Gratitude and Advent Longings

Gratitude bestows
 reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent
 moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.    

Matongo, Kenya 

We’ve rounded the corner of Thanksgiving and moved into
 Advent. Advent is a season of reflection, quiet and longing—a preparation for
 the One who is to come and whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. It is easy to
 get lost in the glut of what seems to be one big season of Thanksgiving-Christmas
 where the main focus seems to be feasting, shopping and all around busyness.
 And yet, we are called to these holy days of quiet, stillness and pondering.

These are some of the thoughts that come to me in the
 afternoon stillness—reflections from a time of quiet in Kenya.

September 2016

I am sitting on the veranda of the Karibuni house, on the
compound of Matongo Theological College, looking out over lush trees, including
papaya, avocado, banana and a variety of flowers to the green hills outside of
Kisumu. Strangely, my companions on this lovely late morning are my computer
and iPhone. Even more strange, is the reality that I have internet connection
and a Kenyan sim card inserted into my phone which allows me to text and call
friends in Kenya, and even my husband in California.

This is a far cry from my first visit to Kenya in 2006. Back
then, the use of a local internet café was the only way to connect to friends
and family back home. One such place was a small shop

inside the shopping “mall” in Kisumu that housed the
Nakumatt store (think mini- Walmart) and various shops. This internet café had a
bank of several old computers and a row of three or four phones, separated only
by thin sheets of plywood giving one a false sense of privacy. In reality everyone
in the internet café could eavesdrop on your end of the conversation. One paid
by the minute for the luxury of connecting with loved ones.  As the years rolled by, and my traveling days
expanded, I might be able to borrow someone’s phone to call home for a few
precious minutes. Or, if there was some streak of good luck, my hotel might
have internet. If I stood still in the narrowest of spots, the electricity was
on, and the system was not overloaded—I might be able to connect.  So, to be sitting outside on a veranda
overlooking the green hills outside of Kisumu, with internet on computer and
phone, and connecting to my heart’s content demonstrates how much has changed
in the past ten years.

But, somethings don’t change. Kibera still remains the
largest slum in Nairobi and home to around a million people. Streams of raw
sewage and garbage still run freely through the rutted red dirt paths between
tin shacks. Children poke sticks in the fetid water, jump across the small embankments
and call out, “Hello! How are you???” in their singsong voice when they see me,
a mzgunzu (white person).  A vegetable
stand appears around the corner where one can buy tomatoes and Sukuma wiki (collard
greens). A tiny tin closet of a store holds candy and soda for those who might
have a few shillings to get a treat.  A
single faucet stands a foot away from the filthy water. This is one of the
places people fill their yellow plastic jugs with drinking, cooking and washing

My friend, Deaconess Callen and I step carefully towards the
homes of some of the women I have visited in the past. First we come to Ann’s
house. Ann is a mother, grandmother and a widow who cares for seven people in
her 12 foot X 24 foot space. Her walls are plywood and tin sheeting, neither of
which muffle the cacophony of sounds around her. In the corner of the house
stands the purple bucket with the water filter we delivered two years ago. (You
can read about Ann in my previous post).

Next, we walk the narrow paths towards Helen’s house. She is
waiting for us at the corner and walks with us to her home.  I visited Helen in 2008 when it was
discovered that she had a severe heart condition. A visiting doctor funded her
surgery and when I visited again in 2014 she seemed to be doing fairly well.
This year, the simple walk of a few hundred yards left her gasping for breath,
and by the time we arrived at her house, she had to lie down in order to
recover. Since her surgery, Helen requires several medications to keep her
heart pumping efficiently.  When she had
caught her breath and was able to talk, she showed me her list of medications
and said she had not been able to get her meds for several reasons:

She had a new doctor, and before he would write another
prescription for her meds, she needed to have a couple of tests and some lab
work. Of course, Helen, could not afford to pay for such tests, let alone pay
for the monthly medication costs of about $25 per month. I looked at this
woman’s beautiful face, now gaunt from her struggles, and thought, “We have to
help her.” Thanks to folks who continue to support the mercy work in Kenya,
Deaconess Callen was able to arrange for Helen to have the necessary tests, a
doctor’s visit and the subsequent prescriptions written for her monthly
medications.  But this is an ongoing need
for Helen. $25 is what it takes per month for basic cardiac meds to sustain her

Helen and Pamela 

When I walked out of Helen’s house to meet her daughter and
granddaughter who also lived in Kibera, I found myself thinking, “Nothing has
changed. These beautiful people still live hand to mouth in these slums. This
life of poverty is their life, and nothing I do will change that. I spent the
next few weeks in Kenya contemplating this –has the work we’ve done here been
for naught? Should I just pack up and go home?
(A little self-pity explosion here).

And then I had to ask myself, “What did I expect?” Who was I
to think “getting out of the slums” was the goal? Who was I to judge what was
helpful or not?

I was reminded of a poignant piece in the book, Shirt of
Flame. A Year with Saint Terese of Lisieux, by one of my favorite authors,
Heather King.

If Therese is the
saint of our age, maybe one of the things she is saying most clearly is that
Christ is the way, not of rewards and triumphs, but of mystery and paradox:
that we’re “healed” not to revel in victory, but to develop
compassion, to help bear the burden of those who are still suffering.

Maybe, in fact, we
need to revise our idea of healing. Maybe the people who are never healed, who
carry the unbearable tension of wanting to get sober but not being able to–of
wanting the neurotic illness to end, but of the illness not ending–are the
ones who keep the world spinning on its axis.

Maybe the fact that we
pray at all is itself the answer to prayer. Maybe he deepest desire of our
hearts is simply to turn toward God, whether or not we ever “hear” an
answer.  Maybe the most we can do is prepare ourselves to be open to
grace–by prayer, the sacraments and works of mercy-even though we sometimes
feel those things aren’t helping us or anyone else at all.  

King’s words ring true. Christ is the way of mystery,
paradox, compassion. He opens the paths for us to follow, whether they make
sense or not—whether there seems to be an answer, solution or not. And so I
follow, not knowing what the next walk around the corner will bring, but
trusting once again in the merciful One.
And I sit in the stillness, listen and ponder these words by Rachel
Naomi Remen.

Our listening creates
a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.

Praying that your days are filled with gratitude, wonder and

Always Mercy,


If you would like to support the ongoing mercy work in Kenya, including Helen’s monthly meds, the clean water project and future hospice house….

Make checks payable to Holy Lutheran Church, earmarked for Kenya

4701 Grove St. Rocklin, CA 95677

or go to and donate via paypal

via Always Mercy

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