20 September 2013


"Hello, is Susie there?" - anonymous caller to 5445 Kincaid St., Pittsburgh, PA ~ circa 1985
"I'm sorry, you have the wrong number." ~ 6 yo Heidi, sure that there was no one by the name of "susie" living at our number.
Sue? yes, but Susie? no.  Turns out it was my aunt Cynthia, calling for my mom, who at the time went by Sue, but back in the day was known by her family and others as Susie.  And these days she's known as Susan.

Yesterday was "Susie's" birthday.  She spent it in the black Honda Civic with her hubby of 37 years,

Labor Day Weekend 201

driving across the flat plains of IL, IN, and OH headed for Pittsburgh, the first stopover on their much needed R&R trip to a family favorite, Maine.  If there's one thing the Lutjens' are good at, it's road trips...

one such infamous trip - to Maine I believe - in the Dodge Caravan

...long hours, long distances, but usually pretty spectacular destinations.

Thunder Hole - Acadia National Park - Bar Harbor, ME
This was one of those destinations (stollen from google images...I can assure you there was not this level of photographic technology around when we visited this spot when I was small - well, or if there was, this pastor's family for sure didn't have it). I don't ever remember Thunder Hole being so sunny and clear, usually overcast and misty...I also don't remember those snazzy guard rails, but maybe they were there and I was too young to notice.  I'm not sure if you've had those experiences in life which when recalled, the sheer memory of which is a visceral experience...feelings I'm sure I cannot put adequate words to...standing on those rocks, covered in sea spray and shivering, watching/listening to/feeling wave after wave CRASH and THUNDER into this rock cove along the ME shoreline...grabbing onto mom or dad or brother/sister for security...not so much in fear, but more in awe, wanting to touch someone else and be sure this was real...imagine our small minds and bodies, literally quaking in the wonder and power of these waves, this noise, this marvel created by the expression of life by God's creation.  May very well be one of my favorite places on earth.

I've been thinking lately that one of the things I'm thankful to my mom for, one of the many things that I love about her, is her shared sense of wonder and marvel in what is around her.  Her facial expressions when she finds out something fascinating or surprising, the dramatic "you're kidding?!?!?!" that often follows such expressions...her love and recognition of the wonder that is physiology and the inner workings of the human body, her appreciation of natural and created beauty of all kinds, from simple things like the color in her salad, to the complexities of pieces of music and grand works of art...her intrigue about people and places that are different from her own experience, her enjoyment of the pursuit of really understanding something and not just glossing over the seemingly "small and unimportant" details...all of these things and more I've experienced all of my life and grown in gratefulness for as the years go by - here's to the hope and prayer that some of it has rubbed off on me!   Marvel she does.  Wonder she knows.

Thanks mom.  I love you.

18 September 2013

He knows

Daniel answered and said, 
Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him.  And it is He who changes the times and epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.  It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness and the light dwells with him.’”
~ Daniel 2: 20-22~


physical pain/disability, emotional distress, spiritual distance/isolation/dryness, mental reality distortion, grief, loss, change, unknown, unbearable circumstances, hateful people, corruption, deceit, theft, violation, war, complete exhaustion, presence of enemies, sin...

“there’s a light at the end of the tunnel...” 
- if things are bad now, don’t worry, there’s hope [light] ahead
“shed some light on the situation...”
- if things are difficult or murky, the light will help make things clear
lights, camera, action!”
- first part of the movie making sequence? you need to SEE what’s going on, then you start recording 
                                  what’s going on, THEN you cue in to what’s actually going on
“make a right at the second light...”                        
                                - landmark
- (ever heard “make a left at that place where you can’t see anything”?)
“this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine...”
- “lemme show you my dark corner”? nope
“scared of the dark...”
- place of fear not of comfort
“I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley...” 
- place where bad things are done and no one can see to rescue you - unknown
“lurking in the dark corners...”
- places where people do not often choose to go
“he has a dark past...”
                                - he has done the kinds of things he would rather keep hidden
“those were dark times...” 
- periods which you would like NOT to revisit
“It’s too dark in here, I can’t see anything! Turn on the light, will ya?”
- The antidote for the darkness? Light.

to know: (verb) = be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information

“know” the facts (information)
“know” the feeling (experience)
“know” the place (observation)

Daniel says God knows what is in the darkness.

He KNOWs it.  He knows all the facts.  He knows the who: names, faces, and stories of all people involved, or not involved.  He knows the what: every detail that makes up this particular story.  He knows the when: the timing of the circumstances, what came before and what will come after.  He knows the night or day, weekend or weekday, the day the month the year the hour the minute, and how inconvenienced/stressed/pressured you are as a result.  He knows the where: home or work, street name and address, state, country, continent, and climate.  And maybe most importantly AND most puzzling, He knows the one we rarely if EVER know...He knows the why:  not the means but the END, the purpose, the goal, the justification, the motivation, the cause, the value, the benefit, the role in your life and the lives of those near or far.

He’s KNOWs it.  He’s experienced it.  Been there.  Felt that. Seen that.  Heard that. Smelt that.  He’s NOT unexperienced, immune, or naive.  He notices.  He’s read the briefing and the background checks.  His nerve endings are sensitive.  All 5 of his senses (and maybe more?) are not only functional but keen.

He KNOWs it.  He’s the ever-present observer.  Nothing has gone on that he is not privy to...not only has he been on the receiving end of all of it already, but he’s also been the witness to ALL of it.  It’s a different perspective than that of participant, but just as valid and important and pertinent...

In our Bible Study chapter on El Elyon last week, in the verse after verse that we read about our God Most High, this is the one that stuck out: 

 “...He knows what is in the darkness...” - Daniel 2:22

What is it though, about these simple words? Well, this post is me working that out...And in the end, I realize that the comfort is in the fact that He knows...not just in fact, or witness, but in experience...the feeling of, the reality of the darkness.  

Now that I stop and think about it, the fact that “He knows” was also the main take home lesson I learned from Dr. Calhoun’s class I took at Covenant Seminary entitled “Sickness and Suffering.”  Dr. Calhoun started the class off by telling us he was not, in fact, going to be able to answer the “WHY?!” question that He knew was looming large in all of our minds, and in his own as well...but he did remind us that God was not untouched by darkness [sickness and suffering] himself - the loss of His only Son, the betrayal and rejection and violation from His people...and the list goes on.  THAT was “worth the price of admission” for me.  After watching children die day after day in Uganda, after watching “big men” eat money and resources out from under their neighbors and those they are intended to serve without accountability, after struggling to  love my teammates well and them struggling to love me well, after hitting rock bottom emotionally, after having every single prop or buffer I was used to leaning on knocked out from under me, and preparing to head back to a long term commitment of more of the same, THAT was what I needed to hear, THAT was the lightbulb I needed turned on.  I needed to know that He didn’t look down from his comfy throne in heaven where everything is peachy keen all the time.  I needed to know that the suffering, the darkness, was not something He doled out to all of us, but something He knew something of Himself.  He knows what it’s like...He knows what is in the darkness...my darkness, your darkness, his darkness, her darkness, OUR darkness.


PS: The same week as the Daniel light bulb, this Op Ed article, coming in from Japan, was published in the NY Times.  A Facebook find for me from a friend from college, it was timely, fascinating, and powerful.  I don’t think Pico Iyer knows this line from Daniel about the darkness.  I don’t think He believes in the God that knows said darkness, but his reflection on darkness or “suffering” is spot on in many ways.  See for yourself.

03 September 2013

partial truth

one of those days.  one of those belly-rumbling, slightly-more-aware-of-ones-muscles-and-joints, dizzy-headed-even-while-lying-down, days.  This one spent in bed, reading.  Book of the month = Cutting For Stone.  I’m not a very good missionary, in that I’ve read very very little of what’s written (fictional or non) about the countries/continent which I call home.  This particular choice is a fictional tale set in our neighbor to the east, Ethiopia.  I have some faint recollection that President Obama made a big deal (in a positive way) about it when it was first published...and several members of my family have read and recommended it.  So far tales of medicine, that since I’ve been mostly out of the acute clinical practice setting now for a year and a half or so, I can enjoy in my “time off”...a tale of family and it’s looser-than-biology definitions...a tale of culture...a tale of hearts and souls and life and the lackthereof and the stuffs of those lives that are important.  It’s good.  I doze in and out as a read, not yet sweating in my pajamas.  Various teammates come in to check on me, and eventually I emerge for something for lunch.

After achieving nourishment, I head back to the Shire and on the way notice that there’s an issue of Outside magazine I haven’t read yet on the coffee table.  I swipe it and continue on.  The cover promises a never yet told version of the famous American ascent of Mt. Everest 50 years ago along with something about a speed run down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and racing horses across Mongolia.  Sounds hopeful for proper sick-day escapist reading material.  I lift up my net and along with my magazine climb back into the happy place otherwise known as my bed.

See, every few months, we get an installation of our mail from friends in Arua.  We brought said installation with us last week when we returned from R&R in Uganda.  Included in said installation was several months worth of Michael Masso’s Outside Magazine subscription.  We’re always eager for current-ish reports of the goings on of the “outside” world, and this publication never seems to disappoint.  Well written, often blunt and amusing reports of people even crazier than we are, doing things we would never dream of doing...okay, things I would never dream of doing (can’t speak for our slew of 23 year old male interns...one never knows what they deem reasonably do-able) in places we’re easily convinced need to be on our next travel itinerary.

I open up to the Everest article because when downloading Cutting for Stone from the St. Louis Public Library onto my Kindle, I’d looked for Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer but was disappointed not to find it available in ebook format...so, the mountain was already on my mind.  Christine asked me if I’d ever try to climb Everest...clearly she was never present on any of my family backpacking/hiking/camping vacations growing up...I quickly told her absolutely not...it doesn’t sound to me like fun by any stretch of the imagination ...well, except the beauty...okay, AND the adventure...AND the thrill of summiting...but lets be honest, I could never EVER hack it...even without the oxygen tanks and frostbite and altitude sickness and such...so, no, no thank you.  But reading about it?! Fascinating...

“Like all great feats of alpinism the West Ridge is only possible for those who fully commit.  Perhaps Hornbein put it best, describing his mentality that final day as ‘the total feeling of detachment with anything else in the world that seemed to matter - family, child - only Mount Everest was there at the time, and only the summit above us seemed to be beckoning me.” 
- Grayson Schaffer’s last paragraph in the article

...and after a glance at the Marmot Polartec NeoShell jacket ad opposite the end of the article, I turned the page... “Born on the 9th of July”...and a dramatic photo of an ash covered Mundari cattle herder with his white long horned cattle in the background...whoah.  taken aback.  South Sudan was born on the 9th of July, 2011...South Sudan is home to the Mundari cattle herding tribe...and the Dinka, called in the article “the Tribe of Hummers” (refering to their affinity for the oversized and over priced 4x4 vehicles)...and the Moru, the predominant tribe here in Mundri where we live...wait wait wait...hang on...flip back the page... “Jon Krakauer”... “Life magazine”... fallen climbers’ bodies emerging from the icefall 6 years after their climb attempt of the highest mountain in the world...and an insullating shell jacket ad promoting their product with the phrase - “What gives you life?”...let’s try this again, and I flip forward a page...same Mundari shot...same mentions of Juba and brand spankin’ white Land Cruisers with the light blue and yellow EU symbol on the sides and road travel held up by potential land mine extraction procedures...from Everest to Juba, from frostbite and down insulated jackets to the dust covered bodies and stiff bone/rubber bracelets of the Mundari...un. real.  striking. along the lines of an out of body experience, to see the place you call home presented as such a wild and untamed wilderness with vast potential for tourism and adventure capital...in the context of this adrenaline rich publication geared towards people with way too much time and money on their hands...

Most of what this article about South Sudan presents is truth, but it’s only part of the truth...the photos are real, and dramatic, but really only represent a part of what I see and hear and smell on a daily basis.  It’s exciting to see and hear people “talking” about South Sudan, to see it get a place “on the map” so-to-speak...to see people write about the vast resources this land has to offer the world, to hear outsiders comment on the reality that is your life in ways you’ve never heard/thought of before...

We are headed out of the dismal capital, driving south for four hours toward the Imatong Mountains...The ambassador wants to tour the south of South Sudan, get some exercise, and then fling himself off the peak in his paraglinder, avoiding a crash landing in the Central African jungles while claiming some fun distinction like First Unpowered Descent from a Place No One Has Heard of...”

- he he he :) and...

South Sudan is not a society in recovery: there never was any real infrastructure, government, civil society, rules, laws, or rule of law here, so there is nothing to recover.  Instead it’s a scratch country, invented as a solution to an insoluble problem of semi-permanent war and defined by what it lacks.  There is no electrical grid, no mail service, almost no roads even of the dirt kind, and perhaps a few hundred miles of asphalt if you count every paved block in Juba.  The have-nots have a lot of not: barely a smidgen of schools, almost no health care, a population living on zero dollars per day in a subsistence-farming economy where cattle are traded like currency.  There are more guns than people who can read; refugee camps are more common than towns; snow would be easier to find than a road sign.”

wow.  well when you put it like that...or...

“Juba is more encampment than city, a sprawling settlement of homely huts and instant apartments whose population has swelled to more than a million as waves of returning exiles and rural people have moved in.  Many thousands of foreigners have come here as well, riding around in white Land Cruisers during the twice-a-day traffic jams that are a mark of pride for locals.  The most common signage is anything beginning with the letters “UN,” and a trip across town uses reference points like “Go past WHO” and “Turn left at WFP”... “In a place where hotel rooms are made from empty shipping containers and everything from gasoline to rice is imported on the back of a truck from Kenya, inflation has sky rocketed: a taxi across Juba costs twice as much as in New York, hastily built apartments are priced as if in central Rome...”

hm. crazy but ‘tis true.

But Patrick Symmes doesn’t mention the toothy ear to ear smiles that I love so much,



 the cozy crackling sound of charcoal with a pot of, well, anything on top,

Mary & Mel making sweet potato fries 
the taste of a too-hot-to-touch cup of kere kede that’s been simmering for a while with sticks of cinnamon and is chock full-o-sugar...the waves and greetings along the road, the turn of a child’s face from wide-eyed wonder at your strangely pale skin to a smile creeping across their face when they look you in the eyes and realize you’re smiling and not going to eat them or hurt them like they’re told in the stories they hear...
he doesn’t mention the teachers that really care and really are trying with what little they have to give the future of their country an education,

 he doesn’t mention the injections given by staff that care in health centers across the country that save lives from malaria, the wounds cleaned and dressed and healed as a result,

Mama Roda and yours truly
the babies born and thriving,

Salome and baby "Heidi" - my namesake - spelled for accuracy by request

the churches rockin’ with handmade drums and gourd shakers...he has only told half of the story.  But that’s okay, he’s left the other half for me.