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Posted by: | April 3, 2010 | No Comment |

I wrote this months ago and forgot to post it….

November 23, 2009 (night bus from Mombasa to Nairobi)

It’s always easier to criticize others than it is to look within ourselves and accept our faults, isn’t it?

This morning, I started getting really confused by God. Before I knew that BD was going to pick LD up, I was pondering the thought of LD going to the orphanage.  When you care about someone, you don’t usually let them get hurt. In fact, you intentionally do whatever you can to avoid that person from enduring painful experiences. With one exception: the pain prevents future pain or is, in some way, ultimately good. (At Flatirons, we use the metaphor of a parent taking their child in for vaccines.) I care for little Dan and as such, I want the very best for him. He’s not my kid. Still, I have these strong feelings for wanting the very best for him. So there I was, in the shower, wondering how it was that God could say “no” to so many of his children. “No, you won’t have enough food today.” “No, you don’t get a bed to sleep in.” “Sorry, but no, you’re parents aren’t coming back.” “No, you can’t go to school.” “No, no one will love you today.”

My God is a loving God. I know that for sure. He is good. He loves us. “Us” even includes the people he seems to be saying “no” to on such basic matters (food, shelter, family).  Complex, isn’t it? So there I was, in the shower, wondering why God would say “no” to so many of his children. I ran through the possible scenarios of why you let people you love get hurt and came to the conclusion that God isn’t saying “not yet” (as in, “the timing isn’t right… be patient) nor  is he somehow preventing future pain  by allowing momentary suffering (think: vaccines). He’s straight up saying “no.”  “No, you won’t have enough food today.” “No, you don’t get a bed to sleep in.” “No parents.” “No education.” “You’re forgotten.”

So there I was, in the shower, thinking of how it must pain God to see his children suffer. You see, if my God is the loving, good God I know he is, he must hurt when his children do. I stepped out of the shower with a few things on my mind. First was the reminder that I can’t possibly know what He’s up to or what His plan is.  I trust Him. Part of trusting him, to me, means being able to say “God, I don’t understand what you’re up to and that’s okay.” It’s a strange agreement between not understanding what’s going on and not being angry that I have with God. How can I be angry with him when I don’t fully understand what he’s doing? Second, was this extremely vivid idea of God in pain. Something wasn’t right. I felt like there was a piece missing to the puzzle. What wasn’t I getting?

As the day progressed, I thought through a few things and realized the following:

-It’s not so much God saying no as it is us. We can fix things and choose not to.

-It’s not this life that matters. It’s the next. Perhaps short lifespans and destitute living situations are part of His entirely perfect plan.

November 25, 2009 –  3:45AM – KLM flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam

Wow. I’m on my way home. For the last year, the big event was coming to Africa. For the last two months, it’s been being in Africa – trying to do more than endure, trying to thrive. A few hours ago, it became the journey home. Home.  I don’t have a job. All of my belongings are in storage. Yet, home is unmistakable. It’s a group of people scattered around Denver and Boulder.  Home is not an address. Home is a feeling. In about twenty two hours, John Bryant and Catressa will pick me up from the airport.  Just like that, I’ll be home.

It’s sad to be leaving. Rural Kenya is not an easy place. It’s hot. It’s chaotic. No one knows what time it is… and when they do, they don’t care. Proper sanitation doesn’t exist.  Flush toilets? Hardly.  Usually a long drop or some variation of a “toilet.” There are almost never bars of soap at the sinks… and sinks in themselves are only found in fancy restaurants in Bungoma town. People are content living in huts made of sticks and thrown mud. The “furniture” is simple and handmade. Most “family rooms” (the only room in the hut apart from the bedroom, often) are decorated only with posters from the previous election or political figure and simple handmade furniture (chairs, coffee table). In nicer homes, people have furniture they purchased (still no comparison to what we call furniture) and these covering throws they decorate with.

I’m so thankful for my time in Kenya. Rural Kenya is a beautiful place. The people are strong. The views are breathtaking. There’s never a shortage of laughter. It’s so crazy I can’t adequately compress it into words. Chickens run about. Everywhere. Cattle are tethered to the yard. Tethered to the road. Tether in the sugar cane field. The women are thankful. The children are joyful. The men are good men. In a society where women carry the burden and men idle, it’s enticing to say the men are bad. After all, they are largely abusive and often idle. They certainly don’t carry their share of the load. Then again, that’s the society. Given the society, the culture, the traditions, again, I say the men are good men. They are not monsters.

At the risk of sounding conceited, I’m moving from one good thing to the next. When I left in September I analyzed if I was running to something or away from something. At that time, I was confident I was running to something. Sitting in the plane two months later, I ask myself the same question. Hands down, I’m getting back to something. I have nothing to run from in Kenya. Nothing. There’s a certain peace that comes with knowing that I’m blessed in such a way that I leave one amazing environment only to enter into another.

(Section removed.)

Anyway… back to the leaving thing. I think we’re all always either coming or going. Funny, really, since in order to go to one place, you must leave another… so perhaps we’re all always coming and going. I’m coming to Denver. I’m going from Kenya.

I have mixed emotions about it all. Yesterday was tough. It’s beginning to get a little emotional. I’ve been so strong the last two months, it will be interesting to see how I adjust back home. I adjusted to this life of poverty so easily. I’m not even sure I hope the transition back into waste and abundance will be an easy one.

What if I don’t have as much in common with my friends when I get back? What if I get angry? Or full of guilt? Again, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. (Though the bridge is in sight.)

“Eggs or waffles” the flight attendant asks. I have a choice. The simple fact nearly makes me want to cry. Again, I’m reminded of how bizarre this journey is.

November 25, 2009 – 9:22AM MST – Canada (North America!)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – james 1:27

“That is why I delight in weaknesses, hardships, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (paraphrase)

The time on my watch and the time on my computer match. (The time on my netbook was deliberately set to Mountain Standard Time while I was in Africa.) We’re technically still in a different time zone, but it’s close enough for me. In an attempt to minimize jet lag, I changed the time on my watch in Amsterdam and have been trying to stick to the MST time zone. Granted, this means a handful of hours of sleep in the last three days when I arrive… but I get a feeling staying awake once I get home won’t be much of an issue. So excited to see John and Catressa. So excited to be home.

I want what is familiar. In a few short hours, I’ll have it. My phone will work. I’ll turn it on and connect to my friends. They’ll write, they’ll call, and just like that we’ll be connected again. We’ll be in the same time zone. The same continent. It will be amazing. Excitement doesn’t describe it.

November 27, 2009

The longer I wait, the number I’ll get. Numbness allows the tendencies of waste and over-abundance to sneak in and replace the awareness of those with less.

November 30, 2009 –

Safe people. Safe places. Safe situations. Safety: “Freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss,” “the quality of averting or causing injury, danger, or loss.” My commercial banking experience has taught me the importance of mitigating risk. Life is largely about mitigating risk – about identifying danger and preemptively determining responsive action plans. Sometimes, it’s about avoiding the dangers entirely.  That’s where safety comes in.

There are times we’re ready to battle and times we require peace. I could battle right now, but I don’t want to. I’ve been battling for the last two months. I’ve battled poverty. I’ve battled sickness. I’ve battled chaos. I’ve battled others. I’ve battled myself. I need a break. I need peace… so I search for safety. I search for safety in safe people, safe places, and safe situations.

Went to MERGE tonight. It was amazing. Walking through the front doors of Flatirons Community Church tonight felt like finally being home after a long journey… and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Flatirons has nailed what it means to be a church, to be a community. For a place that hates religion and hates the pain churches have caused… we’re awfully good at loving.

December 3, 2009

“All around you people will be tiptoeing through life just to arrive at death safely but, dear child, do not tiptoe. Run, hitch, hop, skip, or dance. Just don’t tiptoe.” – Unknown

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

December 6, 2009

It’s easy to talk about the things that don’t matter and hard to talk about the things that do. Reading James Maskalyk’s book, Six Months in Sudan, has really helped with my re-entry experience. I picked the book up in Nairobi and almost immediately began scribbling in the margins. The book encouraged me to think and, somehow, became a safe place for me to scrawl my thoughts and emotions.  What follows are excerpts from the book, sprinkled with thoughts of my own.  What is written in quotations belong to someone else. It’s something I found comforting or thought-proving. What is left are my thoughts.  In a sense, I’m able to cheat a little by sharing someone else’s similar experience with you instead of my own. Luckily for you, I’ve chosen someone much better with words than I.

Notice: I’m not seeking your approval. Nor am I seeking to fight with anyone. I am simply sharing my thoughts and it’s not an easy thing to do. Please be considerate when responding.

“What separates action from inaction is not indifference: it is distance.” –JM

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.” – Joan Didion (Commencement address at University of California, Riverside, California, 1975)

“My time in Abyei was not easy to live through, though worthwhile, nor has it been to recount. I am, however, grateful for both opportunities. They have allowed me to stay firm in the world, to make peace with things I may otherwise have tried to ignore.” –JM (xii)

I have not yet been able to make peace with the things I may otherwise have tried to ignore. I’ll get there.

(from Nairobi) I want to blame others… but blaming others means blaming ourselves. As such, I’m as much a worthy candidate as anyone else. Perhaps ignorance is an excuse. It is most definitely a poor one.  – I don’t expect everyone to associate faces or names with poverty and pain. That, be it a blessing or a curse, is only available to a select few of us. Others, I believe, ought to seek to, at most understand and to at least educate themselves, recognize the situation, be aware.

“We return with no mistake about how the world is. It is a hard place – a beautiful place, but so too an urgent one. And we realize that all of us, through our actions or inactions, make it what it is.” – JM (3)

“Some of the work in repairing the world is grim; much of it is not. Hope not only meets despair in equal measure, it drowns it.” –JM (3)

“People are hungry to be brought closer to the world, even its hard parts.” – JM (4)

“I wanted to see who I was when everything was taken away, when all the insulation between the world and me was removed.” – JM (7)

I learned who I was when everything was taken away. The insulation between me and the world is incredibly isolating. It allows me to live a life of abundance and frivolity whilst others fight for the basics. I learned who I was when everything was taken away. I love that person. I hate that insulation. Some may call it protection. I call it dangerous.

When forgetting is easier than remembering, we must force ourselves to remember. Though easy to forget, the consequences of doing so are grave.

It’s not an easy place to love. It’s complicated. I guess everywhere is, but maybe this place more than others. Most people here are good. Too many of us suffer, though. Too many resources in the hands of too few.” –JM (36)

“You never really get clean, at least not for long.” – JM (72)

“Not only does our language seem irreconcilable, so do our worlds.” – JM (117)

“Being grateful is a lesson I was taught well. It is one the world keeps repeating. Each of us is lucky to be alive and to be surrounded by people we care about. There are a thousand million ways it could be otherwise. … It’s such a lucky thing, it’s hard to believe.” – JM (139)

“Now, take a glass rod, and just touch the inside lip of the beaker. A small piece of glass dust flakes off, so small you can’t see it, and falls inot the water. In an instant, the water becomes a crystal. Completely solid. The molecules are at rest. / I think, for me, that is the reason we are here, to be that piece of glass. It doesn’t matter if you are from the north, or the south, or a Christian, or a muslim, or a civilian, or dinka, or misseriya, or soldier, or civilian. We deliberately don’t care. Our intention is to make a place that is safe and solid for everyone in Abyei. And it is not just about medicine; that is only our tool.” – JM (157)

How awesome is it that we get to be a part of a generation that understands one of the purest ways to serve God is to care for others? I passionately believe that God has directed us to use various tools (talents) to serve him and love others. For some people their tool is medicine. For others it’s childcare. For me it’s business skills.  Grab your tools and let’s get to work.

“I don’t want the work to be easy. I would feel I was in the wrong place if it was. I just want to know that of the many fights out there, this is a good one.” –JM (169)

“Charles Peguy, the French writer, told the story of a man who died and went to heaven. When he met the recording angel he was asked, “Show me your wounds.” And he replied, “Wounds? I have not got any.” And the angel said, “Did you never think that anything was worth fighting for?” – Timothy Radcliffe, “What is the point of being a Christian?”

Joe: “That helped me, when I think that I am hurting at the moment, that at least I tried to fight things, and that is why it hurts like it does.”

“The world never lets go, and we are tossed about by its circumstances.” – JM (171)

“Like peace, sometimes war only needs a little piece to become real.” – JM (191)

“You leave from Khartoum and step off the plane in Geneva, and the world you left… collapses.” – JM (212)

The immense excitement on the Amsterdam-Minneapolis flight.

“I’m not surprised. We completely inhabit it, focus our entire energies on it, but as soon as you queue up in the airport to get a Starbucks latte, it will seem as far away as the moon. But that is why I am writing this. To convince us all that it is not.” – JM (212)

I want to do it again… and do it better. I want to care more. I want to share more. With others and with myself.

“I wonder what we lose as we drop another piece of human pageantry, another extraordinary piece of our history. Perhaps nothing. … I suspect the part of us that encourages uniformity, that engenders such shame, that puts as arbiter a sensibility that sees differences as deviances, is more to blame than his parents.” – JM (239)

The tan lines on my feet and wrist are fading; the signs of months in flip-flops and wearing a watch. I’m sad to see them go.

“I sat there, holding the book, and realized that no matter how much I try, I will never go back to being the person I was before I left. I can try not to think about it most of the time, and most of the time, I will succeed. The memories will fade from video to short sepia snapshots, but from nowhere, a simple sentence will throw all the hardness forward and with it, that helpless, sleepless, lonely drowning ache.” – JM (260)

My generally well cared for body was made tougher by the rural Kenyan lifestyle. After two months without regular exercise or physical affection, my body has changed.  For example, my feet are tickled by hot tub jets. My back muscles immediately respond with pain and relief at the slightest touch. I gained weight. My hard earned climbing muscles lost their usefulness and faded into fat. My tummy padded weight onto core muscles. Catressa calls it my baby belly. It’s this strange mixture of soft and hard. Strength, covered by weakness. I feel human. I feel responsive. In the toughness, parts of me were weakened. I like it. (12/15/09)

“I think there is more war inside of me than I thought.” – JM (281)

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, so I stay up late, wake up early. Run at 80%. Dream for sleep, and then watch the hours tick by.

“I want to bring them to that place. I want them to understand that even if we don’t share space with these people, we share a time.

I have other videos I want to show them…. They are of two children. One is starving and about to die. She fixes the camera lens once with her wide dull eyes, then turns away. The other is of a three-year-old boy who is breathing too fast, about fifty times per minute. With each breath, his skin sucks in and his ribs look like a Chinese lantern. … I want to ask them, “Have you ever seen a child so sick? Ever? Really? Where?”

You shared the exact same time as these ones.

I want to bring them there, to erase the distance until it is invisible and only the moment remains. If I can get them close, as near as I can without taking them there, in the hushed and conspiratorial silence that follows their arrival, I have one last question.

So what?

So what.

Tell me. What does it matter that fifteen minutes after this, the mother wrapped the body that once held her daughter and walked slowly down the hospital road, across the football field, and disappeared with her bundle into the market?

She did.

So what to you, so what to us as humans. It’s possible that because you were too far to feel its ripples, it doesn’t matter at all. But if I can make it seem closer, maybe you can sense that it does. Decide for yourselves what we are. Decide for me.

I never get to ask. I connect at times, and at others the eyes in the audience seem far away. .. I wish I could take them, them and everyone I know, and show them that it’s not what I thought, that the swiveling telescope, the mirror images upside down, the sparking wires, that disappearing bright spot, it’s not about trying to reconcile two different worlds, it’s about understanding that it’s one.” – JM (336)

“It’s not about trying to reconcile two different worlds; it’s about understanding that it’s one.” This rocked me to my core. Still does. This rocks me to my core.

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