Dad 2

January 29, 2019


His name is Christopher. He’s 12 going on 13. “Going on” more precisely meaning October 6. When he told me his birthday, I exaggeratedly gasped. “Nuh uh! That’s crazy . . . I’m going on 40, and my birthday is October 5! Isn’t it crazy?!?” He mirrored my own wide eyes as he agreed that, yep, it was indeed pretty crazy. Is that why we bonded today, over balogna sandwiches and milk boxes? Maybe.

Or maybe it’s because both of us were in the waiting game. He was waiting for his “Dad 2” to be released. He got hit by a train. “Whoa! I said. That sounds awful!” He was pushed in front of the train, Christopher went on to explain. “By mom’s ex-boyfriend,” he added. I nodded, sympathetically, as if I understood what that would be like. Truthfully, my own life drama pales in comparison. And as I sat in this waiting room, feeling sorry for myself in this uncomfortable state of . . . well, waiting, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. Not that I feel like any one person’s life pain is inherently greater than another’s: rather, I believe that we each carry our own burdens, and our own burdens are great enough. Not because of the greatness of the burden itself, but because it is suited to our own unique capacities for burden-bearing . . .

But I digress. I do that sometimes. I was telling you about Christopher.

Christopher, who celebrated his birthday this past year with Dad 2, and who likes to eat ketchup with his mashed potatoes. When he told me this, I shrugged, “That makes sense to me. Like ketchup with french fries, right?” “Exactly!” he said—though the pleased-as-punch expression on his face made me suspect that he may not have actually thought of this correlation before inventing his culinary concoction. 

Christopher, who doesn’t like to eat the crusts on his sandwiches. “I don’t know why,” he said. “No wait, I do! My nanny used to cut the crusts off of my sandwiches!” I didn’t burst his revelatory bubble by mentioning that crust-removal is a rather common occurrence in kid world. I think the Christophers in our midst could use every bit of “I’m special” moments they can get.

Christopher and I shared our meal and I soaked up his presence like the dry soul of a sponge I was at the time. He filled me up with kid-normalcy.

Hours later, I returned to the same spot. I was lamenting the fact that I had not told him how special he was. Our goodbye had come a bit abruptly, as his mom had marched in and asked if he was done yet. It was time to go. But as I thought about him, in bounded the boy himself. I grinned widely and asked if I could sit with him. He nodded. We chatted some more. And then he bounded back out. But this time, before he went, I made a point of telling him that I thought he was pretty cool. And that I was pretty darn pleased that I’d been able to hang out with him today.

I most likely won’t see Christopher again—at least not in the waiting room. His Dad 2 was being discharged tonight and he was off, promised pizza to celebrate (which, he added, was being purchased by his dad’s friend, as Dad didn’t have the money for it).

My own Dad 2 will likely be in for quite some time yet. And the funny thing is that he is in fact my “Dad 2” too . . . for my PaCharley was, for all practical purposes, my dad from the age of 9 on. So I guess “Dad 2” brought Christopher and I together today, for a bit of a happy respite from the chilly reality of life on this chilly January day.



January 2, 2019


“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,

The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;

And a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6, NKJV)


This passage has been hounding me: in various, apparently unconnected areas of my life, this same verse, or reference to it, keeps cropping up. And if there is one thing I have learned in my 4 decades of existence, it is to listen when this happens. God speaks to us in countless ways and I, for one, am of the hard-headed, stubborn-minded variety; so I suspect that He hammers me with repetition when there is something He wants me to hear. But for the weeks that this verse has been a theme in my life, I have not been able to figure out why. Listening to a New Year-themed podcast this morning, I heard the idea of choosing a word for the year.

This is not a new idea to me but, truthfully, my mental capacities have not been functioning very well. I’ve felt lost. And for good reason, I suppose. One does not lose, in one fell swoop, one’s identity of 8 years without significant ramifications; but that stubborn brain of mine does not like to admit any sort of loss of control—this being no exception. I’ve attempted to function as if nothing is amiss; going about my routines as best as I can. But even those routines are not accessible in this present setting, as my husband and I are being treated to a beautiful holiday week with generous friends. It is a gift . . . and an unsettling reminder to me of my intense habit of clinging to routines—to my idea of whatever it is I feel I “need” in order to maintain some sense of normalcy.

But I digress. My writing has lost focus along with the rest of me; bear with me, readers, if you will.

What I was going to say is that a word for the year hit this morning. Gentle. Yes, that is it. After years of pushing myself, and of striving to be someone I think I should be, to find myself here, now, incapable of doing so anymore. How can I strive for anything when my livelihood, my home, my community, and my identity, have all been snatched away? I should clarify here that we are not, in any sense, destitute. But what we thought our path would look like this year is not at all what it is. We are having to reevaluate the defaults and, most likely, make some significant decisions in the near future. It’s not going to be fun.

So what I am feeling spoken into my fearful, feeble soul right now is, simply, gentle. I choose to claim this as a promise. Come what may in this new year, He is GENTLE and He will be gentle with me.

silent night

December 24, 2018

Are we gonna be ok? Yes. But this? This is most definitely not ok.
Over the course of three days last week we were to find out that we most likely, and then, finally, that we definitely would be losing our jobs. Immediately. This, considering our lives as foreigners here, means that we are also losing our homes, our community, and our country. We are being instantly uprooted. While this process was in place, we had to go about business “as usual” in our classrooms. I had to cheerily give my normal “See ya later!” as the children filed out of the library, choking on the words and fighting back the tears.
Tears flow readily these days, as I waver wildly from one emotion to the next: gushing a weepy goodbye one moment and snapping argumentatively over a minor complaint the next.
We are in a frightening no mans land, knowing that no one who cares about us is in control anymore. We don’t know when our homes will be repossessed, or whether we will be allowed back into our offices or classrooms on any given day to clean up, and clear out.
Today Peter and I decided to try to get into the school one last time, so that we could consider it done and walk away. I witnessed the library ransacked. I saw the ravages of a space in which anything considered valuable is carted out; all that I had spent years thoughtfully arranging has been left picked over, and strewn about. Shelves I used to agonize over, trying to make all the books fit, are now bare.
I used to remind students each day to use their “spot-a-books”: “Now it’s time to get your spot-a-book, & choose your book. If you decide not to check out that book, your spot-a-book is waiting right there to show you where it goes!” Tell-tale signs of forgotten spot-a-books now litter empty shelves.
We did not linger long. A few possessions collected, then it was enough. We walked back out and told ourselves we’d done what we needed to do, seen what we needed to see. We returned to our home, grateful to be back but too aware of the precarious nature of this respite. It is time to purchase one-way flights, give away possessions, and pack the suitcases that have claimed closet space for years now. It is almost time to say goodbyes. Almost.
But first we stop. First we acknowledge this particular night—this holy night.
On Sunday I closed our opening worship by speaking the words of the song we had just, as a congregation, sung together. I asked that we all let the words be our prayer. Tonight I ask the same of my own heart. Tonight we push pause on it all, celebrating with a dear friend. Our table is laden with fried plantains and jollof rice, big bread buns and (only because it was requested!) ketchup.
Tonight, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God
Love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth

curmudgeonly chronicles

December 15, 2018

FullSizeRender (15)The school Christmas program is over. And this, my friends, is the only photo I took of the event. It was after proudly realizing I could tie white fabric in a way that would look official and nicely-decorated. The reason this is the only photo of the event is that I was fully enmeshed in logistics for the actual performance, monitoring my cues and actual performance issues so that I could do my job (running the lights) well. Yes, hubby and I are in our third year now as team Sound-and-Lights-Duo. This year added a new dimension to the festivities for me, in that I was also on the Committee for putting on the event; thus the added chair decor, making programs for the evening, projector distribution and other sorts of minor, but necessary, tidbits. After all, the show must go on! And go on it did. The kiddos were darling, parents were proud …and now, my small household is simply glad for a bit of a break in the action. Till next weekend’s church choir performance! ;-)

*Fittingly, the shadow in the background of this shot is hard-working hubby, in the middle of his own setting-up logistics

curmudgeonly chorister

December 9, 2018

As of late, gratitude has been a stretch for me. The past few weeks have had me nursing a wounded pride, and trying to find the strength to move forward from a severe blow to the core of my identity. I have watched the seasonal celebrations with little interest in joining the chorus of thankfulness for all the joys of the holidays. Scrooge, the Grinch . . . name your curmudgeonly character, and I’ll trump it!
But today I could no longer cling to that curmudgeonly self; in spite of my will, the tears came when I saw the choir gathering up around the piano to continue perfecting their parts, long after I’d applauded how well they sounded (near perfection) and dismissed them. But instead, these teens and twenties (?) wanted it to be even better. So while others packed up to enjoy the remnants of Sunday, while stir-crazy kiddos interrupted them by climbing on laps and banging out “twinkle, twinkle, little star” in the middle of their accompanist’s efforts, and while I snuck behind them to take pictures, they carried on with diligence.
Wow, I mused, shaking my head. I doubt if I would have done that in my own high school choir days. And I certainly am not inclined to do it now, as I rush from one thing to the next in a state of amped-up anxiety and “urgent” to-dos!
There is so much for me to learn from this young Korean/Chinese/Ghanaian/American hodge podge tha,t for some reason, sees fit to call me “Pastor.” Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no proper training as a choir director . . . just a decent musical ear and a number of decades of experience with amateur musical activities. But here I am. And here they are. And, well, I say it again: Wow! There is so much talent packed into this small squad that pretty much all I have to do is pick some songs and wave my hands around in the air in front of them! Ok, so maybe I put in a good deal more effort than that—but they’d probably sound just as brilliant if that’s all I did ;-)
Yes—this is us. And thanks to the “us”-ness of it all, I’m a tiny bit less of an Eeyore at the moment . . . and a great deal more grateful.

on this day

November 30, 2018

in this season . . .

IMG_7356I have had a habit, for most of my adult life, of joking about how “old” I am. In part this is due to the fact that I have generally appeared much younger than I am; so it makes for a good shock factor in settings like the classroom, or when meeting people.
Thanks to this recent season of life, I am no longer inclined to joke about the failings caused by an aging body. I cannot exactly claim to be “old,” per say, at 39; but I’m certainly not a young woman anymore. And in this particular season my body failed me in a way that it never before has; I experienced a complete loss of control over my health and well-being. It was, granted, a temporary loss, & so perhaps light compared to that of others; but for me it was truly horrific—and truly terrifying. I wrote more about this in a string of recent blog posts. I have a new sympathy for those who suffer, and a new gratitude for the health that I am generally blessed with.
The one in my life for whom I probably have the greatest admiration, and the deepest love, is a woman who has suffered deeply. I cannot begin to imagine how she has managed, and how she still does manage. So today, “on this day” is in her honor. For my mama . . .
[incidentally—but I don’t think coincidentally—this year’s annual post coincides with Emily P. Freeman’s quarterly post So today I join her followers and add my “thing I learned” to the linkup]

on this day
I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.

It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.

That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.

The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.

So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.

I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.

Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.

I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.

I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .

Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.

And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.

On this day, during my childhood, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.

I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.

best of intentions

October 8, 2018

Last month I participated in a series of daily writing prompts. Each day, Laura Tremaine would offer the beginning of a sentence and, upon inspiration, those of us joining could complete it however we felt appropriate. The final day’s prompt was, “In 3 months, will you ask me about . . .,” with the idea being something one wanted to be held accountable for. This is what I wrote:

In 3 months, will you ask me about my friends? I fear that I’ve gotten into a bad habit of doing everything “urgent” in my life, and not allowing time for the life-long, in relationships. I have grown lazy as I settle into a comfortable marriage, and live as if my husband is the only friend I need. While he is, for sure, my closest friend, I dare not sacrifice other friendships due to what feels like a lack of time. Elie Wiesel wrote that “Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.” Lord help me to give of my life, love, and possessions for my friends, as so many loyal companions have done for me.

When I wrote this post, what I was feeling was a certain amount of guilt for not living up to the standard of selfless love that I see in those around me. For much of my life, I have been blessed by truly loyal friends and, for most of that time, I have felt inadequate in my efforts to live the same way.

Today I sit in my home, in one of the three stationary posts I have manned for the past 4 days. I am in the midst of creating a new normal for myself, trying to come up with a reasonable routine that is so opposite from all my normal inclinations and habits. I have lost most of what I cling to for a sense of normalcy.
The sun, and water, are currently arch enemies of my skin. And the easy-tanning, sun-loving skin I used to have is flaking off in ugly patches, so that I literally look like a lizard in the midst of its molting process.
Thankfully, the swelling has gone down noticeably in my feet. But blisters continue to form and pop, so that my motion is halting and hesitant.
I, who do not sit still at home—like, ever!—during the day, am now housebound.

It is tempting to carry on with a laundry list of physical woes. And yes, I will claim my age here, (even though my husband and I have declared a delay to my birthday, issuing an ordinance to the universe that my celebratory day will not come until I am recovered enough to enjoy it) . . . I understand now the temptation to annoyingly complain about ones physical ailments as the years creep upwards and the body creeps . . . downwards? :-)
That said, my actual reason for the list of woes is to illustrate that I have lost the daily comforts, habits, and routines that I cling to. There is an open space in my life.

Last night a couple of good friends came to visit. We had intended to have a birthday celebration, planned ahead of time, but the reality was that I could not host a dinner party in the way that I had wanted to. We almost cancelled altogether, but the pain I was having subsided, and my friends still wanted to come, so we had them over after all.
It was a decidedly pitiful party. I could get up, but each time I did, I would have to take a break and sit down again abruptly, often in the midst of whatever it was I was trying to do. I could not offer them much of anything. But we sat, together, and we talked. Not only did we talk, but—and this was the kicker for me—we laughed. We told stories back and forth and, as I told some tales of my own shenanigans, it occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I had a good, hard laugh like that.

After they left, I texted them, saying, “You two are such a bright spot in my world—in general and, specifically, in this current state. Thank you for the true, loving friendship you have shown me—and for your inspiration to me as I strive to be a better one myself, to those of you who show me community.”
In the middle of writing that text, I paused. Whoa, I thought, wait a minute . . .

I remembered what I had written for #10ThingsToTellYou. My intention had been to will myself into better friendship. I was going to give myself a good kick in the pants, and stop being so selfish with my time, so protective of my resources, and so stuck in my own stressed-out brain. I was going to tackle my sorry friend-ability as a self-improvement project.
What has happened instead is this: I have lost everything BUT people. So all I can do right now is take joy in the presence of my community. And of that, there is no shortage.
Friends here have offered rides to the hospital, have brought meals, have sat with me without shying away from the sight of my skin. There is a great deal of uncertainty and fear. But what I wrote about a few days ago remains, in that what I have left is the ability to enjoy the present moment in a way that my planner mindset usually does not allow.
I was going to make myself into a better friend. I was forced to accept the friendship that was always there.


October 7, 2018

Our dining room table pretty accurately reflects my current state of being: piles left uncleared due to the need to shift tasks and return to a prone position … schedules of med-taking and cream-applications …appointment cards to keep track of for the week … a sense of biding time, riding out pain, and praying for the grace to do it well.
This afternoon I looked up a word in the Greek Dictionary. While taking note of the definition, I caught a glimpse of the bottom of the page. Then I took a double take, thinking I must have read it wrong. These meds are really getting to me, I thought. But, looking again, I showed the page to Peter and he verified my sanity [either that or he proved himself equally insane ;-)]. The words read, “Anna, grace”
It was given as the definition corresponding to that particular Strong’s number. But I could not help but claim a certain level of ownership over my name staring me straight in the face, there on the page of my Greek dictionary.
Thank you, Mom. And thank you Daddy, for the gift of this double name that offers hope as I strive to attain the gift that is my namesake.

Moderation has always been more a practice of willpower than something that comes naturally to me. So I suppose I could claim that, not content to rest on my laurels of celebrating 39 years with a hospital visit, I needed to complete that experience with an overnight in the ER. “How old are you?” asked the doctor, as he flipped through my files. “39. Today.” He looked up from the paperwork, regarding me quizzically. “Today?” I nodded, and enjoyed the gratification of his shared grin at the irony of my choice of celebratory locations.

I had taken the day to rest at home and attempt a no-motion day since the antibiotics had not seemed to affect the pain and swelling thus far. All things considered, I was in a generally positive mood about it, as it seemed to be the right step to take. I know my weakness as a patient, and am well aware that any hindrance to my state of perpetual motion brings out the worst in my stubborn “I don’t need to stop! I can do it!” mentality. So yesterday was an exercise in willpower, in an opposite way from my norm: the willpower to stop.

But for all those good intentions, what ended up happening was that, by the end of the day, I was worse instead of better. We tried accelerating bedtime, laying down early in my last ditch effort to “fix it.” But it did not work. I did not work. My body was severely rebelling against me and I did not know what else to do about the pain. As I lay in bed, I texted a friend, asking about what antibiotics her son had been given. I admitted to her that I was not ok, and was really scared, and she said I should go to the hospital. Now. We had intended to wait until the morning to go and, truthfully, I was ready to go by then but was under the assumption that they closed at night. Finding out they were open I reached over and grabbed Peter’s arm to wake him. “We need to go now,” I said.
Thanks to the care of a kind friend, we did not have to deal with finding a taxi, but just walked downstairs and hopped in the car. On the way there I made a few light-hearted comments about the painful swelling (I was barefoot because shoes wouldn’t go on my feet) and difficulty in dressing (I left in my nightgown), but underneath it all was a great deal of fear.

The treatment began as I expected it would, with prescriptions for two rounds of new antibiotics, and one while there for an IV and another buttock pain killer injection. I warned the nurse of my vein issues before she began but she waved me off and proceeded with two unsuccessful attempts to insert the IV. Feeling the waves of a black-out coming, I was grateful when she gave up and called for help from an anesthetist; then I lay back down for the next injection. This one was more pronounced than I remembered it being—I gasped, and gritted my teeth until she had removed the needle, then tried to focus on breathing while I recovered. By this point the anesthetist had arrived; to my teary-eyed thanks, he managed on the first try. I lay there and closed my eyes for the remainder of the IV drip, hoping that was it for the needles, but afraid to ask. It was.

We were sent out, and given an appointment for the next day with a specialist. They had given me a wheelchair, so the chair was parked right outside the door to the room. Peter had given me his hand to help me walk over there and, as I stepped, I stumbled. That’s odd, I thought. I didn’t realize I had misjudged the location of that step . . . We wheeled on out the door to the car and when I moved to get up, taking Peter’s hand, I reeled. Instead of stepping onto my left leg, it had wobbled underneath me. “It didn’t work!” I blurted. Thinking I just needed to lean more into him, Peter helped me into the car. I dropped into the seat, reliving the sensation I had just had and then, tears filling my eyes, I repeated. “It didn’t work. My leg didn’t work.” Christy stopped driving. “Do you need to be admitted?,” she asked. “We can do that. I had to stay here overnight—others have as well” I nodded, tears springing to my eyes again. “Yes. I think I do.”

We turned around and began the process of checking in for the night. Peter’s suspicion turned out to be correct: the needle used for the pain injection had deadened a major nerve in that leg so, for a few hours, not only was the pain gone but my feeling was as well.

And now we are home for the day, once more in a state of waiting. Waiting for antibiotics to take effect. Waiting for the next hospital visit. Waiting for some semblance of normalcy.

There have been moments in all this that are not, at this point, worth the gory retelling—not worth it for me to relive, and certainly not worth it for you to read about. And yet, mixed in with what has been perhaps the worst physical experience of my life, there have been moments of strange joy . . .

Last night I had an exquisite night of sleep. I would occasionally wake up just enough to be aware of how little pain I felt, and of how deeply my body had sunk into that restful state. There was the occasional sound of the infant being lulled by its mother on the other side of the curtain, but that almost blended in with the white noise of the fan.

After one round of medications, and a hot, trafficky ride home, I blacked out and woke to see Peter’s face above me. “What just happened?” I asked. “You fainted,” he said. “I caught you.” A few minutes later, he was about to go get our wash from the clothesline. I stopped him on his way out the door. “Peter?” “Yep.” “Thank you for catching me when I fall.” He shrugged, kissed me, and said, “That’s what I’m here for.”

this time this year

October 5, 2018

Today is my 39th birthday. It also happens to be the first day I’ve called in sick for the day after waking up and discovering I just could not do it. I could not manage the pain enough to carry on with work—with life—as usual. Granted, I have been doing just that, so perhaps a more precise way of saying it is that today I lost the will to just pop the pain meds and pretend that something was not seriously wrong with my body. And that something has to give.
So I alternate rooms in the house today, trying to think of the things that I usually am too rushed to do. I supervised my students by way of text, corresponded with coworkers, and took care of some virtual paperwork. But there is something else that I have to do today, and that is to make real, for myself, this current physical state. I am scared. After two weeks of increasing pain, I finally found a hospital to try and went there on Tuesday. It ended up being an all-day affair, though with little of that time being spent in treatment—most of it was in the waiting. I came away with an achey buttock, but relief from the pain thanks to that ache being caused by a pain-relief injection. The blood work showed nothing beyond what was obvious to me, which was a severe infection. I am on an antibiotic but am discouraged by the apparent lack of result thus far, and am wavering between trying to be patient and pushing for more answers.
One of the things I did while convalescing today was listen to the audio of this morning’s staff devotion. As my friend spoke, I sat here in tears, and then thanked her for speaking truth to my heart. Her theme was on the ways that God is working in your life when you do not feel His presence, and one of the quotes she shared was from John Piper: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them . . . Not only may you see a tiny fraction of what God is doing in your life; the part you do see may make no sense to you . . . You may find yourself with a painful thorn, and God may be making the power of Christ more beautiful in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)”
All I feel right now is the pain and the weakness. I see no beauty. I feel no power.
God grant me the will I have not, and the patience that is beyond me. Let me live this life without needing to control it. Let me ride out the discomfort, trusting that something good will come. Let me live in the question mark.
After I thanked her for the devotion this morning, my friend wrote back to tell me her class prayed for me. This is a class I wanted so badly to teach today. I tried to force my body to get to school and be there for these children, with the lesson I had worked on for them. But I could not do it. Somehow I have to believe that the fact that those children prayed for me in my absence had an impact beyond my own agenda.
I will close this post with a bit of an epilogue to what I wrote last Christmas. After Peter and I left Zambia, unsuccessful in our effort to find my father’s grave, the search was picked up by an old family friend. Last week I received a series of photos from her. I do not know what to think at this point. A part of me feels a loss at the no-longer-lingering life quest. Another part feels relief that the burden of the search is lifted. I do not know if we can, or should, get back there again now . . . but, here again, let me live in the question mark. For now.