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Bruce and Kate Dahlman, serving with Africa Inland Mission
April 25, 2017 4:14 pm
Published in: Ugali

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

The last day of class of the January-April trimester, teaching first-year nursing students that I have come to know a bit better this second time around (meaning I have learned most of their names) during our Fundamentals of Nursing Practice II course. A promising group of 30 students, with a responsible and receptive class representative, always available and responsive when I have needed her: to find a classroom or a student, or to let me know what’s really going on when I have been totally clueless as to the way things work (or don’t work) around here.

Thankfully, she wasn’t the problem on this last day of class; in fact, she has never been a problem. But one of her colleagues was.

This was the female student who has sometimes gotten up in the middle of class to leave the room, supposedly (I had thought) for a bathroom break during the long, two-to-three-hour lecture time allotted to me and of which I use every second. (I generally give no breaks in class because I’ve learned that if I do, several students invariably don’t come back.) Today, when I asked her where she was going, she informed me that she had to “speak to a friend”.

To which I promptly replied that no, actually, she didn’t need to do this right now, in the middle of our class time. And I made her return to her seat.

Well…apparently this didn’t go down too well with her, because a few minutes later, I caught her texting with someone, her phone strategically placed between her legs so that I supposedly wouldn’t see it.

But I did.

And, adding insult to injury, this was the second phone that I had taken away from her that day, this one borrowed from her partner-in-crime friend who is always seated next to her in class.

Sheesh. What a lot of nerve these two have had.

And so, I ended my last day of teaching for this trimester with two students staying after class to listen to a very impromptu and somewhat incoherent mini-rant by me on what it means to be a college student, a responsible and respectful class participant, a professional-nurse-in-training at a Christian institution, blah, blah, and blah…

They sat there dutifully, of course, like stones, like statues, throughout the whole thing, eyes downcast, mumbling short apologies when I finally let them go. Most likely they recounted the whole episode to the texted “friend” afterwards, perhaps with wounded pride at the unfairness, or the unreasonableness, of their only mzungu teacher.

Not the way that I had wanted, or had hoped, that my last day of teaching would go.

Not what I had expected. And not for the first time with me thinking, “I’m too old for this”.

Not for the first time wondering what am I doing here, really? Has it been worth it, to move halfway around the world to come to this Christian place where respect for teachers or classroom content is sometimes lacking, where there are students who seemingly just don’t care that their parents are working their fingers to the bone for them just to be here?

At Kabarak University, whose motto is “Education in Biblical Perspective“.

Bruce and I are rapidly coming to the end of our time here. I have one more half-trimester to go before the end of June, when we will sell or pack up our few belongings and leave to return to the U.S. Our two years have gone fast, as they always do when viewed from this end of things.

I will teach one short class in May-into-early-June entitled “Ethics and Legal Issues in Nursing Practice“, a course I developed and just finished teaching to the senior group of nursing students (the “pioneer”, or first, nursing class at Kabarak).

This was the class in which the star pupil, the class representative, plagiarized his entire ethical dilemma paper. He had somehow thought that I wouldn’t notice this; or wouldn’t care.

But I did.

 Discouragement. Disillusionment. Defeat.

My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me.” Psalm 22:14.

I know that this particular verse from the Psalms is meant to describe Jesus’ agony on the cross. But sometimes, it has seemed that pouring out my life for the students here has been for nothing; has been a complete waste of time.

Especially one week later, when the student who had been texting her friend on the last day of class was caught with “cheat sheet” papers in between the pages of her final examination booklet. Caught by me. Justification of my prior judgments of her character, yes.

But oh….so bittersweet.

This is not the way I had hoped it would go.

Clearly, I believed that God had called us here to Kabarak University for this short season of our lives. Everything that happened to get us here pointed to, no, shoved us in this direction. Support, material supplies, renters, timing….all were a big “Go” from God.

And, thankfully, I still believe that. It was right to come here; we are supposed to be here. I am so grateful for that understanding, because it really helps me during hard times that I have been experienced since being here.

They have not all been hard (but somehow those are the ones that seem to “stand out”). For all the difficult students I’ve had in class, there have always been the well-behaved ones, the ones who sit in the front row and come faithfully on time, who do what I ‘ve asked them to do, the ones who perform well on their assessments.

These are the ones to whom I have poured out my life like water in my teaching. These are the ones who have hopefully learned a bit about what it means to become a Christian nurse, ones who will work to transform their future nursing practice environments into places of true caring, concern, and refuge for those patients and clients who desperately need it.

Related image

I am so grateful for them.

For students like Susan, who sent me an email after teaching my first Fundamentals II course, which read: “I am sorry you won’t be teaching our class next trimester. You are the best teacher that I have ever had….”

For Abigail, who said: “Thank you so much for your good teaching to us. I always learn so much from your classes….”

For Mercy, an amazingly bright student who is financially sponsored by one of our missionary “sister” organizations (because her parents can’t afford to pay the fees at this expensive, private institution), who emails me regularly to find out where she can learn more on her own about the things she’s being taught in class….

Thank you, Lord, for these precious students. Oh how I pray they will continue to grow and mature into their understanding of what it means to be a Christian first; and a nurse, second. Give them a passion for you to help them survive in a country where corruption sometimes seems like breathing; where things often won’t get done without a little “kitu kidogo” (something small; a bribe) to grease the wheels.

How I pray for them and their future ministries as they step out into their futures in this beautiful country with such potential, but one that is so shot through with decades of corruption, graft, and incompetence; including in healthcare.

Help them to be shining lights with integrity that will stand for You amidst this sea of darkness.

And thank you that I have had a small part in guiding them through their educational nursing program during my short time here.

I am so grateful for that.

February 14, 2017 8:31 am
Published in: Ugali

I have a student, let’s call him “Kip”, who is in the first year of the nursing program at Kabarak University.

Kip did not do very well academically in my Fundamentals of Nursing I class last semester. I noticed this early on (week #2) when I caught him cheating on the first 5-point quiz that I gave to the class (and for which he received a “0”, of course).

It sort of went downhill from there.  He did pass all of the other quizzes, although never achieving a “5”. He also participated in writing the Blackboard (online) discussion forum assignments, but regularly posted them so late that his final mark was a “12” out of “35” marks possible. Actually, now that I think about this, he also cheated on one of those posts by copying another student’s work and portraying it as his own.

Did he seriously think I would not notice this? I mean, after all, this guy was already on my “radar”.

Kip also failed both CAT (continuous assessment test) exams. On the first, he got a “6” out of 25 points; on the second, he improved to an “11”, but still two marks shy of the 50% required to pass. His final exam was even more spectacular in it’s failureship (26 marks awarded out of a possible 100). After coming an hour late to the three-hour exam and then leaving an hour early, he sat for most of the middle hour in his front-row chair with arms folded across his chest, glaring at me when he thought I wasn’t watching him.

The main reason for his failures was that he refused to write more than a word or two for the short- and long-answer questions required in all exams we set here. On the final exam, these two categories together made up 80 of the 100 marks.   Short-answer questions had also been included for both CATS. No wonder he failed.

And, lest you think I waited until the final exam to notice this, not true. I had noticed, and indeed had been counseling him and one other student who was also failing, since the first CAT. Everyone else (out of a class of 32 students) was doing fine and passing. As a first-year introductory class, the content for Fundamentals of Nursing is just not that difficult.

So, in order for Kip to continue and academically progress through the nursing program, he would have to take my class, Fundamentals I, again. With me. And, not only that; he would also need to concurrently take Fundamentals of Nursing II in the new January trimester. Also with me.

Does he have a form of dyslexia, since he seems so averse to writing?   This seemed to be a valid consideration to pursue. However, his high school record and performance in other Kabarak courses did not corroborate this.

No. It turn’s out that Kip’s problem, finally confided to our experienced department head (who gently coaxed it out of him) was that he had never had an “mzungu” (white, expatriate) teacher before.

Therefore, Kip saw me only as an outsider, a “Resident Alien”; an “Other”. This apparently freaked him out so much that he was not able to function in my class.

He simply could not, or refused to, cope.

Perhaps it’s a poor analogy, but this incident has been interesting to reflect upon in light of the current hysteria over the new immigration ban that has been introduced by our current U.S. President.

So much rancor from both sides; but also so much fear, specifically fear of the Other.

 We fear what we do not know, that which is foreign and alien to us, or perceived to be threatening to our way of life. How else to explain the massive fear of refugees who

  • have lost their homes through no fault of their own (please click to read the poignant poem by a Kenyan-born Somali poet)
  • are fleeing for their very lives from the same terrorists we accuse them of becoming, even though the risk of this is infinitesimally small (1 in 3.64 billion)
  • have been arduously, gruelingly vetted by the time their U.S. Visas are granted

Perhaps we fear them because they are “Other”. They are not like us; and we don’t think we’ll be able to cope; or perhaps refuse to believe we can.

But in doing so, we forget, in our fear, this one deeper truth: that we are all “Other”, to someone.

Like I am, for my student Kip.

Please try not to chastise me for the simplistic argument you think I’m making here. I do know the situation happening now in the U.S. is way more involved and complicated than this.

But do stop and think for a moment how you also might be perceived as being “Other”; by the way you look, the way you dress, the way you live, the way you think, the way you believe.

Because most likely you are being perceived that way, by someone.

So…what about Kip? He actually sent me an email over the Christmas holidays, promising “new resolutions for the betterment of my results” in the New Year. Thus far, he’s gotten two “5’s” on quizzes, one “5” on a Blackboard assignment, and our first CAT takes place this coming Wednesday (keeping my fingers crossed for him).

“For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow” 1 Chronicles 29:15

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” Deuteronomy 10: 17-19

Love the “Other”, as He first loved us.

 

October 30, 2016 6:59 pm
Published in: Ugali

“Hey Bruce….is your phone near you, because it’s been ringing and ringing!” I shout out to my husband, who’s working on the computer in the other room.

“Yes, I know, thanks.  I have it right here…it’s Boniface* who’s been calling.  I just can’t talk to him right now,”  he replies.      (*not his real name)

Oh, ok.  That explains it.  It’s Boniface, a friend of many years from the Maasai community below Kijabe.

Boniface who, as a 10th grade high school dropout back in the early 2000’s, was hired to teach an adult literacy course to the unschooled Maasai women of his community.   He did so, faithfully and cheerfully, for about a year.

Even though he was never paid.

“Somehow” the funds that had been raised and contributed to the local Community Women’s Self-Help Organization to pay for these services never found their way to him.

It was partly because of this egregious “oversight” and partly because of our connection to this Maasai community that we agreed to raise the necessary funds to help Boniface finish his remaining two years of high school (note:  high school education in Kenya is not “free”).

Even though education is valued by families, most often there is not enough money for school fees, especially when one has a family consisting of an aging father with 3-4 wives, homes for each, and numerous siblings/relatives to feed and clothe.  Add to that the livestock:  sheep, goats, and cows, and it’s no wonder that Boniface’s family was unable to assist him with fees past the 10th grade.

Therefore, we thought it a “good investment” to support this kind, articulate and bright young man who had demonstrated such selfless concern for the well-being of the illiterate women in his community.

With the help of many others and by God’s grace, Boniface was finally able to attain the long-awaited prize of a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (high school diploma).  With this important credential in hand, employment opportunities would be more forth-coming for him.

Or so we thought.

Granted, jobs for Kenyans living in a rural environment are not easy to find, even with a high school degree.  It wasn’t too long after his graduation that we began to get requests from Boniface for further financial assistance.  These are just a few of them:

  • First, it was for funding so that he could go to school to become an airline pilot (declined);
  • Next, it was money he needed to help record and distribute a music CD (also declined);
  • Requests to help with money for the ongoing medical concerns of his father (occasional help);
  • Requests to fund his brother to put through high school (donor found);
  • Requests to help with money for food for the community during times of drought (regularly);
  • Requests to help build a stone house after he got married a few years ago (declined);
  • Requests to help pay for the labor and materials for a new roof for this house (donor money found);
  • Request to buy beads/materials for his wife to make and sell jewelry (declined);

In short, we have become the default financial resource potential, the automatic phone call or text, whenever Boniface has any kind of monetary need, large or small.

Like we are his personal ATM machine; his very own private and exclusive Barclay’s Bank.

He feels this way because we have known him and have had a relationship with his family and community for over twenty years.  Since he was six years old.

He remembers us coming with the evangelistic team from Kijabe to his village, sitting outside on the plank benches, under the spreading branches of the huge acacia thorn tree, for regular Sunday services.

maasai-church

He was there from the start as the church and elementary buildings were planned and constructed, both of which he attended.   Many people and organizations gave the resources for these buildings; we were simply privileged to be living close by and available for direction and advice during those formative years.

namuncha-school

In short, we are family to Boniface.  Families help each other out in times of need.  And as Americans, we do have access to many more resources than he does, both our own and through others.

So it is actually quite logical in his mind and in classic African reasoning for him to turn to us when needs arise.

Giving to those in need.  It’s a good Christian thing to do, right?  Well, yes.  Of course it is, some of the time.    Needs are always going to be there for people who live in poverty or barely above it.

Over our almost 25 “off” and “on” years in Kenya, we’ve been happy to help many who have needed it, for any number of reasons:  school fees, supplies, money for food or seeds for planting, weddings, funerals, vehicles, hospital bills, etc.  Often we give just a part of what is needed, while others chip in to give the rest.  This is the traditional Kenyan way, known as harambee (“pulling together”).

But sometimes, too much helping can actually hurt.

In a book of the same name (When Helping Hurts by S. Corbett & B. Fikkert), the authors’ premise is that often, in the zeal to give and give and give some more in the face of the real, desperate and heart-wrenching needs, organizations or persons can unwittingly undermine the very people they are trying to help.

Over-giving can be bad because it creates dependency and encourages lack of initiative in the people who are receiving, ultimately doing more harm than good.   By giving each time a need arises, it’s possible that root causes of poverty may never be addressed.    It’s too easy to just ask for help.

We believe that this is what’s happened with Boniface.  Not that we’ve given to him every single time he’s asked, in fact, far from it.  Paying for two years of high school fees has been the largest sustained amount we’ve ever given to him.

But somehow, for him to grow up seeing the resources of wazungus (white people) put to work in building churches and schools, and through our generosity of providing his school fees, Boniface was hooked; or spoiled; or caught, or any number of words one might use to describe this seemingly “automatic reflex” of his to turn to us first when major (and minor) needs arise.

And who can blame him?  In African cultures, it never hurts to ask for help.  One may not always be successful, but one would be foolish to not at least try for funds when one has a relationship with those who have vastly more available resources than oneself.

As missionaries, we do not ever think of ourselves as being “people of means”, but of course, that’s exactly what we are to our friends who often live either one step up or two steps away from dire need and abject poverty.

Over the years, Bruce has tried hard to counsel Boniface, giving him encouragement to find a job, and to stand firm when necessary against his sometimes pleading, wheedling, and incessant demands for money (phone calls, texts, and emails which some days come non-stop).  We’ve prayed with him and for him, and have also encouraged him to seek help and assistance from his family and church community, which he has done.

However, the requests keep coming.  Early this month, he texted to relay a desperate plea for help with the (very cultural) bride price payments to the family of his wife of 2+ years.  Boniface did not pay the money “up front”, as is the usual practice, but is being pressed to pay it now, within one month’s time.  If he can’t come up with the cash and cows (value:  around $1300) to pay for his wife, her brothers have threatened to marry her off to someone else.

Does anyone have a spare $1300 lying around?  That’s right; neither do we.  More importantly, this is a cultural battle that we don’t want to become entangled in or address.

We actually did receive a small encouragement about this issue just today.  Boniface has texted that he has a plan for how to raise the money. He really loves his little family, and we are thrilled that he has come up with this plan all on his own in finding a way forward out of his latest predicament.

So, please do join us in prayer for Boniface, his wife, and their little daughter, Kate (yes, Kate; named after me).  Pray that his plan will be successful so that the bride price can be paid in full.

Pray that the success of this venture would instill confidence into Boniface as he learns that he is able, with God’s help, to face life’s difficulties and to find hard-but-workable solutions to them on his own.

And pray for us, that we will have Christ-like patience and grace on the receiving end of these calls and text messages; to listen and hear him out during what are very stressful times for him; and to not grow weary with allowing him access to us for counsel and advice.  Like a truly Christian family would do.

So that whatever we do is ultimately helpful, and not hurtful, to him.

 

September 26, 2016 5:32 pm
Published in: Ugali

Haraka Haraka Haina Baraka

(In hurry there is no blessing)

Generally speaking (though it’s so cliché to say it), things tend to move a bit slower here in Kenya.

Including right here at Kabarak University.

Take today, for example.

Students are sitting their “supplementary exams” this week.  These are students who, for whatever reason (and I can think of many, quite frankly) failed their end-of-trimester exams in August, and who now get a second chance to try again.

This is primarily so that progression through the academic program sequences won’t get entirely out of whack.

A factor that is especially important in the overly packed nursing curriculum (courtesy of the Nursing Council of Kenya) we have here.  If a student fails a course, especially a pre-requisite one, he or she can get really messed up.

The practice of allowing supplementary exams requires each professor to submit two final exam papers for every subject they teach.   For my courses, this means creating an additional 20 MCQs (multiple choice questions), 6-10 SAQs (short-answer questions; 40 marks), and 2-4 LAQs (long-answer questions; 40 marks).  One hundred extra marks to imagine, construct, and wring out of my brain for everything I teach.

Of course, this is no picnic for students either.  In addition to re-cramming for old classes while missing new ones, students must also pay a “supplementary fee” for the privilege of re-taking an exam.  This is additional money that many students do not have, or are ashamed to ask their parents for because they don’t want to admit to them that they have failed (as they know all too well how hard their folks have worked to get them here in the first place).

So; a costly privilege indeed, for everyone involved.

I had the privilege of being the “Chief Invigilator” for this morning’s first supplementary session from 9:00-12:00.  It was my job to collect and proctor three nursing department examinations.

Dutifully, I left the house around 8:15 to head over to the Examination Office (hours of operation: 8-5) to collect tests, foolscaps, attendance sheets, and one or two other bureaucratic forms that are so much a part of the educational system here (a legacy from the British, perhaps?).  However, the “lady with the key” had not yet arrived.

No worries (hakuna matata), as I was told she was “on the way coming”.  And indeed, she arrived right on time, at 8:30.  Fortunately, all of my sealed brown envelopes containing the various and sundry items necessary for each exam were ready and waiting for me.

This left plenty of time to get to the auditorium, the standard venue for all major exams that take place here on campus.

On my way there, however, I received the message that the auditorium was being used for something else today.  The only room choices left were the Chemistry Lab, with backless stools and laboratory counter tops, not exactly ideal for writing a major, three-hour exam…or, a classroom with regular student chairs in the new almost-finished-but-still-noisy-construction-zone Health Sciences building.

Hakuna matataAt least I had a choice!  I decided to go with the regular chairs and hope there would be a door to shut out the noise (there was).   However, how to let students know?  Detouring over to the old Health Sciences office, I was glad to see that the “lady with the phone numbers” was in.   All students were eventually called and re-routed to the new venue, and everything got rolling by 9:30 a.m.

Right on time.

I was way more fortunate than a colleague, who was proctoring six exams for her department and also venue-less.  She and her students eventually came to join us in the same hard-fought-for classroom space, dragging their chairs behind them.  When she had gone to the Exam Office (at 8:30, right on time), some of her exams had not even been printed yet.  Consequently, those guys didn’t even get started until sometime after 10:00 a.m.

Hakuna matata.  Haraka haraka haina baraka.

Things like this happen here at Kabarak every single day.  Nobody expects it to be otherwise; nobody bats an eye if meetings, functions or classes don’t actually start “on time”, whatever that means.

This is the Status Quo Here, and around Kenya as a whole (dare I be so bold, to say that?).  We’re just not in a big hurry here, folks.  Relax, take your time.  What is the rush?

There are reasons for this “no hurry” culture, of course.   For one thing, Africa as a whole is more relational-based, community centered, and not time-oriented.  Articles, books, and probably more than a few doctoral theses have been written on this topic.  No need to rehash it all here.

It’s just me that needs to learn how to live more “in the moment” this way, like the Kenyans do so well.  Even though I’ve been here for a gazillion 20+ years already, I find that I still need to learn how to relax, how to let go, how to not sweat the “time” thing, how to be able to roll (“my word” for this year) with it all.   To know that things do eventually happen and get done around here; students get taught, exams get taken, life gets lived.

And not always on crazy-mzungu-AmericanKate Standard Time”.

I need to learn how to find the blessing in the not hurrying mindset of life.  So far, this blessing has mostly eluded me here at Kabarak.  But I’m desperate to find it.  I want to believe that it is truly and actually there.

Take tomorrow, for example.

I have class in the morning from 8:00-11:00.  This is week #3 for this particular class, and we still do not have a designated classroom space.  The first week we were at the online learning center.  Last week, it was the Chemistry Lab (the one with the backless chairs).   I’m supposed to receive a call today “by the end of the business hours” (the scheduler’s words), letting me know where we will be.  Perhaps it will be in the library; perhaps in a standard lecture room (pipe dream); perhaps just the Chemistry Lab again.

And perhaps I won’t find out anything until tomorrow morning at 7:30 or 7:45, as I run around campus looking for an open classroom (been there, done that, more than once).

One thing I know: not taking on the unnecessary stress of things that are out of my control, things that will eventually work themselves out and in the long run won’t matter much anyway; for me to learn this simple yet profound lesson at Kabarak in my life here would be a great blessing indeed.

My students already know this.  They are not worried about tomorrow.  They are relaxed, calm, and ready to go, no matter what happens and no matter how long it might take to find us a classroom.  They are like this based on years and years of practice, of living their entire lives this way.

Because they know that, whatever happens, they will be right on time.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phillipians 4:  6-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 10, 2016 2:24 pm
Published in: Ugali

I read my students the riot act yesterday.

Reading the Riot Act: “To give someone a severe scolding; to reprimand rowdy characters and warn them to stop behaving badly”.

Not that I was worried that my students were actually thinking about or preparing to riot or anything like that…

However, they were indeed deserving of at least a gentle scolding, using the Kenyan approach, saying what needed to be said to them without sounding too “kali” (harsh/fierce).

For me, it was sort of the “last straw”, or perhaps a “last ditch effort” on my part to try and get them to see the importance of coming to class…on time (as, attendance is required by the University, with records to be kept and turned in by me).

You see, here at Kabarak (as in many other universities across Kenya), there is this culture of coming fashionably late to class. For example, if class is scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m., most students will arrive somewhere around 8:10 or 8:15; while one or two will routinely show up 30 minutes late.

In fact, I have one student who seems to relish coming to class about 30-45 minutes late each week. Here she comes, waltzing through the door on her 3-4-inch heels, sashaying her way slowly across the room to take the last remaining/available seat in the class, which is usually in the front row.

No one bats an eye as she does this.

Since classes here are scheduled in large (3-4 hours) blocks of time (another thing that is not exactly ideal), for students to come “a bit late” to class seems like no big deal to them.

And, in defense of the students, they are quite used to many of their (usually part-time) lecturers not showing up for class until 20-30 minutes after the scheduled hour to begin. This is because the part-timers are coming from off campus and, if they have no car of their own, are at the mercy of the erratic schedule of the matatu buses/drivers to get here.

Or so they say.

But I am not a “part-time lecturer”; I actually live here on campus (which they know).

I arrive at the classroom at least 15-20 minutes early, in order to heft all of my equipment into the room to set up:

  • the projector;
  • the computer;
  • the speakers;
  • the extension cord to hook them all up (and pray that the power is “on”);
  • all of my notes and handouts;
  • my water bottle (needed when one is speaking for 3 hours at a time);
  • and my phone (to keep time).

I also usually need to erase the whiteboard from the previous class and/or re-arrange or collect the needed number of chairs ….

This all takes about 15-20 minutes. And this, only if the classroom we normally meet in has not been “hijacked”/occupied by another teacher/class (a whole ‘nuther topic, folks; it’s been a bit “dog eat dog” around here for classroom space. This will hopefully change when our new, large Health Sciences classroom block is ready for us in a month or so).

All that to say: I AM ALWAYS THERE AND ALWAYS ON TIME.

And my students know this, having met with me now for almost a month.

Yes, of course I am a “mzungu” (ex-patriot/white) teacher, from a culture where “time-keeping” is of the utmost importance; where if students are late they may or may not be admitted, or at least feel a bit ashamed of walking in late; and would never do it so casually or blithely or routinely as happens here.

But….quite frankly, I don’t “buy” the excuse that “this is a cultural issue” and one that I must adapt to. Not after teaching at Kijabe School of Nursing for five years, where
students had no trouble or issue with coming to class on time, either for me or for any of my Kenyan colleagues.

Plus, my students all have iPhones or some kind of smart phone device, which, believe me, they know how to use, and to their advantage (including being able to read the time).

So….back to the “riot act”:

I talked about their expectations of me; and then my expectations of them. I talked about professionalism and what that means in the context of becoming a BScN educated nurse. I talked about the issues of respect, accountability, integrity, courtesy, and how these concepts are important here at Kabarak, at this Christian University, in this Christian context….

Blah, blah, blah….

Was this effective? Hard to know, as with most Kenyan classes I’ve taught or seen, the teacher has the floor. No one will make comments or say anything, or even betray any sign or flicker of emotion while the teacher is speaking to (or haranguing at) them.

They will sit there, like stones, like statues…

Which is what they did.

Which has been a bit discouraging for me.  I had expected so much more of them.

More importantly, I had expected so much more of myself in being here to teach them.

You see, my main goal, my primary raison d’etre for being here in Kenya at all, is not to help educate more Kenyan nurses (although this is important).

With all the nurse training schools and the proliferation of more and more BScN programmes popping up in this country, some could justifiably argue (and I would tend to agree) that Kenya does not really need me to help educate more nurses.

Rather, my whole hope and goal in coming here once again to Kenya as an AIM missionary is to “come alongside” Christian nursing students in this Christian University, in order to help them see their future lives and work in terms of their Christianity first; and in terms of their future nursing profession, second.

My dream for my students here is for them to see their lives through the lens of the Gospel, so that they are truly transformed by its power. So that they, in turn, can take this Good News (and yes, take it alongside their newly earned competencies in nursing) out into the communities and clinics where they will eventually live and work.

Where this message of the transforming power of Christ is still so urgently, so desperately, needed.

That is what I am doing here.

So, if you are praying for me, please say a little prayer that I can get through to my students; that I can somehow connect with them; and that, perhaps in some small way, they will be able to see the Light of Christ leaking out through me here and there in how I communicate with them, in what I say, in how I teach, in what I do.

In how I live out my life in front of them.

Pray that I can “get out of the way” so that He will be seen.  So that He will matter most to them.

So that they will realize that their passion for nursing needs to be fueled by their passion for Christ.

So that, some day, this passion will also become their raison d’etre.

 

 

January 21, 2016 12:21 pm
Published in: Ugali

It’s been a bit long between blog posts here on the “GBU”…

So, let me first say “Happy New Year!”, which is the appropriate Kenyan greeting for anyone we haven’t seen or greeted since Dec. 31st (and which will be used for months to come…).

We had a lovely (if somewhat quiet and subdued) Christmas-Season-On-The-Equator.   Highlights:

  • Singing “Jingle Bells”, “White Christmas”, and “Auld Lang Syne” as part of the 3-hour Christmas Eve church service;
  • Christmas dinner with Kabarak friends and 4-year-old Jonah, who fondly calls me “Uncle Kate”;
  • The baobab tree with Kenyan ornaments  (the zebra-pulled, Santa “sleigh” donkey-cart is my new favorite);
  • A Naivasha Resort Get-Away, with “up-close-and-personal” animal sightings to keep us entertained (came this close to being schmucked by an eland, who was either the “chaser” or “chasee” in some every-day-African-animal-life drama…)

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BaobabTree

SantaDonkeyCart

 

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But…by far, the best part of  December was welcoming Ryan back to Kijabe after his six-month U.S. “home assignment”.  This Mama loves having at least one of her kiddos on the same side of the world as she is, even if by living in Kabarak we are now two hours’ drive away from him:

December2015MomRyan

So; back to the present (“Happy New Year!“):

We’ve had a few “bumps along the road” to the start of the January trimester here at Kabarak University.  The term began Jan. 11th; but to date, I’ve only just met, briefly, with both of my nursing classes for a bit of introduction.

No real teaching has yet taken place.

There have been several reasons for this, most of which are unique to the Kenyan University system, where I’ve been learning the new-to-me concepts of “moderation” and “supplementation“, among other things…

The newly updated, computerized registration system was also a bit late getting up and running; some students haven’t been able to register for classes until now (Week #2).

Another unexpected “bump” involves a member of the Health Sciences faculty who wears a few too many “hats”.  Therefore, it’s always “crisis mode” in order to put out the fires here and there.  Priority is given to all the pressing-issues-of-the-day.

While this is understandable, the ordinary “day-to-day” details and other expected duties/responsibilities get pushed to the side or don’t happen at all.

This has been somewhat frustrating for this American-educated nurse, even though the people I’m working with (including the “fireman“) are all skilled, bright, experienced, and academically gifted in their respective fields.  I admire and like them very much; and they have all been most welcoming and kind to me.

And…as if all of the above weren’t enough…there was this:

A literal “bump along the road” that resulted in the back door of the Subaru being severely dented on one side and back window smashed, “kabisa” (completely).  Mercifully, no one was hurt during this low-velocity, minor Nairobi misadventure.  The car remained drive-able with working tail and brake lights, so was able to make it home to Kabarak with no further incident (although now it sits at the repair shop, awaiting parts).

Sometimes all of these unexpected bumps get a bit overwhelming.  Put them all together with the regular water shortages and random-but-becoming-more-regular power outages, the still-not-quite-working, scalding shower and the lack of proper laundry facilities; and sometimes it can all come crashing down and be a bit too much.

One missionary website (“Velvet Ashes“) I read regularly has suggested that at the beginning of each new year, one should “pick a word” as a motto or guide to use as a “touchstone” or “mantra“.  Something to either strive for/attain or one that might help give understanding or perspective to events that happen to one throughout the year.

As the website puts it, choose “one word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on everyday all year long“.

Some past choices by others have been “Openness” or “Humbled” or “Courage” or “Hopeful” or “Thirsty“.

I have decided that my word will be “Roll“.  This year, I really want to learn how to “roll” with things.  To be able to better “roll with the punches” and the bumps when they come…because I know they will keep coming.

To “just go with it” more.

To become more flexible and open to the unexpected events that just seem to occur so randomly here and there along the way.

To be able, with God’s grace, to not instantly crumble into a million pieces when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of control of my own life.

So that eventually, rather than merely “bump ‘n roll“, I can learn how to better “Rock ‘n roll“.

“From the end of the earth I will cry to You when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”  (Psalm 61:2)

“You will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (anchored) on You, because she trusts in You.” (Is. 26:3)

Give thanks unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness endures for ever, and His faithfulness unto all generations.” (Psalm100: 4-5).

Touchstones (rocks) for me...to help navigate and endure the bumps of life.

Merrily then, let’s roll along, into this new year……


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 3, 2015 2:09 pm
Published in: Ugali

For those of you interested in more pics of our fixer-upper-in-process (see last blog post), here’s a shot of our recently updated guest bathroom:

I had so much fun finding/pulling together the various items in this room (including the curtain kikoi, bargained for at Maasai Market, of course). The colors in this bathroom always bring a nice, soothing injection of calmness into my day, whenever I pass by.

They always make me feel good.

However…that is about all I’ve been doing with this bathroom lately: passing by.

See the recently installed instant (electric) hot-water showerhead peeking out from behind the curtain, above the windows?  Not working. Mainly because there’s not been enough water pressure coming through the pipes to ensure that the temperature (on the “hot” setting, the only one functioning) is less than scalding.

Isaac-the-electrician (I have all three of his mobile numbers now) has already been here two or three times, persistently trying to get it all sorted/fixed. But he has been defeated (a favorite Kenyan saying) up to now.

Sigh. We had such high hopes for this bathroom, as our own master bath has “issues” of its own. The shower/tub in there has been leaking (apparently for months, long before we arrived) through the floor and into the downstairs apartment.

Which means that our master bathroom shower is unusable to us as we wait for parts/repair…(currently into week three…or is it four?).

And, since yesterday, the coup-de-grace: because a large teacher conference is taking place at the adjacent high school (with which we share a water supply), there has been no water at all coming through the pipes (kitchen taps, bathroom, toilets).

Nada. Zip-Zero-Zilch. Hakuna maji.

I’m told that the conference will go on for a few weeks, ending right before Christmas. We might then get a week or two of regular water before the boarding high school and university students come back in early January…

…when the cycle of “no water” will most likely begin again.

Discouraging. Disappointing. Disheartening. No water = no shower = no dishes = no washing hands = no laundry = no flushing toilets. EXCEPT from the effort of hauling huge quantities/buckets/barrels of the stuff up the stairs each morning from the outside tap.

However, only a few got there in time this morning before that pipe also went dry (we got one small bucket).

So, as I was contemplating

  • living in this lovely-but-waterless apartment for, perhaps, the next few weeks/months…(years?);
  • taking the two-hour trip to Kijabe or the three-hour trip to Nairobi every other weekend just to get my hair properly washed/rinsed and our clothes, sheets, and towels clean (there are no U.S.-style laundromats in Kenya, folks);
  • the fact that “this is not what I signed up for” when I imagined coming back to Kenya…(as a “spoiled and privileged” American missionary, I never had to really deal much with this issue/problem in Kijabe/Nairobi, even though I am well-aware [on an intellectual, abstract basis] that this is the normal way of life for most Kenyans);

I was beginning to feel pretty sorry for myself.

Until…I glanced out the window; and saw this:

Clothesline

 

And heard, from downstairs, my two lovely Kenyan neighbors chatting and laughing away together, enjoying the day and each other’s company, oblivious to (or at least not focusing on) the current water problem that is affecting us all.

As I continued listening to them visit with each other, two thoughts hit me, almost simultaneously:

  • They were not feeling sorry for themselves (even with “inconvenient water”, they had managed to hang out the morning laundry, for crying out loud);

And

  • I can learn so much from them.

I quickly made my way downstairs to join them in the laughter, truly enjoying the easy camaraderie and budding friendships that are beginning to develop with both of these dear ladies.  They informed me that “Block 1” (out of 8 faculty four-plex apartment buildings here on campus) is considered to be the “Happy Block“, where the neighbors treat each other as “family”.

I am so grateful that we were put here, in this block.  More than having running water, God knew that this is just exactly where I needed to be when moving into this new place.

High hopes.  I have such high hopes, living here with my new neighbors and friends.  High hopes for learning from them

  • Patience
  • Grace
  • Humility
  • Acceptance
  • Laughter
  • Joy

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you are involved in various trials…” (James 1:2)

Fruits of the Spirit.  Things I desperately need at the moment.  Attitudes that will help me cope with this current-but-ultimately minor (when put into perspective) water situation/irritation.

Anchors that will help to prepare me for when the major irritations and difficulties (sure to come) inevitably appear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 14, 2015 6:38 pm
Published in: Ugali

Fixer Upper

Those of you who know me well know that I am a huge fan of “HGTV” when in the U.S.  My favorite shows have included “House Hunters International”, “Beachfront Bargain Hunt” (my dream, someday), and my current favorite of this past year, “Fixer Upper”.

So, as you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to FIXING UP our new (to us) living space here at Kabarak University. The apartment we’ve been assigned is large and spacious, with three bedrooms and two full bathrooms (lots of room for visitors).

There’s also the cozy kitchen that Bruce had already “Fixer/Upper’d” for me, prior to my arrival: new floor tile (to replace the cracked, moldy linoleum) and the installation of upper storage cabinets (where previously there had been only the blank, white wall).

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So now, it’s my turn. Even though basic beds, table & chairs, and a few “well-loved” couches for the living room have been graciously provided, we will need to furnish/purchase everything else:

  • all kitchen appliances, dishes, pots & pans;
  • all bedroom furnishings, towels, sheets;
  • all rugs, curtains, end tables, office equipment;
  • all the pictures, all the “doodads”

Everything that is necessary to fix this place up and make it our own.

Fortunately, there’s a “Nakumatt” (Kenya’s equivalent to “Target”) in Nakuru, 22 kms (about 30 minutes) away from the Kabarak campus. And, unlike the former Kijabe-to-Nairobi “on high alert” drive we used to make, the road from here to town is actually quite relaxing and pleasant:

First, there are the lush eucalyptus border trees between which one drives as the road winds past the Kabarak Guesthouse and the long, gated driveway leading to former President Moi’s home/estate (note: “His Excellency, Mzee” is the financial Patron and Chancellor of Kabarak University).

 

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Next, the road morphs into “Acacia Alley” for a few kilometers. These quintessential African thorn trees spread their horizontal branches wide, providing shade for the occasional herd of cows, sheep, or goats grazing lazily beneath them, under the (hopefully) watchful eyes of their youthful handlers, who are armed only with long sticks to keep their flocks from bolting across the road (they are not always successful, I might add).

 

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After that, it’s time to slow down (for the speed bumps, of course; there are 15 in all) as I reach the little village of Kiamunyi, where the “Camp David Suites” apartment building features prominently on the edge of town, next to the “Mama Brains” shop (someday when I’m a brave, I’ll have to stop and find out what kinds of “things” she sells in there).

 

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Next is the village of Canaan (pronounced “Cah-nahn”) where I pass the “Promise Cereal’s Store”, adjacent to “Bethel Cakes and Snacks”.  At the edge of this village is the “Mustard School”, actually the “Mustard Seed” school, but I didn’t catch that until my fourth or fifth time past it. Here is where the view opens up dramatically over Nakuru town, the Rift Valley, and Lake Nakuru beyond (site of Nakuru National Park); all majestically framed by the Mau Escarpment in the distance.

 

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It was during one of these peaceful “to-and-fro” drives last week that I once again became aware of a feeling that has occurred almost each and every time I have returned to Kenya, especially after a prolonged absence:

I am happier here. This is where I’m supposed to be; this is where I belong.

As in the past, this startling, bolt-from-the-blue realization seems to bubble up from somewhere deep inside and into my conscious thought, happening unexpectedly, taking me by surprise.

I am happier here.

Even with

  • the start of the El Nino rains, which I know will bring its own challenges, including a new crop of “superbugs” (see “It’s a Bug’s Life”);
  • the newly-installed-but-has-never-worked instant hot water heater for the kitchen sink;
  • the microwave (also new) which “flamed out” a few days ago;
  • the giant cockroach living under our living room cabinet (spotted in the early mornings);
  • the shower in our bathroom, which is more of a “sprinkle” and not really sufficient for washing one’s hair (but somehow is leaking into the wall and down into the apartment beneath us, as we were informed today);

 This is where I’m supposed to be.

 And even though

  • I got extremely irritated with Bruce a few days ago for leaving an important document (necessary for obtaining new work permits) back home in the U.S….
  • …until he pointed out (gently, I might add) that I too had forgotten to pack my very own same important document (which I had thought I had packed…)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention

to the plank in your own eye?” Matt. 7:3

 Ouch.

 Apparently, it’s not only the apartment that needs some “Fixer/Upper”ing around here…seems like somebody’s attitude could also use a bit of an adjustment.

“God resists the proud; but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Humbleness.

Grace.

Attitudes that are vital to my very existence here.

Because I know, from past experience, that there will be many times in the coming weeks and months when humbleness and grace will be the only things that will see me through

  • the cultural “faux pas” which are sure to occur…
  • the misunderstandings/miscommunications with our own fellow missionaries;
  • the frustrations with Kenyan politics, Kenyan rules, Kenyan traffic and roads
  • the frequent, regular power outages and water scarcities

So, here I am, Lord.  Have at it: have Your way with me, as you gently and graciously work to fix me up, so that I might, through your power, become more like You.

Because… this is where I belong.

 

FIX your eyes upon Jesus…. (Hebrews 12:2)

…and humble yourself under God’s mighty hand,

that He may lift you UP (1 Peter 5:6)

 

 

September 5, 2015 11:25 am
Published in: Ugali

We (Ryan and I) got me all packed up at the house, and I moved out on Friday last week.

After

  • Four weeks of packing up every closet, every drawer, every nook, every cranny;
  • Stuffing it all into the back storage room of the Taj (where it all fits, thankfully);
  • Cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, and chasing down every lacy spider web trail;
  • Canceling the DirecTV, the garbage pickup, the membership at the “Y”;
  • Draining, anti-freezing, and tarping the hot tub; (because the renters don’t want to maintain it)
  • Getting the top and bottom lawns mowed, all the weeds whacked (nicely done by Ryan)

And, on “the day”, making sure the lovely young family moving in had all the complete instructions they needed about each and every quirky little nuance of our house (the new heat tape plug for the Taj water pipes; the special instructions for the kitchen window roll shutter, etc etc)…

After all of that…there was nothing left to do, except to turn over the keys…and leave.

So now, I am officially “homeless” for the next eight weeks.

Only in a First World sense, of course. I have good friends and generous relatives who have kindly volunteered to “take me in”. Me, with TWO carloads of suitcases/trunks/boxes/jackets and this-and-that-miscellaneous-item-that-I-might-or-might-not-need-over-the-next-eight-weeks-and/or-to-take-to-Kenya

So….when Chloe threw up on the bed at first light a few days ago (while we were staying at a friend’s house)…because her doggie blanket, which normally should have been there to protect the bedspread, had been packed/forgotten/gone, somewhere…

And even though my friend, warm and understanding as she always is, took it calmly in stride …

I lost it.

Couldn’t stop the tears from slowly trickling down my face, even as I leaped out of bed to race for the water, soap, spot remover, whatever in the frantic rush to scrub/wash it out.

I thought I had been holding it all together quite well until then, thank you very much.

But it only took one small, unexpected bit of doggie burp-up to tip me over the edge.

Because, right at that moment…the reality, the enormity of this whole thing that has been going on for weeks and months (years in the planning, actually), this big-hairy-audacious-thing (as a friend of ours has named it) that we are doing once again…all came crashing in.

In one crystallized instant, I realized:

  • How much stress it is to pack up one’s current life to leave for another, even though both are equally loved and valued
  • How tied I am to a sense of place; and to want to “belong” somewhere, to not feel “rootless” and “extraneous”, like a vagabond, even for a very short amount of time
  • How much, in recent weeks, people’s kind-and-well-meaning-but-shot-through-the-heart comments had affected me (“TWO years??” “I could never leave my dog”; “How can you leave this beautiful place?”)
  • How fragile I truly am (perhaps it’s age-related…)

And how much in that instant, even though I know that what we’re doing is the right thing to do, which has been confirmed again and again through countless and faith-building events that continue to amaze (just this week we sold the car for the asking price, but can still keep using it till late October)…

In that instantI just wanted to go home.

Sometimes, reality bites. And it is not pleasant. Quite frankly, I would not be able to do any of this….except for one thing:

“If the LORD had not been on our side (let Israel now say),….[things] would have swallowed me alive…the flood would have engulfed us…the raging waters would have swept me away.” (Psalm 124: 1, 3-5).

I would not be able to pack up and leave my lovely home on a beautiful lake in northern Minnesota…..except that He is the one who has asked me to do it.

I could not leave my precious family (and faithful, stressed-out dog) to go to a new place, half-way around the world, where I will once again “start over” with making friends, finding my way, teaching and living…unless He was in it, guiding and leading and promising to “never leave or forsake me”.

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7).

Flint_stones_HC1

To “set one’s face like flint” means to “decisively, resolutely, and whole-heartedly follow the LORD JESUS CHRIST regardless of what the world thinks or says about us” (Brazeal, 2012).

And this: “Setting your face like flint implies that you’re expecting some opposition, to stand strong in the face of adversity. To set your face like flint means to regard these difficulties as worthwhile when you consider what they will lead you to…” (Gyamathy, 2013).

It means having the resolve to surrender your whole life to Him.

Jesus, Jesus, take me over now, I surrender

Everything I have, I lay it down

All of me.*

For all the good things I have in my life, it’s Jesus, the ultimate Reality, that matters most.  He is the only One who can enable me to do the hard things that I need to do right now.

So, “Yes, Lord”.  Yes.  Once again I resolve to set my face like flint, so that I may follow hard after You.

(* Michael W. Smith, Wonder, 2010)

 

 

 

 

August 10, 2015 9:12 am
Published in: Ugali

I’ve been packing up the house, “slowly by slowly” (a favorite Kenya expression of ours, comparable to the American “little by little”). It’s “that time” again, to pack up the stuff, “this American life”, into boxes and containers, to be stored in various places around our property: the shed, the Taj, the “secret spaces” above the laundry room and bedroom closets (oops, guess they’re not so secret anymore…).

Here we go, again. Once more into the “breach”, i.e., once more into the world of missions, one more time to move from our lovely, idyllic, lake-side home in northern Minnesota to go half-way around the world to Kenya, Africa. Paradoxically, this part never gets any easier, and yet, it doesn’t seem all that difficult. After all, it’s not my first rodeo, folks; I’ve been there, done that; and I have the “Mzungu” t-shirt, somewhere, to prove it…

I know how to do this packing thing. I know to start early, organize by categories, do the knick-knacks and pictures first, then the various drawer spaces (who remembered there were all those tapered candles in the living room cabinet?), the books, the office, the Christmas dishes and glassware that only get used once a year.

And the clothes: easy to pack the winter things that won’t be required in the equatorial African sun. All the bulky coats, the sweaters, and the seven pairs of boots (yes, seven; I live where it’s winter 5-6 months of the year, people). Harder to know which clothes to take and which I will need to get me through the autumn season until I fly out in late October. I take one look into the closet and decide to decide on this, “later”…

Bruce, already in Kenya for a few weeks, did his part before he left, all the “big stuff” like fixing the roof leak, cutting up the dead, felled tree, and cleaning out the garage to make room for the furniture that our renters will not use or don’t want.   He is doing well so far, loving his new life at Kabarak University (see if you can spot him, late in this link, depicting the launch of the School of Medicine that recently took place): http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/ktnnews/video/watch/2000096569/-kabarak-university-has-launched-two-new-schools-at-the-university).

And, I don’t really mind, all this packing. I have the time, the whole month, to get it all done, to enjoy these last few weeks by the lake during the best time of the northern Minnesota summer. It’s beautiful and lovely, with all the trees in their greened out lusciousness, the rock garden plants giving pops of color here and there, the two Adirondack chairs down by the water’s edge inviting me to linger, the nightly call of the loons back and forth across the water, lulling me to sleep.

I am so blessed to have this place to call home; it has been a true sanctuary for me.

 

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View from House

 

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Morning Coffee with Chloe

 

And yet…it’s time…to pack it all up and go.

Because, the reality is that this place, with all of its “treasure”, is only so much space, so much stuff. And, quite frankly…it is not even “ours”. Not really.

…For a moment, we are here together
And it hits me that this won’t last forever

We can’t own it
We just get to hold it for a while
This Life.
We can’t keep it
Or save it for another time.
This Life…

What we give is all we have
How we love is what will last
And this Hope we know will carry us through this life.

            (“This Life” by the Afters, 2013)

One thing I know (although with each successive move I must learn it again): as much as possible when I pack, it’s best to hold things lightly, with open hands and heart.

 “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”

(James 4:13-14)

 “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me”

(Corrie Ten Boom)

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”

(Matthew 6:19, 21)

 So, as poignant and bittersweet as it always is, I am glad that I have this time. I will wander around our house and property to soak in the ambience of it all, the whimsical beauty of the northwoods, while I say goodbye.

I will savor each special object, every unique treasure that we’ve collected over the years as I pack them away, one by one, until I see them again, “next time”.

And I will hold them all, fondly but lightly, in my heart.

Because the true Treasure, the Hope who holds my heart, is here to carry me through.