It can close schools. It can close libraries. It can close just about everything–my yoga studio and even my church.
But it cannot close my eyes to the gentle sway of the birch’s pale green heart-shaped leaves. Not the coal black olives still clinging to silvery branches. No it cannot close my eyes to the evening shadows on duck ponds, or the billowing clouds floating aimlessly above me, oblivious to the chaos below.
It cannot close my ears to the words of prophets, priests and poets. Oh, the poets. Their words transcend statistics, and render beauty and pathos instead. It cannot close my ears to the kindness of neighbors who check in to see if we need anything. Or the prayers of the faithful shared each day.
It cannot close my nose to the heady perfume of the lilac dripping with raindrops, nor the roses along the now quiet street. It cannot suppress the aroma of freshly baked bread. Sauteed onions and garlic. Chutney with fresh cilantro and mint from my garden, nor the bitter tang of arugula drenched in olive oil and newly plucked lemons.
It cannot close my heart to the tender gaze of my lover, nor to the beautiful, poignant words I digest early each morning from the stacks of books surrounding me in my little room.
It cannot quarantine my life, mask my face, nor infect me with fear, try as it might.
I choose to begin again. Each day. Each hour. Each minute.
I choose Love over security, because I am first loved.
I choose crossing the threshold into the mystery of not knowing what will unfold.
I choose to surrender to Divine Love and inhale the intoxicating Truth.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18a)
“We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)
The author of this post is our Deaconess Pamela Boehle-Silva on 3/29/2020.
It was evening. The sun had slipped down into the horizon, sharply silhouetting trees against the twilight. We pulled into the hard-packed dirt parking lot outside the Jalaram Nursing Home—a private hospital in Kisumu, Kenya. The noise of city traffic churning past us. Pastor David Chuchu was responding to the distress of a friend whose eighty-year-old mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was recovering from a mastectomy and the family had received the news that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and there was nothing that could be done. The patient herself had not been told, and the family didn’t want to tell her for fear of making her more depressed. Her son was quietly despairing.
We saw David’s friend in the waiting room, sitting on a plastic chair, his large frame dwarfed by the mass of concrete that made up the waiting area. His face lit up when he saw his childhood friend. We made our way up a flight of steps and stepped into a women’s ward. It wasn’t horrible. I wasn’t even bad—I’d seen worse places. But it was tiny. The room was basically a 60’X15’ rectangle. It was split into two sections with the nurse’s desk in the middle. Each section held two rows of four beds. Picture a hospital bed with about 2 feet of space on either side. That was the extent of the space for families to visit. Privacy? A thin curtain separated each bed on either side, but not at the foot of the bed. There were a few plastic chairs, but many family members leaned over the beds of their loved ones or stood awkwardly at the foot of the bed. It was cramped. Uncomfortable.
We joined the four other family members that surrounded the woman. Her son stood guard at the foot of the bed. David knew this family well. They were from his village. His mother and this woman were good friends. His presence, words and prayer provided much consolation.
When our visit was over and we were heading back down the stairs, I asked David “What will happen to her?” Her children did not live in town and they needed to return home and to work. There was nowhere close for them to take their mother.
As it turns out, the woman was discharged and went to stay at the school where her son is principal. But many people do not have family who can care for them. Remember mama Caren? A widow with all ten of her children dead. If she finds herself in this situation, she will just suffer the pain and shame in her house. That’s simply unacceptable.
Patiently waiting. That’s what we’ve been doing since 2014 when David and I first began to talk about opening a place that could provide palliative care with a mercy touch. I’ve had my doubts. Not that a hospice house was needed. No, never that. But HOW? HOW was this going to happen? How would we pay for it? …and on and on and on…
Now we find ourselves with land! And not just any land, but a site so lovely and peaceful it takes my breath away. It is beyond anything I could have dreamed of. It is lush. It is near a river so there is power, water and beauty. It is accessible by four different roads and straddles 3 counties. And the best part? The community wants to donate this land for this mercy project! In fact, they are asking, “When can we start building???”
And that is the big question. But a few things need to be in place first
1. Come up with a name so the project can be registered with the government
2. Pay for a land survey (about $1,000) and a geological survey (another $1,000).
3. Once these are done, then the architect can begin to work his magic with designing
“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. St. Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
If you want to be a part of this mercy work, you may send checks to Holy Cross Lutheran Church, earmarked for Kenya Hospice.
I am always torn when I leave Kenya. I am ready to see my family and friends in California, AND sad to leave those I love in Kenya. I have been cared for in so many ways here. Pastor David Chuchu has been my steadfast pastor, colleague, friend, driver, organizer, cheerleader and so much more these past three weeks.
Guess who we met at the Oyugis market? Dcs. Mary who reports that mama Caren made it to church in her new wheelchair!! Everyone was so happy to see her and she was filled with joy to be out of the hut!
Community ladies on the land the community wants to donate to the hospice project
THE LAND….a resting and healing place. Nestled among the rich red soil that sustains farms of bananas, pinapples, maize, sweet potatoes, is a 4 ½ acre site that the community of Kojwach Kamaga, plans to donate to for the building of a hospice and healthcare clinic! It is lovey, with a river that runs below the property providing the soothing sounds of running water. The architect we’ve engaged met us on the site and was already formulating designs to fit in with the environment.
It was a hot day and we traveled far to visit this family. If you look closely at the photo you can see the despair etched on faces. A mama and a daughter-in-law whose lives are forever changed as HIV/AIDS claimed the lives of mama’s ten children, including the husband to the young woman standing. It was tragic beyond words. This photo haunted me for months long after I left Kenya, leaving me feeling their despair and wondering “what can I do?”
Fourteen years later we drove down the same dirt road and made our way on a small path to the compound. It has changed and I didn’t remember it until Deaconess Mary began describing the situation, and suddenly the picture came back to me.
Now the mama is really old. And she is alone. She is unable to get out of bed by herself and needs assistance to walk. Dcs. Mary and Dcs. Elizabeth got the mama out of bed and brought her to the second of the two rooms of the mud hut. The mama poured out her grief of being alone. Of losing her ten children. Of being alone and in need of care. Of a time not so long ago that she had no food for three days and despair took over. Of how she managed, (and she didn’t know how) to get a rope over a beam with the intent of hanging herself. She was done. Forsaken and hopeless. And yet, some small sliver of hope was there. She remembered God’s promises to never leave or forsake her. She let the rope go slack. But her grief remains.
Mary is one of the women of mercy whose gentle, humble presence brings healing. She organized members of the church to check in on mama Caren, and bring her food. The neighbor girl brings her water from the river each day. Mama is so grateful. This day, Dcs. Mary brought her milk and sugar. Dcs. Elizabeth brought tiny silver fish, dried. They sang songs, read scripture and we prayed together.
When I peered in the room that serves as her bedroom, I noticed the bed.
When I left this time, I did not despair. I smiled as I remembered folks who pressed cash into my hands before I left California. “You’ll know what to do with it.” They said. I rejoiced at those of you have so generously donated over the years. And we made a plan. We would buy a new mattress, sheets and blankets. Pastor David Chuchu had a wheelchair he would bring her so she could get out of the hut and even go to church. And so it came to pass.
Dcs.Mary with new mattress
New mattress and bedding
mechanic (and church evangelist) assembling wheelchair
Oh the joy! mama was so happy. Pastor David Chuchu, Dcs. Mary, Mechanic and mama. she was singing songs of praise the whole time.
Dylan. A sweet 15 month old who lives in love at the Udom rescue center in Pokot
Sunday 26 January 2020
It’s funny how time moves when traveling. Sometimes, the days hurtle by and other times, it seems as if time is standing still. Mostly, things are moving at a rapid rate here in Kenya. My head has hit the pillow at the YMCA in Nairobi, hotel rooms in Kisumu and Kabondo, and a guest house in the Northwestern area of Pokot. My suitcase is too darned heavy and I am embarrassed about all the stuff I’ve packed. Lugging it around is a chore and a constant reminder of how much I have.
I’ve come to spend time with my deaconess sisters—the beautiful women who so many years ago, opened my eyes to mercy in the light of suffering and darkness. We’ve been talking about taking care of body and soul. We talk of the realities they face–things they shared with me years ago–: suffering, shame and stigma, loneliness, depression, despair, hopelessness and fear of dying. Heavy, intense subjects that require us to take frequent breaks for singing and dancing. But this is the life they live, and if we are honest, it is the life we all live. For we live in a world that is broken and in need of healing.
The beauty of these women is that they show me that healing is possible. There is light in the darkness. There is always hope. Our hope lies in Christ whose love and mercy heals us. We share that joy and that reality. That is what keeps us going when things feel despairing.
And so, I may stand up and teach, but the truth is that we teach and learn from one another. We all suffer in one way or another. And, in Christ, we find comfort in his broken body. We find healing in his wounds. In Christ, the darkness of suffering is a holy place for He is the One who is light and life. This is a mystery, and the layers of it are unveiled little by little. And, in Christ, we live, move and have our being.
Pastor David Chuchu and deaconesses in Nairobi.
Pokot deaconesses in the Northwestern part of Kenya.
This is Pokot hospitality and generosity as they adorn me with gifts and singing.
Another group of lovely deaconesses–quite rowdy and outspoken which I love! Closer to Kisumu and Lake Victoria
Photographer! Cell phones are a way of life here now.
Before I left for Kenya, I was conversing with a friend about homesickness– that awful, sick, anxious feeling that comes into our bodies and hearts when we miss home and all that is familiar and knowable. We long for something or someone to soothe us. Perhaps we first experience homesickness when we leave home for the first time, be it summer camp, a sleep over, going away to college, moving to a new town or traveling to a new place. And maybe, just maybe, it comes when we have to say good-bye to someone we love. Honestly, for me, that is the worst kind of homesickness.
In the preparations for my tenth trip to Africa, I was somewhat startled to find that familiar feeling creeping in and causing me to question whether I should go. And yet, the minute I landed in Nairobi, breezed through immigration AND customs (they didn’t even go through the bags I so carefully packed!), stepped outside into the acrid smell of Nairobi, and saw my dear deaconess sister Mary and driver Rufus waiting for me—well, I knew I was home. Even driving through the crazy Nairobi traffic with fits and starts, the blaring of horns and screeching of brakes, and the seatbelts that don’t quite work—it all made me smile.
Kenya has been the place where mercy unveils itself one person and place at a time. In this place I have witnessed poverty and suffering in ways I had never imagined, and yet also experienced joy beyond belief. Africa was the place where I came home to myself as God’s beloved Child. I heard His voice in the singing of the Kenyan Deaconesses as they entered a mud hut to visit someone sick or lonely. I felt His touch, and His wounds, as I held hands with a destitute widow, a young child infected with HIV, a mother dying from AIDS, or a deaconess in despair because her husband suffered from severe depression and hopelessness. In this suffering, I entered into the holy place and encountered an immensity of God’s Love that still stuns me.
Proud seller of vegetables in Kawangware slums…I’m still pondering the logo on the T-shirt.
As bleak as this home looks, there is beauty gracing it’s entrance
Visiting a beautiful family in Kawangware slums…a widow with 3 kids
Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrod, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The guy who invented the Post-It-Note was a genius. I love sticky notes—these seemingly innocuous pads of pale-yellow paper with the right amount of adhesive on the top allowing them to stick to just about any surface, are remarkable. It is amazing how much writing will fit on that little 3”X 3” square. They can be used to make a list, write a love note, jot down instructions, (or in the case of my son many years ago, used to write a note and stuck to the outsideof the front door, “I went to the library…door unlocked”).
I admit it. I am hopelessly old school. I shun putting my life on my iPhone, still opting for a plain ole paper planner and calendar with lots of spaces for making lists, writing notes and of course, blank surfaces for attaching sticky notes. These sticky notes are adaptable too. If for some reason, you still need the information on a particular sticky note, it can be moved to the next day, week or even month!
I have one particular sticky note that I’ve saved. I received this note in January 2008. It is from my mother, in her familiar small, neat penmanship:
Well it’s not like I
forgot your BD—it is
just that I can’t get myself together—I can still
feel the thrill I
had when I was told I had a baby girl-…..
there seems to be a tight
bond with a girl.
Love, M & M
Now as much as I adore sticky notes, to receive a LATE birthday note from my mother on one of them was a sign that something was amiss. For my mother to forget my birthday, and not be able to get herself together was a huge red flag. Born two days after Christmas, it would have been easy for my birthday to get lost in the busyness of the holy days. But my mother always made sure my birthday was not forgotten. It was celebrated as its own day. No Christmas wrap on my birthday presents—no Christmas/birthday combo gifts. My celebrations always included a homemade cake, often from the Baker’s Coconut Animal Cake decorating book.
My personal favorite
As I got older and my tastes changed, she might make something like a black forest cake. The point was that my mother never forgot my birthday. So, when December 27, 2007 rolled around and no call, no card, no nothing….I was a little perplexed. And when the card with the little sticky note attached arrive, I was taken aback and had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. (That sinking feeling still arises on occasion).
I carried that little yellow note in my wallet for months. Finally, my husband had it laminated for me. It now sits in a drawer of special things, nestled amongst photos, tiny notebooks and the pens and pencils I use for writing each day. It is a reminder of the redemptive love of my mother. As this Mother’s Day comes to a close, I pray a prayer of gratitude for my mother’s faithfulness, kindness and generosity throughout my life.
My husband is a man who spends his days teaching first graders how to read and
write, and yet maintains a capacity for deep thinking and great ponderings. The
other day he sent me this quote from one of his favorite authors, George
But God sits in that
chamber of our being in which the candle of our consciousness goes out in
darkness, and sends forth from thence wonderful gifts into the light of that
understanding which is His candle. Our hope lies in no most perfect mechanism
even of the spirit, but in the wisdom wherein we live and move and have our
These words, like all poetic words bear a meaning deeper than we get at first glance.
We are called to sit with them, taste them, let them roll around in our mouths
and our minds, feel them, try them on, and then live them, even if we don’t
completely understand them. Theliturgical calendar of the Church is like that. There are seasons which give a rhythm to ordinary days and weeks. Liturgical time is essentially poetic
time—time given to us by God in which we are invited into the mystery of waiting
attentively in stillness, wherein we live and move and have our being.
in the liturgical year, the Church begins her calendar with the first Sunday in
Advent. Simply put, Advent means
“coming”. This liturgical season is rather paradoxical. We wait with quiet
stillness, and with anticipation of
the One who is to come. We prepare our
hearts to receive the gift of Christ, The One who was, is and always will be.
The One wherein we live and move and have our being. Kathleen Norris, in her
book, The Cloister Walk, describes the Advent season as one which “….breaks
into our lives with images of light and dark, first and last things,
watchfulness and longing, origin and destiny.”
The meaning of life is the
mystery of Love. Just as the roots of
the trees hold firm in the soil, so it is the roots of love that hold the
ground of our being together.*
that time of year. The trees are losing their leaves, creating a carpet of
color over sidewalks, roadways and fields. Darkness lingers in the morning and
descends in the late afternoon. This dimness cushions the world in a small
hush. The days seem shorter and we let go of the dazzle of long bright sunny
days of summer that trick us into thinking we have all the time in the world.
This betwixt and between time of late fall, before the winter solstice, lends
itself to slower activities of sitting before a fire, daydreaming, reading, drinking
tea, lighting candles…
Northern California was still in her Indian Summer, I had a conversation with a
friend about mercy. It was the time when hurricanes, flooding, fires, shootings
flooded the newsfeeds in every medium.
The needs were overwhelming and it was easy to get stuck, paralyzed and
not know what to do. This friend’s
desire to help a particular group of people now seemed pallid compared to the
overwhelming needs we were confronted with on a daily basis. I nodded my head
gently in agreement. And then began to tell her what keeps me committed to the
mercy work in Kenya. Yes, the needs in
Kenya and all over the world, and even in our backyard, are tremendous. Yes, it can feel selfish to be sending money
elsewhere when our own neighbors are in need. Yes, this mercy work can often
feel insignificant. But this much I know to be true—mercy is messy. It often
makes no sense, especially when one stays committed to a particular area of
mercy work for years. It is tempting to turn one’s back when things get complicated,
or don’t work the way we might have anticipated. Sometime the players and the
funding sources change. Sometimes a well thought out project “fails”. It
becomes easy to get discouraged and quit.
The harder path, the merciful path, lends itself to the long view, knowing
that the long view may not be within our line of sight.
other thing I know to be true is this: Mercy
comes with a price and that price is Love.
so for all of you whose roots of love have held the ground of our being, and
our mercy in Kenya together, I thank you. (You know who you are).
If you are interested in
making a donation, please make checks out to Holy Cross Lutheran Church,
earmarked for Kenya
4701 Grove St. Rocklin, CA 95677
by John Main set to music by Margaret Rizza in Mysterium Amoris.
On a autumn afternoon, I meet a friend for tea. We
sit outside, kitty- corner from one another, vying for the last rays of
sunshine peeking over the roof of the café and warm our hands with cups of Earl
Grey. It has been months since we’ve seen each other, and yet time and distance
quickly elapse as we converse. We speak of essential things: creativity,
imagination, suffering, joy, sorrow, poverty, hunger, mercy, fear, surrender
and gratitude. We speak of a Love that is greater than anything we could
imagine. A Love which fills us to overflowing. We sit in the sacred mystery of
it all, grateful.
This friend, with her love for those in need, heads up a
communal meal offered twice a month at her church. (She gently corrects me), “ I
don’t head this up. I am the lowliest among a group of holy men and women volunteers who are facilitating
this communal meal”. All are welcome:
the homeless, the young family who can’t make ends meet, the elderly in need of
conversation over a hot meal, even you and me! Some look poor– like they live on the
margins. Others do not. But they all come seeking solace. Seeking mercy. Seeking
connection. And the numbers are growing. Last month over 100 folks came for a
meal on an October Thursday evening.
In a world which sometimes seems to have gone off the rails, mercy still comes through ordinary means. Henri Nouwen gives us much to ponder:
poor are the center of the Church. But who are the poor? At first we might
think of people who are not like us: people who live in slums, people who go to
soup kitchens, people who sleep on the streets, people in prisons, mental
hospitals, and nursing homes. But the poor can be very close. They can be in
our own families, churches or workplaces. Even closer, the poor can be
ourselves, who feel unloved, rejected, ignored, or abused.
precisely when we see and experience poverty – whether far away, close by, or
in our own hearts – that we need to become the Church; that is, hold hands as
brothers and sisters, confess our own brokenness and need, forgive one another,
heal one another’s wounds, and gather around the table of Jesus for the
breaking of the bread. Thus, as the poor we recognise Jesus, who became poor
So come. Let us break bread together. Let us rejoice in
the gifts of love and mercy we receive so graciously each day.
If you are interested in checking out the communal meal:
Divine Savior Catholic Church in Orangevale
2nd and 5th Thursdays in November, 2nd and 4th Thursdays
in December @ 6 PM.