Monday, October 26, 2009


Dad doesn't have very many good days. Sometimes it seems like every time we visit we have to witness a new nightmare for him, whether it is mealtime messes, bathroom mishaps, mobility issues, or psychotic symptoms, just to name a few. It's hard to remember that this man was in charge of health care for the country of Liberia, then for the state of New Hampshire, and finally for the state of West Virginia. He needs round the clock care and he doesn't often express gratitude for the care he gets from the nursing home staff or his family - why is that? Maybe it's because after managing a staff of professionals for so many years he expects people to simply do their jobs; maybe it's because it takes so much of his energy to perform day to day functions that he has no energy left for gratitude; or maybe it's because when you need help for every little thing you do, every moment of every day, the burden of gratitude becomes too great, and he can't think about it anymore. Never-the-less I know it is disconcerting for my mother, who has done so much for him on a daily basis for over twenty years.

A few weeks ago Mom and I arrived at the nursing home to find Dad bent over double in his wheelchair, unable to move or call for help. We quickly went to find aides to help him into bed (it takes two people and a lift), and we realized that the medicines he had been given almost an hour ago were still in his mouth - he had been unable to swallow them. We called the nurse who insisted that he HAD swallowed them, while we tried to explain that we had found them in a wad in his mouth - confusion reigned. Until a quiet, authoritative voice from the bed said "what are you going to do about it?" We all paused and looked at the broken, helpless man who had calmly taken control of the situation. There he was, the man who had supervised the opening of clinics all over Liberia, who had worked with Liberian government leaders and New Hampshire and West Virginia governors and legislators, cutting right to the heart of the situation, as he had always done.

The nurse got him more medicine and we settled down for a visit. Dad could hardly move or talk, but when I showed him the candy I had brought him from Granite State Candy Shoppe, his favorite sugar mints, his eyes lighted up. He indicated that he wanted a piece, and opened his mouth as I placed a pink sugary disk on his tongue. He closed his mouth and his eyes and smiled ear to ear, looking completely content. Gratitude? Maybe. I know I was thankful to catch a glimpse of the father I grew up with and who is buried in his disease, and I treasure the memory of his contented face as he enjoyed a simple piece of candy.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I grew up without any understanding of what an American fall was like. My mom used to say that fall was her favorite season and I could never understand why. Wasn't it just cold and gray, with dead leaves falling off the trees? In Liberia we had two seasons, rainy and dry, and it rained often during the rainy season and rarely, if at all, during the dry season. I don't remember the trees changing much from one season to the other - I guess leaves did die and fall off the trees, but I never paid much attention. Our visits to the States didn't help much. We lived in inner city Baltimore when I was seven and in Atlanta when I was eleven, but neither city really highlighted the attributes of fall.

We moved back to the United States when I was fifteen, and settled in New Hampshire. Imagine my amazement that first year when the leaves began to change - wow! I had no idea that trees could have such a variety of vibrant colors - there was hillside after hillside of this beautiful color palate; I couldn't get enough of it. I kept thinking "why didn't anyone tell me about this? How could I have not known?" but of course there are no words to really describe it.

I was reminded of this awesome discovery the other day. We recently moved from just outside of Pittsburgh to rural Pennsylvania, and instead of being surrounded by parking lots and businesses we see woods, fields and rolling hills out of our windows. It has been hard to adjust to the isolation but the beauty of the area sure does compensate! I am loving watching the leaves change all around us, but when I took a ride on route 8 from Franklin to Barkeyville the other day I was awestruck! Mile after mile of colorful hillsides greeted us, and around every bend was a new discovery. I remember hearing a sermon by Bishop George Bashore years ago, in which he described driving on the Kangamangus Highway in New Hampshire one fall day, a route that is famous for its beautiful fall foliage. He said they would go around a bend and say "wow!" then go around another bend and say "wow!" as the scenery continued to be more and more beautiful. I can't remember the point of the illustration (sadly), but I imagine it had something to do with God's majesty. Since then I have wanted to take a ride on the Kangamangus Highway during the peak of the fall foliage, but now I don't need to - it can't possibly be more beautiful than that stretch on route 8! It is with a sense of wonder that I watch God's autumnal fireworks this fall - what a gift. All I can say is WOW!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The New Kid

I had forgotten how hard it is to be the new kid in school. I certainly have had a lot of experience with it after seven schools in twelve years. It's something you struggle through when you have to and block out as soon as you can. Watching my eighth grade son experience being the new kid for the first time has brought back a flood of memories, and you'd think with all of my experience I could say or do something to help. But that's not possible - each person has to figure it out alone - and I do mean alone, because no matter how friendly and welcoming kids are (or aren't), you are still the only person going through this particular adjustment and no one can possibly understand what makes it so hard.

We recently got a GPS and have had fun using it. When we take a route unfamiliar to or not recommended by "Garmin" she says "recalculating...recalculating...recalculating..." until we are back on track. Being in a new school is a constant series of recalculations - walking down the halls where every face is unfamiliar, sitting in a classroom where groups of friends are chatting - except you, going to lunch in the hopes that there will be someone to sit with, riding a bus through unfamiliar roads with rowdy and unfriendly kids...etc. It's exhausting! You can never relax during your day because every conversation and action takes extra effort to "fit in" and not draw attention to your differences. The end of every day is a relief and you think "that wasn't so bad, I did pretty well today" but when Mom says "tell me about your day" you don't even want to think about it, you just want to forget it, and it feels harder to do it again the next day. It's not one specific thing it's the constant readjustments, small and large, that wear you down. Like Chinese water torture.

Of course time makes everything better. Things become easier in small, almost unnoticeable increments, and suddenly you can look back and remember how much harder it was those first few months. Eventually (if you are lucky and stay long enough, which I never did) you feel like you belong and this is your school. And the memory of those first few month or years fades until years later when you have to helplessly stand by and watch your own child fight his own lonely battle. But I am wrong, we can help - we can make home a sanctuary to come back to, we can resist underestimating how hard everything is for them (because we really don't want to relive it ourselves), and we can make sure our children know that Jesus walks with them wherever they go, and no one understands loneliness better than him.