Sunday, November 22, 2015


She was a young woman who delivered her baby and then died from complications of rheumatic heart disease. Her heart stopped beating early one morning and she could not be resuscitated.

She is fifteen years old and was brought in to Casualty after being raped by her HIV positive uncle. There is a commonly believed tale in some communities that intercourse with a virgin will cure HIV.

She is a young mother who has a placental abruption. Surgery saves the mother’s life but the child does not survive.

And many women deliver well and babies cry, filling their lungs with air and life as fathers laugh for joy. 

And this all happens within the confines of one small maternity ward in a rural African hospital over a short space in time: the sounds of weeping and sounds of healthy babies crying; our group of doctors standing next to the empty bed, or outside of a room where a little girl is trying to heal from a violent assault; long rows of healthy moms and babies waiting to be discharged and chatting happily as they nurse their little ones; a dad running up to a room to take his wife and new baby home. All at once. All together. All the sounds and sights and emotions blasting your senses.

And all I could think about at two the next morning as I stumbled along the busted dirt and rock road between our house and the hospital was how much our life can feel like tripping up broken roads in the dark. And it is not an original analogy, but one that I keep encountering because I keep having to climb this road over and over again, just as I continue to encounter both the joys and the sorrows contained within the walls of our maternity building. 

A visiting pediatric resident asked me a while back, just after losing a child to meningitis, if you ever get used to this kind of life and death, and how did I handle it? It was a hard question, because the resident had just lost a young life he had desperately tried to save, and his eyes were full of tears and pain and longing to make sense of a senseless death. The old answers I had been given as a resident-about becoming tough and strong and resilient-about being able to walk through pain and suffering and endure it with empathy, all the while maintaining professional objectivity-flew into my brain. But then I realized I had a different answer now-a different answer for me and for him: no you never get used to it, and you stay broken, because out of our brokenness, our soul wounds, our heart bruises, there is a new place out of which to love others better and more deeply and fully, and to care about the lost and wounded in ways only broken people can know.

Someone once said I needed to write more about the happy stories in my life and work. I do laugh with my interns, sing in the operating room, and celebrate loudly when we pull a baby out that cries or when a mom we thought might not make it later smiles at us as she gathers her child up in her arms and heads out the door to go home. But the truth is that many of my days and nights are filled up with the not so happy stories. We have stayed here because God has asked us to stay here. And it is hard and discouraging at times-yes, and also punctuated with great beauty and the miraculous-but often, it is just that broken road in the middle of the night, the devastated resident, the team of doctors standing in a sea of raw emotion, and then you get to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Happy story: we are all together-interns, visiting daktaris and me-and we are teaching the interns how to tie knots with donated expired suture. We had a free hour-and it was the day that had started off with so much death-and we were all tired and sad and just wanted to do something simple, something that did not involve hard questions. I started to hum, and one of our interns, who is a musician, pulled out the lyrics from the old hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” Suddenly we all began to sing-

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

We left the suture room and walked over to our little hospital library. Sitting there was one of our visiting doctors who was struggling with all of the pain he had witnessed the night before. We surrounded him and sang that hymn in harmony-and our voices were strong and mostly on key-and we sang it for him, and for ourselves-but most of all, we sang it for the family of the woman who had died, and for the little girl who had been so hurt, and for the babies who did not make it and for their grieving mothers-and we sang it for the moms and dads and babies who had great joy and peace like a river. 

Monday night on call was another night of broken roads-but that night as I was traveling up and down, I was thinking of that hymn, and I looked up and away from my feet on the road. And as my eyes lifted above the dirt and rock, I saw a sky full of the brightest stars and constellations I have ever seen: and there amongst the blaze was the Southern Cross. And it was a gift-like that old hymn being sung after such a day, like the broken heart that works better for its brokenness, like the young resident who weeps for his patient one night, and then commits his life to returning to Africa as a missionary doctor, and like all of the beautiful mothers who survive and all of the babies who cry out in health and life.

And I am discovering out here that the gift is in the broken road too- and the broken heart, and the beauty that our Father brings out of this brokenness. No easy answers. Jesus did not offer us easy answers. He said to take up our cross and follow Him. Via dolorosa means “way of sorrows.” But at the end of that road, just beyond that cross, lies an empty tomb, and bright hope and joy unspeakable. And so we walk this road, and we sing and we weep. We stay the course, and sometimes look up into incredible beauty, and sometimes stare down into the mud. But through it all and in it all we cling to our hope in the One who was broken for us, and look up into His face-and there we see the way, the truth, and the life, and know: “It is well-it is well- with my soul.”

Friday, August 28, 2015



Lying in bed, sicker than I’ve been since a particularly bad case of a bad bug I experienced during our first term in Kenya, I realized that all of our preparations to return to Kenya were about to grind to a halt. God had provided our funding through many wonderful partners. Our tickets were purchased. Drivers were scheduled to pick us up from the Nairobi airport on the evening of our arrival. We had reservations in a guesthouse, and our fellow missionaries and national friends were busy preparing our house at Tenwek for our arrival. But there was a problem. Our last week in the States had been fraught with the unexpected and our packing was not done. Our house was not empty. And now, I could not move without passing out, and my husband was exhausted. We had hit THE WALL and our “do it ourselves,” “just work harder” mentality wasn’t going to work. 

Weakness. That is not a word I like. Powerlessness. I like that word even less. Yet that is where we found ourselves 48 hours out from THE day I had been dreaming about since I had gotten on the plane that took us back to America last summer. 

Lying there, realizing that I WAS NO LONGER IN CONTROL OF THIS SITUATION, this verse came to me:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul wrote this when he was struggling with an infirmity of some kind, his “thorn in the flesh” that he had begged to be taken away. But God did not take his thorn away. Instead, He used it to demonstrate how He works through our weakness and our mess and our powerlessness- to do greater things with us and through us and in spite of us. 

And so it was in our weak and powerless state two days before we were to return to Africa that God sent a team of brothers and sisters to enter into our mess and illness. These folks-my niece and her husband with their newborn son, a beloved family friend, my husband’s college buddies, dear friends from my women’s group, and teens from our church-just came and worked and then came back the next day to work again-and it was these folks, hands down and without a doubt, that got us on the plane that got us back to Kenya last week-on time and feeling well and full of energy and-hope.

Legos and Hope was the title of our final blog entry last year, written upon our return from our first term as a medical missionary family in Kenya. The year ahead of us loomed large, full of travel, training, speaking, teaching, and -waiting. If you had cornered me last summer I would have admitted that the task ahead of us then seemed especially daunting-really impossible. We had a vision to continue our work among the women of Kenya here at Tenwek Hospital, but in reality, all we held in our hands were bits and pieces of our dream. And so, full of uncertainty but with great hope, we handed our pieces to our Father. Through all of our travels and meetings and speaking-He held the pieces. As He provided for all of our needs-He held the pieces. As we hit the wall 48 hours before our scheduled return, He held the pieces. And today, back at Tenwek, beginning our second term and looking ahead towards the vision for expanded women’s care, ministry and outreach, and training and discipleship for African daktaris, HE HOLDS THE PIECES. And we are confident that He will fit all of these pieces-the people, the plans, the funding, the places and spaces- together to create something beautiful in His time.