No Way Outa Here – 8


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Acceptance. A key word in the twelve-step programs. I continued going to my twelve-step group, the one I’d been going to for years.

Years before this all happened, I had been so fixated on fixing my husband I couldn’t find a way to live at peace with my own life, or even know what my life without him was about. When I felt he was out of control, I was out of control. At one of these low points, someone told me about a twelve-step group, and I joined one. It was a struggle to learn to let go of this constant obsessing about my husband. Even after I had separated from Michael, it was difficult not to see everything as a project to fix him. If only he’d cooperate, I kept telling myself. Then our marriage would work! Twelve-step groups are all about taking responsibility for our own lives and letting go of the responsibility we take for others.

I worked at it, not terribly successfully, but I worked, and so did Michael. We reunited after a year of separation. During that year, I spent a lot of energy trying to find a way to stop focusing on him, but still, my thoughts kept returning to my longing for him to change. Now back together again, I was hopeful for a new future together. How much greater the shock and my inner outrage to be three months into reconciliation, and then for a terrible stroke to separate us more thoroughly than ever. Now I was technically living with a man who was in a coma, in the intensive care unit, fighting for his very life. I could talk all I wanted to him, but there was even less feedback than from talking to my dog. More reason than ever to obsess. My need to detach was more urgent than ever. I really, really needed to find a way to go on living, to find the strength to go on, to find faith, or I would go under.

My twelve-step group became one of my mainstays, and the prayer we say every week became a lifeline for me. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I needed to accept my situation as it appeared every day. And slowly, probably because I was truly desperate now, I discovered that I was finding the ability to accept my situation. My urgent neediness was a gift, making it possible for me to accept each new day with the challenges it presented me.

For most of November, 2014, Michael was in a coma. We lived in a constant cycle of high fever (central fever, they called it), high blood pressure, infections like pneumonia, and tremors. His body couldn’t regulate normal temperature anymore, so he had a constant elevated temperature – central fever, and this fluctuated wildly. They diagnosed the tremors as part of epilepsy. More medication now, this time to deal with the epilepsy. At one point, a doctor told me Michael possibly wasn’t waking up because they’d been over-medicating him. So they started experimenting with medications. He continued to have high temperatures and to sleep. I wondered if he would ever wake up again. Once he woke up for a couple of days, and even mouthed the numbers one to four for his speech therapist. The following day he responded to a visitor who came to see him. I was elated! But he fell asleep the following day after another bout of high fever and seizures. What was I supposed to accept? That he would never recover? Or insecurity, uncertainty?

All of the above. I didn’t know what kind of God would allow us to go through what we were going through, but I decided that the goodness I had experienced had a souce, and that this source was the God I had been following.  I would  continue to follow Goodness. Psalm 23 became a mantra – “Surely Goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  Well, I wasn’t sure they were following me, but I would follow Goodness.  I said this to myself, but it didn’t feel as though there were any God at all in my life.  Goodness was an abstract force for me, but logically the strongest force of all, one that I vowed to trust, no matter what. Even now, if I looked, I could see that there were good things every day – maybe a good meal someone cooked for me, a kind email, a beautiful sunset. I would accept and follow Goodness, with God’s help. I had no divine messages or feelings of being carried, or any sense of God’s presence, but I did find myself carrying on, somehow able to face each new day without falling apart. This was how I could accept the monstrous thing I couldn’t change.

I was also doing the things I could to help the situation.

I went to therapy. As with the twelve-step emphasis on acceptance that I was learning, I had been learning new ways of dealing with pain in therapy. The therapist invited me to look inside my body and identify where the pain manifested itself and to sort of sit there and hold it, watching it, allowing it to be there, also feeling my feet on the floor, following my breathing. In this way I learned that I could tolerate emotional pain and that it would leave, in its own time.

I began every day with what I call my “quiet time”. I read about persecuted Christians around the world and prayed every day for the one on that day. I read out of my twelve-step daily guide, and out of the Bible, focusing now on the book of Job, since it seemed appropriate to be reading about someone else who had suffered at least as much as I. Then I would pray and meditate for around twenty minutes, allowing whatever thoughts and feelings that came to be there. Usually there was nothing special that came, but now and then I had a helpful insight.  I think the most helpful thing was just sitting there with God, letting God be privy to all that was going on. I accepted the tears or whatever confusion or lost feelings I had, and let God have them.

Writing my update/prayer emails also helped. It was good to record what was going on, and to get it out somehow. I didn’t like telephoning and having to explain myself over and over. But writing it in one email to a lot of people was a wonderful way to express myself!

One person on my email list wrote back to me, “You need to have a close friend come and stay with you for a while. You need female companionship.” None of my friends here in Germany had the time to come and stay with me. But my friend Nancy in the States had recently retired and was complaining that there wasn’t enough for her to do. I invited her to come and stay with me, and she accepted!

It was just the thing I needed, having her companionship. We rode the tram every day together to the hospital, talking nonstop in each direction of the half-hour ride. She bore the frustration and disappointment of seeing Michael asleep day after day with me. We did fun things like cook and bake together. We cooked for Thanksgiving and invited my German friends. We watched Sandra Bullock movies, since we’re both Sandra Bullock fans. Nancy was here when the famous Christmas markets in Cologne opened, and she bought lovely German-made Christmas souvenirs to bring back to her family. We prayed together, sharing our deepest thoughts and longings. Even now, more than a year later, I feel so much closer to her because of her time here with me. She still writes me beautiful, encouraging notes that lighten my heart and my burden.

On the day before she left, December 2, we both got an early Christmas present from God – Michael woke up! And he even responded to us, blinking yes to several questions we posed.

He stayed awake off and on for almost two weeks, giving me hope that recovery would indeed be possible. One of the doctors on the ICU at the university hospital went out of her way several times to help me. She even allowed Michael to receive high dosages of fish oil, something a friend told me about. There were several reported cases of people with severe brain injury who experienced amazing healing after receiving two grams of fish oil daily. Fish oil is high in omega 3, the same substance our brains are made of. Was it only coincidence, or was the fish oil really making a difference in Michael’s level of consciousness?

I’d been practicing prayers of gratitude and trying to stay in the moment in a similar way to when I work on a new piece on the piano. I spent my days looking for whatever I could be grateful for, and when my thoughts drifted into worry, I would try and come back to the present.

Michael was doing so well, he would be able to be transferred into a rehab hospital. A week before Christmas, he was transferred. The day after his arrival, he fell into a coma again.

Chris returned from abroad for Christmas, only to find his father mentally gone by the time the holidays began. On Christmas Eve, Chris and I went to church together, and then took our presents by taxi to the rehab hospital. Michael slept as we opened his presents for him.

During the hours apart from Michael, we enjoyed Christmas, eating great meals and enjoying each other.  With Michael, we sat helplessly in the silence of his room, enveloped in surgical masks, paper gowns and plastic gloves. He was in quarantine until they could ascertain that he didn’t have any multi-resistant bugs. No more fish oil. The doctor at the rehab hospital wasn’t convinced it would help. He was afraid it would only give him a worse case of diarrhea than he already had.

I tried to see this as a time to keep focusing on the goodness of God, the things that I knew to be good, and to be thankful for them. I kept trying to stay in the present. During all of this, Michael continued to sleep. Would he ever be healed? The doctor didn’t think so. On two occasions he said to me, “I think your husband will probably look something like this for the rest of his life. You need to accept this instead of clinging to hope that he can be healed.”

No Way Outa Here – 6


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I thought I had posted everything I’d written thus far, but when I went to post this, I found that there was a draft which I’d written several months ago and failed to post.  I posted that entry just a few minutes ago.   If you’re reading this all at once, remember that my scenes jump back and forth in time somewhat.  The stroke was in October, 2014, and now it is February, 2016.


Recreative Suffering

One of our family secrets that came out when I was well into my adult years was that one of my uncles, whom we nieces had long had the sense to stay away from, had a woman on the side. When my mother finally told the story, she moaned, “How could he do that to Alice?” Alice was my aunt, my father’s sister, and Muriel was Aunt Alice’s home health aide.   “Here she’s hired to be there for Alice, and she goes and betrays her.”

We’ll never know whether Alice sensed what was going on, because she has long since passed away. Alice suffered short-term memory loss following a brain hemorrhage that almost killed her. She survived a good thirty years after her hemorrhage. The lively woman she had been beforehand never reappeared again, but still, a vow is a vow, and a person is a person, my mother and I thought. Maybe I had no pity for my uncle because I had seen some of his unsavory side. I certainly avoided being touched by him.

I’ve heard people on radio talk shows defending this behavior – not touching minors in private places behavior, but that of partners of disabled persons who seek companionship or sexual gratification outside of their partner, who is unable to give it. “Those left behind by their partners also have needs,” they say. “They shouldn’t be deprived.” Well, I thought, my uncle ought to be deprived of this Muriel and more.

Now that something similar has happened to Michael, I can well imagine what it must have felt like for Alice. Even if you can’t remember things, you can feel what’s going on. One can have memory impairment and still be very sensitive to what is going on at the moment. People with memory loss can also feel other losses as they occur or during the unexpected moments when their memories are triggered. We’re only kidding ourselves if we think our partners are oblivious to what is going on around them.

I sometimes feel needy for Michael’s affection. I remember times he used to stroke my hair or hold me, times we had sex, and there is an ache, sometimes sharp, sometimes dull.

At other times I stagger, as with a blow to my shoulder, by memories of things we did together. Today I remembered driving with Michael down some German Autobahn or other, on our way to having a good time together, listening to classical music on the radio or an audio book. We enjoyed each other’s company all the time, also on the way to wherever we were going.

There’s a stretch of highway that goes from Cologne to well into eastern Germany. “It’s almost all forest from here to Erfurt,” he said. He enjoyed that stretch. Once or twice we stopped at an outlet store on the way and bought clothing. I can see his driving style, quick, even jerky, confident, in a rush, but competent. “Rub my neck,” he says, and sighs contentedly as I rub the stiffness out of his neck.

And now I long to remember, to dredge up all the memories, to feel their vividness, even as they seem to fade away. I want to write it all down, to not forget anything, for they are all I have right now of the man I lived with for thirty years.

Would I want to run into someone else’s arms for sex or companionship? No way! Part of what pricks my memories now is the knowledge that I was ignorant of my blessings, all the while I was being blessed. I sat in the car and enjoyed Michael’s comments, the easy flow of conversation, but I don’t remember any gilded awareness of this being anything special. I found it awkward trying to massage his neck from my passenger seat. I enjoyed sex, and then enjoyed sleeping afterwards, cuddling into him, all the while wishing he’d reach out for me more often.

My brother told me the other day, “I can’t imagine the suffering you must be going through.” I agreed with him that I suffer. Then I thought to myself afterward, But I do get through the days, don’t I? My life is interesting, even now. So how exactly am I suffering this loss?

I feel it is important to record it, to examine it, not to forget that this man whom I married over thirty years ago is the person I miss, not just some general companionship or the feeling of being sexually aroused. For me what counts is the person behind it all.

The way I deal with this, what I try and do is, not to run away from the suffering, but rather to remember what we had and feel the goodness of it. As I look, I see what we had in a different light. In a way, my memories are recreating the past, making beautiful what were sometimes mundane scenes. They modify and make mellow the painful scenes, of which there were also plenty. But I’m seeing even the painful times through a different lens, and that is a good, heartening process that makes me feel good.

So the suffering has lots of goodness in it. It’s helping me to appreciate, to understand, to value.

Sometimes I am rewarded in the present tense. Yes, Michael is in some ways a different person right now than he was before. But he still looks at me and knows I am his Schöne. There are times when I go to visit him and he is alert. In fact, the good days are so frequent now that even his bad days are fantastic, compared to what they were a year ago. There is hope. I doubt he’ll ever be driving the car again, but maybe one day we’ll be sitting in the car again, on our way somewhere. Then I can ask him to rub my neck!

About a week ago I visited him and his hands leapt up into the air in a greeting of exultation. I had forgotten that gesture. How good to get it back! I remembered the words he always said. At the time, it exasperated me. He was always excited to see me, but his greeting just wasn’t like in the movies. No slow, dreamy, romantic soft gliding of his hands. With Michael it was abrupt. But now that it had come back, I treasured it. Then he reached for me. I bent down and he kissed me eagerly on the lips. His eyes looked hungry for more. He is also needy for companionship, I realized.   He tried to pull me to him with his stiff arm and claw-like hand, bent with contractures. He stroked my hair. Before long, it felt like all my hair was in my eyes, but Michael was stroking it! A year ago he lay rigidly in his minimally conscious state. Now he was patting/stroking my shoulder. I stroked his arms, his face, careful not to lean into him too closely to restrict his breathing. His shirt was moist with secretions from his trach. No matter. We were sharing affection. We still love each other, after all these years. I love him in a deeper way than I ever loved him in the past.

Those moments are so wonderful, I almost think they’re worth the suffering.

No Way Outa Here – 5


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If possible, I think the next phase was even more frightening and lonely than the two weeks I had just been through.  After all, just days before, Michael had finally woken up and started to talk to us.  I had found hope that he could recover.  But when he started having violent tremors, combined with a very high fever, sky-high blood pressure, high blood sugar as well, and pneumonia, I felt on the verge of despair.

As soon as I complained about Michael being on a normal ward, the doctor decided to put Michael into the intensive care unit.  I came to know this unit very well, because day after day, Michael just wouldn’t wake up.  At one point, they put him in an artificial coma to see if that would lower his blood pressure and stop the tremors.  It did, but they couldn’t keep him like this.  In addition, he wasn’t swallowing well, and the doctor feared that the breathing tube going from his lung through his mouth, the same thing he had had in the previous hospital, could be causing the pneumonia.  Having my husband in an induced coma was also no fun, but it was better than having him sleeping day and night, when he should have been awake.

The picture the doctors were forming of my husband didn’t help,either.  The tremors turned out to be epilepsy, at least some of the time.  How much new damage had occurred?  In addition to all the other monitors, he now needed regular EEGs.  One doctor said to me, “Your husband is a very sick man.  He has an awful lot of fronts to fight on – the stroke, pneumonia, high fever, high blood pressure, epilepsy, and diabetes.”  Another doctor told me not to expect linear healing.  “Healing with stroke victims occurs in waves,” he said.  “Look for patterns, tendencies, but remember that waves always go down before they come up again.”  This was helpful advice, but with each trough I would tend to panic.  Was Michael going to experience any recovery at all?  Was he going to survive this?  He wasn’t getting any better – in fact, some days the nurses would despair of finding ways to lower Michael’s fever, or for the blood sugar count to come down.  They kept trying new anti-epileptic drugs to stop the tremors, but these drugs may have also contributed to his being asleep all the time.  The “astronaut” tube food he was being fed was not good for his diabetes.

One day a nurse came to me and asked me if the living will we had said anything about resuscitation after heart failure.  I had no idea.  The wife of another patient in the ICU told me her husband had received resuscitation, and that was their mistake – now he was alive, but brain dead.

I went home and woke up the next morning thinking about the living will.  Technically, from what it said in the will, I reasoned, we should be letting Michael die.  It said he should be receiving no life-prolonging measures.  That meant no oxygen and no tube feeding.  What was I going to do?  I didn’t want my husband to die!  But they might make me do it because I’d signed that in the will!

I panicked.  I was at home, all by myself, and started to scream and cry uncontrollably.  I don’t remember the details clearly, but I must have called a friend to help me, because I knew I couldn’t be alone.  She came right over, and I also  called another friend who could spend more time with me.  Together, my friends managed to calm me down, and one of them took me to the hospital to talk to the doctor.

The doctor told me not to worry, that they would do nothing without my permission, and that at this stage, when Michael’s life was at stake, he needed all the things he was receiving.  This was not the time to think about pulling the plug, he assured me.  I was tremendously relieved.

I kept writing emails every evening to all my family and friends, both in English and in German.  It was always a struggle to write in German, knowing I would make many mistakes, and it was more difficult to express myself in German than in English.  But the responses I got made it all worth it.  “We’re praying for you,” was the tenor of most of the emails I got back.  Sometimes I got emails from people I barely knew.  People were passing my emails onto other people, onto strangers.  Churches I had never heard of were praying for Michael.  I made a rough estimate of all the people I had heard were praying.  I came up with about a thousand people!  My husband is well-known in the Christian circles where we live in Germany, and all the pastors he knows asked to be on my email list, and they forwarded my emails onto other people.

It was comforting to know that so many people were praying for Michael.  But the prayers weren’t helping to wake him up.  Day after day, I would go to the hospital to visit him, who remained day after day in the ICU.  No change.  The tremors were still there, and he was still out, dead to the world.  Where was God?  Why hadn’t God heard our prayers, given so sincerely before Michael went in for surgery, for protection?  Even Michael, normally so fearful of doctors and hospitals, had gone into the hospital, trusting that all would be well.  Was there a God at all?

It is very difficult to bear the pain of watching someone in what looked for all the world like a coma, wondering if this person would ever wake up.  His face looked peaceful, and that was a mercy.  But it was too much for my heart to take in, watching him.  I longed for the days when life with him was so difficult.  At least I had him, back then!  If only I had appreciated him more.  There was so much goodness in him that I couldn’t see because I had been so focussed on his glaring faults.  Now I knew that I had no idea in those days how deep despair could go.

The emails I was receiving were mostly encouraging, but not only.  Sometimes I felt the pressure of the spiritual expectations of my friends.  “I pray that you receive a word from the Lord for each day,” one person wrote.  A word from the Lord?  I was wondering how the Lord could be so unkind as to let the worst imaginable thing happen.  What could be worse than living in a coma for the rest of your life?  Other people wrote, “I pray that you will feel God carrying you.”  Some reminded me of the piece about the footprints in the sand.  I thought of that myself nearly every day, but I certainly didn’t feel carried.  I had never felt so alone before, even though I was being carried by friends, who kept bringing me food and offering to help in any way they could.  That helped.  But God carrying me?  God felt far away.  “I pray for strength for you to endure,” some said.  I could relate to that prayer.  I was somehow enduring.  I prayed every day for strength to endure, and somehow I did.  I couldn’t feel or sense where the strength was coming from, but I was enduring.

I decided to read the book of Job at this time.  I found it comforting to read that he also felt alone in his misery.  He also wondered where God was, and how God could allow this to happen.  He knew that he was a righteous man, and so his fate could not be seen as punishment for his sins, as his friends so wrongly interpreted.  I knew that Michael had many unresolved issues in his life, issues making life impossible for himself and for me, but I didn’t think any of his weaknesses warranted this calamity that had befallen him – and me.  I was bereft, more than ever before.

But I kept looking for God – all day, every day, even when I couldn’t find any traces.  One evening, though, while out walking the dog, I suddently remembered a line from a gospel song we used to sing in church when I was a teenager.  “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”  This was a thought that had come out of the blue.  God had spoken to me!

I also remembered the strange thing that had happened to me on my wedding night.  Just as I was getting ready to go to bed with my new husband, I heard these words, not audibly, but clearly just the same:  “Married life won’t always be easy for you, but I will always be with you.”  At that time, I had never “heard” God, and I was surprised by the message I heard, because I was looking forward at that time to a lifetime of “happy ever after”!  What a comfort those words have been to me over the years, as I’ve discovered that life isn’t necessarily as happy as we would wish it to be

I endeavored to accept the situation, however disastrous I considered it to be, as it was just to let it be.  Every day I prayed the prayer those of us in twelve-step programs say:  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage t change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  I put all my energy and will into accepting this horrible thing that had thrown us off our feet.   Actually, knowing there was no way to get out of this desolate place was a help.  This was the place I had to live in now, and there was no running away.  No more agony of too much choice.  Now there was nowhere to run to, except into God.


Writing this blog is proving to be a very difficult thing to do.  The feelings of months ago come rushing back to me and I feel the pain and horror of those days, coloring whatever my present days bring me.  I still often wish I could run away somewhere.

In my past, leaving difficult situations was my typical solution, albeit after long, long deliberation.  I left Minnesota, where the winters were cold and desolate, and where I felt little warm approval from my strict father and passive mother.  I hated Minnesota, with its strong cool Scandinavian influence.  I escaped to sizzling hot New York City, where people are so expressive, they talk with their hands.  But there, I fled an unhappy love affair, returning to Minnesota, only to leave it again, still dissatisfied with the environment I had grown up in.  A brief stint in Boston, then back to New York, where I started to find myself in God, but then the opportunity to leave New York for Germany.  I soon found Germany to be cool in temperament, and had the opportunity to leave with my husband for Brussels, where I lived in semi-contentment until our posting there ended and we were forced to come back to Germany.  It took a broken elbow and a wrist that won’t quite let me hold my fork to my mouth in the German style, for me to come to terms with living permanently in this country.  When things got too bad with my husband, I left him.  But now I know there is nowhere to run to, and this is where God can catch me.

Sunday I was driving home from visiting Michael, listening to a folk music program on the radio, when they played a woman from Norway.  Her voice stunned me so much, I almost drove to the side of the rode, just to listen to her music.  Her voice captured the solitary state, the loneliness I so often feel in my soul.  There was deep longing in her voice, but also warmth, as if she had also found hope, or even possibly fulfillment in the midst of her longing.  That was exactly the state I found myself in.  I thought, either this woman is longing for what Jesus can give her, or she is singing about Jesus.  Suddenly I heard the word, “Jesus”, the only word I could understand, and I knew.

No Way Outa Here – 4


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That evening, October 22,  we heard the diagnosis confirmed.  Michael had suffered a stroke on both sides of the thalmus.  What the doctors knew so far was that he had lost the ability to stay awake and alert.  So now, we knew the reason he had been asleep for nearly a week!  Hearing this news was still like a hammer shattering the walls of my heart, but by now I’d had a day to take it in.

In the meanwhile, Michael was talking a blue streak in his new surroundings – the stroke unit of the university hospital.  I hardly understood anything he said, so I asked him, “Are you trying to tell me the story of what happened?”  He said yes.

Chris mentioned to him, “Oh, Papa, I can hardly imagine what you’ve been through in the past week.”

Michael answered, “You have no idea,” waving his hand in the air for emphasis.  But he also told us something that we found very encouraging.  “I managed through the whole of last week, and I will manage the rest.”  This was very different from the Michael I was used to dealing with, fearful of so many things I couldn’t count them.  His blood pressure would shoot to the stars every time it was measured by a doctor, simply because he was afraid of the results.  And now he’s saying, “I’ll manage the rest?!”  Incredible.  God must have been speaking to him during that week.

It was a huge relief to be able to talk to Michael, even if we couldn’t understand most of what he said.  The following day we witnessed him talking to one of the nurses, who was from Portugal.  “Hola!” he said to him, when Michael learned that the nurse was Portuguese.  Michael can speak nine languages fluently, and a smattering of a few others.  Portuguese is one of those with a smattering.

By that Saturday, October 26, Michael was talking a lot more clearly, but was telling the speech therapist things that were patently untrue, such as that he had lived in England for three years, and that was why his English was so good.  Michael has never lived in an English-speaking country.

He was also trying to pull out the catheter, and joking about it.  “Yes, I know, the cat,” he said.  Apparently “cat” is an abbreviation Germans use for “catheter”, which is pronounced without the “h” – “cat’EH-ter”.  He tried to operate the remote control, used to turn the light on or off, or call the nurse.  He was having difficulty pushing the right buttons.  “I’m stupid!” he complained.  Michael is possibly the most intelligent person I have ever met.  It was upsetting to hear him say this.

By now, realizing that we were in for a long haul of recovery and therapy, I tried to mobilize my resources.  I had started writing emails to all my family and friends, even before he went into the hospital for surgery, asking them to pray for Michael.  I’m not nearly as eager to communicate in languages other than English as Michael, but I decided I’d have to grin and bear all the mistakes I’d make writing in German.  I started an email prayer list in German as well as in English.

Before long, I was receiving all sorts of offers for help, something Chris and I truly needed.  I had told the language schools where I was teaching English what had happened, and they found substitute teachers for me, which was a relief, but I was in no position to cook.  I was far too upset.  People started bringing food over.  One friend gave me a massage.

“We’ll get through this,” Chris and I told each other.  But on Sunday he had to fly back to Korea, where he was finishing a master’s degree.  I would miss his presence and support.  Now I would be on my own, dealing with the aftermath of Michael’s stroke.

We went to church on Sunday.  It was so good to be among the support of fellow Christians!  They crowded around us and offered support and prayers.  Then we went on to the hospital, so Chris could say good-bye to his dad before leaving for the airport.

We had difficulty finding him at first.  “Oh, we’ve moved him!” said a nurse. “He was doing so much better, so we moved him off the stroke unit into a regular unit.” As soon as we entered the room, we saw something was very wrong with Michael,   and he wasn’t hooked up to any monitors.  No one was witniessing what was happening to my husband.  He was gone to the world, in a deep sleep or some sort of unconscious state, and his right shoulder and head were in constant tremors.    This was the state Chris had to leave his papa in.

After Chris had left, I went back to the hospital that evening.  Michael was still unconscious, and still having tremors.  “Is this epilepsy?” I asked the doctor.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said.  “I think it’s just his high fever.”

I went home to bed, lonely and scared, praying like I never had before, but less sure than ever that the God I was praying to heard my prayers.


This blog series is about the process I have been going through in my thinking, my emotions, and especially how my relationship with God is changing, so I don’t want to give it all away.  I want to share the process with you.  But I do want to share a bit of today with you.

A lot of what I’ve been going through has been challenges.  I am confronted with what I see every day, and also the question:  Where is God in all of this?  Is God there?  Am I going to trust God anyway?  So, I often make flat decisions to trust, no matter what I see or feel.  I read my Bible every day, I pray almost automatically, without ceasing, bringing it all to God, even if I feel horrible, I meditate, waiting for God to speak to me, even though I am often left without an answer I am aware of.  There must be at least a thousand people praying for Michael and me – I have asked everyone I know to pray, and they have asked people I don’t know.  I meet regularly with some friends in a prayer/support group, where we pray regularly for each other.  And I go to church every Sunday.

Tomorrow I’m going to give a testimony in church about how going to church has helped me.  Today I read in Hebrews 10:24-25 – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”

This church supported Michael and me all during our separation.  I never told the members exactly why we had separated because Michael didn’t feel ready to talk about his issues with them.  But they supported each of us, just the same, never criticizing or judging us.  After Michael suffered the stroke, they would come up to me each week and ask how I was doing, how Michael is doing.  They pray regularly for him, and also for me.

I have been a Christian for so many years, and I am a critical listener.  Usually, the sermons don’t touch me that much, but I am learning to listen to the heart of the speaker, and this is helping my critical mind to be more open.  So I am changing, even in this respect.  Sometimes the sermons even touch my heart!

The sermons may or may not reach me, but the worhsip never fails to touch me.  Every Sunday there is some song we sing that stays with me, speaking to me all week.  I often find that even by Wednesday or Thursday after Sunday, that song is still ministering to my heart, building my faith.

Years ago, I felt obligated to go to church every Sunday.  Michael had decided to be a pastor, and so I had no choice but to join him, I thought.  He said that God had called him into the ministry. I couldn’t see it, though, and I resented the feeling of being expected to minister to others, whether I liked it or not.  On warm summer Sunday mornings, I would see couples out for a stroll, people out walking the dog, families gliding past our car on bikes.  I wished I could join them.  I felt roped into going to church.

Now I wouldn’t miss it!  Both Michael and I have a lot more support than anyone else I’ve encountered outside the Church.  And every Sunday, I am ministered to, as well as sharing in the ministry myself.

This Community that Jesus dreamed of, when it is drawing from Christ, is a beautiful, wonderful life-giving thing, a living, breathing organism, and I am now so thankful to be part of this body of Christ.

No Way Outa Here – 3


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Mama sitting on her eggs

Hm-m-m.  How to structure this series so that there is some connection between what happened way back in October, which normally feels like decades ago, and today?  I feel the need  to tell you readers how I responded to the earthquake that shattered my life, and somehow connect that with today.  When I read over my notes and emails of what happened eight months ago, the feelings, which had long since faded into the background, rush back, and I have that to deal with too.  But I hope this blog will be a means of comfort – for myself, as well as for you, the reader.  I also want to share honestly how I’ve been dealing with what happened, hopefully to connect with some readers who may be experiencing, or may have experienced, something similar.  Or maybe you simply wonder how one deals with something like what happened to me, and want to read my blog for this reason.

The day I heard the news that Michael had suffered a stroke, I was in the doctor’s office, trying to get help for a sinus infection, so as hopefully not to infect Michael.  From the doctor’s office, in the waiting room, I made a routine call to the hospital, something I’d been doing every morning since his surgery on October 15.  Now it was October 22.  I had visited him the evening before, when Michael was finally starting to wake up!  The doctor quickly removed his breathing tube, and Michael started talking non-stop to our son Chris, who had flown back home to be with his dad, and me.  Most of it wasn’t making any sense, but we attributed that to his exhaustion and weakness from the high fever and constant rocket-level blood pressure.  He did mention the word “stroke” to me, and “crazy situation”, but I assured him what the doctors had told me, that there had been no stroke.

So, when I phoned the hospital that morning, I was completely floored to hear the doctor now announce to me, over the phone, in the ENT doctor’s office, that my husband had had a stroke.  I screamed, right in the waiting room, and started wailing so loudly, a nurse came in to see what was wrong.  She put her arm around me and took me off to somewhere I could wait and cry with her to comfort me.  I saw my doctor, who examined me while I sobbed.  He sympathized with me and told me I could get something to calm my nerves in the pharmacy downstairs, and offered to call a cab for me.  But I, ever the one needing to prove  how strong I am, declined.  I went to the pharmacy, got some lavender capsules which were supposed to steady my nerves, swallowed one, took the tram home, delivered the tragic news to Chris, and we fell into each other’s arms and wept.

The news was bad enough, but we had no idea of the implications.  Thalmus – what is that, we wondered.  We were told that Michael had been affected on both sides of the brain, in the thalmus region.  He would have full use of all his senses, and his intellect was not impaired either.  What was affected was his ability to organize all the sensory input that came his way.  His ability to regulate sleep and awake time was also affected.

That day he was transferred to the university hospital, where he finally had a neurological exam, complete with MRI.


As I visit that horrible day from so many months past, the feeling of devastation, of having my world suddenly lurched upside-down, comes back, almost as if I had heard the news just yesterday.  I have tears in my eyes today, as I write.  This seems to be something you just can’t get used to.  Yes, you can get into a routine of some sort each day, but even this morning, as I anticipated writing this, I noticed my queasy stomach, and a feeling of generalized fear, or perhaps vague anxiety.  I live with these feelings every day.  They are my constant companions, but they’re normally somewhere in the background.  Other things, little gifts, also come my way.

I have decided to believe that these gifts are God’s way of showing me that all is not lost.  My faith in a good God, or in any God at all, has been put through the wringer.  More about that in other posts.  Today, I simply want to say that I have also received many gifts since Michael’s stroke.

The latest gifts have to do with birds.  On our terrace there is a lovely lavender bush, in full bloom right now.  This spring a blackbird decided to build a nest in our bush.  Since May, I have been privileged to observe blackbird eggs, which are much smaller than chicken eggs, a beautiful soft shade of green, and spotted.  Blackbird eggs

I have seen one clutch hatch five birds, and watched their development all the way to their flight out of the nest.  And now, the mama has layed her second clutch, and I get to watch four more birds develop.  I see how the mama sits on her nest, day after day, warming the eggs, preparing them her unborn babies for birth, and then after the eggs hatch, she sits again, day after day, protecting her fragile, helpless young.  I see both parents feed their young, taking turns.  I have read that blackbirds are monogamous, and that they normally remain partners for life.

These birds inspire me with their faithful care of their babies.  I am awed to see the helplessness of newborn baby birds, who are born blind and without feathers. Blackbirds 2 days old and hungry!

I am reminded of Jesus’s words, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  These blackbirds, whose song I have always dearly loved, show me tender caring love, and they are cared for.  They show me that I am being cared for too.

On Sunday a guest choir sang in our church.  One of the songs they sang was the old gospel song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.  They sang this song just for me.  Today is Wednesday, and I’m still singing their song.  Today I watched a video of the Statler Brothers singing it, and I let the words massage my heart.  I feel peace as I sing this song and watch my birds, day after day.  I feel my anxiety being steadied, and I smile and marvel at the hope that flutters in my heart.  Yes.  God’s eye is on the blackbird, “and I know He watches me.”

No Way Outa Here – 2


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On the Saturday before Michael went in for surgery, we went to Düsseldorf for brunch.  We wanted a nice weekend together before the big event, to be in the city of Michael’s childhood, the city I first lived in after arriving in Germany, the city where we first met.  We have many ties to Düsseldorf, most of them pleasant.  We ate at a nice cafè near the poshest market I have ever seen – anywhere.  After breakfast we walked through the market.  Well, I walked and Michael hobbled, hardly able to move at all, he was in such pain.  He went to get the car, picked me up, and we drove to the Japanese part of the city to buy some porcelain tea cups.  It was a lovely day.

The night before going into the hospital, I made us tacos, the same meal I had cooked for him the first time I ever cooked for him.  Since that time, thirty-three years ago, tacos have always been one of his favorite meals.  Back then, tacos were unheard of in Germany.

Michael was very positive about surgery, unusual for him.  He trusted his doctor, we had prayed for everything surrounding the surgery, the entire church had prayed for him.  He went into surgery relaxed and hopeful about a release from his excruciating pain, looking forward to a new lease on life.

I phoned Michael that morning to wish him all the best for his surgery.  “See you on the other side!” I said merrily and went to work.  I was a bit uneasy while teaching.  After all, the operation was no picnic.  It would take over four hours.  I took my unease in stride.  This was major surgery, after all, and Michael hadn’t been operated on since he was a toddler.  He’ll be fine, I told myself.

Late that afternoon the doctor who had performed the surgery phoned me, saying there had been a complication during surgery.  The extra vein in his neck that they had intubated for administering fluids had collapsed during surgery.  That meant that almost the entire infusion had dripped into his face and neck.  They couldn’t remove the breathing tube with the amount of fluids that had accumulated in his face and neck.  They gave him more anesthesia to give his the swelling time to reduce.  Nothing to worry about, but he was in the ICU for now and would remain unconscious until the following day.

The following day, he failed to wake up.  I began to be nervous.  He looked horrible, with his face so fat.  And so vulnerable.  The day after that, Michael still did not wake up.  I started to feel alarm rise up in me.  The head doctor or ICU came into Michael’s room to talk to me.

“We did a CT scan,” he said.  “Nothing to be alarmed about.  We did find some abnormalities in the brain in the thalmus area, but the shadows look old.  It could be some old neurological damage that was never identified.”  It wasn’t a stroke, he said.  Another doctor came to me and told me she had tried to order a neurological exam for that day, but the neurologist they used was unable to come to the hospital on that day.

With this news, I became alarmed.  I was very worried.  But it was the weekend; nothing happens in German hospitals on the weekend.  I spent hours that weekend talking to my family in America and to doctors, trying to find a way to have my husband examined neurologically.  But the hospital would not budge.

“This isn’t like in America, where you can just call a neurologist and have him come in,” said one doctor to me.  The head of ICU came into the hospital on Saturday morning, just to tell me it was far too dangerous to transport Michael to another hospital, where he could have an MRI.  I had called a neurologist I knew, and he told me Michael needed an EEG and an MRI.  The hospital he was in didn’t even have a neurologist, so no neurological exam, no MRI over the weekend.

It went on and on like this, even after the weekend, when Michael still didn’t wake up.  By now he had dangerously high blood pressure, a high fever they just couldn’t get down, and indications of pneumonia.

And by now I was writing every evening to my friends and family, one email in English and another in German, asking them to pray for Michael.  I asked those without faith to send their good thoughts his way.  And the prayers and good wishes came in.  But they weren’t waking Michael up.

I told the hospital on Monday that I wanted Michael transferred, danger or no, to a teaching hospital where they could examine him properly.  On the morning of his transfer, I had to see a doctor myself.  I seemed to have a cold, and I wanted it treated before I made my husband’s condition worse.

While in the doctor’s office, I phoned the hospital to see how Michael was doing.  A doctor I had never spoken to answered the phone and told me, “Your husband has suffered a stroke.”

With that news, my entire life turned upside down, and I knew that nothing would ever be the same.    The news took about five seconds to deliver, but the consequences would mean that my entire lifestyle would have to change.  Would my husband even survive all this?  That very evening, in the university hospital, after studying the results of the MRI exam they game Michael, the neurologist confirmed that he had suffered a stroke on both sides of the thalmus.  “Your husband is a very sick man,” he told me.

No Way Outa Here – 1


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There is a fact that I did not disclose when I wrote “Rubies in the Rubbish” – my separation.  I had separated from my husband a few months before going to Egypt.  We have known each other for over thirty years and had been married for almost thirty years when I decided I needed to live elsewhere for a while.  There were some issues in my husband’s life he was unwilling or unable to deal with, and they were getting worse.  The worse his condition got, the more I sank into anxiety, fear, anger and frustration.  I was unable, no matter how hard I tried, to just detach and let him be.  His problems had begun to spill over into our married life and into the space of my life with him to the point where I simply could not let go.  So I left.  I found a way out of my misery.

In this series I’m going to change the name of all the characters to protect their real identity.  Those of you reading this who know me will know who I’m referring to.  In these posts, I’ll call my husband “Michael”.

I told Michael that I would come back after he had gotten some help with his problems and I could see that he was working on them.  I went into therapy and continued with the self-help group I had already been going to.

It felt good to finally be away, to find my own space, to find a life of my own.  Being with Michael had felt like carrying a huge load of bricks.  Now, the weight was lifted.  I hoped with all my heart for recovery for both of us, but in the meantime, life on my own was much easier.

We continued to see each other, and sometimes Michael would cook for me, or I for him.  Cooking was one of our mutual passions, and talking together while eating another one.  Actually, Michael and I are ideal partners.  We love so many of the same things, and we love discussing all the things of life we encounter.  We love discussing ideas, politics, current events, literature, music, religion, psychology, and of course analyzing other people.  I loved listening to him uncover historical details about the places we traveled to.  We are at our best, perhaps, during our travels.  We had already traveled twice together to Egypt, and Michael was involved in my plans to stay with the Coptic Sisters long before I separated from him.

But now here we were, separated physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I stopped going to the church he was pastoring, needing to also be separate from his spiritual energy.

We lived separately for about a year.  Going to Egypt on my own, living in my own apartment, making my own decisions, I felt like I had been let out of a pressure cooker, with the simple push of a button.

During this time, some things started to get resolved and dealt with.  Michael went into a clinic where he could get help with some of the things troubling him.  He changed some things about his lifestyle, and I could see that he was serious about making these changes.  There other things I could see that lay beneath the suraface, things that would need a lot of work.  Michael was beset with a miserable sense of self-worth, especially since I had actually left him.  And shame, mixed with overwhelming anger at his mother, the cause of most of his problems, but dead for ten years already, invaded our home.  Shame, self-hatred and anger lived in our house, like ghosts who refused to leave.  I was still trying to change Michael, still caught up in a mothering role I had developed over the years.  We had lots still to work on.

Michael had a lot more than emotional and spiritual things to work on.  His back, always a bit sensitive, began emitting excruciating pains in the back itself and also in his legs.  He tried osteopathic treatments, physiotherapy, exercise.  Nothing helped.  His orthopedist finally recommended surgery.

In September, 2014, we went on a trip to Turkey together.  Michael lumbered heavily through archeological sites in Ephesus, Miletus, Pergamon and other places, determined to see it all, despite excruciating pain.  He would have surgery in October, and he wanted to see it all beforehand, just in case anything went wrong, rendering him unable to walk over these sites.  It was a lifelong dream of his to see these sites.  Michael has always loved history, especially from the Greco-Roman period.

Reunited, we had a wonderful two weeks together in Turkey, cooking up a storm in the evenings we ate in our apartment, feeding the cats who came to visit us, traveling in the daytime to archeological sites, swimming before dinner, shopping.  I was grateful for the release I had enjoyed during our separation, and now tranquil in the hope of a future together of mutual healing.   There was lots to work on, but we could do it.  After all, we had God helping us!


Pergamon. What a peaceful place to be, high above all the stress of life down at the bottom of the hill! In Pergamon we felt as though lifted up by an eagle into space.

Then Michael went in for surgery, and things went horribly wrong.

Rubies in the Rubbish – Conclusion


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It’s about ten days before Christmas as I write this, and I’m in the middle of Christmas parties, baking, shopping and all the usual pre-Christmas rush.  And yet, my thoughts are still in Egypt, as I reflect on what this trip, finished more than a month ago, means to me.  I’m still hearing from Reda and Hanel through Facebook, and I read whatever news I come upon that pertains to Egypt.

I sit in my bed every morning, as before, read the Bible and devotional books and pray, but I’ve added a new element to my prayer time.  Sometimes I look at the pictures of Jesus and Mary that Reda gave me.  I think about Mary and what an open, compassionate woman she must have been to agree to mother the most compassionate of human beings there ever was.  I see myself as a woman like her in some ways, certainly with the same capacities.  If she was compassionate, I can grow in compassion.  So I pray for more compassion in myself.  I look at the picture of Jesus, imagining the depths of love, compassion and power contained in this man.  He is, after all, resurrected from the dead, and has the power to resurrect all that is dead in me.  I reflect on the verse in Colossians, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)  Surely this is the secret the sisters possess in order to live in such peace and joy.  They live, not caring that much whether they live or die, because they know they have eternal new lives, hidden and protected in Christ Jesus.  They consider their old lives to be rubbish.  The sentence St. Paul wrote to the Philippians has taken on a deeper meaning:  “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”  Philippians 3:  8-9.  Paul goes on to describe more of the life I have seen in these sisters:  “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”  Philippians 3:  10-11.

I feel some embarrassment writing this, but I am unsure where my embarrassment comes from.  Is it something within me, or am I reflecting an embarrassment burdening our modern Western society?  These words sound so old-fashioned, so far from the way we in the West live our lives.  But it is precisely because this way of living has become so rare that my time with the sisters and their friends is so precious to me.  They have influenced my thinking and my approach to God.  The time I spent there continues to influence how I prepare for Christmas.

Being there was good for me in so many ways.

I had the chance to live around Christians whose very lives depend upon their faith.  They rely on God for everything.  They will not give up their faith, even if it costs them their lives.  Not only that, they refuse to open themselves to hatred or revenge.  They will continue to love and serve other Egyptians, even if some Egyptians hate them enough to kill them.  They remain open, loving and tolerant of differences.

It’s not only the sisters who live such courageous lives.  It’s also people like Reda and Marleen who refuse to join the western, materialistic mindset, even Mary in the gift shop at the airport.  Copts don’t date, they don’t have sex before marriage, and they don’t divorce.  I can imagine many people I know who feel trapped in their lives.  They long for a better partner and they recoil at the thought of a lifestyle that they consider restrictive.  They might consider this Egyptian mentality rigid and reactionary.  But I don’t see the people I met as trapped.  To the contrary, I think they’re onto a secret of happiness – sticking with relationships, even when they’re difficult.  I saw sisters complaining about other people to Sister Maria.  But they try again the next day.  At the Salam Center, they don’t teach putting up with abusive behavior either.  That’s not it.  There, they teach people how to live constructively in relationship.

Living with radiant, cheerful Christians who are true to their faith, to their principles, and who love, showed me that there are groups of Christians who are really good examples of the faith..  They truly live in, for, and love Christ.  This has opened me up to looking for more of the same positive faith here in Germany, where so many people focus on the weaknesses of Christians.  That’s what makes it in the newspapers and on the internet, and that’s what people talk about.  They talk about bishops who build lavish homes instead of humble Christians who live generous, joyous lives.

At the Salam Center I had a positive experience of life in community.  Sister Maria runs the center with a steady, yet gentle hand, and not as an autocrat.  She listens to the complaints and arguments of others, and they state their opinions and grievances openly.  It felt good to be around her and the other people I encountered, day after day.  It felt good not to run away into ever new people and experiences.

I valued my own good qualities because I saw them as valued by those I encountered there.  For instance, people there kept talking about my kindness.  This is something I’ve never particularly valued.  I’ve valued competitiveness more, because that’s what our society values.  But seeing my kindness as something they treasure helped me to treasure it too, and to work towards developing more kindness and dropping the competition.

In the same way, I valued my profession as a teacher of English as a second language, because I could see that my teaching skills were openly valued there.  People could see and hear what I did in the classroom and they expressed approval and sometimes even admiration.  This helped me stop taking what I do in the classroom in Germany for granted.   In Germany, I think native speakers of English who teach their language are seen as people who do this for lack of having found anything more lucrative to do.  I remember reading an interview with the American crime novelist Donna Leon, who lives and sets her novels in Venice.  She said that in the beginning of her time in Venice she was forced into (horrors!) teaching English in language schools.  It took doing it in Cairo and seeing how much the Egyptians value this to place a high value on what I do.  These days, I’m looking at teaching as a wonderful career, and I see the logic and the great sense of purpose I can find in being a teacher.

I loved the openness and candor of the Egyptians I met.  I have found this each time I’ve been in Egypt.  When I meet warm people, there is a synergetic effect – I warm up!  These Egyptians are unafraid of eye contact or of showing who they really are, even if it is their softer, more vulnerable side.  Their heroes are godly people from the past and present, not rock, movie or sports stars.  The people I met are unafraid of admiring the character qualities they find in people, and they even want to emulate this!

Sometimes they would walk right up to me and say things like, “You have beautiful eyes.”  “You have kind eyes.”  “You’re beautiful.”  “I like you.”  I responded to their openness, and it opened me up.  I smiled and related to everyone from my heart, because that’s how they related to me.  I’ve tried bringing this back to Germany.  I recently said to a casual friend of mine as I said good-bye, “You’re so sweet!” He smiled and seemed delighted with what I said.  I hope he was.  In Germany people don’t go around telling each other that they’re sweet.  At a Christmas party I smiled long at another woman, looking directly into her eyes.  I don’t know her terribly well, but I like and respect her very much.  She smiled back at me.  We weren’t making passes at one another.  I wouldn’t have smiled at her like that if I hadn’t experienced the same thing in Egypt.

At the Salam Center, I saw the distractions we have in the West as simply that – distractions.  They do not improve our lives.  I have a deeper desire to concentrate on the essentials, on the important things like love, and to let the other things drop.  Living in that environment helped me to see which activities are distractions and which are life-bringing.

I have rarely felt such supreme happiness as I felt while at the Salam Center.  Sharing my gifts and my self with people who valued this made my days!  And I shared my happiness with God, talking about this in my moments alone with God.  I didn’t care about all the deficits at the Salam Center, things like broken doorknobs and wading through sand to get into the convent, feeling that joy, that happiness.  That is an essential.  That is something worth more than gold.  Well, you can find it at the Salam Center.

At the Salam Center, I felt like I belonged to a group, and that this was a group I wanted to belong to.  I respected their values and even shared most of them.  Those I didn’t share, like the kissing of icons, I could at least understand.  In this community I felt completely accepted, desired, and valued.  What can be better than that!

And so, here I am now, living again in Germany, profiting from the treasures – from the rubies I discovered in a center near a rubbish heap.  These treasures have the ability to enrich my daily life.  They also create a hunger in me for more.  Insha-Allah, Lord willing, I will return to the Salam Center, not only to share more of myself, but also to receive more of what these marvelous people have to share with me.


Rubies in the Rubbish – Day Fourteen


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A breakfast of foul again.  Since it’s Friday, most of the sisters are fasting, but some come down for tea.  We share photos, and I learn new words like “husband”, “wife”, “son”, “sister”.  All the sisters are telling me how much they’ll miss me.  And I will miss them.  Probably more than they could imagine.

In January I felt completely included in my Breakthrough group – a “secular” group.  I don’t believe anymore there is any such thing as “secular”.  We all have differing degrees of awareness of God within us, and differing degrees of openness to giving God room in our lives.  At any rate, this is my first time to feel overwhelmingly loved in, and to wholeheartedly want to belong to a Christian community.  I think I’ve been learning over the years to forgive the weaknesses, discrepancies and hypocrisies I’ve encountered among Christians.  But I’ve been unable to wholeheartedly embrace Christian groups.  Perhaps it’s my culture as an educated Westerner.  We have to qualify everything.  We’re always hedging!  How much do we want to really own the things we say we believe in and cherish?  Where do I really stand with my fellow Christians?  Are they my brothers and sisters?

I’ve always said in the past that I wouldn’t want to belong to a community.  All I’ve seen of communes and communities is either their breakdown because of relationship problems, or the abuse of authority.  But this community is a group that seems to work.  It’s a group of people I’ve felt completely accepted by, and they have healed broken pieces of my soul.  This community amazes me with their frank, unabashed, shameless love of Jesus.  Just as it’s natural for them to tell me they love me, they are unashamed to talk about their love for Jesus.  In fact, their faces take on a radiant expression as soon as they start talking about Jesus.  In this community, I find I’m not embarrassed to hear this.  In fact, I want to grow in this.  I want to be more shameless about what is important to me.  I am moved in a deeper way than I ever imagined possible to be included in this group.  I will savor this and let this feeling of inclusion grow in my heart.

The sisters and staff here are asking me when I’ll come back.  I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that it will be next year.

I share my photos with Sister Maria.  She corrects some of my misperceptions about things I’ve experienced.  When we get to the picture of St. Mary that Sister Amina sewed, Sister Maria tells me amazing things about some apparitions of Mary that she herself has seen.  I’ve written more about this in the section about the faith of the sisters.  Sister Maria is smashing even more of my Protestant convictions.  It is really true that the more you talk to people of other backgrounds and faiths, you will be changed by these encounters.  I think those who are open will be changed positively by conversing openly with others of different backgrounds who are also open.

It’s time for you to leave,” says Sr. Maria, just as I’m about to show her the last of the photos.  “I’m so sorry we couldn’t show you more of Cairo, but it wasn’t possible with the situation we have now.”

I’m not sure what she means by “situation”.

It’s not very safe here for you in Cairo right now,” she explains.  “We are concerned.”

I leave with Rohmy and Sr. Monika for the airport just after noon.  Outside each mosque we pass, the imam’s sermon is being broadcast.  Outside one mosque, I see that the road is blocked by people sitting on mats they’ve laid on the dirt road.  But each voice I hear sounds angry to me.  It’s a little scary.

Some of the nights, when the call to worship wakes me up, I’ve been thinking that the voice of the caller sounds strident, perhaps even angry.  But I’ve been wrong so many times, I would never venture to claim what the caller feels.  But it is a strong, commanding voice, and it does frighten me a little.  When I hear the sisters or Marsa singing Christian worship songs in Arabic as they work, it sounds cheerful, and it lifts my soul.

The other day after classes, Reda, Emed, the school director and I were sitting in the courtyard, talking.  We heard the call to worship, and I said, “I think they and we are praying to the same God.”  They responded by telling me that if a Muslim becomes a Christian, the family will try and kill that person.

“What about educated people?  Dentists, doctors, teachers?  Would they kill a son, for example, if he became a Christian? I ask.

“No, but they would certainly shun him, and there would be no more contact for the rest of his life.  That’s why it’s so hard for a Muslim to become a Christian.  There are, however, many Muslims who secretly follow Jesus.”

It’s hard for me to accept the idea that most adherents of a religion would shun or even kill their own children if they convert to another religion.  The nice Muslims I’ve met on my other trips to Egypt and Turkey?  It just doesn’t fit.  But then, the Muslims I’ve talked to are open-minded people, people who I imagine hold similar beliefs to mine, people who also are changed when they open themselves to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.  They wouldn’t shun their children if they converted, would they?  The thought makes me shudder.  Oh, well, leave it.  I’m an outsider, with little personal knowledge of the Muslim world.  I do know a lot more now about a certain Coptic community.  These are my thoughts as we continue on to the airport.

Sister Monika asks if I’ve left the lyrics to the song “You Raise Me Up” in the dining room.  I have.  “Do you have the song with you?” she asks.  “Could I hear it again?”  I do.  I take out my cell phone and play the song for Rohmy and her.  I tell her about the Breakthrough group I went to in January and how healing that was for me.  I tell her that being at the Salam Center has also been healing for me.  She understands my English, and she smiles.

We arrive, and I have to part from my brother and sister in Christ.  I only hope I can be as courageous as they are, in living my faith.  I pray for their safety and for the safety of their community.

I go into the airport, greet the check-in agent in Arabic, and tell him I love Egypt.  He smiles and says, “I hope we will see you here again.”  I wander around the duty-free shops.  My heart is burning with gratitude for this country, and for the community I’ve been living with for the past two weeks.

I buy a pair of earrings in one of the duty-free shops.  On the receipt, the sales clerk signs her name “Mary”.  I know that Muslims are also called “Mary”, but this clerk hasn’t covered her hair.  I take a chance with this nice young woman.

“Are you a Copt?” I ask.  Yes, she is.  I tell her a little about what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks.  I tell her my only regret is that the sisters were unable to find another CD from the Christian music group “Better Life” for me.  I ask Mary, “Do you know this group?”

Her eyes light up.  “Oh, yes!  In my car I have a CD in my car I listen to and sing along with all the time on my way to and from work.  I love them!”

“Do you think they might sell any of their CDs in the airport?”  I doubt this very much, but I did once see CDs from the Australian Christian group “Hillsong” in the Melbourne duty-free shop.

“No, I’m sure they won’t have any.  I wish so much I could help you.  If I could, I’d go myself and get you a CD, but there aren’t any here.”

We finish our transaction.  “God bless you,” she says to me.

At the gate I start talking to a mother and daughter.  “Are you Copts?” I ask.  They are.  I tell them I’ve just spent two weeks with Coptic sisters.  They are very interested.  They tell me that the Coptic sisters in Egypt are well known for their good works and kind hearts.

I tell these women that I think the Copts are brave people.

“Yes, we are,” they say.  “We’ve been through a lot.”

Rubies in the Rubbish – Day Thirteen


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Remember the chicken I saw in the sink, about to be killed?  It turns out they had to kill it because it had broken its leg.  Mariem said there was no way they could have saved it.  I feel better about eating this poor chicken now.

It hasn’t taken long for the chicken to become a topic of friendly joking.  They laugh about my sadness, but they also understand.   Sister Maria says she wouldn’t like to watch a chicken being killed either.  Today we will eat it, in gratitude that it gave its life for us.  And we will give our lives for others – we probably won’t die today, but we will have given our lives, which is also a sacrifice.

Today is party day.  My last day, for tomorrow I fly back to Germany.  I hand my clothes, now washed and dry, over to Marleen, and work one last day with the kindergarten kids.  Bolla’s still hyperactive, his breath smelling smelling of Doritos, but Jameena has finally learned which direction to draw the half-circle in for the “d”.

Marleen’s daughter Alvera is visiting the school today, so I get to meet her, and we walk back together to the Salam Center.

Marleen and Alvera

Marleen and her daughter Alvera

I love walking back because I can see so much more than in the car, but this is only the second time I’ve been able to do that.

banner/street barricade

A street barricade/banner for a street wedding reception

This time we come to one of those cloth barricades in the road.  On foot, we can walk through it and see why it is closing off the street.  On the other side, the barricade is a festive banner, and the street is full of garlands and lampions.  It’s a wedding, Marleen says.  I take pictures.  Someone sitting at the edge of the road, supervising the decoration, says “Welcome” to me.  What a wonderful country this is!

A lot of meat is being sold today.  Marleen tells me that poorer people have one or, if they can afford it, two meat days a week – Thursday and Sunday.  Today is Thursday.

Today I’m back in plenty of time to visit the center for the intellectually disabled today.  I walk into the center, unannounced, and find that not one of the workers here speaks English.  When I say the name “Tesoni Maria”, though, it’s my entry ticket, and they offer me a chair.  I sit down in a room of happy bedlam – two children today are celebrating their birthdays.  Most of the children are sitting in chairs or wheelchairs along the edges of the room.  I was once a social worker who worked with intellectually disabled children.  I have never seen such a high staff/client ratio as what I see today.  The room is swarming with women.  It seems they’re waiting for something to start happening.  Then I hear it – “Happy birthday to you…” in English, with an Arabic rhythm.  Everyone starts clapping.  At first the kids are pretty quiet, with only a few clapping.  Someone walks around the room, painting faces.  Before long, aides are twirling kids around in pirhouettes, dancing in line, holding kids and dancing with them.  What happy havoc!

Intellectually disabled children's center.

It’s party time! At Seeds of Hope, the intellectually disabled children’s center in the Salam Center hospital

I leave the room and explore the center a little.  I hear more music, the kind adults might listen to.  I find a room of teenagers who are also intellectually handicapped.  One boy is dancing frenetically to Arab pop music.  Some of the staff are also dancing.

One of the highlights of my first trip to Egypt was an evening dancing with the staff (male) of the ship on our Nile cruise.  Today I get to dance with the women and kids.  It’s wild, and I love it, even though I’m a bit embarrassed.  I don’t really know how to dance at all.  The women dance very sensually with each other.  This time I’m dancing with Coptic women.  They dance exactly the same way the Muslim men danced with me.  Last night Reda, one of the teachers I work with, said to me, “The Egyptians are all one.  And we have 4,000 years of unity.”

I love the unembarrassed sensuality of this dancing, but its overtness makes me, who was born with Baptist legalism in her blood, feel uneasy, as though I were transgressing some moral code.  In the evening Sister Maria, Sister Malaka and I chat about the day, and I talk about the dancing.  “It’s like at a wedding,” Sister Maria explains.  And this physical expression is very important for the handicapped children.  They need this outlet.”  I ask if men and women in Egypt dance this way together.   They look shocked at my question.  “No, Coptic men and women never dance together.  Muslims usually don’t either, but a few do.”

It’s party time for my classes with Reda, too.  He has allowed me to plan the lessons for the day, and I’ve planned a song, “You Raise Me Up,” sung by Josh Groban.  This song has a strong personal meaning for me.  It was chosen and played for me when I was at a Breakthrough workshop in January this year, working through a personal crisis.  My therapy group listened to this song with me, and laid their hands on my shoulders, head, and arms.  I felt then, for the first time that I can remember, a truly cherished part of a group.  It was an important time on my healing journey.

But, I quickly see that this song will not work for the fourth-graders.   It’s much too difficult for them.  No problem, I have another song in my smart phone, “I Will Love You Monday (365)”, by Aura Dione.  I’ve used this song with my German students to teach them the days of the week.  The fourth grade class here is now learning the days of the week.  But an unanticipated emergency occurs.  Faida, one of the kids, has cut his hand badly and needs medical treatment.  Reda leaves with him for the pharmacy, and I am left alone with the classroom.  I, who speak next to no Arabic.  I can’t even say, “I don’t speak Arabic.”  But I write the days of the week on the blackboard, and words like today, tomorrow, and yesterday.  We get through it all just fine.  One kid, Ibram, one of the brightest kids in the class, keeps asking me something I don’t understand.  Finally, he simply walks over to the board and writes the words in Arabic with blue chalk.

Thankfully, Reda and Faida return, and we can go into the fun part of the lesson.  But as soon as I play the music, the lesson threatens to disintegrate as the boys start dancing.  “They’re acting like they’re at a wedding,” Reda says.   But I play the song and point to the words on the board as they’re being sung.

I play “You Raise Me Up” for the fifth and sixth graders.  I am amazed that my unruly fifth grade class sits quietly and listens to the song.  One boy mimics playing the violin as Josh Groban sings the refrain and another acts like a schmaltz singer, but generally, the kids are amazingly receptive to the song.  “Good, good,” they say afterwards.  Nessma, the girl who is most disruptive, asks, “How old is Josh Groban?”  I say, “Thirty-seven.”  I’ve no idea if that is true, but Reda is thirty-seven, and I want her to get an idea of the age difference.  “I hope he will wait for me to grow up, because I want to marry him,” she says.

The same thing happens with the sixth graders.  They love the song.  They are open to its emotionality.  And that is precisely what I love about Egyptians.  They are not afraid of their soft feelings.  For them, saying, “I love you,” and “You’re beautiful” are as natural as saying, “I’m hungry.”  I need this frank openness, this candor.  Their openness opens me up, and they respond.  The Egyptians seem to love me, and then I respond with love them, then they love me because I love them.  I love these kids.

I add a game to the sixth grade song activity.  I’ve cut out phrases from the song, and lay them out randomly on the table.  They are to walk single-file around the table as the song is played, picking up the phrases they hear.  The one who picks up the most pieces will get a prize.  But they cheat!  They pick up phrases out of turn, or grab them away from each other.  Soon, it’s a wild free-for-all, with mad grabbing and ripping of papers.   But I’m happy, because they loved the lesson.