“You all experienced trauma!” Liz announced. “That means Dad, Mom, Olivia, Nathan, and Joani all experienced a major traumatic event — Jonathan almost died. Each one of you needs to acknowledge that you are still recovering from the trauma.”
All five of us listened intently over Zoom around the dining table as Liz, our family counselor, shared to us what she has observed.
“When such traumatic event happened, something has changed. One should not expect things will go back to the way it was before,” Liz continued.
Indeed, the past two months had been very difficult for our family. First, it was my sickness. Then Annie hit burnt out from taking care of me. The children suddenly “lost” both their father and mother as they had to focus on getting well and had to suddenly take on many everyday responsibilities.
When I look back, I still can feel my body shaking from the trauma of near death. It was the hardest thing I had gone through in my life. The night before I was discharged from the hospital, I cried non-stop for 20 minutes to release the emotions that I had held in for so long. I still remember the long sleepless nights, the feeling of no air in my lungs, the fear of having my blood running through the dialysis machine, and the possibility that each day was my last day on earth.
Because I experienced the bottom of the valley of death, the joy of being rescued by God was so much greater. I will not forget that night when I felt as if God had touched my body and my fever left me. He assured me that he will rescue me. I felt peace that was beyond understanding. Knowing that you and others all over the world were praying for me gave me peace that my life is in God’s hand.
Recovery in the US
At the end of March when my kidney condition and anemia became stable, the doctor in Kenya approved of my traveling back to the US to continue my recovery and to get the Covid vaccine.
So even before arriving in the US, I had already made appointments for all five of us to get the COVID vaccine. Annie and I qualified because we are over 50. Joani qualified because she has asthma and got a note from a doctor.
However, Olivia and Nathan didn’t qualify. Fortunately, a family friend recommended a vaccination site that will give vaccination to those under 50 if they have surplus vaccines at the end of the day. So luckily, Olivia and Nathan got the vaccine as well. In less than 24 hours after we landed, our family has been vaccinated!
Looking back, it was a miracle from God that we weren’t infected with COVID over the past 8 months.
After we arrived back in the US, I quickly made appointments to see a nephrologist and a hematologist. The children also made appointments for an annual physical checkup, as well as to see optometrist and dentist.
Waiting for my blood test result was nerve-wracking because before I left Kenya, my condition didn’t improve significantly. Great News. The result showed significant improvement in both my kidneys and red blood cells. My kidney health improved from stage five to stage two (normal is stage 0). My hemoglobin level also went from 5.4 to 10.2 (normal is >13). The doctor said that I don’t need any more treatment. Just need to monitor my health over the next 3 months.
“My kidney health is currently like an 80-year old’s,” I shared during a devotion time with co-workers from World Vision China. “I hope that I can recover back to a 50-year old’s.”
“I declared that like Job, God will repay you back double of what you had lost,” a co-worker prayed. “Your kidney will not just be like a 50-year old’s but a 25 year-old’s!”
I will wait in anticipation of what more God will do in and through my life. Amen.
Conflicts and Frustrations
Annie stayed with a family friend apart from the family so that she could recover from her burnout out. This was frustrating everyone as we were apart and had to drive back and forth. We realized that this was not something that we could resolve on our own without the help of a counselor.
During the counseling session, the children each shared their frustrations.
“Mom’s focus was 100% on dad. She only cooks for dad while we had to cook for ourselves,” Olivia complained. “Why couldn’t she just cook a larger portion to cover everyone else?”
“I felt like I lost both parents. I thought I almost lost dad,” Nathan shared as well. “Mom, I had already shut her out emotionally a year ago when she cared more about my school work than my emotional well-being.”
“By not staying with us together, mom missed many important milestones in my adulting, such as getting my driver’s license or my bank account,” Joani shared angrily. “Dad is not able to take on the role of both a dad and a mom. We had to call mom. Mom didn’t call us proactively.”
“Right now, mom is not able to be ‘mom’. But ‘roles’ can be separated from ‘relationships’. You can still have a relationship with Annie,” Liz advised. “The most important thing right now is to reconnect with each other.”
After discussing as a family how to reconnect, we realized that it would be difficult to do that while Annie is physically separated from us.
“Why don’t we take a trip inside the US to reconnect as a family again?” I proposed.
After more discussions and looking at what is affordable or not, we decided to do a 9 day trips to Big Bear Lake, Death Valley National Park, and the beaches of LA. It will also give Joani a chance to continue to learn to drive, even on highways!
Fishing at Big Bear Lake
For the first leg, we wanted to have a more comfortable place to reconnect and to receive family counseling online. After searching, the Airbnb in Big Bear Lake was the cheapest. So we decided to spend 3 nights there. As it turned out, Big Bear Lake was a perfect choice.
The cute two floors wooden cabin had plenty of space for all of us including a very well-stocked kitchen. The wifi was super fast as well. The children took initiative in deciding on our activities for the next 2 days. Olivia found a good hiking trail that is not too difficult but with a good panoramic view. Joani researched fishing and found a place to rent fishing poles.
I wasn’t sure if I am able to hike at high elevation (around 2000 meters) given my severe anemia. However, it would be a good test of my limit and whether I would be able to continue to travel in the future. As it turned out, although my heartbeat was elevated, I didn’t feel tired or out of breath. The rock climbing at the end of the trail and the view were exhilarating.
Next, fishing. We haven’t fish as a family since 13 years ago in Peru. So everyone was excited, especially since the lake was recently stocked with new trouts just a week ago. We didn’t know if we will be able to catch any fish so we brought with us a tent, picnic food, K-drama, playing cards, etc. ready to make it a relaxing day of picnic even if we didn’t catch any fish.
Indeed, after trying for two hours and missing the best chances in the morning, we had no bites so we all got into the tent to escape the sun and to watch K-drama while leaving the poles by the shore with the lines in the lake.
While we were mesmerized by the K-drama, Nathan shouted, “The fishing pole is moving.”
We all jumped out of the tent and watched as Nathan pulled in a beautiful sizable pink trout. It worked!
“Tent fishing is so much fun,” Joani laughed happily. “All you need to do is eat, watch, and play in the tent and you get fish!”
At the end of the day, we caught a total of three large trouts for dinner. The meat is pink and tender just like salmon. What a blessing from the Lord to relax, have fun, and work through our family challenges at Big Bear Lake.
Hiding from the Sun in Death Valley National Park
Next is Death Valley, which is ironic considering that I just escaped from the valley of death in Kenya.
Although not as hot as during July, the temperature in mid-April has already reached 34C or 95F average during midday. To escape the heat, we wake up around 5 am in the morning to go to the best sunrise spots, stay under the shade at our campsite from 10 am to 3 pm, then head out again to the best sunset spots to hike until the sun disappeared.
“This is the most relaxing camping we had ever done,” Olivia exclaimed. “I feel like most of the day we just sit around to chat and play cards!”
Death Valley National Park reminded us of many places that we had traveled around the world. The sand dunes reminded us of the Sahara desert of Morocco. The Marble Canyon reminded us of the wadis in Oman minus the spring water. The Golden Canyon reminded us of Petra in Jordan. The painted hill reminded us of the Danxia in Gansu, China. The Bad Water reminded us of the Uyuni Salt Field in Bolivia.
One highlight was our meeting with a group of campers from Colorado. We were intrigued by their “tent trailer” which is like an “instant cabin”. They were intrigued by a group of 5 Asians sleeping in one tent. When they came to visit our tent, they brought with them “astronaut” food, which are instant meals that can be cooked in few minutes with just hot water! We really enjoyed each other’s company.
Surprised at the Beaches of LA
God surprised us again.
Originally, we had a place to stay at Newport Beach for 3 days. When that didn’t materialize, the Leung family opened up their home for the 5 of us. And because of that, we were invited to the Tan family’s laguna home in Long Beach for an Italian meal, a personal boat cruise in the harbor, kayaking/paddle boating, and even free shoes and sandals! I also got to meet the Trenda family who had worked in World Vision for 20+ years in major donor fundraising. God’s plan is always better and full of surprises.
We had a fun two days seeing good friends, such as Carolyn’s family, going to church, eating Church’s Chicken (our favorite), playing beach volleyball, and taking in the ambiances of the beaches and laguna of Newport and Long Beach.
What is Next for Our Family?
After spending 9 days as a family of five again, we evaluated how we want to move forward in our family relationship and travel ministry.
We all agreed that it is important to reconnect once a day as a family. So even if mom is not physically in the same house, we should still have online calls together once a day.
“After these days with you all, I can see your sincerity in not forcing me to play the role of a “mother” which I am not able to handle right now,” Annie shared to us one morning. “You all took the initiative to cook and clean. You gave me permission to not join all the activities so I have some downtime. If I cook or mend your clothes, I did it out of my own free will. I feel ready to travel again as a family.”
Praise God for continuing to give me strength physically each day, for healing Annie emotionally, and for continuing our family travel ministry wherever we will go next!
P.S. Joani got her driver’s license on her first try after the trip!