Tag Archive | Purpose, Callings; Identity in Christ

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.

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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.

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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.

Healing in Uganda Part 2

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Today I’m on the ward with the children who have been discharged from the ICU. During rounds I watch Dr. John, one of the neurosurgeons, discuss each child with the medical officers. He greets each mother and says “Are you happy today mama?”  He explains in very simple terms what is happening and what they can expect. He tells one mother she can take her baby home now, but she will need to come back in a week for further treatment. The mother cries and tells him she cannot afford the 8,000 Shillings (about $5) to ride the bus to go home and then back. Sometimes this happens and CURE will let them stay over. Sometimes the women have no home to return to.

A baby was brought in last night with sepsis. His mother was putting cow dung on his umbilical cord because she thought it would dry and fall off more quickly. The antibiotics that were started here could do nothing for the massive infection and the baby died. Four more die by the end of my first week.

On Thursday I observed a craniotomy on a 2 month old. I asked the surgeon if the baby was dropped? How did he get this head injury? In the US we would probably assume child abuse for this sort of head injury. He told me the child’s house fell on him. Many of these people live in mud and straw huts, and when the rains come the roof caves in  and the houses fall apart. So sad.

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The OR had a full schedule of surgeries yesterday so the PICU is full.  Today there is no water. I am told the tanks have run dry. The surgeries scheduled for today will have to be pushed back until tomorrow. The mothers have traveled so far to be here and then they must wait. We are never sure if the water or power will be off, or what child will develop a fever and be too sick for surgery.

I meet a woman from Sudan. Her daughter is 17 and has a brain tumor. Once a healthy teenager, she is now deaf and blind. Her words are unintelligible. The family did not know to take her to a doctor when she lost focus in one eye, but when she went blind and her behavior changed, they had to. Even then they could not come right away because they did not have the money to travel. Today the surgeons will try to remove the tumor, but are not sure if it will restore her sight.

Another young mother tells me her back is hurting. I know it must be painful because she never talks about herself, only her daughter “Mercy.” I can’t help but wonder if her back hurts from her cramped bed, from lifting her 4 year old daughter heavy with hydrocephalus or because she is so worried about Mercy’s surgery tomorrow. The mothers come with their babies and rarely does anyone accompany them. Such a heavy emotional load for a young mother to bear alone.

In the next bed is a 1 month old baby who looks chubby and has a healthy cry. He has myelomeningocele, a condition where the neural tube in the spine fails to close. He is having surgery tomorrow also. I see his Mom struggle to keep him dry, but there are no diapers, cloth or disposable. The mothers use thin rags from torn up sheets that they wash when they are soiled and then use again. Not the best for preventing infection when your spine has a hole in it. Children with this condition are incontinent of urine and stool and have a constant stream of both. The mothers simply keep wiping it away. It’s almost impossible to keep their incision clean.

I spend the afternoon cutting my brand new, lightweight flannel robe from Land’s End into large squares. The material is absolutely perfect for soft diapers – even if it is magenta. I can’t help but giggle as I think how silly it was to bring a flannel robe to such a hot and humid country. Now it makes perfect sense.

Healing in Uganda

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It is 5am and I know this because I hear the Adhan, the morning call to prayer coming from the mosque a block away. Here in Mbale, it doesn’t matter that my phone has died and I have no alarm clock. The Adhan or local rooster will wake me every morning. I am in Uganda, at CURE Children’s hospital in Uganda. Today I will meet the two neurosurgeons who perform life-changing surgery every day. The doctors round at 7:30am, then meet in the chapel at 8:00 for morning prayers. There are bibles on every other chair, tattered and worn, some missing covers. They have been well loved.

I meet the nurses and other staff. They are so kind and humble. One says, ”She is here to teach us how to do better.” The truth is, I have much to learn from them. I meet Miriam, the hospital’s Spiritual Director. I ask her what she does on an average day. She tells me, “I sit with every mother and child and just listen. The mama she has so much sorrow to share. I pray with them, with every one of them“. Miriam expresses her dismay when I tell her we have hospital chaplains, but they only come at the patient or family’s request. “Who attends to the spiritual healing?” She asks, “How can the patient heal if the spiritual is not addressed?” I agree with her and I ask her what is most needed, what is the most important thing for me to do while I’m here?  “Hold their babies, love them” she says, “No one in their village will touch them because they think they are bewitched. They need your heart and your hands much more than your head. Your presence is enough.”

The neurosurgeons are John and Peter. They have me stand behind them as they operate, explaining each anatomical structure and procedure. They do the most intricate part of the surgery in the dark. There is a light over the incision point, but they are looking straight ahead at a monitor, their hands like a typist whose fingers tap the keyboard while her eyes stare at the page. I believe they could do this in their sleep.

These doctors have every reason not to be humble, but they are. They are kind to patients and staff. There is compassion in their eyes. I am moved at how they give God all the credit for a patient’s healing. I hear Dr. John singing “How Great Thou Art” in an off-key but sincere falsetto as he works. Dr. Peter has gospel music playing full-blast in the OR and he and the staff sing while they work.

But what makes me cry is when the lights are dimmed, and before any incision is made, the entire surgical team bows their heads in prayer: A heartfelt, out-loud, specifically for this child prayer. They ask God for his help. And this is what they do before every surgery – ask God for His mercy, to heal this child. They acknowledge God as the only true source of healing, remembering that their skillful hands are simply God’s instrument. And in that moment of quiet with the lights dim, the surgical suite becomes a sanctuary, a holy place. There is a calm, a peace and an undeniable healing presence.

Each of these tiny patients has a name, a family, a story. And although state of the art neurosurgery is being done here, even more evident is the spiritual transformation taking place. These children can return home, go to school and live a productive life. No longer will they be looked upon by their community as cursed. Instead, they are a miracle.

Saying Yes

The message took my breath away. “We regret to inform you that we need to cancel your trip to Kabul, Afghanistan for an unspecified period of time. Due to new information from our security sources on the ground, the risk to foreigners working in Kabul is substantial, too great to justify coming at this time.”  Disbelief. Disappointment. Distress. Defeat. In short, it felt like a big FAIL.

I worried about telling my husband. I was afraid he would be angry about all the time and money we had already invested in this. I was a little upset myself – everyone knew I was going – what would I tell them?  But my husband didn’t get angry. He simply said “Maybe God is saying no to Afghanistan for now, but He may want you somewhere else. Why don’t you ask CURE where they need you?” He was right. I already had a plane ticket and time set aside. Obviously we could not afford another ticket, but perhaps the ticket could be changed? There were other countries, other hospitals and other children in desperate need of medical care.

CURE has hospitals in Honduras, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Niger, Kabul, UAE and the Dominican Republic. So I asked, “Where is your greatest need right now, where do you need me?” and I prayed for direction. A few days ago I received word that there was a children’s hospital in Uganda that could use me. Was I willing to go? After discussing it with my husband and family, I said yes.

This past year has truly been one of unpredictable change and challenge. I have found that trusting God and his timing brings a deep peace, a knowing that at some point this will all make sense. Regardless of the outcome, I am willing  to embrace the unexpected and  expect the possibility of miracles.

Even though it isn’t what I planned for or  even considered, I am saying “yes.”

As I was reading today about the apostle Peter. I was thinking about how much courage and faith he had to get out of that boat. Peter had to leave what he knew to be safe, get himself up over the side of the boat, let go and step out into the waves before he got his miracle.  The other disciples must have thought he was nuts. Did they try to stop him, think he was confused and try to pull him back in? Or were they so afraid they simply held on white knuckled, fearful his movement  might cause the boat to capsize and drown them all? Peter was determined.  And, he was open to change and miracles. He stepped out in faith and as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he walked on water. Too often his story puts the emphasis on his failure – he looked down and started to sink. I don’t agree. Peter was brave: He stepped out, he trusted Jesus and he said “yes.”

To fully serve God we must consider His leading in new directions as well as our comfortable, familiar route. Ask for wisdom. The decision to face fear is the beginning of a sacred path.

The oldest, shortest words – “yes” and “no” – are those which require the most thought.  –Pythagoras

The Headstone

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Today I went to the cemetery to look for my sister’s headstone. I ordered it 2 months ago, but her grave still lies unmarked.  My mother is easy to find, her name and picture engraved on black onyx shipped from India.  The words “Very Deeply Loved” can’t begin  to describe her life or who she was.

My sister’s stone “has been misplaced” I am told. I had hoped it would already be there, next to my mother, but it is not.  It is lost. Her stone will be white marble and simply say “Beloved Wife and Mother.”  But hidden at the end of that phrase will be “lost,” like the stone.

Watching my mother and sister die has not made me fear dying. I am more afraid of not living,  of remaining lost in an unforgiving swamp of rage.  I’m afraid I’ll miss something or run out of time. I don’t want to waste even one precious moment more by not living each day with passion and purpose…every day as if  it were my last.

Whether acts of kindness or cruelty, our experiences shape us. Who we ultimately become  is up to us. Healing comes as we choose to view ourselves and others through eyes of compassion and understanding.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  

— George Bernard Shaw