Friday, December 25, 2009


It is 4:30am Christmas day. I imagine jet lag may have something to do with the fact that I am wide awake at such an hour, but less likely that it is driving my thoughts to distraction, making the possibility of further sleep entirely unattainable.
So what does she do? She blogs, of course.
My transition home has been good so far. I am enjoying the simple pleasures of eating fresh fruits like berries and grapes that I haven't had in a year. I love the moments with friends and family so much and I'm trying desperately to take a snapshot in my mind of every hug so when I think back sometime next year, when I am back in Africa, I can remember how good it felt.

I was driving to church with my parents last night and found my mind wandering.
"I miss the babies on their mama's backs" I said.
But to myself;
I miss Africa

Words you don't say out loud when you've just been home under 48 hours.
I stayed composed until we sang of Emmanuel. He was written in the prophesies, we hear about Him, usually on Christmas, but I say its a fair bet not many actually lets those words settle in. Do we really meditate on who Emmanuel is? This is not to say I have arrived at any wildly theological conclusion, far from it. I just tell the stories, that's it. Once again this is a story where I am left humbled and crying, a place where God loves to whisper into my soul words of comfort, a place I'm glad I even have the privilege of being.

While singing last night I thought of my beloved Africa. I thought about all those left behind and I cried for them. I cried for me, for my heart that aches so badly to hold and lay kisses on a velvety smooth baby, or cast my eyes on a smiling child along the side of the road. I longed to feel the joy so strongly associated with Africa that I was struggling to find it there in the sanctuary of our church. I cried because it turns out this isn't as easy as I thought, I am between two worlds that I love so dearly. I can't be in one and not miss the other.
I'm being honest in saying I believe this is an incredible paradox to face. There are people in this world who never find their niche, who never have a place to go where they feel inexplicable joy and love.
I have two.
While sitting, tears falling on my cheeks, grasping my moms hand, I heard it. I caught a glimpse of understanding. Hours later I woke up thinking of it. Now, as I sip tea and try to comprehend all that I feel, I know, again, that I had it all wrong last night.
It's not about me. Well, it is about me, but not in the selfish lens I was looking through.
Thousands of years ago a baby was born.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel.

He came into this world to save, to take on the sin of the world. He came to love and not condemn. He came to save me. He came to save all of you too, whether or not you like it, that's a truth I will stand by until I meet Him one day.
Its fitting that I came home just days before Christmas, it puts my world into a perspective that is much needed. Yes, my transition is a bit tough, but my goodness, God, the King of Kings, was sent to be among us. The epitome of innocence and purity in a world filled with hatred and demise. A savior for the broken, a friend to the friendless, He came to us.
It is because of Jesus, because of that day, that I live. I was saved from this world. Yes, I live here, I am split physically between two continents, but my heart, my soul, rests in a kingdom. That understanding trumps everything else I am feeling, it is my comfort. If my life consists of the pains of being split between two places in this world, if this transition is only one of many, I will drink it deeply. I will live a life of someone who was saved and then gently asked to go out and spread the news.
I will love because He first loved me.

Emmanuel, God with us. El Shaddai, all sufficient.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Touchdown Boston

I'm here.
I'm home.
I can hardly believe it, its just so surreal.
It took 12 days of sailing, 2 days of roaming the streets of Tenerife, a 4 hour flight diverted to an airport hours north of where we were supposed to land, a 3 hour coach through England which shuts down with a mere 2 inches of snow, a night and day soaking up the beauty of London, a straight-out sprint to my gate at Heathrow (42 terminals is a long way to run when you show up 25 minutes before an international flight, oops), a 7 hours flight over the Atlantic, and a 10 minute drive home, where I sit now.

There are pictures of me throughout the house, my moms 'shrine' of me in Africa (as my sister jokingly calls it) takes up one side of our refrigerator. It just dawned on me that I was missed here just as badly as I missed home. While I was halfway across the world, the most loving family imaginable set up reminders and documented my journey in Africa. Little Luc and Anicette smile at me from the refrigerator, I see Maurice looking back at me, they are all here too. They are fixtures in not only my heart, but in my family's who love them just as much as I do.

So here I am.
Wide awake because for me its 6am, but the clock says 1.
The feeling inside of me can't be described in words (besides, if I tried I would go on for lines which we know I have a habit of doing).
Tonight I will sleep in a bed wider than my hips after a long hot shower. A bed that is covered in warm sheets and fluffy pillows because no one can make a bed like Jenny, my best friend and only sister. Tomorrow I will drink coffee in my pj's and write words of thanks in my precious prayer journal, because I am truly so thankful. I am so blessed.

I am home, and it feels good.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


These two pictures, prior to today, hung on my wall. I saw them every day on my way in and out of my cabin. They make me smile, and even despite some of the toughest emotions I faced this year, these pictures spoke into my bruised heart and promised to lift me enough to face more the next moment.

I took the pictures down today so I can cary them with me as I begin to travel in 4 short days. I will hold them next to me through Tenerife, as I roam London for a couple of days, and when I finally, finally, make it home into the loving arms of my family.
When I took them from the wall today, when my eyes felll on the two children in my hands, I lost it. I couldn't contain the tears.
I want to hold them, I want to play with them. I want to kiss Anicette's little toes, feel the softness of the soles of her feet against my lips. I want to grab Maurice, hold him and feel his arm around my shoulder. I want to run up and down the halls with him, sharing joy through the eyes of a 5 year old.
Most likely, I will never see Maurice on this earth again. Our last visit was hard, he is much sicker, and three of us who love him very dearly tried in vain to keep our composure while saying our last prayers over that incredible little boy.
Maybe I will see Anicette again next year. Right now though, just today, it hit me that I'm not in Benin anymore. When we dock on Saturday morning it won't be the same scene I have been looking at for almost a year.
The air has changed, the sun doesn't burn so hot, and I feel somewhat lost. That is, until it came to me.
I am with them. They are not alone, sweet child. Let me heal your wounded heart. Give it to me. All of it.
I am thankful for these wounds I carry. They make me feel alive. They make me realize that yes, indeed, just a few small children have changed my life forever. I have been removed from the immediate presence of them, but they will never be far from my heart. Without these wounds, I wouldn't experience the healing that is taking place even now as I type.

What grace is mine, that He who dwells in endless light Called through the night to find my distant soulAnd from His scars, poured mercy that would plead for meThat I might live, and in His name be known
So I will go wherever He is calling meI lose my life to find my life in Him I give my all to gain the hope that never diesI bow my heart, take up my cross, and follow Him
What grace is mine, to know
His breath alive in meBeneath His wings my wakened soul may soarAll fear can flee, for deaths dark night is overcomeMy Savior lives, and reigns forevermore.
-What grace is mine

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld said,
"The only thing constant in life is change"
One of our chaplains started our weekly community meeting with that quote in relation to all of the departures we will be seeing off in the next week.
I began to think of all of the changes I've experienced in just one year, this last transition between Africa and now sailing (for more than 45 consecutive minutes) for the first time in my life.

I struggled when we first left, but not the way I imagined I would. I was overwhelmed for sure, emotionally exhausted but if I'm being honest, quite numb, not sure where to place my thoughts. I prayed about where to start, how to process it all and make sure I had covered everything. The first night of the sail I slept outside and was awestruck by the sight of the sky, the stars spilled across in a way I have never seen. I woke up and listened to Psalm 118, its words taking on all new meaning.

Suzanne, be still. Rest. Enjoy my creation, this time of transition. I want you to.

Don't get me wrong, I have a lot to process, a lot to figure out, new parts of my heart that I need to get acquainted with. I have been forever changed (thankfully) and that's not something you document in a scrapbook or depict in a slide show. It can't be summed up in a 5 minute talk, or as an answer to one question.
I heard someone say that Africa gets in your blood, it becomes a part of you. I'm not sure I could do an explanation of that any justice, its simply true.
Africa infiltrated my heart, its embedded in my sole, I can feel it in my bones.
Change is always occurring, it is indeed inevitable. Embracing change is something I am working hard at, and my stubborn nature seems to be letting up lately.
The past two mornings I have awoke to the sights of the sun rising over the ocean, following meteor showers the nights before. I have sat, the wind whipping around me, and simply enjoyed all of it.
Change is constant, most of us would agree with that. I do though, have to disagree with Rochefoucauld in saying that God, my savior, is my constant. He is my ever present help in time of need, He is my father, my friend. He loves me enough to move me halfway across the world, desperate to show me His heart, and after it all whisper into my soul that I need rest, that its ok.

In less than a week I will step foot back into 'the western world', they tell me it will be a tough transition, I don't doubt it for a second. I do know though, that there is something to be learned, that when I again face change in just a few short days, there is only one thing to do.
I will set my eyes, fix my gaze, on the only truly constant thing in my life. I will ache to be able describe to people how my heart will never be the same, I will let the joy of being with my family settle in deep. I will laugh, and likely cry recounting stories from my year in Africa. I'll try to explain how I have to go back, how I know I belong back on African soil.
The most important though, my consistent comfort, will be the moments when I sit and converse with my maker, the only one who knows it all.
That, that, will never change.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two hands

You could say I've had a bit of a mental block lately. I could blame it on the anti sea-sickness meds (on day 4 of our 12 day sail), or the constant rocking of the boat (which has increased ever so slightly since we turned North past Liberia this morning). Really though, its hard to explain how I'm feeling. This blog is generally my outlet, my 'therapy', my way of processing whats going on. Lately though, well, I don't really know whats going on. I suppose I'm between two vastly different worlds. I left Africa, where my heart aches to be back already, and I long to be home so much it hurts equally as much
Whats been best are the moments I let my mind go back to Africa. I can close my eyes and remember the kids, their wide smiles and incredible ability to love so deeply. I think about Luc and Maurice, Rachelle, and Anicette. I pray for them, I silently stand on the bow of the ship, sailing towards the sunset, and communicate with God. I am perfectly content, yet I ponder so much.

About halfway through this outreach I started making note of the things God has used me to do this year. People talk plenty about being the hands and feet of Jesus, an abstract thought unless you put it into the context of your own life. In no particular order, these are the things God chose for me to do after I told Him to use me in whatever capacity He saw fit.

With my two hands, I;
~Decorated plastic cups with stickers for 4 year old boys not keen on the idea of drinking after major surgery.
~Handed out medication in hot cement rooms, marking the bags under the different stages of the sun rising and setting to indicate when to take the small pills.
~Took a bag of warm blood and hung it above a dying patient, squeezing it into his body through his IV while praying he would make it. He did.
~Held the hand of a woman while she miscarried, and cried with her over the loss of a child she had already named.
~Carried baby Hubert around D ward for hours, staring into his liquid black eyes, marveling at his sweet demeanor.
~Felt the weight of sweet baby Hubert after he went home to Jesus and I held him in my arms.
~Tickled countless kids and waved to every single one who frantically waved at the yovo driving by.
~Ran my fingers up and down Glory's arm, and found absolute peace and confirmation with my life. I learned sacrifice is beautiful, which is turn doesn't make it sacrifice at all.
~Ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by my own mom and couldn't stop smiling over the fact she was with me for what was my favorite month all year.
~Picked through hundreds of yards of bright African fabric, choosing my favorites and imaging what I would make out of each one.
~Bandaged little Maurice's eye after kisses and reassurances I would be gentle so as not to hurt him.
~Held the shoulders of Maddie's father while he held her during her last breaths.
~Carried Maddie through the ship and into the car, securing her back into her fathers arm for the ride home where we would tell her mother the harsh news.
~Placed my hands on countless patients and called on God.
~Raised my hands in absolute surrender to my King, to my God who I love more than ever.
~Ran my finger across the page of Psalm 71 while giving my testimony to an African church.
~Drew blood on Luc and Rachelle, placed IV's on the little ones in the ward, all with the promise of stickers and kisses to make up from my horrible betrayal of their sweet trust.
~Held up little Enock while he sipped Coca Cola the days before his death.
~Accepted the gift of earrings from Enock's mom, her determined way to thank us for being with her while she faced a year of watching her youngest son die.
~Wiped hours of tears from my face.
~Ran my fingers across the toes of baby Anicette while visiting her village, coveting every second I was able to hold her.
~Held on for dear life to the back of a motorcycle(whose driver was sporting a leopard print cowboy hat), my first and only time ever. Ok, it wasn't the only time, we took zemis to the pool another day too. I am SO sorry mom...(and if you are reading this as a representative of my travel insurance, I'm totally kidding. I would never do something so reckless)

My point in all of this? I am the most unlikely character for this job. I didn't earn the privilege of working in Africa, I don't deserve a life that is, well, amazing. I don't measure up to other people doing this same work. I am no different from anyone reading this (I guarentee my past life can rival many of you who role their eyes at that statement). And my point is just that. When I gave up myself and let God take control, He did all this. I gave Him my hands and feet and asked Him to show me what to do. It is that simple. I listened, and I gained life. I was taught how to love, what it means to truly live.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blog worthy?

I've been thinking about some great blogs lately. You know the ones that leave you red eyed and sniffling while people question your emotional stability. Oh wait, there I go talking about myself again.
Moving on.
This weekend was our last weekend in Benin. I was more than happy to partake in a trip to Grand Popo, the best place to be in my opinion. The ride there was seamless. My friend took a zemi ride to the 'taxi stand' that has lines of guys driving various dilapidated cars towards the Togo border. With experience he talked them down to 5 bucks a person (the trip takes 2 hours) and we made it there in style (read: no livestock in or on top of the car and no push starts).

The weekend was amazing, I slept under the stars, laughed with some of my favorite people, and sipped coffee yesterday morning among palm trees and a perfect breeze.
The three different groups started the trip back at different stages throughout the day. My group was the last one to leave and we set out to the side of the road after a day soaking in the pool and working on tans we hope to keep until Christmas.
Grabbing a taxi and hitchhiking in West Africa are one in the same. Its quite the lucrative career once you get yourself a car here. With being close to the Togo border, its not terribly hard to find a ride back to the city of Cotonou. The trick was finding one with three seats so we could all go together. With every passing car we would hold out 3 fingers, representing the 3 seats we needed. The response ranged from the driver holding out 1 finger for his limited space, two flashes of his lights for only a couple of spots, and sounds of the horn which either told us "no I'm not a cab" or "get out of the road you crazy yovo's". Potato, potata.

Then my friend decided to pray. At home he drove a BMW, so he decided to try his luck.
"God, please send us a straight six BMW. Let it be moderately clean..." he asked
"At least not wet stains" I added
"No goats or chickens" he prayed in earnest
"Because I was just recently pecked in the head by one" I recalled
"And let us get home safely" we concluded.

The next prayer quickly included Toyota's, Audi's, and the other random heaps we see daily, but we were really holding out for the German car his heart desired. One car stopped and offered to kick out his current passengers for us, telling us for double the price he would take care of us. We objected and sent him away (after all, it was a measly Peugot), and then we saw it.
A blue BMW came towards us. We threw up our fingers and grabbed our backpacks while he pulled over. He wasn't a taxi, but a normal guy who was passing through on his way to Cotonou. After agreeing to take us home, we walked to the trunk to store our stuff while my friend sported a sly smile,
"Its a straight six".

We had a peaceful, clean, chicken-free ride back into the city and laughed over our answered prayer as we walked down the dock towards the ship. We met a girl from the group who left before us. They too had prayed for a nice ride. They even went as far to ask for air conditioning I think. They drove home in a Mercedes.

Honestly, believe what you will about this being an answer to prayer. I've seen too many not to believe that's exactly what our ride in the beamer was.
Back when we were walking down the dock I asked my friend to pray again.
"Just ask God for it not to be fish tonight for dinner" I pleaded
"Come one, I like fish anyways"
As I stared at the fried fish in front of me with a visible pout, a tray of leftover pizza was placed directly in front of me.

So was the day blog worthy? I don't know, but I know I won't soon forget it.
My God is powerful, all mighty, and the creator of the Heavens and Earth. My God also has a sense of humor and loves to build my faith not only through astounding revelations, but with BMW's and pizza.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Yesterday I was thrown about the back of a Landorover for a total of nearly 9 hours. By the end of the day I was sweaty, dirty, had been peed on, and my head ached from smashing it on the roof of the car during the instances I left my grip on the handles for a second while the truck traveled over endless bumps and ruts on the dirt road.

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life.

(My view of the sun rise coming out of the ship)

Baby Anicette lives about 4 hours north of the port. A media team was scheduled to visit her in her village and I happen to have an 'in' with the media leasion. I stood outside at 6:45 yesterday morning, on standby waiting to see if there was room amongst the camera gear for me to squeeze in and make the trek up with them. I was giddy as I climbed into the back. I was so looking forward to going, I knew it would be a great way to end this outreach.
Thank you, God.

We did our usual stop and ask for directions way of traveling, eventually making it to meet a man who had come from Anicette's village. As we followed him, snaking through the bushes of Africa, I couldn't take my eyes off the road behind us. The dirt here is the color of burnt orange. We are in the dry season, so as we drove, terrific clouds of dust were kicked up behind us. As we passed people on their bikes and on foot, I waved, at first thinking it was a consolation for covering them in dirt. As always though, I was the one surprised. Nearly every time, they waved back. Through the dust, I could see a palm fly up to wave and a big smile. They didn't care about the dirt, they were just happy to see us and match a friendly wave.
That is Africa.

When we arrived, Anicette's mama quickly deposited her into my arms. She cooed and smiled, giggling as I kissed her belly and her cheeks over and over. That baby is seriously the most amazing gift of joy I have ever been given. She has been my comfort on so many days this year. She is one of the most beautiful children of Jesus I have ever seen and I love her with everything in me. My chicken little.

The cameras turned on and for a while we sat and observed as Anicette starred in the show. As always, there was no lack of cute chocolate colored children who went bananas over our digital cameras. I could barely take it all in. The colors, the smells, the feel of the kids warm skin on mine, the smiles, it was almost too much. My heart was overflowing.

This is my life. This is my life. Incredible

(A scene from the village)

(Watching the film crew)

(all smiles)

We were brought around the village, a crowd of scaresly clothed children always in tow. We were embraced, accepted, and welcomed in a way I have only ever seen in countries like here in Benin. Towards the end of our time, Anicette's mama asked my friend and I to pray for her and her baby. We hudled close and wrapped our arms around them. Tears flowed as I prayed.

Thank you, God. Thank you for every detail in this story. Thank you for the gift of life for this baby, thank you for this mama who loves her so much. Thank you for showing us your perfect plan, thank you for letting me love them and feel the love pour out of them in return. Thank you.

Her mama pointed to my face and asked "why?"
I'm happy
"Why happy?"

Before I left to come to Africa I watched a Nooma video by Rob Bell. Its title was Dust. It has stayed with me since that day (on the tears rating it was 4 stars. Be warned, my rating may be 1-2 stars above normal). He talked about how disciples were always the most elite scholars. They were the best of the best. However, when Jesus came, among his Disciples were fisherman. It was a major honor to be chosen, and we can only imagine how amazing it was for Jesus to ask a lowly fisherman to come and follow him.

"...At once, they dropped their nets, and followed him." Mark 1:16-18

Disciples follow their rabbi everywhere He goes. The walk behind Him, never doubting where He will lead them. At the end of the day they are covered in the dust of their leader. Jesus' disciples were covered in His dust. They dropped everything for the honor and privelege of following Him.
That imagery leaves me breathless.

This year I have had moments when I was sure I wouldn't make it another day. I have been devastated, my heart feeling as if it would literally break for what I have seen here.
Last year, before coming to Africa, I dropped everything in order to follow Jesus. I abandoned most of what I knew and promised Him I would follow, wherever that lead. The road has been one of suffering, rejoicing, and absolute surrender. It has been hot, sticky, and exhausting. The road is long, but I don't walk it alone. I choose to follow, and I am honored to be covered in the dust of my savior.

Friday, November 27, 2009


As this week comes to an end, I can't help but let my mind race over everything I have to do before the ship sails away from Benin. While the hospital on board is closing its doors, I am gearing up for a big transition for the patients we care for outside of the steel doors. I have three children who are only just past the halfway point in their treatment for Burkitt's.

I have patients who have no means of buying medication or supplies for their wounds, and may live past the 3 months supply we leave behind. When we sail, Africa will still be here, these people stay right in their same situations.

But that's not entirely true. People here have been changed forever. Whether it was by a surgery that corrected a deformity, a farmer who learned how to grow crops, or a pastor who now knows how to council the mentally ill, people have changed. Parts of this country have been altered, for the better, forever. The biggest mistake one could make who is here in Africa would be to think they deserved any of the credit for whats been accomplished this year.

I too have been changed forever, I will never again look at the world the way I did just 9 short months ago. Parts of me wish I didn't have to learn so many lessons the hard way. Parts of me wish I could have stayed in the comfort of home, doing Dunkin Donuts coffee runs on the weekends while working in one of the top hospitals in America with state of the art care for all of the sweet children who come through its doors. Parts of me wish I didn't have to suffer so much heart ache and grow so attached to kids who I then watched die. Parts of me wishes I was done right now, packed up and ready to sail.

But those are just small parts, the whole of me, my heart, is more invested, more in love, than it has ever been. I wouldn't change one thing about this year, not one thing about my life. My latest lesson was learned though those tears over Luc. This story, in its entirety, is in God's control, it always has been.
Yesterday, I was reading through my favorite blog. A while back she posted something from the lay apostle, Anne. Without fully researching her(Anne's) crediblity (actually, I got dizzy looking through all of the different opinions about her), this particular part struck me.

"First, there will always be a difference between the world’s path and heaven’s path. These two paths, while they can run along side each other for increments, will always separate. Ultimately, each man will have to choose. Every man, to a greater or lesser degree, will have to contend with choosing first good over evil and then he will have to make another choice and that is the choice of choosing My plan for his life over his own plan for his life. After that, the choices become even more studied in that the man must choose My plan in each day, in each task and even in each moment. You may say, dear apostle, that this is a difficult call for a man, to study his actions in each day. You may say, this is asking a lot. You are right. I, Jesus, am asking a lot of you. I ask for your full commitment and I do so without apology. Dearest apostles, if you give me your full commitment, there is no limit to what I can do. Look at your life. You have said yes to me on many days. Examine what I have done with your yes answers."

The parts of me that want to be home are outweighed by what I believe to be the call on my life, why I am here. All of me is in a postion of thanksgiving. I have fullness of life, I have gained so much by giving up everything.

"Truly, your hearts, open and filled with My love, call out to others. You provide for Me a welcome to those who feel separated. If they can be taken into your heart for even a brief moment and experience Me, with My love, then they will have the courage to both approach Me directly and to accept Me directly. Please, do not count the sacrifices when you consider your service. Do not count the loss of worldly respect. Count only the souls who are comforted and consoled. Count the repentance and healing of so many who have been restored to unity with heaven. Count the humility that I have bestowed on you, dear apostle, since you began to learn about true holiness. I am your King. I can give you anything. I choose to give you peace and holiness. I choose to make of you a resolute servant. Accept My will in your life and you will then be able to accept all of the graces heaven has stored up for you."

Africa is much more than just a part of my life. Its where I have found my place in God's plan. Its where my heart was broken for 'the least of these', where I died everyday to my own will and desires, and put my trust to the real test. Its where I will continue to learn hard lessons and love with every ounce of energy I have. It is where I will put all of my effort, laced with tears and moments of pure joy, into these last days before the ship sails.

Every part of me is ready.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So much

Since last posting my emotions have been labile at best. You could catch me at any time throughout the day and I'll be on the verge of tears. When I became a pediatric nurse I didn't sign up for my patients dying, that wasn't part of the package. I said I would never do oncology, kids with cancer were just too sad.
When I became a Christian, I changed. I wanted to do anything for Christ, I prayed for His heart. I wanted to love like Him.

Luc's parents called on Monday to say he had increased swelling in his right eye, the same eye that once was bulging out from a large tumor. We watched the tumor disappear, he was one of the ones that would make it in my determined heart. I went immediately to Dr. Gary. He said what I didn't want him to, that the treatment works only 70% of the time, that kids who initially respond then can have the cancer fight back.
Maurice's mom called too. He was sick and his cancer was getting worse too. She was bringing him up-country where she could care for him and we promised to call her.
Rachelle has malaria and no money for treatment. We told her to borrow, to do anything she could to go get treatment. She can't get her next dose of chemo without being treated first.

After all of it, I went to my room and sobbed. I cried for Enock and Aime, I cried for little Maddie. I gasped for air thinking about Luc, Maurice, and Rachelle.
Please Jesus. Help me. Help Luc, save Maurice, be with Rachelle. I love them so much. This hurts too much.

My sweet Suzanne. Their story has been written since the beginning of time. I wrote you into it for a reason. When they come home, they will be in Heaven, with Me. I cry for them too. I love them even more than you. I have shown you what real love is, what it is to truly love my children.

Of course my heart feels as though it will burst. Of course I still, even now, sit with tears threatening to roll down my cheeks in the middle of the staff office where I type (great place to blog, Suzanne). I prayed yesterday and sent out an email to my mom asking her to do the same. We had an appointment yesterday with a pediatrician to talk about Luc. There is one more drug we can try but it isn't available fom the ship or even in this country for that matter.
When I shook the doctors hand, I knew he was our answer to prayer. While talking, he was using his hands and after only a few minutes, Luc, who was sitting on my lap, started mimicking the doctors hand gestures. During Luc's exam, the doctor tickled him and interacted in a way that made my heart relax. When we got up to leave, Luc ran over and held the doctors hand. He trusted this man, and through his eyes, I trusted him too. I knew that after we left, God would put the right people in line to do what was right. Instead of blind trust, I got to have a glimpse of who God had in mind.

I walked out of the hot building, hand in hand with Luc. When we came to the edge of the curb and counted,
un, deux, trois.
Then we jumped. We continued this over the cracks in the sidewalk, over some tiles set in the ground (you get the picture) all the way to the car. Again, deep in my soul, I heard a whisper.

Suzanne, be like Luc. Live for this moment. Smile, laugh, be joyful. I have so much for you, just open your eyes. Enjoy this time with Luc, don't look into the future. Have trust, experience my presence, right now. I am here.

God, you have given me so much, so much that I don't deserve. Thank you for loving me, for showing me how to love, and being there to pick up the pieces when my heart feels destroyed by the pain that comes with loving like you. I will set my eyes on you, I will wait on you. I will choose joy over heartache.

Mark 10: 13-16
"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Going home

We have been visiting Enock since the beginning of this outreach. A shy boy with a sweet smile, we always looked forward to drawings and small folded notes from him when we would go visit. He is the little boy I told the story of how he made me a get well card one day when I wasn't able to visit, one of the many actions a child has done that will stay with me the rest of my life.
A few months ago his mom made the decision to fight against his cancer. She knew the oncologist here isn't trustworthy, that he may not do right by Enock, but what was her alternative?

His tumor responded, he regained some of his childhood. He returned to school and he joked with his brothers and sister. He acted tough with his friends and cuddled with his mama.
He was a 7 year old again.

In only 1 month, his tumor came back. This time it was even more angry, more aggressive, and stole back Enock's care-free childhood.
Last week we went to his house where he could hardly hold his head up. His mama leaned in and held her cheek against his closed eye. She kissed the bridge of his nose with her thick lips, an action so tender my heart fell. She was watching her youngest boy, her baby, die.
On Monday we learned Enock had been brought down to a clinic in the city where his aunt worked. We found him in a cool cement room with a soft breeze and clean sheets. He rested on a pillow and his mama smiled as she watched him sleep. He woke up from time to time and asked for 'coca', he smiled a bit when I told him he was a man after my own heart by drinking coca cola. At one point he asked for me so I moved from the top of the bed where I had been holding his hands to the bed with him. I held him up as he sipped his coke, I laid my arm on his chest while he weakly held onto me. I kissed his hands when he would open his eyes, searching for familiarity in that second of confusion. We stayed and talked about Enock, about what a special boy he was. His mom told us a story from the morning when she had gone about changing his bed. Enock, who was too weak to lift his head, was found by his mama on his knees in front of his bed praying when she came back into the room. He had found the strength to kneel before Jesus. I asked him if he wanted us to sing to him and he nodded 'yes'.
mon Dieu est bon
my God is good
I can't stop crying while writing this. I can't.

Yesterday we went to see him again and his mama wanted us to bring him home with her. They weren't sleeping well there and Enock missed his brothers and sister. We loaded into the car, Enock laid across the back resting on myself and his mom. I carried him into his house, whispering "look, you're home. We brought you home", and gently placed him on the couch. He smiled at his sister and then drifted back to sleep. We prayed for him and I kissed his face.
Edabo, Enock.

We got the call this morning that Enock had died. I held Luc who happened to be next to me when someone told us the news. I hugged him tight fighting these same tears that take my breath away now.
This afternoon, Mariette (Aime's mom) came by the ship. I had picked up some fabric a week ago as a gift for her as she just recently, since Aime has died, graduated from pharmacy school. She walked down the dock sporting the dress she had made with the fabric and she proudly showed me her diploma. Right before she left she pulled out some pictures, one of her and I lay among them. My eye caught another one, one of Aime before he showed any signs of the lymphoma that claimed his life.
There was no way to control the tears falling. It was too much today, I couldn't help it. She smiled in understanding, and we hugged as we have a million times.

And now, now my heart aches so deeply, it hurts so much. I think of Enock, about his mama who must be so devastated to lose the son she loved so much.
Just now I googled 'edabo' to find out if I was spelling it right. Fon is a funny language, almost none of the people who speak it can read or write it. The results showed some friends blogs from the ship, one of them being my friend Richard. I read through one of his posts, about another patient who died, and found comfort in the verses he included.
Psalm 116:3-7

3 The sorrows of death surrounded me, and the pains of Sheol came upon me; I found trouble and sorrow.
4 Then I called upon the name of Yahweh; O Yahweh, I beg You, deliver my being.
5 Full of unmerited favour is Yahweh, and He is righteous; yes, our God is full of mercy.
6 Yahweh preserves the simple: I was brought low and He helped me.
7 Return to your rest, O my being, for Yahweh has treated you well.

I am not afraid of brokenness,
wash Your feet with humble tears
I will be poured out till nothings left
I just want to wait on you, my God
Lord, I just want to dwell in who you are
-Kari Jobe

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chicken little

She was admitted to a corner bed in D ward this summer. A tiny 5 month old, hardly the size of a newborn. Her mama's eyes were hard set, her smile hidden beneath months of having a baby she never bonded with, a baby with a deformity that often makes these precious little ones the subject of cruelty, outcasts of society.

She watched as baby Hubert, another little one, put on weight. She saw the nurses coo and celebrate everyday he showed a gain. In her corner of D ward her eyes became more distant, her baby starved in so many ways.
With virtually no gain, we had nothing else to give. We had to have the bed for another patient, we didn't have a pediatrician, the list went on. We had prayer, but we had always had prayer. Countless people prayed, but nothing changed for this little baby. I volunteered to follow her outpatient. Palliative care wasn't full, we had time, and I was switching back that same day. Her surgery was canceled, and a new card was filled out for November, wishful thinking at that point for many.

For so long nothing changed for this little babe. Anicette continued to stay the same, but we did see a change in her mama. It had started in D ward. She began dressing Ani in cute clothes. She smiled when she had to get up in the middle of the night, joking with us in whispers while the bottles warmed.

In the hospitality center, the visitors continued to pour in. Daily, Ani and her mama were getting loved on, prayed for, sung with. A girl in HR was a known pediatric dietitian in the 'real world', she was on the case, and was able to somehow get new formula sent from the States, faster than anything has ever been shipped.
Each week I found the coordinator of our feeding program. At first the reports were a gain in ounces, a few hundred grams maybe. Then she would lose those grams the following week. We feared the worst but desperately held onto a faith we prayed would change the story that was unfolding. She began to gain, each week I saw the mom we would communicate in sign language. It was a simple thumbs up or down, and every week we hugged after a big thumbs up.

I was October, and after months of praying for Anicette, loving her as we know Jesus loves her, I cried when I heard the news she was heavy enough for surgery.
He did it. God did it.
Through all of the heartache, all of the pain I have felt these past weeks, my joy has been consistent. It rests in this story of a little baby. It rests with my God who heard the prayers of so many, who loves Anicette more than any of us could imagine. Before her surgery I snuck some pictures of her as she slept in my arms.

I watched her surgery, even managed to hold it together enough not to cry in the actual operating room (don't want all those men thinking I'm some over-emotional nurse or something).

When I went into the recovery room a while later, checking to see if she was awake, I finally let myself give into the tears when I discovered Anicette awake and eating. Her mama looked at me, and in the English she has picked up over the last months, with tears in her own eyes, she said "Thank you God"
The next day, my friend Meg wandered down to the ward with apparent super-hero timing. She caught this picture which I promptly printed and put in a place I see every day. It makes my heart smile. Seriously, its medically possible. My heart smiles.

When I first met Anicette back on D ward, I had the pleasure of being her nurse. In those first weeks I lovingly nicknamed her chicken little. She had tiny little chicken legs, and rather than just call her chicken as I had originally started, chicken little seemed to fit just right.

Last week I brought Ani and her mom for a second round of vaccinations at a local hospital. After her jabs, Ani cried her way into the car. She ceased only when we sang, which we all did the entire drive home, my translator and her mama laughing at my newly learned French the whole way.
Jesus, you are good
Jesus, you heal

Jesus, you are God
(below, a picture of Mama singing in the car)

Her strips are off, her lip is healing, and she has a ticket to come back for her second surgery next year when we return to Togo, Benin's next door neighbor. I'll be there, and hopefully I will be her nurse so I can share in late night whispers with her mama and early morning cuddles with chicken little.

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maurice, Moustafa, and the Ministry of health

Last week, after I wrote the final story on Maurice, I got several urgent phone calls from his mother a few days later. She wanted to speak with me face to face, and I agreed given she doesn't have the reputation of being an alarmist, and I knew she was serious.
As we sat in their hot cement house, all of us in the one room, sweating and draped in children, Maurice's mom told me about a dream she had. As she slept, she saw Maurice getting an infusion, she knew somehow it was the same kind we had tried before. She saw an angel come and touch Maurice on the eye, healing him of his disease.
Can we try it again?

Yes, of course
God please let me have faith that allows me to believe this could happen. I want to believe. Give me the strength to believe.

With only a handful of medication left on the ship I had done some research into getting more at the Ministry of Health here. They said it would be easy, "no problem" which in all honesty is not terribly comforting. At all.
We dropped Maurice off at the local hospital with Rachelle and Luc on Monday and made our way over to see about the medications. We went to the first room where you 'order' what you want. We then followed a lady out to a warehouse where boxes upon boxes of medication are piled as high as the ceiling. The most popular are towards the front.
Mebendazole for worms, Quinine for malaria, Vitamin B6 injections for, well, they give it for any and every ailment. As always, another story for another day.
At this point, my partner and translator split to go retrieve a signature on some official documents we have signed weekly by the minister of health, Moustafa. I don't know why, but I love that his name is Moustafa. Moustafa, Moustafa, Moustafa. Its fun to say, isn't it?
Anyways, I figured I could handle the payment and receipt portion of our transaction with the (extremely) limited Frech I know. The original lady I followed decided to bring me to yet another room, this one with the glorious sound of an air conditioning unit buzzing outside. As I walked past an armored car I remember thinking about how sketchy banks and business transactions can be in these countries. This led me to not be the least bit surprised when I walked through the doors to find two humungous men yeilding giant guns (I won't embarass myself in trying to say what kind of guns they were) and sporting bullet proof vests.
Sa Va? I said like an idiot.
Oiu, sa va.
Whew. haha.
Once Moustafa (the minister of health) found me and returned my team to the room with the air conditioning and guns, we sat and waited. And waited.
A phone in the lobby rang at one point, apparently we missed the memo to answer it, and was prompted to do so by another customer. 'They' (still don't know who 'they' are exactly) told us our total cost for the medication, but nothing else.
Moustafa returned and clearly was not impressed by our waiting game. He marched into the back room and shortly thereafter we were asked to pay up and follow him back to the warehouse.
Within minutes I was handed 10 vials of cyclophosphamide, a toxic chemotherapy drug. In total, I paid 13,o50 CFA, roughly 26 bucks.
In the end, after a few hours, we had enough treatment for Maurice, and all it took was my signature.

I saw Maurice today along with the other kids. He is sick, yet still cuddles, and his mom is hopeful. She knows medicine doesn't believe we will be successful in this treatment, but she is praying that science is wrong. I am too.
Will you join in praying again for little Maurice? His mother says that he will be a testimony to Gods miraculous nature, and everything in me wants that to be true. I also want to pray in line with Gods will for him. For now, I go with my gut instinct to give his mother credit and try a few rounds.
For now, I will continue to love on Maurice and tell him about Jesus. That part is easy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A wave goodbye

No, I'm not going to tie this title into some witty nautical metaphor. Its one of those titles I'm finding a bit cheesy, but alas, I'm tired tonight.

You all met Maurice quite some time ago. He was my first pediatric patient in palliative care, which made him a shoe-in for my favorite kid in Benin. He was sick and so sad those first days. His mama's eyes were always cast towards the ground, but occasionally she would speak in her broken English and smile shyly.
We treated Maurice for the type of cancer that he appeared to have. Several biopsies sent overseas kept coming back suspicious, but we kept sending them because we wanted an answer. If you read about Mercy Ships much, you would know about Dr. Gary Parker. He's been here over 20 years and I have had the honor of watching him work. He took on Maurice each time, praying for him before the first cut, and following up, making sure we were doing what was best for the little 5 year old. We finally got our answer of Sarcoma. I went into the office one night several weeks ago and attached to Maurice's file I saw research Dr. Gary had done on his particular cancer. I got an email soon after explaining that he had spoken with another doctor, and if we pursued chemotherapy, they could help with a protocol.

All of this time, Maurice has been staying with his aunt while his parents care for the rest of his family up north in the country. We showed up weekly to find a dirty, mostly naked Maurice and often left to sounds of him crying. Everything in me wanted him with his family, with his mama who takes such good care of him. I knew it was right for him to go home. They of course wanted him close to the ship, and then we had to have a honest discussion about just how likely successful treatment would be.

Last week I went to see Maurice at his house. He is recovering from the latest infection to his eye, and I wanted to change the bandage. He was smiling and happy, very willing to hold the saline for me as I attempted to make (and keep) a sterile field for his dressing change.
Monday he came to the ship, this time with his mama. She no longer looks at the ground, but kisses my cheeks and hugs me tight. Maurice was the happiest I have seen him, and I knew right then,it was time for him to go home.

His mama reports there is a 'big' hospital up north where, if, we wanted to give 'injections', they could. I can't describe hospitals here, but a thousand factors are against any timely, accurate, non-corrupt care being given to Maurice. I couldn't make the decision on my own. I couldn't. I emailed Dr. Gary.
"Is it worth trying? I want whats best for him."
As I typed, Maurice sat on my lap. I walked into the hallway, not sure of what to do, what to say. I couldn't honestly say I thought it was worth putting him through more unnecessary treatment. As I crouched down to talk, feeling unsure, Maurice came over and curled into me. I pointed to my cheek, ad he responded with a kiss. He doesn't know it, but that was my comfort. God reassured me in that very moment that I was to let go of Maurice, it was time.
I asked;
"Maurice, can you tell me something about Jesus?"
He replied
"He heals"
I asked, Tell me one person Jesus loves"
and he replied,

I walked them to the dock and grabbed one last hug and kiss from both mother and son. As he shuffled away, still with his big yellow flip flops, 2 sizes too big, I called out, 'bye Maurice', and my favorite kid in Africa lifted his hand, without turning, and waved goodbye.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pain in the offering

I was considering writing a post a few days ago, an update of sorts. Immediately following Maddie's death I described my status to a friend as 'crying at random'. The type of burden the whole situation left me with was too strong to carry on my own. When I woke up in them middle of the night, over and over those first few nights, I just laid there, quietly reflecting, privately grieving the death of a two year old little girl that I loved so much. It was me and God during those moments, silently communicating, me starting to gain glimpses of understanding.
Each morning I asked Him to fill me, and I listened to Psalm 118.
'This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.'

On Tuesday I faced the day, unsure I would be able to hold it together. My heart was so heavy. Our last stop of the day was the hospitality center, a building which houses patients who require follow up care or simply somewhere to sleep while they come back and forth from the ship. I was checking on a little baby we said we could help bring to the hospital. Of course I seized the opportunity to hold baby Anicette while I was there. When I first met her I nicknamed her chicken little. She was so tiny, always throwing up formula all over us, and giving her distant mama a run for her money.
But that was then.
Now, when I ask if Anicette has "puked", her smiling mama replies; "no puke". (Yes, I taught an African mama the word puke. I also taught her the song 'Tomorrow' from Annie)
While extending her English vocabulary to include "fat belly and fat bum are good", a band of chocolate colored boys ran to me excitedly. They held a treasure in their hands, a plastic replica of Alex the Lion from the movie Madagascar. Although it probably came from a happy meal in some far off land months ago, the battery which allows Alex to speak still had some life in it. All you had to do was hit him gently and he would say one of three phrases.
I'm Alex, the only Alex
You got it!
Lets go Wild!
As a result of the battery dying you also had to have your ear right next to the toy in order to hear these wildly funny (if you're a little kid in Africa) remarks. The boys took these factors into account and deducted that if you hit the toy against your ear, you can hear what Alex is saying.
And of course, they thought it was imperative that I join in the fun.
I leaned over, still holding Anicette (now that she is big enough she will go for surgery Nov. 2nd), and started mimicking what Alex was saying every time his plastic mane was whacked against my ear. The boys roared with laughter and joined in shouting the phrases as loud as they could . It only hurt when the toy didn't respond to the gentle hitting, causing my assailant to make the subsequent blows to my ear just a little harder.

Joy started creeping in. With my right arm cradling Anicette on my hip, I found my left hand holding her fat belly as I leaned forward. I glanced at her and my eyes were instantly set on her wide smile, her tiny pink tongue visible through the large gap in her lip.
God was there. He was right there at that very moment.
Actually, He knew that moment was in store for me well before I knew I would even need it.
On my way out, Anicette's mama started singing a song very familiar to me. I sang it as a child, and they sing it here often, in English, then also in French. She was singing in English, and I knew, in that instant, God was smiling at us.
"This is the day
this is the day
That the Lord has made
that the Lord has made
We will rejoice
we will rejoice
And be glad in it
and be glad in it."

On Thursday morning I didn't have much to offer God. I didn't have words, couldn't put down thoughts on paper, so I decided to listen to worship and just sit. The sun was warm and I marveled at how it comes up every day. There isn't a day when it doesn't rise.

'Blessed be your name
When the suns shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be your name
Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be your name.'
-Matt Redman

God is faithful, there are a million ways to come to that same conclusion. Yes it hurts, yes its hard, but this is life. Life is about changing, about loving with abandon. That life, that kind of love, it comes with a cost, its painful at times. But the alternative, well, no thank you.

'You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name.'

Oh, and here are some pictures of Maddie to go with her story. The first two are my favorite (Her mom is so excited because for the first and only time, we got Maddie to smile at us)

As I mentioned though, Maddie was not always a fan of this yovo, which of course made me love her even more. She was such a character at only two. This is a picture taken on our way to the hospital, after I asked her to smile.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I met Maddie this summer while I was working on the wards. She had been admitted for her first does of chemotherapy after a diagnosis of Burkitt’s Lymphoma was made, and I was assigned to her that first night.

I still would argue to this day that I have never met a more strong-willed, stubborn, attitude-filled child in my life.

And she was only 2.

She is one of the 4 children I took care of that week who all had their newly diagnosed Burkitt’s and first dose of chemo down. I told you about Aime, how we didn’t catch it in time, how he went to be with Jesus.

And then there were three.

For months now we have trucked along, all meeting at the ship and heading to the local hospital for chemo treatments every three weeks. Ten days after each treatment, again all of the families and the three kids would head to the ship where they would take turns letting me:cough notmaddie cough: draw their blood and run it for routine tests. While we waited, we doled out stickers and all laughed about how Maddie would either yell or simply close her eyes if I went anywhere within two feet of her. After all, if she closed her eyes I wasn’t there.

Perfect logic, if you’re two.

On the weeks when they weren’t coming to the ship or getting their chemo, I visited them at their house. Even in the comfort of her home, Maddie never gave in and (openly) showed her love towards me. Actually, a few weeks ago she held my finger after I poked her for blood. Of course, when she realized it was my finger she was grasping, not her mothers, she promptly yelled about it.

She would always wave goodbye and say ‘Au revoir’ when we parted ways. I laugh thinking about it. The only thing she would say to us, ever, was goodbye. Typical Maddie.

Maddie is one of three reasons my heart carries so much hope, despite what I see here on a daily basis. Watching her cancer go into remission, praying like crazy for her little body, right down to her curly eyelashes, that is where so much of my joy comes from. My favorite day of the week is my ‘Burkitt’s day’, I just simply love it. I love those three kids so much it hurts. I wish there was a better way to explain how I feel, what’s in my heart, but there isn’t.

Yesterday Maddie was due to come to the ship for her lab work to be done. She fell a week behind the other two kids because her counts were off. Late last week she showed signs of an infection, but nothing to worry about. She looked good, wasn’t having any issues, and we sent her off with antibiotics. Yesterday when she came in it was evident something was seriously wrong. Through a series of events, which honestly was such a blur, she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a much more serious, often fatal, infection. She didn’t fight us through the testing, she didn’t cry, although I wish for once she had. She had stopped walking the day before, she couldn’t see, and she was mostly non-responsive to any stimulation.

Her first seizure was so surreal. This little girl in such a big bed. Little Maddie.

This isn’t supposed to be happening. Not to her.

With the second seizure, I found my way into nurse mode and stayed there. We started treatment, and for hours I managed beeping pumps, a confused dad, and my heart which broke for the condition Maddie was in.

After eight hours of watching her decline, the moment came. As her heart started to race, mine followed, beating loudly in my ears. As her lungs started to fail, I held my breath. As I had the translator quickly tell the dad what was happening, I was trying to grasp what exactly was going on myself. The doctor who has known Maddie, and was treating her came in just before we encouraged her dad to hold her for her last minutes. We took of the monitors and for the first time in my life I watched a child die.

As we started to pray, her dad let out a wail that came from a place most parents pray they never have to go. We all cried as we prayed. There’s nothing else you can do.

I don’t even know if I should be trying to write this right now. I can’t hold it together for more than an hour without tears rolling off my cheeks. Sometimes the tears come slowly, other times they come and rip at my stomach, threatening to double me over. Ever since that moment, and the moments that followed, every time I picture Maddie in my mind I cringe, then everything inside of me falls apart.

Yesterday I quietly cried while I gave her a bath and dressed her in a soft, pink dress. I cried when it was safe to cry, inside the hug of a friend who knows all too well the pain I was feeling. Every step of the way, the walk up the stairs through the ship while carrying her, walking down the gangplank to the car to bring her home, I took one step in front of the other, and not one of them was by my own strength.

Ali and I drove Maddie and her father back to her house. We walked through their yard, the news of her death with us. We sat side by side through the wailing and women on their knees crying out to God. We watched them check to make sure Maddie was really gone, and then again sat with tears in our eyes as they sang worship to a mighty God, the names Jesus on each one of their tongues. We interrupted after some time to explain news that we actually, and yes, right then, had to give them all medication due to the infectious disease Maddie had died from. We were brought to another room where we finally saw Maddie’s mother and infant brother. Like I explained before when I talked about Aime, parents are not meant to bury their children. In the Western world, we say that, but here, they mean it literally. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her wet cheek. I told her I was sorry, and the tears again fell.

Ali set up shop and one by one, while sitting on a sandy cement floor, with the sun setting in the sky, with our heads throbbing, the two of us gave shots to every child who had been in contact with Maddie over the last few days.

There’s so much more, but I’m tired. I barely slept last night, my mind desperately trying to run through the days events, over and over. As I prayed this morning on deck 8, I cried while I listened to my song.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever.

No it’s not easy, my heart is in a million pieces right now. I keep picking it up, making it a few steps, just to have it all fall again.

Yes, I will be ok. Yes, I believe God is faithful. I’ll talk to you later about just how amazing He actually is, how I stand firm in my belief that Maddie is with Him right now. For now though, I’m just too tired.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

(Thanks for the verse, mom. And for being you.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Go ahead

On Tuesday morning I went out to the dock and was greeted excitedly by little Luc. He ran into my arms, but before he got to me, I could see the increased swelling in his eye. The same eye that used to be swollen with a tumor, the one we have been watching shrink, celebrating each week. It was puffy last week, but Tuesday it was pressing his eye closed. His lymphoma is fighting back.

At the hospital that morning a nurse approached us and asked us to come see about a child with suspected NOMA. While walking through the hospital we were told the child was actually a 12 day old baby. We entered a muggy hallway, put on previously worn gowns and hats in an attempt to be 'sterile', only to turn around and find a dying baby in a plastic bassinet right there in the corridor. I kept it together long enough to ask if we could pray for the baby who we knew was hours away from dying. I held it together, that is, until I asked what her name was, did she have a name? A lump in my throat formed as I heard the answer I dreaded. This precious baby with ashen hands and feet had no name, a common practice in countries who have high infant mortality rates.
I prayed with tears dripping down my cheeks.
God, you know this baby's name. You love her. Surround her with your angels.
We got the call the next day letting us know she had died.

On Wednesday we went to see Maurice. Instead of a running leap into our arms, we found him crying and sick with a massive infection in his affected eye. Sarah and I (one of the nurses from the ship who also fell in love with this boy) looked at each other in despair. Its funny how you can see terrible things for years, how you can be exposed to some of the worst cases as a nurse, but when your heart is involved you fall apart. Your reasoning goes out the window, you become desperate to do something. Anything. We reeled back our emotions enough to think about getting him to the ship for some blood work and to see a doctor. I understand what palliative care is, I really do, but when its a 5 year old boy who is dirty and suffering there is no other option, there never will be as far as I'm concerned. While we waited for his results I cried while writing an email to my mom about my prayer requests. I couldn't hold it together when I talked about wanting to give Maurice a bath, dress him in clean cotton pajamas, and put him in a big soft bed with a movie playing.

I sat Wednesday afternoon with Pania. His mother stared off blankly as she recalled all two and a half years of her sons life being filled with suffering. How he has never known anything but pain.

Every day this week I drove by a cripple man on the side of the street. He crawls on his hands and feet, using flip flops on his hands to protect them, dragging mangled and deformed feet behind him as he begs for money to eat.

This week I started waking up early. In the past weeks I have been praying for God to reveal anything I needed to change in my life, in my walk here. I felt a pulling to spend time with Him. To sit in His presence and just 'be'. Every morning I take my tea to Deck 8 and sit with the sun rising on my face. I watch it glimmer and glisten on the silvery ocean like sparklers on the fourth of July.
Every morning, I listen to the song Psalm 118 by Shane and Shane at the beginning of my time and then again at the end.
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good
His love endures forever
He is my strength and He's my song
His love endures forever
I will proclaim what He has done
His love endures forever
this is the day the Lord has made
I will rejoice and be glad in it
this is the day the Lord has made

Go ahead and wonder how or why I believe in God, why I am trying desperately to give up all of myself to follow Him. Go ahead and ask me how I reconcile the horrific things I see daily here, why I keep believing, how I smile with hope and cry with sorrow so often without breaking. Go ahead and think "whats the point" (as some have said), in being in these countries, holding an eye dropper next to an ocean. Go ahead and think I shouldn't get so close to these patients, that I should protect myself from the pain of losing them.
Actually, I'll save you the time and just continue writing.

On Wednesday night I made a phone call to Luc's mom. The translator put the phone to my ear and I heard the sweet words "allo Suzanne!" followed by gibberish from my little friend. When I walked into Luc's room the next morning I was greeted again by my favorite four year old, this time noticing the swelling around his eye was nearly gone before I scooped him into my arms. His mom didn't stop smiling after I told her countless people were praying for her son. I couldn't stop kissing his soft brown cheek and hugging him close.
Oh Luc, I love you so much

On Wednesday I did get to bathe Maurice. Before I brought him home, we snuck him in an empty ward and gave him a warm shower. Afterwards, I put cream on his body and dressed him in clean clothes. When we were done he smiled and kissed my cheek, letting me pick up his weak body to carry him down the corridor. When I went to my room to grab him some lifesavers, I saw a package laying on my bed with shiny new stickers tucked inside. Talk about perfect timing. I got more smiles as I stuck dinosaurs and sharks to his bandages and littered his arms with even more.

This week, Pania's mother and I talked about how there is no greater pain than losing a child. Then we talked about how Pania will have a brand new life soon. He will be free from suffering and living in the perfect love of Jesus. It seems impossibly hard, and perfectly peaceful all at once, this line of thinking.

I read the words of my beautiful friend Meg today after a long week, and while still crying, I was handed a baby boy with two front teeth. On the spot therapy for my aching heart.
I know a God who loves these people here unconditionally. He cries watching his children suffer, He hears the prayers of the desperate, and He comforts those who don't think they can go on. Go ahead and believe that, it will be the best thing you have ever done. I promise.

He is good. His loves endures forever. I will proclaim what He has done.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From dying to pepsid

A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I could do a session of teaching on Palliative care. Our mental health team was nearing the end of a course on counseling for local church leaders. I said yes (before being told I was meant to talk for 2-2 1/2 hours) to the date and naturally left the entire preparation to the day before. Things went smoothly (in that I didn't throw up) and at the end one of the pastors asked if I would accompany him to the house of a woman in his church who was dying. She has three children and he was clearly distraught thinking about putting all of the things I had just taught on into practice.
I had gone over ideas for wound care using fabric, help with meals, emotional support, etc... All things just about anyone can do for someone who is dying.
I was excited to see this pastor so intrigued (considering the guy next to him slept straight through the entire 2 + hours).

We got a phone call this week from the pastor asking if we could come.
"Sure, where do you live?"
The answer came as a surprise as we had met him in training down in the city. He was nearly 2 hours away, too far to manage as we try and keep new patients within an hours drive should something happen while we are out.
We asked if he would instead like us to meet him to review what had been taught, maybe print out some helpful points. He agreed to meeting us the next day after his training was complete in the city. We met late in the afternoon and learned this guy had already told the woman from his church about us. She was "so happy" to hear there were people who could come see her and share her burden.
I groaned inside, what to do.
"Do you think she is well enough to travel?"
"Yes, I think so"
"would you be willing, if we covered the cost of the taxi, to meet us somewhere and we can all meet?"
"As a matter of fact, (no, this is not a direct translation. Just go with it) I am coming to the ship tomorrow for a tour, can I bring her then?"
It was set, and I felt relieved as we drove home knowing we would at least be able to meet this lady.

On Friday we waited a little while for the pastor to come. We met a thin woman with bright eyes named Elizabeth and brought her down to an empty ward to talk with her. I asked her what her symptoms were because at this point no one had told us what she was actually dying from.
"My stomach burns, And then my heart burns too, like fire."
I'll spare you the litany of questions that followed to spare you the fun details. Just as a teaser though, and for your wondering minds, no, she does not have blood in her stool.

Basically, she has really bad indigestion. Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease to be exact. She's not dying, she has heartburn.
We brought her to meet the pastor who was still touring the ship. He gave me a bone-rattling handshake when we told him the news and off they went to finish the tour.
Honestly, I laugh at the circumstances surrounding this encounter. How can you not? A ridiculously complicated series of events I'm sure holds some sort of purpose, followed by a simple solution.
Berry flavor to boot.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Once upon a Landrover

Last Thursday was a good day.
It was also a hard day.
Thankfully all of my days seemingly pan out like yesterday, so I have grown accustomed to swinging back and forth emotionally and looking up when I'm afraid I won't make it another step.

Our first stop was to pick up little Anicette. With her surgery date on the horizon I thought it would be good to have her vaccinations done at a local hospital. Benin is good in that they have programs in place for this that are free of cost, so off we went.
As I carried her out to the car and handed to her mama who got settled in the backseat, I couldn't help but notice she felt heavy as I passed her up.
All 9 pounds of her.
I quizzed mom about her age (this would take me too long to explain. Bottom line, they rarely know their age here).
She replied with the answer of 8 months. For some reason, in my head, she was still 5 months old. This, I realized, was only because I fail to recognize the fact that I met her 3 months ago on the wards, when she actually was 5 months.

I couldn't stop looking back at her every time we hit a red light or other random traffic jam.
Joy. Inexplicable joy. How else could I ever explain what I feel in my heart in words that fall dull on a screen once I place them there.

Next up was Pania. We left the city around 10 am, arriving at his house by 11. We had planned to help move him, his baby brother, and mother back down to the city where they would all live with his dad. We packed the car with two small bags, and a pop-up baby bed made of just netting. Pania was upset as they settled into the car. I climbed into the drivers seat, still holding his 3 month old brother I had grabbed during the 'move', and my eyes fell on Pania as I handed the baby back. His face was listless, his eyes set in a far off gaze. He was hot with fever and after a bit, finally found comfort in leaning into his mama.
While driving his mom mentioned he stopped drinking the ensure we give him weekly, the only thing he takes in for nutrition these days. My heart dropped hard. Dis-interest in food or drink, even the things used to be found enjoyable is a general sign of decline, that death is fairly immanent.
How do people ever face these things without you, God?
I could barely keep my mind focused on the road and the questions being asked by his parents. Questions that are so hard to answer honestly. He's only 2 years old.

After lunch the plan was to meet Antoinette, a little girl whose disease we have been trying to figure out for months. So many people were frustrated when she came back after treatment we though for sure was working with a face filled with sores again. The day before, our ship doctor came up to me and asked if I would be willing to follow her outpatient. I was so excited to hear the news she had Tuberculosis. This seems odd, but you see, TB is treatable. Antoinette is going to one of the ones who makes it. She's going to be treated and hopefully next year I will take care of her on the wards after reconstruction surgery returns her face to how it should be. A beautiful face to match a beautiful, sweet spirit.
She and her brother (who I have lovingly nicknamed monkey-butt for his hilarious attitude and undeniable mischievous way about him), along with their mom, climbed into the land rover, smiling from ear to ear.
We drove to the TB clinic and started with the registration process for Antoinette. On the way home I felt the joy of success, like butterflies in my stomach.

On the drive back to the ship I recalled how much the story of the starfish hit me before coming here.
Its easy to put all of Benin, all of Africa for that matter, into one big group. When I do this, I see as impossible task, and hopelessness starts creeping in. Then I smile and realize God in all of it.
I smile because He's got me driving a land rover around Africa, picking up his precious children, asking me to do nothing except love them with everything in me, with all that I am.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I was saying to a friend the other day I can't believe how forgetful I am. Everyday, or at least nearly every day, I forget how good God is. How faithful He is.

A week ago I struggled through days of feeling beat up. Mercy Ships is a boot camp of sorts. While here, I have been subjected to such emotional, mental, and spiritual stress. Its not as if I can escape it either. Its hard to sneak away for a cup of tea and a book, never mind a day away or a walk into town without being the center of every persons attention. I understand its all part of the package, I get that there are lessons to be learned, I acknowledge the fact God is at work. Sometimes I just want life to pause, or better yet, be able to press fast forward through some parts.
Everyone has been buzzing about how we only have 7 weeks left here in Benin. Those of us who have been here the whole time are tired, we are preparing for the end with still a chunk of time to go.
Last week I was ready, I was dreaming about how good it would feel to sleep without thoughts of patients, to relax and come out of over drive.
Then one phone call started a sequence of events that leaves me smiling, excited to get 7 more precious weeks here in this country I have called home since March.

I wanted to check in on Luc, one of our Burkitt's lymphoma patients. This type of cancer spreads quickly and claims children's lives at an alarming rate here in Africa. It is also treatable and 80% of kids respond really well to the chemotherapy. Luc is one of those kids.
We were going to be seeing him on Friday at the ship for some bloodwork so I figured a quick call would be fine early in the week to make sure he was doing ok. My translator made the call and hung up.
"I spoke to Luc's father. He is feeling fine, he started school today."
I could have cried. Little Luc, loving, sweet, shy, Luc. The image of him in a uniform on his first ever day of school made my heart ache. Its likely he would have died by now had he not come to the ship for treatment.
Wow, God. Thank you.

Baby Anicette, a sweet cleft lip/palate patient was on our feeding program for months without gaining enough weight. It looked like she wasn't going to have her surgery and with nothing less than a miracle my favorite baby in Benin gets to keep her appointment for the first week of November.
With only a month around Christmas time to be home and get everything done, I emailed my old boss to ask if she could put me in touch with our oncology floor. I am working on a project and it would be ideal for me to take a course in chemotherapy in order to best do my job next year. Within hours the nurse educator from a different floor had emailed me to tell me some dates of classes. I was touched by her effort, especially towards someone she had never met. I wrote back to say I wouldn't be home for the given dates, thanks anyways, and were there any other resources she could point me towards. Again, within hours, she wrote back asking "if we change the dates of the course would you be able to make it?"
Umm, yes?
I wasn't shocked, Children's Hospital Boston is unlike any other place I have ever been associated with. The people there are just plain good. They are kind, considerate, and ridiculously helpful (even to strangers, as evidenced by this woman). I wasn't shocked, but I was touched beyond what I can explain.
By Friday this week I was overwhelmed by God.
I Love you, Suzanne. I love you so much.

Today I joined in the fun of watching a world cup qualifying soccer match between Ghana and Benin. We didn't get attacked by an angry mob, or hit with the flying billy-clubs used by angry police. We didn't get stuck outside the gates because of the over-selling of seats, and we got to celebrate (loudly) when Benin won 1-0. I was truly happy walking through the frenzy of fans after the game, I got a glimpse of why I love Africa so much, how fun it is that this is home right now.
When I got back and checked my email I found an incredibly sweet note of encouragement from a friend I haven't talked to in ages. It made me smile realizing how God orchestrates every single detail in life. Not a moment goes by without Him knowing. He is so good.

All of it, the joy, the pain, I'm thankful for all of it. Some days (and weeks) I forget that God is in control. Then there are the weeks where God shows His unmistakable grace with me. He fills me with inexplicable joy and instances where I can't deny Him.
James 1:2-4
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."