Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jess' surgery, a kidnapping, the untimely death of friends

The knee surgery saga has come to a successful finale! About 12 hours after picking me up from the airport, Jess made his way to the clinic, provincial in its 1950s appearance but well respected for its medical care, were he had his reconstructive knee surgery.

At the same time, I picked up the slightly-used tendon at the donor bank. The nurse on duty cheerfully explained each part of the tendon (see picture),

apparently to alleviate any concern that they were actually sending me off with an incomplete ligament or extraneous body part (?), and described in earnest detail how I was to rush to the clinic and direct the personnel to put it in the freezer immediately. “If this ice cube next to the tendon melts, you know you’ve not made it in time and can’t use the tendon.” Got it.

Two hours of surgery, an hour and a half of recovery and about three of unexplained waiting, and Jess was released from the clinic. (Pictured, Jess with friend Nelson who gave us a ride home.) He’s now hobbling but growing more adept with his crutches, and says he’s not in pain.

* * * * *

Jess and I were looking forward to a quiet day focused on pampering him, unpacking and organizing the baby paraphernalia that we brought back with us. But a front-page story in today’s paper shocked us out of quiet nesting activities. Alf and Ana, social acquaintances here in Bogotá, were kidnapped while vacationing in the providence of Choco, along Colombia’s pacific coast. Alf is a math professor at the Andes University and Ana a biologist.

Note: The following was written after the inicial post above.

We grieve with the Gerlach Mack and Lewis families in the face of tragic loss. John Mack died this morning in his home. He was the husband of Barbara Gerlach Mack, a dear friend and Colombia advocate. They retired from co-ministry of a UCC church in DC less than a year ago and were trekking in Nepal when John became ill.

Most shocking, we just learned that a very close GC college friend Deb Landis Lewis’ father died unexpectedly when he suffered a massive stroke in Cairo en route to Yemen where he, Roger, and Deb’s mom, Marge, were career mission workers. My heart breaks for Deb, her sisters and her mom. If only my tears could comfort far-off friends and shield them from pain.

Just last week both men shared poignant words with me in anticipation of the new life growing within, John in his dying, “burning brilliance,” as Barbara described it, and Roger in his gentle, (grand) fatherly wisdom.

We light a candle. We hold vigil through our thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And that was 2007! Welcoming '08

Hello community scattered,

Somehow our road trip through Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and DC didn’t afford the mental space and free moments to write up a year-end letter as I hoped. Taking this belly on tour required a fair bit of energy. But “joy shared is doubled” indeed, and the much-anticipated weeks with our families and friends was a precious time of honoring the Christmas story and celebration and anticipation of the birth of our child. Mary’s pondering questions at the miracle within challenged and resonated in a new way this year, but I truly don’t envy that donkey ride.

In this email:
- So that was 2007.
- With child: Breathing Deep. Laying on of Hands.
- And now, ‘08

So that was 2007. Head shakes. “Was that just this year?,” Jess and I asked ourselves numerous times in recent months. The year started out predictably—program management with delegations to Colombia for each of us, trips to Venezuela for Jess, and human rights case work and a Summer Peacebuilding Institute (EMU) course for me. Then June plunged us into new intimacy with the uncertainty of physical vulnerability, wonder and awe with the Justapaz break-in, learning we were pregnant and a hike through the Peruvian Andes. In our interior lives we continue to process the shadows and mountain-tops of that period, or maybe it’s simply the first lesson in a 40-year (?) parenting journey beginning in a land of uncertainty. In any case, we’re trying to understand how to be both joyful for the child that will come through us, si Dios quiere, and grounded in the fragility of her life (Jess’ words). Our raw, heartbreaking love for this child already overwhelms us.

During the second half of the year, Jess took on additional responsibilities at Witness for Peace during a time of staff leave and turn-over. Somehow he fairly gracefully assumed the organizational development work and additional leadership when the ED went on maternity leave while he interpreted Venezuela’s fiery, impulsive President Chavez for North American audiences. I, Janna, worked to produce and publish our human rights and peace report, “A Prophetic Call,” do media work and advocacy. Following this intense period of office work, I had the privilege of being re-immersed in the life stories—the raw, unofficial version of Colombian reality—through monitoring visits throughout the country.

Feeling the new life within grow in strength as complex, painful tales mounted provided poignant moments for these parents-to-be.

We live in grace. Being aware of as much, we wake each day to try to strike a balance between living the beauty of life in abundance and struggling so that this same gift can be spread out a little further. In looking over the year, I glimpse how our clumsy efforts within the tide of the Spirit’s movement have brought us to this place. And I give thanks.

With child: Breathing Deep over the holidays. It’s rich! To share the excitement and joy of anticipated new life with our family and friends was nothing short of a sacred delight. During the quiet of night, chatter of baby showers, and the din of raucous game playing I breathe in deeply the comfort, wisdom, faith of ages, and deep, tender caring that surrounds us. A silent whisper—“Baby, may this breath become part of the very fiber of your being, your deepest knowing.”

Laying on of hands. In the US some family members asked if I mind when people touch my rounded belly. Come to think of it, not at all! It’s such a wondrously miraculous, awesome universal phenomenon, not to mention just plain bizarre at times, that sharing our experience seems totally natural. In fact, I’ve come to receive the pats and gentle touches as a kind of blessing for the child. Prayers are not verbalized or even conscious, but through the loving laying on of hands we are nurtured.

The blessing hands: Jess’ little nephews, ages three and five, stood with their smooth little hands resting on my hard belly, waiting patiently to feel the baby’s movements...Maria, my sister, held my stomach with ringed fingers and gave the baby enough kisses to tide it over until they meet a year from now (pictured, right)…The Christian symbol of the laying on of hands occurred to me with touch of the soft, deeply creased hands of this child’s great-grandmothers…And then in a “Blessingsway” shower of ritual and support to help prepare me for giving birth, Goshen College women friends led us in a guided meditation on hands as we held and explored each others…These are blessing hands.

And now, 2008. Anticipated dates: We’ll kick off the year with a new ACL for Jess. There is a tendon to be had at the Bogota donor bank, and surgery is scheduled for Monday, January 14th. I’ll go pick up the slightly used tendon in a cooler and deliver it to Jess in the operating room less than 12 hours after returning to Colombia.

If all goes smoothly, we look forward to welcoming the babe into the world March 3 or 4th, and a series of special guests to Bogota shortly thereafter—my parents, Jess’ mom, and a first-time visit from dear friends Deb, Zach and Johan Lewis-Landis. Our neighbors will be equally thrilled by these wild times in our small, two-bedroom, fifth-story apartment with no elevator.

Joy and hope, inspiration and endurance in the year to come!