alone.  The mother circled for a while.  But the hours went by and it didn't get up.  Mid day I moved it into the tree, but it couldn't hold on.  So I placed it carefully in the flowerbed beneath its nest, and brought water which I poured gently into its beak.  It swallowed, rapidly, gulping.  I could feel the fluttering heart, the warmth under the feathers.  It opened its eyes, then closed them, wearily.

Just before we piled in the car to go the the airport, I checked it again.  It was dead.  This morning the parent ibis pair perched on a branch above the body of the infant bird, crying out.  I later moved the carcass to the compost pit.  

And if all that drama had not occurred the day I was putting Luke on the airplane back to the US, I might not have been so emotionally involved.

Last day bitter lemons after a picki ride

But the truth is that motherhood requires a spirit of battle.  No matter how strong and great these kids get, there is always a troupe of evil ready to swoop down and wreak havoc.  Applications rejected, ligaments torn, fevers escalating, hearts bruised, homes lost.  One got back to school last week and spent this weekend in bed with a fever and sore throat, coughing, and alone.  Vacation days are times of sweet vulnerability and connection, which makes the partings harder.  The future is blatantly uncertain.  

Yes, mothering is not for the faint of heart.  I identify with the ungainly ibis, relatively powerless, but ready to squawk.  Mourning loss.  I went for the first long walk I've had in ages on Friday, and I was not ten steps down the path before I started sobbing.  Scott is in America for WHM meetings, gone two weeks.  Son 2 had left and son 1 was about to, and South Sudan is falling apart and changes are ahead.  Sometimes it is just all too much.

Yet when I feel the pain of another goodbye, I also feel the thanks that I'm here to say those goodbyes.  This month we're helping host two different families where the missionary mom died of breast cancer.  One is a fantastic young mom herself now, with her mother's poise and practicality.  I'm hoping she and her husband come back long term.
Betty and Denise were courageous women, who struggled for their kids and for the Kingdom.  It is a holy honor to see their families thriving in the midst of grief.  

So I will battle for my kids, and battle my own heart's self-pity, with a dose of thankfulness.


In the beautiful season of having my entire family together for the space of 12 days of Christmas (literally), I have neglected this space.  7 of those were work days but 5 were not, and we packed up the Landrover and headed to Laikipia.  Laikipia is the general area of a high plateau west of Mt. Kenya rich in wildlife where European ranchers established vast tracts in the last century.  Several have turned those into private game reserves, and the towns carry a wild-west quirky colonial flavor amidst the African dukas and pickis.  Laikipia is also, it turns out, a ridiculously over-priced vacation destination.  When I started planning our five-night safari over a month ago, I first had dreams of reaching Lake Turkana and the real North.  I soon realized we would be on the move every day, camping or scrambling for accommodation at a new place every night.  That did not seem like a good use of our non-work relational time with our kids (though car trips can be pretty memorable).  So I opted to halt our northward trek in the Laikipia region. (note the pictures below are nearly all Luke's, who is an excellent photographer in a family of creative photographers).

For the first two nights we camped in Ol Pejeta ( which, while pricy (the campsite booking fee we paid ahead was about $80, for six people for two nights that was fine . . but it turned out we had to pay additional daily camping and park fees on entry), does give value.  It is a 90,000 acre ranch that is now managed in a way to showcase the combination of cattle ranching, tourism, and wildlife preservation.  We booked a private campsite, Murera Donga, which is our family tradition after years of campsite 2 at QENP in Uganda.  Just us, tents, a campfire, and the savannah.  We could watch waterbuck and impala and baboons and birds from our tentflaps, and a few of us caught a glimpse of lions retreating as we pulled up.  No people, only stars and smoke.  Lovely.  In the morning there was a spectacularly clear view of Mt. Kenya to our east.  We went on game drives which were also practice-driving-drives for teens.  We cooked good meals, read books, and rested.  We saw rhinos and visited the chimp sanctuary, watched the sunset and talked. It was glorious.

Night three we drove to Timau, after lunch at Dorman's in Nanyuki.  Timau is less than an hour north.  I had booked the Timau River Lodge ( as one of the few affordable places we could stay in a bed and get a hot shower between two two-night camping stretches. This place was, shall we say, unique.  I loved the eccentricity of the scattering of cabins, wandering geese and peacocks, a zip line, dogs, rabbits, secluded waterfall, short hiking paths, and a tiny plank bench located up the hill with another stunning Mt. Kenya view.  The management is Indian and we had decent but not spectacular Indian food for dinner.  The cabins are rustic-unfinished logs, sort of dusty and musty and tacky decor.  But good space for a fair price, and for younger kids the playground/animal aspect would be even more fun.  We were all so tired after two nights on the ground that we slept well.

Nights four and five we drove another hour or two north and slightly west into the Mukogodo forest, which is managed by four Maasai communities.  I found the contacts via the Laikipia tourism web site here:  The directions were a bit vague, drive past this police post, go through this gate, etc.  We sent Luke out to chat with Maasai herders a couple of times and they kept pointing us onward.  Which turned out well, for though we did not find the campsite we had booked, we found a spectacular one run by the same group.  When we drove through the forest and piled out of the car, Luke explored a path and came running back to say he'd found the best view in all of Kenya.  We set up our tents in a clearing of thick soft grass at the foot of a rock kopje. But we spent most of the day sitting on the rock cliff under a fig tree, reading and picnicking with a hundred-km 180-degree view to the north.  The forest dropped away to dusty plains, distant mountains (the Matthews range) and a winding river. A constant wind updraft worked like air conditioning.  One day we also took a hike through the forest to another ridge-top viewpoint.  The campsite was truly spectacular. It also happened to be the home of a leopard who was none to pleased with our presence and spent the night prowling the perimeter with his low menacing coughing growl.  The Maasai group insisted on sending us an man armed with a large gun to guard us at night.  I think I was more worried about his gun than the leopard.

A year ago we had made blanket tarps and bought everyone cool collapsable little camp chairs ( for Christmas, but our camp-out became a sit-in-vigil watching over a severely injured Caleb post-motorcycle-accident.  So this year was a sweet redemption, to pull out the tents and chairs and to set up camp in two beautiful spots, a wild-life rich savannah and a cool forest mountain ledge.  This year for Christmas we gave our kids money to give away, and a kindle a piece.  After many years of all of us sharing two kindles, we decided to buy four more "paperwhite" devices.  I know it sounds a bit extravagant, but I have no regrets.  We all share the same amazon account so everyone could read the best of the books I had bought us over the last few months.  As a family we went through twenty books in those five days.  Reading, hiking, resting, viewing, appreciating.  Music and campfires and stories and time.

I HIGHLY recommend the Mukogodo Forest.  If you hate heights (and as a mom I admit to some anxiety) there are several other sites without death drop-offs.  And if you go, please mention us. If you can afford Ol Pejeta I also recommend the bush campsite do-it-yourself, or the Pelican House if you can share with another family. I probably corresponded with twenty tented camps and lodges looking for something we could afford.  There are many options that charge $250-$800 PER PERSON PER NIGHT, meaning thousands of dollars for our family.  I am not kidding.  Besides the camping, I found four lodges that were on the $30-$60 per person per night range.  They may have been nicer than Timau, but Timau was conveniently on the way between our two campouts.  The others were, and  The Rhino Watch looked perhaps the classiest.

Very thankful for this taste of the timelessness and beauty and togetherness of Heaven.