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Monday, July 21, 2014

Lasts and Leaving

Last hikes with Julia (note that the "lasts" in this post are because Julia is leaving.  We will be back in Kijabe after we take her to the States, working at least another year here):

And playing with the panorama feature as we took the dogs along the railroad last night.  Today the kids did an all-day hike with another family while we worked in the hospital, bushwhacking up to the high ridge road.  And they have the scratches to prove it.

Last decisions, throwing things into trunks that stay and trunks that go, tossing clothes, lingering over memories like athletic letters:

Last meals with team, Sunday at Bethany's and Monday at Massos.  Ali looks like he can't take anymore lasts.

Last Sunday brunch.  Last AIC church service.  Last meals at home.
Last run on Barns trail.  Julia quite patiently plodding along with me.

 Last days of work, so this was a treat.  Mary who survived Guillan Barre, and a long ICU stay, came back to show us she is WALKING and smiling and about to resume school.  I was on call the night she crashed, and was the one who intubated her.  I made the decision to give her a tracheostomy, and cared for her during long weeks.  We so rarely get to see the kids later, back almost to normal after weeks of paralysis.  A bright spot in a week of too many deaths.

Below is the chaos in casualty as I left tonight, the bustle of our excellent staff receiving 13 victims of a military lorry rolling over.  No one was too interested in Pediatric help so I got out of the way pretty quickly, but it seems only one needed surgery and hopefully all will recover.

Work is continuing to the last minute.
Tonight I finished the last work on three scientific posters and one oral presentation our AIC Kijabe Paediatrics team will present at an International Congress of Tropical Paediatrics meeting in August.  I hate to miss it, but I'm thankful for the research we've been able to pull off, and hopeful the ideas will spur better care for kids in Kenya and generally in Africa.

 And so the lasts build up to the leaving.  Tomorrow evening we will pile in a taxi and head to the airport. A week of family vacation and then a month of moving and settling and greeting and thanking.  We start at the Rabenold/Letchford wedding in PA, then to Charlottesville to sort Luke into an apartment for medical school, then almost a week in WV where my Dad was from to work on an old farmhouse he left us that we're fixing up as a home base now that half of us are stateside, then Charlotte NC to see my mom and sister, then a quick jaunt back to Charlottesville for Luke before Julia's International Orientation starts in Durham.  Once she's settled, we have a couple days with my family again, then north to Dulles where Jack heads to Kenya and Scott and I to CA to see his parents.  From CA to CO for Caleb's parents' day weekend, then PA again for Serge meetings the first week of September.  A visit to our main supporting church, Grace, and then we fly back to Kenya September 8.  We're staying 14 places in 5 weeks in the States.

Our focus this trip is family:  seeing parents who have had health challenges this year, settling two kids into new universities and seeing one who has been through a lot.  We'll see a few of you who support us, but that will mostly come next year when we take a longer furlough.

Would you please pray for us?

  • A blessedly restoring week together with Jack, Julia, and Luke, that we would have memorable meals and talks, that we would love each other.  I so wish Caleb could come. It will be a reminder that even on vacation, the world is not as it should be.
  • Smooth travel, connections, finding our hosts, safely moving every few days to new places.
  • God's provision.  Two generous gifts have erased our deficit for now.  So grateful.  We are needy people in every way, and we believe in pouring out more than we receive.  So there you have it.
  • A healthy embrace of America for Julia and Luke as they begin new phases of life (college and med school) and a healthy connection to remain to their home in Africa.  For sweet deep friendships, and thought-provoking classes, and God's leading in their lives.
  • That we would be a blessing to those we visit, particularly our parents.
Thanks!  Now back to packing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paradox Parenting

"Exclusion and Embrace" is the title of an excellent book and a description of the paradox of parenting at this stage of life.  This week we celebrated Julia, and her graduation from high school.  A lot of embrace.  Photos, parties, last events.  Special food, dressing up, hugs.  And the beginnings of separation, the inevitable sending out.  Throwing out old clothes, papers, mementos.  Plane tickets and health insurance and bank accounts without us.  One thing we have learned about paradox in the last few years is that both polar ends are true and to be fully lived.  Seeking a middle, a compromise, is not the way. One might image that being less attached would make the goodbye easier.  Or that holding the child closer to home might blunt the parting.  Not so.

Instead we have to jump in, both feet, full immersion, in the love and the leaving.

Wednesday night Karen hosted a birthday party for Liana (15!!) which started with a short recognition of Luke and Jhamat's graduation.  She baked a Davenport (their Yale residential college) cake and we sang "How Firm a Foundation", a hymn that has bookmarked my experience of Luke's life from a troubled pregnancy I trembled to believe could result in a hold-able baby, to the day we dropped him off at Yale and heard the organist practicing in the chapel.  Karen knows me so well.  Her parties and Bethany's slide show (see here and have your tissues handy) have been beautiful, meaningful ways to soak ourselves in the poignancy of graduations.  I am so thankful to have friends here as we walk through these milestones.

That evening, the entire school and parents gather in the auditorium of Downing Hall for "Senior Night".  The seniors themselves had prepared a program with four sections:  elementary, junior high, 9th/10th grade, and 11th/12th grade.  Each section had funny skits, musical numbers, reminiscences, letters from old teachers read aloud, and a slide show.  It was beautifully done.  We did not enter this picture until mid-9th grade for Jules, but it was sweet to see the kids who went all the way back to Kindergarten together (and Julia had known them when we were evacuated here and she was a baby, though she doesn't really remember that).  At the end of the evening, everyone but the seniors and class sponsors left.  We stood in a slowly growing circle whereby each person greeted/ hugged/ farewelled every other person, ending in a dark room with candles being lit around the circle, then a symbolic turning outward to cary the light into the world.

I think that night helped me see that depth of embrace, how this community is a bit unusual.  We have deep ties, whether they are 2 years or 12, because of shared vision, isolation from other supports, shared faith in most cases, similar life experience.  And we have a perhaps a depth of loss that is more ripping, because these kids come from disparate countries and continents.  They won't be "home" for Thanksgiving and happen to run into each other.  This goodbye is one that may be forever.  It hurts.

Thursday was graduation day.  Sunshine, laughter, greetings.  As we arrived early for great seats, we listened to multiple senior musical ensembles.  What talented kids.  Julia sang with Small Group.  Then pomp and circumstance, the seniors marching in in pairs and sitting up front.  Mugisha, whom we visited in Rwanda, gave the senior address with a great story about fear from his childhood, and being carried home by a stranger, with the message that God is always present in the moment of greatest need.  There were a few awards, hymns, choir numbers, and then the presentation of diplomas.  Our whole row stood on our chairs and yelled "We LOVE YOU JULIA" which was the most dramatic of the claps.  As the kids march out, paired according to the alphabet, they jump to slap a sign board over the back door.  It is a tradition.  Some get a running start and really smack it loudly, some barely get their fingertips that high.  This year I watched to see what would happen with the one girl in the class who is paralyzed in her legs.  She walks with crutches from a childhood spinal tumor.  She was paired with a star basketball player and all-around great guy.  Sure enough, as they went out, he and another boy lifted this girl up to slap the sign.  It was a beautiful moment that typifies this class.  Thoughtful, solid, caring for each other, lifting each other up.

The graduation was followed by milling about, congratulations, and photographs too numerous to count.  The kids gathered to throw their hats in the air, then all went for lunch in the cafeteria.  Soon the buses were loading and leaving.  We hosted a pizza night for a few families of kids we were guardians for, or who weren't leaving yet.  It grew into quite a large party.

The next day we took Luke and Jhamat to the airport, leaving here at 4:30 am.  Then Karen and Bethany had organized a group hike up and around Longonot which took most of the day.  Strenuous, dusty, full sunshine, spectacular views, gasping breaths, fellowship, and a good way to say goodbye to a landmark spot.  The weekend has involved work and packing, packing and work.  Going through every closet, sorting shoes, throwing things away.  Gathering gifts, making piles for packing.  Washing sheets to catch up from 5 guests.  Hugs, goodbyes, last brunch, last AIC church service.

So that's where we are.  Saturated with the beauty and love and celebration of a remarkable 17-year-old girl whose academic and athletic and service and leadership records are nearly perfect.  And drenched with the sorrow of letting go, of sending out, of walking by faith.  The first separation was birth, and since then we keep pursuing that bonding love and that freeing independence, both extremes, not letting one blunt the other.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An emotional week, already, and it's only Tuesday night

The emotions of this week have barely begun.  Gaby Masso's 6th grade "celebration" (which was really a graduation complete with band, choir, speech, certificates, and handshaking) had me fighting tears this afternoon.  I was there with his mom in labor, after driving all the kids across Uganda when her water broke early and she, Michael, and Scott flew ahead on a MAF plane.  I was the person who received and held him as Scott managed the delivery, and Karen did all the work.  Now here he is in his bow tie, playing the bass drum, and getting ready for middle school.  Then the news came that Liana made the wind ensemble for next year, and I made such a noise reading the text that I had to explain the whole thing to my hospital team.

The weekend was jam packed with sick babies on call, distraught parents, puzzling labs.  And Alumnae games, cheering, food, guests.  Dressing up for the Alumnae banquet, running in for emergencies.

Greeting former students, celebrating lasts.
And as if we weren't already emotional enough, Senior Sunday, with Small Group singing, four excellent and thoughtful talks, and a beautiful closing benediction.

In the midst of all this, the victorious "honey-smugglers" returned, 94 driving hours, 5200 km, Kenya through Tanzania to the Zambia border, then west and north through Burundi, Rwanda, to Uganda, then home, then east through Kampala, Sonrise acres for old times' sake, and back to Kijabe.  Oh, and right in the middle, the huge crisis in Bundibugyo with the team evacuating.  But we let Luke go see friends are are glad we did.  The matter of 85 people dying is still stressful and important and impacting the future . . . but it didn't stop the reunions.  Here he is with boys he grew up with, and our friend and former neighbor who cooked for all of them:

What a relief to have them home, safely, with not even so much as a flat tire.  THANKFUL for prayers.  And Caleb has better communication at his undisclosed location in SW Asia than he does in America, so we can talk and hear about his flights, the humvee driving, the Arabic practice, the heat.

And while all that's going on, Scott's had five call nights and I've had four in the last week.  Yes, we're working as hard as we've ever worked.  It is nearly 3 am and I just got home from a total foray of intensive care to try and save the life of a baby after Scott performed an emergency C Section:  intubation, fluids, a ventilator, pressors, steroids, surfactant, sedation, tweaking this and that, trying everything in the book, stressful.   Which is why I'm taking fifteen minutes to write and wind down.  Baby of Maureen is still alive, and looked the best she had in her four hours of life as I left.  When your baby doesn't move much for three days, you should come QUICKLY for help and then not refuse it when it's offered.  It's been days of juggling scarce beds, evaluating super-complex patients, applying detective-work to the spate of infections we're seeing, tying up loose ends, planning ahead. 

And today I put together my first scientific poster presentation.  Because all four abstracts I submitted, research we've worked on here at Kijabe, were accepted for the International Congress of Tropical Paediatrics in August.  Which I am sadly missing, but helping my team to present our data.

So the emotions of hard work, victories and losses, closures and lasts, goodbyes and hellos, distance and proximity, worship and games, massacre and evacuation . . . all of that in the context of sleepless nights and sheer exhaustion, made it pretty hard to get the email we've only had one other time in our 20, nearly 21 years of missionary service:  our fund is in deficit.  We know we need to get the word out, cultivate prayer, ask for help.  And we will, soon.  But it was discouraging and ironic to hear that our salaries will be cut, even as we're working harder than ever.

So, give us some grace if you bump up against our weepiness and weariness.  Pray for Baby of Maureen tonight, a precious girl struggling to live.  Think of Julia, one day from graduation.  Rejoice with us that the wanderers have returned.  And ask God to care for us and give us stamina to make it through this last week until we travel USA-ward for a month of college-settling and family-connecting.