Monday, January 6, 2014

Is life ever "normal"? Part 2

When a well-meaning welcomer heralds me with "It must be nice to be home", it catches me... every time.

Where is my home really?  Yes, my nuclear family is currently living in the states, and I definitely enjoy spending quality time with them, but I have a close-knit family on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean too.  It looks a little different, sure.  I have teammates and friends instead of brothers and sisters, but family none-the-less.

And though my skin color will always point out to Guinensis that I'm not native to Guinea Bissau, I fit in really well.  The culture feels comfortable to me.  Since being in the states, I have felt really disoriented not having face-to-face people interactions from sun up to sun down.

It's disappointing to me to find that a lot of people's "family time" is whittled down to several hours sitting next to each other in front of a screen.  Quality time (to me) looks more like hanging out or accomplishing a task together (I purposely didn't say "doing something together" for fear someone would argue that watching TV is doing something).  I don't know.  Maybe you've found a way to relationally engage the person you're sitting with while you're both holding iPhones, texting someone else.  I am not that talented.  Additionally, I find trying to keep up with people's conversations about trending TV shows that I've not watched utterly exhausting...  I actually didn't mean for this to be an anti-screen rant... I digress.

My cousin Amber and me at my grandma's house.

The disorienting experience of "where is home?" continues...
I find my state of disorientation is exaggerated on a Sunday morning - what to wear?  "Now, how could such a trivial matter send you into a state of bewilderment?" you ask.  Let me preface by saying that I was never super trendy.  I have my sisters to thank for anything remotely trendy in my wardrobe.

My dilemma on a Sunday morning becomes, "Do I wear what I'm comfortable in and stick out like a sore thumb or do I begin the arduous process of mixing and matching practically every article of clothing I own to find something considered 'acceptable' under the scrutiny of even amateur fashion police?"

What I would rather do, more than anything else, is to throw on a tank top, flip-flops, and a wrap-around skirt (which happens to be made of bright African fabric).  Not only is this an inappropriate choice of outfit for the "coldest temperatures of the decade" that we're experiencing right now, it screams "Hello!  I'm a missionary!" all over it.  When you want to fit in on so many levels, drawing that much attention to yourself doesn't really help.

The view looking out our back door towards our barn.  If you are like me and don a hoodie when the temps dip into the low 80's, this is cold... just saying.

Above all else though, I'm confused about how to live dependent on Jesus here in the states.  Does that sound weird for a missionary to say?  Don't put me on a pedestal - I'm human too.  Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

I am usually reliant on God to allow me to sleep during the hot, sticky nights of the rainy/dry season transition months.  Here in the states, I live in a very comfortable climate-controlled house.

I am usually reliant on God for the availability of vegetables in the market.  On the other hand, I just ate a pack of baby carrots this morning... and there's more where that came from!

I am usually reliant on God for a semi-timely transportation vehicle that has at least a foot of space for me to sit on.  Contrastingly, I just jumped in the car and drove (with just me in the car and not me and 40 other people) to my dentist and eye doctor appointments today - without even praying about it.

Do you see what I mean?  I'm not turning to God for these small elements of life.  Things are so at my fingertips here that I have to mentally remind myself frequently, I am STILL fully reliant on God.

Back to the basics.

So... This is me trying to live life while I'm in the states.  I reflect back on my original question, "Is life ever 'normal'?"

Pressing on.


Is life ever "normal"?

I could go on and on writing under the title "Is life ever 'normal'?".  Seriously.  In fact, I might when I write my second post later today.

In the meantime, I thought I would let my readers (especially those who don't live in my area) a head's up as to why I am all of a sudden writing from the states.  Yup!  I'm currently writing from the comforts of our wood stove heated basement, and I feel like a piglet under a heat lamp - it's cold outside!

The following is a letter that was sent church family (written mid-December), but since many of you were praying for me during this time, I felt it appropriate to post it here.  Sorry.  No pictures.  You'll have to wait until post number 2 of the day.

How does it so often seem that things don’t go according to plan?  At least, with these sudden changes in plan, we have opportunities to practice flexibility, graciousness, and resiliency.

As many of you may have heard, my December did not exactly go as I would have planned it.  I owe it to you, the people who have my back stateside, to give you a few more details about what landed me in the states on medical leave.

Late November, I noticed a boil on my right shoulder.  I had experienced boils before during this past rainy season, and it is not an uncommon problem (locals and my teammates alike have struggled with boils as well).  I treated it like I had any other boil, with betadine, Neosporin, Band-Aids and hot compresses.  This one, however, was not going away.  After my shoulder had swelled up to a point that I lost arm mobility and I spiked a fever, I started on antibiotics. 

The next few days were a bit of a blur and filled with unmet expectations.  My teammates had taken me to a hospital in a nearby town where my friend is a doctor.  He drained it, did some blood tests, added some meds, and sent me home to recover.  When I was not recovering, my team decided to take me across the border into a town in Senegal, where I would have better access to medical facilities.  After spending over almost 2 hours draining my abscess, the doctor there told us that the infection was beyond him and we needed to go to the capital of Senegal (Dakar).  By this time, the infection had tunneled and was suspected to be septic. 

Thinking that I just needed a little time to rest, etc., I had already refused going to Ziguinchor (the town in Senegal just across the border).  I was absolutely adamant about not flying to Dakar.  Those who know me really well, know that I can be quite thick-headed (err…  stubborn) at times, and it was only because I did not really have a choice in the matter that I landed in Dakar.  I traveled with our team nurse and a retired missionary who acted as our translator (Senegal, unlike the former Portuguese-colonized Guinea Bissau, was a French territory, and therefore we needed to rely on someone else to help us get around since neither Delores or I speak French).

The night we landed in Dakar, the doctors operated – complete with anesthesia and everything.  They made a deep incision in an effort to get all the infection out.  Within 8 hours, I was in the OR again for a second surgery.  After 5 days in the hospital, I was released.  The doctor team was not as excited as I was at the prospect of me being able to go back to Guinea Bissau.  Though they promised to re-evaluate at my follow-up, I was advised not to leave Dakar (unless I was going to America) until my wound completely healed up because of the great risk of complication and re-infection (in addition to the lack of good medical facilities) in Guinea Bissau.  That could take 4-6 WEEKS!  There was no way I wanted to spend my birthday and Christmas away from family and friends (which includes teammates who feel like my family).

Talk started flying around about the possibility of me flying back with a work team who had been working in Catel (the village where I live) during the duration of my hospital stay.  I started praying that there would not be any tickets on that flight.  You see, because I fully expected to return the same day I left Catel,  I did not get to say goodbye to any friends, wrap up any projects, or sort through my stuff to get ready for my furlough (scheduled to start January 9th).  There was a lot that I needed to process yet.  During a phone conversation with my regional director, I was handed a note that said there was a seat on the flight and I could even go all the way to Harrisburg.  Though I had been sure that I was not going back to America, the thought had entered my mind that if there did end up being a seat on the plane, God was probably preparing a way for me to go.

Here I am.  Almost a week after being in the states.  I am healing slowly-by-slowly and regaining strength day by day.  Only after I got here did I realize how seriously sick I actually was.  Because of the swelling and spread of infection, my airway was very close to being blocked.  Since being back, I have also seen my open incision for the first time (which is nasty – I’ll spare you the details).  I am thankful to God for sparing my life and for the opportunity I have to not only be near to very good medical facilities, but to be able to spend my birthday and Christmas with my family. 

No, things did not happen as I would have preferred them to.  Goodbyes to my Guinea Bissau friends were said over Skype and static-y phone calls.  My team had to pack up my room and send me my suitcase to fly back to the states.  I wasn’t expecting to be back for another month, so gifts weren’t bought, etc.  BUT, I have much to be thankful for!

I will resume my previously scheduled furlough activities in early-mid January, and will be doing speaking engagements as well as catching up with supporters until late February.  If all goes according to plan (do things ever go according to plan?) and funds come in on time, I will be heading back to Guinea Bissau in early March for another two years. 

I pray that as we turn our focus back to work and "normal life", that we don’t lose sight of the genuine lifestyle of Christmas.  Of course I don’t mean the busyness, the decorations, the gifts or the family dinners… those are the “extras” that we’ve tacked onto Christmas.  What I mean is the daily lifestyle of celebration – we can be freed because “Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT, emphasis mine)