Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honoring the Miracle--Conclusion

March 20.

After a long night of intermittent labor and an early morning of excruciating work…

One little girl changed our world forever.

The cord was wrapped around her neck and tied into a knot. The doctor worked quickly and expertly cut the cord, loosening its hold on our baby’s airway. She took gasping breaths, while the rest of the delivery room held theirs. Her pinking up and loud wails brought cheers and tears all around.

Our doctor, glanced at Jeff to say, “You have one lucky girl here.”

Jeff replied, “Blessed, Dr Patel. She is blessed.”

Once Kinley started to wail she didn’t stop. She was in the baby warmer being checked over by a pediatrician while Jeff held my hand and we offered prayers of more gratitude than I had ever felt. The doctor asked Jeff to come and comfort our baby girl, until I was able to take her.

Jeff walked near to the baby warmer and leaned in close, Kinley’s wails filled the room. Jeff said, “Kinley, honey. It’s Daddy.”

Her cries immediately stopped, and her head turned towards his voice.

My big strong hubby broke into tears, looked at me and said, “She knows me!” And, my friends, that was that. She had his heart. Forever and for always.

I could not stop looking at her. Could. Not. Stop.

I watched her chest rise and fall. Rise and fall. Rise and fall.

I put my ear to her chest to hear the thumping of her heart.


I’ve been given many things from my Lord. Many things.

But those early days of motherhood, with the memory of sickness and fever in the recent past, were some of my most grateful days ever.

Why did He do this for me?

She turned eleven last week. She has a passion for God that is astounding to me. She loves people. She loves her family. She is a terrific artist.

Our days are full of school and cooking together and hearing her dreams and plans. We’ve painted her room pink and blue and stenciled and picked out curtains. We’ve taped her ballet classes and enjoyed sleepovers and movie nights. We have lively discussions about fashion and what she can (or can’t) wear. We’ve heard her confess Christ as Lord and seen her be baptized. We’ve pierced her ears and cut her hair.

We’ve lived.

But I always know in my mother’s heart. She is His. His.

He decided to let me know her on this earth. I may never understand all the reasons why.

I drink in the fear of those early months. The desperate prayers. The understanding that at any point it could have gone the other way. The knowledge that for many it does.

I swallow all of that and let it refine and remind me of Him.

My Kinley does that. Testifies to Him. Without saying a word.

I love you my girl. God sent you here for a purpose. Never stray from His side. He loves you more than I do. And, sweet girl, that is saying a lot.

Thank you Jesus.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Honoring the Miracle Part IV

At month 5, I turned a corner. I began to feel hungry again and managed to keep food down. I moved from my bed to the couch. I bathed.

Praise Jesus, I felt that baby kick.

I cry even now.

Months passed and I gradually gained more strength. I rejoiced at my expanding middle and celebrated every movement in my womb. We made difficult decisions about where we would birth this child. We chose Nairobi, Kenya and made detailed and complicated arrangements for housing, transportation, physicians and hospitals.

The week before we left for Nairobi I traveled to a nearby village to say goodbye to a group of women I had been studying with. As my language helper and I drove into the village, we saw the women moving en masse towards Akiik’s home. The mood was somber and we immediately knew that a burial was imminent.

We drove into Akiiki’s compound and were informed that Akiiki had delivered a baby boy and that he had quickly died. Burial was today. The community of women gathering took in my heavy form and quickly moved inside to scurry and speak in hushed tones. My language helper explained that the baby’s body was laid out in the sitting room and that they were covering it because I shouldn’t see it.

I’m sure there were some animistic principles I could have addressed, but my head and emotions were swimming and I took this act as a mercy from friends and quietly entered to sit near to Akiiki’s weeping form. I held her hand and cried with her. And somewhere in the hour I managed to publicly word a prayer. I remember my baby kicking as I prayed.

After an appropriate time together, my language helper and I departed for home. As I drove us over the bumpy roads I could hardly think straight, let alone speak.

When I dropped my language helper at her home, I asked why the baby had died. Joy solemnly replied, ‘Akiiki had malaria early in her pregnancy and did not treat it. Her fever took his life.”

I managed to reach home before falling apart.

Honestly, without the expertise and science of an autopsy report, we could not know for sure what sickness had taken Akiiki’s son. But the reality of what God had mercifully carried me and our child through so far was heavy and convicting to me. Treatment or no treatment…God had saved our baby up to now. It was in His hands as to our story’s conclusion. The mourning and grief of Akiiki and her community flooded me with the unanswered questions I was growing accustomed to in the Third World. So much devastation. So much brokenness.

I walked through the irony of my friend’s grief and my own preparation for our baby. I wish I could say I was optimistic. I think I was just resolute. One day at a time. Baby is okay for now. Don’t worry about tomorrow.

(to be continued...)

Honoring the Miracle Part III

By God’s grace I completed the second cycle of malaria meds over the next week and slowly felt the malaria symptoms subside.

There was no sonogram at that point in our town. No way to check on the baby. I panicked at every tummy cramp and longed to feel the baby move. Just to be sure.
I began living in constant fear of another relapse. When the days would grow warm, I would fret. Was my sweating from a fever? Could we survive it again?

I continued to struggle with nausea and vomiting and I remained very dehydrated. We called doctors and prayed and I barely moved from my bed.

I recalled the story of Adoniram Judson and his wife Ann. They are known as the first American missionaries and they served in India. Ann suffered long with fever that ultimately took her life. She spent nearly two years alone with her sickness. I pathetically wondered if that was in fact my fate. It was a strange cycle of emotions. I lay on that bed because I could not physically move anywhere else. I missed my family so much during those days. There was little TV to watch (power was sporadic), no distraction. Just hour after hour of staring at those walls. And listening to that cow.

One evening, I sank lower than ever before. My spirit cried out to God with groans that words cannot express. I thought that maybe I was already insane. I spoke out loud, “God I feel so alone.”

The words were not even completely out of my mouth, when my phone rang.

Now, you could not fully comprehend my astonishment over this fact unless you had driven our muddy roads and viewed our phone lines. Draped through trees, tied in bows around wooden poles…cut and stolen. Phone lines were a delicate matter and rarely ever worked. Phone calls were a test of endurance and patience. And calls from the States were unexpected and usually impossible.

I stared at the ringing phone in shock. I wondered if it might be God. ☺ Only He could make those silly phone lines work!

The voice I heard was my Mam-ma’s. She said, “Is that my Cheryl?!?!” I couldn’t answer well because of my tears. She rattled on about the weather and her menu for the week and Granddaddy’s lawnmower repair and her own pregnancies and she made some joke about pantyhose that had me in stitches…Mam-ma.

Yep, God was definitely in on that call.

Mam-ma talked for 45 minutes. I gently laid the phone in its cradle after the “I love yous” were said.

And the phone rang again.

I kid you not.

With reverent tone, I answered.

Amy. My best friend, Amy. She had just had her first baby boy. Twins were around the corner for her (though I don’t think we knew that yet?) She talked about pregnancy, and medications, and she encouraged me. She was always encouraging me. I cleaned out a box of greeting cards recently. Cards we received during our first years in Africa. Probably every third or fourth card was from Amy. Can’t say with words how much she means to me. That evening discussion was fellowship I drank in like a dry sponge. My best friend. Forty five minutes of love, friendship and laughter.

I hung up, astonished at God’s abundant provision and perfect timing.

And that phone rang for a third time.

I answered to a fellow missionary who told me I had been on her mind all day and that she was praying. Was I okay? I told her the truth. And I praised God.

He Sees.

I slept well that night. Not insane. Not alone.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Honoring the Miracle Part II

We were in Kampala and had a very difficult trip ahead of us. I was holding in more liquids than before the malaria, but I was still feeling constant nausea (due to pregnancy). The bumpy, six hour ride home did not seem inviting. But we struck out anyway.

We reached our house in Ft Portal on a Sunday morning, and found our town church waiting on the porch. Jeff led them in worship in our living room and I went straight to bed.

I expected my strength to return over the next days. But it didn’t. I stayed in bed. I cried. I prayed. And I threw up. A lot.

I remember white walls. Our room didn’t have any pictures hanging in it yet. And the cow. Our next door neighbors had a sad, loud cow, that wandered the length of our shared fence mooing so loudly and so persistently I was nearly driven over the brink.

After another week in bed, throwing up 7-8 times a day and growing weaker and weaker, I felt a fever again. Jeff was out helping feed a small displacement camp in town and I again felt waves of hysteria engulf me. My fever was back. What could this mean?

Jeff came home and drove me to the Catholic hospital in town. I could barely walk to and from the car. A European doctor examined and diagnosed me.

Malaria. Again.

The doctor brusquely prescribed my medication and harshly informed me that I had to drink more water. I explained that I was vomiting everything that went in. She told me to try harder.

I cried all the way home.

The malaria treatment increased my nausea ten-fold. My days were agony. We found out that it would take my body one hour to absorb the medication and begin circulating it through my system. So I would swallow the pills and will myself to not throw up. It took all of my energy. I would have Jeff squeeze my feet or hands to the point of pain to take my mind off the nausea.

I would pray. Beg really. I could not see how we (my sweet baby and me) could both survive this onslaught for a second time.

I threw away my “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book. It was too depressing in my current predicament.

I could not keep fluids or food in my system. I was battling malaria again with only chloroquine. Most malaria in our part of Africa is chloroquine resistant but it was the only drug the doctors felt was relatively safe for the baby. A gamble either way. There was a chance the drug would not eradicate the parasite. A stronger drug could eradicate the pregnancy.

I was ravaged by fever. And I was in my first trimester of pregnancy.

I fought desperately to NOT dwell on the impossible odds.

(to be continued...)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Honoring the Miracle Part I

My thoughts have been overcome the last week with Kinley’s story. Our story. I kept a journal during that time for her, but feel compelled to write the story here to be sure that we never forget what God did for us in those telling times. I sank to depths, physically and emotionally, that I never had thought possible in my blessed, happy life. I feared devastation and often found myself there.

I also found Him. A Powerful God Who, beyond my comprehension, chooses to meet me in the ugliness and drought as easily as He is revealed in times of victory and glory. He is big enough for both. How could I ever be devoted to anyone else?

This from a post written two years ago:

During our second and third years in Uganda, our little corner of the country faced a drastic crisis. A rebel army began terrorizing the villages all through the Rwenzori Moutains.
Jeff and the young men at church spent the better part of the two years delivering food relief and medical treatment to the hardest hit villages. It was a difficult, blessed, exhausting, amazing time.

I experienced this time in a unique way. From my bed.

Just as the rebels marched within 15 miles of our quaint little town...I discovered that one of my greatest longings had been fulfilled. I was officially going to be a mommy. Jeff and I were ecstatic over the news of our first little one. Soon after the nausea and pregnancy sickness began to take firm hold of my being...another sickness attempted to steal the whole show. Malaria.

The first diagnosis came at the International Health Clinic. Just a few days earlier I had celebrated at a doctor’s office. We were pregnant. Our circumstance less than 72 hours later was more somber. I found myself at another clinic in another town and I could not even bear to sit in the waiting room. My constant vomiting and the resulting dehydration now coupled with the agonizing cycles of malaria had weakened me beyond exhaustion. Dr Clarke led me into a smaller room with a metal table I could lie on. When the cycle of chills would over take my body, I would shake so much the table would bounce up and down and move away from the wall. Jeff, who himself was suffering from malaria, would put all his weight on the table to hold it steady until the chills and shaking would subside.

Lying on that table, watching IV fluids drip slowly into my system was one my loneliest moments. No one in our family knew yet about the baby. And now we had to tell them in tandem with news of a scary sickness. Did God see us here? Would He heal me and save our baby? What would His sovereign choice be?

The days that followed are a foggy memory to me. We were staying in another missionary family’s home. I drifted in and out of fever-wearied sleep. I begged God for healing. And I begged him for electricity. The fan was our only relief from the fever. Jeff and I faced nearly a week of malaria treatment together. When my fever broke, I praised the Lord, but still felt deep concern over the well being of our tiny fetus.

When I had completed the cycle of malaria meds, Dr Clarke tested my blood and found the malaria parasite gone. He set up the sonogram equipment to double check the baby’s heartbeat.

Some very silent, agonizing minutes followed. Dr Clarke couldn’t find the baby on the monitor. He asked me to drink more water so that the baby would be easier to see. His look was compassionate and resolute. What was…was. We calmly found some drinking water, but inside my brain was in overdrive. Could this be happening to me? Of course it could.

With my heart in pure torture I drank nearly 2 liters of water. Quickly. Feeling about to burst, I crawled onto the examination bed and stared at the blank screen begging God for His mercy.

The little blip we saw flooded the room and my soul with relief. There she was (though we didn’t know she was a she) and her heart was thumping away.

I didn’t stop thanking God all the way home and into the next day.

I felt released from the worry of the previous week. But I had no idea what was still ahead for our baby and for me.

(to be continued)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunday Musings

There was a rush to be ready this morning. The thunderous explosions and torrential downpour of the early morning hours disturbed our rest and our response to the alarm clock. I bustle and hustle little ones. All the while digging deep for motivation. Church services with young children when hubby is preaching are challenging experiences.

Despite the late start, we manage our church departure. Everyone was dressed in reasonable Sunday attire. And everyone had shoes.

Worship was good. Songs in three different languages. Warm smiles and greetings. Old friends and new. A baby to hold.

Bible class brought Hilda to the front to teach us a song and a principle. “Don’t worry. Don’t cry. God is near.”

Alex also took a turn at teaching a song. “I Am Not Afraid of 10,000’s of People”

I share a story on the flannel board: Jesus teaching on the Sea of Galilee from Simon’s boat. Crowds were pressing in, eager to hear.

Simon (the boat lender) and his partners were disappointed fisherman cleaning very empty nets. Jesus gives a mysterious directive to go back out on the lake and work some more.

Peter’s reply, “We’ve worked all night for nothing,” is followed by obedience despite the frustrating facts.

Rowing into the lake. Tired, strong arms tossing the nets. Same lake. Same fish percentage.

Suddenly overflowing nets! Ecstatic cries for assistance resonate.

“We can’t do this by ourselves. Come and help us!”

Now sinking boats heavy with fish pull to shore and Peter drops to his knees crying confession and repentance. (Maybe the biggest miracle…)

Jesus calls, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

Peter and his partners left everything and followed Him.

When the flannel figures had told their tale, we wrangled our charges through coloring pages, snacks and a photo shoot. All the while I’m reflecting on the Bible Class story. The Christ given analogy of being “fishers of men”. The discouragement of empty nets. How tired my arms can feel. How I sometimes long for another lake…

The final prayer of corporate worship is said. We gather belongings and enter into the chatter of fellowship.

One precious friend reports she is nearly finished with her teaching assignment for school. She built a café/shop out of cardboard for her students to learn from and play with. My spirit is encouraged much by her creativity and investment in her teaching.

Bent, weak Akiiki shares the loss of a large bunch of bananas. She had purchased her surplus for selling in the village. The transport driver stole her produce. Could we help?

Abooki is exclaiming over Kinley’s 11th birthday.

We inquire of our friends about “all the people at home” and “ the animals” and “the gardens”. We exult over the massive rainfalls and tell our stories of being awakened by the thunder. We thank Abugaba for his success in killing the bees that had attempted residence at the airstrip.

Eventually our noisy tummies motivate our leave for lunch.

But first, a quick stop at the newly graded church land. The muddy upturned dirt marks one more step forward in a long development process. Our family circles for prayer on ground that has most likely been used for unholy purposes in the past. We ask God for His claiming. His Spirit’s presence. A place for Jehovah to be glorified.

Then home. Leftovers. Dishes. M&M’s from Nana and Papa.

Rest. Reading. Puzzles. Games.

There is supper to set out and nighttime reading and prayers ahead.

Sunday will be ending soon. But the remnant for me is that flannel graph story. It has taken form, jumped off the page and landed squarely in my heart.

There is a new week before me. More rowing in a very familiar lake.

Only this week, I’m reminded afresh of His refining Call. “Do not be discouraged. Try again. I’m watching. And I have a plan.”

So we row, and toss the net and hold on to the hope of a miraculous result…

Maybe just the fruit of my own repentance and confession.

Steady on.

(Bible story from Luke 5:1-11)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cartwheels Anyone?

Taking the time to remember and utter thanks for simple, little things makes a difference in my day. I am reminded of an important truth when I mark those moments that bring a smile, a contented sigh or so much joy I think I could pull off cartwheels and back flips! The Truth is God's daily awareness of me and His activity in my life. God is personal. And Persistent. And Faithful. And Good. My friend at Holy Experience introduced me to this particular list and community of Grateful Participants and I invite you to start your own gratitude journal...online or otherwise. There are blessings all around us. Today I give praise for these:

97. Anaiah during praise time.
98. Silas still being willing to sit in my lap.
99. Mam-ma's recipes
100. Psalm 25
101. Hearing Isaac read
102. The countdown to a special day
103. Wearing a beautiful necklace bought on a shopping trip with Mom & Dad
104. Satellites
105. The comfort and hope of prayer.

Chime in, my friends. What are you thankful for today?

Friday, March 06, 2009

With Love, From Aunt Cheryl

Dear Presley,
Welcome to the world little girl! Are you aware of the fact that people in Africa were waiting for the news of your arrival?! Eagerly awaiting every tiny detail of You! You have hair! You weigh 7lbs! You are healthy! Every picture that floated over the web was studied and gushed over.

Because, you are our treasure.

And we are so happy you are here.

I have not been able to hold you in my arms yet. I am grieving this, but don't worry your pretty little head over that. Because I am holding you in my heart. And while that may sound a little sappy and weird, it's true. There are no miles, no circumstances and no tomorrow that can change your place in my heart. Your brothers are anchored deep in there too.

If I could whisk myself to your home this evening, I would send your Mommy to sleep, rent your Daddy & brothers their favorite movie and rock you quietly in your room. While you rested, I would speak many wonderful things over your head and catch you up on some important information.

First, God made you. Perfectly. How I wish you could always rest so easily in this, but the truth is, there are many untrue messages out there. Messages and innuendos that boldly insist there is ONE WAY to look and ONE SIZE to wear and anything else is failure. Presley, Love, you are perfectly designed by a Perfect Creator and when you look at yourself through the years you should always remember, it is HIS work you see in that mirror and you should be careful how you speak about it. And how you allow others to speak about it. You are beautiful. Case closed.

Second, Jesus loves you. LOVES YOU. And that will never change. NEVER. He is the most incredible Hero, Protector, Friend and Confidant and He will never let you down. I pray for you and those brothers of yours and all your cousins living here in Africa to know Jesus better than any other. Listen for His voice, my niece. He has a plan and a love for you that is unmatched.

Third, ice cream is awesome. You can call it “mum-mum” and smile sweetly and people will supply it to you by the gallon.

Fourth, organizing and cleaning are fun! (I can keep trying even though this hasn’t worked on any of my own babies yet!)

Fifth, I love your hair and your eyelashes and your perfect fingers and toes!

Sixth, I love you.

Seventh, a prayer: “Holy Father protect this life, protect this heart…soften and nurture and grow this incredible spirit towards You. May nothing hinder or misdirect her gaze from Your Holiness and Your Grace.”

And then I would probably cry. Because my children and husband would be so hungry in Africa without me and I would have to get on an airplane and fly away.

But not without singing first. "Jesus Loves Me." "Who Made the Flowers." And most likely, "Amazing Grace."

Blessings would be spoken over your perfect, tiny head. And your Mommy would be rested. And your brothers would be hugged. And my heart would be at peace.

The final thing I would remind us both of, is that this life rarely gives you EVERYTHING that you want. Sadly, we can’t always have our way. But a quiver lip and pout do nothing but depress. The best plan is to count your blessings, pray with thanksgiving and wait on the Lord. His plan is ALWAYS perfect.

Just look at you.

I love you always. Call me if you need anything.

Aunt Cheryl

Presley Grace arrived safely February 23 to my sister Cherise, her husband Wade and two of the most awesome big brothers a girl could wish for!
"For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well." Psalm 139:13-14

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Virtual—Almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition

In Junior High I was a part of an English Literature program called Great Books. At the beginning of each school year we were given a compilation of ten or twelve stories. We had to read one story every few weeks. During our English class on “Great Books day” we would all sit in a circle and discuss the tale.

One Great Books story that I remember was about virtual reality. I can recall a story about a room that would become whatever you imagined. And then something terrible happened. I don't recollect what, I just know it was terrible. Great Books stories rarely had happy endings.

I do remember that I did not feel positively about the whole “virtual reality” idea.

Until last week. When I fell in love with Facebook Chat once and for all.

See, I have a younger sister. When Mom was pregnant with her, she would always refer to the baby as "Cheryl's baby". And that is how I have always felt about Cherise. Mine.

Mine to boss. Mine to direct. Mine to control. :-) I wish I were joking.

But thankfully, I grew up and relinquished the perceived control and bossiness (oh yes I have!) Now, I just remain with "mine".

Mine to admire. Mine to love. Mine to share life with. Still, mine to take care of.

No matter how many years I live all these many miles from her, that last thing doesn't die away. I always want to take care of her.

Email, phone calls and long, long conversations when I am on furlough fill our gaps to some degree and keep me connected to her. But nothing challenges my desire to care for my baby sister more, than when she has a baby.

You see, there is just something horrifically wonderful about that whole birthing thing that makes a sister want to be there. Hold a hand. Shout encouragement. Pray.

Two times my sister was preggers and delivered without me around to help. Those boys came out fine, but I wasn't there. And it's one of those sacrifices that I can't get back. Or balance out. It's just a sacrifice.

Then, she got preggers again. And I was going to be there. I had been talking to my hubby about it for months. I just wanted to hold that baby and hold my sisters hand.

But, unexpected things happen. In January, my ticket was purchased so I could say goodbye to Granddaddy. Another trip in February was a difficult thing to pull off.

So, my sister had a baby again. Without me in the room…actually.

But, I was there…virtually.

ONLINE. Good grief. I kept thinking, “This is like a Great Books story!”

With Mom and Wade on Facebook Chat, I knew everything. Everything--ya'll. It was awesome! I saw pictures of that baby girl within the hour of her arrival! In Africa.

Of course, it wasn’t a room turning into anything. And I know there is much discussion of how our real worlds are being affected by our “virtual communities” for good or for bad. But Facebook Chat provided a virtual reality for me. And until I can see that baby for myself, I'll take what I can get.

Virtual knowledge with a very happy ending.

Feel free to circle up and discuss that!