Monday, August 23, 2010

Inviting Jesus into a Memory

It's been a while since I wrote about how I'm really doing in terms of the grieving process. In light of some recent events, I thought I would share a little with you.

The time this summer was an especially important time for a few reasons and I am so thankful for my friends and family who really pushed me to come home for a few weeks (even though I insisted I didn't need it:-). The time at the cottage was an emotional break for me because Bob had not been to those places and so I was not faced with the visual reminder of his absence 24/7. Spending time with family and friends, playing games, reading, and catching up on much needed sleep, was very healing. During those two weeks, I felt the fog begin to lift.

A couple days before we returned to Ghana, a very important event happened that had God's hand all over it.

In the morning, I had coffee with a friend from the LEAD Grand Rapids group, David Graf, who together with Judy King, another member of my church, had been actively praying with me twice a week over the phone since Bob died. I was shared with him about how I had been reliving Bob's death every night since he died. Dave's ears perked up and he said, "You are reliving that every night? You need prayer for that! We need to pray for you this Sunday after church." Since I was having lunch with our pastor and his wife that same day, he encouraged me to talk with them about this. I shared this with them, and Melanie (Pastor Dave's wife) asked if I had prayed for that nightly memory to be taken away. I sheepishly acknowledged that I hadn't - I just assume that when you go through a traumatic event, that is what happens for a period of I was still trying to solve what really happened with Bob each night when I relived it, so ending it would feel like I was abandoning him in some way. Pastor Dave then asked if I had ever heard of praying Jesus into a memory, which I hadn't, and he informed me that Judy King does that sort of healing prayer. Well, I just "happened" to have meeting with her later that afternoon.

Judy and I met later that afternoon and since she was not going to be in church that Sunday, she offered to pray for me right then and there. She took my hands, asked me to close my eyes, invited the Holy Spirit into our time, and then had me "go back" to that hospital room, describe where I was standing, what Bob was doing, and who else was in the room. I ended up reliving that last hour of Bob's life, but with Judy inviting Jesus and the Holy Spirit into that memory. At one point, she asked me to place a cross between myself and Bob, and I told her I didn't want to. The cross could be there, but not in-between us. This was an important realization for me, as releasing Bob to Jesus was something that I had not yet done. And so, with many tears, I did that.

I can't describe everything that happened during that prayer time, but to say that it was significant would be an understatement. I realized that I was still trying to take care of Bob through the reliving of his death, trying to figure out what really happened (since we still don't know and never will on this earth), trying to determine what those last minutes were really like for him. And ultimately, reliving those things were my attempts to hold on to him and not let him go.

The results of this prayer time? Several. First, whenever I picture that room now, I picture Bob, lying on his back, with his eyes closed, and the room is peaceful with a sense of Christ's presence; even the lighting is softer. Prior to that, I always pictured him lying on his left side, agitated and the room chaotic, with bright lights. Jesus has become part of that memory. Second, I have stopped reliving his death every night. I have begun sleeping again. Third, I feel like I have accepted his death. I am very thankful to God for this and for the body of Christ in the form of my church family.

I always thought I was a quick study but it appears that when it comes to grieving, I am not. It appears, with the benefit of hindsight, that I spent the first four months following Bob's death in the first stage of grief, denial. I did not realize what a stupor I had been in for those four months. Every email, every phone call, every conversation that was not about Bob took great effort and energy. I had no interest in anything except lying in my bed. I'm amazed that any work actually got done during that time and appreciate the patience of Partners Worldwide and the teams with whom I work as they allowed me to grieve.

The grieving process is not over yet though. To use an analogy, I would say that prior to this vacation, it was like being in a hurricane. The time at home was like coming into the eye of the hurricane which was a beautiful thing, and for about two weeks, I felt great and remembered what it was like to feel normal. I now feel like I'm entering the back side of the hurricane in terms of some new stages of grief to deal with, but at least the shock and stupor seem to be behind me.

Thanks to so many of you for your prayers, your encouraging emails and comments to these blogs, your calls, visits, and hugs!

One Year in Ghana

Weather in Accra: This is the weather that Bob loved - a pretty constant breeze, temperature ranging from the high 70sF to the mid-80sF. Humidity is still around 70% but it doesn't feel like it because of the breeze. The rainy season here has nothing on Liberia - it rains a few times a week, but without a large accumulation.

August marks our one year anniversary in Ghana. To say this has been a stressful year would be a gross understatement. On stress scales, death of a spouse rates as number one. Add to that moving to a new country, learning about a new culture, both of us starting new work, the kids starting a new school, new church, and the list can go on. According to stress tests, I am at the highest risk for stress related illness. Yet I have been relatively healthy and I thank God for that.

Here are some reflections on living in Ghana for year one:

Electricity and water have been a blessing, in comparison to Liberia, but not entirely smooth. The water is typically off from about Thursday-Sunday, and we live off our storage tank during those days, with very slow streams. By Sunday we are seriously conserving and hoping that the water will come back on Monday. The best shower day in our house is Tuesday - great water pressure. Electricity comes and goes - for example, this past Thursday the power was off from about 10 am - 6:30 pm; Friday, off from 8 pm - 10 pm; Saturday, off from 9 am - 11:30 am. It can be frustrating because you don't know when it will go off or when it will come back on. It's really bad when your computer is downloading updates and the power shuts off.

Getting to know Ghana, her people, and her culture has been more difficult than expected due to the predominant use of Twi by most people, which is the local language, instead of English which is the official language. Additionally, the independence that we admire in the Ghanaian people also makes them a little more reserved or less welcoming. So at the end of our first year, we know we have a lot to learn about Ghana and hope that this next year will allow that to happen.

Here are some pictures from this past year that hadn't made it to the blog yet.

On my way home from teaching class on Wednesday, we paused to let the cows pass. One of the things I love about living in West Africa. Unfortunately, this wasn't too much of a problem in Liberia, but we pray that animal husbandry may continue to grow in that country, providing more meat and protein for Liberians.
Getting used to dust was a big factor in Ghana. In Liberia we lived by the ocean and there was always sand in the house, but not the same level of red dust that we have in Accra. Every day, things are covered with a fine layer of red dust (because the windows are open 24/7 and we live on a dirt road). Paper can't be left out overnight, printers and computers need to be bagged, and a daily chore is wiping down tables and desks so as not to turn everything red. The amazing thing is how clean most cars are - people here are fastidious about keeping their vehicles clean and taxi drivers, when they aren't driving, are always wiping down their cars.
Hannah and Noah had the opportunity to participate in the Model United Nations (MUN) this past year at the Kofi Annan United Nations Building. Hannah represented Brazil, Noah represented Argentina. They had to research various topics and then debate them with other representatives from various countries. It was great to see these high school students get dressed up for those days and debate real issues.One of the last pictures taken of Bob, with the group in Nigeria. In the past year, he was able to go to Mali as well. I was able to travel four times to Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia.
Writing on the back of vehicles is a very common thing and we often get a kick out of what is written. One day we saw this truck and had a good chuckle over it saying "highly inflammable" as it was filled with gas. We were still chuckling over it later in the day and mentioned it to someone else who looked at us like we were idiots and told us it was completely okay. Sure enough, flammable and inflammable both mean the same thing. Go figure. There's your English tip for the day.
As much as Accra looks like a well developed city, you don't have to drive far to see areas where poverty is prevalent. In the distance you can see many fishing boats, which are more like canoes.
Hannah had the opportunity to join the worship team at Elim International Family Church and either sings or plays the flute. The youth group is leading worship in this picture and Hannah is on the left, playing the flute.
I have met many great business people in the greater Accra area. This is a picture of a man making those little rubber feet that you find on the bottom of steel tables or chairs. He's making them out of scraps of rubber. One main difference between Ghana and Liberia is that there are many more real SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) here, which we define as having five+ employees. There is an actual middle class in Ghana.
A shot of a classic village, found in between Accra and Cape Coast.
We had a chance to visit Bob's tree in July. It has grown significantly and looks very healthy. Last Friday marked five months since his death.
A number of you have asked about the pups - all seven are doing well. Three males, four females. Dusty (the mom) has also stopped attacking our other two dogs every few minutes (especially our other female, Faith), so we are all getting sleep again. Aren't they cute?

Monday, August 16, 2010

And then there were 7 dogs...I mean 9...oops 11...ok 10.

Sunday morning was an exciting morning at the Reed household. After waiting for four years, we finally are happy to announce the birth of new Reed puppies.

If you remember in Liberia, Bob eagerly prepared several times for Nikki to give birth, but she fooled us at least twice with false pregnancies. (To see those posts go to Earlier this year, in the beginning of March, Faith miscarried. Then when we came back just a couple of weeks ago, both Faith and Dusty were pregnant. Sunday morning, for whatever reason, they both gave birth.

When I went out to feed the dogs, I found Dusty in the garden with four pups. I moved them into a more comfortable home ( an old suitcase), got my coffee and sat down to watch. Four puppies plus three dogs - suddenly we had seven dogs in the yard. I then noticed that Faith was looking a little different. After doing some exploration, I found two puppies that she had given birth to but unfortunately both were dead. I buried those, then came back to my coffee and to watch Dusty, who suddenly had five puppies. Hannah and Noah began to get up, and by the time they came out to see the puppies, we counted seven (plus our three, now ten dogs in the yard). Noah noticed that Dusty seemed to be contracting again. Thirty minutes later, we watched Dusty give birth to another pup - the only black puppy with white feet and white-tipped tail. [Picture shows this birth.] Unfortunately, it was not breathing and did not survive. But we were still glad that we were able to watch one birth - even though it was a little gross. I did videotape it but we all decided it was not the kind of thing to post on the blog. It's amazing how instinctual it is for a mother dog to care for a new born puppy.

Here is Dusty with her seven pups - all of whom seem healthy and all of whom seem to look like Jack. Dusty seems to be a good mom, thus far. If you remember, she was the dog that almost died. Bob worked extra hard to keep her alive and would not give up on her. He would have loved to see her as a proud momma.

Ten dogs might be a little much for us to handle...Anyone want a puppy?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting back - reflections from Hannah

After two awesome, busy months in the States, the family and I are back home in Accra. It feels good to be back, good to put away the suitcase and use a closet and drawers again, good to be settled at home again. But I had a great time in the States and I miss it there, miss my friends, miss riding bikes, miss the changes in weather and the late sunsets. This summer was a blast. It was also too short, but then it always seems so. However despite the great time I had in the States, there is another big reason for my relief at being back. This relief is due to a condition called "America-itis", and being back helps me be rid of it. This condition is very serious and ridiculously easy to contract. My friend, Niecia and I, spend a lot of time together.

This is how I continually contract it. After a little time in the States, the excitement wears off past the initial happiness and thrill of being Stateside, and the fact that I am actually in America begins to sink in. I begin to notice all the things about America that I hate - the extreme convenience - not that convenience is bad, but we're talking about Extreme Convenience, everything at your fingertips - the materialism, the "America Bubble" and detachment from so many world problem (Disclaimer: this is not true of all America and all Americans, however these seem to be the general rules). This is Stage II. Stage I is the initial response, the rediscovery of all good things in America. Stage III of this disease is very dangerous, and it's the easiest to slip into: when I stop noticing these things. When I begin forgetting all that I learned in Liberia and Ghana. When I stop noticing how good we have it in the States. When the "me" problem begins. Out to eat with Jon and Niecia. Look at the size of those burgers!

The "me" problem is when I begin panicking when one little bit of a plan doesn't work out, forgetting that it is one day. Forgetting how much I have. And yes, there definitely is a time and place for focusing on yourself, a time and place for focusing on the small details, but when this becomes a daily habit, that is when Stage III has set in. [As a teenager, this case is much more acute. And yes, that can be an excuse, and a pretty good one. Teenagers as a rule are like this. But then I remember the verse in Jeremiah, my favorite Bible passage, "But the Lord said to me, "Do not say 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you to. Do not be afraid for I am with you and will rescue you.' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 1:7-8). But the teen thing is a whole other problem...]My friends (from left to right), Dan, Curtis, Jon, and Niecia.

Stage IV is the most frustrating, but when I enter into it, then the end is in sight for this disease - either that or the cycle of this disease will begin again. Stage IV is when I discover how much I am into Stage III. It's when I realize how much my focus has been drawn off what I've learned, off the bigger perspective, off of God even, and back onto myself. The frustrating part is breaking out of the habits of Stage III. It is so easy to take your sights off the Bigger picture and begin to be consumed about the daily struggles, frustrations, and anxieties of life as a relatively privileged American - so easy to be so focused on the day and on yourself. It's a habit that's easy to slip into and hard to get out of ...and a key element to the sinful nature. As such, we as Americans have to realize this. As so many people say, "admitting you have a problem is half the battle." After only gets harder. I don't think I, or anyone else, will ever be cured of "America-itis" or the "ME syndrome", but it is a disease that is treatable. It just takes a lot effort, faith and prayer.Jon and Dan acting goofy at mini-golf.

On a separate and sadder note, today is my dad's 56th birthday. As a family, we don't do much to celebrate the birthdays of the parents...I'd make dad a card, maybe bake a cake after I got older, make his favorite birthday meal, sang Happy Birthday, and occasionally got a present for him if I knew there was something he really wanted. And that was it. As many of you can imagine, he wasn't big on parties or making a big deal out of an annual day celebrating getting older. But still, it is a hard day. He would've been 56 years old. I like to picture him, up in heaven, getting a huge, way overdone birthday cake as a prank from some of the angels he befriended, some trickster humans who went before him, some well-meaning people. All standing around a cake, laughing and joking. And God in the midst of it all, overjoyed at the joy of His children. I like to picture this, because I believe Dad would love it. He hated any type of sentimental, store-bought card, which is part of the reason I always made him a card. But he didn't mind the cards with the joke in them. Getting a huge joke-cake from those who knew he didn't love to celebrate his birthday, who understood that birthdays didn't really matter anymore, but who also love my dad and knew they could get a good laugh out of this. I miss him a lot, love him a lot, think of him a lot. Can't wait to be with him again. I look forward to the hug he'll give me and hearing his voice.

Until then...Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mid-week Reed Update

Hi folks,

We missed the last two Mondays and thought we'd do a mid-week post to catch up a bit. The three of us arrived back in Ghana yesterday (Tuesday, August 3). All of us expressed happiness at being back home and in our own space. Hannah commented on how it is strange that she is more comfortable in Africa than in America, although I think that has something to do with staying in our own house. All of us were glad to unpack our bags and put away suitcases for the first time in five-seven weeks.

Hannah and Noah will begin school on August 16, so they have a week and a half of some down time to resettle and catch up on sleep.

Below are some pictures that capture some of the fun, family, and friends that we feel so blessed to have experienced in the last few weeks.
No summer would be complete without an ice cream that is so big it makes you sick. Here is Hannah with her friend, Hannah.

Noah leaving on his service project in Holland, MI with his friends, Matt (left) and Sam (right).

Noah loved being able to drive a boat around Indian Lake.
Hannah and her friend, Dan, relaxing in a hammock.
Noah and a captured turtle, caught while fishing at the end of the dock at Big Star Lake.
My nephew, Peter, teases the open mouth bass he just caught. Or maybe the fish is teasing Peter?

My brother, Henry and his wife, Marnie were able to join us for a few days, which was a real treat!
My mom was able to join us for the full two weeks at the cottage, which was a great joy for both of us. She was able to get some rest as well from being full-time caretaker of my father who is suffering from Alzheimers.
Noah reflects thoughtfully at Michigan's Adventure with some sort of creature on his head.
My sister, Janette, who played host to many of us along with her husband, Dale, enjoys a cuddle with her dog, Brody.
Just arrived back in Ghana, Noah assumes the cool look, hiding behind his shades and long locks.
Every time we go on vacation, we come back to skinny dogs, despite the more than sufficient amount of food we leave behind. Note how skinny Jack looks. However, the other two dogs don't look skinny as they both are pregnant. Yikes.