Friday, May 30, 2008

My Only Begotten Son

There is nothing more alarming than to wake up to the frantic urgings of a little Korean yelling my name through the windows in the wee hours of the morning. Well, it is mid-day to her, but 6 a.m. is still wee to me. “Kelly!! Kelly!! Tim!!! Kelly!! Wake up!” In my semi-conscious stupor, I wondered why she could be hollering in my windows, surely on a hunt for someone to cut her hair or put a band-aid on her finger. But that only lasted for a second until the fog was cleared a little and I sensed danger in her voice. “What’s wrong?” I hollered through our slatted windows. “There is fire coming from your house!” I didn’t wait to hear which room, but leapt out of bed and darted off to find the culprit. I burst into the girls’ room, all was well. Sprinting across the living room, I threw my weight against Colin’s closed door and found my son lying in bed, three feet from his burning desk. The air was thick with black smoke, which had risen through the night as his candle burned down to the desk, sometime igniting the plastic casing that he had concocted, and moving over to slowly incinerate the Rubik’s cube which was still aflame. As soon as I yelled his name, he awoke and cried out in fear, instantly aware of the fire. Seeing that the fire was not spreading, I opened Col’s curtains and windows to allow the smoke to escape. Tim was quick on my heels, armed with a towel to extinguish the flames. Waiting outside of the window, our Korean fire alarm asked what had happened. Later I will make her some banana bread to show my gratitude for her saving my son’s life.
The commotion awoke Schyler, who is a natural morning person, and was chipper and inquisitive. “What happened? Did Col’s room catch on fire?” Not a hint of fear in her voice as Tim and I collapsed in a heap in the living room. After 3 minutes in the smoke-filled room, Tim’ lungs were staging a revolt, and my knees were Jello. I could feel my heart pumping wildly, trying to restore order in the midst of “fight or flight.” But Colin sat quietly, hugging his knees to his chest. No coughing, no crying, just sitting. How many hours had he been inhaling black plastic fumes? After turning off the generator, we went to bed around eleven, seven hours before my friend’s wake-up call. Had he been inhaling fumes for many hours? I kicked into nurse mode, assessing my son for signs of respiratory distress, or any other distress for that matter: cardiac, urinary, psychological, financial, spiritual, or endocrine. Zip. Zilch, Nada. Perfect. He admitted that he had been afraid when he woke up, engulfed in smoke, and his mother and father ranting. But he was not coughing and gasping for air in his closed room. His quietness was an uncommon mixture of fear and peace. Recovering on couches in the living room, I knew that the Lord had protected His boy, and I was compelled to break into a prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes it is easy to spot a miracle, especially when my own Shadrach, or Meshack, or Abednego is sitting next to me, without even a wiff of smoke on his clothes. Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Seasonal Affective Disorder

One of the best television shows ever created was Northern Exposure, an under-appreciated contribution of the 90’s, about a sleepy little town in Alaska with a New York doctor who left his heart on Park Avenue. One of the phenomena that this city doctor found peculiar to the Alaskan tundra was caused by long winters with few hours of sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real problem is some places of the world, where the brain experiences a shortage of natural light and seratonin levels suffer anemia. Jos is not one of these places. Even in the dead of wet season, with pregnant rain clouds always looming overhead, we have a plethora of light. But we do have another distinct cycle in our little missionary community. This being my fourth May, I am just now taking note of my own rhythm. As a Mom of three, my life revolves around the Hillcrest calendar rather than the January-December to which the rest of the world times their watches. The whirlwind of August, with the resumption of the school year brings a busyness to our beehive that always reminds me of new school supplies. I love it. Then we have birthdays and a nine-day school break in October, also fun. Rains stop and we can schedule outdoor activities without a contingency plan once again. The Christmas season is a mixed bag. The constant ache for family is exacerbated, but with the Miango frenzy, I have managed to hold sadness at bay for 4 years running. Then the long haul of Spring, when the school year feels eternal and the Easter Break seems to never arrive. First Rain is an annual highlight, when kids of all ages splash wildly in puddles. Then finally…the niggling ache in my heart begins to make itself known and I am aware that May is just around the corner, feeling it before I actually see its presence on the calendar.
My parents were solidly rooted at 10735 Valley Hills Drive for the bulk of my life. Selling their house when I was in my thirties, the mother of three, and living in Africa, one would imagine that I could have handled the sale with gracious maturity. One would be wrong. I inwardly protested and outwardly cried for many months, knowing that my childhood home would be inhabited by strangers who surely could not appreciate my memories. Being a spontaneous, free-spirit, it would seem that I might be an adventurous thrill seeker, always in search of new horizons to explore. The converse is true. In my heart of hearts, I love consistency: in geography, in emotion, and especially in friendship. I crave long-term bossom friends, the Anne and Diana type. The Jonathan and David type (preferably without any King Saul.) Those usually only happen over time, with two people who stay in the same place for awhile. So the first in my list of Questions-to-Ask-God, “Lord, I trust You, but why did you put me in a place with a constantly revolving door? The only consistent fact in this missionary life is that come May or high water, my friends will leave. Some for three months, some for six, some forever. I try to deny that May is coming the other eleven months of the year, but no matter my attempts to hold back the tide, May rolls up on shore every year, washing away my friendships like yesterdays sand castles.
So May is a month of turbulent emotions, a break-neck pace at Hillcrest with a litany of end-of-school activities. Perhaps some gregarious pioneer missionary plotted a scheme to make us all sick of each other throughout the month of May so that when the plane departed, we were ready to say Good Riddance! It doesn’t work. After years together in the life boat of missionary service in Nigeria, how does one continue on without fellow rowers, or without a crew chief or the familiar encouragement of my favorite Kiwi’s? (A Kiwi is someone from New Zealand!) But it is hard to break the rhythm to lick my wounds, feeling loss right along with everyone else, but feeling it as deeply personal. This is my Nigerian Seasonal Affective Disorder. If only it could be treated with a light-visor!!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cattle on a Thousand Hills

Something deep within my heart longs for beauty in a way that I never realized when I lived in Texas. I didn't have time for flowers and sunsets as I was always running late for work at the hospital. I wasn't as aware of nature, the smell of the air after a rain, or the absence of anything green.
Although the last census was inconclusive, we have heard that the city where we live is home to about 1 million people. It is not large in size, so we are packed in here real friendly-like. I love my home, but after 2 years in the village, I can feel myself getting restless after a week of the horn-honking and dog-barking that is the background noise of life in Jos.
Yesterday Tim and I traveled to a beautiful village not far from our home where several years ago, another missionary started a school for Fulani children in his backyard. The school has since grown to such an extent that a team is coming from abroad to build a new dorm/school for the many children who are boarding there. Tim is supervising the preparations for the project, and I went along to help with medical assessments for these precious kids. We arrived while they were in class, and I was very impressed with these young children's comprehension of English. Divided into 3 classrooms, each with one small chalk board, a few chairs, and fewer tables, the children shared seats and were quiet and courteous as their Fulani teachers spoke with us. Very shy, I caught them sneaking glances at us, then quickly diverting their eyes when I would wave or wink at them. Then ripples of giggling and so many whispers to their friends.
I meandered behind the school, drawn by the green pastures and fields of maize planted in tidy rows. Far in the distance was a grove of palm trees, and my mind went back to Hawaii, to our 5th Anniversary vacation that feels like a previous life. "Where are you going?" Tim hollered after me as I ventured out to the palms. I had to be among them, to hear the sound of the breeze through those branches, and to know for sure if that grove might feel as out of place as it looked. I was richly rewarded for my effort! As I approached the trees and slowly turned back toward the school, my breath caught in my throat. Behind the school lay a cluster of mountains, large hills really, that were green with new growth. Several waterfalls cascaded through the cracks of the hills, forming pools that I could not see from where I stood. The breeze was cool on my face, and the unmistakable cadence of wind through the palms calmed my beating heart. But the best part of all was the valley separating me from those encompassing hills, dotted all over by herds of plump Fulani cows feasting on the long grasses. Shepherd boys eyed me curiously, but I smiled and greeted in my broken Fulfulde until they were forced to smile at my ignorance. These are the people that we love, the reason why we live here, and they were flourishing in this beautiful place. As I reluctantly ambled back to the school, I breathed a prayer of gratitude for them to my Father, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.