Monday, September 28, 2009


I'm having a hard time today. I'm sure it will pass, I'm not interested in investing more into these thoughts than I need to, I will be ok. But its hard now.
People who go home often have a hard time coming back. Being home reminds them of their life, how good it is to be surrounded by people who know them. How sweet coffee and conversations are face to face, how hugs feel different when the other person has loved you for years is on the other side.
I can't stop getting choked up every time some asks about my mom leaving and how I feel about it.
I'm not 5 years old, and maybe should be tougher, yet I'm not giving myself too hard a time over the lump in my throat. Some days a person gets tired of saying goodbye, from being apart from everyone important in their life.
My heart aches over not being with my sister on her birthday, picking apples and taking pictures of the changing leaves on the trees. It physically hurts to look at the pictures.

I want to go home.

That looks so scary written down.
Its not a "I want to go home" for real, I just want to say it because right now I'm feeling that way. I just want to go home, even if its for a little while, just for some hugs maybe. A collection of pictures from my friends and family is running across my mind, and now the tears are continuously falling. Facebook is apparently dangerous territory today...

In my logical mind I keep telling myself that this is normal, that I will be ok.
I prayed this morning through the anxious thoughts arising from out of nowhere. I firmly held my cheek against the head of baby anicette, a cleft lip baby who I love with every fiber of my heart. I hugged familiar kids who shouted my name and "ciao bella" when I walked by D ward this morning. I shook hands with a boy who's name means 'strength', a boy who I see a few times a week and who always smiles like we haven't shaken hands in months.

Hmm. Funny, I'm not so upset after writing that last bit.
I also wrote down Oswald Chambers 'My Utmost' for the day. The last part got to me, which I suppose in itself is also a comfort.
"Once the call of God comes to you, start going and never stop"

Before coming here my life at home was good. Really good. I guess that doesn't help much with leaving all of it. The truth of the matter is I am nothing without this call on my life. Losing my identity and following Jesus saved me. Being here is the biggest privelege this girl could dream of, and you would believe that if you knew the life I came from.
It is hard some days, I was upset a few minutes ago when I started this post, but its ok. I see God and how huge He is, how soveriegn He is. Then I realize His sincere, fatherly attention to the 5 year old in me that wants to go home. His attention to the broken prayers in my heart.

I joke about how this blog is therapeutic for me, how I don't keep a normal journal. Again, its not my own words but God's work that provides the therapy.
Today you got to see it in real time-

By no coincidence, the following verse is written a few doors down on the whiteboard that bears a new one daily.

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord"

'Rollercoaster' wouldn't even begin to describe this adventure.

Another reason to smile-How can you NOT smile at a random encounter with a face like this while going about your business on a Monday;

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Once in a lifetime

I just dropped my mom off at the airport.
What a strange feeling.

I instantly felt like I hadn't spent enough time with her, I didn't make her time special enough, I should have done things differently.
How quickly attempts at stealing joy can come. Like a thief in the night...

We had an incredible month, a strange collision of worlds. All of a sudden my mom was on the ship, at dinner, ready for work with me.
We went out each morning side by side. We prayed for the patients, played with babies, and sat underneath avocado trees during visits.
We watched movies, ate popcorn, and laughed with eachother.
We made memories and shared jokes only the two of us would understand. We sat on the beach, on boats, and piled on top of each other for a two hour taxi drive.

She saw my world and I got to share everything I love about Africa with my best friend from home. I watched her react to patients and situations like a natural, loving every encounter, hug, and squeeze, as I knew she would.
I love my mom so much, and it doesn't get easier to say goodbye when you've done it before. My heart aches for the time that went by so fast.
As I cried tonight, sad that I had somehow screwed up, I thought;

I had one chance, a once in a lifetime chance to make this good.

Now, as I sit here and upload photos to facebook, reflecting on the past month, I realize that yes, this experience was indeed once in a lifetime.
And we had an amazing time.

What a privilege, God. Thank you so much.

P.S.- Hi mom!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A time to heal

Over the last weeks and months I have had a lot going on. The balancing act of extreme emotions that comes with being here was wearing on me. I was running on my own strength some days, which of course is never a good idea. Last week I told people I was just holding on for dear life through the storms, holding fast to God and His promises.
My knuckles were practically white.

It wasn't until this week that I started putting God's recent work into a bigger picture (part of me getting over myself and all). Last week Aime's mom came back to the ship with us, she wanted to see the nurses that took care of her sweet boy before he died. She was hugged and kissed, squeezed and looked at through teary eyes.

This week we got a call from Hubert's dad. He asked if their family could come to the ship. I was beaming as my translator hung up the phone. We had given them our number the day Hubert died, but I'm not sure I ever expected them to call. I definitely didn't expect them to be so willing to come back.
As the nurses passed around little Pauline who let her timid smiles out in between hugs and tickles, tears were found in all of our eyes. We got to hug baby Hubert's mom, meet his older brother, and show the father some more glimpses of how we work, how we are just here trying to love. That's it, that's our goal. We love them.

I realized today how coming back to the hospital after losing a child is something a lot of parents do. I believe it is part of their grieving process, part of their healing.
What they don't realize is that it is part of our healing process as nurses too. Seeing them, being able to just stand in a doorway as smiling girls clad in blueberry-colored scrubs came through for their chance at a big hug (and more tears), was soul medicine. The good stuff.

And then I saw what God was up to. As this outreach starts winding down, as patients start declining, as I struggle with the way hospitals mistreat their patients and fight with everything in me to get through, to hold on, I see God. I can hear Him.

Come to me, give me your burdens. My load is light, child. Its time. Time to heal that heart of yours that's hurting so much for these people.

My mom came here almost a month ago, and I smile thinking about how perfect the timing was of her being here. Its hard to be away from your best friend, its difficult to face uncertainty in regards to the future and when you may live on the same continent again. I know this time has been a time of healing for hearts that ache from being apart. It was a time that strengthened me, has helped me gain excitement and momentum to finish this outreach as best I can.
We leave tomorrow morning for a night away. We will spend a couple of days relaxing after a long few weeks, probably reading side by side on a beach, a favorite for both of us. More healing. Bring it on.

I will always remember those two little boys, and I am so grateful for the restoration going on in their families lives.
As for me, every kiss from a kid, every flying leap of another running into my arms, continues to heal my heart. It fills to overflowing.
How cool is that? God is just so awesome. period.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace

But wait, read just a little more. It gets better.

Ecc. 3:9-14

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My sunshine

You know the song, it happens to be one of my favorites. The first time I sang it to a baby, a nurse was trying to place an IV in her foot. The mom, dad, myself, and the IV nurse all sang to a 6 month old who ceased crying, and plainly looked at all the goofballs surrounding her. I nearly cried that first time (actually, I probably did). I knew I was doing exactly what I was meant to.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
you make me happy when skies are grey
you'll never know, dear, how much I love you
please don't take my sunshine away

I sang it again to baby Hubert a few days before he died. We had brought him for a chest xray and the cold plate underneath him, paired with me holding his small arms over his head was just too much for him. His crying subsided as I sang, tears freely falling down my own cheeks.
The other night, dear, as you lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, you were not with me
so I hung my head and cried

My attitude today, and really if I'm honest, over the last few days, has been totally crappy. I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed, I'm blah, blah, blah. I asked myself what I could write about. What do you say when all you hear in your own head are complaints?

Then I thought about Maurice, my favorite kid in Benin (and you thought nurses weren't allowed to have favorites. Newsflash: we totally do). I wanted to give an update, which I will (eventually), but for now I want to share the latest pictures with my favorite 5 year old taken this week. My sunshine.

Sometimes you need to dwell on your thoughts, deal with your emotions. Sometimes, though, once in a while, you need to get over yourself and realize that each day is a gift.
Thank you, God.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Now that I have seen

I love Africa, I really do. I love the people and their wide smiles. I love the children and their abundant willingness to act silly, run around, and then melt into big hugs. I love that when I walk downstairs to get ice for my water at night I happen upon toddlers screaming joyfully running up and down the hallways, kicking a ball bigger then them. I love handshakes that squeeze your hand hard, and peoples eyes who speak for them. I love that babies who have been outside are extra warm when you cuddle them, and my favorite thing to do is pat their little bums when I walk past them sleeping on their mama's backs. I love the looks on peoples face when I try to speak their dialect, and I love that they slap me hard on the back in a fit of laughter after I finish.

I love that people here think pineapple makes your blood 'dry', that paracetamol (tylenol) makes you lose blood, and cold water makes you sick.
I love that ensure cans, when rolled back and forth, can entertain a two year old for an hour. I love seeing tacky decorations displayed proudly all over a cement living room, and I love how welcomed I am into every house I enter.

The reality of living and working in a third world country can be harsh at times, I won't deny that. That same reality, that death is a part of life, that there are people in this world who rely solely on God, that boundaries prevent true community, is why I love this place.

I've been praying for some time about extending my time here with Mercy Ships. I was originally committed through the end of this Benin outreach in December, however it started seeming impossible that my time may be coming to an end. While praying I didn't have any earth-shattering, sky-opening calls to stay, but I do have true peace. I have absolute contentment with my recent decision to extend through the next outreach in Togo.

My heart fits here, I fit here. I believe God put me, and wants me to stay here. For some that seems absurd, how does God tell someone what to do, what does that sound like? What does that look like?
I hope I can show you, I hope you will see what drives me to be here, what gives me the strength to wake up every day with a full heart and a willing spirit. I'm so excited about so many things, I can't wait to share them.

I was listening to Brooke Fraser this weekend and as always the song Albertine got me thinking. There are people here, kids in particular, that have grabbed hold of my heart. They have a treatable cancer, and their stories are amazing (more on that soon). They are a big part of how I believe God has shown me to stay here. The chorus, in just 3 lines, sums it all up.

"Now that I have seen, I am responsible.
Faith without deeds is dead.
Now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go"
-Albertine, Brooke Fraser

Thursday, September 10, 2009

kneel down here

The original title of this post was going to be 'bang head here'.
Maybe you can relate.
Have you ever been frustrated? So frustrated you want to cry? Scream? Throw something? Walk away? Give up?
Today I was at a loss for words, I was even angry for a bit. It seemed like around every corner there was a brick wall in front of me.

It started out with hopeful news for one of my patients, we might be able to do his surgery after all. I was happy for him, excited to tell him the plan. Another biopsy, a different surgeon, just tell us 'yes'.
Except he didn't. He actually would hardly look us in the eye. The fetish priest, aka 'traditional healer' told him we would leave him with a big wound, and that's only if he didn't die like apparently "many" do. The room was heavy, everyone looked as though they could feel the weight. Our message of good news was unwanted, WE were the enemy. Prayers seemed like a dim flame, flickering in a dark room. Oh Andre, how can I show you?

Next was Madjida, a sweet old man with a big smile, minus one front tooth. After praying he promptly told us about how Jesus was just a prophet. He said he didn't want to get into it, that Muslims and Christians war over that same conversation. I spoke the only words I could come up with, I don't know how to have these talks...
"We worship God, and yes, we believe Jesus is His son. He was the living example of love, we are just following that model. We are trying to love."

Then there's Pania. A little two year old with a massive tumor slowly taking his life. I didn't mention before that my best guess is that he has also had a stroke. When chemotherapy is given without steroids, swelling can occur in the brain. In his case this resulted in no use of his left arm and a weakness in his left leg that causes him to slowly limp wherever he goes. Basically, the doctor in the 'hospital' here messed up by my estimations. Then he sent him to the ship for us to bring the bad news that no, this little boy will die without a miracle.

Onto my Burkitt's kids. I brought them on Monday, got a call on Tuesday they had no running or drinking water, and Wednesday learned even more ways the hospital was trying to purposely hassle them. Not allowed to go outside the gates for food, the parents were forced to eat the expensive food inside. The lack of water wasn't hospital-wide, if they paid they could go take a shower. The same went for use of the toilette. Every day this week we were there, and everyday something new came up. The free stay, as agreed upon with Mercy Ships, was now going to cost us. Shocker.

All day God was good, He provided glimpses of joy as a means of encouraging my mom and I. As I carried little Luc down the stairs of the hospital, ready to be discharged, followed by our entire Burkitt's entourage, post second round, I felt good. Really good.
On Thursdays I pray with a couple of friends, and tonight my friend Meg and I bowed our heads, tired and weary from long days.

God, this is so frustrating. Why does it have to be so hard?

I see Andre.
I know Madjida,
I hold Pania in the palm of my hand,
I love Maddie, Rachelle, and Luc.
They are mine.

All day I was saying 'bang head here'. Tonight, as I prayed, and quietly surrendered everything, instead of my own voice I heard;

Give it to me, its not yours. Its ok.
kneel down here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A good day

It’s funny to me how as we grow up, a ‘good day’ can be viewed and weighed so differently.

This morning I got up, excited to start the day. It was finally time to see if all 3 families would show up with their kids so we could head to the hospital here on a quest for the three kiddo’s second round of chemotherapy. At 8:30 my translator reported the first little girl, Maddie, had arrived. The plan was to leave at 9 from the ship, too many obstacles lay between here and there to not take it upon ourselves to personally hand-deliver the children to the care of the local doctor.

I smiled when I saw Luc’s dad parking his bike by the end of our gangway while we walked out into the hazy heat. We only were waiting on Rachelle. Once we called her, we learned from someone (still never sure who exactly answers the phone) that she was traveling and should be at the ship by 10:30. No worries, small bump, so we piled into the land rover and started our trek to the hospital.

Once there we settled little Luc and Maddie in, stole some kisses from the other little kids staying in the room, and talked with all of the parents about what to expect. The nurses had their arms full of the medication and supplies we provide, right down t the IV tubing. We got back to the ship to find no one waiting for us. Still ok, it’s early enough.

A quick trip to our hospitality center to check in and re-stock some medication for the sweetest cleft lip/palate baby ever, and when we returned, I felt my heart drop a little with no signs of Rachelle. She has a far way to travel, with an impossible amount of glitches that can occur between home and the city.

Please God

We ate lunch and afterwards I found myself repeatedly going outside for a quick scan (knowing all of security was on the lookout for us too). At 3 my mom and I (oh yea, my mom is here for those of you who don’t already know that. I’ll go into more detail in the next post, fun stuff) decided to split and do a few things around the ship. My spirit was a little down, I wanted so badly for Rachelle to make it here. She has a special place in my heart, especially after taking care of her on the ward a few weeks ago. I trusted that mama to come with her; I could see it in her eyes when I dropped them at a taxi last time that her promises were earnest.

Please get here

At 3:30 I decided to go through our hold, the place where patients come into the ship to wait. My eyes immediately fell on a familiar, smiling face. It took my mind a minute to register it, but I knew within seconds they had made it. Rachelle’s mom slapped my hand hard and we exchanged a solid handshake. We threw formalities out and hugged, it was just too exciting to see each other. Rachelle was next, with her striking face, far more beautiful and mature than her 13 years. We made our way to the hospital, my heart soaring the whole way.

She made it

Tonight as I type, all three kids are sleeping in a small, simple, hospital room. They are tucked in next to their mama’s who all love them, who care for them sweetly and sincerely. Their care has been prayed over; Heaven has heard and knows each and every request that has been made on their behalf.

Tonight as I type, I think back to the sheet of paper that fell out of my prayer journal earlier. I don’t know why, but an old assignment from a shift dated Aug 4 was stuck inside. Rachelle’s name appears just over baby Hubert’s, two kids my heart has opened up wide to since being here. This is what I wrote after reflecting a bit on what the last month has brought;

Thank you, God. My heart heals as the days and blessing are poured out. I’m content, you are all I need. I love you and how good you are.

I realized today, that you don't have to be completely healed of heartbreak in order to love fully and wholeheartedly again.

I have had a long couple of weeks, and I am still processing so much, but I am content. By the end of the day, my face was full of kisses, I had been hugged a million times, and I had smiled and laughed with three kids and their mama’s who all have hope. We all have beautiful, shining, joyful hope.

Now that’s a good day, one I wouldn't trade for the world.

Rachelle and I after her last admission

Friday, September 4, 2009

8 Coconuts

Yesterday morning, as I was leaving the ship for the day, someone let me know that Aime died. We had discharged him the day before on his grandparents insistence. His mother had left the ship, unable to cope with watching her son die. Over the phone I asked the nurse back at the ship to give the family some money. You see, they were planning on putting his on the back of a zemidjan (a motorcycle taxi) to bring him up-country. Aime was suffering terribly, working for every breath. The thought of him on a motorized bike made me feel sick, I don't care if that's part of the culture, I really don't.
When we called Mariette, his mother, she confirmed our sad news. She asked if we could visit, and I smiled when I learned she was staying right next to where we were going.

I wrote some of the events of the afternoon down right away. To be honest, I'm tired of trying to put impossible emotions into words. My mind races, then seems to just blur when I attempt to recall specifics. Hubert, and now Aime, are the first two children I have cared for and loved who have died. You don't get over these things in a day or two, I don't think you are supposed to, really.
If that's not enough, I have to hear that Aime died in the taxi, less than an hour after he left the ship. At least it wasn't on a motorcycle.

I'll simply list what I wrote yesterday, no use trying to make it sound eloquent.
"If God loved Aime, why would he let this happen" I was asked.
"He suffered for 4 days. As a mother, I had nothing. I could do nothing" she flatly stated.

As explained by my translator, Mariette will not see Aime again before he is buried, his grandparents continued north in the taxi after he died.
"In our culture, parents are not to bury their children, they are not supposed to"
No kidding.
"My wish is that they will work to find a good solution for this disease. Aime has suffered so much". The tears started welling then.
"I hope God will bless you to find a good solution for these children"
If you only knew that's my same prayer

Sitting with a largely expressionless face, Aime's mom explained that she felt her heart had been removed.
My answer?
I sat with her, I let tears fall, I held her hand and I leaned my legs against hers, the weight of both holding each others up.
I found Lamentations 3:33 in her French bible. I promised her I believed the words, my heart prayed that she somehow would too.

As I prayed and talked with some friends last night I was grateful for someone who knew what I was going through. When children die, it sucks, was our conclusion.
Told you it wasn't going to be eloquent.
Its a horrible feeling, one you can't explain. It just hurts.

In the end, now, on this new day, I am refreshed. It even started yesterday. Mariette said she did not want to know a God who lets children suffer. All it took was a promise from the bible before she smiled knowing Aime is with Jesus. She said pictured him singing and being held, we agreed that was perfect.
I have no doubt that Aime was surrounded by his own special angels as he left here and was placed in that taxi. His suffering is over, I'm thankful for that.
My only comfort come from clinging to the same promise I shared with Aime's mom, because at the end of the day that is the only way to cope with these things.

Lamentations 3:22-33

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men."

Aime's mother asked me yesterday if I liked coconut. I answered yes, not expecting that when I was leaving I would be followed by family members carrying 8 of them. I've shared them with the nurses who cared for Aime and the doctor who had to make the hard decision with Mariette to cease treatment. The few left will be made into a special treat for next week, because on monday, I will accompany 3 children to a local hospital for their second dose of chemotherapy. Rachelle, Luc, and Maddie all have Burkitt's lymphoma, the disease that claimed little Aime's life. They are responding to treatment, all three beautiful evidence of answered prayer. Mariette asked about them, she knew them from when they were all on the ship together. We will celebrate 'round 2' with a special party. Balloons, ice cream, coloring pages, and coconut cookies.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Today I hit my emotional rock-bottom. Several times. Whats funny is that each time it only lasted a few moments. I didn't think I could walk another step, face another person, pretend for another instant that I was ok.
I have spent a lot of time with Aimee and his mom the last few days. Today was the hardest I think. This morning we watched a mother break in half with the decision to not pursue any more chemo.
Yes, he will likely die. We will pray, we're so sorry.
Those words look so empty when they lay flat in black and white. I can promise they are anything but that.

I left this morning, barley holding it together. My mind was largely absent from the two visits I fumbled through. My last task of the morning was to pick up Maurice (remember him?) and bring him to the ship for admission. We are going to do another biopsy because the second came back negative for cancer, something that doesn't make sense.
As I pulled into our port, I sighed as I watched a large mac truck backing down the entire length of the dock.
I put the car in reverse and waited as the painful evidence of poor planning backed its way past me.
As we came around the bend I hear a little voice behind me say;
le bateau de bateau qui mon bateau
The boat, the boat. That's my boat
Getting snapped back into reality, back to a proper perspective, should come with some kind of sound effect. Like a swooshing noise or something. Honestly.
I walked holding Maurice's wrist down the dock to our entrance (afterall, he was carrying something in one hand and his snot rag in the other). He is so psyched to be here. He gets to see his "friends". The love in my heart for that little boy is indescribable.

I saw Aimee again after I settled Maurice. My heart again, fell hard. I walked to A ward in search of a baby to hold. I needed some therapy. Ali knew where I was, and her eyes desperately searched the room. Gloria came out of the bathroom with her dad. A three (?) year old special needs girl with the sweetest face. Her eyes are wide set, her mouth always found to be hanging slightly open, which breaks into a smile that would make your heart explode. All you have to say is her name and she looks quickly to dad to make sure he is smiling, in which she finds license to melt ones heart with her own wide smile. I crouched at her bedside and met her face with mine. We sat forehead to forehead, her soft skin warm against mine.
Thank you God. Thank you for this beautiful little girl.

Tonight, again, I felt my heart ripping open for Aimee and his mama as I sat with them.
"We can come see you everyday if you decide to take him home"
She is too afraid, she doesn't want to admit that she would be bringing him home to die. Who can blame her.
"Please, pray for Aimee and I. Please pray" she pleaded.

My heart. Its too much, God

I took one last walk down to D ward for a quick goodnight visit with Maurice. Upon opening the door I watched as my favorite 5 year old ran towards me, arms open wide. After our hugs I tried to get a kiss on the cheek from him. As most boys, he was reluctant at first. That's when I felt a little finger poking my arm.
Another little girl, about 5, was puckering her lips, ready to give me the kiss on the cheek I was trying to solicit from an unwilling Maurice.
Maurice was quick to follow suit after he realized my left cheek was neglected, and my heart soared.
"Whats your name?" I asked the little girl (In English, so as I asked I also looked for her name bracelet)
I wasn't surprised at all with what I saw.
All day I have been filled and poured out emotionally. Each second of emotional agony has been followed by sincere joy over something. God has been so present, so tangible, I can hardly start counting all of the instances He has provided comfort between yesterday and today.
Tonight, as myself and another nurse ran up and down the halls with two 5 years olds who find pure bliss in this simple act, I felt my heart being restored, my soul again being filled up.
That small tap on my arm and goodnight kiss, after a couple of the toughest days I have had, came from a little girl named Miracle.
He is good.
All the time.