Monday, September 26, 2011

So...what's with the ring?

Most people haven't said anything - only a couple people have asked - but I thought I'd write about it.  I am still wearing my wedding ring.  Not only that, but I am also wearing Bob's wedding ring.  Some people take their wedding ring off the day that their spouse dies.  Some people take it off after the funeral.  Some people remove it symbolically at the one year anniversary of their spouse's death.  So why, eighteen months later, am I still wearing mine?

Well, here's a little about the story.  When we said good-bye to Bob in the hospital, I took off his wedding ring and immediately placed it below my wedding ring, just to make sure I didn't loose it.  His ring was bigger than mine, so mine kept his in place.  I kept it there over the next week and after the memorial service, realized that I liked wearing both.  So I went to a jeweler, had his ring resized to fit my finger, welded the two rings together, and had the jeweler engrave a cross over the two rings.

I love wearing these rings because I feel like I am carrying on the marriage.  You see, for me, I still feel like I am married to Bob.  Our marriage was about more than just the two of us - it involved the children as well as our calling from God.  I still feel like we are raising our children - even though he is absent, the same principles, beliefs, and traditions are carried on in our home.  I am still living out our calling and trying to do the work that we were called to as a couple.

There is an additional reason to wearing the ring.  It does provide some form of safety and security through the implication that there is a man attached to me.  When I am asked by men in West Africa where my husband is, I tell them he is traveling - which is not a lie as I'm sure Bob is enjoying the vastness of heaven.

There are some that say that wearing the ring beyond one year means that I am living in denial.  I don't know how that could possibly be true (of course, that's exactly what someone living in denial WOULD say:-).  I am VERY well aware that Bob is no longer here.  One would have to be severly mentally or emotionally disturbed to think that wearing a wedding ring is sufficient to delude oneself that one's spouse is alive.   

My decision to keep wearing these rings may change when both of the kids are out of the house or maybe when I move to a different place completely on my own without Bob's input. Maybe I'll never take them off.  I don't know.  I know that when it feels right to take them off, I will do so.

[FYI - I lost the diamond from my engagement ring after nineteen years - just three months after we moved to Ghana and six months before Bob died.  After searching all over for it, Bob concluded that it probably was appropriate that it returned to the dust of West Africa, since that may be where it came from.  Sad though.]

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Widow's Plight

Afeerah, receiving her certificate after our training.  
A few days ago, I met with a woman named Afeerah*.  She is a member of the Village Savings and Loan (VSL) program with Hopeline (if you aren't familiar with VSLs click here), as well as a graduate of our Second Batch of Small and Medium Size Entrepreneurs (SMEs).  I have known Afeerah for over a year and have enjoyed her so much - she has a smile and a passion in her that is inviting.  She runs a strong, growing business and is a leader in her village.  In fact, many of the members of her VSL were so proud of her for attending our SME class (she has not had any formal education) and they felt she represented them.  She understands my English well, but isn't able to speak it very well, so she will often speak in Twi and it will be translated for me.

Afeerah's husband died of a kidney disease on August 8, while I was in the States, and I went to visit her to extend my condolences.    I know that to be a widow in Ghana is difficult as there are many cultural widow rituals that one must go through (I wrote about that shortly after Bob died - if you want to refresh your memory click here).  Additionally, Afeerah is also a Muslim, which has its own customs for widows.

Sitting on her mat in her house.  Note the comfy couch behind her.
I met Afeerah on the floor of her humble home, sitting on a mat - she could not come out to greet us, as hosts normally do.  She explained to me that she is not to go out of doors for 130 days and must spend her time on a mat on the floor during that time.  The first forty days are for mourning; the next 90 days are to be sure that she isn't pregnant by her husband nor sick with the same illness as her husband (if she were to go out, she could get pregnant by another person or contract a different illness).  She is to spend her time in prayer. Sitting on furniture is not allowed - she told me how her body is aching from sleeping on the cold cement floor.  Being seen outdoors is not allowed - she may only go outside for her bath.  Running her business (her only source of income) is not allowed.  "Men do not suffer these punishments," she told me, "only women.  Men may go out the day after their wife's death and marry again."  Not so for women.

To add insult to injury, her husband's family came to tell her that she had no rights to the family home.  Additionally, they wanted to carry her to the Volta region, where she would have to undergo some other widow rituals, which would probably conclude in her being found guilty for her husband's death, thereby ending any rights to property or children (Afeerah has three sons and two adopted daughters).  Afeerah refused to go.  [She said that the training we gave at Hopeline taught her to stand up for herself - maybe she was just being kind, but one of the classes we teach is on boundaries and how to say "no".]  She thinks that even though she refused to go, this issue will not go away.  She will have to go to court with them, but what they don't know is that a wise person told her husband to legally register their marriage after their wedding (something that is not often done in traditional marriages) and so she has the papers she needs to claim the legal rights to the property. 

Prior to going to Afeerah's house, I met a woman in our new SME class, whose name is Nana.  In the process of all the business owners sharing about their business, Nana informed the class that she had taken on her husband's business after his passing away this past January.  After class, I sought her out and spoke with her for a while.  She informed me that she is 32 years old - her husband was 42 - and they have five children.   The oldest is 13 years old, the youngest is two years old.  Her husband's family is not helping her at all - she said that she is a Jehovah's Witness and it is her church that has been a help to her.  She is trained as a nursery teacher and could go back to that, but the pay is very low for supporting five children, so she is trying to pick up from what her husband was doing (marketing, farming, and exporting).  Unfortunately, her husband had received an investment of $20,000 US from a Ghanaian-American who wanted to partner with him in his business.  Since her husband's death, there was corruption and stealing by family members and the business has suffered greatly.  She is left with this large burden in addition to putting food on the table each day for six.  She is hoping our class will help her learn how to run the business.

This is why I need to live in Africa.  When I begin to feel sorry for myself, I think of Afeerah or Nana.  Perspective is everything.  I thank God for the work of Hopeline Institute and Partners Worldwide, where we get a chance to reach these widows, to help them through training, mentoring, and access to capital, to develop a sustainable income to provide for their family, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them, and pray with and for them. We need to continue to pray for the customs and the rights of widows in this country to be changed.

[*Names have been changed and pictures blurred to protect the identity of the women featured in this story.]

Monday, September 12, 2011

It's time for a word from Yers Trooly...

Weather:  This is the best time of year in Ghana in regards to weather.  The highs are in the low 80s; the lows in the mid 70s.  Despite humidity in the mid-70%, there is a constant breeze, which actually makes it feel cool at times.   Very enjoyable!

Thankfully 4 of these 7 puppies have homes.  Any other takers?
The Reed family has settled into what will be the new routine for this next year.  Hannah has started classes and her new job, and seems to be adjusting well to Calvin College.  Noah is adjusting to being the only child at home, being a senior, and balancing homework with extra-curricular activities.  Renita is adjusting to being without Hannah (thank God for Skype!), and entering what will most likely be the last year in Ghana, with a lot to accomplish before leaving.  This was a busy week of "resettling" in after being gone for ten weeks, and hopefully this new week will feel a little more normal for all three of us.

As we approach the eighteen month mark since Bob's death, I figure it's time for a word from him. Recently, I ran across a number of writings that were in a file on his computer - I'm so thankful that he was a writer and I can keep hearing his voice through these words.  He was the primary writer of the blog and would occasionally ask me to write an entry, so quid pro quo. He wrote this in June of 2009 - I searched the blog and didn't find it there, so hopefully this isn't something you have seen before.  He wrote about six disciplines - I will only put three here and save the other three for another time.  Enjoy!
Disciplines we need to remain in touch with our souls—and God’s 

The Discipline of Sacrifice

(Phil 2.3-8) Ironically, discipline itself requires sacrifice— for instance, physical exercise requires that we experience the pain and boredom that sometimes accompanies it, or the discipline of scripture memorization requires that we take time and effort that we could use elsewhere.   But here I’m thinking of the discipline of sacrifice itself-- that is, intentionally making sacrifice a part of our spiritual activity.  More than anything else, when I think of sacrifice I think of Kenosis, the Emptying of Christ.  As Christ emptied Himself, so we too are to empty ourselves-- sacrifice ourselves—on the altar of love.  Giving ourselves away, giving ourselves in His service, making choices to deny ourselves for what is best for those around us—this is the discipline that Christ modeled for us. As I think of it, it seems that true sacrifice brings on suffering, so perhaps it’s not so much as the sacrifice but the suffering that is the mechanism here.

While I’m at it, I want to make another point.  Giving—even big-time giving—out of abundance is not really sacrifice.  Oh I know, if I own ten thousand cows and I sacrifice a cow on an altar, that cow is a sacrifice—but not to me. It’s really only a sacrifice to the cow.  Something given is not a sacrifice unless means something, unless I lose something in sacrificing it.  A billionaire who gives millions to some cause may be a hero, but he’s likely not making much of a sacrifice.  If he gave 900,000, he’d still be a millionaire a hundred times over.  No, Jesus was amazed by the widow who gave everything she had.  If our giving of time or self or money doesn’t hurt, it’s not sacrifice.  Sacrifice, particularly of those things to which we find ourselves attached, free us from fear and bring on new opportunities to see God afresh. 

The Discipline of Suffering

(Lk 9.23; Rom 5.3-5; 2Cor 1.6,7; 2 Tim 1.8-12; Jas 1.1-4) There are two kinds of suffering that I think of here—one is suffering that we have no control over, and therefore is not a discipline that we impose upon ourselves.  This suffering remains important however, because it still gives us opportunity to exercise our faith.  So we need to receive it and “count it all joy...”  The other kind of suffering is suffering we enter purposefully, knowing it will yield fruit.  There is a great deal written on this, and when I think of suffering as a discipline, I don’t necessarily think of asceticism or self-flagellating activity. I think of the suffering that might come when we choose a better behavior, or it may come by our choosing to deny certain behaviors.  I think of the hard choices God calls us to that we tend to automatically say, “I can’t do that.”  I think the fact that we say “I can’t do that” probably suggests that we suspect the thing is a good thing to do in the first place.  I believe we are constantly called to do things we don’t think we can do—like give up some distraction, or enter into a fast, or follow His leading to a new level of obedience, because through this, as Paul and James and others remind us, suffering strengthens us in our spirituality.  The entire season of Lent is, I think, supposed to be an extended time of self-imposed suffering by self denial.     

The Discipline of Silence (with Solitude)

(Psalm 46.10, Isaiah 30.15) I probably don’t need to write much here.  I believe most people would benefit from intentionally seeking extended periods of quiet. Most people are pretty noisy, I think by nature. By noisy, I don't necessarily mean verbally, but rather noisy internally, as if our minds have no "Off" switch. There is a steady stream in the mind, asking, "Now what is there to do?" or "What's next?" For some of us, quiet is unacceptable, and for others, it is downright terrifying. Most of us literally do not know how to quiet down for more than a few moments at a time, and even if we did, we'd choose not to.

Among my greatest mentors of silence are the Desert Fathers. The Fathers-- and Mothers-- were groups of Christians who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries in the deserts of Egypt. They are remembered today for their extreme asceticism and their remarkable words. Some of their sayings are like Zen Koans, beyond rational analysis or critique, at once inaccessible and yet immediate and powerful. Other sayings speak directly to the heart and mind, and refresh the soul. They spoke about holiness, sacrifice, true spirituality, love-- and the deep wisdom found in silence. Here are two of the thousands of their sayings, and two of my favorites: 
A certain brother went to Abba Moses in Scetis and asked him to speak a word. The elder said to him, “Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” 
Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, 'Say something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.' The old man said to them, 'If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.'

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hannah @ Calvin

One side of her dorm room...
Hannah moved into Calvin College last week.  For those of you who don't know, I am an alumnus of Calvin, class of '90.  Bob worked at Calvin for 16 years, starting as a Resident Director of the dorm, "Noordewier-Vanderwerp", where Hannah is now living (not a coincidence:-).  Bob's leaving of Calvin College was not easy, as it was not his choice.  In 2001 we felt called to send our kids to the local public school, which had been slated for closing, and act as parent advocates for this school, labeled as "failing". 
...and the other.  (Roommate had not moved in yet.)
However, faculty are required to send their kids to Christian Schools, and despite our explanation of following what we believed to be God's call to join with our neighbors, Calvin College denied our request for an exception to this requirement and Bob left.  Bob had appreciated the way that Calvin handled this dialogue and even though he disagreed with the decision, he felt that he had been treated with respect.  We had discussed, prior to his death, what we thought about the kids going to Calvin.  I was actually not in favor of it -
Calvin is strong academically and theologically, but I wasn't sure that it would help her grow spiritually.  Bob, on the other hand, thought that Calvin would be a good experience for them.  Hannah wanted to go to Calvin, especially because it was in her home town and was therefore a familiar place, but I had been urging her to check out other options.  Shortly after he died (in fact, on the plane ride home for his memorial service), I told her that I would definitely support her if she chose Calvin.  Being around familiar people who love her and being close to her church will be good for her.  I'm so glad that Bob and I had discussed this before he died - it's great to know that Bob would be okay with that as well.

Getting ready to learn about Calvin, with our friends, the Steenwyks.
It was very different to be back at Calvin and to hear things through the ears of a parent, 20 years after graduation.  I was encouraged by what I heard and how they care about the character development of the students, not just the academic development.  I was encouraged at how they challenge students to ask questions and think through all aspects of life, and not just float by giving easy answers.  It was also good to see so many faculty and staff that have fond memories of Bob and promised to care for Hannah.  She is in a good place.

Calvin's beautiful campus (almost uncomfortably beautiful!)
I made it back to Ghana on Saturday and was very thankful to be reunited again with Noah.  He weathered the last couple of weeks pretty well, with the help of his friend, Armand, and their family.  He is enjoying being a senior, as well as being a Teacher Assistant, working on the yearbook, and is getting into debates wherever and whenever he can.  We again have seven new puppies to care for - pictures later!