Not suffering alone

Recently I was staying at friend’s house in Kigali.  It was 10 pm, we were just about to start turning in, when she got a phone call.

Baby Nathan was having trouble breathing.

So I jumped in her car with her, and we picked up Amiss, Marieth, and baby Nathan.  As they got in, I could hear that he was still sucking some air in, but it was laboured, and it  obviously wasn’t anything like enough.

Nathan has trouble getting air sometimes, especially when he becomes stressed, but the addition of a cold made it so much worse.

So we sped off to the hospital, where they put him on oxygen.  As the doctor were talking with his parents, he started to get upset and cry again.  Even though his mama had her hands on him so he would know he isn’t alone, he likes to have someone close to his face, talking to him.  So I went around and did that, while his parents talked with the doctor.  He calmed right down.

nathan hospital 2

Later, they were taking some blood.  So I went around and talked to him again, but it didn’t calm him down.  I almost stopped then, but then I realized – even if its not stopping his distress, it might help somehow for him to know he isn’t alone.

I was thankful to be able to be there with them at this moment.  I was so thankful that Nathan was able to get a treatment that helped.

After a few tests, they sent us home, and over a week or so he recovered from his cold.

I realized that I could empathize with this baby:  I have been in so much pain – and all the things that go with it – loneliness, bewilderment, confusion, trying desperately to just do basic things to survive.   But knowing that I haven’t been alone has made all the difference.

 

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Occasional Sinkage Too

(Exciting Guest Post from long time listener, first time caller….. Mike)

I don’t post often but when I do…..

Being back in Rwanda has, as Amanda has well conveyed, been so good but often so painful. In the midst of this we have had to make more internal efforts to remain on top of the wave… to use a surfing metaphor (just wait, it’ll make sense…maybe).  To this end, I have returned to a practise I had stored all the way in the back closet of my ever busy life and drew it out again particularly since our return to Rwanda. Whether you would call it praying, meditating, centering, contemplation, a long, deep breath of consideration to slow the heart and calm the soul… it is that.

As I come from a Catholic church background, I have often been drawn to images and icons of God and the saints. Paintings, pictures, sculptures, architecture have all held my interest in how they communicate something of the internal workings of ourselves.  And towards this end I was going through images and icons I recognized from my younger days when one stood out quite significantly. It is a painting I found in the internet-o-sphere (the link to the page is on the image), referencing a well known story in the Bible of Jesus (successfully) and Peter (not-so-successfully) walking on water. Here it is:

jesus reaching for peter

It became my laptop’s desktop background so that every time I turned on my computer I would see it even if only briefly. Amanda came over to talk to me afternoon as I was at my computer, saw the image and asked me why I liked it. I began by describing my appreciation for the detail in the water ripples, Jesus’ countenance, the feet that stand firmly on water and waves, the hand that is reaching down and reaching out, the form of it, not an aggressive fist or weak wristed stretch but with the surety of a carpenter’s strong handshake grip. But most of all what stood out to me was the perspective. This is where the inside joke comes from. As I began to explain this to Amanda, that it was Peter under the water seeing Jesus reach for him and more it felt like it was me in Peter’s place.  I paused for a moment to consider why this perspective was important to me, and we both said at the same time: “I’m drowning!.”

We burst out laughing at both coming to this conclusion at the same time.  And then laughed a little harder because that’s pretty dark, but here we are laughing.

But if I am in the dark, laughing at the darkness is a pretty good position to take.

 

Cultural Experiences

Trying to evaluate whether or not we will stay in Rwanda has made me look at some things through a bit of a different lens.  I can see some of the ways in which I have adapted to the culture (I’m a lot less punctual, for example).  I also continue to wrestle with trying to relate our experiences here to people in Canada, and vice versa.

Something happened the other day which makes me laugh every time I think about it.  I was meeting Amiss, and another friend was next to him as I walked up.  The other friend (a middle-aged man) looked at me appreciatively and said, “You look good.”  Now, I know enough to know he meant, “You look fat.”  Then, as we left, Amiss said, ” I told him not to say that to you.” So obviously, he commented on it even before I walked up.

First, I can be honest with myself that several months of comfort eating in a land of readily available unhealthy food certainly shows.  But I am laughing, because even though this would be totally inappropriate and offensive where I come from, here, gaining weight means you have enough to eat, and so being large is a sign of wealth and health.  And I am laughing because my friend knows enough about our culture to try to protect me.  And I am laughing at the difficulty of trying to explain this to people in Canada.

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Something we are talking about is the accumulation of small difficulties.  Most of them are really not a big deal in themselves, but as you add them up, life becomes quite the struggle.  To an observer (many times, me), it appears that the simple solution to many of the problems is to generally try to be a bit more organized.  But so many things fight against that.

To illustrate, I wanted to tell you a story one of my friends told me, about when she accompanied another friend to the hospital to give birth.  But I got bored writing it, and so decided surely you would be bored reading it.

Not because its a boring story – its not, it is full of suspense, humour, and insight into how things can be here.  But I have to do so much explanation in order to try to relate it to someone who hasn’t been here, that the story gets lost.

And this is my struggle: in so many ways, it is impossible to relate our experiences from one culture to another.

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A local perspective on North America:  We bought this globe at a market, and then laughed later when we looked more closely at which places got labeled.

 

It makes it difficult to process; to seek insight and advice from others.  But we are working on it – trying our best to find ways to relate and to evaluate our options that make sense.  And we are looking at what we have learned and experienced through a lens of gratefulness.

 

Occasional Sinkage

I typically write the blogs when I am doing well – I don’t write on bad days.

But I want to let you know – there are bad days.

There have been quite a few of them lately – days when I am just waiting to go to bed.

There have been days recently where it has been a colossal effort just to feed myself – and when I manage to get off the couch, and eat something or do some dishes or ANYTHING that gets me started – I can manage to be productive the rest of the day despite occasional bouts of crying or whining.  (Mike has been amazingly supportive and patient the last few weeks.)

There have been a couple days when I haven’t managed to start.

 

But tomorrow, its a whole new day.

We have great and incredibly supportive people even here, friends who walk with us daily and help make sure we don’t sink too far.  Mike & I do our best to keep a sense of humour, even if it does tend to be a little dark these days.  (For example, last week we shared a good laugh about the feeling that we were drowning.  I guess you had to be there.)

I mostly want to share the parts that are inspiring or encouraging – but its not an honest picture.

Some days, I just sink.

 

 

More Plans

I’m hoping that by now most of you have gotten some insight into our heart and intentions for the future, even if you (like us) might be a little foggy on the details.

Let me share with you some of what we are planning, and some of our ideas for our future directions.

Long-term, we will be working with discipleship in a way that is in line with our overarching vision statement.  We also plan to remain with YWAM in a full-time capacity.

For the next few months, we will be travelling, specifically with the intent of connecting with people who were directly affected by Beatrix’s death.  Many of our friends were witnesses to the accident, and returned quickly to pressures of full-time ministry.  We are hoping that our visits will provide comfort and inspiration to our friends and colleagues.  We are also expecting to be comforted and inspired ourselves.  In June, we will attend a gathering with the leaders of YWAM Canada.

We haven’t made any firm decisions about what we will do long-term in regards to being in Rwanda.  Being here has helped, but we still don’t feel ready to either close the door to coming back, or to commit to continue serving here.  We are working towards putting things into a holding pattern here.  We are planning to return at about the same time next year (before our visas expire), and will make a decision by then about what we will do.

For the last 6 months of 2017, we are planning to stay in one place and serve with an existing (probably YWAM) ministry.  There are a couple of places that we think would be a good fit – where we could slip in and be useful (yes, I am looking at you, YWAM Vancouver).  However, we are very aware that the next few months might show us a better opportunity, and so we are travelling with eyes and ears open for opportunities to serve.

 

Music for the soul

I made you a playlist.

I’ve spent so much time just sitting playing a silly game (yes, it’s Candy Crush), and listening to music.  The music has been working its way around my soul.  It has helped me to grieve and has encouraged me – there are many mornings where I can be found with the phone in my hand and tears in my eyes.  (But not always sadness, often that some lyric has spoken right to the place in my heart that needed encouragement that day.)

Some of the songs I’ve talked about on here before.  Some of them are songs that speak about faith, some are not.  I tried to pick lyric videos where possible – but I’ve just been listening to the songs.  (Youtube just seemed like the best way to share this with you, the videos aren’t necessarily relevant.)  I think some of the songs are fairly obvious (like, say “Hope is the Anthem of my Soul”), but I wanted to make a few notes…

  • I’m listening again to much of the same music I was listening to shortly after Beatrix’s death… I think it is the renewal of grief as we return to our home – thus the songs by Jars of Clay and Jon Foreman/Switchfoot.
  • The song, “So Will I,” has been an anthem for me for the last few months.  It has been a reminder, an encouragement, and a declaration.
  • “All Time Low” makes me laugh – it is a little bit crass and has some language in it – but I identify so much with the line, “I’ve been trying to fix my pride but that sh*t’s broken.”  Its a funny way of putting it, but it is very true.
  • And, “The House of God, Forever.”  I’m sure most of you will recognize some of the lyrics. The line, “even though I walk through the valley of death and dying… you are with me, you’re always with me,” makes me tear up every time, because it has been my road the last few months.

So have a listen.  For those of you wondering how we are – this is a good representation.  I also know some of you are going through your own heartsickness and griefs – I hope this can speak to you as it has spoken to me.

Why I love YWAM

For some reason, I hear a lot of criticism of YWAM (Youth With A Mission).  I’m not sure why it is, but for some reason, people often seem to want to tell me what they think is wrong with the organization I work with.  And every time I have to fight this primitive defensiveness that rises up in me.  It feels something like, “Shutup!  You can’t say that about my family.”

Don’t get me wrong – I recognize our flaws as well as anyone.  In addition to simple familiarity, our association with YWAM has been mostly based on a couple things: we love the foundational values of YWAM, and we love the people we get to work with.

Working with YWAM means we have to raise all our own support.  (This means that the only funds we get for salary and ministry are what we can raise personally.)  I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with this part of the job.

The hard part about this is that I often feel like I have to convince people that who we are and what we do is valuable.  It can make it difficult to be entirely honest about our struggles.  (Would you want to support missionaries who are struggling with a round of culture shock [even though this is a normal thing that happens regularly to most people living in other cultures]?)  Fundraising is a lot of work – getting the right pictures, organizing, writing updates and newsletters, and speaking about what we are doing at churches and events.  (And trying to figure out with just the right amount of humility and pushiness, who might be interested in any of those things.)  It is also hard to raise funds when your main role is administrative…  it’s not exactly the kind of work that brings in the big bucks.  (Although many parts of ministry are dependent on good administration to function smoothly.)

Fundraising is not why I signed up for missions – but I do know that without doing that, I don’t get to do anything else.

Now let me tell you why I love it…

I like the idea that we get to be a bridge between different cultures.  Living in North America, it is easy to forget about what happens in the rest of the world, and it is amazing to be able to share what we see and experience.  Hearing about what we do can bring out the best of peoples’ generous hearts, and it is humbling and awesome to be a part of that.

And the best part – visiting!  Communicating about what we do is actually most effective on a personal, face-to-face basis.  Many of the people who support us are people we know and love – so we get to go visit our friends, talk about our lives, and call it work.  HA!  I love it.

 

In the months since Beatrix’s death, my appreciation of this form of financial support has only grown.  We have had the freedom to proceed “back to work” as our hearts are ready.  We have a wide and deep support network: we have had financial and emotional support from people in Canada, Rwanda, and around the world.  This support has been and continues to be crucial to our recovery.  I am so very thankful that it is spread out, so that people can do what they want/what they are able to do without feeling pressured.  I’m thankful that the burden of our neediness has been spread out over many strong shoulders.  And I am thankful that the pain of our grief is somehow eased because we know other people are feeling it with us.