Can You Picture When It Switched For You?

 I remember when it switched.

You had always been my comfort-Mom, the one I called upstairs late at night when my middle school friends and I had scared ourselves with sleepover ghost stories. Sara’s tales of a come-alive puppet proved too much for us that summer, and suddenly my five-foot tall rag doll Jenny was terrifying. We could almost see it sitting up and slipping nearer, so we yelled as loud as we could– Amy, Sara and I– hoping you could hear us downstairs and across the house. You came, prayed with us, laughed at our foolishness, and probably scolded us some too, but you took the doll and our fear away with you.

Dad was our protector, you were comfort, and all was well with the world. It’s not that you two were perfect, but you loved us, you loved God, and you lived authentically before us.

Minnesota corn fields turned to Pennsylvanian’s green rolling hills, and then to Liberia’s lush African wetlands. Some months into our new home there, it happened.

You and I had been taking long hikes across town to the open air market and back each day, sloshing through mud puddles where the dirt squished up over our flipflops and between our toes, or swirling up cyclones of red dust in the dry season. We carried heavy plastic bags of groceries home each day, and guzzled down water they sold in tiny plastic baggies. In our green cement block house with no electricity, refrigeration wasn’t an option, so any perishable foods had to be bought and eaten each day. We feasted on juicy mangoes, creamy avocados, fresh glinting-scaled fish that slapped in dead motion against my legs as we walked, and pineapples.

Wow, our African friends worked hard. We joined them, living with them, beside them, and jumping full-blast into their way of doing life. Squatting between our knees, we rubbed sloshing clothes in buckets by hand, hanging them dripping from clotheslines. You kneeled beside coal pots, blowing red embers to flicker into flame, and you cooked new African dishes each day over steaming metal pots.

At night, our family of five sprawled happy and relaxed under mango trees and in hammocks, listening to neighbors toss jokes between cement block porches and an orchestra of crickets. We loved our life there, but the learning curve was sharp as we struggled to catch up to our strong hard-working African friends.

After months of drawing water from the well, walking miles to and from the market, and the endless loads of laundry by hand, malaria slipped in quiet one night. And that’s when it switched.

You were feverish and pale, shaking with chills under as many blankets as we could find in our African home of one hundred degree weather. Tie-dyed sheets flushed crimson and shook under your shivering frail body. Nauseated, dehydrated, and weak, you pulled your sheets to your chin, and I peeked in worried.

It’s not that you were ever invincible, but I unwittingly thought you were, and then suddenly you were dangerously ill, and the world stopped.

I brought you water, urged you to drink, and tried to make you laugh. In the kitchen, I reminded my siblings to continue their school, and then numbly chopped potato greens, diced onions, and tried not to burn the rice. Time slowed.

I remember when it switched. And this friendship now, this relationship, is sweeter because of it.

Moms and dads of all ages, we can and should still be comfort to our kids, but when it changes and they get to comfort us as well, that is a good thing too. As sisters, brothers, friends together, we continue. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, to the mom who still comforts me, and yet who lets me comfort and pray for her too. I enjoy doing life together.

(And I am blessed to have a dear sweet mother-in-law as well, whom I enjoy doing life together too. You will get to meet her in another blogpost.)

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  1. Leanne Mills on May 10, 2014 at 4:03 am

    Beautiful post! You are so fortunate to still have your mother with you. Happy Mother's Day to you!

  2. stuckinindiana on May 10, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Love this post Jennifer!! Blessings to you and your family this Mother's Day weekend!!

  3. Floyd on May 10, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Awesome tribute to a Godly mom. What a blessing our Father bestowed upon your family. I'm proud for you. Beautiful, Jennifer.

  4. Linda on May 10, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    It is a moment of fear and of growing up when your mom is vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Sylvia on May 11, 2014 at 12:40 am

    What beautiful post and tribute to your mother! Your life in Africa sounds so exciting and dangerous! Thanks for visiting Living and Learning With Our New Normal earlier this week! I appreciate your taking the time to comment! I hope to see you again!

  6. cabinart on May 12, 2014 at 4:41 am

    What a life and what a mom! Love the photo of the 2 of you. . . thanks for sharing, Jennifer. I don't know when it switched for me, but the switch is almost permanent at this stage.

  7. Jennifer Dougan on May 12, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Mills Grandparents,

    It's nice to talk with you again! 🙂 Thank you. I am so thankful for the moms and dads in my life.

    Happy Mother's Day to you too! Josh used to speak so often and highly of you guys when we saw them all regularly.

    Jennifer Dougan

  8. Jennifer Dougan on May 13, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Indiana Girl,

    Thank you and to your family as well. 🙂

    Have a great week,
    Jennifer Dougan

  9. Jennifer Dougan on May 13, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Thank you, Floyd.

    Jennifer Dougan

  10. Jennifer Dougan on May 13, 2014 at 12:41 am


    So nice to have you here! Yes, those moments change one, huh?

    Thanks for joining me here,
    Jennifer Dougan

  11. Jennifer Dougan on May 13, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Thank you, Sylvia. So encouraging. 🙂

    Our time in Africa was pivotal and life-changing for me. We loved it.

    Have a great week,
    Jennifer Dougan

  12. Jennifer Dougan on May 13, 2014 at 1:13 am


    Thank you. She is a neat mom, and living in Africa was a life-changing experience.

    It must be a hard thing for you to be on this side of care-taking entirely. May there be sweet times of connecting and memories, and may your care-giving be a sweet time and gift too. My parents are in that role to other relatives now too.

    Jennifer Dougan

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