Monthly Archives: November 2015

Say Cheerio, not Goodbye

Besides my parents, the most influential adult in my life as a child was my Nana.  She personified for me unconditional love, fun, comfort and security.  I have a vivid memory from my childhood…curled up on Nana’s lap with my head leaning against her chest listening to her heart beat, my Mam sitting at her feet and the two of them nattering about this and that, and my 7 year old self thinking, “this is love; this is about as good as life gets.”  She died at the age of 94, having lived on her own for the previous decade after my Papa died, three weeks before I returned from Africa for the second time…

It was always a wrench to leave Nana as I headed off to explore the world the very first chance I got.  But she would always say to me, “say cheerio, not goodbye.”  To her, ‘goodbye’ seemed so final, whereas ‘cheerio’ implied that we would see each other again in the very near future.  Now, as we countdown our last remaining days in Kenya before moving to Ireland, I find myself remembering this farewell.

I first moved to Africa when I was 23, almost 20 years ago.  As a child, I was inexplicably drawn to Africa.  I know now that is was God’s call on my life (that’s a whole other story), but back when I was younger, I would have simply described it as a magnetic pull.  I had a geography teacher in secondary school who was extremely social justice minded and he taught us about the inequalities that existed in the world and why.  I would go home and bore my parents half to death with my rants of how the world we live in is so unjust; how the majority of the world’s population live below the poverty line; how we (in the west) have so much in comparison.  As soon as I qualified with a skill that I could bring to Africa, I left for Lesotho for 2 years, where I worked as a English language and literature teacher.  I lived in a remote village, without electricity or running water, and taught Shakespeare to young kids, some of whom had to walk up to 3 hours to get to school, whose one meal a day was served at lunchtime, and whose parents scrimped and saved every spare penny to provide them with an education.

The minute I set foot on the snowy landscape of this mountain kingdom, my heart was forever hooked.  I did a whole lot of traveling overland during the school breaks, by bus, matatu, train and boat, and was completely enamored by the different cultures, colors, and landscapes that I experienced.  I loved my time teaching in Lesotho but felt constrained in the impact I could have by the confines of the classroom and the commonwealth curriculum I was teaching.  I went home to Dublin and started my Masters degree in International Development, studying with individuals from all over Africa and beyond.  Armed with more understanding and knowledge about development issues in the majority world, I left again for Africa, this time heading to Tanzania for 2 years where I worked in leadership training and community development.  And, of course, this is the country in which I found my husband…wandering across the world, teaching orthopedics in low-income countries, pushing 40 and needing a strong woman to take him in hand!  I succumbed to the challenge, fell in love, married him in Dublin, and moved to Bend, Oregon for 9 years.  I stayed involved with Africa by working for an international relief and development organization and when God called Mike out of private practice, we were ready to go back.

Three and a half years later after living in Kenya, we are on the move again.  This time, after 20 years of living overseas, I am going home to Dublin with Mike and the kids.  I am eager to “do life” with my family and friends and relish the thoughts of us being together.  In these last few days, however, as I anticipate leaving this continent, God has opened my eyes wide and broken my heart all over again at the injustices that exist in this part of the world.  The lack of access for the majority of Kenyans to good healthcare.   The difficulty for parents to find enough money to pay for school fees for their children.  The lack of choices and opportunities.  The frequency with which death affects families.  And it’s like God is imprinting on my heart once again, my connection to this soil…to these people…to this call on my life.  So, this is certainly not goodbye for me.  I cannot wait to see how this all ties in with what God has for me in Ireland, because I know with certainty, that somehow it will.  And so we say, cheerio…for now.

Yesterday was the kids last day at school here in Kijabe.  Mike and Bosco walked them up for the last time.

Yesterday was the kids last day at school here in Kijabe. Mike and Bosco walked them up for the last time.

Saying goodbye to great friends

Saying goodbye to great friends

Michael and David - Best friends

Michael and David – Best friends

Pizza party lunch!  Boys inside and girls outside - the separation was imperative according to Michael and Jane!!

Pizza party lunch! Boys inside and girls outside – that was an imperative!!


We have been keeping our friends and family up to date with our decision to leave Kenya and move to Ireland, via mail chimp.  If you are not receiving these more personal updates and would like to, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list!


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Wait But Why?: Maybe Atheists Have Something to Say

I tend to like atheist blog posts.  I tend to like atheists.  This might seem strange, as I happen to hold to a pretty traditional set of beliefs in a trinitarian God:  FatherSonandHolyGhost.  You may find it unusual that I would embrace the thoughts of someone with a completely contrary view of the universe.  You may even ask “Wait, but why?”, which would be hilarious, because that is the title of a very good atheist blog post,

Fair question.  Why would a person who has sold out his life to follow a Jewish messiah he’s never (physically) met think atheists have anything to say to him?

In a completely unfair generalization (but it’s my blog, so I can get away with it), there are two kinds of atheists: angry atheists, and humble atheists.  First, and most uncomfortably, are the angry atheists.  They’ve been seriously hurt or damaged by the church, or by god, or by their parents, or by society.  One of my best friends in Bend was in this camp.  Angry to the core, and deservedly so.  These atheists follow their guru, Richard Dawkins, and their mantra is “I don’t believe in God, and I’m really, really angry at Him.”

These types of atheists are like wasabi, the really hot mustardy stuff that comes with sushi.  Mix a tiny bit of wasabi with your soy sauce, lightly dip in the delicious sushi, and the flavors explode.  But make the mistake of thinking the wasabi is part of the main course, take too big a bite, and your brain catches on fire and you won’t be able to taste anything for weeks.  Angry atheists are to be loved, but can be toxic to take in entree-sized portions.  And these types of atheists tend to be fiercely evangelical.  If I’m angry at a god I don’t believe in, everybody else should be angry at him too.  As I said, I have a good friend in this camp, but that kind of anger is hard to sustain over long periods of time, and it is really destructive.

The second type of atheist, the atheists, are humble truth-seekers.  Many have been raised  in religious homes, but at some point started seeing contradictions in what they had been taught.  Hmm, God is all-loving and all-powerful, but refugee children drown, people starve, hearts are broken…..wait, but why?  I was taught that the only path to salvation was ‘abc’, but those Christians are taught that the only path is xyz…wait, but why?  I was taught that Jews…I was taught that Muslims…I was taught that Catholics….  But then I see atrocities committed by “Christians” and acts of grace performed by Muslims….wait but why?

An honest soul, and one courageous enough to step outside the little-d dogma in which s/he was raised, starts to explore these contradictions.  And one route, the one to humble atheism, goes like this:  I see errors in some of the things I was taught in the church.  I see contradictions in the Bible, which is supposed to be the foundation of these beliefs.  I see those in church authority abusing their power in the most terrible ways.  Hmm, maybe these contradictions go all the way to the core, maybe the foundational premise, the existence of an almighty, supernatural creator, needs to be looked at.

Maybe this is all human-breathed, a psychological and sociological reaction to the too-terrible-to-face reality that we are alone, that we are random, that our lives are brief and meaningless and followed by eternal oblivion.

And on that happy note, isn’t it obvious why I find these people so interesting?  But I really do, because these are people with the courage to look at creation without blinking.  They are people who would rather ask “Wait, but why?” than to stumble on through the fog of their inherited Religion.

And so humble atheists tend to have an incredibly fresh and powerful view of the universe.  Rather than processing everything through a tiny world-view, they are unconstrained to accept what is before them.  They can look at the cosmos, at the human condition, even at God, through child-like eyes.

So I think, in some way, the humble atheist can see God more clearly than those inside Religion.  If God is represented in His creation, the humble atheist can see this creation unfiltered by centuries of cultural clutter.

So I am not offended by the humble atheist, and I embrace her/his intellectual courage and honesty.  But I don’t come to the same conclusions.  “Wait, but why?,” you may ask.

The humble atheist tends to accept what s/he can experience and verify through her/his intellect and senses, through reason.  If s/he has been betrayed by second hand knowledge, by taught “Truths” which turn out to be not-so-true, then direct experience seems a more reliable belief system.  And here’s where I differ from the humble atheist.

My direct experiences:

My wife loves me, even though she knows me.  Wait, but why?

My mother prayed for me, even when I was completely lost.  Wait, but why?

A single electron charge on a single molecule in a cell membrane changes the 3-dimensional shape of the molecule, enabling it to fit perfectly into another 3-dimensional molecule, triggering a biochemical reaction which leads to a smile. Wait, but why?

An atheist Jewish surgeon and I struggled together in a sweltering operating room in Haiti to put people back together after the earthquake.  Wait, but why?

Kijabe Hospital has survived violence, poverty, apathy, and missionaries like me, providing incredible care to the most vulnerable in Kenya, for a hundred years, despite all odds.  Wait, but why?

If you are open to them, day to day reality provides glimpses of the divine.  Our difficult life in this difficult time provides direct experience of the way things were meant to be.  Almost always through individual acts of grace, or sometimes through the complex beauty of nature, we can see through the fog to the divine truth that we are not alone, that we are not random, that life is not meaningless, that we are loved beyond reason.

To quote Tim Urban, the atheist author of the Wait but Why? blog:

“A true Whoa moment is hard to come by and even harder to maintain for very long… Thinking about this level of reality is like looking at an amazing photo of the Grand Canyon; a Whoa moment is like being at the Grand Canyon—the two experiences are similar but somehow vastly different. Facts can be fascinating, but only in a Whoa moment does your brain actually wrap itself around true reality. In a Whoa moment, your brain for a second transcends what it’s been built to do and offers you a brief glimpse into the astonishing truth of our existence…

I love Whoa moments. They make me feel some intense combination of awe, elation, sadness, and wonder. More than anything, they make me feel ridiculously, profoundly humble—and that level of humility does weird things to a person. In those moments, all those words religious people use—awe, worship, miracle, eternal connection—make perfect sense. I want to get on my knees and surrender…”

So the difference between me and the humble atheist, is that I get down on my knees and surrender.  If everything around me says “awe, worship, surrender”, why would I resist? Why would I not hunger for more “Whoa moments”?  If my direct experience tells me that an impossibly, unimaginably loving creator wants to be in relationship with me, why would I disregard my experience?

I’m not a theologian, I can’t keep a lot of dogma in my head.  A faith that has two main commandments seems to fit:  Love God, and Love the Person In Front Of You.  I’m not very good at it sometimes, but at least I can remember the rules.  And those two rules come from ancient Jewish books, and those two rules were declared the summation of all religion by Jesus. So I guess that makes me a Christian.

My direct experience has shown me a God of love.  And that Love is the answer to the question “Wait, but why?”.  Why is the universe so amazing, why am I here, why is there good in the world?  Because there is a force of Love, of Order, of Logos, of anti-chaos, permeating existence.  My direct experience makes me pretty sure that something strange happened when that Jewish messiah lived and died.  Pretty sure that something changed in the fabric of the cosmos, irreversibly “tearing the temple curtain”, tearing down the separation between the natural and the Supernatural, the created and the Creator, the beloved and the Lover.

So as Christians, maybe we have something to hear from the humble atheist.  Maybe a naked awe at the raw grandeur of creation holds truths about the Creator.  Maybe science serves as a light to illuminate our foggy perception of Creation.

And maybe we are called to love those whose beliefs differ from ours:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  For you atheists out there, that’s Jesus talking, from the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s Gospel.

Maybe He has something to say, too.  

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