Saturday, March 27, 2010

What caused her to smile?

The transformation that has occurred within Carolyne since she arrived to the Kimbilio Center is truly indescribable. The closest description that comes to mind is this: beauty has risen out of the ashes. When Carolyne arrived at the home, her tears and screams of anguish were the only way she could tell her story. For almost a day, we listened to her cry. She was in pain. She was afraid. Her malfunctioning immune system had left her vulnerable to countless diseases and stripped her of her dignity. Wounds covered her body, but they also covered her soul. The virus had already killed her children. Her husband had left her. What she needed was more than we could give; and yet, God was providing her a safe place to come and find rest. We offered her a clean bed, pain medication and lots of love and support.

Shortly after Carolyne arrived to the home, I was sitting at her bedside when she looked up at me; and, to my great surprise, she smiled. The beauty I saw within her face was such a drastic contrast to the despair I had heard, only a few days prior, within her crying. And I wondered: what caused her to smile?

A few moments later, she struggled to speak. Her mumbled words were these: “You have done good to me.” Tears filled my eyes as I saw the dream of the Living Room being realized. The loving-kindness of God was meeting us in our brokenness. Carolyne may be dying, but there is something within her that has come back to life. For this miracle, I am most grateful.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Walking together.

There is an African proverb which says, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.” Countless experiences in Kenya have taught me the wisdom and truth that lies hidden within these words. Even though I like to walk fast and to get things done, the journey I am on is long and cannot be done alone. In deep ways, I have grown to value the ones I get to walk with on dirt paths, to sit with alongside the sick, and to fight battles with for the sake of justice and mercy.
Yesterday, in a literal way, I walked far, together with my friend Rebecca. The afternoon sun was hot; and as some visitors have said, it was like walking up hill, both ways. I smiled, as I looked down at the dirt path we call a road, as it was filled with footprints of all sizes: some with shoes, most without. And I wondered how we had all ended up on the same path and where we were all going. Rebecca, a 33 year old widow and mother of two, and I were walking to a Tumaini na Afya (Hope & Health) support group meeting. It is a group of about 35 members that was birthed two years ago both by and for our clients living with HIV/AIDS. They lead the group and meet monthly to encourage one another to live positive lives: physically, emotionally, spiritually and economically. As we walked, Rebecca shared how, when she was first diagnosed with HIV, she felt shame and wanted to hide; but the Tumaini na Afya team had counseled and supported her to go for treatment and to join the support group. With time, she did both. She explained that, although life is hard, she now knows she is not alone in this journey. And that gives her hope. Like so many other moms who are living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, Rebecca’s dream is to live to raise her children. By the grace of God, she will.
When we reached the meeting, my heart was encouraged as I looked around the room. It was full of people who I have watched, in so many ways, come back to life. What a privilege it has been to walk alongside of them and to see them become hope-filled and purpose driven. God’s love has empowered them to encourage people newly diagnosed with HIV. From experience, they can tell their stories and say: “I remember when I was sicker than you. Do not give up.” or “Like you, I was scared but God is with us.” The power of their words is striking to me, because it stems from their courage to speak about their weaknesses. As they share together, freedom from fear and rejection is found and makes room for living life.
Our first patient has come to Kimbilio Center (The Refuge)... She is a young mother who is dying of AIDS. The virus has destroyed her immune system; and to this point, the anti-HIV drugs are not staying within her body long enough to have effect. This combination is devastating. Pauline, a kind and gentle lady, is no longer able to walk and finds herself so weak that she depends upon others for all of her needs. As I arrived to her home one day, she was sitting outside vomiting the morning’s dose of medications. Her two year old son was playing beside his mother’s suffering. In so many ways, they were alone.
As I knelt down to wash Pauline’s hands and face, I was struck by the phrase written on her t-shirt. This may sound ridiculous, but it was like God was speaking to me through the words on her shirt. Before I go on, let me explain about one societal thing first. In Kenya, second hand clothing, imported from the U.S. and Europe, is what most people can afford to buy and wear. Crazy sayings and brands, some better than others, end up in villages plastered on t-shirts. Pauline was wearing a ragged, Disney shirt with the character of Eeyore; but the message said this: “Thanks for noticing me.” As I attended to the needs of this mama and looked her in the eyes, I felt like I was living the passage of Matthew 25; and Jesus was saying: “I was hungry. Thanks for noticing me. I was thirsty. Thanks for noticing me. I am so sick, and you came to visit me. Thanks for noticing me.” I do not tell this to brag about my goodness; in truth, it was a reminder to me of the pure, reckless love of God. I was humbled. I saw the presence of God dwelling in brokenness. Pauline’s suffering was Jesus’ suffering too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


After 41 hours of travel, I arrived safely back to Kenya on Saturday night. I am still working through the jetlag; but last night, while I was wide awake at three in the morning, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and joy to be here again for this season of ministry and life. For the last three months, I have visited 11 states and traveled on 30+ airplanes to share the vision of Living Room, a dream that involves providing quality end-of-life care to those considered poor and too often forgotten by the world. I want to say thank you so much for the ways you welcomed me to your churches, homes, and restaurants and allowed me to share my heart. More deeply than I can possibly tell, I have been encouraged and inspired by the way you have chosen to stand with Living Room. Your prayers, the offering of talents, acts of kindness and generosity have allowed me to see God’s favor in such unexpected and powerful ways.
In October, as I was leaving to come back to the States, a couple of my dear Kenyan friends prayed for me. The purity of their words and their love for God touched my soul and allowed me to hear a familiar message, as if I had never heard it before—tenderly. It was simply this: God takes care of the birds, and He will take care of you. It was an invitation to trust. In countless ways, during the past three months, I have experienced God’s provision, and I have been reminded that God is not limited by our limitations. And something interesting has happened within me—I have begun to notice the birds. When I see them or hear their singing, I am aware of God’s presence and care. Yesterday, I was walking amongst what felt like a sea of people in a courtyard at a large hospital. Everywhere I looked there were people in need and full of despair. There were images of death and sounds of mourning. In the midst of the brokenness, I heard the hope-filled sound of a tiny bird singing. And I was taken by the thought that Jesus walked these same paths. He sat and wept with the brokenhearted. He touched the bodies and souls of those rejected and afflicted with disease, and His compassion healed them. He welcomed children to disrupt His plans. He ate with sinners, and they were freed from their shame. He fed the hungry with good things. The “out of order” condition of the world must have caused Him to shake His head at times. He knew it was never meant to be like this; and that only His love could make, what was so wrong, right. And so He loved.
He has invited us to do the same.

Monday, December 28, 2009


We need to find God
and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.

God is a friend of silence.
See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—
grow in silence.
See the stars, the moon, the sun,
how they move in silence.

Is not our mission
to give God to the poor?
Not a dead God, but a living, loving God.

The more we receive in silent prayer,
the more we can give in our active life.

We need silence
to be able to touch souls.
The essential thing is
not what we say,
but what God says
to us and through us.

All our words will be useless
unless they come from within.
Words which do not give the Light of Christ
increase the darkness.

These truths spoken by Mother Teresa of Calcutta were reflected in the way she lived her life. Although counter to what our fast-paced world values and teaches, is it possible that our greatest peace, our only strength, is found in the moments where we are still and know that He is God? I long to live in the awareness that God is with me, but I confess that I too often resist the silence that is required to hear his voice and know his love. We need silence to be able to touch souls. As a New Year approaches and the dream of Living Room becomes reality, I am reminded that, more than anything, the world needs the Light of Christ. May Light pierce the darkness for those who are suffering and walking in the shadow of death. May it shine brightly and bring hope to all who are disappointed and broken-hearted with grief. We must never allow ourselves to be fooled—as children of God, it matters how we live and how we love! I pray that 2010 will be a benchmark year where we, through silence, grow in trust and compassion.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Let it be to me...

“Let it be to me according to your word.” I have been pondering these expressions made by a humble teenage girl. She accepted what was being asked of her while she was still confused and afraid. What would people say? What would people think? Unconvinced that she was the best choice for the job, she responded with a willingness that stirs my heart.
In so many ways, she was alone. And yet, there was a child within her, a baby that would forever change the world. With open hands, Mary accepted to be this child’s mother. Her calling required patience as she waited for his coming. Although she could not possibly understand why she was the one chosen, she grew in trust while she waited. With awe, she proclaimed to Elizabeth(Luke 1:46-50):
My soul praises the Lord; my heart rejoices in God my Savior,
Because he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl.
From now on, all people will say that I am blessed,
because the Powerful One has done great things for me. His name is holy.
God will show his mercy forever and ever to those who worship and serve him.
There was joy and hope arising from within her, but there was also great sacrifice required. Her being expectant was not only bad timing and controversial, but it also caused discomfort and pain. But one great day, in the midst of animals, her waiting gave birth to hope. Being a mother, especially to Jesus, cost Mary all of her heart; but with love, she gave it freely as an offering.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am grateful that Mary gave room for this miracle to grow from within her. I desire to become like Mary—ever growing in trust. I appreciate that she was not an obvious choice to be the mother of God. She was not perfect. She was poor, too young, uneducated, and unequipped. And God used her inadequacies to demonstrate his sufficiency. As I consider all of this, I am humbled and amazed that He still chooses us to give birth to miracles; and my heart resonates with Mary’s response. Let it be to me according to your word.
The vision of Living Room is to create a community of compassion that honors life and offers hope. For this dream to become reality God is required; but I wholeheartedly believe that He desires to use us, as His children, to accomplish this purpose.

Monday, November 09, 2009

One Friday morning, like so many others days that I have spent treating patients in the HIV clinic, young men and women and children filled the corridors, waiting patiently to be seen and treated. Although critically ill, most had walked for miles or were carried on the back of bicycles to reach the clinic.
The human emotions that fill this little clinic, every time the doors are opened, are impossible to capture in statistics or words. Each person possesses their own story, their own struggles. They are so much more than the labels that have been placed upon them. Terms like orphan, child-headed household, widow, commercial-sex worker, AIDS patient tell their story merely in part. Within every patient, there is brokenness and beauty that is difficult to describe. Children of God, created in His very image, sit before me. Many are unaware of their worth; but underneath the disguises of poverty and disease, I catch glimpses of what is holy.
This is what I witnessed when Lameck was carried into the exam room. Child-like and totally dependent upon others for his existence, his body was wasted and his mind confused. I cannot estimate how long it had been since he had been bathed; but with a smile on his face, he kept repeating the name of Jesus. A neighbor had carried Lameck to the clinic and reported that he had been abandoned by his family and was left to die alone. As I discussed Lameck’s situation with another provider, I was struck by the hospital referral note that was written: “Abandoned- in need of a home.” My heart was, and continues to be, dissatisfied with this suffering and injustice.
I was reminded that there was no place that Jesus was not willing to go for the sake of love. Subjected to poverty, suffering and death, he chose to come to this broken world and for living out the answer to these questions: Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? Jesus proved forever that love is as strong as death. And with the mystery of the cross, death was swallowed up in victory. One day, God will wipe away all of our tears; but until then, he catches each one. My prayer is that He will show me the salve that will heal the gaping wounds which cover wasted bodies. With each word and touch, let wrecked hearts be made whole by the power of His love. As St. Francis of Assisi prayed, I ask:
Make me an instrument of your health;
where there is sickness, let me bring cure;
where there is injury, aid;
where there is suffering, ease;
where there is sadness, comfort;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is death, acceptance and peace.
GRANT that I may not:
so much seek to be justified, as to console;
to be obeyed, as to understand;
to be honored, as to love…
for it is in giving ourselves that we heal,
it is in listening that we comfort,
and in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Prayer of St. Francis (Modified by Charles C. Wise)
Thank you for being a part of this journey.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Together in loss

There are moments when the loss that surrounds this village, that fills our hearts is indescribable. We are currently living one of these moments. On Friday, we received a phone call in the middle of the night. It was one of those calls you never want to receive as it carried the message that tragedy had struck. John “Bush” and Veronica Busienei, directors of our Children’s Home in Kipkaren, had taken their nine year old son, Kelvin, to the doctor earlier that evening as he had been sick with fevers and non-specific symptoms for several days. He had been treated with antibiotics and covered for malaria with little change; but no one, including his doctors, expected Kelvin to suddenly fall critically ill. To our great loss, at 1 am, while in his father’s arms, Kelvin passed away.
At 3 am, Bush and Veronica arrived to Kipkaren from the hospital. I witnessed a beautiful expression of community as a group of staff had assembled together to receive them. In the middle of that dark night, all were in shock but none were alone. We prayed. We sang. We sat silently in disbelief. We cried bitter tears. By 5 am, over 30 people had gathered to support one another.
At 6 am, as the sun was rising in the distance, we went to the Children’s Home together to share the news with Kelvin’s 97 brothers and sisters. Painful is the only word that seem s appropriate to describe the moment. I watched Bush, brokenhearted and completely exhausted, scramble to find the words to tell these children that Kelvin was not coming home. These kids, all too familiar with death, were faced with another loss to grieve. As we stumble through this valley of the shadow of death, there are many questions without answers; but I have been reminded and am deeply grateful that God has promised to be near to the brokenhearted.
This morning, as has been constant throughout the weekend, a large group of friends and family members traveled with Bush and Veronica to the mortuary to bring our child home to be buried. In a few hours they will come to the Children’s Home and allow the children to say good-bye before burying Kelvin tomorrow morning. We are very aware of our need for God this day. We are weak and dependent upon His sufficient grace to cover us. Although I do not pretend to understand it, I am grateful for this promise of Jesus: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
In the last week, Kelvin was the third death from this village. Each was young. Each deserves to be grieved. As a community, we will continue to sit together and weep what has been lost. We are hoping for the day when death will be swallowed up forever and our countless tears will be wiped away.