Monday, July 18, 2016

The hard job of a jungle nurse

A sweet two year old girl was brought to me by her parents and I didn't even have to see much of her to know that much was wrong.

I was sitting under some palm trees, plantain plants, and surrounded by the sounds of the jungle.  We had come to a 2,000 person city to visit a local pastor we knew.  He had asked if I could bring some medical equipment and supplies to help out some of the local community.  Mike was  going to preach, and this is what I do after all.  In Honduras, I started just the same - with a box of medications and supplies, riding a bus an hour out to a small community and set up shop.  I've put on medical clinics on soccer fields, dirt floor houses, under trees, and walking house-to-house.  Eventually I constructed a permanent clinic in the community.  In the almost 8 years I had been in Honduras, I had seen over 10,000 patients.  My little clinic saw more than 2,000 patients a year alone.  So, doing things with little to nothing is nothing new to me.

I've taken out toenails on a kitchen floor, started IV's on dying patients in their hammock of their home, put  in more stitches in more circumstances I don't even remember them all. I can pack a whole lot of "stuff" in a little space.

So...I took a look at this little girl.  I talked sweetly to her and did those silly googly faces that parents just can't help  doing when you look at a little kiddo - come on - you know what I'm talking about :-).  Then I asked the parents for a history.  She had had a traumatic birth, and was born limp, not breathing, and the doctors thought she was not alive.  Bottom line - she had been deprived of oxygen for quite some time.  This little one had severe cerebral palsy.  When I assessed her,  her eyes rolled back in her head, she did not have any grip or muscle control at all, she drooled, and had difficulty with secretions.  She did not respond to voice.  The parents looked at me expectantly then asked me a very difficult question - "When was she going to be 'normal'" (their words).  I asked them what they had been told.  They said that the doctors told them that she would get better and one day be 'normal' (again - their words).  So, they were here,  expectantly waiting for me to tell them the good news.  My heart sank.  My heart beat fast.  What to say?!

I had worked in a pediatric oncology hospital for 13 years, so I was no stranger to difficult situations - being the nurse when the doctor told parents their child was not going to make it.  I've been the nurse of the child who doesn't survive our efforts from CPR, I've held the hand of dying people, and helped bring new life into the world.  One thing that this sweet family was holding on to was hope.  And I was going to be the one to tell them  that their sweet girl was about as good as she was going to get.

So I started with - All things are possible with God.  That they clearly loved her dearly.  That all life is precious.  Then I started with the hard things.  That their life was going to change - that they lived in a country that had zero resources, and they were going to be expected to do everything on their own with very little.  I advised some physical therapy and gave them some ideas of what to do.  I talked about ways to feed her, and to start thinking about a wheel chair so she wouldn't be confined to her house her entire life.  I looked into the faces of the parents...there was profound sadness, grief, and shock.  This was not what they were expecting, and the reality was settling in.  What could I offer?  A touch, comfort, and some love.  That was all I had...And then I prayed.

And then I saw my next patient.  I had many more people waiting for me.  My job is hard.  It's emotionally exhausting working in a country with limited to no resources, where children come to me starving and emaciated, where 1/3rd of the country has malaria, and children are orphaned from the consequences of AIDS.  But I am here to be hands and feet, and try and help just one person at a time in whatever way I can.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fighting with Myself

Once in awhile I take the time to be transparent. I don't want to do this all the time as it gets to be exhausting not only in reading (you guys), but to writing it as well (me).

There are a number of life verses that I try to live by -

1 Corinthians 13:13 - So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The verse that I have come to love as a believer is this:

Ephesians 2:8-9 -  for by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

But even in the midst of that, I find that the day-to-day struggle between how I want to be and how I am is a challenge.

I have mentioned this before, but it's something I choose to live help me gauge what my feelings are,  my attitude, my life.  I want to finish this race and hear the words of My Savior say to me, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

εὖ ἀγαθός καί πιστός δοῦλος

Truly.  This needs to be my next tattoo, because it is something I long for...that I strive for...

I am so privileged to be a part of His plan.  I wake up every morning and fight with myself.  What is my job?  What am I doing here?  What does He want me to do?

And yet I struggle...I am's too much just to LIVE some days, much less do what you have asked me to do.  But I am not here in my own strength.  I am here in His.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world - St Teresa of Avila

I reflect on the time I've been in Honduras...been in Equatorial Guinea, Africa...and am humbled.  I am humbled to know that He has chosen ME to be a part of His plan.  I am such a small person in this grand plan of His.  I am "just a nurse" who loves His people, and follows obediently where He would have me go.

I won't deny that at times it seems all too much.  I long for the days of running water, air-conditioning, consistent electricity, and a soft place to lay my head at night free from mosquitoes, lizards, spiders, and any number of things that want to impede my healthy life.

But that's not what I'm here for...not in this season...I am here to follow Him as He guides me where He wants me to go.

The flesh is oh so weak.   But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. "  2 Corinthians 12:9 

And so I fight.  I fight for what I want...and I fight for what is right...and I fight for what He wants...

I fight with myself for "ten more minutes" of sleep; to not answer the calling of a neighbor when I just want to be by myself.  I fight for the balance between giving and receiving.  I fight with myself when I don't want to go to "one more" event that's in a language I don't understand, with a culture that is totally foreign to me, and where I have to be on my "A" game.

And so I fight.  I fight because it's something worth fighting for!  I know I won't always win - this battle against myself - but I will persevere none-the-less.  And in the end, I hope that at my funeral, someone will read these words and that they would apply to me:  "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." - 2 Timothy 4:7

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


I've always wanted to play the piano, and so I picked up some self-taught piano books, and can now pound out a mean tune.  However,  I have come to realize (MY definition here) that there is a difference between a piano player and a pianist.  As in my case, a piano player can hack out a pretty cool tune, help lead music, and maybe even play along with the worship band.  However, a pianist really understands the intricacies behind the piano - they understand the Circle of 5ths, can transpose music, and maybe even write their own music.  I fall into the first category - I'm a piano player, not a pianist.

Why do I write this?  I write this because I also believe there is a difference between a story teller and a writer (again - MY definitions here - I'm sure the experts would disagree).  A story teller can write a story - the reader can "see" in their head the story being told to them - a story teller can draw people in, and take them along for the ride.  A writer, however, understands the intricacies of things flow together, can flush out when something is too generic and make it more specific, or when something is too specific to make it more generic.

I am a story teller.  It's what I told my editor.  I'm not a writer.  I think I can learn to be one, (better chance of becoming a writer than a pianist in my case), but for now, that's not my gifting.  I need someone outside of my stories to read what I'm writing.  Help me transform the story that is in my head into a good flowing collection of stories on paper.

Because to me, what I've written down on paper sounds great!  It's got the right depth, or is shallow when it needs to be, it can be challenging to the reader (maybe even make you squirm just a bit), but not can be convicting, and maybe make you question some things about yourself.  Sometimes there is a chance for misinterpretation and people draw the wrong conclusions, so, more often than not, Mike and I bounce our ideas off of each other - he will want to send a Tweet out, and will run it by me to make sure that what he is writing makes sense.  I do the same to him.  We want to get it right. It's like what your English college professor said - try to get someone else to read your first draft because you stop "seeing" the paper and it needs an outside person looking in to see where the flaws are.

That's where I am with my book.  I've written my "stories" and my awesome editor is flushing them out.  She's helping me find the flow, re-write some sections, add things in, take things out.  It's a long process because we want to do this right.  To give life to the stories, and allow the reader to accurately "see" them.  My editor is making discerning edits - helping to revise sections so they are  improved...she is making thoughtful edits - to help make my thoughts clearer...and she is making wise edits that allow the flow to be more natural.

Once again, I ask you to come along for the ride.  See the stories for what they are - learn something new - maybe even be a little squirmish in your seat as you are being challenged by what I say - I'm really okay with that.  Be motivated, be inspired, or, if none of those things happen, just read, and take your mind away from what life is throwing at you that day.

So...what DID happen when those termites ate my couch?  I guess you will have to stay tuned to find out.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Maintaining Traditions

Some missionaries don't find maintaining traditions important, and some, like me, do.  Some people in the States don't have family traditions, and some do.  It's not a "bad" thing, it just an "is" thing.  And that's okay.  For me, it was important to maintain tradition so we knew that no matter where we were, there were going to be some things that were always going to be the same.  When we were in Honduras, and we organized summer teams I told Mike that I never wanted teams on the 4th of July week.  It was just too important to me, and I wanted to celebrate.  You may think that having a team there, which means more North-Americans is a great way to celebrate - but for us it involved hosting the team, which is fantastic but takes a lot of work which meant less focus on a chance to celebrate the holiday.

Between the time we spent in Costa Rica in language school, many gatherings of other ex-patriots, I looked around me and realized that a lot of the missionary kids didn't know the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and some basic U.S. History, I wanted to make sure that Madison did.  We were in Honduras, after all,  they teach Honduran history, not U.S. history - so unless I taught it to Madison, she wasn't going to learn it.

I was committed to this date, wanted to make sure that Madison had a good understanding of her U.S. heritage, and so I hosted a BBQ each year - and those that wanted to come could come.  In Honduras, that meant that lots of North-Americans, along with our Honduran friends would celebrate, fire fireworks when we had them, throw a foot ball around, and enjoy the day.

Now we find ourselves in Africa.  Currently, our team mates are on a mini-furlough in the U.S. There are two other, single, North-American missionaries near-by.  In addition, our neighbors consist of Mexicans, a Costa Rican, a Chilean, and of course Equatorial Guineans.  So...looks like our 4th of July luncheon is going to be in international event indeed!  I'm making sliders, apple pie (if I can find enough apples), and we even purchased some party poppers to end the festivities.

Decorating has always been an outlet for me.  It's a way of maintaining some "norms" no matter what country we are in, or what holiday we are celebrating.  Can't find many Thanksgiving decorations outside of the U.S., no Valentine's decorations, and certainly not 4th of July decorations - so I brought a few with me.  Not much, I had to pack light...but a few came with me.  So, it makes me happy, and I will continue on with our family traditions, regardless of what country we currently call home.