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?