Nutrition and Education Projects

I apologize, I’ve been horribly behind on this blog.  Hopefully most of you are also following us on Facebook, where I’m better about frequent updates and pics.  Most of the MKMF projects will be posted to the MKMF Facebook page – so be sure to “like” the site to see it on your news feed!

In short, we’ve been pretty busy!   Shortly after my last blog, we also visited Mwithumweru where the school arranged a meeting with the head science teacher and some of the other science and math teachers.  They were very excited about our plans for a math and science club, and will be the other site besides Kaaga where we will start the program.

We have also been busy planning for programs at the community library (at the School for the Deaf) over the Christmas break.  We hope to revive an interest in the reading programs at the library, especially the Reading Stars program that Gwen Kidera started last fall.  We will also have events for a couple of hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays during break in math, science, reading, and possibly even drama.  I think we have some great ideas, just working out the details and cost estimates for supplies.  I’m looking forward to it – it’s going to be fun!

A couple of weeks ago, Dorcas accompanied me on my first visit to the Meru District (level 5) hospital where MKMF provides formula (Nestle NAN and pre-NAN) for babies that cannot be breastfed – usually when the mother is very ill, has AIDS, or has passed away.  There is also a high prevalence of malnutrition cases at this hospital – it is the largest government hospital in the region, and the worst cases are sent here from the surrounding rural areas.  I was given a tour by various charge nurses and the supply officer, showing me the areas the formula was used and the ward where the malnourished children were taken care of.  I had mixed feelings at the hospital – at first glance it was a far cry from the facilities we are graced with in America, but it was strangely peaceful as we walked through the manicured outdoor areas between the wards, with families stretched out on blankets in the grass, birds happily flitting between perches, and the sound of tropical plants rustling in the refreshing breeze.  I guess I had lived in a concrete dwelling and fought the battle with the red rainy season mud long enough to recognize that the rooms were actually very clean – it’s just that plaster walls and concrete floors never look as pristine and polished as the tile and frequently-painted rooms foreigners come to expect in hospitals.  The staff cared about their patients, and took precautions such as having a changing room at the threshold of the newborn and preemie area to put special clogs on and remove lab coats to prevent passing along any infectious diseases.  I had to chuckle at the familiarity when the pediatric charge nurse pulled the supply officer aside on our rounds to explain she was behind on paperwork because they were swamped and undermanned.  Yep, that’s nursing everywhere!

But the enormity of the work to be done was daunting!  There were abandoned children that had been cared for by the staff for years.  The need for more prenatal and nutrition education was apparent in cases like a tiny 2-month old baby that was pulled from the brink of starvation after its mother tried to feed it solid food.

But how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Gwen started research by interviewing mothers/caregivers of malnourished children in the hospital.  I took the work she was doing and built on it, and created a couple of forms in cooperation with the nutrition staff to collect the data we need while reducing the burden as much as possible on them.  I will be working primarily with a postgraduate nutrition volunteer, and tried my best to make it his project as much as mine, hopefully something that will benefit him as he moves forward in his career.  I delivered the final version of the forms that he helped me develop last week, and will make weekly visits to help and collect data.  One of the biggest things we hope to collect is the region these mothers are coming from, so we can concentrate educational activities in the area.  (On a side note, I met with another missionary last week that just coordinated a grant for a pilot project to train locals to conduct nutrition education in rural areas, so there is potential for cooperation in the future.)

We started our site visits for water and sanitation projects at Riburi Primary, located deep in the forests north of Meru.  I won’t duplicate all the photos here, but please visit the MKMF facebook page to see the wonderful pictures from that memorable trip.  We will be visiting a couple more this week.

Riburi Children

Children on break at Riburi Primary showing their enthusiasm!

Besides that, Dale has been busy giving class 8 kids math assistance for their test preparations for the all-important national exams.  He’s happy to actually get to teach!

We’ll have several projects that could really use donations over the next few months.  The sanitation and water projects are huge additions to quality of life for students and teachers as well as contribute to health and safety.  We also will be providing small incentives for participation in the upcoming library events.  Something students need is a math kit, consisting of pencils, protractors, dividers, rulers, and compass for geometry construction projects.  They only cost about 165 Ksh – just under $2.  We hope to purchase a few of these as the “grand prize” for frequent participation.  For younger children, we’ll be offering things like pencils, pens, erasers and rulers.  If you want to help, visit the Seeds of Grace website (our fundraising partner)…it’s an easy way to contribute to helping children succeed in their education!

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First School Visits

Dale and I were eager to hit the ground running, so we started work yesterday at the MKMF office.  Dorcas is the current project administrator, and the only employee of MKMF besides the security/groundskeeper Jimmy.  Dorcas gave us a wonderful orientation, listing off the projects and facilities MKMF is involved with.  She also helped us know who the foundation board members were and their individual areas of expertise.  We started strategizing about our priorities, and which facilities to visit first.

As I understand it, in Kenya, children attend nursery school for 3 years (A, B, C), then Primary School incorporates Class 1 (first grade) through Class 8.  At the end of their Class 8 year, students take an important national exam which can determine (along with performance in classes 1-8) the level of Secondary School – same as our high school – (district, provincial, and national) they are eligible for.  The national schools are better funded, and therefore offer better educational resources.  Meru has a national boys school, and will soon have a girls school.  This will be very good for the region.  Public education is tuition-free (only since 2008 for secondary school), but parents may have to pay as much as 5,000 Ksh a year (about $60) for uniforms and supplies.  Many laborers only earn about 100 Ksh a day, so this expense can be a big burden for some families, especially ones with several children.  Even the bright students that qualify for the few national secondary schools can find it difficult to go because of additional expenses such as boarding.  MKMF has programs to help students get the best education possible, by helping with uniform costs and providing scholarship funds to send students to the higher level schools.

Kaaga Primary

The flagship for MKMF projects appears to be Kaaga Primary, just down the road from the office.  It is one of the first locations for toilet and water projects, as well as a library.  It is also the location we will first launch math and science club activities.  We got to meet with the principal and several of his staff today, including the chairman of the board.  It was a wonderful conversation, and they were excited to hear our proposals to help improve interest and performance in science and math.  They proudly showed us how well Kaaga is already performing on exam pass rates – only one other public school in the district had higher scores.  But they also admitted science and math were neglected areas, and it was hard to get students excited about these subjects.  Hopefully we can help with that!

Kaaga Primary Library

The Kaaga primary school library funded by MKMF


Children running to use the bathrooms and water during a quick breaktime. Shortly after this, the younger children discovered me, and were clamoring to get a handshake and hi-five!

Kaaga is in the middle of a big construction project to add a kitchen, dining area, and some administrative offices.  Parents pitched in to raise the funds.  Currently the cook prepares lunchtime porridge over a wood fire in a small wooden shack.  The new facility would have a chimney and much more preparation room.  I was amazed at the resourcefulness to bring in income to supplement the meager public funds.  On the grounds there was a banana plantation and a fish pond to raise tilapia.  The goods are sold to support the school.  What a great idea!

Banana & bathrooms

A small banana plantation next to the bathrooms MKMF helped fund and build.

Fish pond

The tilapia fish pond used as a source of income for the school.

While we were there, Dale made the request (at Stephen’s urging) to use the sports field for running.  It’s about a 400m loop around the field, more than adequate for him to get in good exercise.  It’s much safer than trying to jog on the chaotic and often muddy roads near our home.  They were happy to accommodate – so who knows, maybe he’ll inspire a running club!

sports field

The scenic sports field where Dale gets his morning exercise

sports field

Beautiful trees lining the sports field


Kaaga School for the Deaf

Next we went to visit Kaaga School for the Deaf, just a little ways down the road.  This is the location of the community library built by MKMF to be available to students and families in the region.  We stopped off at the office and briefly met the principal (Headmaster) as she was on her way to a meeting.  The Assistant Headmaster was very accommodating, and since we arrived during a staff tea-time, brought us into meet all the teachers at the school.  We introduced ourselves, and the teachers went around the room telling us their names, then we got to sit and talk with the teachers around us about their school and also what we were doing with the foundation.  It was a great learning experience on both ends.  One of the first things I sought to learn was some signs – I was happy to learn that even though the language is slightly different, many signs are the same as they are in ASL.  Waaaaay back in college – one of my cross-country teammates had a deaf younger brother, and he taught me several words.  Surprisingly, I still remember quite a bit, and look forward to learning more so we can communicate with the deaf children we come in contact with while on the campus and at church (Kaaga Methodist actually has a deaf service and signing classes).

A mural by the school entrance

A mural by the school entrance

beautiful grounds

Beautiful well-manicured grounds typical of the schools

After tea, we met the librarian at the community library and perused the holdings.  I was impressed – there are some really good books there, and some we can really make use of in Riley’s education.  Dale and I also grabbed several Kenyan education resources for national exams in agriculture, history, math, and science.  I’ve learned a ton reading the agriculture book, and look forward to reading the history to help me understand the Kenyan background better.  The other books are great for us to see what students are tested on, so we can better target our educational activities.  I really enjoyed talking with the librarian, and he offered some ideas in engaging students at the library over the break.  The school year ends in a couple of weeks, then won’t resume until January, so we have an opportunity for some community projects if we can get plans together in time.

On the way out, we passed a school bus with the slogan “Disability is not Inability” on the back.  Love it!

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On to Meru

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few days since we arrived!  It’s going to take a bit to catch everyone up!

We left Nairobi for Meru on Wednesday.  The drive gave us a great view of the central business district of Nairobi, which had some beautiful architecture for some of the skyscrapers.  I was really glad to leave the city though – between burning trash, heavy traffic, and old cars coughing black fumes, the air was causing my throat and eyes to burn.  There was actually a six-lane divided highway between Nairobi and the turnoff for Thika (where Elspeth Huxley’s story took place).  A very unusual feature for such a highway was the numerous speed humps at crosswalks, so pedestrians could safely cross.  More work is still being done by Chinese contractors, including several overhead crosswalks.

Nairobi Central Business District

The Nairobi Central Business District

Nairobi Drive

The beautiful view after the road narrowed just past the turn for Thika.

Crossing the Tana River, an important river for Kenya.

Rice fields in the Mwea region southwest of Embu

The road narrowed to four lanes and then two.  Even though the distance was actually pretty short, speed humps all through the route really slowed things down.  We stopped at the halfway point (timewise) in Embu at a beautiful hotel/restaurant called Izaak Walton Inn.  There were several guest cottages surrounding a beautiful grassy area with tables – like I would imagine a British country club.  We ate a buffet with lentils, roasted goat meat, spinach, and chapati.  My stomach was starting to feel a bit uneasy by this point.  As careful as we were, I probably got something in my tummy in Nairobi my body didn’t like.  I had hoped I was just hungry, but felt worse after eating.

The peaceful sanctuary at Izaak Walton Inn in Embu where we ate lunch.

Beautiful trees at Izaak Walton Inn

The mountain roads between Embu and Meru were absolutely beautiful with steep hillsides covered in banana trees, coffee, tea, and maize crops.  Several streams ran at the base of the hills.  We zipped along the curvy roads, then leapfrogged between the endless speed bumps in the busy villages.  By now I was feeling pretty sick, and the perpetual smell of burning trash, winding curves and lurching from speed bumps just about did me in.  I was eying the sides of the road, thinking how awful it would be to lose my lunch in front of all the locals.  (People were walking beside the road everywhere, including the countryside.)  I was trying to take in the beauty, but earnestly counting down the kilometers to when I could get sick in the privacy of a home!  Finally we pulled into our house, and I emptied my stomach before the van was even unloaded!

It was already late in the afternoon, and we had a lot of appliances to buy before we could be self-sufficient, so Ravena and our driver took us straight to the local supermarket Nakumat.  I felt terrible, but wanted to be on this trip, so piled in the van with a backup plastic bag.  Before we made it a quarter of the way through the store, I ended up using it.  Fun!  (One day, when we tell our many stories of our time in Africa, I know we’ll all get a good laugh out of this experience!)  Oh well…the next several hours were absolute misery.  Thankfully a chemist (pharmacy) was just next door to Nakumat, so I was able to get Immodium and a couple of other aids to get me through the next couple of days.  I hadn’t been that sick in a VERY long time.  Thankfully Dale and Riley have so far been just fine.

So really yesterday (Friday) was the first day I really got to feel like myself in Meru.  I love our house – it’s almost as big as what we had in Oklahoma.  The downstairs has a large living room, with an archway to a dining room.  We have a huge pantry and a kitchen with a door that leads to the back where our laundry lines are.  We have banana trees, and sugar cane in the back and side of the house.  On the other side of the hedge are chickens and little chicks that adventure to our side every now and then.  (I love waking up to the sound of a rooster crowing in the morning!)  Upstairs we have three bedrooms.  Our master bedroom has its own bathroom and small balcony.  We discovered this morning our spare room (soon to be library/office/school room/guest room) has a great view of the mountains.  We could barely pick out a rare cloudless view through the banana trees of Mt Kenya this morning.

A country road from Meru town in on the left, the gate to our compound is on the right. You can see banana and avocado trees right by the gate.

Our house

This is our two-story house. It’s actually quite large, with living room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, three bedrooms, and an awesome balcony for the master bedroom. We’re very grateful for this blessing!

Mubichi Garden

There is a pathway between our complex and the Mubichi home through a garden. You can see a poinsettia tree on the upper left, just now turning red. Stephen Mubichi has showered us with fresh produce from the garden and pick of the day from local markets. We are eating very well!

The last couple of days, we have just been trying to set up house.  The Mubichi family has graciously furnished us with a kitchen table, living room furniture, beds, and dishes, which has really helped us out!  We’ve made several trips to Nakumat, buying everything from appliances to mattresses, lamps, and groceries.  The house is finally starting to resemble less of an echo chamber and piles of suitcases to a livable home!  Dorcas from MKMF was invaluable in assisting us with our second shopping trip, recommending the better items.  She also helped us get set up with new sim cards for our phones so we can rejoin the world.

Yesterday we had even more assistance from Doreen, the Mubichi’s house assistant.  She helped us clean the floors, our borrowed dishes, and most importantly, taught us the most efficient way to do laundry by hand.

So – a snapshot of life today…I awoke with sun streaming through our window and the crowing of the roosters next door.  Alexia (Mubichi’s granddaughter) showed up early to play with Riley, along with several neighbor kids.  The courtyard area is alive with laughter and various games.  They played nearly all day with the box our refrigerator came in, and made a temporary ball with a dahlia flower!  Dale and I explored the Mubichi property this morning, and came back at their insistence with bananas, potatoes, and cabbage leaves.  We are still waiting for the IT guy to give us the information we need to tag onto the router here.  It’s taking a long while!  So hopefully I will actually get to publish what I’m writing soon.

Riley's Friends

Riley made fast friends with the other children living on the compound. There are two boys about his age, plus Alexia, the little ring-leader!

Children Playing

The box for our refrigerator was put to very good use – it was worn to tattered threads by the end of the day!

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First Kenya Experiences

We finally arrived in Kenya!  I can’t say how happy I am that all this airplane travel is complete.  Thanks to Ravena who met us at the gate, things went very smoothly at the Nairobi airport.  She guided us right past the long line of people waiting to get visas to another gate that was completely vacant.  Luggage pickup was super easy too.  Our driver David was waiting with a van to take our many items to Ravena’s house.

It sounds like our best chance to see wildlife outside the parks was actually right next to the airport!  There is an area where it is common to see giraffes and zebras, but not today!  But as the sun rose we could make out the hallmark shape of acacia trees…yep, we’re really in Kenya now!

The drive to Ravena’s was baptism by fire to Kenyan roadways.  I was sitting beside our driver in the front, and thought for sure we were going to rear-end the car in front of us – people are always trying to cut in, so many keep within a centimeter of the next car’s bumper to keep them out.  We passed a couple of private schools where parents were dropping off their children.  Between the narrow roads and drivers unwilling to let anyone in, we were at a complete standstill for half an hour.  I was happy to finally arrive at the house to let ourselves absorb where we were.  But the first order of business after a quick breakfast was a nap!  We only got a couple of hours of sleep on the plane, so were dead tired.

Everything was pretty much as we expected from previous pictures.  Ravena’s house is very nice, within a guarded compound of homes.  Strangely, these nice homes are within sight of one of the largest slums in the world.  I’ll mention a few things that were different for us.  For one, there were a ton of mosquitoes!  They were all over the wall, and especially in the bathrooms.  When I would open the lid to the toilet, several would fly out.  For a mosquito magnet like me, that was a bit unnerving.  But I didn’t get a single bite!  Unlike the stateside mosquitoes that flocked to me, these seemed uninterested.  Ravena informed me that only mating females were bloodthirsty.  What a relief!  We later read in the paper a discussion of the surging mosquito numbers in that area of town, and concerns of an epidemic of disease transmitted by them.  So it was good to know that was abnormal, but hoping officials will be successful in their attempts to curb the population explosion.

Our luggage outside Ravena’s house. The house had its own gate and courtyard for security, plus the houses in this area were in a gated compound with 24-hour guards. We’re finding this level of security is very commonplace. Even customers at shopping centers have to go through a check with wands before they can enter.


One of the bedrooms at Ravena’s house, with the necessary mosquito netting.

Another difference is the shower and bathroom setup.  I’m grateful we actually have stools to sit on, unlike the holes in the floor I’ve used in other locations!  The shower is no-frills – just a drain in the corner of the bathroom.  There is a switch by the bathroom light switch to turn on a heater, which heats water as it comes through the shower.  Otherwise, there is no hot water in the house.

We got our first shopping experience at a shopping center/mall a few blocks from Ravena’s home.  We bought some shower shoes and got to scout out prices on the appliances we would need.  Thankfully, it looks like we will be able to set up our home for an affordable amount.

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October Update

Well, it looks like I’m well overdue for an update!  The last couple of months have seemed like an absolute blur!  Things finally slowed down the last couple of days, leaving me time to actually sit down and write.

Our last few days in Oklahoma were crazy!  I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to visit with those of you who wanted one last lunch together.  I had also really hoped to make a trip to Missouri to see my high school friends and long-time mentors again before we left, but just ran out of time.  Maybe on some return trip!

We headed out to Colorado with two purposes – one was to spend time with family members we might not see again for a long time, especially as a family.  The other was to sort through our belongings, many of which were just thrown into boxes from previous trips to get them out of our Oklahoma house.  We were working practically nonstop going through boxes to pick out items we needed to take, designate things for another garage sale, and consolidate what was going to stay in the basement of Dale’s parents’ house for our eventual return.  It was exhausting!

On top of that, we were scrambling to finish preparations such as medical insurance overseas, banking transactions, and the huge pile of things that had to be updated before me left the USA permanently.  It was a lot of work to move overseas with the military…this has been at least 3 times harder so far!  We did thankfully fit in the trip I was looking forward to all year – a short two-night camping trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Before we knew it, it was time to board a plane for Nevada.  We needed to visit Dale’s grandmother in Boulder City who will soon be 90 years old…this may be the last time we see her.  We had originally planned to fly out from Colorado, then back again to depart for Africa from Denver, but actually found incredible rates from Las Vegas to Frankfurt, so postponed the visit to our last leg in the USA.

We’ve still been busy with last-minute coordination, but for the first time in several months have been able to slow down and catch our breath.  We hiked the Old Railroad trail overlooking Lake Mead, and also visited Hoover Dam just down the road.  Grandma Troup was able to watch Riley for us one night, so Dale and I got a much-needed date night in Las Vegas.  (Our 14th anniversary was on August 1st, but we didn’t get to celebrate, we were so deep in preparations to move.)  It was a great time, but I still prefer the quiet small-town feel of Boulder City to the big city.

Yesterday we were busy trying to find some clothing items we desperately needed to replace before we left the USA, such as a 3-season raincoat, backpack, boots, and hats to hat to shield us from the high-altitude equator sun!  The next couple of days will be busy repacking everything, making sure everything will be within weight and size requirements for this airline.  And of course, we’ll be spending time with Grandma Troup.

That’s about it for now.  We’ll be leaving for Frankfurt Monday, and will spend some time with our dear German friends in our old village.  I’m glad Riley will finally be old enough to remember most of this trip – he was practically raised in Germany.  We leave Frankfurt again on the 22nd, to arrive in Kenya very early on the 23rd.  It’s going fast!

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Jesus Wept

I lost another young friend to cancer yesterday.  She was about my age, a nurse with compassion and zeal for life.  Since we formed our cancer support group for young women over 6 years ago, and each year brings heart-wrenching loss as I watch fellow warriors fall long before their time.  It’s even harder for me since most of those women had young children that would have to grow up without their mother.  As a mother myself, it broke my heart.

This is several of our SHOUT members in 2007, shortly after we formed. Since then, many of these beautiful women have passed away, leaving loved ones and young children behind.

One of the hardest things for any Christian to answer is if there is truly a loving God, how can He let this happen?  It is even harder to accept when the victim of an accident or tragedy is so young.  Why doesn’t God intervene?  I wrestled with this for years with loss after painful loss, then I finally realized…He did.

Earlier this year, I led a Bible study on the book of John.  It was eye-opening for me as we went verse-by-verse, looking deep into the culture and original Greek language for the richer content often overlooked.  I spent a lot of time contemplating the passage in John 11 when Lazarus died.  Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead (verses 4 and 11), so why did He weep?  Many people concluded it was out of empathy for the sorrow of His loved ones.  I think this was in part true, but my review of the Greek brought out a puzzling passage.

In verse 33, NASB says when Jesus saw everyone mourning and weeping He was “deeply moved and troubled,” but a more accurate translation would be that he was “angry in spirit and deeply agitated.”

Why was He angry?  Was He frustrated with the lack of faith?  He tried to get His disciples and Martha to understand that He had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, but what He was about to do was such an incredible and unexpected revelation of His power, He showed patience that no one could quite wrap their minds around the possibility.  I don’t think that was the cause of His anger.

Every time I lose a friend to cancer, I feel angry.  I’m not angry at God or the limits of medicine, I’m angry at the injustice of death, especially when it takes someone so young.  Imagine Jesus standing at the dawn of creation seeing what was good and perfect sent crashing down as the Destroyer introduced sin into the world.  Yet even as it happened, the plans were set in motion for the greatest rescue mission in history.  I think Jesus was fuming mad at death and Satan for bringing this misery upon His creation!  He was deeply troubled as He witnessed the tears and anguish of His close friends and He wept with them.  I imagine as He called Lazarus from that grave as a precursor of His own resurrection and eternal victory over Satan, He felt a surge of resolve to face the torture ahead of Him so we can say, “O Grave, where is your victory, Death, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13, I Corinthians 15:55)

When I understood that, I finally had an answer…God didn’t idly stand by in the midst of our suffering.  As God does, he crafted a solution far beyond our expectations and even understanding.  He left regal comforts we can’t begin to imagine to enter a humble life as a human.  He felt the same temptations, grief, sorrow, and anguish that we have, and endured a horrible death to offer this solution.  All we have to do is accept it!

A few years ago, I had a dear friend who fought advanced ovarian cancer for years.  I visited her frequently, and listened to her as she shared her thoughts.  She hoped and prayed that she would be cured even to the end, but was also at peace with the likelihood that she would not beat this disease.  Shortly before she died, she confided in me, “Either way, I know I am going to be healed.”   She is one of my great heroes – she had the faith to see past this world, to have the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

With each loss I feel more acutely aware of how short life really is for all of us compared to eternity.  I remember in my meteorology courses, we had complex equations with numerous terms.  To make equations manageable for the computing power available, we would reduce the terms to as few as possible.  Whether the numerator was 1 or 1000, when it was divided by infinity, the whole term was essentially nullified.  In truth, even Methuselah’s 900 years were still only like a vanishing vapor of breath in the cold morning air when compared to eternity (James 4:14).

So how should this change our perspective?  First, we should not grieve as those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13).  Second, it gives us courage to live.  Even though we may suffer and life seems to crawl along without our loved ones, we can know that soon this will seem like only a blink of an eye.

Yes, bad things happen.  There are tragedies, debilitating illness, chronic diseases, premature deaths, abuse…but God offers us the hope of something so much better.  And those of us who are survivors have the challenge – what will we do with our precious time on this earth?  We have the opportunity to let God turn those hurts and tragedies into a ministry to reach others who are suffering, others who may not yet have the hope that we do.  I have been honored to know so many who have done just that, including my friend that went home yesterday.

As I become more aware of eternity in my daily life, I also feel a burden to make my time count.  I remember those haunting words at the end of Saving Private Ryan, “Earn this.”  Many people who face a cancer diagnosis ask “Why me,” but every time I lose a friend my age to cancer, I find myself asking, “Why did I get to live?”  For some reason God left me on this earth for a while longer.  I look forward to the reunions with my loved ones and to be swept away from the cares of this world, but I have work to do!  What am I doing today that matters?  When I’m called home and face an accounting for how I spent my life, will I be considered a good steward?  As painful as it is to lose a loved one, I’m grateful for these reminders that make me re-evaluate where I am.  My only hope is to be greeted with a “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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Take time to smell the roses

Motorcycle Blue Moon

Tonight’s view of the blue moon rising over Lake Draper

I got to ride my old bike tonight on my favorite run around Draper Lake, thanks to a generous friend!  I forgot how much I loved my evening rides in the summer, from wildlife sightings to the varying temperature currents and fragrances that one can really only experience on a motorcycle.  Tonight I had a special treat – in my rearview mirror I could see the fading remnants of a brilliant pink sunset, and in front of me was the reflective yellow ribbon leading to a bright “blue” moon rising over the lake.

SHOUT fight cancer pose

The SHOUT girls that made it to my farewell party. We took some fun pictures, including this “fight cancer” pose – cancer doesn’t stand a chance against these gals!

These past few months as we prepare to go to Africa have been bittersweet and filled with moments we treasure as the “last” we’ll have in quite a while.  Especially in this last month, I’ve felt in a flurry to say goodbye to family and friends I won’t see again for a long time, or for some, not until we meet again on the other side.  Last night I celebrated what is probably my last meeting with my good friends from SHOUT – young women who have heroically battled cancer in the middle of juggling careers and young families.  We talked about how we’ve changed since our diagnosis, and nearly all will say cancer was in some ways a blessing…it forced us to examine our lives to see what really matters and taught us to cherish the time we have together, to make the best of every moment.  A message we commonly share with others is the importance “not to sweat the small stuff” and to “take time to smell the roses.”

I think that’s part of why I loved to ride so much.  For just a little while, time stood still and I was alone with my thoughts.  I became a philosopher, an explorer, and a mental journalist.  In fact I would have been a much more prolific blogger if I could have somehow recorded the deep musings on my journeys!  But most importantly, it was a time I could be thoroughly engaged in the moment and completely experience the joy of life.  I loved the rumble of the engine, the wind on my face, and as tonight, the incredible fragrances that shifted from musky woodlands to sweet meadows to earthy fresh-tilled soil.

Tonight I realized how much smell is integrated into my experiences, and is one of the many mental snapshots I’m taking as I say farewell to America.  A couple of months ago I was back in the Ozarks, and took deep nostalgic whiffs of the oak woods I spent so much time in camping and hiking.  When we were in the mountains last week, I stopped to take in the crisp morning air saturated with the smell of pine and listen to the haunting whisper as the wind blew through the treetops.  The banks of the creek were fresh and earthy as the water rushing over the rocks sang to me.  I passed through a meadow filled with beautiful purple mountain lupines with an intoxicating fragrance backlit by the brilliant white glaciers of Mt. Rainier.  I feel my life is so much richer for these experiences.

Whoever first said to take time to smell the roses was so wise.  This requires us to break from the hustle and bustle long enough to not only notice beauty, but to also step a little closer to explore and take a deep breath to soak in everything that moment has to offer.  It’s amazing how peaceful and content one can feel after just a simple pause.  So take a reminder from my survivor friends, and be sure to pause for a moment to experience life to its fullest!

Riley smelling flowers

Riley demonstrating this important life skill of living in the moment!

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Blessings in Breast Cancer

August 1st, 1998

August 1st is an important day in the Troup family.  First of all, August 1st 1998, I married Dale Troup, the love of my life, in a beautiful outdoor wedding in Manitou Springs, CO.  When we said our vows that day, we affirmed we would be together for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.  We had no idea that in 14 years we would test every one of those elements, but also what blessings God had in store through those difficult times!

You see, there was another life-changing event that occurred on August 1st.  On that day in 2005 – out of the clear blue – I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was 32 years old at the time, weary from a difficult tour in as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force.  We had just returned to Colorado from overseas, and I was on terminal leave for my last week on active duty.  We were staying with Dale’s parents in Manitou Springs until Dale found a house in Oklahoma and our household goods arrived from Germany (about 3 months).

It was a difficult choice to leave the military, but I wanted to have another child, and be a stay-at-home mommy this time, no deployments, no long training trips, no emergencies calling me in to work in the middle of the night!  Beyond that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  I was ready to move on to something else, maybe teach science, maybe a management job…it was a little unnerving for me to be facing such an unknown, but I figured the answer would present itself.  And it did, much faster than I anticipated.

The morning after we touched down, a tiny pencil eraser-sized lump below my armpit (that a couple of months ago a physician had told me was nothing) had suddenly swollen to about an inch in size.  Thankfully I had the sense to realize that maybe I needed a second opinion.  After all, I only had one more week on duty – if it turned out to be something, at least it was documented in my military records and I could follow up with the VA.  The staff at Peterson AFB were wonderful, and got me in to see the doctor that day.  He was concerned, and had me booked for a mammogram later that week.

So I dropped off Dale at the airport that morning (he was flying to Oklahoma to house hunt and prepare for his teaching job at Carl Albert High School), then went to my mammogram appointment, expecting it to be nothing.  Then I had that dreaded callback for more images.  After quite a while I was called back to talk to the radiologist.  He showed me my films, and little tiny specks called micro-calcifications in an area far from the lump I felt.  They can be from dried milk in the ducts, but in the right pattern can also indicate cancer activity.  He wanted to watch it for 6 months, and take another image to see if there were any changes.  That didn’t sound too scary, and I was just happy it was documented.  I would just follow up with the VA.

The radiation technician I had was wonderful.  She was a Master Sergeant who was usually doing management duties, but was filling in that day for someone who was out.  It’s funny how these little “coincidences” can be God’s hand.  She probably had more experience than that young radiologist, and convinced him that since I was about to get out of the military, maybe they should just go ahead and check this out now.  So they made an appointment for a biopsy, which had to be done at the Air Force Academy.  The wonderful staff at the hospital got an extension to keep me on duty for another month to give us time to get back the results, which took an agonizingly long time!

I had a lot of sleepless nights waiting for those pathology results.  I had a growing sense that the results would show cancer.  I remember one night I was up long after everyone else had gone to bed, looking a the peaceful mountains, grappling with the reality that this could be cancer.  It didn’t seem like it could be real!  I had no family history, and had up to this point had been in near perfect health.  I had no idea how bad it would be, but had to come to terms with the possibility that this could take my life.  But I believed that God had a purpose, maybe as close as the next room.  Dale’s parents were as hard-set against God as Dale was before He softened his heart.  Mere words didn’t have a chance…but maybe seeing my faith through this tough time would speak to them.  Through my tears I offered myself as an empty vessel for God to work His will, even if it took my life.  When I looked at things from eternity’s perspective, my life seemed a small sacrifice.  Once I released the worst case into His hands, I felt an incredible peace and courage to face the news I received a couple of days later.

This picture was taken the day before my first mastectomy. I wanted one last picture in uniform, expecting to soon be losing my hair!

Long story short, I had a high-grade (aggressive) cancer, but miraculously it was still contained within the ducts.  However, there were at least 6 different foci, including the area where I felt my lump.  I am so grateful to the radiation tech that talked the radiologist into not waiting another 6 months…my situation may have been very different!  I had no choice but to have a mastectomy – the cancer was just too widespread.  My plans for another child were dashed when I had to go on a hormone therapy to reduce the risk for my other breast.  Even that therapy failed to prevent pre-cancerous cells from developing on the other side, and at my oncologist’s recommendation decided it was best to have a second mastectomy.

Those past 7 years since my diagnosis have held several ups and downs, scares, sleepless nights, and 6 surgeries, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  When I look back, I see God’s hand through the whole process.  With God, the journey is every bit as important as the destination.  I grew so much over those years in faith, but also as a person.  I had no idea what I was going to do after leaving the military, and in a matter of months, it was like my next task was handed to me on a platter.  I co-founded a support group for young women (SHOUT), and have been able to minister to hundreds of women as they face one of the most difficult trials in their life.  Then I noticed a lack of information for cancer survivors and set out on several projects to change that.  I was hired to create a patient resources program for the OU Cancer Institute (now Stephenson Cancer Center), and soon discovered I really wanted the credentials to be able to write those resources in a language survivors could understand, so I set out to go to nursing school – that journey alone took several years, but now I’ve been an RN for a year.  Along the way, I had several opportunities that have developed me professionally – I helped coordinate state efforts to reduce cancer in Oklahoma, I’ve done breast cancer research in a biomedical lab, and now I’m designing research studies to improve quality of life for cancer survivors and other people living with a chronic disease.  That winding path helped me bump into Fridah Mubichi, which set my heart on fire for our next assignment – Africa!

The most amazing thing is that God provided the very way for us to go to Kenya without needing to wait for funding.  You see, the VA considers a mastectomy a form of amputation, and a special one since it’s a reproductive organ.  Combined with my lifetime risk for lymphedema and a handful of other ailments that just comes from being in the military long enough to age, I receive a disability pension that is just enough to meet our needs overseas.  In short, my cancer is sponsoring our mission!  If you told me all this 7 years ago, it would have blown my mind!  And really, I wouldn’t be ready for it…I had too much to learn first.

I hope this extremely long tale encourages a few of you facing your own impossible trials.  I was reminded today in reviewing Joseph’s story that bad things do happen, but God promises to be there in the middle of it with us, just like He was in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  He promises to work those things for good for those who love Him, and submit themselves to Him to mold them and shape them into what He wants them to be, for the purpose He predestined them (Rom 8:28, Eph 1:11).  When he was in his teens wearing that technicolor coat, there’s no way Joseph was ready for the responsibility he would eventually face as the second-highest command in Egypt.  God used the tragedy of his betrayal to put him in the geographic location he needed to be in, and the ups and downs and long imprisonment to shape his character into an incredible leader that saved all of Egypt and his family.  Don’t lose hope when you face these storms…God is always in control, and if you let go and trust the Great Navigator to guide you through, you may discover he has something REALLY amazing in store for you on the other side!

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Life lessons in washer repairs

Many of you saw my celebratory post on Facebook that I finally fixed our washing machine!  It was a learning experience in several ways.  I got to push myself mechanically and even my minimal electrical knowledge as that’s what the problem turned out to be.  But this whole ordeal also held a rather painful lesson on how immature my faith can be sometimes.

Washing machine parts

So this is what a washing machine motor and transmission looks like!

As my Facebook posts chronicled – our agitation cycle stopped working, while everything else worked fine.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be an easy fix – all the solutions were going to cost more money than the washer was worth.  The motor was working fine, and the next most likely thing was a broken part in the transmission.  Instead of replacing the entire thing as most repairmen would do, I was going to dig into the gearbox, expecting to find a broken agitation cam (which also happened to be the only plastic part in the gearbox).  Since it was going to be a big oily mess, I wanted to have the part on hand before I opened it up.  It was such a specialized piece, I had to go to an appliance warehouse clear on the northwest side of OKC to find it.

So, once home, I pulled out the motor and transmission, and with some other tests, soon learned the problem couldn’t be in either.  After more research and some electrical testing, I isolated the problem to the timer circuit.  Bummer – there was no way to fix that, and a new one costs $120.  I would have much rather it been the transmission – I could have fixed it for much less!  I called the same appliance store, and they had a rebuilt timer for $75.  After checking Craigslist to see if this washer was even worth that much, I finally decided to go back and get the part.  At least I could exchange the part I didn’t need.

WRONG!  As the sales clerk looked up the timer, she informed me I couldn’t exchange the part.  “No refunds,” she said.  I looked at the receipt, it did say no refunds, but nothing about exchanges.  I explained, I didn’t understand that when I purchased the part, or I wouldn’t have gotten it ahead of time.  She started getting huffy, “it says it right there,” and pointed to the wall where NO REFUNDS was written in big black letters.  Why couldn’t I have seen that before?

I was getting frustrated, and explained my misunderstanding, “Lots of businesses have that policy, but they will still give store credit towards another purchase.  Nowhere does it say that you don’t accept exchanges.”  She ignored me and went to the back room to get my part.  After she returned I pleaded with her, thinking how expensive this whole repair was getting, “Please let me exchange this – I’ll be happy to pay a restocking fee.  I’m about to leave the country and am just trying to repair this so we can sell it.”

“No, once it leaves this store we cannot take it back.”

Now my blood is beginning to boil…why on earth do they have to be so rigid on this?  I never opened the package, and it wasn’t a special order, they had it in stock.  And they’re not loosing a sale – I’m about to spend a ton more!  I thought maybe she’s just following store policy, but c’mon, I’m not an appliance repairman or business, give me a break!  I though I would try an appeal – “Is there anyone else I can talk to?”

“You can talk to me.”

Okay, this is getting nowhere.  Let me just get my part and get the heck out of here!  Then as she opens the box to inspect the new timer, she asks, “Did you bring the old one?”

“No – was I supposed to?”

“I can’t sell this to you without it.”

Okay, now steam is coming out my ears.  Are you serious?  And you couldn’t you tell me this on the phone when I checked to see if you had the part?

“Well I guess I can’t get it then.”  I asked if they were open on Saturday, and left as cordially as I could muster.  By the time I got to my car I was determined I would rather be out shipping costs and loose a few days by buying online than to give them my business.  I peeled out of the parking lot and was throwing an adult-sized temper-tantrum as I drove home.  I was SOOOOO mad!  Mad that I had wasted the time and gas to drive all the way up there, and not be able to take home the part I needed.  Mad that I couldn’t get any credit on the part I no longer needed, and fuming mad that this lady was such a jerk to me!  And I was powerless to do anything about it except post on Facebook not to give them any business!  (Yeah, and how many of my Facebook friends are tearing apart appliances?  That won’t exactly put the hurt on them!)

So today I decided I would buy the part elsewhere.  Since it’s not so specialized, I should be able to buy it at our local store.  They probably closed at noon today if they were open at all.  I might as well take a better look at the timer, and test the wiring harness and any circuits I have access to.  It’s worth a shot for the very slim chance.

The wiring was all good, but I was able to remove a dust cover around the unit, so could see the timing mechanism.  I couldn’t access the internal circuits, but could see the multiple switch contacts.  I could barely stick a tool down in the unit to clean the contacts, which were really dirty.  I felt a new surge of hope…is there any chance that’s all it is?  I put it all back together and ran a small load, holding my breath until the agitation actually kicked in.  You would have thought I’d won a sports championship!

But as I returned to the other tasks on my list, I had time to reflect on this whole ordeal, and felt really ashamed of how I responded.  Thankfully I was civil to the lady in the store, and had calmed down before Dale and Riley got home, so my immature reaction was between me and God.  But in that teaching moment I felt fully scolded and ashamed of my behavior.  As the Bible promises, all things work for good for those who trust Him.  That frustrating encounter saved me $75!

How many of us have withheld something from someone temporarily so we could give them something better in exchange?  If they respond gracefully, it’s so much more joyful when they get the real prize.  But if they throw a fit, it puts the giver in a dilemma.  I know I’ve experienced those moments as a mother.  I’ve wanted so badly to give the best gift possible, and felt so sad that my son couldn’t trust me and restrain his desires just long enough for me to surprise him!

In this case, I feel like God is the patient father who still gave me the good gift but was saddened that I failed so miserably to trust Him.  I let my own selfish need for self-righteousness to steal my peace and the joyful reward for patience and faith.  I am grateful at how things worked out, and humbled by His grace even in my failings.  I realize how far I am from living and breathing in Him every moment, even in the face of frustrating situations.  But thankfully that is what growth is all about.  I hope this painful lesson will not be forgotten, and that next time I can respond with patience knowing that although I don’t see the immediate solution, I can have faith that God is the perfect father, seeking to make things work out for good.


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Welcome to my blog!  If you’re here for the first time, we are missionaries living in Meru, Kenya.  You can learn more about us on my About Me page.

Make use of the categories to the right…you can select Reflections for life lessons (or musings), and Bible Study for content I am sharing as an extension of our work in Kenya – Njia Nyembamba (Narrow Way in Kiswahili).  There are also some travelogues from our travels in Europe and Africa over the past 15 years.  Thank you for visiting!

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