Monday, December 25, 2017

Interruptions During the Nativity

Recently while I was homeschooling the boys I was interrupted by a woman at the door selling beet roots and cilantro.  I wasn't particularly happy to pause our lesson to answer the door for a persistent woman who wouldn't stop knocking.  And I really wasn't interested in the beet roots.  But cilantro was cause for excitement, so the interruption seemed worthwhile.  Later as I prepared lunch I was interrupted by a man at the door selling potatoes.  I didn't need them, but I'd turned the guy down the previous two times so I felt obligated to buy potatoes again.  Then the phone rang while I was putting Asa down for a nap and the caller was ignored because I wasn't willing to let the naptime routine be interrupted.  That afternoon I was interrupted by someone else at the door wanting to borrow a cup of sugar and that night we were interrupted during a rare movie night by someone calling Eli with a medical question.  Not to mention the constant interruptions from three little boys throughout the day who need noses wiped and sippy cups filled and fights broken up and band-aids applied and toys reclaimed from the black hole under the couch and so on and so on.

Sometimes our life seems to be nothing but a constant stream of daily interruptions.  And sometimes our life is barraged by bigger interruptions like my recent bout with a bacterial infection that kept me in bed for 10 days - let me tell you, it is a huge interruption when Mama is down for the count for that long!  And I must confess that I am not a fan of being interrupted.  I find myself cringing whenever there's a knock at the door from someone selling something or seeking monetary assistance.  When the kids don't leave me alone for five minutes I struggle to reign in my frustration. And recently I was begging God to heal me because the major interruption of being seriously sick meant that I couldn't do normal life and take care of my family, which was rather annoying.

I was reflecting on this a bit when the Christmas season came upon us, and as I read the Christmas story again I realized there are many interruptions throughout the narrative.

First of all, the lives of Mary and Joseph were forever changed because of the virgin birth.  Neither of them planned on the sudden influence of the Holy Spirit to ruin their original notion for a proper marriage and subsequent family life.  Nor did Mary's birth plan include hiking to Judea because of Caesar Augustus' ill-timed yet obligatory census.  I imagine these interruptions were inconvenient at best.  

Then Mary gave birth to a son, a Savior.  His arrival had been announced to a crew of shepherds in the nearby fields, but Mary and Joseph weren't aware of the impending visit from neighboring herdsmen and no doubt were ill-prepared for them all.  (I sometimes wonder if Mary was nursing the baby and quickly tucked him back into the manger because a group of shepherds suddenly appeared at her door!)  But at least this interruption was one of awe and joy.  It was an interruption that caused Mary to treasure these things and ponder them in her heart (Luke 2:19).  And presumably Mary and Joseph weren't too cranky about the unexpected visit since the shepherds left the stable praising and glorifying God (rather than stewing about disagreeable hosts).

Then, at some point the Magi appeared out of nowhere (or at least somewhere east) and proffered extravagant gifts.  Gold!  Incense!  Myrrh!  I imagine Jesus' parents were pretty happy with this interruption even if they were caught off guard by a group of strange men worshiping their child.  

But then a "big picture" interruption happened: the flight to Egypt because of Herod's death sentence against the Messiah.  No one saw that coming, but it altered their life once again.  They got up in the middle of the night and fled, not knowing how long they'd be forced to live in a foreign land.  This interruption most likely caused anxiety and fear for both the present and future.

What I had never noticed about the Christmas story before is that God the Son took on flesh in a world fraught with interruptions.  From the moment He was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ demonstrated yet another way that He became fully man: He assumed a life marked by regular interruptions.  Therefore, we serve a Savior who understands what it's like to receive a knock on the door at an inconvenient time.  We also serve a Savior who teaches us how to respond to the knock.

Jesus was interrupted over and over again, especially by crowds who saw and experienced His powerful teaching and miraculous healing.  When the crowds followed Him, Jesus healed diseases and drove out demons (Mark 1:32-34), taught them (Mark 2:13), healed the sick and fed them all (Matthew 14:13ff), healed the sick and fed them all again (Matthew 15:29ff), and gave sight to the blind (Matthew 20:29-34).  Although Jesus also intentionally avoided the crowds at times, He exemplified how to be patient and welcoming even at the most inconvenient times (like the time people followed Him even though His cousin had just been beheaded and He really wanted some solitude and rest).  Jesus understood the value of giving people His time and attention, even if it was at an inconvenient time, which is something our American culture does not understand well.

As we've lived in Kenya and dealt with what sometimes feels like a barrage of daily interruptions, I've been faced with the reality that it is not in my nature (or cultural makeup) to handle interruptions well.  It's humbling and frustrating to realize this about myself, especially when I want to value people and relationships more than tasks or time.  But as I look to Jesus, who was born into a life of interruptions and who exemplified throughout His life how to handle them, I am being challenged to face my instinctual response to the plethora of interruptions that happen here and to find a better response: to open the door with love, to let God lead our every step (whether in our daily routine or on the days we're crossing borders), and to find what joy can be had in whatever interrupts us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

When Sickness Strikes in Africa

The day before Thanksgiving, while we were traveling, I became sick.  I spent the next ten days in bed, fighting off an unknown infection that would not be defeated by my immune system alone.  It was the most sick I've ever been, but this arduous experience increased the conviction of our calling to bring healing to the poor in Kenya.

It started right after breakfast with a headache and overall weakness.  I laid down before our lunch engagement, barely made it through lunch, then went right back to bed for the rest of the day as chills overtook me.  By the next morning I was still weak and not feeling well, but by God's grace I survived the two-hour drive to Eldoret where we stayed the night.  I had skipped breakfast and lunch and went straight to bed again as soon as we arrived at the guesthouse.  Eli and the boys enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal with the guesthouse owners while I laid in bed with chills and stomach pain, moaning and groaning my way through the afternoon.

Diarrhea arrived during the night, which was a most unwelcome guest.  Diarrhea + traveling + not being in your own home = discomfort at best.  I was miserable with intense stomach pain and the inability to sleep well.  In the morning I told Eli that I couldn't make the 4-hour drive back to Tenwek without medication in my system, so he made a trip to the chemist (aka pharmacist) to find some meds, which he thankfully procured and brought back to me before things got even worse.  My husband, God bless him, took care of the kids and all the packing while I laid on the couch trying to recoup some lost sleep.

We stopped once for the boys to get something to eat, and I tried a lemonade which I couldn't finish, so I simply headed back to the car to curl up in the front seat and wait for the remainder of the trip to Tenwek.  By the grace of God alone we made it all the way back without any incidents in the car, and the minute we pulled up to our house I had to dash inside to the bathroom.  I'm telling you, it was the grace of God alone that got us home that day!

I was unable to attend our Tenwek Thanksgiving celebration the next day, which was a particular disappointment since I had planned the entire day's festivities for nearly 100 people.  I later heard that the food and fellowship were amazing, which I thank God for, but was incredibly discouraged to have laid in bed all day while everyone else enjoyed the specially-ordered turkey and the traditional all-pie dessert.

By Day 5 I thought I was turning a corner because I was able to sit up and eat a bit.  I slept through the night and thought better days were ahead.  But by mid-morning the pain and exhaustion were back, as well as the fever, and it quickly became obvious that the mystery infection would not go down without a fight.  On Day 7 it was decided that I needed IV fluids to combat the severe dehydration caused by so much diarrhea.  One of the privileges of being a missionary at a mission hospital is that my community consists of doctors galore and insider contacts to everyone and everything at the hospital.  So a friend of mine rallied the troops and brought one of the best nurses in the hospital down to my house to get me started on an IV drip.  Over the course of the two days that I was on IV fluids there were multiple doctors making house calls to check on me and help with treatment, and I felt blessed and spoiled to be sick in such a place as this.

Caleb was very curious about what was going on 
and became determined to help take care of Mama too!

I was so dehydrated that the nurse couldn't get a blood sample, so I was pumped with fluid for a day before trying to get a blood sample the next day.  Thankfully it worked the second time around and we were able to send samples to the lab.  Unfortunately, no one was able to identify the infection, but it was determined that it was bacterial (not viral), and it was not malaria.  Our current best guess is that I had typhoid.

After starting a round of antibiotics, which made me vomit a couple times but which ultimately kicked my immune system in gear, I started to turn a corner.  I stayed in bed for several more days, and on Day 10 I was able to get up and hobble around the house and even eat something.  I basically hadn't eaten for a week, which left me tired and weak, so regaining my appetite and beginning to put food in my stomach was a huge victory.

And slowly, slowly, I started to recover.  It's not easy on anyone when Mama is out of commission for so long, but my beloved husband was Super Dad and Super Husband the entire time.  He rose to the challenge and took care of the boys and took care of me and cooked meals and did laundry and worked tirelessly to keep everything in working order while I laid in bed for over a week.  And we were so loved and supported by the missionary community as well.  People watched our kids, covered Eli at the hospital so he could be home with us, brought us meals, came to pray with me, sent encouraging notes and posted Scripture on our door.  We couldn't have survived without all the help and love and support from our community!

In the midst of it all, I couldn't help but wonder how countless people throughout Kenya who suffer similar sicknesses are able to manage without access to healthcare.  I think that often they don't manage and suffer continually.  My infection, whatever it was, was not something that could run its course and eventually I would just get better.  I needed antibiotics and IV fluids to heal and recover.  And I thought about all the people who don't have easy access to healthcare like I did.  I thought about those who suffer for days, lying in bed unable to function as they hope and assume their illness will eventually pass but instead they continue to suffer while the infection rages on.  My heart aches for those who are faced with the reality of chronic illness or even death because they don't have access to the resources or opportunities for an alternative.  And now I feel an even stronger conviction to continue the work we are doing: providing the healing ministry of Jesus to countless people who would have no access to healthcare otherwise.

While I laid in bed I was reminded of the life-changing words we heard a Fulani woman say in Cameroon.  We were helping administer vaccines to a group of women and children in the bush, and one woman said, "Since you've been coming, our children don't get sick anymore."  Her words have impacted us ever since, and we come back to them whenever we're discouraged or feel too exhausted to go on.  What these people need, all over the world, are people willing to come and offer healthcare - to bring themselves and medical knowledge and medicine and compassion in Jesus' name.  And that is what we're trying to do.  And after suffering this mystery infection for so long and knowing I defeated it because I have access to healthcare, I feel even stronger about this call on our life.

When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah, Jesus was in the middle of curing many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and giving sight to the blind (Luke 7:18-21).  When John's disciples reached Him and asked if He was the Messiah, this is what Jesus said: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (7:22).  In other words, the healing ministry of Jesus was a sign that He was the Messiah, and to participate in the ministry of healing is to participate in the work of the Messiah.

So I am on the mend, still taking it slow but able to get around and do some of our normal routine.  And I am thankful for the chance to be here doing the work God has called us to.  I am thankful for a husband who's willing to face the sickness and suffering of so many people at the hospital every day, and who's willing to do what he can to offer hope and healing to those who suffer from all the Oregon Trail diseases and more which are still alive and well in the developing world.  It's not an easy thing to do, but it's what we can do to represent Jesus and all He has to offer to this sick and dying world.

I have notoriously small veins and had to be pricked several
times on my wrists and arm for the IVs and blood draws. 
These bruises were several days old. 
Battle wounds in the healing process!