Friday, April 30, 2010


The day I heard the news, the day that phone call never came, was a bright sunny day - one of those beautiful early spring days.  I remember staring out the window wondering what was wrong with the world.  How could the sun shine on a day like this?  And the day we drove to the airport, and my heart was overflowing with sheer happiness - I was on my way to see my husband! - the skies opened and it poured!  I smiled wryly at the weather's inability to coordinate with my moods.

The friend who drove me to the airport brought along a young man he had been working with.  This made my trip a little awkward as we were unable to talk about what was going on.  Instead we talked only of superficial things in broken English.  For me, it was only the beginning of learning to be silent when I so wanted to talk.

We arrived, bought a ticket, and then had time to waste.  So we grabbed a bite of lunch.  I did not want to eat, since I had already been fed lunch, but sat and visited with these two men.  They would be hanging out in the airport for a few hours and waiting for my mother to arrive.  I really did not want to sit and smile and visit.  My heart was full, I was exhausted, and if anything, I wanted to talk about what was happening.  Sitting just chatting about the weather was tiring.  I watched the clock until I could gracefully leave.

I thanked my friend, and left a message for my mom and another friend they were picking up that day  in the airport.  Then I went through security.  I was way too early - but my friend had been pretty nervous about finding a ticket, so we had come early.  I wandered through a few stores thinking I might buy something, but things seemed so empty after the last few days.  I walked to my gate and sat down.

Then I began to battle something else - tiredness.  Five nights with little to no sleep were catching up, and now that the final worry had left and I knew they were safe, I just wanted to curl up and SLEEP!  But I didn't dare.  I did NOT want to miss this flight!  So I walked, I watched people, and I tried to do some puzzles.  But it was tough.  I worked on Suduko, something I like doing, but the numbers jumped around on the page.  I rubbed my eyes and tried to focus on them, but it only got worse.  My vision blurred and went blank - a sea of fuzzy whiteness.  I sat for several minutes not seeing anything.  My heart thumped and my mind raced through the possibilities of what it could be.  Part of my rational mind was telling me that it was just stress, but I had never seen stress do this!  It was lonely and frightening to sit there struggling to see.  I so wanted to call for help, but then thought that if I do, they will never let me get on this plane!  So I sat silent, not seeing, just trying to take slow deep breaths to calm down.

I closed my eyes, but my mind kept racing.  After a few more minutes of breathing slowly and purposefully, I opened them again, and could see a little, but still very blurry and vague.  I walked to the bathroom and checked to see if there was something in my eyes, but nothing was there.  I was too nervous to sit down again, so began to walk laps around the terminal.  I still had an hour to kill before they would load that plane.

A Crazy Morning!

I woke up three hours later to the smell of eggs frying.  I had slept solid for three hours!  This was my fifth night to be awake from this crisis, and how wonderful three hours of sleep felt!

I sat in bed and checked for messages.  I had an e-mail from my husband with more news.  I also could just pick up the phone and hear his voice!  That made it a good morning - even if things were still tense.  But I was upset when I woke up that they were not already out.  They were waiting for someone to do one thing.  Frustration would sum up how I felt at this point... just frustration!  I wanted it to be over.  I wanted to be able to take a deep breath and blow it all the way out, not holding a little worry back.

I lay in bed, skyping with my husband and updating a few people who had sent questions, and my door opened.  In came my friend bringing me breakfast in bed!  Wow! To be so spoiled!  Hot tea, scrambled eggs done just right and a piece of bread.  I ate, and got up to help get the kids ready.  Another friend of mine was making lunches for my kids for the whole week so I would not have to worry about that one thing.  It was these little gifts that made life much easier for us.  Another friend had brought piled of snack, all individually wrapped so there would be after school treats all ready for the kids.  All these details cared for - such blessings.

From the very first day that I had told the kids the awful news, I had prepared them for what might happen when their daddy came back.  I had told them that when daddy came out, he may have to go somewhere for a few days first to get better, and that we would be able to talk to him, but not see him for a few days, and after that he would come home.  I had reminded them of that the day before.  Today, I broke the news to my kids that I would be leaving to meet daddy, and they would stay here and grandma would come.  There were tears, questions, and some understanding.  For kids who had just gone through seeing daddy leave and then not knowing if he was coming back, letting their mommy get on a plane was rough.  They could mentally understand that I was going to a safe country, not to that place "over there", but emotionally it was difficult.  I began to second guess my decision, but knew I also needed to go.

I took them to school that day, spent time dropping them off, and talking with them.  I promised to come and say goodbye before I left.  They were slowly beginning to be excited about seeing grandma and talk of all the things they could bake with her and how they could do special things to prepare for daddy coming home.

My friend had stayed at home to listen to the phones and tell me the second anything happened.  The phone call came in while I was gone that they were headed to the airport to leave.  When I got home, we both sat waiting by the phone to hear that they arrived safely.  Holding our breath.  Then came the call - safely through, waiting to board.  We began again to smile, and my friend worked on laundry.

Another friend stopped by with someone to talk to me, and another friend came over to see how she could help.  I looked at her and said, "umm... I've been living in my room for five days, and it is a disaster.  I don't even know what is in there, but my mom is arriving today.  Do you think you could get that room ready for her?"  She agreed and promised never to speak about the mess or what she found!

I sat down to talk with the person who came to talk.  He would be meeting with my kids while I was gone and checking that they were handling this well emotionally.  I discussed my different kids and how they deal with life.  We drank more tea and cookies and talked while two people worked in circles around me.  I still had not packed my things, only stuff for my husband, and it was getting closer and closer to time to leave for the airport.  The friend who had been there the night took over that, and began packing what she thought I would need.  This caused a smile later when I found carefully packed in my bag my umm.. "pretty" pair of underwear.  I pulled them out and looked at them slightly embarrassed that they had even been in the laundry where these two ladies had seen them, but she just said, "I figured you'd need those!"

All this time, we waited and waited.  There was a delay at the airport.  All this time, and another delay!  I was so tired of waiting... tense waiting...  Finally, finally, came the call - "In the plane!"  Finally!  Happy tears... again.

But there was only a few minutes.  The friend that would take me to the airport, quickly ran the visitor home and was coming back to take me to the airport.  I hurriedly check my bag and grabbed my toothbrush and medicine.  We sat down for a quick lunch, and I ate while making calls to everyone - they are on the plane!  They are really coming home!  There wasn't even enough time to finish the calls or instructions.  Grabbing my bags and a sandwich, we headed out.  I stopped to hug my two friends who were going to stay and finish getting everything cleaned up and ready for my mom.  One of them would take my kids home with her and keep them until grandma arrived.  So I left.

We stopped at the school to quickly hug the kids.  They clung to me and cried - they wanted their daddy right away!  But they let me go, and I promised to skype them with video as soon as we arrived to they could see and talk to their daddy as long as they wanted.  But I cried leaving them... wishing I could be in two places at once...

Then we drove to the airport.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Evening of Preparation

I woke again in the evening.  My friend on duty that evening had fed my kids down my the TV to keep them quiet and was watching a movie with them.  I walked down to say hi to them, and then the world went black.  I've struggled with dizziness and passing out off and on for years, but thankfully during the crisis, had been fine.  Now it hit hard!  I blacked out completely and swayed.  Thankfully, my oldest boys know to watch out for their mom, and one of them jumped and grabbed me and lowered me to the floor.  It took a few moments for me to catch my breath and think about sitting up again.

Continued stress will take it's physical toll eventually.  It may let you function a long time, but will eventually present the bill.

Eventually, I got off the floor and sat in my favorite chair.  My daughter snuggled up on my lap and my friend brought me another cup of tea.  I looked at my daughter's plate of food and ate one piece of potato.  It tasted good - first solid food since the first evening.

This friend was a little more stubborn than the others and she decided that I would begin to recover now that he was safe, well, at least half-way safe.  So she got up and brought me a plate of potatoes with salt and butter.  It was one thing I had been able to get down me when I was pregnant and queasy, so thought it would be a good thing to attempt.  Oh how good hot food felt in my tummy!  I ate only a little, not wanting the severe cramps that came that first night, but it was so good!

We put the kids to bed.  I snuggled and prayed with each one.  Then I came back to the kitchen and my friend had cleaned up everything and had another cup of tea for me.  I expected her to go home for the evening, but she asked if she could stay since she lived farther away.  She did, and she began to work on my laundry.  Now, it was in no state of order before the crisis, so after was fearful!  But she stayed the night and worked until 1 am on getting all my laundry washed, dried, and ironed.  What a blessing!

In the meantime, I had talked to my husband and we had decided what would happen tomorrow.  I would go and meet the men when they flew out.  We would meet and spend some days together not here, but elsewhere.  My home church had offered many times to fly my mom out, but I had said to wait until the weekend was over - she was on a holiday and I didn't see the reason to cancel that if this was going to be a longterm thing.  Now I needed her, so she got on a plane.

Another couple from our group, but not from our team, had been very, very helpful during all this.  They came every day, at least for awhile, to check in.  They phoned several times a day.  They did all the things I asked them to do - organizing someone to check on my kid's emotional well-being, being there to do bedtime, thinking over choices with me, even a 3am run to the office for  paper we needed!  They phoned this evening again, and I gave them  list of things to do - my flight to arrange, travel to the airport to set up for me and my mom, communication, etc.  It is not until a time of crisis when you see who you can really count on, and these two proved worth gold.

Then I went to find a suitcase.  Usually, I only travel with my backpack.  I just don't like to wait for baggage at airports and have learned to travel with only  small day pack.  But I had no idea what my husband would have with him and what he had lost.  So I needed to pack.  I went to find a little suitcase, and realized they were under the stairs.  Normally, I would send a kid in there after it - there are spiders in there!  (The boys like to play with spiders, so it is not cruel to them, and I am terrified of spiders.  Like the really girly-terrified of spiders.)  So I did not want to crawl under the stairs!  I looked in the crawl space and told myself I just could NOT do it.  Then I sat down and began to laugh... how could I face all that I have faced in the last days and then be stopped by the threat of a spider??!!  So I took a breath and went in after the suitcase.

I lay it in the hallway and threw some clothes for my husband in it, and then the phone began to ring again and skype beeped.  We were so hoping for news anytime that they were in a plane out, but it was not that simple.  Issues came up, flights had to be found.... and the minutes ticked by.  People had to be informed about the situation and that I was leaving.  That in itself caused some problems since a few thought that I should not leave to meet the plane, but that they should come here so the whole team could be together right away.  But, the men and us two wives wanted some time without all the people at first, so I was going to go.  But that night the criticism began.  "You are not doing it the way I would do it" and "You didn't think about us".  These seemed to be the two big issues I ran into, and they shocked me.  I never saw them coming, never dreamed that I would be criticized on that.  It hurt.  But my husband carried the blame for it and said to tell them that he chose that and I was not to answer others for that decision.  So nice to have a husband again!  Nice to have him step in and protect me!

But the night got busy.  My mom would fly in an hour after I left, so I needed to update her on things with the kids.  My daughter had a medical emergency that I would have normally taken her to the hospital for, but there was no time.  I did know how to care for it myself, but it was one of those things I rarely did on my own kids, but that night I did.  She screamed and screamed, and finally fell asleep in my arms after it was all done still sniffling.  I left my mom detailed instructions on the event and where to take her for follow-up care.  I also set up help for my mom - other moms who knew the schedule to help her know what had to be done.

And there was all the communication with the prayer groups - letting them know where we stood.  As wonderful as it was to have people praying, it took a lot of time to manage that communication.  Someone suggested in future that task might be better delegated, and it is likely true, but that communication with those groups praying were also a huge encouragement to me.

Close to midnight, I was startled by a loud knock on the door.  I peeked out and there was a man with a stocking cap on outside my door.  Very hestitantly, and only because my friend was there with me, I cracked the door open.  A man stood outside.  I didn't recognize him at first, but then he introduced himself.  Of course, the musician who lives across the street!  (He had cut his hair, so he looked different!).  He stepped in and said he had just heard the news from his sister-in-law.  He came over right away to say he was sorry, and that he was praying.  He just came over to give me a hug.  Such an encouragement! I thanked him, and he left again.

As the night wore on, I expected to hear any time that they were on a plane, but nothing.  Worry began to grow...

Finally, after midnight, my friend settled down to sleep, and I went up to my bed.  My daughter was in my bed this time since the friend had her room.  I sat watching the computer screen waiting for that note that said "in the plane".  It didn't come.  I waited - at times chatting with different friends, at times trying to sleep but sleep would not come, at times just silent.

My daughter tossed and turned.  She talks in her sleep, and once she rolled over crying and said, "....never come out...." and another time very clearly called out, "I don't want to be abandoned!"  And I watched her and wondered about the trauma done to their little hearts.  Would they be ok?

As the sky again streaked pink, I settled down to sleep for an hour or so, hoping to be exhausted enough that my mind would let me rest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I lay down, finally at peace, to sleep.  But I had not counted on a little hormone called adrenaline - something I was going to learn quite a lot about in the next few weeks!  I rested.  I closed my eyes.  I dozed slightly.  But it would be a few weeks before I was able to sleep solidly again.

Still, it was wonderful to simply be able to close my eyes, tears still trickling out, and rest.  To relax some muscles, cover myself with blankets to stop the endless shivering, to rest...  My mind never shut down to sleep, but my body did rest.

I got up two hours later.  My friend was there still waiting for me.  Writing this, I am amazed at my friends and their commitment to me.  How much they were just there for me.  I would not have made it through without them.  She was still there, eight hours later, sitting with me, letting me sleep.  Putting her whole life on hold to just be in my house in case I needed her.  She got up and made me a soup which I was able to eat.  We ate together sitting in the sun pouring in the window.  Totally drained, totally spent, and totally incredulous at what God had done.

Then my phone rang.  There were complications.  Yes, we were in contact now, but the situation was not entirely settled and a risk for more problems existed.  Here came an hour of conversation between five groups of people in different places with different ideas.  Confusion at what people were saying reigned.  Different priorities of different people came into play.  It was a mess!

What it meant to us is that we went back into that stress mode - working, watching to see what would happen.  Start up again - alert the prayer teams, communicate, do what could be done from where we were.

And wait.  Again.

Hadn't we just been here?  More tense waiting?  Tears fell again - tears of frustration, of exhaustion, of just wanting my husband!  He was so close - I could hear his voice... I just wanted him!

It was time to go pick up the kids.  To see their smiles, to hug them, to rejoice with them.  But not to tell them what they did not know - that it was not all clear yet.  I decided I would not burden them with that knowledge unless something else bad happened.

So I was a mom of deliriously happy kids trying to look happy while deeply concerned about the current situation.  Again, very thankful for the presence of my friend who helped distract the kids and keep order in the house.

My husband phoned in again, and the kids got to talk to him, frantically gathered around the computer, talking all at once.  It didn't matter what was said, they got to hear his voice!  Then they were at peace.

Somewhere around 4 pm, there came a changing of the guard.  This friend of mine who had been there for so much went home, and another showed up.  I briefed her on the situation, and she set to in the kitchen cooking with the kids and let me return to my bedroom to try to rest.  There was nothing more I could do but wait at this point.  I was hoping to hear some good news around midnight, so I decided to sleep if I could.

Ah, this adrenaline!  It would not let me sleep.  Every time my eyes closed, my dreams filled with awful scenarios, and I jerked awake again.  Still, I stubbornly kept at it knowing that even the stolen minutes were so desperately needed if I was to survive the coming night.

I knew that I would not sleep well until I had heard that they were on their way home.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

That Phone Call

I thoroughly expected it to be this man when I answered the phone, and I was desperate for news.  He had given me hope in the last call, but hope so quickly after my hope had been shattered was difficult to hang on to.

I answered the phone, and said hello, and my husband's voice called my name!  He was safe!

If I had been shaking before, I shook worse then.  My friend and I sat smiling with tears pouring down our faces.  I tried frantically to skype the other wife so she would not have to wait a millisecond more to hear the news.  But mostly, I clung to the sound of my husband's voice.

He only talked to me for a minute or two and said he would phone later.  They had to move from where they were.  I didn't have enough time to ask when is later or where you are going... and he hung up.

My body felt like the air had drained out of it.  I could not stop crying.  Still thoroughly exhausted to the point that it was hard to get my hands to function on a keyboard, still emotionally drained, but oh, so happy!  Immediately, I dialed the other wife.  To be able to tell her, "yes, they are safe!  I talked to them!  No, I did not talk to your husband, but I heard his voice - I had asked specifically if he was there, wanting to hear his voice, not content only to be told... I needed to hear their voices.  They will come home!"

Like me, she was in shock, believing and unable to believe - needing to hear herself.  I understood that, and hoped they would phone her immediately, too.  We both hung up to phone our children.

Then we sat, my friend and I , and cried.  We cried and cried.  It was hard to believe.  It had been impossible, and it had just happened.

She left to get me a cup of tea - more sweet, milky tea to keep me going, and I made the first of many calls.  My hands shook so badly that it was hard to dial the numbers.  The first was to my kids.  I so wanted to run over and tell them myself... but... there were so many that needed to know, and doing that would take half an hour.  So I phoned in to the school, and asked a dear friend of mine there to gather them immediately and tell them all together.

The second, I had promised, was to my husband's family.  They are not believers, so it was something to be able to tell them that the impossible had happened.  They could not believe it.  There was no way that what had happened just did, but it had, and I got to tell them that God did it.  Then began the calls - working both on the phone and on skype fielding several conversations at once.  What joy, what tears of pure joy, that day!

Halfway through the calls and the celebrations, I paused for a minute, looked at my friend who had sat through the heart-crushing disappointment and the unbelievable joy with me, and laughed.  I said, "God said to ask for tomorrow morning.  I just assumed it was the time zone for "over there".  He meant our time zone!  It is still morning!"

Next time, I've got to remember to ask God which time zone He's operating in!

After two hours of celebrating with those all over the world who heard the news, I skyped the other wife to watch for me and wake me if there is more news.  My friend took the phones and headed downstairs.  Once more, I curled up in bed in tears to try to sleep.  Only these were happy tears.

The Longest Wait

It was my lowest point in the whole ordeal.  I was so sure God had told me to ask for tomorrow morning, so sure that I had asked a lot of people to stay awake the night praying.

And morning came and went with no news.

It made me doubt my ability to hear God.  It ripped all my hope away.  And soon, very soon, people would be calling for news... there was none...  Already one couple had stopped by to give me a hug.  I appreciated their visit, and then told them that I had been up all night for several nights and was giving in this morning and going to bed.  They held me and prayed with me and left with their eyes full of tears, too.

I went to bed, hopeless and unable to answer those calls... not even sure what God was doing...  unable to look up at Him... why had He spoke only to disappoint?

But there was that one person I was supposed to phone.  I stopped first to send off two messages to the two main groups praying and told them not to phone me for a few hours - I was going to try to rest.  Then I picked up the phone... did I really want to know?  What had happened that day "over there"?  What would be the news when I phoned?  Obviously not something good...  Would it just be an eternity of "we don't know"? 

Finally, I dialed the number.  It was around 10:30.  The man answered and immediately sounded distracted, breathless, tense...  Every muscle in me tensed, too, wondering...  Then he told me that he can't talk then, but not to leave the phone - he'd get back to me in about half an hour hopefully with some great news...

This is when I broke the rule about no people in my bedroom.  How thankful I was later that I had called for my good friend to come that morning - I needed her.  I called, and she came and sat with me.  We both sat there, physically shaking, shivering, staring in turns at the phone and the clock....  wishing we had any idea of what was going on "over there".

The longest wait of the entire time.  Half an hour stretched to forty-five minutes, and we waited....  My tummy heaved and my teeth chattered.  My friend shook, too... this long, and what would be the news?

Then the phone rang... 

When Hope Disappears

I woke to the sound of the door and the kid's voices answering it.  Thankfully, they did not wake me and I recognized the quiet voice of my friend.  She quickly took over getting the kids dressed and fed.  The smell of frying eggs drifted up to my room.

But I slept, only conscious enough to know that they were safe and being cared for.

An hour later, I woke up again and looked at the clock.  It was morning.  It was past morning "over there".  My heart sank...

"God, I thought You said...."

I waited until I heard the door shut as the kids went out with my friend before I threw myself back down on my bed and sobbed....

I cried and cried.... sobbing from the depths of my disappointed...  "Why God?  Why?  I was so sure You said to ask for this morning!  Why did You have us ask only to mock us now?!"

And I sobbed until the tears ran out.  My heart was broken and all hope disappeared.

When my friend came back, I asked her to stay to man the phones.  I told her only three people were people to wake me up for, but for everyone else to tell them I was sleeping.  I planned to sleep the day away, and transition into long term mode...

I lay my head down on my pillow in tears.  I was so tired!  My eyes closed... then they popped open...

Wait.  Maybe I should phone this one person - he will at least know what happened today.

So I dialed his number...

I Can't Stay Awake Forever - Even when I Want to!

It took longer than I thought it would to finish all these tasks assigned to me.  It seemed that just as I finished one, two more would pop up.  My mind was growing groggy near the end of my fourth night awake.  Then I hit a brick wall - a simple call that should have worked easily ran into a woman who was insistent that she could not do what she easily could, and who spend two hours of my time blandly lecturing me on what to do "next time" so we won't have this problem.  I tried, oh, I tried to be polite.  Finally, I lost it and told her, "Listen lady, at this point, I don't KNOW if there will be a next time!  I am trying to survive THIS time, but if we make it through this time, I promise you I will listen to all your advice on how to avoid this situation, but now we are IN this situation, and I need you to stop lecturing and work with me here!"  I am sure she was simply working off a prepared script, but over the last several days, I had met many people (including myself!) who were not prepared for this situation, but managed to THINK in the middle of it all!  This lady was about all I could handle.

After I finished with her, I continued to work on another task... plodding through until around five am, I could not manage to move the mouse in any semblance of control... if I was driving, I would have looked intoxicated.... I was just reaching the end of my physical capabilities.  I set the computer to the side, and lay down in tears... wanting to finish that task... knowing that everything left undone left potential for more troubles for others... but oh, so tired!

And morning "over there" had come and gone....

no news...

my heart began to beat with that familiar thudding of impending doom and tears fell, but I was simply too tired to even be able to cry.  I shot off a quick e-mail to the friend who was on the scene first when I got the call and asked her to head over at 7am and take care of getting my kids ready for school.  I was crashing and crashing hard..

then I slept.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Quiet Hope

The next call was a skype chat with one of the people directing all this mess.  He wrote in something that had impressed him from what he was reading in Acts.

The quiet hope, the calm assurance that God was leading me to ask something began to grow.

Then came another phone call. This was the first person who I told what I think God was saying to.  His response was gentle, but cautious.  Warning me that this likely could take a long time, or longer, and not to get my hopes up.  Telling me how to pace myself for the long term.  I listened - this is a man who knows what he is talking about.

But God was quietly telling me to ask for tomorrow.

Tomorrow?!  That was IMPOSSIBLE!  That would be unheard of... ask for tomorrow??!!

I thanked him for his advice, and said I would begin to take those steps tomorrow, but right now I am getting a quiet conviction that we need to be asking God for tomorrow.  I'm sure he hung up shaking his head and thinking I was not facing reality.

Throughout the day, we continued to prepare for the long term.  I organized papers, worked some things to make sure things stayed safe, and kept people updated.  I am not an organized person on the best of days, so finding all the paperwork and stuff was difficult.  Then I began on some important calls - this took over three hours for the first set!  Endless calls, trying carefully to balance calmness and emotion... endless explanations... business conducted about my husband in the middle of a broken heart trying to be rational and thinking.

It took a lot of energy!  Thankful for the team at my house who cared for my kids and distracted them.  Thankful for a friend who kept popping in with different things to drink to keep my energy up.  Thankful for the prayers of many carrying me through that day.

I had two more sets of calls to make.  I was running out of energy, but kept slogging through.  The last ones were the most difficult to make as I had to operate in a language that I did know well.... at least not the vocabulary that I needed for this situation.

Then I sat staring at my screen.  How much did I trust what I felt God was saying to me?  It seemed unbelievable... but would I do it?  I am not the type of person that likes to go around saying something only to be proved wrong and made to look like an idiot.  And to say I thought God was telling us to ask for tomorrow?!  Already the first person had gently cautioned me not to think like that.

But I sat quietly for a few minutes... then I picked up the phone and made the first of many calls late that night.  "I feel like God is telling me to ask for tomorrow morning.  Will you commit to praying the night tonight?"

Later on, I got another confirmation from one person.  He phoned to say that tomorrow morning would be key....  I phoned the people again, "please pray between this time and this time especially!"

As evening fell, the volunteers tucked my kids in bed, straightened the house up, and drifted off.  Another couple came to sit with me a few hours in the late evening, and I shared with them what I thought God was saying.  We sat and drank tea, and began to discuss the "after".

After he come home...... what do we need?  What is that going to look like?  How are we going to set up the care?  What will the kids need?

All in all, it was wonderful to even talk about "when" instead of "if".

Finally, they too left, and I was alone again.  Still work to do.  Even with a quiet hope, I still had to take steps to prepare in case he didn't.  Still working on my assigned jobs - things I wasn't good at on the best of days, but struggled to learn and figure out.  Very thankful for a handful of people who stayed awake with me and coached me through these tasks.

And as I worked, my eyes kept drifting to the clock... morning would be soon... morning would be soon...

Real Encouragement

Up to now in this event, I had been primarily alone.  There had been little to do.  True, there had been times I had been busy - phone calls to make, a few computer things to do, but relatively manageable.  Sunday is when it got very busy.  More people arrived, and more work was needed.

Thankfully, before that happened, God had a special surprise waiting for me.  As I walked in the house, the phone was ringing.  Remember that friend I had tried to phone earlier - the one who had walked this path ahead of me?  I couldn't get through to her for two days, and gave up.  She was phoning.  She and her husband had checked their voice mail on vacation and heard my message.  She phoned.

What an encouragement!  A chance to ask questions... how do I do this?  What about this?  What about that?  How do I talk to my kids?  What do I watch out for?  How did you do it?  This woman is someone I've known since I was a child.  She has always had an air of quiet gentleness about her, and she comforted me that afternoon with that same gentle quietness.  She told me that she and her husband had decided they would phone me every day that it lasted until we knew.  What a relief!  Someone I could count on.  Who knew what it is like to be a wife and a mother in this.  I asked her some hard questions, "people are going to say.... they did it with you... how do you deal with that?"  And she answered very simply, "You just ignore them.  You do what God tells you to do, and you trust that He is in control not only of what happened now, but of all that happens after this."

The day after this phone call became a blur of activity and calls - some friendly and others business, but the quiet gentleness that this woman passed on to me strengthened me.  Then her husband talked to me.  He had some other things to tell the kids - which when I did, got the first giggle out of them in two days.  I also hung up the phone and told the kids who phoned and told them their story.  Strong encouragement for us all.

But it was during the talk with her husband and then the next two phone calls that I began to feel that God was talking to me, telling me something....  I was afraid to hope, afraid to believe it, afraid to stick my neck out and say what I thought God was saying...

Stored Up Goodness

I sat in church that day trying to focus on the sermon, but my thoughts wandered.  What was happening to my husband?  Was he ok?  I just wanted to hear something, anything at this point... three days with no word at all.  Yesterday had come some word, some rumor about one of the men, but silence about my husband.  That thought lingered in my head...why the silence?

I journal often, but since that phone call, I had not journaled at all.  Maybe I was too afraid to actually write out my thoughts in black and white.  Maybe my mind just wouldn't focus well enough to write.  Loud stillness still echoed in my mind, blocking most continued thoughts.  Thoughts would rise like bubbles in a muddy pond, breaking to the surface, but the depths of the pond were still hidden from sight.

But halfway through the sermon, I picked up my journal and my pen.  Needing to step into some routines that would hold me through whatever was ahead of me.

What do you say right now?  My heart cries out with every breath wanting them here.  And my heart also quietly rests inside me hidden in the quiet place by God's heart.  A painful stillness.  A certain comfort, deep, real, in the middle of the deepest part of this pain.

Then I watch my kids and the knife twists.  But our commitment as a family comes back.  God who gave us these children knows what He has set in front of them.  He is not surprised by events nor is He incapable of nor unconcerned about caring for the children in the middle of this.  He sees their hearts and cares.

As we sat in our normal family place without my husband and their daddy and wondered if we will ever sit here with the six of us or if this is our new normal, my thoughts went back to the day we stood in front of our home church with a brand new baby girl in our arms and a pack of wild toddlers by our feet.  Someone asked me then, "Tell me something that makes it ok for me to let you go with that brand new sweet baby and those boys I love."  I looked one of my best friends in the eyes and told her, "When God called us to do this, He knew the future already.  We did not get to this stage all ready to go, to have Him look down and say to myself, "Oops!  They have kids! How did that happen?!"  He knew from when He knit my children together what He has called them to face in this life, and He will care for us whatever that means."

When I remembered that, I relaxed.  Even with the worst "what if" facing us, God is not surprised by today nor unable to meet us through our tomorrow.  I opened to my favorite Psalm that has carried me through rough place before and read.  It was a psalm God spoke to me with during another difficult time in my life.  He has goodness stored up - not caught by surprise and unprepared, but stored up and ready for when we need it.  Psalm 31 became the psalm I read over and over during the next few days.

How great is Your goodness,
Which You have stored up for those who fear You,
Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You,
Before the sons of men!
You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man;
You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the LORD,
For He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city.

I learned this by heart and clung to it.  God has stored up goodness for this very thing, and He will make His lovingkindness marvelous to us - to us here and to them there... even a besieged city can not stop Him.

He had goodness stored up for us, and when we went running to Him, He had comfort ready and waiting for us all.

It didn't change what we were facing, but Sunday was when I saw God begin to step in with His comfort and care of us.  When I was running out of energy, running out of ability to hang on and keep going, He wasn't.  And He kept caring for me, a careful, detailed, personal care of me right through to the end.

I didn't want to leave church that morning.  I sat with others drinking more sweet, milky tea.  It was really the only thing I could put down my tummy that would not cause intense pain.  My church formed a team to meet the crisis.  I was thankful for their care.  They set up people to manage caring for my family so I did not need to do that.  They asked what I needed and what I did not need.  They coordinated responses between the church and the school.  It felt like someone had just lifted a load off my shoulders.

From this time on, my house was full of people.  People who dropped everything to care for us.  I had only two rules I asked them to respect.  Don't touch my answering machine - my husband's voice in on there telling me he arrived somewhere safely, and I don't want it erased.  The second was simple.  Don't come in my room.  It still smells like my husband in here, and I don't want people in there.  If I go in my room and shut the door, leave me alone - don't even knock.  I am a person who needs my time alone to deal with life.   I also explained that I can't eat under stress, but promised to drink anything people gave me.  People listened to those rules well - no one came near my bedroom other than to drop off another drink except for Monday morning when I frantically called my friend to come sit with me for the longest wait in the whole time.

How Can We Sing?

We got to church exactly on time that Sunday.  I had asked that someone save our seats since I wanted to sit where we always sit.  The church is getting full, so if you don't arrive early, you have to hunt for seats... I didn't have the emotional energy to arrive early and chitchat with people.  We walked in and filed into our row.  Now, I have problems concentrating if I sit too far back, so I usually sit about the third row from the front.  Limits how many distractions are in front of me!  But it also put us on central stage for this Sunday.

By this time, about half of the church knew what the situation was.  Others didn't, but there would be a meeting at the end of church to update everyone and plan how to best meet the crisis.

I was unsure how I would do, but wanted to go on.  My kids were in shock and were watching me to see how we would respond.  I wanted to live out for them the truth that we can go on, and we will do that choosing to trust God.  We won't waver on that trust even when the tears fall and our eyes widen in shock at what is happening to us.  But that knowledge did not make walking in to church that morning easy.

It didn't help that the topic that week was suffering.  It didn't help that each of the songs were ones I loved... but ones that pull emotions from me on the best of days.  Singing of God's worth, His faithfulness, and our desire to follow Him no matter what...  It was just that this particular Sunday, our "no matter what" was looking pretty big.

We stood to sing.  I picked up my daughter to sit on my hip, her hands tangled around in my hair, her cheek resting today on my shoulder.  My boys stood with me, one leaning against me on each side and one trying to be brave on his own.  And we sang.

As we sang, the tears threatened again.  I stood looking over the heads of my children, their little faces white with worry and stress.  I wondered that morning if this is the beginning of the rest of our lives.  Would I be raising these kids alone?  Would we ever see their daddy again?  If so, how long would it be - ten years, twenty... or never?  I began to tremble at the thoughts.  Where was their daddy this morning?  Was he alive?  What were they doing to him?  Would he survive?  The thoughts flew fast, I began to shake and want to collapse.  Wanting to just sink to the ground and sob, to give up and cry.  But again my eyes ran over the tops of the heads... I can't break down... I have to be strong for them.

One set of arms wrapped tightly around my neck, and three sets of eyes stared up at me.  "How are we going to act, mommy?"  I was aware of the eyes.  I was very aware that what I did next would set the tone for these four who watched me.

So I stayed standing.  My body trembled with the effort it took.  I closed my eyes and sang.  I didn't dare open my eyes.  If I caught one glance of sympathy right then, I knew I would lose it.  But I sang.  Deliberately.  Not stopping when it came to difficult things to sing that morning.  It took effort to chose to sing, and at times when the tears came, all I could do was whisper the lines, but I sang.

We sang "Savior, He Can Move the Mountains".  I cried... I know He can.... I know that well... I also know that He does not always chose to... mercy, compassion.. please...

We sang "Give Me One Pure and Holy Passion".  My voice could only whisper "this world is empty, pale, and poor compared to knowing You my Lord".  It is.  It really is, but so different to sing that when you know how much we want to cling to this world and what it means to make that choice to follow "over there".  When you don't know where your husband is.... is he even alive still?

But I stood and I sang.  We gathered into a tight little bunch, and the cracking voices of my sons sang with me.  Only Number Three sang confidently and cheerfully.  The rest of us struggled.  Tears snuck out of our closed eyes and snaked their way down our cheeks, but we stood and sang.  My own private declaration to my children and to the unseen enemy who taunts that we will chose to trust - yes, even facing what we are facing, we will chose to trust God.

But it was not private.  We were in church, surrounded by others.  Halfway through the singing, I began to hear sniffles and quiet sobs spreading out around me.  The private declaration of continuing to trust being done in a public setting.  Others were watching.  Now, if you knew me, you'd know that I am not all that comfortable with public displays of emotion. (I'm growing here, but still...)  Part of me just wanted to run, to go hide...  Part of me wanted to tell everyone to quit crying!  I'm barely hanging in here, and you are not helping!  But I didn't really have enough energy to deal with that right then.

We stood, we sang, and we cried.  And around us, our church sang, sniffled, and cried alongside us.  It was an awesome moment.  A private choice - to trust God even facing the awful unknown - made public.  And just as much as the awfulness of the moment sat in my heart, came the sense that this itself was a holy moment, a time when without planning to, we were bringing glory to God simply by choosing to praise and to continue to worship even in the face of this crisis.

When the singing ended, I leaned behind me and asked a friend's kid to go running for kleenex which we passed around.  I think even the pastor needed some and took half a minute before he sounded normal again.

It was the right decision to come, even though it was hard. To share my pain, to be on display with our feelings, but then also to know that others are also crying.  To collectively choose to know that God is good, yes, even if they never came back.  I have always hated to be on display.  But it was something special that morning, something I had not planned.  I came to draw encouragement from those around us.  I did.  But what God called us to and how we responded that day brought others to a place where they rethought how they are living.

Later a few said to us, "I never thought about what it really means to be willing to follow.  I never stopped to think.  Now I am."  Since that day, two young people have approached us saying they believe God is calling them into missions.  But I did not know that that Sunday morning.  All I knew was that my heart was breaking, and I could chose to run from God with my questions and fears or run to Him.  What was that David says, "Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail,  but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Ps73:25-26)

This is my God.  The One who brings good out of the difficult.  Who is there even when our hearts our broken.  I think of all the things I did besides telling my children, this Sunday morning's worship time was the hardest - choosing to trust, and choosing to praise even though I thought I would never see my husband again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sometimes It Is Just The Little Things

Sunday morning dawned and I moved to get the kids up and ready to go.  It was a relatively warm day, but three nights without sleep were taking their toll, and I was ice cold.  I bundled up, methodically working through the steps to get ready to go to church.. hair, teeth, clothes, kids...  I decided we would get a treat on the way to church rather than attempt breakfast at home.  We'd grab some freshly baked goods to eat.

Ten minutes before we were to leave, I was feeling nervous.  What if I could not handle all the people?  Should I leave the house and the phones?  What if he called?  What if I just started sobbing and couldn't stop in front of all these people?  I regretted saying I would be there.

Then the doorbell rang.  I was still in my pjs, so wasn't sure about opening it, but peeked out.  Ahh.. a friend.  I had tried to phone her several times yesterday, but there was no answer.  She had been out all Friday and Saturday and had only got home late that night and had heard the news.  She has four kids of her own and needed to get them ready for church, too, but she came over.  She just came over to drop off some cookies and to give me a hug.  I leaned against her for a few minutes resting, drawing strength to face my day.

A small blessing, but one I so needed just then.

Then we headed out the door to church.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another Night

I worked that evening on some tasks that were given to me - important things in this situation.  It kept me busy.  A couple fed the kids dinner and played with them.  Then around six, they were ready to go home.  Oops - didn't think the message of exactly what I needed had gotten through.  I needed someone there every minute the kids were home and awake.  I had to be free to get the phone at a moment's notice.  I called for back up.  Other friends arrived to do the bedtime routine.

I had my phone glued to my side - what if he was able to call?  Not wanting to miss anything.

I also talked with all the people who phoned in to express sympathy or find out how they can help.  Different groups praying all over the world meant updating them, explaining the approach to this situation, and clarifying details.  I worked on finding help for my kids and others on our team.  I spoke to people who would be responding to the situation where I was and managing our care.  Setting in place volunteers and assistance to make it through the next while.

I spoke to the other wife.  Often staying in contact, sharing what we knew... The one place I could talk about how I was feeling and what thoughts were running through my head without worrying.  Some of those talks were difficult.  Discussing what if only one comes home... it looked like that might happen... how are you going to feel?  Wanting to go over responses to different scenarios so we were prepared with open communication.

After the kids were in bed, I asked my volunteer to sit by my phone and computer and watch for any messages and call me immediately.  Then I went to pray with each of my kids.

My daughter was still crying.  "Mommy, what if he never comes home?"  How do you answer that from a seven year old when it is quite likely that will be a possibility?  I can't promise what I haven't been guaranteed.  I settled with telling her we are going to trust God and wait and see.  She still clung to my neck and sobbed, so I moved her to my bed where she could cuddle Daddy's pillow and fall asleep.

Number 3 was in his bed smiling and happy to hug me.  I stood there looking at him wondering what is going on in his head... is he really ok or just pretending?  So I asked, "hey, little guy, are you ok?  Are you worried?"  He looked up with his cheery little voice and said, "No, I'm not worried.  I know that God is taking care of Daddy, so why should I be worried about it?

Oh to have his faith!

Number Two was a little harder.  Of all the kids, he was the one who most questioned God.  Why did He allow this?  I sat with him a long time.  He also asked if anyone had ever come back when things had gone wrong like they did here.  I told him a story about another friend who did - the situation looked much worse, and he came home safely.  I told him we will chose to trust.

When I got to my oldest, I was low on energy.  How do you go through this four times... four kids who are deeply worried?  (Well, maybe three - one was cheerful!)  So I got to the oldest, and he is a logical thinker, a math man.  He looked up and said, "So mom, tell me the way it is... what is the ratio of people this happened to who came back safe?"  I smiled - got to hand it to him for looking at the percentages!  I told him the truth, and restated that we will chose to trust, but whichever way it goes, we will be ok.  He nodded with tears in his eyes and asked to be left alone to think.

My pastor phoned wondering about the next day.  Would we come to church or did we need to be alone?  I thought about staying home.  Didn't know if I had the emotional energy to handle people.  But then I thought about my kids....  We, I needed to be with people.  We needed to go on.  So we would go to church.  I went over some details of what would be said and when with the pastor and then wished him good night.

I went back to the phone and computer - my two constant companions.  The volunteers went home, and silence settled again.  I should go to bed, but I could not.  I sat staring at the screen.  All was quiet.

Late that night, I got an e-mail from a friend asking what is going on - she had heard from somewhere something was up.  Thank God for this friend.  I had not talked directly to her since our firsts were still in diapers.  Last year, her husband was killed in an incident on the road - sudden, tragic, senseless.  She has four kids the same ages as mine.  I told her, and she phoned.

This was the biggest blessing of the day - someone to talk honestly to.  Someone who had walked the path ahead of me and done it well.  We discussed how to handle kids, and she simply listened and responded with real sympathy and love that touched me.  Halfway through, I felt awful - I had never told her I was so sorry about her husband!  I said so, and she brushed me off, "Oh honey, I know you are sorry about him!  But right now you don't need to worry about that... right now you need someone!"  The love and care and understanding she gave me that night was a blessing.  Then she turned to laughter, and we laughed and cried about stupid things that happened in our lives.  I hung up after talking to her feeling like someone had held me and reached my heart.

I lay in bed that night  again unable to sleep.  Once I dozed for an hour or two, but most of the night, I sat watching chatter back and forth from people and simply wondering what was happening to these two men I loved way over there.  Would I ever know?

The next day was the first day that wasn't going to be a holiday.  There might be a chance someone might found out something.... So I sat awake watching for any thing.

Only silence.  And then the morning sky streaked pink again - one more day not knowing where he was.  This day we had to get up and go to church.  Alone.

Telling the Kids

The day passed quietly.  Again, I was alone for most of the morning.  I paced back and forth in the kitchen in tears.  I tried again and again to get in touch with my friend who had done this before, but with no success.  I was so very alone.  I stared blankly out at snow drifting down - a few flakes lazily falling on a spring day spinning and dancing their paths to the ground.

Then the time came that the kids would arrive.  The boys came first with the mom who had them.  My daughter came about half an hour later.  So for half an hour, the boys ran around the house excited at all the fun they had, laughing and wrestling.  My friend and I stood in the kitchen and watched them.  So happy, so bubbly, so unaware of what was going on over there.

Then my daughter came with my son's teacher.  We went into the living room, and I told them I need to tell them something.  Very briefly, I explained what had happened.  Our pastor walked in right as I began.  The faces of my two oldest children went white.  My oldest put his head down and would not look up again.  He struggled for control, and my heart ached for him.  The second stared with his eyes wide and unbelieving.  Then he began to question why God didn't stop this from happening.  He could have, mom, you know!  The third was quiet, staring off into space.  After a few minutes, he scooted over to lean against me and cry.  My daughter burst into wails and threw herself in my arms sobbing.

The younger two needed my arms.  They both cried for a long time, but it was the older two who worried me.  They sat stunned with white faces and I could not reach them.  My son's teacher moved over to put his hand on my son's head and sit with him.  We all sat and tried to answer the questions and comfort the tears, but how do you comfort in the unknown?

Fifteen minutes later, while my lap was still full of a sobbing daughter, the phone rang.  There was a request of me - something I was needed to do to help someone involved in this.  I didn't want to.  Not then.  But, the person needing help also had children, and his children's faces were white with streaked tears.  So I picked up my sobbing daughter and plunked her down in the lap of my friend and went to the phones.

For the rest of the day, I was on the phone and skype.  I would get a few pauses in there where I could check on the people caring for my kids.  They did well.  Another couple came to cook and play with the kids.  The teacher left.  My friend took my second son off to get some photo-copies that I needed.  Our pastor spent some time watching my oldest who had taken off to the roof to get some time alone.  People were there caring for my children, and I was grateful.  But my heart broke for them, and I wanted to simply sit on the floor crying with them.  I struggled with finding the balance between responding to the situation as I needed to do to get help and being a mom.  It was a difficult balance, one I am still not sure I did the best at.

The Mornings Were the Hardest

I woke when the sun streamed in the window and the realization of the day hit before my eyes were fully opened.  I was in an empty bed.  I didn't know where my husband was and if I would ever see him again.  Today, I had to tell my kids...

I rolled over and sobbed.  I cried loudly early that morning, my stomach heaving at the thought of facing the day to come.  Comfort and peace did not come.

After the tears settled, I got up and began to get ready for the day, but even walking across the house to the bathroom was difficult... my legs would not hold me and my body shook with fear and pain.  The pressure of all that was facing me crushed me and mocking thoughts filled my head...

I leaned on the counter in the bathroom staring at my face... trying to find out where I was in the middle of all this.  Then I knew that I can't do this.  I can not give in to these mocking thoughts.

I picked up my head and began to speak firmly, "You have not won!  Jesus won that victory when He died and when He was raised from the dead.  It is finished.  The victory is won, and you can not have it.  And even if they kill him over there, you still have NOT won!  I will not be afraid, but chose to trust!"

The heaviness and mocking left, and I was left in the silent house once more.  Mechanically, I began to straighten things.  I updated those praying.  I connected with those running the crisis.  Did things I was asked.

That morning, I learned to deal with false hopes.  Twice news came in about where they were and that they were safe, but the news turned out to be rumor.  I learned to guard my heart and stay within those who were responding to the crisis.  I had confidence in these people.  But the effect on my emotions of false hopes twice was devastating.

I also reached out to find one friend who could help.  She had been through a similar thing when her kids were my kid's ages.  But she was not answering her phone.

I phoned my friends who had my kids and set up plans to bring them home and talk to them.  I wanted both these friends with me then.  My pastor also decided to come.  We needed them  - I am one mom with only two arms, and I was about to break four kid's hearts.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Watching in the Night

Late, late into the night, I fell into a restless slumber.  I woke several times to check for messages, and dozed again.  The food I had eaten cramped my stomach and I doubled over in pain wishing I had just never eaten.

The night was long and silent.  At times a person would skype with me telling me to do this or that or think about this or that.  I found myself being asked questions that I had no idea what to do about.  Very quickly, I learned to pass decisions on to those in authority over me and work only within what they asked me to do.  A crisis demands a clear line of authority and reaction.

I contacted those praying and updated them.  I chatted with a friend who kept me sane that first day.

But mostly, I sat watching the night go by.

I finally slept only when the other wife woke up.  Passed off the duty to be awake to her, and slept for two hours waking often with stomach pain.

After this, I decided I would not eat again.  I drank anything I was given, but I knew better than to eat.

I thought about the next day, realizing that in the morning I would need to tell my kids.  That night, I prayed for them... that God would give me wisdom, that they would continue to trust God and find Him good.  And I prayed for our men... but that night not with words... with the silence of sitting in front of God with my eyes on Him watching.  He knew my heart and I opened it in front of Him.  It was a time that words could not have captured.

And in between, I dozed for brief moments.  Finally, exhaustion set in around 5am, and I slept for two hours.

The First Night

I walked on late that afternoon to the house of the other wife - the one whose husband had seen what had happened.  He was still over there, and we were concerned about his well-being.  I wanted to go see her, to hug her.

We visited for awhile.  I helped her figure out how to get support in for her.  Her children came and looked at me with tears in their eyes.  I stayed for an hour, but that was all I could take... I needed to guard my emotions.  I knew it was unlikely that I would see my husband again, but I did not need pity and fear.  I needed trust and comfort.  So after an hour, I left.

I walked on to another friend's house.  Knowing that I struggle to eat when I am under stress, I wanted to ask my friend to feed me.  But she was not home.  So I walked home.  I checked the mail and the messages - nothing.

After another hour, I thought that I should force myself to eat to keep my strength up.  I opened the cupboard to see if there was anything easy to cook.  There was a can of soup, so I pulled it out, but could only stare at it blankly.  Figuring out how to open it and cook it was beyond me at the time.  I was still stunned and unable to manage simple tasks.

Finally, I picked up the phone book of the school and began to phone those who lived close by.  I got a friend who had just come in with her four kids and was eating.  I asked if she would bring me some leftovers when they were done.  She did - she hurried right over with food.

For the first time since my friends took my children at noon, I had someone to sit with me, to absorb some of the shock with me.  They day had been painfully lonely, and now there was a person here.  She sat with me with tears in her eyes while I ate.  We drank tea together and talked.  She hugged me, cried with me, and was simply with me.  It was something special.

When she left, I moved my base of operations to my room - computer and phones on the bed... hoping.

And thought I would sleep.

But I didn't want to sleep.  I sat awake in my bed that night not wanting to close my eyes and sleep.  Why?

That morning, I had talked to my husband.  That day, I had heard his voice.  I did not want to go to sleep and wake up on another day where I had not talked to him, and that be my future...  I sat awake crying at the thought of sleeping and facing a day when I had not talked to him.  I didn't think I could handle that.

On Top of a Hill

It was a gorgeous day - the type you rarely get in spring.  As the afternoon wore on, I decided to get out for a walk.  Nothing more would happen that day, so I headed out to walk up to a tiny hill near my house - a place I often went to cry and to talk to God.

I had been out the day before on this same path with my kids, all of us laughing in the blessing of such weather, enjoying the chance to walk and listen to the birds.  Today's walk was so different.  Tears threatened to spill on the long walk up the hill.  I longed to throw myself down and sob, but something held me back.  If I was going to cry, I wanted to throw myself down in a quiet place in front of the God who held my heart.  Knowing He was not surprised by the day's events, I knew He was prepared to hold me through the raw pain.  It was ok to hurl myself into His arms with all the hurt and trust Him to carry it.

I got to the top of my hill, sat on a stone there, and cried.  Here is a place of quietness, and I cried until my heart was empty.  Then in the silence after the tears, I talked to God.  I told Him that I didn't even know how to pray.  I knew what I wanted, but did not want to demand.  Willing to accept what He had ahead of me, and asking for strength to walk this path well.  I prayed for these two that I love... the only time I had during the crisis to sit and actually spend time praying for them.  I prayed that God would calm their hearts, give them clarity, peace, strength, and encouragement.  That they would sleep since it was night, and that above all, they would not feel guilty or think on the mistakes, but know that God had chosen that they walk this path.  He was with them.

Later on, I found out that the timing of this time on the hill was interesting - it lined up with something happening over there... but then, I did not know that.

Then still, with a very quiet heart, I went back to the lessons I had learned when my daughter had died.  I made choices then that enabled me to go through that time, and I looked up again at God.  I took a deep breath, very aware of what this could be meaning, and told Him the same choices then.  "I chose not to question Your right to make this choice and accept that You have our best in mind.  I chose not to question Your love as we walk through this pain."  Not easy choices... but when all you have is God, throw yourself full force at Him.  It was not a time for half-hearted trust, I knew that.

Again the tears came, and again I sat still for some time.  Then quietly, I told God, "Please just let me know what is going on.  Don't leave me not knowing for weeks and months on end, please.  Just let me know if he is alive or dead.  I can't handle the not knowing for so long."

Then I got up and began the walk down the hill and through a little patch of woods.  As I walked down the hill, I saw a picture in my head.  It was so similar to the picture I had after my daughter died, right before I delivered her tiny body.  Again I was looking at a green hill with the rising sun coming up.  My husband was walking up that hill into the light, and our daughter, Lydia, came running down toward him laughing.  When he caught sight of her, he ran, swooped her up in a hug and spun her around.  They both were laughing, with tears running down their faces.  Happy.

I laughed.  It was so beautiful that I smiled and kept smiling for my walk through those woods.  So beautiful.  So full of life.  And through tears, I said to myself, "At least if they do kill him, at least one of us will finally be able to hug our baby, to be with her!"  I have longed for thirteen years to hold my daughter just once, and there was such a joy to think one of us could.  So I laughed.  And then I thought, "Why am I so afraid of death?  There is no such a thing as death for us.  There is only life, a richer, more alive life."

From that moment on, I did not struggle with the fear of death.  It still was there - fear of him being killed, of going on without him, but not the dread of death.  Death is not final, life is.

But as I continued to walk I wondered, "God what are You trying to tell me with this picture?"  Was it only not to be afraid of death?  Was it only to remind me of the lessons He taught me when He took my daughter or was He trying to gently tell me something?

I did not know.  That question lingered throughout the long night that I was alone.  But so did the joy, the comfort... the peace in remembering that we have life that no one can take from us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Call I Did Not Want

That morning went by in slow motion.  I paced, phone in my hand, from the window to the clock and back again.  The clocked ticked, my heart beat, and the phone was silent.

An hour passed, and then another.  Then one more.  Silence still from the phone.  I tested the phone a few times to see if it worked.  It did.  I phoned my husband's cell phone wondering if he had just got distracted.  It rang and went to voice mail.  I didn't dare leave a message.  I dialed again, and thought better of it... he must not have it on him by now or he would have answered.

Time went by slowly while I held my breath.  My heart beat louder and faster.  Silence screamed through my kitchen that morning.

What do I do?  Do I phone someone?  Do I panic now or wait?  Will my team leader laugh at me and tell me to relax and wait if I panic this soon?  What do I do?  Where do I start?

Another hour.  The kids grew restless.  Why aren't we doing anything?  Can't we play outside?  Won't you take us biking?  My brain did not register all their requests.  Then they asked to go to a park to bike - a place they can go alone.  I gratefully gave permission and began to help them get ready.  This would get them out of the house before the news came so I would have a few minutes to pull myself together before facing them.

We were still in the middle of gathering all they needed and making sure they had their shoes and jackets when the phone rang.  I looked at the number and saw it was from my team leader.  My heart fell.

He asked if I had heard from my husband.  I told him what I had heard and when and asked him what he knew.  He sounded grateful that I already knew there was a problem and told me the story.   That one man saw what happened and when he was somewhere that he could phone from, he phoned and told what had happened.

Tears began to fall, running unchecked down my face.  I sounded calm and quiet as I asked for details.  Both?  When?  Where is the other now?  Ok.  Yes, I understand.  Yes, I will be ok.  Yes, I will check on the other wife.  Yes, I have the number of the other wife who is not near by.  No, she won't answer that phone -try this one.  Business conducted with tears falling fast.

The kids began to come into the kitchen ready to go, so I wiped the tears and got them ready to go, hurrying them out the door.  Then sat staring at them ride off down the street with smiles on their faces....

Where was their daddy?  Would we see him again?

Then I stared at my phone knowing I needed to call someone.  But who?  Who would understand and be able to be here?  What did I need?  Who would know how to support me and not dump more emotions on me?  What did I need to do?  How do I figure this all out?

Two of my good friends were out of town on a trip for two weeks.  I wanted them.  My mind drew a blank of who else to phone.  So I phoned my son's teacher, the husband of one of my friends.  Knew I could count on him to help me think, to not be too emotional, to not let me panic.

Talking to him, I remembered who I needed to phone.  She came.  A good friend.  Arrived as fast as she could and wrapped her arms around me.  Then I let the tears fall again.  We cried.  Over a cup of very sweet tea, we made plans.  She would stay with me until the kids came home.  Then she would take my boys to her house.  I would not tell the kids right away - hoping for more news by tomorrow morning - and only tell them that they could have a sleepover.  My daughter would go to her best friend's - the daughter of my son's teacher.  These two have been best friends since the first day of kindergarten.

A few more phone calls.  To the wife of the man who made the call, who saw what happened.  He was shaken.  He needed to get home.  His wife is my friend, like a sister to me.  We had traveled together recently and grown closer.  I phoned her, and she could not talk because the tears were falling and the fear was winning.  I phoned another from our team and asked them to go be with her.

Then we sat in silence drinking tea and trying not to imagine what was happening to these men over there.  At least we know who has them, we said.  At least the other man got back safely.  At least it is us as team leaders going through this and not people under us while we sit in safety.  At least...   Yet silence sat in long stretches in-between conversation.

Then the phone call from the other wife.  So good to hear her voice.  But what do you say?  Yet such a relief to talk to someone who is with me - to whom I do not have to explain, who does not say, "I can not imagine what you are feeling!".  I was so glad not to be alone.  Yet it was difficult... I love both of these men, my husband and our friend... and his wife.. and his family... We told each other, "We always knew this day could come."  Silence settled again... as if being silent enough might allow us to hear the slightest whisper of what was happening over there.

My friend stayed that morning with me.  She thought of the practical things.  We straightened up the house preparing for the people that would be coming.  We planned how to shield the kids. When they came home, we found our smiles and got them ready to go to her house.  Trying to be cheerful.  So thankful for her ability to put a smile in her voice and be a place of shelter for my kids who did not know yet.  Not everyone could do that without betraying that there was a crisis.  The boys left laughing at the fun they would have.

My friend's husband came for my daughter.  He walked up to me and hugged me.  I wasn't sure he would... or what he would say... but I needed that hug.  Then he picked up my daughter who giggled at the thought of staying with her best friend and left.

Silence reigned again in the house.  No one came through that whole afternoon.  I sat on my kitchen counter staring out at the trees on a little hill and tears ran a steady path down my cheeks.  Waiting.  Watching.  Would I ever know?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Call That Never Came

My phone rang early that morning before the dawn was fully awake.  I had finally dozed off just as the sky was turning light grey, but I jolted awake at the sound of the phone on the pillow beside me.  It was my husband.  My heart leaped thinking he was safe, but then he began to talk,  "I just wanted to phone you before I did this, and I will phone you as soon as I am done."  My half asleep mind puzzled that one through, while an alert part of me remembered to tell him to make sure he did phone right away, and then to add on, "hey, I love you".  Then he hung up.

I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock.  Noticed the time.

Then I stretched out in bed and stared out the window at the sky.  And prayed.  I was so glad he phoned.  He had known I was worried, and now all I had to do was wait about half an hour or so, and answer the phone again.  Then we would smile and go on with life.

I waited.

I waited.

And as the minutes ticked by, my tummy tensed inside me.   I watched the clock for every minute's change.  I barely breathed.  Twenty minutes in, I picked up the phone and made a quick call to one of the groups I had phoned the night before... pray!  right now!  And hung up, not wanting to miss that phone call.

An hour passed.  Two hours.

Dread settled in my tummy.  Something had gone wrong.  Seriously wrong.  It would never take this long.

I sat in bed still not daring to move, not able to wrap my head around what needed to be done.  Stunned.  My kids had begun to wake up and the house was full of the normal morning sounds.  It was a school holiday, so there was no rush for anyone to be going anywhere.  They got into fights, played games, and made themselves breakfast.

I sat staring at the clock with all my attention not in the house full of busy life, but over there... to where I could not see... but knew something was very wrong.

I didn't dare cry.  Not then.  Not yet.  I had to survive.  I had to think.  I had to figure out how to walk out of my room and face our kids.  How to make the horrible unknown something we could handle together.

I sat stunned, not wanting this to be my life.  Hoping the phone would just ring and a laughing voice would tell me he had just forgotten to phone - he had once... telling myself I would kill him if he had!  But I knew he would not forget.  He knew how worried I had been.  He had promised he would phone.

I had made him promise in our skype chat how he would go about doing what he did - made him promise me that they would not do it together.  I told him how to do it.... but as the phone remained silent, I worried.  Something had gone wrong.  If he had done what I said, I should be getting a phone call from one of those men.

But my phone stayed silent.  And my heart began to stand still.  Tears pooled, panic threatened... but the sound of four voices giggling and laughing called me to get up and face the day.

But how do you face a day that you don't know where your husband is or if he is alive or hurt or what?

The Long Night Before the Call

There was something that had gone wrong this time while he was over there.  It was a little thing, that one would think to ignore, but it had gone wrong.  It continued to bother me throughout the week, but just a niggling worry in the back of my head.

The first inkling I had of anything really wrong was one evening when my husband was talking to me on skype.  He told me his plans for that day, and I was immediately concerned.  Something didn't sound right.  When I think back on it, I really wonder why I reacted that way.  It is something he has done many times.  I did it myself not too long ago.  It was nothing horribly out of the ordinary.  But somehow that little thing that went wrong earlier meant that this next action was not done the way we would normally do it.  The more I listened to the plans and how things were unfolding, the more concerned I grew.  I literally begged my husband for an hour not to do what he was headed to do.  If skype had a transporting device, I would have been using it and standing with my hands on my hip in front of him insisting that he do not do it!  But we could only write each other.

I usually do not act like this, but I was worried.  I told him that I know that if he does this, things are going to go wrong.  I begged him not to.  He was so relaxed about it, knowing that it couldn't be done the normal way, but was sure that nothing would happen.  But because of my begging, he agreed to do a little bit of last minute changes, (which I found out later he was unable to do).  Still I insisted that it was not good enough.  Finally, he said he would ask our friend's advice and do what he said.  I relaxed because I trusted this man and figured he would stop him.

But the worry remained through the night.  It was a long, lonely night.  I sat for about an hour staring at my computer trying to distract myself, but was not relaxing.  I am used to getting a phone call that he is going to do something and he will phone me when he returns, and am more aware to be praying during those times, but nothing like this.  I sat that night with a deep sense of fear as my company.

About an hour into the wait, I decided that we needed people praying.  I made some calls and got groups in two of my "home" locations to pray.  Then I sat some more through that very long night.  My thoughts ran back and forth through many things...

I remembered walking with my husband shortly after he proposed and talking over what life would be like for us.  We knew that with what we wanted to do, there would be no guarantees of safety...

I remembered things I had said that I wish I hadn't....

I sat thinking about four sleeping heads tucked in their beds and about what I would say to them tomorrow if I had not heard...

But mostly I sat....

Sometimes I asked God why these two together? ... If there was one person I would phone in a situation like this, it would be this friend who was over there with him.  ... Sometimes I was thankful they were together.  Sometimes, I simply sat with tears running down my face and asked God, "not both, please, not both".  My thoughts ran to two other wives who were caught up in this event and did not know it yet.  Wondering, praying.  One would not take this well... praying for her and for her husband.... I actually grew pretty insistent with God that He let this one walk away....

But mostly I sat quietly...

I remembered the wonderful week my husband and I had, the laughter, the great talks...

I remembered the pain in the eyes of a friend of mine who I watched through the time she lost her husband in car crash... raw pain.... shuddered at the thought of walking that path myself...

I remembered praying for another friend about whose husband we didn't know for a long time... praying day and night through that time, and the good news that came after months.... sick at the thought of going through what she went through...

But mostly, I sat quietly....

I sat through that night with fear as my company and my eyes on God.  Praying little, because what is there to say just then?  But watching God, looking to Him in the silence, praying with every breath.  Begging Him to keep everyone safe.

Then in the morning, I got that phone call.

Friday, April 16, 2010

That Week Before

It started one week like any other week when my husband headed over there.  He does it so often that I am used to it, yet it is not something I am totally used to.  More recently, he has been traveling with another good friend of our, and I have never been too thrilled about that either.  Both together  - I like them together, but I didn't like it either. 

The few days before he travels, we always have this unusual routine and feelings we go through.  Sort of a checklist preparing for the "what if".  This trip, we didn't do much of that.  I had just returned and was feeling sick.  We had some errands to do, so we never even took the time to curl up together and spend time together.

But at his first stop, we talked often by phone and skype.  Talked and talked.  It was really good to connect, to tease each other, and have fun.  There were a few things bothering us - some conflicts between people close to us and some plans others had that worried us, so we talked.  We would have talked these things over with someone else there, but that person wasn't being normal, and it had both of our antenna up.  Towards the end, we were both feeling certain that something was going to happen, but we were focusing on the wrong thing.  Still we talked and talked - way more than normal for when he is gone.

I was thankful for those times of talking later.  I knew where my husband's heart was and he knew mine.  That really helped in the days that followed, and throughout the difficult times, I hung on to those conversations with all I had.

We had discussed something that I had done recently while traveling, and I had asked my husband if a certain action I took had bothered him.  It was something I might not normally do, but I did that one time.  He smiled.  I heard it in his writing even before he finished.  He smiled and said, "Of course not!  I fully and completely trust you."

This was one gift I hung on to.  I thought back to the year we struggled while we sorted out some things in our lives and when he was crashing from years of no sleep, and I smiled.  Life was good.

But we both sensed a cloud looming.  I grew up in tornado country.  It was that same feeling - the clouds are dark and heavy, and we can feel our hair standing up, but we had no idea where it would come from.

Telling the Story

I've wanted to tell the story, but life has been so busy and so full of conflict and stress since the event that turned my normal life into something else.  I wish someone had told me that normal was ending and what was coming would likely never be the same as what was.

I would have liked the chance to say good-bye.

I've wanted to tell the story.  I'd like to try, but hampered by the fact that this is anonymous.  I can't tell who I am nor exactly what happened.  That may be fine, though, because so far that is all I have been able to tell - what happened, what I did, what others did, what happened.  Never once anything about what was going on under the surface - not about what I was thinking or feeling.

I might try to do that.  You'll have to forgive me that it sounds a little confusing and leaves you wondering "What happened?!"  It has to do that.  But I might begin to talk.

I am still a little stunned.  That is wearing off and now I am confused.  Looking around at this new normal and wondering what it will mean.  I think there are changes coming up, and I have lived through too many changes to be excited at any more.  I've hid this week in working more at a job I usually only do four days a month - the routines of working with the dying.  Other people needed time off, and I needed routines and needed to be focused on something besides ministry right now since that is in such a turmoil time.

The story is disappearing, though, among the stress and change, and I'd still like to write.  I'd still like to sit with a friend and tell the story from beginning to end and let someone feel what I felt.

But perhaps, like the earthquake, some of those feelings may stay covered up right now because they were very difficult to handle.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Always a Stranger

I don't know why I keep hoping that one day I won't be.  I think there is something in the heart of every human being that wants one day to belong.  An almost unquenchable hope.  I sit here looking at those sentences and wonder how often that hope leads people into joining in with things that they so know are wrong just, just to belong once to some group.

I don't belong.  And I still long to.

What has hurt in the aftermath of dealing with this crisis is the stark reminder that I do not belong.  I am a foreigner, a stranger.

I've been a part of this team for seven years now.  For seven years, we have lived with, worked with, played with, and been a part of these people's lives.  We shared houses, shared meals, and shared work.  We painted, moved, ached, and laughed together.  I've been there for every baby's birth, every hospitalization, sickness, and celebration.  We've put our life into our team, and they have become family.

But I am still a foreigner.  My husband is not, but I am.

When this crisis hit, no one came.  I sat alone, very alone, for the first two days, and then after that my house was filled with volunteers from the church helping.  But no one from our team.

They told me later on why they did not come.  "You are a foreigner and different than us, so we didn't know if you wanted us there."

I may be a foreigner, but I am still human.  I still hurt.

That hurt again to hear that... "you are a foreigner".  Still.  Seven years later.... likely it will be the same twenty-five years later, or forty.  Always a stranger.

I am a stranger where I live.  I am a stranger when I go "home".  I am  stranger in my team.  I am a stranger where I work.  Forever a stranger.

One day, I want to walk in somewhere and hear, "she's home".  Likely it won't be until I am home.  This being a stranger is difficult.

But I have learned Hebrews.  And when I turn my eyes up to God with pain at again being excluded as the stranger, I hear what is written about Abraham. He lived as an alien... as in a foreign land.

Then the verses which repeat in my head over the hurt of again being slapped in the face with the very fact of being a foreigner. "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."

Every time tears fall over being always a stranger, God quietly repeats those verses to me.  He is not ashamed of me, and He has prepared a city.  In that place, I will belong.  In that place, I will no longer be a stranger.  Neither will the very ones who call me foreigner right now.  We will all belong.

Comfort.  But comfort which does not take away the pain.  It still hurts to be excluded, to be left uncomforted in pain because "you are not like us".  Life still hurts.  I still long to walk in somewhere and be at home.  I still want to belong.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tiny Smiles

God has a sense of humor.  He just does.  In the middle of this week filled with so much stress, there have been tiny laughs.

Number three son has got a sudden curiosity about tampons... yes, tampons.  It puzzled us at first.. but, we were walking through the store to get my daughter's new medicine, and walked past the "supplies" aisle.  My husband joked, "oh, do you need some tampons?"  (No, a hysterectomy took care of that years ago, thank God!)  Well, Number one and two laughed, and we kept walking... only to notice we were one short at the end of the aisle.

Number Three was studying the tampon boxes.  Then in his typically loud voice, he asked, "What are tampons?"  We declined answering and told him to catch up.  He repeated the question, and people around began to smile.  I told him that I wasn't going to answer now, and he needs to catch up with us.  Finally, he caught up and apparently had studied them enough to have an idea.  "Mommy, are tampons something women use so they won't have babies?"

That was it - several women in the perfume section began to giggle.  He then became very upset as if we were keeping the world's best secret from him because Number One and Two were laughing, so obviously THEY knew the secret and WHY wouldn't we tell him RIGHT THEN?

Finally, we got him to quit and went on shopping.

Today, he went with me to get my shots.  The doctor's office often has good jokes posted on the wall.  He was reading those, and then turned to me again with the same question. "Mommy, what are tampons?"  If only he would ask at home, and not in front of people!!  I muttered and tried to ignore him.  Then he went on, "because, mommy, one time, I read a joke here and it said that two boys went to the store and tried to buy tampons, and the clerk asked them why they were buying them and if they were for them.  The boys said, "no, of course they are not for us!  they are for our little brother.  Because we saw this ad that said with tampons, you can ride a bike and swim, and our little brother can't do either yet!"  So, mommy, what are tampons?"

Number Three is his own joke posted on the wall!  The doctor's office  was full of people having snorting fits for some time.  I told him that it was just an ad, and ads don't always tell the truth, and tampons have nothing to do with knowing how to ride a bike.

"Then why did the joke say so?"

Jokes are just sometimes silly, that is all.  And tampons are something women use, and we do not usually talk about them in public.

Hopefully, that is the end of the tampon curiosity!

Then God had another tiny smile for me.  My bras were wearing out.  I can't get my favorite ones here and am not scheduled to make a trip to where I can get them any time soon.  And, while I love my bras, five years of the same thing has me bored.  I mentioned to God while I was dressing that I might want to look for something different, but I hate bra shopping.

Well, I went to work today, and stepped into the kitchen to get the snacks, and the cook looked at me, tipped her head sideways a little and asked, "What size bra do you wear?"  I was a little surprised - not your typical greeting, but ok... I told her.  She reached over, and handed me two nice bras, with underwire which I like, and said, "I bought these, but they just didn't fit quite right - maybe they'll fit you.  They are brand-new."

Of course they did.  God knows my size, yup, even my bra size!