August 20, 2016

When You say go I will go, when You say stay I will stay

The morning sun slowly reached its climb over the tall, thick trees like an emerging flame on a candle wick, growing brighter and warmer with its ascend. The clouds hovered low covering the sky with what looked like cotton balls joined together to form a cozy blanket. They moved across the pale blue sky as if they were targeting a specific destination, determined and quick to get there. The breeze stirred the lake water to a gentle wake, revealing gray and blue ripples among the surface. Buried in the shadow of its surrounding trees, the water looked cold and dark. But as the sun stretched out over the trees, it cast a white light on top of the water. Little sparkles of light danced among the ripples, appearing and disappearing as the mild waves rose and fell. The reflection looked like a light show synchronized to a beautiful melody that only nature could hear.

I watched in amazement of the beauty surrounding me. I could almost hear the melody as I gently swayed on the water. Sitting quietly in the kayak listening to the wind tickle the leaves in the trees across the shore, I couldn’t help but feel like I somehow was a part of this environment. I was not just witnessing the sunrise and the clouds and the water play with the wind. I felt a connection, like I was part of the dance. I belonged here. Maybe that is how it is supposed to be. We are all part of God’s creation. Why not feel a connection? Why not feel like a part of this beautiful universe, this amazing planet that God created.

Sometimes stepping away from things can reveal some opportunities to reflect, to meditate, to spend some quality time with God. Jeanine and I retreated for a long weekend to a cabin in New Hampshire to rest and recuperate from a long season of service and ministry. We needed this time after reaching the summit of our call to take care of her father during his years of physical health challenges.

On July 20th, dad went home. It was a peaceful departure, the way he wanted it to happen. After of month of hospice care in his home, he was constantly with one of his kids or their spouses. Each of us had the opportunity of intimate time with him to talk about days of growing up, reminisce about mom, or even the best way to cook soup. We loved those final days with him and were happy we could surround his bedside during the final moments. Heartbroken, saddened, and fatigued, we were also relieved that his discomfort had ended. Having had a love for Jesus, we know dad is with him and also reunited with mom.

Jeanine and I have had both rough waters and smooth rides during this time, and we feel were blessed by having this call. It was a time of great personal growth, spiritually and emotionally, and we look back with a sense of gratitude.

Our retreat to the New Hampshire cabin has given us time to grieve, to concentrate on each other, and to focus on God and what He has for us next. His message to us right now is to recover. Simply that. Build ourselves back up, solidify our faith, our marriage and ourselves so that we can be the steady foundation we need to be to take on the next challenge He has for us. We look forward to that opportunity when it arises, but for now, we rest. We seek that connection to His creation, to each other, and to Him. Just as Jesus retreated from the crowds to pray and to rest, we too will do the same.

We will continue to post blog updates. Until then we thank so many of you for the much needed encouragement and support over the last few years. Our home is always open for visitors. Come visit us in New England, or for those of you already here, come have dinner! We make very good calzones!

With love,
Mike and Jeanine

July 10, 2016

The night shift

As I listen to the deep breaths inhaled sometimes in labor and sometimes with ease, I wait for the pattern. The consistent in and out. Slow in, fast out. Sometimes the pattern stops. The breaths grow faint, so faint that I cannot hear. I hold my own breath, waiting. I watch my father-in-law, George, Dad, as he lay motionless in his bed. Then finally a quick intake of oxygen and the pattern continues.

I have time now to reflect on the past 4 years. We left our mission field in South Africa to a new one in New England. To care for Jeanine’s father. He would need the help because he was getting a leg amputated the week we arrived. His right leg, just below the knee. 

A lifelong fight with pain from frostbite from a war long ago. Finally he would be freed from that pain. But it didn’t really work that way. He still had pain, excruciating pain. He would try to massage his toes to help alleviate the pain. But they were no longer there. Phantom pain, but real to him. Then the bypass implanted in his left leg let go, stopping blood flow to his left foot. Broken hearted from his wife passing away not only a few weeks before, he decided he would let the gangrene take over so he could be with her again. But the pain got to be too much and the left leg was cut off above the knee.

The rehab process was slow. Between living with us and an assisted living facility, the years were rocky. He had to learn new ways to do things, learn his limitations and strengths, and we had to learn how to teach him. A stubborn man, but determined. The first year or so, it seems like every time he made progress in recovery or gaining strength, he would get sick or get a urinary tract infection and he would have to start over again. Then after that came the falls. He would forget to lock the wheelchair when he scooted from the bed to chair, or he would fall off the commode on the toilet. I lost count of how many hospital visits he made, and I definitely lost count of how many hours we spend sitting in the hospitals with him.

Such was life. A few good days, a few bad days. Sometimes is was a few good days and a few bad weeks. But he always bounced back. Often in pain and agony, he kept going. When the assisted living facility took away is electric wheelchair, took over his medication disbursement and forced him to have the orderlies wheel him from the dining room and his room, it put him into a deeper depression. With his independence stripped from him and his overwhelming physical struggles, he was dying. On the inside his spirit was dying.

A few months ago he moved to a different assisted living facility in the town where he and his beloved wife had spent their golden years. He knew the area and he loved the facility. With his electric wheelchair returned, he would take “walks” into town and sometimes visit his old buddies at the local pub.

He was back. Alive again. He spirits lifted, his body strong, and his mind clear. I finally got to see real George. The man my wife loves so much. The man she told me stories about from when she was growing up. A man compassionate for others, a man that loved a good joke, and a man that loved his children and loved God.

Only 4 short months later and within a span of a few weeks, he had bladder surgery to remove malignant tumors, muscle biopsy to look for remaining tumors, a congenial heart failure and another UTI. The poor man was worn out. Knowing what the road ahead looks like to get back to where he was, he decided he had had enough.

So now here we are. He sleeps with a pattern of breaths. Slow in, fast out. He has been on hospice for a number of weeks. Accommodating his wish to be home, he is back in his room in the assisted living facility. Ceasing all medication except pills for pain, he waits. At peace with God, at peace with his family, he is ready to go. 

Needing to be on 24 hour watch because he is too weak to eat, and dress, and basically function, dad’s kids and their spouses have taken shifts sitting in his small room in the back corner of the assisted living facility. Exhausted from little sleep, long drives to and from his home and trying maintain our jobs and families, we are each still able to keep going. We are happy to do this. Each one of us know that if they are scheduled to be here, then he is still here. We are eager to soak up as much dad time we can.

Tonight is my shift. He had a good evening. Occasionally he wants to eat something. Tonight I had the privilege to help him eat. As he sat feebly against his pillows, I slowly held the mug of soup to his mouth so he could drink. A few spoonfuls of soft pudding followed. Worn from the effort, he rested between bites. He would wave his hand and slightly open his mouth to tell me he was ready for the next bite. We learned how to communicate while in such a fragile state. I had never felt so close to him before. The intimacy of feeding dad brought me a level with him that I didn’t think I would ever get to. After years of exhaustive care and companionship; years of sitting with him in hospitals for hours into the night; countless weekends, holidays and evenings sacrificed in order to accommodate his needs; and yes, even some resentment from having to leave South Africa to be here for him, I finally at this moment fell in love with dad.

So yes, I will sit in this chair next to his bed as long he has breaths. Loud, labored or quiet, I will sit next to him listening to the pattern. Slow in, fast out.