Many thanks to you all who gave of yourselves and your resources to support my friend Lorna and her family through her mother’s illness, death, funeral and medical bills. Your prayers, notes, donations move me to tears of joy. AND all expenses have been covered.
In addition to being a deaconess, she is a Registered Nurse, and a former Parish Nurse. As a nurse, she brings with her a certain body of knowledge and skills which helps her as she ministers to people in body and soul. With her experience as a parish nurse, she has tried to see people as God has made them: body, mind and spirit. Her visits have included devotion and prayer. As a deaconess, she continues to carry this out with a deeper theological understanding of the Word and Sacraments, enabling her to better articulate the hope that lies inside all believers and herself. She points people to the cross of Christ— the source of life, forgiveness, salvation, peace and joy in the midst of sorrows and trials.
You may find her writings and other works, especially in connection with Kenya, at Always Mercy.
Mother’s Day 2020 is different. (That’s an understatement, with a twist of sarcasm.)
Me, mama, Greg and Mark. Note the bun warmer on the stove. I still have it!
I’d been dreading this Mother’s Day–my first without my mama. I remember many years ago, a friend of mine whose mother had just died, told me she found herself in early May, standing in front of the racks of Mother’s Day cards, with tears helplessly streaming down her face.
Maybe Sheltering in Place has its benefits.
The dread leading up to this day? Honestly, the anticipation of it was way worse than the day itself. Today, I was reminded of the gift of love from my daughter and son, who also miss their grandma. I was reminded that others do remember, and do care. I was reminded that sorrow has a way of connecting us to others who are sorrowing. This year, I am keenly aware of how this day might look to someone who is grieving, knowing that grief comes in many forms. A friend who is barren grieves what never was. Another friend grieves the relationship with her own mother that was less than optimal. A new widow sits at home alone, and another woman stuck in the nursing home, is isolated and lonely, thanks to COVID-19. A son celebrates with his wife and children, but the sting of his own mother’s death many years ago remains. The list is endless.
My daughter, Kali and her grandma Margie 1990
My son, Christian and his Grandma Margie, 1994
And still, joy persists. Intertwined with sorrow is a joy that understands that things shift and change, and in the midst of tears, there can be laughter. With that in mind, I wrote a little story about dusting….it made me smile to think of it. I hope it does you, too.
Here’s to my mama:
Dusting. I LOATHE it, as did my mama. But it wasn’t always so.
When I was a small girl, about 5 years old, I so desperately wanted to be a helper to my mama. I especially wanted to learn to dust. Well, truth be told, it wasn’t so much the dusting I wanted to do, but the spraying of Pledge furniture polish. For one could make lovely patterns on the coffee table with Pledge, then make them morph into a shiny sheen with a sweep of a soft cotton cloth.
The day came when my mother decided I was ready for this job. (This must have been before the ironing fiasco, in which I somehow burned the tender skin on my stomach while learning to iron my father’s handkerchiefs.) She had me set up. Pledge in one hand, dust cloth in the other. Putting her hand over mine, she showed me how to gently and evenly spray the furniture polish and was about to let me go solo, when one of my older brothers burst into the house yelling that he’d found an abandoned nest of baby Quail. Well, everyone in the whole wide world, knows that baby Quail are waaaay more exciting than dusting. I dropped that can of Pledge and my dustrag, and headed outside. I watched anxiously as my brothers and father fashioned a little cardboard box with some old rags, rigged up a warming lamp, a tiny dish of water and discussed how they would feed these birds. I had visions of hovering and mothering these tiny birds, cupping each one in my hand and feeding it with a dropper. My fantasy was rudely interrupted with a summons by my mother to come back into the house to finish the job I’d started.
As you can imagine, the glamor of dusting had lost its luster, and I made my displeasure known in a sulky sort of way. I was a trying child….my mother was a saint. (nearly).
I’ve grown up to realize that dusting is highly overrated and I try not to give in to it’s beckoning call too often, lest it become a habit.
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.
I am finding my way home through the back door of poverty, disease, despair and sorrow. These are places where the darkness is pierced by a small window of the noonday sun, or dimly lit at night with a flame from a tiny tin of paraffin.
I’ve been invited in through narrow doorways made of ill hung plywood or thin curtains covering entrances to the corrugated tin shacks in the slums of Nairobi–hundreds of thousands of them stacked side by side, haphazardly like neglected books on a shelf in the back of a junk store.
I’ve ducked my head through openings in mud huts after driving for hours on dirt roads to reach a village. I’ve tiptoed into hospital rooms where patients lie in narrow beds positioned in long rows.
I’ve been allowed to enter into the sacred spaces of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. These people have given me a glimpse of holiness. Their openness and expansive generosity have given me room to see my own poverty. My poverty of pride, self-righteousness, judgement and fear. And they have gently—and sometimes abruptly—taken my poverty and mingled it with their own, showing me the beauty of our lives together.
Today my mama would have been 89 years old. And she too opened doors for me, gently pushing me over the thresholds into worlds of mercy and compassion. She, with her own wounds and brokenness post-divorce, entered into the poverty of others by becoming a hospice volunteer and an RN. I watched her. Listened. Absorbed. (And yes, sometimes rebelled. She was ever so patient).
Doors continue to open. The spaces are beginning to take shape, even if only in my imagination.
I can see it. A place where the hillside hugs the Atemo River. A sacred space, yet unveiled, where doorways beckon the poor, the sick, the dying. This is no ordinary place. No. It is a place where the rooms breathe with light and beauty, and the musical sounds of the river. A place where care is rendered with tender hands to smooth a wrinkled sheet, soothe a fevered brow. A place where laughter pulls up a chair next to sorrow. Kindness kisses anger and fear. And mercy? Well, Mercy spreads herself out as deep and wide as the river to drench parched hearts with compassion, lead bodies and souls, weary from their long journey, home.
Gratitude spills over for you generous donors (you know who you are!). Thanks to you, we are moving forward with land and geological surveys, which will enable the architect to move forward with the initial renderings!
Want to be a part of this? You can send checks, earmarked for Kenya Hospice to Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 4701 Grove St. Rocklin, CA 95677.
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 home. Fairly rested. Unpacked. Laundry done. Back to cooking. Daffodils and narcissus are blooming in the backyard.
Looking in the rearview mirror at my three weeks in Kenya, brings a collage of images: Driving for hours on paved and unpaved roads, sometimes dusty, sometimes muddy and slick. Packing and unpacking. Laying my head on various pillows. Teaching. Spending time with deaconesses. Spending time alone. Visiting widows in mud huts. Snapping photos of kids in the slums of Nairobi. Conversations with my good friend, Pastor David Chuchu. New and rekindled friendships across Kenya. Landscapes so lush and full making my eyes hurt and my heart burn. The blaring noise and pollution of the cities that made me grit my teeth and want to cover my ears.
And life. Life everywhere. Crazy life—folks walking along the roads and highways at all hours of the day and night, intermingled with bicycles, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and trucks. (There are no sidewalks here). Sellers of most anything you might imagine, line streets. Tree limbs, crisscrossed form a tiny stall where a young woman sells tomatoes, collard greens and onions. And next to her, a friend offers avocados, pineapples or mangos. On the edge of the road, in the rich red dirt, women attractively pyramid sweet potatoes or set bunches of green cooking bananas on piles of rock. Further down the road a tin shack offers electricity for recharging cellphones. Food vendors spill onto the street’s edges grilling corn on the cob over a charcoal fire, or deep-frying fish. There are places to get a haircut or a fancy hairdo, a posh mill where you can get your corn milled, and other spots to sit and have a Fanta or Coke. If something can be sold, you are likely to find it along the streets. And at certain crossroads where matatus and buses stop for passengers, vendors come right up to your car offering fruits, vegetables, groundnuts, water, candy…relentlessly.
This street life is chaotic, and would certainly never pass our safety regulations, but somehow it all works. Strange as it sounds, being the person of order that I am, I miss it. Life is lived out loud and large on these Kenyans streets. People talk to one another. Greet one another with handshakes and cheek to cheek “hugs”. (I shook a lot of hands!). Horns blare. Motorcycles weave in and out of traffic. Cars pass dangerously to gain ground, only to come to a screeching halt at the speed bumps set surreptitiously in the road. And I sit in the passenger seat and watch it all pass by me. Did I mention that Kenyans drive on the left side of the road?
And now, I sit in my quiet, still house, looking out at the bobbing yellow of the daffodils, remembering. And smiling. And planning my next trip to Kenya.
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.