Tale #1: August 1997
My fever had set in fiercely as we awaited our plane trip the evening before. We were traveling from Nairobi to Kampala and the sickness from my newly discovered pregnancy was intensifying at an alarming rate. Maybe this wasn’t just my pregnancy?
I could not hold my head up as we waited to board, so I rested against Jeff’s shoulder and managed just enough energy to move to the plane when the time came. The one hour flight went quickly as I slept on Jeff's shoulder and by the time we landed, Jeff could feel the heat from my forehead through his shirt. We were both very concerned.
I took Tylenol and we made our way to our friend’s home where we would stay for the night. My fever rose and my misery magnified over the long hours of that one evening. Jeff got up early the next morning to take me to a doctor. I could not stand so he helped me get dressed and moved the truck as close to the front door as he could. Just as we were about to leave, Jan and Jana arrived. They had stopped by the house to pick something up, and were so sad to hear that I was ill. They came back to the bedroom where I lay fevered and shaking on the bed. Jan stood at my feet and laid her hand on my ankles as the tears slowly poured from my eyes.
I was so scared. And so very sick.
Jana held my hand and Jan started to pray:
“God protect this baby.”
“We ask for your peace. For your presence. For your help.”
She moved in closer and lay her hand on my abdomen. Jana’s hand moved there too.
“Keep this heart beating for you, Jesus. Keep this heart beating. Heal and help. We trust you.”
She then kissed my forehead.
I tested positive for malaria just one hour later.
“Keep this heart beating for you, Jesus.” I must have repeated that phrase over and over a thousand times in the fevered fog of the days that would follow. It was all I could think. A hope I desperately held on to.
Months later, just after Kinley’s safe arrival into the world, we worshiped at Kampala church of Christ. Jan took pictures of the day as our Kampala family passed Kinley around with joy. As I watched the celebration swirl around me, I felt Jan approach and hug me quietly while whispering in my ear: “Just look what God did for us, Cheryl! Just look!”
I have a very strong feeling that I will hear those exact words again when we all meet again around God’s throne.
Tale #2: Sometime in 2002-2003
It was just the two of us.
Jeff had gone to complete some necessary errands in town and I had finally settled three children down for afternoon naps. The house was very quiet. Jan was housesitting for her daughter and son-in-law who were away on furlough and we were houseguests of the houseguest for a few nights in Kampala. As I sat down in the sitting room, she quietly smiled in my direction.
“You are doing a good job, you know.”
I glanced her way, immediately thirsty for this encouragement in a way I hadn’t even acknowledged.
“You are. You and Jeff both. You are raising beautiful children and you are good at what you do.”
I do not remember exactly how I responded, but I most likely spoke some of my doubts. Mothering our Cashlings was the stuff of my dreams and also the home of some of my deepest fears. Nothing mattered more to me and what if, what if, I was doing it all wrong?
She smiled and closed her eyes, rocking peacefully in her chair.
“Isaiah says it. Chapter 40:10-11. It’s God’s word for you, Cheryl. He gently leads those who have young. God is gentle. If the words in your own head or the words coming at you from anybody else are not gentle, then perhaps they are not from Him. You are loved.”
I thanked her. I most likely cried. She encouraged me to put my feet up and rest my eyes for a bit.
Then, I think she left to take a nap.
In the days that followed I would search out that passage and read it over and over. The word gentle would play incessantly in my head.
It was a long road ahead of me, but that brief and specific encouragement illuminated a whole new way—a way that has consistently taken me nearer to God’s own heart and a freedom I could have never dreamed.
Two years later, I began to write on this thing called a ‘blog.' It was weird and wonderful and a part of my spirit that I had not acknowledged or released fully began to unwind and furl free.
I remember the day I set it all up and chose the title. The easiest decision I ever made.
It represented my life circumstance (still raising young children—four by that time), but even more than that, it represented a whole new way of being that I had yet to even grasp the depths of. Nothing about our existence seemed so very ‘gentle’ as we served, but there was this reminder for me:
“God’s voice is gentle with you…”
It is a beautiful thing to be seen and affirmed.
It is God glorifying to step into each other's lives and serve.
Jan Tarbet did stuff like this all the time.
Several weeks ago, Jan transitioned home to Jesus and tomorrow her family and community will gather to remember and celebrate her faithful, seeking life. My love and prayers are with you all as you worship, give honor and collectively grieve. I, too, am marking Jan’s gifts to the world fully confident that her soul now soars, welcomed, beloved and free.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!