Monday, March 30, 2009
"Whats that on top of that car? Is that a cow??"
Sure enough, laying on top of the car in front of us was a dead cow, staring right at us. We laughed and started looking for the nearest camera.
"The batteries in mine are dead"
"I have one, its in my bag"
Then our translator pipes in.
"Do you not see the two in the trunk?"
Yup, inside this mini station wagon are two more dead cows, horns and all. Seriously, WHY isn't the camera always on and ready for these moments? We missed the picture but I don't think I will soon forget that image.
While recounting the story to my mom she asked over and over;
"Did you say cow?"
"mmm hmm, 3 of them"
A couple of days later I was walking through a market here, and came across a shop with some fun bracelets. I looked at one, a leather band with a shell on top. The shop owner quickly started telling me how the bracelet looked "very beautiful" on me. I mean my wrists are ok and all, but beautiful? I said I wasn't the biggest fan of the shell, maybe just a plain leather band would be better.
"This here is African. The Chinese, they make plain leather. The shell means its from Africa"
Then he takes out these bangle-type bracelets. They were cool looking, but as someone looking to barter I didn't show too much enthusiasm. He picked 3 out and placed them on my (beautiful) wrist. I asked what the bracelets were made of, certainly not anything I had ever seen.
"Horns" he said with a thick accent.
"like COW horns"
I laughed and bartered with him until I was the proud owner of my "African" bracelet and 3 horn adornments (which he 'shined' with a well-used rag)
When I was leaving he asked the question I hear a lot these days.
"Are you with Mercy Sheeps?"
"oui, I am with Mercy Ships"
This life is the opposite of everything I know, everything I have learned. I love it.
Friday, March 27, 2009
We went to meet the patient I talked abut last week at the hospital. He was there to get his first dose of chemo, a feat in itself getting to that point. As we sat on the hot bench waiting for the doctor my mind raced. I closed my eyes, breathed in the thick air, and listened to peoples feet shuffling across the cement.
I want this to work God, please let this work
After seeing the doctor we headed down the dark hallway to the treatment room. They opened the door and when I looked in my stomach dropped, I nearly froze. Standing in the doorway I looked around. Chipped paint, dirty floors, open windows ushering dust in from outside. My eyes traced the old rusty IV pole.
This isn't right
I wanted to press 'stop' and somehow bring my patient to my world, to what I know. I wanted him to lay on a crisp white bed with shiny waxed floors underneath. I wanted to bring him a big, clean glass of water and prop him up on fluffy pillows. I wanted to hook him up to a fancy monitor and lay out all the sterile supplies on a clean, blue field. I kept swallowing the lump in my throat. I couldn't justify anything, this just was not ok.
At one point I had my back turned away from the nurse preparing the medications. All at once I smelled a strong, familiar smell. It was the alcohol being used to clean each medication he was drawing up. It immediately comforted me somehow, at least something was the same, I had something to hold onto, as small as it was.
As we were getting ready to leave we all stopped and prayed over our patient. Even the nurse prayed with us. I couldn't hold back the threats of tears pouring down my face. Inside I was screaming to stop all of it. Stop him from being sick. Stop the fear in his wife's eyes. Please, just make this stop.
Its ok my child. Remain hopeful. I am here protecting him. Give it all to me.
Even as I type this I can't help but struggle through this again with tears. God is saying these exact words now as I recount the pain of yesterday. Some wounds take a little while to heal I guess, this still hurts so bad. I want so much to make this ok, somehow make it all go away. As I prayed yesterday I was almost grateful for the tears. They make you feel alive sometimes, a sort of indicator that your heart is out there and wide open. I wouldn't give these moments and oppurtunities up for a minute, they humble me beyond belief and I thank God for being there right next to me as I struggle and learn. He is protecting my sweet patient, He knows the number of hairs on his head, and all the days of his life. He will be here with him until he takes his last breath, and then will welcome him home when its time. I need to hand him over, give up my own views and trust God.
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and they are safe"
"The Lord will keep you from all harm-He will watch over your life"
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
How about some pictures?
After 2 attempts and pouring a little gasoline on the dried palms the locals got the fire going for us.
I wish I could claim this picture as my own, any of these for that matter. I love this one. You can click on it to enlarge.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Why do peoples geography have anything to do with whether or not they get their basic human needs met?
Who do you fight for with finding means for treating their cancer and who do you sit next to and offer a hand to hold, accepting their fate, yet praying for a miracle?
How do you justify patients dying here on the ship?
Why are we not immune to the bad stuff here when we came to help?
Gods ways are not our ways. Ok, but what does that mean?
When do I stop seeking answers and let my mind rest with God?
How do I stop struggling with these thoughts? (stay tuned till the end of the post, tonight has been good)
The people here in Africa have a better grasp on this than I do, and a bigger faith to go with it. I don't think those things are separate matters, not even a little. I used to think that it was merely a lack of knowledge, no realization that life could be better. Now I'm here, and I don't see that at all. I see joy in pain, rejoicing in suffering, and a faith on fire in people who could have given up on God a long time ago. These people are not ignorant, I am. (hopefully I can put that into past tense sooner than later, I'm getting there.)
I want to finish each day knowing I did everything I could for everyone I encountered. I don't want to hold expectations of God because lets face it, I'm not going to figure this all out, I'm not supposed to I don't think...
We are supposed to have faith. Real, active, on-fire faith. Beth Moore says "Faith unchallenged is faith stifled". I like that. Oh yea, and that was tonights study by the way, you could say that's interesting timing. Something else that had uncanny timing, the study had me take a test of faith too, yup, tonight. As my thoughts and questioning start culminating into something a tad scary I am forced to look my faith right in the eye, put it all on the table, so to say.
Want a wrap up? How about a bow on top, one that is helping my mind settle and is sure to help me sleep better at night. The last scripture in tonights study:
"Call to me and answer, and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."
Got it. Or maybe not, haha. I'm praying, searching, seeking, and finding all at once.
God does not grant us immunity from pain, and I don't want that anyways. Heartache, questioning, this whole process is part of living and walking with God and serving Him. I don't want to ever be any other place. Like Mother Theresa said "love until it hurts, and then love even more".
I have only a fraction of what the people here in Benin have in regards to faith, and that's my "TIA" for the day. Awesome faith, astounding strength, joy through suffering...This is Africa my friends.
Monday, March 16, 2009
After the Psalm was read a train passed, probably less than 50 yards from where we were sitting. I laughed at my surroundings, the squeaky shoes and whipping around of plastic objects, the playful lizards, blaring music, deafening train passing, prayer in English and French, and then in the middle of it all bouncing Glory on my lap singing
Trot trot to Boston,
trot trot to Lynn,
Watch out little Glory or you might fall in.
So many times over the last week I have sat stunned at how fortunate I am to be here, that God actually saw something in me that was right for this job. I am honored and humbled almost hourly by all of this. We had good devotions this morning, I'll leave off with the verse that I was happy to hear first thing Monday morning:
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
And seriously now, who in the world said to themselves "I think we'll makes shoes that squeak for 2 year olds" and though that wasn't cruel and unusual punishment for parents. I do have to say that for little Glory especially, the squeaking doubles as a tracking device for the two foot maniac running around the neighborhood.
Friday, March 13, 2009
I feel like asking you if you want the good news or bad news first...You could argue to tell the good stuff first and then you start off in a good mood. I like leaving off in a good mood so I guess I'll talk about the harsher first, it is my blog after all.
One of my patients who originally came to screening was referred because the tumors on his face are cancerous. When I met him I was immediately drawn in. I don't know if it was the kindness in his eyes, the way his big feet softly padded on the floor, maybe it was the gentleness of his demeanor, but I was drawn in right away. He has such motivation to live and is working to find treatment for his disease. We have been working with him and so far we seem to be on the right track. One of the first days I was here I set out to find cancer treatment options in West Africa as we believe our patient may need radiation, which is not available here in Benin. I emailed everyone I could think of, including the American Cancer Society (who were really helpful...go USA) and the closest place is hundreds of miles away in Ghana (which we knew, I was just hoping for something closer I guess). Here's a statistic for you, there is one oncologist here in Benin, one. One doctor specialized in treating cancer for a country with a population of 8 million people. And this is one of the better ones. As I emailed people I kept thinking to myself of all the doctors and endless treatment I used to be surrounded by. I was 4 floors up from countless doctors and specialists who could help this man. Or how about just calling over to Dana Farber, one of the worlds best cancer institutes, connected to my hospital by one small hallway. Having that knowledge and having this feeling sucks to be honest. I really don't like it.
If our patient can get the money together for treatment (400 bucks a whack times 6 doses, nearly impossible here for anyone to come up with that kind of money) and IF they can even get the medication delivered to the country(oh yea, no pharmacy you call down to to deliver the med to your floor), and IF he responds to it, and IF he can get the money to go to Ghana for radiation (while supporting and feeding his family here too), even then he could need surgery...you get the point. I know God is big enough to do this, that isn't worth arguing. I am just having a hard time letting it sink in I guess. I think I am starting to understand the instruction "but in everything through prayer and petition present your requests to God". Oh man.
Ok, you ready for the good news? I'm not sure if it will be that funny to you but I have had a few good laughs (at my own expense) in the almost 5 days I've been here.
~While reading through my job description as it pertains to the ship I saw a "productivity" section. Our goal of how many patients we see is set yet "it will be dependent on rainy season", and they're dead serious, it gets so bad you base your whole job and day on whether or not its raining. This is a different world.
~On ships a lot of times you need to step up into the doorways. Not true here. Well, that's a lie, you do have to step up into some, but only on like every 6th door you walk through, making it impossible to predict or get accustomed to, thus making it nearly impossible not to trip through every 6th door. (It could be every 5th or 7th, I haven't tested these numbers)
~I can wear flip flops to work if I want to. period.
~2 minute showers are easy, when you don't have to wash your hair. Even then they are a piece of cake, until you add shaving your legs. I'm still fine tuning the process, I'll let you know how I progress.
~I thought bunk beds were the best thing next to chunky peanut butter as a kid, especially if you scored the top one. I still think they are at 26 years old, and now I get to sleep on the top bunk every night.
~I bet if you told me when I was a kid that one day I would get these sweet sleeping arrangements as an adult I would have thought that was the coolest thing ever, I obviously have good memories from sleep-over camp, eh?
(I'm actually not being sarcastic here)
OK, that's all for now. Here's my "TIA" for the day:
Rush hour traffic in Cotonou. Forget potholes, You think people in Boston might complain about a literal hole in the road? The best thing is if you come across said hole you just drive on the sidewalk, this is Africa afterall. And yes, that's a lady holding a gigantic suitcase on the back of that bike, not even close to the most impressive I've seen so far, I'll try for more evidence of these stunts in the next few days and weeks (I was too late getting my camera out for the guy with a refrigerator on the back of his bike, seriously)
I can't stop thanking God for all of this. I am living an incredible adventure, and its nothing I could have formulated on my own. He is good.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Where am I and how long have I been here? Never mind that, what time is it?
Saturday I was in
Notre Dame Cathedral
Apparently its freezing in Paris this time of year...or maybe just when you are almost near the top of the Eiffel tower, brrr. The picture on the right is from the elevator on the way down from the top...clearly we've gone stir crazy, you can see it in our eyes. You know the scene at the end of Willie Wonka when they shoot through the top of the elevator? I was totally humming that song the whole ride up.
At 8pm Monday night I stepped out into the thick, heavy hot air that is familiar and strangely comforting (if you consider 90 degree humid air comforting like I apparently do). I made it through the paperwork and even managed to keep my eyes open for the ID picture. At one point I felt like I was going to pass out (you know, that brain floating around in your skull feeling??) and then my floaty brain informed me that I was on a ship, which happened to be rocking, thus causing my head to be dizzy. I was thankful that I didn’t have to start this trip with a fainting spell in the reception area…I think that would’ve been kinda embarrassing.
With the clock threatening to get late enough to deprive me of any sleep at all I climbed into bed with two last cards to open for the night, one from my best friend, the other from my sister. I wasn’t expecting the emotions that followed.
“So…God…uh, I’m here. Are these tears more than just “I’m tired” or “it’s been a long couple of days?” Why am I so overwhelmed with no knowledge of what exactly is causing it? I want to be drawn in tight, safely tucked away God.”
I prayed knowing God was going to answer, I knew it the whole time, no doubts at all. Looking back thinking about it now, that’s pretty awesome. I knew God was listening.
“I’m right here; I’ve been with you this whole time. Just hold my hand and we’ll walk through this together”
It was as simple as that. Tears ceased, no worries, and off to sleep after a quick read through Psalm 86 (one of the more recent prayers over the last 4 months or so).
This morning I was ready to go, no question about wanting to take the opportunity to go off the ship and see one of our patients. I nearly let out a girly squeal when I put on scrubs for the first time in over two months…seriously one of the best job perks I can think of, it’s been far too long. The day was awesome, and although I won’t go into detail here right now, I know I’m in the right place which is the best thing I can ask for.
And just for fun, my “This is
Looked out the window to see three boys, all under about 10 years old paddling a rickety, dug-out canoe in a port full of huge ocean liners. The two on either end were doing the paddling while the middle boy hauled out bucket after bucket of water, managing to stay a few hauls ahead of a sinking boat. Classic.
First day at work (I'll be honest, I took this one for my mom but I really was quite excited about it myself)
The view from deck 7
" Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you."
"When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me"
"Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart"
So far so good~
Thursday, March 5, 2009
My time these days has been spent packing, and to be honest it has been quite easy. The clothes were a piece of cake, the sheets, comforter, and various other items fit nicely as well. I was just sitting down in the middle of all of this stuff and thought "this is a funny picture". So here is the 'after' shot. I am not unpacking all of it to provide a 'before' shot for your viewing pleasure, so you'll have to use your imagination.
So there ya have it. As you can tell, I have not attempted to pack my carry on, I am hoping all of the stuff on the couch will pack away nice and neat into the backpack on the left (clears throat). As long as those malaria meds have a place I should be ok (oh, and my teddy bear of course)
I'm sorry to report that the rest of my poor room is not fairing so well...actually its a total disaster, like, post-tornado'esque really.
Two more days!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
So I have had this topic on my mind for quite a while. Back in the very first week I was in Texas one of the instructors said the quote "The cry of the heart is hold me tight". I don't know why it stuck, and I'm not even sure why I think about it almost daily. Back on my date with God during our silent retreat the quote came to mind again. I won't go into all of my deepest thoughts and moments of that day(believe it or not, I do keep a lot of these thoughts to myself), but I realized how powerful the line of thinking that followed was when I read back in my prayer journal this morning to that entry.
On that morning I had started thinking of all of the things in my past that my heart has cried out for. Throughout the years I had cried out for many things, thinking I could find them in a boyfriend or even one of my friends. Here is the list I made : Love, butterflies (you know,the kind in your stomach when you are falling in love) to be comforted, consoled, cared for, calmed, adored, confident, jealousy over me, to feel protected, to laugh, be joyful, feel satisfied, have fun, adventure, feel important, be cherished, feel beautiful, lifted up, have emotional intimacy, to be challenged, have a partner, have an advocate, be respected, have trust without fear, and to have a friend.
When I became a Christian I prayed for some of these things, right down to the butterflies in my stomach, I wanted to fall in love...with God, and I wanted to literally feel it.
God showed me that day that He was all I needed, He fulfills every cry of my heart. I have slowly started realizing what a true "love" relationship with God looks and feels like. This morning I finished the book Epic by John Eldredge. I love his writing, and this book is no exception. I have always considered my life a story with all of its chapters indicating different times, stages, and lessons in my life. This book is "The story God is telling and the role that is yours to play" fitting, eh?
I liked this quote a lot:
"Something has been calling to you all the days of your life. You've heard it in the wind and in the music you love, in laughter and in tears, and most especially in the stories that have captured your heart. There is a secret written on your heart. A valiant Hero-lover and his beloved. An Evil one and a great battle to fight. A journey and a quest, more dangerous and more thrilling that you can imagine. A little fellowship to see you through. This is the gospel of Christianity."
The base of all of this (for me) is the cry of my heart, to love and be loved, I want to be held tight.
Towards the end of the book you read about living "happily ever after". Who doesn't want that? Its not just a girlie-princess thing (I should know, I didn't even like princess movies as a little girl, Peter Pan was more my style). In looking at life in a eternal perspective (currently working on this thought process, not quite there yet) we get to look ahead to the happy ending.
"It is the return of the beauty, the intimacy, and the adventure we were created to enjoy and have longed for every day of our lives. And yet, better, for it is immortal."
A few weeks ago when I got home I was watching a Rob Bell nooma video called Rain. If you have 10 minutes go ahead and watch it (its free on that website). Through tears, (I know, I know) I was able to manage to listen to what he was saying at the end, and I love the scripture he used (and it just happens to fit perfectly with this topic).
"My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."
Monday, March 2, 2009
~My oldest friends. We have known each other for over 15 years (some of us close to 20). We have almost nothing in common and could seriously write a book of all the stories from over the years (but that would be just plain scary).
~My family. You know its bad when one of our best family pictures in years is one with my dad's eyes closed.
~A night out with Jenny. She treated me to a fun meal and we were able to enjoy one last "Boston" night out.
~My Shyla (aka roomie). There are no words that can describe this friendship... She calls it having a "heart" friend and I must agree.
~Running of the brides (first and last time experience for this friend of a bride to be). Basically about 2000 brides and their "team" run into a store room of 3000 dresses and turn into crazy bridezillas, grabbing every gown they can carry (with the exception of our little team and a few other gentle souls). It took over an hour to get even one gown out of the clutched hand of a soon-to-be-bride. The trip was a success and my friend Elyse found "the dress"
~And I've got to put this one in. I woke up this morning to a March Nor'easter. I'm kinda happy for one last big white-out before I go. These storms always leave room for a little father/daughter bonding :) For kicks I looked up the weather in Benin after spending my morning pushing the snow blower directly into the wind, getting assaulted by the wonderful, (freezing) fresh powder.
Boston, MA~ High of 21 and snowing
Benin~ High of 91 and sunny
~Of course I can't ignore all the good food I have been enjoying!
My favorite salad bar creation (thank you whole foods, I'm going to miss you). "Real" Pizza by Boston's best. And then there's the Suzanne and Shyla "lets grab some snack food" idea turned horribly (yet deliciously) wrong. Still eating all of this stuff a week later.
"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun."
Sunday, March 1, 2009
I keep talking about what a great balance everything has been, I love it. Yesterday my family put on a little send-off party and the last guests of the day were a very special family to me. The mom was telling a story of one of the many hospital stays for Den. At that point they couldn't figure out was wrong with him, and we joked that it has got to be pretty bad if you have a team of neurosurgeons at a loss for words. The doctors came in and after some discussion and then asked Den "So how are you doing?" to which he replied
"I'm doing all I can do, I'm trusting God"
In the middle of all of his 17 neuro surgeries that year Den continued passing out Mercy Ships brochures, testifying about Gods love to all he encountered. Would I do the same? In the middle of a storm will I trust God without fail?
I have a feeling I may have plenty of opportunities to test that trust, I know I already have been trying it on for size the past few years. I'm excited, I'm content, and I don't have a hint of anxiety tonight as my last week at home begins. I can't believe how incredible my family has been (I'll likely leave a post just for them soon), things are good.
I'll leave off with Den's life verse which he was able to share with my family last night (I of course have heard it and cry each time, last night was no exception)
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."