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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Path of Wonder, and The Path of Suffering

This quote from the book on the Trinity I am sloowwwllly reading has stuck with me for at least a week, so it's worth sharing.  The author talks about how difficult it is for us to cross over from intellectual affirmation of doctrine to grasp the mystery of "deep calls to deep" (Psalm 42), and hold onto both aspects of knowing God.  Then he says:

"I might be oversimplifying, but I think there are basically two paths that allow people to have a genuinely new experience:  the path of wonder and the path of suffering."

Wonder:  awe, admiration, reverence, beauty, marvel, astonishment, mystery.
Suffering:  distress, pain, agony, torment, grief, loss, aguish.

Paradoxically paired, these two states break us out of our struggle to control, they both put us in a place of vulnerability.  They are not opposites so much as intertwined partners, descriptors of the human state in a unfathomably vast and intricate universe that is also dangerously full of hard sharp edges.  We are small, real, loved, uncertain.  Which is often the place where we can perceive, no grasp the presence of God in newer and fuller ways.

And paradoxically paired, wonder and suffering are like two arms holding our home, two parentheses surrounding our lives.  Naivasha, Kenya, Africa are the places of wonder and suffering.  We returned 9 days ago.  The last week+ has been a blur of both.  Five days at Naivasha, two at Kijabe, one of Serge-admin-calls-followups, and one of rest.  Rounds, lectures, emails, bedside teaching, unpacking, cleaning, listening, supporting, meeting, planning.  Right back into the thick of life.

Wonder:  the pounding afternoon drenching of rainy season, the suffusion of pink in the evening sky, the cheer of neighbors and friends in spite of uncertain futures, the embrace of truly wonderful team mates and friends, the simplicity of our own home, the growth or our garden with its soft bright leaves of spinach and cilantro, the privilege of hosting overnight guests more than half our nights back already, the grace of giraffe and pelicans and eland and jacaranda.

Suffering: the three babies who succumbed to curable problems this weekend, the baby with brain-damage from a difficult delivery after his mom was turned away from private hospitals for lack of funds, the 270+ Somalis killed by terrorist bombers in their own capital Saturday just to our NE, or the 46 Afghan police officers killed and hundreds wounded in two similar attacks by their own version of terrorists targeting their own people today (about 180 km south of our 2nd Lt), the wearying reality that next week's elections will likely mean another slow-down shut-down of medical services with potentially nothing resolved, the ongoing nursing strike in Kenya, the tension of working in a dysfunctional system and knowing when to bite our tongues and when to call out evil, the holy sorrowful moment of telling a 16 year old high school student the story of John 9 because the baby she just had was born with no brain . . . wanting her to know that this is not a punishment but for the mysterious glory of God in her life.

Walking through wonder, walking through suffering.  Pray that we would walk into mystery, into knowing deeply the God who is for us, with us, and so far beyond us.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Threshold Between Worlds

(written from the plane on Sunday) Last night, as I lay awake in the airport hotel in London, the word that came to mind was liminal.  The vague hovering outside of time and between spaces, the threshold from one thing to another where you might still be present in both, but not in either fully.  Two am in an island city, a few miles from an airport, 8 time zones from departure but still two from arrival.  A few hours of sleep having taken the edge off of exhaustion, a body confused into thinking night is day. 

And as I thought about that space that is neither here nor there, and the dis-ease of occupying it, the fading of what came before and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, I realized that the pause in travel between continents and social classes that characterizes our life parallels the space we walked with Scott’s dad over the last two weeks.  Liminal.  The threshold between the his four-score and five in once fit and then aging flesh plus once brilliant then increasingly troubled mind and his eternity as part of the new creation whose arc is ever upward.  We watched him withdraw from one and cross to the other and wish we knew what he struggled to tell us he saw or thought.  The valley of the shadow.

On a God’s-eye scale, this is more than a short walk through a low spot, this is the tale of our lives on earth.  We live in shadow, seeing through a glass darkly the outlines and reflections of glory that was, is and shall be.  

For us the transit back to Kenya carries some of the same loss as death.  Our trip to California was wrapped in weighty sadness, but not without its blessings too.  We had an unanticipated few days with two of our four kids.  We had weeks with Scott’s family.  We had Oceanside bike-rides and carrot cake and grilled salmon.  We had old photos and memories and hugs.  I feel even more acutely the departure from Julia who celebrates her 21rst birthday without us as we travel, and Luke who bravely strides into his own life calling.  The ache of the absence of Caleb and Jack looms as a darker shade in those shadows.

We recited Psalm 23 at Dave’s memorial service, a passage so familiar one can forget its power.  Our liminal life plays out in the valley of the shadow of death, but even here the poet claims to fear no evil.  It’s hard to grasp that such transitions from one world to the next, be it Earth to Heaven or California to Kenya, are the very place where God comes to set the feasting table.

A glimpse of that came a few hours before the restless 2 am thoughts.  London, neither old home nor current home, a threshold place between them, offered us an overflowing cup Saturday night.  Thanks to Serge social media we realized that one of our sister teams had planned a 5-year-anniversary celebration dinner for a church they had birthed.  At the last minute we contacted our friends and were embraced by their community.  Candleight and sparkling cider, immigrants and children and homeless people and students and artists and unlikely edge-people who had been gathered into a fellowship.  An hour of celebration and good food, slideshows and prayers.  Even in transit, the presence of God in God’s people.

Death makes me tired, tired of living apart, tired of the scattering and constant transition that the missionary life holds.  Tired of living on the threshold between worlds, never fully part of any.  Yet this is the cross.

A cross rearranged becomes a doorway.  Would you pray for us to hover there in the shadows of both worlds, and invite others to the party? 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Celebrating Julia: 21 years and Paradox

Today Julia Kathleen Myhre turns 21.  And David Vernon Myhre will be remembered in his memorial service, and buried in the ground.
Here they are exactly 21 years ago.  And today I know Grandad, and Grampy (my dad who died 11 years ago) would be thrilled with just who that little baby has become.  So we hold the paradox of death and life, mourning and celebration, ending and beginning, in our hearts today.

And because we are in California, sorting through hundreds and hundreds of photos, in a land of limitless internet, for the 21rst birthday we look back to that little girl with some fun photos:  spunky, sparky Julia, full of vigorous life and will.  Ready to hug, ready to hold her own.  Never far from her beloved bear.  Keeping up with brothers, helping mom.  Daddy's girl through and through.

Oct 4th 1996 in Reston, VA 
(our families rejoiced that her expected delivery date and Scott's Family Medicine recertification exam, which had to be done in person in those days, overlapped so she was born in America)

By early November we were back home in Bundibugyo

Big brothers' embrace, which continues to this day.
When she was 8 months old, we ran for our lives, and ended up back in the USA for a few months evacuated from rebel warfare.  So this is her first birthday, in West Virginia.

We returned to work in Kijabe for a few months and wait for Jack's birth. (and just for fun, here's the same two, Julia and Luke, this weekend)
Back to 1998 below . . 

And so began a special relationship with this boy who is nearly a twin

By her second birthday she was growing in confidence and charm and kindness and joy.

Her third birthday, a cowgirl in Uganda with some princess accoutrements . . 

More brother shots (waiting at the airstrip in our secret service glasses)

Always her own person, her own style.

On her birthday, I have to reflect on 21 years of being the mother of a daughter who brings us such love and peace.  After two boys I was completely ready for another, and quite satisfied with that, but God gave us Julia to show us a different side of love.  A 'how can I help' or 'here let me do that' spirit that smooths over all our rough edges and makes our family a better place.  A young woman who excels in academics and sports but actually prioritizes relationships and service and spirituality.  A growing activist for the environment, human culture, and health and how those three forces intersect for flourishing.  A competent crosser of cultures and languages.  Last weekend she flew into California with her smiles and neck massages and carrot cake baking and kitchen cleanups and encouraging words, and lifted all our spirits.  It's a joy to be her parent, and we delight in who she is and who she is becoming.  Happy Birthday Julia!!

We love you!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Day is on its Way: Resurrection

This is the resurrection view for Dave Myhre--a ridge of pine and swooping gulls, overlooking the pacific.  It's been a full week now, since he died, with hours of little details one might not expect.  Cleaning out the room in the nursing home, saying goodbye to the kind caregivers there.  Meeting at the funeral home, the cemetery, to re-sign a dozen documents.  Gathering facts to write an obituary.  Taking that and a photo to the local newspaper office.  Meeting with the pastor about a memorial service.  Receiving visitors, and food.  Going to the florist to arrange flowers for the church.  Choosing music and Scriptures.  Sorting through a thousand photos to choose a few dozen for a slideshow.  Scanning them. Talking to relatives on the phone.  Writing thank you notes.  Canceling dentist appointments and prescription refills.  Trips back and forth to the airport.  Tears at times, and weariness. Julia and Luke breathed fresh air into all of this for several days.  As Dave was in his last hours, we bought them tickets to come out for the following weekend, each missing some school and work but maximizing time with Nana and the family.  Due to other considerations the memorial service timing got switched to tomorrow (Wednesday) instead of two days ago (Sunday) while they were here, but we had a sweet time of sitting on the beach sharing memories in Grandad's honor, spent lots of time as a family with Nana, took a couple of bike rides along the ocean, and visited the grave site.  He will also be buried tomorrow, at the site pictured above.

This past week, a creative American prophet-song writer named Chance the Rapper performed a new song on late night TV.  Perhaps my interpretation is colored by the reality of our family events but I found it to be a profoundly hopeful song.  Chance talks humbly and self-reflectively about the American dream, and the emptiness of that in ways that wealth and fame do not satisfy but actually make life more complicated.  But the song returns again and again to the image of waking up from a dream, to a new day.  A time of justice, and peace.  A very Biblical vision of resurrection.

The day is on its way.  No more sorrow, no more tears.  No more shooters with automatic weapon stockpiles murdering concert-goers in unprecedented domestic gun violence numbers.  No more hurricanes wiping out homes and livelihoods.  No more lonely widows, bereaved children, years of separations.  The day is on its way, and we are called to bring it to bear with all we do here on this earth.