Thursday, December 29, 2011

An African state of mind

Today marks day 14 of bed rest. 14 days ago my doctor was preparing me to meet my little 29 week baby, he said his hope was I would make it maybe 1 or 2 more weeks. The diagnosis was severe preeclampsia, and I was quickly admitted to the hospital and put on strict bed rest with the expectation that I would be there until they delivered my very little baby.

Many of you know the story, that after just 4 days I was so stable that my doctor had downgraded my diagnosis from severe to mild and I was being sent home. Maybe you didn't know that I wasn't surprised.
In the 4 days I spent in that hospital room I quite literally felt the prayers from around the world being lifted up on my behalf. We were covered by three continents, countless countries. Friends, family, and even people who don't know us personally rallied around in prayer and God heard each one.

Since those days in the hospital I have had a lot of time to think. A lot.

When faced with fear, and I mean not your average fear but rather that wild, terrifying, all consuming fear, we have an incredible opportunity. We are afforded the chance to die to that fear, to give it away. Looking back I am so thankful for those moments two weeks ago when I was by myself, wild eyed and crying on my knees. I am thankful because it took that fear for me to lay down my life and die to myself again and hand it all over to God. Sound extreme? Crazy? Ridiculous?

It is.
That's the point.

We don't have the ability to ease our own fear. No one can give us the right words or a fitting quote that will take away the terror. We can calm ourselves down, take deep breaths and concentrate on good things, but at night, before we go to sleep, the fear is still there. It lingers, it digs it's claws deep into our very being.

But I have the secret, I've known it now for over four and a half years. My fear and hurt, the pain and terror, all can be taken away with one whisper. It takes one deliberate decision, a handover of the torch, and it's gone.

When I became a Christian I almost immediately felt called over to Africa. This raw state I'm experiencing brings me back to those days in Africa when I was terrified. I was terrified to have to watch another child die, to carry the weight of a dead baby in my arms again, or to grieve those losses one more time. I constantly learned to die to my will. When I look back to my days there I envy what my relationship with God looked like. I missed the rawness and wild nature of how desperately I clung to Him. I never woke up and faced a single day by my own strength, it quite honestly would have been impossible to especially during that first year in Benin.

And now I'm back in that state. I'm back to having no control. All of our plans, or even just thoughts of how this first year of marriage and pregnancy would go are long gone. I hope you believe me when I say I am happy about it. It took some time and some grieving, but we wouldn't trade our situation for any other.

I don't know if at one of my bi-weekly checks they will find a problem and send me over for an emergency delivery. I don't know if we will be visiting a little premature baby for the first weeks or months of it's life in a neonatal ICU. I don't know if my body will hold out another 5-7 weeks of pregnancy until this baby growing inside of me is strong enough to be on the outside.
What I do know is that I've been given the gift of 2 extra weeks already. I know that I count each day that passes as a gift.

When I go to sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night with fear lurking in the darkness I turn to God and remember immediately that this little babe will not be born one minute before He plans for it to be. Whatever the situation is on that day, He will be in control. All I have to do is simply trust that. There is no fear in trust.

Now let me tell you, my love for this baby is fierce. The picture in my head when I think about this baby is also one that brings me back to Africa.
The elephant mama is known to be the most protective mothers of all of the animals. She protects her baby to such a degree that you are only warned of two things when you enter certain safari parks. You are to watch out for the male elephants in heat (they leak putrid smelling urine which is supposed to help indicate that they are near, We just went ahead and did our best to avoid close encounters with those big boys) and you watch out for mama elephants with their babies. We saw more than once a mama raise her trunk and charge at the slightest suggestion of someone looking at her baby. I fell in love with elephants while in Africa. They are so majestic and powerful yet gentle and so beautiful. Really though, I loved the mamas and their all out abandon when it came to protecting that which is most precious to them.

That is the essence of how I feel towards this baby who is currently kicking hard enough that my stomach is visibly jumping. I love my husband and my family something fierce right now too.

More than anything though, I am one step closer in all of this to understanding Gods intense love towards me, towards us.

Psalm 141:14-21

The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A new day, a pretty different life

Written back on July 7th...

This is a bizarre way to break news, I know.
As I type I know I won't be publishing this post for at least several weeks. The thing is, I can't hold back the writing, my stream of conciousness any longer.
I'm pregnant.
Yikes, I hope I don't accidently press 'publish post' rather than 'save' at the end of this.

After 7 weeks of being married, my loving husband and I found ourselves staring at a digital readout of the 'p' word

Then we laughed.

With one little word we laughed out of joy at the gift we have been given. We laughed despite the timing of the 'p' word in our lives, and we laughed because we had this incredible deepening of our relationship occur in a split second.

As a nurse I started reading everything I could find about what my body was about to go through. I started an immediate campaign for the girls name I want (my proposal is the girl in the relationship gets to pick the potential girls name and the guy the boys name. A gamble, I know, but one I am willing to take) and then I sat back in amazement of what is about to happen.

Honest truth: We trust God with this. We know His timing is perfect, and we know the weight of responsibility is about to fall heavily on us. Our situation isn't ideal, we aren't ready in a worldly sense for this, and we know that it will be perfect anyways. God is bigger, He is greater than all of that.

To our little one:
I already love you. I wonder what you will look like every day. I picture myself holding and kissing you all the time. I will endure any discomfort and pain for you. To think God is knitting you together inside of me right now is the most amazing miracle I know I will ever experience. Incredible. That's all I can say.

Weirdest symptom so far:
Right eyelid fluttering for the last 3 weeks straight. Strange.

So there it is, I imagine I will publish for you all to see sometime in August, but until then I will keep the vomiting and other joys to myself (bet you're glad you read this last part)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Transitioning out of Africa has been hard.

Emotional ties, friendships that change, a new place, a different language, planning a wedding, uncertainty about the future, longing to go back to where things seemed to make sense (and not make any sense at the same time), distance from family while being incorporated into a different family and lifestyle, a fight for what is right and no clue in how to do it for the people who I left behind, a desire to hear God, to know Him again, to fall in love and see the world through His eyes, they all swirl around inside of me, coming out in the physical.

The most painful manifestation has been the headaches. Since coming to Holland my once a month pain has turned into almost daily, debilitating headaches. Sometimes they pierce through mornings and threaten my whole day. Other times they creep in with the afternoon, dull and steady. Some last for 4 days accompanied by absolute innability to process sunshine and music or the smell of good food because I can't tolerate the stimulation.
Joy stealers, these headaches.

The nurse in me has diagnosed at least a dozen physical contributers that could lead to this. The little girl inside wants to crawl into bed and pull the covers safely over her head and wait for the pain to go away. The brave woman pours a cup of tea and presses on, trying to deny the pain while she makes invitations and favors for her wedding. The wife-to-be tries hard to be the supporter and rock but then has a short temper when her husband-to-be doesn't seem to do exactly what she needs, even though she doesn't know what that need is.

Until last Friday this is how I have been living from day to day. I read the New Testament each night, feeling a hunger for something that until now lacked a bit. I want to understand more, I don't know where to start, so I go to Jesus. I prayed for the pain to go away. I prayed quickly before bed, as usual, and nothing changed. I wasn't surprised considering the canyon I felt between myself and God.
Last Friday a book came that I ordered. I saw it on someones blog, one of a woman who inspires me. I knew her recomendation would be a good one.

Until last Friday I was reading books about Africa, about the 'Hole in our Gospel', reading them like a person who hasn't seen food for days. The binging on these books fueled my "this is what I know" fire with more burdens for Africa, for her people. The books then were just right, I needed that connection, to read about people who 'got it' and wanted to change it.

What I didn't realize is that huge part I was leaving out. MY connection to God. MY half of the deal. I wanted Him to come and make sense of it all, to speak in a powerful way, to lift me up.
But I wasn't doing anything about it.
And then last Friday the book came and I stopped everything I was doing and sunk into the couch, cup of tea by my side.
'One Thousand Gifts, a dare to live fully right where you are.' (Ann Voskamp)
Was I up to this challenge? Was this another self help book that I would read and be inspired by for 5 minutes?
I thank God that it isn't, that in just a few days my life, my connection to Him, feels familiar again, all while being brand new.

I won't go into a full synopsis of this book, but suffice to say it is good. Like good for the soul good. The basis is thanksgiving, how to do this in all things. I started with my headaches and then promptly cried about it because the pain that day was especially bad. I lay in bed that night and out loud, started listing the things I was thankful for. The next morning I smiled before I even lifted my head from the pillow. I can't remember the last time I did that. I realized how much I had missed that feeling. When I grew frustrated over menial things that day, I thanked God. I continued my list through the day, sometimes repeating the things that I was really really thankful for. It is so simple, this list, but it is working. My attitude is lighter and less critical. The pain and guilt and sorrow, the longing to go back and hesitation about my future still lingering from the last two years and since then is lifiting as I thank God for it all.

I am learning that the burden for Africa is engraved on my heart, it isn't going anywhere, but it doesn't mean I have to live in the past. My joy won't come from things of the past or looking into the future, it will come in being present, with God, today.
So today I am thankful because my headaches the last 3 days have been much less intense. I thank God that these headaches are what He used to spark me back into action. I'm thankful that God renews my burdens for things of His heart and promises me He has a good and perfect plan for my life, that He will see it through until completion.
I'm thankful my joy is coing back fully restored and with a vengence.

Today I'm thankful that I can show Michiel love by making him a grilled cheese sandwich just the way he likes it for breakfast, because thats what he wanted and it made me smile to see him enjoy it this morning, sweet chille sauce and all. I'm thankful I have the ability to spend hours making favors look pretty but mostly that I will have friends and family who come all the way here just to share in this very special day with us.

Today I will continue my list and feel myself entering Gods presence each time I do. I will smile and grow warm with the love of my savior who knows my pain. I will rest in the comfort that I am a child, a nurse, a woman and a wife of the King who loves me.

Today I am thankful I have this outlet, this comfort of writing down my life to share it with others. I have a record of Gods love for me, written down in black and white. Yeah, I'm really thankful for that one today.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Flying Dutchman

I've been formulating this post in my head for months. The inspiration comes from over 1 year of knowing and loving one of the best men I have ever known.

Our story isn't typical, and is far from normal, but that works for us quite well. We met the night I got back from my time at home last year for Christmas, and proceeded to spend every meal, every evening, and basically every waking moment seeing each other while we worked on the ship this past year in Togo.

We drank tea every night and talked while watching the container ships unload thier goods while rats and cockroaches ran around on our little dirty dock in Lome, Togo. For us it was strangely romantic, the dance of the rats and cockroaches. It became familiar, it was our thing.
We sailed for a total of nearly a month, eating our lunch on the bow every day and watching for whales (which he always saw before anyone else. The man loved those whales)

We saw sides of each other in every circmstance imaginable. We rode for 500Km on motorcycles to remote waterfalls, ate picknics and drank cold coka cola out of the bottle in every small city we passed. We drank coffee on deserted beaches on Sundays and played with the local kids who couldn't stifle their curiosity at the two yovos on an electric blue chineese motorcycle rolling up. When I asked him quite honestly if he had seen me violently throwing up during a hike (refer back to my last post about not hiking following a three week African stomach bug) he answered honestly, as he always does, with"No, but I heard you".

A friend wrote in her blog once about having a relationship start and spending the first months in Africa together. She said that having a relationship in Africa should be considered in dog years. I like that one, and anyone who has experienced this knows exactly what it means.

In South Africa we spent four months working hard in our seperate environments, coming together each weekend to spend hour upon hour talking about our week. He stayed with me on my 12 hour night shifts every Sunday and always gently held the babies as if they'd break when they would give us those 'I need some lovin' eyes' (or when they screamed, but I want this to sound poetic and that scenario doesn't fit).
We enjoyed life to the fullest African-style, all while letting our hearts break and also be mended for those who surrounded us.

Michiel has a heart bigger than the ocean he loves so much. To watch him interact with others makes me want to be a better person. He is patient, kind, loving, giving, and much more in a fruits-of-the-spirit-kinda way.
We came to Holland in February so I could get a chance to live with his family and get to know him in his own environment. Its proving to be a great decision in that we are learning, growing, and I am able to appreciate Holland beyond its tulips, windmills, and clogs (although those are all great things too)

Had it not been for God, Michiel would have left the ship when he was supposed to, 8 weeks after arriving. Without having met Jesus, he would have gone home, went back to work, and would be carrying on the same as before. Most of us who have had an encounter with such a being(Jesus) knows that life is seldom ever the same after that. It makes us do things like sell our cars, give up our jobs, baffle our friends (and many others for that matter). Michiel did all those things with a few phone calls and 14 months after arriving he finished on the Africa Mercy.

I could go on and on, but I'm not sure where to stop quite honestly. I could talk about his hours and hours of work to teach 5 local African volunteers from the ship each week the art of electronics. How he is still in touch with every one of them and reads me each email he gets from them with a smile on his face.
His simplicity in faith, love for people, and energetic personality make him irresistable. He is simply one of those great guys who people can't help but be drawn to.

So to wrap this up I will announce the news that as of May this year I will officially be Mrs. Flying Dutchman after a small wedding here in Holland. This seems silly, and I suppose is just more of a record for myself seeing as though this is old news in the social-network, but hey, I get to write what I like. And I like my Dutchie.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mighty flip flops and other tales from Africa

Its a funny thing, this blogging. I sit to write, but can't find words despite the noise that all of them are making while flying around my head.
As with most of my time in Africa, I feel conflicted in some way tonight. Today is different though, today while I still struggle with how life is for Africans, I also struggle with the thought of leaving tomorrow.
It snuck up on me, I wasn't thinking about it. And then it happened. The travel agent dude re-booked our tickets and the date stared back at me in black and white. I realized we leave tomorrow. Tomorrow night I will load my over-stuffed two bags onto the scale which will surely diplay a digital number far greater then my allowance. Tomorrow night I will suck in my last breaths of the crisp cool air here in South Africa. Tomorrow I will still be trying to process what the HECK just happened and how two years went by so so fast.

There is so much I want to say, but how does one wrap up an experience so extensive, so life altering, so intense?

On the lighter side, first a lesson in how to be a missionary, as told by Suzanne Zickell.

-When you pack your anti-malarials, go ahead and pack the sunscreen next to it. The only thing worse then being in the extreme heat of the African sun is to do so with a chemically-induced sunburn.
-Those nalgene water bottles are cool and trendy and all, but they are worthless when driving anywhere in Africa. Plan to go thirsty or get wet. Still bring it though, but remember to only put water in it. It seems like a good idea to put in tea or coffee, but if you forget about it and the milk goes funky you will never, I mean never, be able to forget the stench that once came out of that plastic bottle.
-Bring your nailpolish ladies, having fresh paint on your fingers and toes can lift those 'I feel sweaty, disgusting, and just plain gross' days
-Buy old navy flip flops and forget about any other pair you are thinking of bringing. No other article of clothing in my life has ever impressed me the way those baby's do. They're cheap, comfortable (once you convince your feet to get used to them as they will be in them everyday), and can be de-skunked by simply giving them a good scrub after an especially sweaty-footed day.
-Also bring a nail brush. Even after a horrible, painful hike made 100 times worse due to intense vomitting and near black outs, clean nails and a washed face can make it all melt away.
-Oh, and don't go for horrible, painful hikes while trying to recover from a 3 week stomach bug, your body will go into full revolt. But then at least you'll have your nailbrush to make you feel better...
-If you have to pee and you are approaching a border check point, don't hold it and fool yourself into thinking going there will be your best option. It never is. I promise.
-Take note of all signs that make you laugh, they'll keep on doing it everytime you're reminded of them. There's a place down the street selling life chickens, as an example.
-Look around always, take it all in. Be overwhelmed, don't avoid frustration, and always try something new. These will be the things you always carry with you, memories that get stored up and will someday be reflected back upon in scenarios such as....'this traffic is nothing, I remember the time I was in a hatchback taxi with 6 other adults and a child on the hottest day ever in the history of the world. And I had to pee. And we were at a border control point'

haha, oh this is kinda fun.

While driving these past weeks, I kept thinking about how hard it is to explain Africa. It doesn't matter how many different words or stories I use to describe this place, I'll never capture Africa and her beauty the way I see it. The red earth and green bush are so vivid and brilliant, even the sight of that never ceases to amaze me.
The skies here go on forever with no lights to interfere with your vision. The people, oh, the people. They can make you furious and hot with anger, and in a minutes time you are in awe of the potential and strength of Africans. Their capacity to love and have joy in the face of despair is beyond description. While picking apart their flaws, you eventually come back to yourself and see how imperfect you are too. It unites you and makes you strive to be a better person. Africa pushes you to the extreme limits in every way, and then calls you back for more.

I came to Africa and like many was shocked at the human condition here. The shock turned into understanding, the understanding led to me realizing I actually know almost nothing and understand even less, that led to appreciation for the incredible culture here, and lastly Africa became a state of mind, part of who I am. It influences every fiber of your being, how you think and feel and your desire for what you want to change in the world.

To say I will miss it here is a silly understatement. My life is about to radically change in the sense that what I have known as home, a place so foreign to me just 2 years ago, is no longer going to be where I lay my head. To be honest, I'm a little freaked out. Yes, yes, I know it will be ok, its time, [insert other words of comfort], but it doesn't cut it tonight. I want to go outside and dig my fingers into the dirt. I want to do more here, although if you asked me what exactly I would do, I couldn't tell you. God has the next steps planned out and I am desperate to figure out what they are, but knowing God, I don't get to know quite yet. So back to my freak out and slightly juvenile way of dealing with this transition...for now at least.

So please excuse me if I continue to process via the internet. I have a feeling there will be a slight backlash of emotion in the weeks to come. It's all part of the healing and reconciliation from what I've learned.

Tomorrow and in the days to come I'm sure my heart will ache to see the dusty bare feet of children as they walk down the road. My eyes will burn with tears when the memories flood back of all the lives who have touched mine. My heart will screem at the injustice I know happens here everyday. My arms will long for the beautiful brown babies who now consume my every thought. My mind will swim with ideas and ideals, frustrations and triumphs, love and hate, for all of the things I have seen here.

My hair will lose its humidity frizz, my old navy flip flops will be packed away tightly, and the fresh un-stained pages of a new journal will be filled as I start this next transition tomorrow.
That is, if they can get me onto the plane...

Maybe I'll go get the half slab of chocolate sitting in the fridge and watch Out of Africa or something cliché like that.

(the spelling and grammar within this post are purely my own. I am typing on a laptop programmed in Dutch and therefore every word I have written has red squiggly lines underneath it. The truth is out, I am an average speller)