Friday, December 25, 2009

Emmanuel

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

Wounded



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

Constant

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

Covered

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.