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A New Kind of Healer

Linda's Orchid

The other day I ran into a co-worker who had just returned from a trip to India. He and his wife go every year to study Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. Ayurveda tries to recreate harmony in the body through a healthy balance of nutrition, movement and rest.

Robert asked me where I had been the past few months and we discussed my time in Uganda. We talked about how, in spite of the extreme poverty and suffering, the inhabitants of both India and Uganda are known to be happy and generous people who realize the importance of addressing spiritual healing.

We both work in mainstream healthcare, yet Robert is using his income to open an Ayurvedic medical clinic with his wife. He is so excited about the new kind of “healer” he is becoming because, as both of us have seen, the body does not heal if the underlying problem is not addressed.

Robert’s time spent in India and my time in Uganda taught us one very important lesson: Our training does not make us healers. What we know is less important than what we have lived, and our knowledge is worthless without the compassion and understanding that comes from having walked a similar path.

We become healers through our willingness to be used by God, to hold a sacred space for others that takes the emphasis away from the tasks of our work, and focuses instead on the testimony of our wounds.

Wounded healers can offer not only empathy, but hope.

Rachel Remen, M.D reminds of this:

“It is the wisdom gained from our wounds and from our own experiences of suffering that makes us able to heal. Expertise cures, but wounded people can best be healed by other wounded people. Only other wounded people can understand what is needed, for the healing of suffering is compassion, not expertise.”

A reminder that our relationships with others hold unimaginable possibilities – the blessing of touch, the grace of forgiveness, and the kindness of being accepted just as we are.

1 Peter 2:24  ” …by His wounds you are healed…” (NLT)

Surrender

"teardrop"   Photo - Sheila Zia

Even in sadness there is beauty…

 

Pain usually has a message for me. Whether it’s a sudden migraine indicating there’s something I’m not seeing clearly, or the physical awareness of a patient’s symptoms that help with a diagnosis, I have learned to listen.

Discernment doesn’t always feel like a spiritual gift, but God has used it to work through me. It’s not something I can turn on or off; it’s not subject to my will. But if I pray and ask God, “Please let me know how to help this person,” this is often how He helps me understand.

I have a strong back that rarely gives me any trouble. But as I showered Sunday morning while getting ready for church, I felt what can only be described as a swift kick to my low back. The intense pain brought me to my knees, literally. And this pain was my own, seemingly for no reason.

Somehow I crawled out of the shower and made it to the floor. As I prayed for relief, I remembered a time once before when this had happened: It was just after I had finished graduate school and my clinical training. It was also right after my sister, her health rapidly deteriorating, had moved in with my elderly parents so they could care for her.

Thinking back, I realized that my pain was in exactly the same place as my sister’s wound – an infected, Stage 4 pressure ulcer exposing bone and flesh. My sister felt no pain. But I did.

At that time I hadn’t yet learned to listen to my body and I didn’t make the connection between her wound and my pain.

And what happened before my back went out this time – almost six years later?

The night before, I had finally received the raw data for my genetic testing, confirming that I carried the same gene, the same DNA coding for the disorder my sister had, right down to its name, variant and location. And in bright red letters next to the long string of numbers was the footnote, “PATHOGENIC.”

In theory, I already knew I was a carrier, but I hadn’t seen it in black and white on a lab report. Perhaps I hoped for different results, even though our father had passed it to his daughters, and we in turn, had passed it to our sons.

Although I wasn’t conscious of it, I was afraid. And the spirit of Fear started whispering that God wasn’t big enough for this.

Some would say it wasn’t just fear, but in fact my very cells remembering. Remembering guilt and anger and regret and helplessness and failure….

Alone, I lay there on the floor unable to move. The voice of Fear said,

 

“See? You could be like this forever…you’ll end up just like your sister – bedridden, paralyzed, decaying…a long, slow death. God can’t promise that you won’t suffer.”

 

And then Fear offered me relief: I would have no more pain, but only if I agreed to stop working on the project God had recently given me. It was a tempting.

I couldn’t move, but I could still sing. And remembering a song with the words, “When I cannot stand, I’ll fall on You,” I sang out loud –

 

 

“Lord, I need You, oh I need You, Every hour I need You, my one defense, my righteousness, Oh God, how I need You… So teach my song to rise to You, When temptation comes my way… When I cannot stand I’ll fall on You, Jesus You’re my hope and stay….” *

 

 

Soon, I had drowned out the voice of Fear.

And there on that cold bathroom floor, I heard the voice of Hope.

 

“Child, you are carrying a past that no longer exists, a burden that doesn’t belong to you anymore. When you became mine, you were released from that debt. All of it – the regrets of your ancestors, the sins of your father, even the genes you carry. None of these are your inheritance. I am your inheritance. Your future is not written in your DNA. Your future, the greatest story your life will ever tell, is the one you allow Me to write for you from now on.”

 

Pain had brought me to my knees, to a narrow place with no room to turn away. And it was there, where a heart surrendered and on its knees before God, finally found rest.

Surrender is a safe place. A surrendered heart is a heart God can heal and a heart He can use. For it is only the tender, yielded heart that will clearly hear the Shepherd’s voice.

God knows what we need to heal – whether it’s physical or emotional or spiritual –  and with His touch, His words, He will defeat our fear or worry or pain. We don’t have to rely on our own strength.

God never intended for us to carry the burdens of the past in our bodies. Sometimes He has to lovingly remind us that He’s got it covered. He already paid the debt. So we can walk in freedom knowing this truth, His truth: That God is taking care of every need in every moment and we can rest in that fact.

I am reminded that life is not defined by our past, nor does the past dictate our future. God is not only the Author, but the Editor of both our experiences and our genetics. So we are not fated to live the story spelled out in our DNA.

Life is not made up of chance and coincidence, it is made up of choices. Who and what we choose to believe and accept, will pave the road we walk on.

Because it is not about what we have inherited, but ultimately, who we will rely on for our inheritance.

There is hope in surrender. For the greatest life we will ever live, will be the life we have surrendered to Christ; the life He now lives through us.

 

 

1) *Song: “Lord I Need You,” by Matt Maher

 

Text and photos – Copyright 2013     Sheila Zia

Held

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Photo: Virginia Becker

Today I held a little bird in my hands. He had slammed into our front window and lay on the icy porch. He wasn’t moving and I was afraid he was dead. But I couldn’t leave him there, alone in the cold.

As I held him in my cupped hands, one of his little feet wrapped itself around my finger, just like an infant. Although nothing else moved and his eyes were still closed, it gave me hope.

So I sat there in the cold without a coat, as the voice of reason chided me for being silly.

Hah! You certainly haven’t changed. You are still the same kid who brought home strays and bandaged broken limbs. Don’t get your hopes up about this one…. Birds die every day….That’s just life.

I had to smile as I remembered the wild squirrel I had befriended as a child, the stray cats I fed, the many lost dogs who found and followed me home….and I remembered the bird I had rescued from the middle of a busy road a few years before. People honked in protest when I stopped traffic to pick up the large robin about to become road-kill, its right wing hanging useless. But that robin not only lived, he recovered and flew away healthy and whole three days later.

Surely this little bird could be saved.

When he opened his eyes and looked at me, he seemed more sleepy than fearful. I held my hands loosely around him– enough to warm but not confine him should he choose to fly away.

Then I breathed on him, hoping the heat would help him rally, and as his eyes struggled to stay open, I told him the story of the robin. And as I talked, I watched in awe as he began to warm and move in my hand.

By the time I was done with my story, he gathered his strength and flew away. Perhaps my incessant chatting was enough for him to risk death rather than hear even one more word of my encouragement.

In reality, I think there is a little more to this tale. Because I believe this is what God does for us.

I haven’t slammed into any big windows lately, but in the past, when I have been stunned by tragedy or left cold by betrayal, God has held me tenderly in His hands, gently warming my heart and breathing His spirit into me until I am strong enough to live again.

God will hold us when we are broken, telling and retelling us our story and reminding us of the promise we hold, over and over, until we believe Him.  He will keep us close, safe and warm in His embrace until the sting fades; until  we remember why we are here and are ready to fly once again.

 

And Jesus said “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31 – (NLT)

 

I was inspired to write this poem today about my little brave sparrow:

 

THE SPARROW

Today a sparrow hit the window, falling cold upon the earth.
As light faded, the small life lay dying;
The Master saw the creature still, and mourned.

 And Strength leaned down to lift the weak in tender embrace;
A silent prayer, a hope of warmth to save the fledgling from the cold.
Held, the tiny wings caressed and softened,  first yielding, then cradled perfect.
As the Master whispered softly of the promise of one who rose to fly again.

Divine breath blew white upon him, and the sparrow’s eyes were opened.
And grasping his Maker’s fingers tightly, the warmth of flesh and heat of breath gathered strength and  gave life.

Then the Master spoke to him:

“Little one I would love for you to stay with me, sheltered warm inside my hands… But that’s not who you are…. is it?”

Suddenly, a plane flew high overhead ,and looking up, the tiny sparrow took flight.
There was no hesitation and no looking back, for in that moment he remembered Who had created him and why.

And in honor of his Heavenly Father and considering his purpose, he soared.
For the sparrow was reborn.

800 Pages

teardrop

 

Two days ago a heavy box requiring my signature was delivered to my door. The box contained eight-hundred pages of medical records from the last year of my sister’s life. Just one year of her life.

How many pages compose a life? I like to read books that are thick and heavy. I feel cheated by slim ones with too-few chapters. So is a life any less lived or worthy if it is short on experience but heavy on character? Are lives truly ever wasted or can we find meaning in a life that ends too soon? Surely this heavy box, stamped and certified will have the answer.

I want these eight-hundred pages to tell me how it started, the wall-staring, the flesh-tearing descent. How quickly grief remembers the first of it, the subtle details: She would not come to the phone. She refused to get out of bed. She stopped taking her child to school. When I think of how the very nature of love is to fear loss, I must ask how it must have felt to see the ones she loved go on living without her – in spite of her.

Did she not see the outstretched hands that tried to pull her back?

It must be possible for the crushing weight of despair to make marking time as little more than counting shadows, a pain so deep it leaves gaping wounds to physically witness grief. And I hold my breath, afraid to ask or even wonder, if she ever tried to get up again, too late realizing she no longer had the strength or a reason to.

These pages are efficiently filled – with time stamps and signatures – but there are no answers here. These pages testify to all that was done right, but they cannot tell me the moment when it all went wrong. The pages chronicle how a life ended, but not why it chose to.

How, I ask, can God look at all of this – even this – and say that this is good?

I believe if I could see with God’s eyes, I would see that this is good. God is good. Always. All the time. And I will continue to say this, even when it doesn’t always feel true. Truth is not a feeling. Perhaps I cannot see through this in this moment, but it really doesn’t matter: Faith is believing God even when I cannot see Him.

In the end, we can trust an empty unknown rather than fill it with fears never realized, answers that do not soothe or comfort, resting our faith on a dependable Father whose children have never known want.

We can be held even as wanderers, not knowing where God leads, yet trusting He knows the way. For to receive God’s love does not require effort, but abandoning all but His embrace.

Where then, does love go when we die?

Love is not blind, however impractical. Love may see defeat and failure yet still stand and wait and hope, believing that a miracle can still happen. Love may bargain or negotiate with God, hoping He will agree to what we promise to surrender in return for a life restored. But even on knees of desperation we must eventually look up, like flowers turning their faces toward the sun, allowing Light to warm us with the understanding that to leave a badly broken body and not look back – this is the healing, this is the miracle we prayed for. And we are already healed.

My sister left so quickly once she knew she could. When earthly love relinquished its’ grasp and met the heart of Heaven’s embrace. For if we believe that God exists, then we must also know His love waits for us, longs for us to return to Him. Death is not defeat, for we do not give up. We go home.

Every life is valuable, and I have hope that the pages missing from my sister’s life, will doubly fill and transform mine. God is faithful, not because of who we are or anything we may have done, but because of who He is.

We may forget ourselves, but God will never forget us. He is still our loving Father even when we forget that we are His child.

When we do unravel or lose our way, God is there. When time is marked by unchanged walls, when we are broken or confused, when we are lost even to ourselves, God will find us there. He can reach us no matter how deeply we have fallen or how dark it is.

And as He holds us, even in darkness, we will know Him.

 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
Neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,
Nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
Will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8: 38-39)

 

 

Beautiful Heart

IMG_3748One day it became too much and I had to look away. I could barely lift my head. I called the hospital and let them know I would not be able to work that day because I had a migraine. But it wasn’t a migraine. I was simply overcome by the death and disease, much of it preventable, and I could not bear the thought of holding one more dying child, one more grieving mother. I spent most of that day crying softly,  lying in bed and staring at the wall. I would have asked God how He could let this happen to His children, but I was too angry to talk to him. I couldn’t bear to see one more emaciated child, distended belly, or swollen head, or hear their weak, pitiful cries like kittens haunting me in sleep. The palpable despair and heaviness in my chest made it hard to breathe. I was tired of getting up every day and trying to make a difference.

That afternoon, two of the nurses, Grace and Florence, knocked on my door. They were concerned I might be showing the early signs of Malaria. “How do you do this every day?” I asked them, “I look at these suffering children and my heart is breaking…the needs are just too great. How can anything I’m doing make a difference?” I will never forget the look on Sister Florence’s face as she wagged her finger at me and said –  “You are here not by accident! It is God’s hand that brought you – not to change anything here, but to change you!”

The next day I woke up and went back to work. The heavy weariness had not lifted completely, but my outlook had changed.

I was given a copy of this story :

The Most Beautiful Heart

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley.

A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. They all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.” 

The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars; it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges.

In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.

The people stared ­ “How can he say his heart is more beautiful?” they thought.

The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed.

“You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine? Mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them,

and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart.

But because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared.

“Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges – giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting.

So, now do you see what true beauty is?” He asked.

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks.
He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect, young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.

The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever,

since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his.

 

 

Suffering

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We have a new doctor staying with us who will be working and teaching at the government hospital in Mbale. We have cooked together the last two nights, pooling together whatever we can find each day in the outdoor market. There are plenty of bananas, avocados, rice and dried beans – all safe to eat if washed very well and rinsed in white vinegar. There is really no (safe) meat available unless I’m willing buy a chicken to kill and pluck myself. Today I found a man selling three cucumbers which was an incredible find. I bought all of them. I have finally gotten used to the smells of the market, a combination of rotting meat and fish, body odor, and excrement. It has taken almost 3 weeks for me not to smell it anymore.

Each night my new friend returns from her work at the Mbale Regional Hospital with more horror stories: They don’t monitor a patient’s vital signs while they are under anesthesia; Ether (something the developing world has not used for at least 50 years) is being used as an anesthetic; mothers in active labor are sandwiched together like sardines in the hallways and not allowed to cry out. Jay tells me of one young woman softly panting “Jesus, Jesus” who is harshly scolded and told to be quiet by the nurses. Another young woman enters the hospital with a baby half delivered and trapped inside her, the hospital staff afraid to touch her because she is HIV positive. The child is just one of the many deaths she has seen today.

innocent

Each day that my friend returns from her work at the government hospital, I see her face fall a little farther – with fatigue, with despair – confused and saddened by so much suffering. Perhaps if I could see my own face, I would see the same, slow crumbling.

I remember my first week. How I felt a rising panic, wondering how I would ever get through my time here. Jay has signed up for a six-month contract. She tells me she’s “not a religious person” but wants to know how a loving God could allow so much poverty and suffering. I tell her I don’t know, that I’m still struggling to find the answer to that same question. That perhaps faith means believing that God sees the bigger picture and trusting that He knows what He’s doing. She tells me her NGO sent two pediatricians to Mbale hospital last year and they were so distraught by what they saw in the pediatric ward that they quit and required counseling when they returned home. I can imagine that.

I share with her about the child who finally broke me, and how one of the nurses told me, “You have a strong heart. Some people can’t even enter the ward, some can’t get through even one day seeing these children, but it took almost two weeks to break yours.”

And that’s just what we see in the hospitals. In town I see the crippled, the maimed and disfigured, on every corner and sidewalk like some cruel display of circus acts. It’s so much easier to look away. To look too closely is to come undone. Even the best of us are as oblivious as we want to be, safely cocooned in a protective bubble of subjective misperception, our minds too eager to twist the truth, trying to make sense of what makes no sense.

uganda 017

If I allow myself to see the reality of poverty, starvation and disease, I have to make a conscious choice: To do something or to ignore it – which is inexcusable. We do have a choice. But too often we let the insignificant and petty details of our days distract us, perhaps hoping if we ignore it long enough we won’t notice anymore.
I don’t want to be anesthetized to it. It should be disturbing enough to make me gasp, to lose sleep over it. I don’t want to be immune to suffering in the hope it won’t hurt anymore. If I numb myself to not feel pain, perhaps I will become unable to feel at all.

If keeping my heart open means being hurt or wounded by suffering, then so be it.

Which brings me back to Jay’s question:
How can a loving God allow suffering?
He doesn’t. We do.