The challenging, the hard and the beautiful—a reflection on the last 18 months

Sunrise over Bujambura

It’s been well over a year since I have posted any entries on this blog site.  That’s not to say I haven’t composed many in my mind or that there isn’t much to give thanks for.   The fact is we are not in Burundi to share its beauty, people and the progress of many projects there.  (Or more accurately, I’m not in Burundi but Randy actually is for a month, teaching pediatrics and help with patient care.)  It was about this time last year that it became evident that our return plans were not just taking a prolonged hiatus but rather a definitive halt.  Upon reflection of all that has transpired in the past 18 months I am compelled  to sum up some of the surprising twists and turns over this time in an attempt to bring closure and thanksgiving.

Downtown Beziers, France

Leaving Burundi on Valentine’s Day of 2020 for a six-month sabbatical we were excited about the opportunity to spend the first three months refreshing our meager French language skills in southern France.  The first of our amazing surprises was to find reasonable housing just outside the small southern city of Béziers, as well as a school with a tutor who would work with us and a church that welcomed us.  Little did we know how great this setting was going to be as after just three weeks the country of France went into quarantine due to the pandemic.  We had purchased two bikes to be our transportation for the three months which became our life-line for getting to the grocery store and for daily exercise along deserted paths of beautiful countryside.    Our tutor continued to meet with us by Skype.  Then in early May we returned to the U.S., twelve of us on a 737, which usually holds over 300 passengers.  Our time in France had turned out very different than we had anticipated but we were thankful for every unforeseen blessing provided for us.

Pairs airport at 8:00 am on Thursday, May 7, 2020

The next three months of our sabbatical Randy had hoped to get further medical training in some specific areas to augment training of the medical students at HAU.  Unfortunately, hospitals were closed due to the pandemic.  Up came more unexpected surprises!  Friends who lent us their condos for quarantine, for refreshment, for vacation, for retreat.  Little did we know how much we needed to be still, to let go of our own agenda and to open our hands to what was to be instore for us this next year.  We enjoyed crossing U.S. from Seattle to Virginia seeing so many who have been the “behind the scenes” support to the work we’d been doing in Burundi, as well as dear friends we’ve known over the years.  But we did not know how timely some of these encounters would be for us and for our family, as the year unfolded.

Learning to let go of our plans and enjoy the time we were given to be still.

You may have seen the commercial in which the older couple walks into their financial adviser’s office multiple times with the tag line “change of plans”.   That became our tag line also.  First, it was covid, so we thought we were waiting for a vaccine or open borders to go back.  Then it was the discovery of a very rare brain stem tumor in our adult daughter, followed by a second tumor by her heart.  In the midst of all that, several fast-growing squamous cell skin cancers knocked me into an even higher risk category requiring fast action whenever a new growth appeared.  As we kept “kicking” our return date later and later it became more and more apparent that not only would we not be returning to Burundi soon but that our future path was diverging from our original plan, such that living on the equator, far from a dermatologist or easy travel to one would be unwise and careless for me at this time.  While we were grieving this change in our expectations with disappointment, we were willing to accept and see what God had for us.

A brave face and a brave heart for what was to come.

First, we came to see that by God’s providence we were able to be with our daughter for surgeries, recovery, complications and needed support through her health trauma.  The tumors were not cancerous, just in very difficult places to remove and treat.  We needed to be here for her.  It was incredibly timely in so many ways.  Thankfully, she is now well, with a myriad of stories to tell of how others cared for her and the awesome love she received through it all.  We thank God for His goodness to her in so many unexpected and tangible ways.

On the mend! Thanking God for healing, medical support and expertise, and the prayers of many.

Second, we’ve been able to settle in the Seattle area, a climate of less sun, more cool days to keep one’s skin covered and close to our son and daughter-in-law.  This has been God’s  kindness to me.   The back story here is that in 1979, when Randy first brought me to Seattle to see where he grew up, I was so enamored of the area I said, “Why don’t we live here?”.  Over the years we often visited relatives that live in Seattle.  Then our son married a “Seattleite” and moved here too.   So not only do we live close to our son and wife but they live in Seattle too, a place I have wanted to live, but it’s all according to God’s timing not mine.  Fortunately, we have been able to carve out an hour or so most days, when there is no rain, to take bike rides around this beautiful area.  I make frequent visits to a local dermatologist.  Randy continues to communicate with the medical work in Burundi and will make ongoing visits to continue teaching classes for the medical school and assisting in medical education.

Seattleites!

Third, we’ve found a local church community that has welcomed us and has other members who have been a part of overseas work in Africa, which means they “get us” and they know where Burundi is.

Mt. Rainer overlooking Puget Sound

As we mark the passing of a year since the time we thought we’d be returning to Burundi I’ve been reflecting on God’s faithfulness in so many unexpected and unforeseen ways.  I’ve learned a more open-handed approach to making plans, a deeper humility in accepting the road God is leading us on and a new patience for how the future unfolds.  I’ve discovered again and again that beauty and wonder can continually be experienced no matter where I am.  In fact, I’ve learned the more my hands, heart and eyes are open to accepting His will and trusting His goodness, the greater is my capacity to rest in the beauty and wonder of His love.

The grace and elegance expressed here, another example to me of beauty and wonder.
Sunset over Morro Bay, CA

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4 Responses to The challenging, the hard and the beautiful—a reflection on the last 18 months

  1. Nelly Vos says:

    Dear friends. It is so good to read your story. Si great to discern a glimpse of God’s glory. So « happy » for you. This morning I’ve prayed for you and your family. Thanking God for you. Keep it up. De tout cœur avec vous sur la beauté et l’émerveillement. On Him,

  2. Mark Huffman says:

    What a wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness, even when we have no idea of where he is leading us.

  3. Alyssa Pfister says:

    Beautiful reflections, Carolyn, on how God has walked with you and Randy through the circuitous journey of the last 18 months. Thanks for taking the time to write and share. Glad you are finding community and a home in Seattle even though we miss you here. Thankful God has made the change of plans clear in His timing!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks Carolyn very encouraging to me in our “change of plans” to read this.

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