In my post about our visit to Kidamali (http://www.timkwrites.com/blog/sunday-worship-in-kidamali) I wrote about how moved I was when I heard that over 70 children in the parish had been helped through scholarships from money given by Shepherd of the Hills. We visited three schools on our trip. Image and Bomalang’ombe Secondary Schools and the Nursing School at Ilula Hospital. I learned more about the scholarship program on these visits.
The day after we visited Kidamali we had a full day planned. We were going to Ilula Hospital, Image Parish and Image Secondary School. Our guide for the day was Frank Mkocha who works in the Bega Kwa Bega office at the Iringa Diocese. His job is working with the scholarship program. As part of his job he visits every school every term to verify that children receiving scholarships are actually at the school.
At Image Secondary School we arrived late, but lunch was still waiting for us. After lunch, we were serenaded by the students and we were given a tour of the school. As were getting ready to leave we noticed that several students had decorated our dusty bus.
As I was getting on the bus, Frank pointed out a message that was written on the bus. “That’s Swahili for ‘wash me.’”
At Bomalang’ombe our guide was a young man from Mwatasi, the village we were staying at. He had attended Bomalang’ombe and he told me he was interested in seeing the school again. There had been a forest fire in the area that had come close to the school and he wanted to see how bad it had been. The fire had been very close to the school; we could see the burned areas on several sides of the school when we were given a tour. One of the teachers told me they had been out with water when the fire was getting close.
At the end of our time at the school I was talking to another teacher. He said it would be good if we met again sometime. I agreed, but I wasn’t sure if I would be coming to that school again because it is a long way from Kidamali. So, I said if we didn’t meet again in this world we meet in the next. He burst out laughing and I had to join in.
At Ilula Hospital we toured the nursing school that they had just started up. It is in its second year, so there are two classes of students. We were allowed into the classrooms and saw the first-year students and the second year students. As we were talking with the class of second-year students we asked how many of them were receiving scholarships from Bega Kwa Bega. They had the ones receiving scholarships stand up.
Every student in that class except for one stood up.
Scholarships are important and they’re actually a triple gift. First, they are a gift to the student to allow them to get the education they deserve. Secondly, they are a gift to society. These students will have an impact on their world, whether as a nurse or in some other capacity. They will be a force for good. And finally, they are a gift to the school. At every school we went to they talked about how scholarship money helps their budgets. Would Ilula Hospital have been able to start a nursing school if there had been only one student? What an amazing gift a scholarship is.
If you are interested in making a donation for scholarships check with your local Saint Paul Area Synod ELCA Lutheran Church to see if they have a companion parish or you can send donations to: Bega Kwa Bega c/p Saint Paul Area Synod, 105 University Ave. West, St. Paul, MN 55103.
This is the blog post that I had intended to write last week for Valentine’s Day before I got sick.
When the final stage of Debbie’s battle with breast cancer started we didn’t realize it. The valentine I wrote about last week (http://www.timkwrites.com/blog/a-valentine-at-last6034764) was the last valentine I gave her. While Debbie couldn't get me a valentine at that time she has been sending me valentines since then.
That summer my daughter’s boyfriend was visiting and as he had never seen Lake Superior before we decided to take him to Minnesota’s North Shore to see it. The loss of Debbie still weighed heavily upon me. It was hard to believe that she was gone.
Most places on the North Shore have memories for me of being there with Debbie. Debbie loved the North Shore, it is where she seemed most able to relax. She loved the different hikes, looking for rocks on beaches, and eating good food. One time we were on a beach and I found a stone that was shaped like the top of a tulip flower. I spent a bit of time looking and eventually I was able to find an oval stone that was colored green that I could use as a stem. Later, when we were home and Debbie was getting ready for the start of the upcoming school year on a day when I usually would give her flowers I put the two stones together and gave her a rock flower.
On our trip that summer one day we were hiking the Cascade River. This aptly named river plunges down to Lake Superior in a series of waterfalls. It was the last hike Debbie and I took together on the North Shore. Usually we would hike the trail from the bottom up. Because of construction we had to park at the campground and join the river trail at its top. At the bottom, close to where the river flows into Lake Superior, the kids all took off their shoes and were wading in the river. I was hopping from rock to rock. At one point I saw a bigger rock that was sitting in the river. I walked over to it and gave it a little push into the current just to see what would happen. Not much as it turned out; the water just flowed around it. I pondered whether I had changed anything by my little alteration of the river. As I turned back towards the shore, there in the river was a stone in the shape of a heart. I realized that Debbie had put it there for me as an echo of my earlier flower gift – it was the valentine she hadn’t been able to give me in February.
After that Debbie has left me several hearts. On Valentine’s Day when I took out our dog, Lucy, right next to the path sitting on top of the snow a couple seeds had formed a heart.
On Christmas Eve, I took Lucy for a walk. The day before we had some slushy snow fall and it had melted on the ground. The temperature had fallen. Any depressions in the ground had collected water which had frozen with a white border around it. They were all circular. Then I came across one in the shape of a heart.
This last summer I was on the North Shore again. My family had a family reunion up there as we’ve done in the past. We had made the effort to make it happen this summer as it would probably be my dad’s last trip there. We were all staying at Cobblestone Cabins. One day I went walking down to the rock beach by the lake. I was thinking it was possible that I might find a heart from Debbie.
I wandered among the rocks watching the waves from the lake. I saw a rock with two rounded edges on the top. I picked it up thinking this must be from Debbie. As I looked more closely at it I realized it was more of a bean shape. I was hoping for a heart. Reluctantly, not wanting to give up, but realizing it wasn’t really a heart I set the stone back down. I took a couple steps to the lake and watched the waves for a little bit before turning around to go back up to the cabin. Looking down I laughed, there was a rock with a heart on it that was clearly not a bean.
What do all these hearts mean? Why am I getting hearts when other people who have lost someone don’t get anything? I guess that Debbie felt that she still had something left to say to me while others who have left don’t feel that need. What do I think she has to say?
I think she is expressing her love for me. Sometimes it was hard for her to do that, she was more of an “actions speak louder than words” person. After I was over the initial shock of her being gone when I remembered our life together I would often think about things I did wrong or could have done better. So, I also take the hearts to mean let that go, it didn’t change her love.
In any case, whether these are messages from the beyond or just coincidences, know that your love impacts this world even beyond the time you are physically present.
This was originally posted on June 21, 2016. I’m not feeling well, so I thought today was a good day to repost this.
My tale is a tale of doom. It was a little first grader who doomed my plan. Or so I thought before I learned what doom really felt like.
Let me explain my plan to you. In my writing class at the Loft before Valentine’s Day as part of an exercise I had written a poem.
Here, take my heart of stone,
let me be your rock.
Here, take my heart of glass,
but don’t break it.
Here, take my heart of cotton candy,
I’m sweet on you.
Here, take my artichoke heart,
it’s good for you.
Here, take my heart of gas,
let’s refuel ourselves.
Forgive me for not giving you my heart of water,
you don’t need any tears.
Here, take my heart to heart
and let me know what I need to know.
Here, take my heart of the matter,
I love you.
It was a first draft and while I liked some lines as a whole I wasn’t very pleased with it. Still, I thought maybe with a few changes it would make a good Valentine’s Day card for my wife. So I planned that on Friday morning, Valentine’s Day, while I was out on the other side of the Twin Cities I would stop at a certain store. I’ve shopped there before and my wife always liked the cards I get her from there. My plan was in place. Get the card, rewrite the poem into the card and give it to her at dinner.
My wife, Debbie, was teaching first grade at the Minnesota Waldorf School. A unique approach that Waldorf Schools have with their teachers is that the teacher moves grades with the class. Debbie had just finished taking a class from first through eighth grade and was starting the cycle anew with first grade this year. Over the summer she began a battle breast cancer. She went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment with good results. After Christmas she was back to working full time.
That came to a halt at the beginning of February when she went to see the eye doctor who discovered she had a detached retina. To fix this they had to do surgery. They put a permanent band around the eyeball. Then they went into her eyeball with tools so small they don’t need to make an incision and fixed the retina. Finally they put a gas bubble inside her eye to hold the retina in place. For the next day Debbie had to look down so the bubble would float to the back of her eye where the retina is. Being able to see clearly out of one eye and fuzzily through a bubble in the other eye was disconcerting. So Debbie was taking time off work to recover.
In the meantime, the first graders had been doing a block of lessons based on circus acts. This would culminate in a performance for the school and parents on Friday afternoon. The day before the performance a teacher heard some first graders talking. One of them said, “Wouldn’t it be great if Mrs. Kane could see us do our circus?” Debbie, aka Mrs. Kane, heard about the comment. Of course she then had to make the effort to go. And this is what doomed me.
My wife was still unable to drive and enlisted our daughter to get her to the school for the performance. Unfortunately, that day our daughter was with me in the morning on another end of town. I could get her back in time, but would be unable to stop at the store to pick up a card as I had planned.
Now a first grader had unknowingly thwarted me. Was I to be doomed to looking for a Valentine’s Day card in the remnants of Target’s card section, prowling through the picked over cards at Walgreens? Not to mention that I now had to get to work and between getting home and getting dinner I would have time for only one stop to get a card. How could I escape this doom? Then I realized, the Co-op has a good selection of cards. I could stop there, buy food for dinner and look for a card. If they didn’t have any Valentine’s Day cards I could always get a good blank card. My plan was saved.
When I got to the Co-op I discovered the card selection was much bigger in my memory than in real life. They didn’t have a section of Valentine’s Day cards. And what’s more the only blank cards that would work were ones we had already bought and used in the past, so Debbie had already seen them. I was doomed to a substandard blank card and there was no time to go anywhere else. There was nothing I could do. I picked the card that was the least bad for my purposes and did the rest of my shopping.
The Co-op has three cash registers. That day all three lanes were full. There must be a Murphy’s Law for checkout lanes. Something along the lines of: As soon as you pick a lane the other open lanes will fill with people and someone in your lane will cause a problem that the person on the register will be unable to solve by themselves. That day was not an exception to that rule. I stood in line waiting and surreptitiously eyeing the people in the other lanes who had gotten in line after me, but had edged closer to checking out than me. Tiring of that I started reading the checkout magazine covers. That was brief because, of course, the co-op doesn’t carry the trashy tabloids that we all read while we wait in the checkout lines. Meanwhile the problem shopper still hadn’t resolved anything, so my gaze wandered around the store. Inevitably I was drawn back to the Card Racks of Doom when what to my wandering eyes should appear, but a red card with perhaps a heart on it. Merry Christmas! Maybe this card could work.
Still in the cycle of doom I went back to the racks and looked at the card expecting something weird that would in no way fit with what I had written. Instead I found a card that could not have been better.
The front of the card was a picture all in red of flowers forming a heart shaped frame. In the frame are two birds facing each other. One bird has a branch in its beak as if to give it to the other bird. Below the picture there was a verse by Pablo Neruda. The inside of the card featured a smaller version of the bird from the outside holding the branch in its beak. The inside caption read, “My heart is yours”. If I started looking a year in advance if I could not have found a card with a caption that would fit my theme of “Here take my heart” better than that. My plan was saved. I bought the card and wrote the revised version of the poem inside the card.
Here, take my heart of stone,
let me be your rock.
Here, take my heart of glass,
but don’t break it.
Here, take my artichoke heart,
it’s good for you.
Here, take my heart of the matter,
which is that I love you always.
When you’ve taken my heart
don’t think me heartless because
it’s full of the love of you.
So, here, take my sweetheart
and be mine.
I gave her the card at dinner. Because of her eye surgery I had to read the card aloud to her. After I explained the circumstances of how it came to be written as an exercise in my class she smiled and said, “You can practice on me anytime”.
Unfortunately, she was wrong. That’s when I found out what doom really feels like. Eight days after Valentine’s day I brought Debbie into the hospital emergency room. The cancer was aggressively attacking the lining of her brain. While there were some glimmers of hope they turned out to be just grasping at straws. It became clear that we should focus on keeping Debbie as comfortable as possible in her remaining time. Debbie entered hospice care and came home to be surrounded by love and family.
The card ended up being Debbie’s last valentine. I found myself stunned at how quickly anytime turned into out of time.
A quick note before I start: I’ll be doing a presentation at Shepherd of the Hills to show pictures and talk about my trip to Tanzania on Thursday Feb. 16 at 6:30 in the evening.
About twenty-three and a half years ago I proposed to Debbie and she accepted. I had no idea what came next, but Debbie was organized to be thinking about things. It wasn’t too much later she was telling me about this neat woman she knew who was pastor at a nearby church. Debbie thought we should think about having her perform our ceremony. So that Sunday we went to Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Shorview and I got to meet Pastor Deborah. Pastor Deborah ended up marrying Debbie and me later that year.
That’s how I started going to Shepherd of the Hills. Having grown up Catholic it was a switch to be going to a Lutheran church. I suppose my feeling was similar to Minneapolis football fans when the Vikings began in the NFL and they had to switch their allegiance from the Packers. But we’re more alike than we are different.
Shepherd has become my church home and rather than just attending I volunteered and became involved. I have many fond memories of Alicia and Andrew in their various activities or shows. I was floored by the amount of support we received after Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
There has been some turmoil there over the years and I haven’t always agreed with some things that were said or done. But I realize that God has been looking for the perfect church for over 2,000 years and hasn’t found one, so I don’t think I need to have the perfect church.
When I was in a grief support group for a while after died they mentioned that a lot of people stopped going to their churches after a death. I hadn’t even considered that with Shepherd. There was so much love and support there. But I can see why the memories might be overpowering for someone in grief. It still hits me some Sundays. I learned pretty quick I needed to sit on the aisle where I could get out quick if I was starting to cry.
After so much time I’ve built up a lot of relationships that I treasure. One of which is the feeling of having a closer relationship with God. It’s a blessing to me to have been able to have Shepherd as my church home.
I encourage everyone to find a church home and become involved. You’re welcome at Shepherd if you don’t have a church of your own. (Look for me, I’ll be sitting on the aisle way over on the right.)
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.