Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in July

Today's forecast: hot.
Its hard to believe Christmas is this week. It doesn't in the least bit feel like it to me. Maybe my mind is blocking it out because the reality that this is the first year away from family I will ever spend is too harsh. But that's dramatic, and I like to think I'm not I will go on thinking its probably a host of other small things. Like the fact I have a tan from going on a safari last weekend. Or that I had to take a cold shower today after sweeping the floor because I was sweating. profusely. (aren't you glad you know that?)
Maybe its because I am busy, or it doesn't feel like a year has gone by yet since I was last celebrating.

Its nice actually, no commercials (no tv), no crazy mall traffic or tension to buy gifts. No holiday binge eating...although MAN I have been craving one of those huge cheapo tins of popcorn with the three flavors in it lately.
The things I miss get weirder and weirder, I swear.

There is no real point, I am realizing, to this post. I have less then 2 weeks left here at the orphanage and I am actually happy I will spend Christmas with them here. If I can't be with my family at home, this is where I would choose to be. In 4 short months I have fully and completely fallen in love with a great family and learned a lot about what it is to give of yourself for others. Christmas isn't 'just a day', it marks one of the most important days there is in a year. Its about the greatest love, in the form of the greatest gift.
I will surely miss Christmas morning at home. I will miss 24 hours of a Christmas Story on TV (although I have a copy and may just put it on repeat starting Christmas eve). I will miss the Chinese food after church on the 24th and then our lazy Christmas morning. I'll miss the eggs benedict and couch time in my pjs. And my family. Ugh, I will miss them most of all. But really and truly, I will be happy on Saturday. I will hold the babies and enjoy the kids. We'll go to church and eat lunch outside in our summer clothes. It won't be the tradition I'm used to, but I'm ok with that. I'll be surrounded by the people I love (one in particular comes to mind) and I'll celebrate the reason I am here, on His birthday.
Merry Christmas!

Just one last note. I am not at all opposed to eating the popcorn from the tin months after Christmas, say May. By January the ugly ones and overstock that never sold should be on sale for a bargain of like 5 or 10 bucks. Just sayin'

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The long and 'short' of it

Lately I have been soaking up every ounce of what surrounds me. I think there is an internal pressure applied every time I realize the date (which is about once a week) and count quickly the weeks left before I leave this place. I can feel my heart start to ache and I can almost predict how I will feel when the time comes to move on. This isn't the first time I have had to tear my heart away from bonds that give me a reason to wake up in the morning, bonds that seem to make my heart beat.
4 months seemed like enough time, this was just a 'filler' until the next thing.
Or so I thought.

For those of you who don't know (sorry bout' that) I left Mercy Ships in September. I originally was going to be on a leave of absence, but the ship sailing and arriving at the next port was almost exactly the same as my end-date of my two year commitment so rather then sail to a country that costs lots and lots of money to get out of only to leave right away, I am staying put for an extra month in South Africa (not too hard a place to be stuck...I promise)
It was actually easier then I thought it would be. I simply was meant to serve for two full outreaches and that's what I did. I won't go into a host of emotions that accompanied this year...ugh, work for another day, I say.

Anyways, it wasn't so hard to leave because I was on to the next thing, something I was so excited for, something I knew God had picked out for me months before.

Here I am. And now I've lost the direction of what I wanted to say...wonder if that will ever change.
Oh, here we go:
I've been thinking about ministry in relations to missions in general, especially now with the upcoming departure from both Sinakekele in January and Africa as a whole as well (don't have to rip off that band aid until February, thankfully). My last day of 'work' (as in the paying kind) was January 1st 2009. I will end this season of ministry on, take a guess...January 1st 2011. Two years. Wow, two years.

What I want to say is that on January 1st 2009 I wasn't totally ready. I wasn't spiritually 'matured' I wasn't well versed in the bible, I hadn't been doing the Christian 'thing' for very long, I wasn't a likely candidate for missions. The list goes on.
And today? I'm still not. Maybe I'm more mature, or I suppose weathered/seasoned/ground up/spit out/trampled on and put through the emotional ringer would be better terms to use.
The point of all of this that I am struggling to make is that none of us are ever 'ready'. Not financially, not physically, not emotionally, not mentally, not spiritually, for what God has in store for us. We may think we are in good shape, we may feel 'ready', but that doesn't actually matter. God looks for our trust in Him to complete us. He looks at our hearts and sees humility of lack thereof. He waits for us, all of us, to say "Here am I, send me", knowing that may mean we need to care for the homeless or the broken in our own community or, go to a foreign land.

We screw it up with our stipulations, friends. We close our eyes and ears to that still small voice, the news around us. We don't respond, we don't listen, we don't act. We say "I'll go this far, I'll do this, but not that" but its only to put our own minds at ease, I think
I've had one prominent thought on my mind for weeks now. I can't stop thinking about how short life is. You see it every where, we are inundated by the world's view of how our lives should look, what it is to be successful. We feel that pressure to succeed, save money, and create a picture of what we think is a good Christian life. Its not enough.
Life is too short.
It is too short not to give until we relieve the burdens of other people. Its too short not to give our time, resources, money, and most importantly our hearts to those in need of it.
Its too short not to consider adopting an orphan. Not you, you say? Why?
What is stopping you?
Why do we hesitate with needs that seem to have such an obvious answer?
There are people hurting everywhere and to you Christians, this is our calling. As long as there are people in need, we are called to help them.
We don't get to decide who is most deserving, we don't get to judge the hearts of men. We simply, plainly, need to just get on with it.
Its not supposed to be comfortable, its not supposed to be easy. And it won't be.

In regards to being ready, I have been thinking this week about just how un-ready (like that new word?) I actually was for these last two years. And my conclusion? God uses the mission He has for our lives to complete us. He "sets eternity in the hearts of men" and oh, its so beautiful. He uses the ones who have nothing to cement bonds to Him in our hearts. He uses the orphaned and abused, the poor and the weak to illustrate His love, His compassion, His joy, His unfailing love.
My soul feels good. Its the kind of good that has no other source. It can't be taught, it isn't found in a book. It comes from a range of things.
Today is was a baby finally calming down from a hysterical cry and sucking in short, quick breaths through his nose in the aftermath of the wailing while he fell asleep in my arms.
Other days its spontaneous dance parties with 7 year old Mary and nearly-2 Thembeka, the little girl who couldn't sit on her own 3 months ago and now wiggles her bum and twirls in circles to the music while squealing out of sheer joy...those kind of dance parties.
Its hearing the soft breathing and sleepy murmers of four of the most beautiful children I have ever seen sleeping in the next room from where I type.
Its crying over them just now as I watched them sleep.

Our lives are too short not to experience God's heart. They are too short not to welcome a baby in His name, one who won't get a chance without us. Why are they less worthy of a loving home then one who hasn't been born yet, or one who biologically belongs to someone? (You can see clearly my current burden)

Maybe we can start by changing our view of people, that seems simple enough (again, I am talking as much to myself as I am to anyone else)
Rather then judge the man asking for money on the corner you go past everyday, or avoid eye contact, lets start a relationship. I'm not telling you to invite him for dinner, but give him a chance to see how God feels towards him. Be the light He won't see unless you are there to bring it. Help him a little everyday, food, a few cents. Build up to a 1 minute conversation. Repeat. Maybe in two weeks, two months, two years, you'll invite him for church, or that dinner.
Go and volunteer at a nursing home or veterans hospital and imagine yourself there with no one to come and see you, let it break your heart and motivate you to show love to those there who are so deserving.
Instead of one time gifts to organizations, commit monthly to them. I know one at the moment who could use regular support, and I could tell you as well exactly where it would go.
Pray about adoption or fostering, and ask God why there is fear or hesitation surrounding a decision like that.
Lets be a physical presence to people in need, wherever we are. Let the burden and weight of the need be just that, a burden on our hearts to help them.

I'm still not well versed in the bible. I still doubt and stumble and lose motivation and wonder what I am doing. I still say "send me...but not there".
At the end of the day I am willing. I trust God, and now I know that I can only find contentment in being in the center of His will for my life.
I don't know it all, I don't know if helping the homeless dude on the corner will work. I just know not trying definitely won't, so we have to at least try.

We all have the capability to do these things inside of us, just please don't wait until you feel 'ready', life is too short to wait.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I can't help myself

More quotables from the week:

While watching a married couple join hands and walk into the mall after we dropped them off:
"Why are they holding hands"-Mary
"So they don't get seperated. Like, you know, so one doesn't go one way and the other the other way"-Jake

While handing jake his ARV meds to take in the back of the car
"Will I die if I don't take this medicine"-Jake
"You can get sick if you don't, Jake"-Me
"You'll be fine"-Mary
"No, my mom and dad didn't take this medicine and they died"-Jake

ouch. my heart.

While driving past a few women...
"Look at that girls bum with the long pants. Her bum is going chi-chaw-chi-chaw chi-chaw"-Jake

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A first time for everything

As you know (or may not know, I suppose), I rarely raise my voice too loud about how I feel regarding the politics surrounding the poverty I see on a daily basis. I'm not the most informed person in the world, I've been fed the same statistics as you on just how poor the people on the continent of Africa are. I've steadied myself trying to focus on the people, the ones right in front of me, but I can't lie and say I feel a bit sad [read:mad, outraged, etc...] when I hear comments about how people in America suffer too, or the question that requires a lot of personal restraint; "Why don't you help the people in your own country instead of going to Africa?"

If that's you, if that's what you think, please come here. Please take a glimpse of the day to day reality of how these people live. Don't watch it on a TV that you can change stations and forget about it by the time the next commercial ends, don't google it and try to relate to some obscure figure of numbers aimed at horrifying its audience, numbers that get thrown on a growing pile of information that doesn't actually impact anyone.
You don't even have to come here, read a book, a blog, something a tad more personal then a 30 second clip.
Then let it lead you into action.

Here's another idea, help those people who need it right in your own backyard rather then wonder why people leave to go serve elsewhere. Whatever it takes to bring action, do that. If we all do something, we may actually have an impact on the world. If we just talk about it, well, thats plain silly.

People in the church, you will be held even more responsible. I read somewhere that God's call, His will, isn't something you hear. Its His word, its there for everyone in black and white. His will for your life is for you to serve. Period. It doesn't matter where it is, that part He'll tell you. But listen, and act. Please. Yes there are people in America and all over the world who need help, is this something that actually causes a burden on your heart? Do you cry for them? Do you help them? Or do we post another random set of numbers as our facebook status and get 20 reactions agreeing with us, leading us all to....??

I am not accusing anyone of anything, which is why I never take this stance when I post. I don't like to feel argumentative, and I suppose I could give you some background as to what is fuelling this little flame of mine. In his book, Race Against Time, Stephen Lewis gives statistics aimed at actually opening our eyes to the problem in Africa. I can't stop thinking about one in particular. I read it 3 days ago, and still, for some reason, it is my answer to the question and comments I listed above in regards to serving in Africa.

(written in 2005) "At present, the European Union and United States together subsidize their farmers to the tune of $350 billion (U.S. dollars) a year; it equals five times the amount that is ploughed into foreign aid. If I may offer an evocative juxtaposition: Every cow in the European Union is subsidized to the tune of $2 dollars a day, while between 400 million and 500 million Africans live on less than a dollar per day."
And that's families living on less then a dollar per day, by the way.

Oh, how I wish I could organize my thoughts right now, there is just too much though. I want to tell you what living on 1 dollar a day looks like. Worried about our politics? How about not having a way to even prove your identity because you don't get birth certificates when you're born in the bush. Without an identity card, you have no rights to vote. Not that it matters in a lot of the countries that are corrupt.
Worried about health care? How about waiting on the floor of a dirty emergency room with a broken arm, bone sticking out through your skin, and dying three days later because you couldn't find anyone to bring you the 10 or 20 dollars it would take to be seen by a doctor. The same doctor who walked past as your body was ravaged with infection, painfully taking your life over those three days.
Against the war? Upset for our soldiers? What about the children who are being kidnapped, drugged, forced to kill each other, all in order to desensitize them and make them into 7, 8, 9 year old killing machines. That's not just for the movies, Blood Diamond didn't make that worse then it really is. It is happening today, right now as you read.
We've all heard about the AIDS problem. Some have even been known to say its their own fault, some of us here blame traditions and unsafe sex and a host of other human conditions that lead to this crisis. As I stood in an AIDS clinic yesterday, my heart registered a whole new emotion. Yes, many peoples bad decisions led them to becoming infected, but that's not what I saw. I saw the little toddlers with their mamas waiting in the yellow chairs, the chairs in the queue designated to pediatric patients. There is an entire generation who did not choose badly, who do not deserve to inherit this growing problem. But they did.

I'm not anti-America. I'm not trying to de-merit our soldiers or make it seem like I am against my own country. If anything, honestly, I can appreciate now more than ever my country and all the good things we have. Why does it have to be one or the other, I wonder? There is corruption on both sides of the ocean. There is pain, there is joy, there is unjust death and unfair politics. The point of all of this is, regardless of anything else, is there is a need. Whether its in the Middle East, Africa, or on Boston Common, we need to answer the call that is already written. Mother Theresa said 'If you can't feed one hundred people then just feed one'. We can all do that. If you have access to a computer and you are reading this, you are better off then millions upon millions of people in this world. Find an organization who is trustworthy and already doing something you believe in. Support them, talk about them, lets inspire action instead of a few minutes of pity for people. Actually give up one of your 5 dollar coffees a day and put the money aside for a greater good. Don't just read the statistics, research them and then put yourself into the shoes of the people and ponder what it would actually be like to live a different life.

What I have learned here, and what I hope resonates in my actions in words, is that we should be thankful for what we do have. When you sit in the doctors office and flip through magazines, be thankful you have the access to health care you do. Not because there are people who don't, but just because you should be thankful for something like that. If we change our attitudes to ones of gratefulness, our actions will reflect it. Only then will we change anything.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I hear fairly hilarious, and sometimes outrageous comments on a daily basis. Such is a life working with kids, I guess.

Not all are funny, though, and some threaten to break my heart if not for the innocence in which a question may be asked, but then for the cruelty of this world.

So here is a few of the good, bad, and somewhat sad quotes I have jotted down during the last week.

Between Jake and myself-
Me: "Jake, you have to finish your dinner, just a few more bites and you'll be done"
Jake: "My tummy hurts, I'm full"
Me: "Jake, come one, I know you're not full, you have to eat at leat a little more of that food on your plate"
Jake: "I'm fasting"

Between Simon and Tazz-

Tazz: "Simon, you must finish your dinner, don't you know there are starving people right outside?"

Myself and Mary:
Mary: "Suzy, where were you born?"
Me: "In Winchester Hospital"
Mary: "Who found you?"
This is the one that breaks my heart, if you didn't already figure it out. Sweet little Mary.

Some random guy who pulled up next to us in a gas station when we were lost, apparently in a rough area (?)

Random guy: "You two ok?"
Michiel and I: "yup!"
Random guy: "Where are you going?"
Michiel and I answered
Random guy: "Where are you from?"
Another answer...
Random guy: "you sure you're ok?"
Michiel "yes, why?"
Random guy: "Usually whites don't come out this way unless they have guns"
Michiel: "oh, ok. Thanks!"

Same trip at the gas station and I was let in behind a locked gate where the register wass to use the bathroom (after getting slightly harrassed by the public toilets outside and deciding not to invite more by actually waiting outside of them) Just before this stop I had been directing us, unsucessfully, on our way to where we were going (no map, bad street names, and a list of other perfectly good excuses as to why we got lost. Certainly none of them had anything to do with me and my great navigation skills). Michiel naturally took the stance that his (lengthy) directions that took him a lot of time weren't to blame either. I'm sure no one reading can relate, right? This wasn't the first time we were lost together. Its Africa, afterall. A continent bent on proving Murphy's Law when one is trying to travel through.
As I came out of the bathroom and waited for the woman at the register to get the right key, Michiel waited for me on the other side with an old man who had limited teeth and seemingly even more limited understanding of Michiel's humor.
Michiel: "You want her? I'll give you a good price"(Don't forget I am standing next to the register)
*confused look*
Michiel: "Really, she is a good woman, and she can cook"
Michiel: "And she's great at reading directions!"

Grandpa Len: "They put up new pillars near the new building"
Mary: "No, they're bricks"
G. Len: "No, Pillars"
Mary: "No, bricks"
Jake: "Grandpa Len is right, they're pills"

Me: "Jake, you have to take a bath, you're first on the list tonight"
Jake: "But I don't want to go first, why di I have to go first?"
Me: "You were last yesterday so its only fair. Come on, bath time"
Jake: "You know, I'm just not a bathing man"

"What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul" -Yiddish Proverb

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unexpected reconciliation

While thinking about writing this post I decided to do a quick google search for headlines related
to abandoned babies in South Africa. The first two stories made me feel worse then I would have thought. I'm no more immune to pain having seen and heard these stories up close than someone reading from home, so I can't share much, it hurts far too much. The first story was moderately good in that the baby had survived, that is, after being put in a 6 foot pit which served as a toilet for 12 hours, being bitten by ants everywhere, found nearly freezing to death.

The second didn't share the same fate, he was found already dead, suffocated by the plastic bag still over his head.
I'm afraid if I let the tears start I won't gain control. And already I'm too late for that.
My heart aches in such a way just writing these things down that I can't imagine what God thinks, what He feels for these babies. They're just babies...

I don't think this post will go the direction I had intended. I can't think past the pain of these stories. The statistic given was that 3 babies are abandoned every 48 hours in this region of South Africa alone.
Oh God, what are we supposed to think? How can humanity be so disgusting? What are you thinking?

Oh Suzanne, I love every baby that is born into this world. I know each hair on their head, I see their little fingers and toes and admire them more than you can imagine. I am a Father to the Fatherless, I love them all dearly.
This is a fallen world, but someday, someday, it will all be ok. Those babies are with me, fully restored and loved in my perfect way. They don't know pain, the world failed them, but I promise never to let them go.
There will be a day when there is no more suffering, a day in which the whole world will cease to contain such violence and pain.
For now, work for those I place in front of you. Love them with the heart I have given you. Hold them and let their stories of hope dwell deep in your soul. Trust that this time is for your healing, for the sadness you carry from the others whom I have called home.
You will never understand it all, my ways, or the ways of the world. You don't have to. You're not supposed to. Trust. Trust in Me, that I love you and will never forsake you. You also are my child, and my love for you is more than you can imagine.

So kiss S'bu and enjoy his smiles...

Hug Thembeka and show her how much you delight in her...

Do these things in My name.

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but the one who sent me"-Jesus, Mark 9:37

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Its my pleasure to introduce another member of this family here at Sinakekele. Simon was adopted by Ruth when he was just a baby, and is now 9 years old. She knew he was unlike other children right from the start. He didn't throw fits or cry over spilled milk (pun intended). He calmly watched the world around him and looked cute doing it (I've seen pictures, the kid was cute)
Although he has never officially been diagnosed, Simon is likely on the high functioning end of the autism scale. He isn't the first one in his class, learning and word recognition doesn't come easily to him, and reading is almost visibly painful.

But who cares about those things, really. I mean it, from the things I have seen, this doesn't seem relevant in this world. In a place where babies are left for dead or abused later, I see a light shining in Simon's story. The boy is loved, his strengths are nurtured, and everyone who meets him has a fierce and overwhelming urge to protect the innocence in him.
One night his brother was telling stories of robbers and thieves who follow you home and break into your house in the middle of the night. I noted each kids reaction. Mary was scared, asking Siya (who was telling the story) to stop. Jake teased a little more, but looked a little worried. Simon was off in his world, physically sitting next to me, but mentally light-years away. A few minutes passed and Simon finally looked up and asked;
"But aren't the robbers tired at night?"
We all looked at him, puzzled, but in agreement that yes, robbers may be tired at night. A few more moments passed and then he asked a second question;
"Siya, do you think the robbers sleep during the day and that's why they aren't tired at night?"
"Yeah, probably" was the answer he got, which seemed to satisfy him as he went off back to his world.
Side note: this was one of my first 'how did I get here moments' of my time here. It was just too funny to be sitting there right then.
That's my best example of Simon. He hates crowds of people and the business that surrounds certain events (like meal times). If he isn't in sight, you can bet he is off doing what I think looks like conducting an orchestra. In space (the sound effects make for this assessment).
He is sweet and funny and so polite. I love that little boy just a little extra because he is different and because he is special.
Simon is great at the drums, and I watched him as he closed his eyes, listening to the beat as his instructor played a new series for him to learn the other weekend. You can see the pride on his face when you give him even a small compliment, and his shy smile makes my heart swell when I see it everyday.
Simon is another example of a baby picked up out of a sad story and given a new lease on life. He is thriving in a world where he feels love and I pray his innocence will remain with him for as long as possible. I pray God will protect him and surround him with people who see how amazing he is. I hope I never forget that feeling in my chest when I see him smile, and that I am reminded of how blessed I am to be surrounded by these kids for this time.
And now for an update from the nursery downstairs, but first a couple of questions...
Who designs baby clothes? I mean, I can handle the basic onesies and tiny outfits, but some of those clothes are just plain crazy. Has anyone who has actually held a baby, never mind tried to dress one while it squirms/cries/poops everywhere, tried to also button 65 snaps in all different directions? With one hand? I didn't think so.
How many times do you think a toddler can poop while only being few a set amount of food per day? Can you imagine its seemingly 10x more then what goes in?
Its good in the nursery. I love my work and enjoy those little babes, even when they poop and it gets on me, or they stick their finger in it and wipe it on their face before I can intervene....Even then.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"I can hear your heart beating"

If I could only sum up Mary in short stories and small snapshots, I would. You would love her, as I do, in such a way that would make you feel alive. You would laugh a lot, if you knew Mary, but at the very least maybe you can read about her and know this girl is very special, very special indeed.

Mary is 7 years old. She was abandoned at birth and has never known the touch of her natural mother. I was told her story, but for privacy's sake I am choosing not to share any of the children's details here. Suffice to say, its heartbreaking.
What Mary does know are the arms who cuddled her as an infant, who held her when she got hurt as she grew, and who work hard every day to provide for her. Ruth adopted Mary and her 3 brothers from her very own ministry. She provides a safe place for abandoned babies in her home (which is where I am currently working). The little I had gathered from the internet and Ruth prepared me to meet her four kids, Mary and Jake who are 7, and Siya and Simon who are 9.
The first night I met Mary, she promptly told me:
"There are no secrets in this house", after emptying Michiel and I's pockets.
How do I start to tell you about this kid?
She runs full out for hugs and squeals in excitement over the littlest things. Her brown eyes beam when she recounts a story from the day and she frequently taps and pinches people bums, which is then followed by her excaliming "I pinched your bum!" and little girl giggles.
She sings and dances in public without a care for who is watching, but instantly turns shy if you put her on the spot, requesting a tune. Her eyes dance when she is excited and her whole body wiggles when she is delighted in something.
Two night ago I was up watching the 'big' kids while we waited for Ruth to come home. I pulled out my hard drive and we agreed that Kung-Fu Panda was a good fit for a Monday night. Mary climbed on my lap with her pillow and stretched her legs out over mine. She pointed her toes out towards mine before intertwining her legs with my own and settling into the movie.

She boasts of having 'healing hands' and loves to give out back massages. She's good at it too. She comes down to the nursery nearly every day and entertains the babies with her silly faces and uninhibited nature. Tonight she came down and was singing to a fussy S'bu. Once he settled I asked her to do the same for Thembeka who was shouting at us from her crib in a protest over bedtime. Mary, in her little way, sang and tapped Thembeak with her palm gently on the chest for over 15 minutes while I gathered the laundry and bottles to clean up. She sang to her about Jesus, and how someday she will have a home and someone will come to take care of her.

After she slowly backed away from Thembeka's crib and sported her winning smile (minus a front tooth) she came over to me and wrapped her arms around my neck as I burped a little one. She then put her ear up to my chest and listened for nearly a minute.
"I can hear your heart beating. Its going ba-boom, ba-boom", she said with a cheeky smile.
"Its saying 'I love you, Mary" I replied.
To that, Mary scrunched up her shoulders and stuck her tongue through the gap where a tooth once was. She kissed my cheek and like a little wisp, she was off to boss around her brothers.

Why talk so much about a 7 year old? Why think that its even worth putting down on paper (or screen...whatever)? Because she is beautiful. Because she is a miracle. Because she was chosen to be saved and redeemed, and taken care of. Because she shouldn't be alive, but she is. Oh, she is so alive. Because I love her and I needed a Mary in my life right when she entered. I needed good laughs, and neck rubs, and kisses, and reminders that life is so big and that if we don't let the small things invade our hearts, we will simply live day to day without the joy of God which waits for us.
Again I feel energized by being around kids all day long. I look forward to the leaping hugs and silly banter. I remember what complete abandon looks like and how I should apply it to my walk with God. I look at these kids and precious little babies through eyes that aren't my own. I plainly see how I have no idea the measure of God's love for his children. I ask Him to give me His heart for them, and a heart like theirs. For Him.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Teddie Bears, Dolls, and Rock n' Roll

Well, I don't know where to start. So many things to tell, and so many of them absolutely ridiculous unless you are a complete baby fanatic...
I have been at the orphanage for almost a month. The time has gone by quickly, actually, and I am feeling quite at home.
Life once again has brought me to a place where at times everything seems to stop while I sit and wonder to myself
'what series of events led me to this place?'
There are so many new friends to introduce, each one as different as they come. I'll stick to the babies for now, there's more than enough to be said about these tiny humans.

The day I arrived was the same day as Thembeka (the 'h' is silent). The social worker who dropped her off apparently said she doubted she was the reported 17 months old due to the fact this little girl could barely sit on her own. I was shown the nursery long after the sun set, and when I saw this little one my heart broke. Her skin was dry, spotted with fungal infections. She looked as if she had been left in a diaper for days and days, her skin puckered and oozing with sores. Worse than all of that though, were her eyes. Void of life, her small liquid black eyes stared back at us tentatively. Abandoned by her mother to a neighbor who finally couldn't take any more responsibility, this abused little baby was brought in and left at the hands of a social worker.
Thembeka cried and cried every morning when we would even start the bath, a supposed mixture of pain from her wounds and some emotional trauma. She would sit quietly for hours, uninterested in toys or even much food. She took the medicines prescribed to her without a fight, staring back at us with those empty eyes. On the third day, she smiled. It was small, and tenuous, but she smiled. We knew then that love would win in the fight for this precious one. She was chosen, out from the dirt and hands of abuse, right into arms that wanted nothing than to give her reason for that smile. What a beautiful girl.
Now, well, now nothing can stop her, as it should be for a toddler. She plays in the bath, splashing and giggling at us, licking the soap and water when I wash her face. She puts up a stink at naptime, and talks to herself in non-coherent jibber-jabber all day long. She loves to cuddle and crawls around the nursery endlessly. I love her in a way that is beyond words. So beautiful.
She's my favorite.

The other little girl is Thulile (too-lee-lay). A fat, round, big-cheeked, 3 month old. She loves attention and none of us can help but dress her in every pink onesie we can find, afterwards we wrap her in pink blankets, too. Its quite fun. She is certainly the princess of the group.
She's also my favorite.

And then there are the S'bu's, number one and two. Big S'bu is a 5 month old with a big gummy smile, (assuming you are paying all of your attention to only him) and a constant drip of drool hanging from his bottom lip. He is awake every morning when I start my day at 6am, and I am always greeted by him in his footy pajama's and little fro of hair. Oh footie pajama's, you rock.
He's my favorite.
Little S'bu is likely one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen. He is two months old and the littlest one of the bunch. He only cries for food, otherwise you will usually catch him taking a nap while being rocked in a chair, he loves his little chair. And naps.
Totally my favorite.

So that's the crew, I'll tell more about them, but for now I will leave you with the introductions.

I'm happy here, really and truly. I needed the peace and quiet of being off the ship and away from busy port cities almost as much as I needed constant hugs and cuddles. My heart is overwhelmed with how perfect this new place is for me. I wake each morning at 5:30 to the sun rising over the sliver of the Indian ocean I can see past the hills and valleys my little cottage overlooks. I fall asleep to the sound of crickets at night and I am smothered with hugs and children looking for a lap to sit on when the older kids get home from school (more on them later). I am blessed, once again, by my wonderful God who knew this is right where I am supposed to be. I can't stop smiling.

Oh, and the reason for the title, I feel weird not tying this all together (and pictures are taking for-ev-er to laod with my limited internet here). There is a shirt I put Thembeka in whenever it is clean that says 'Teddies, dolls, and rock n' roll'. I laugh at it as I find myself relating it to my life. One night before I was getting ready to leave I had one of those 'how did I get here' moments. I was sitting down next to Thembeka and she was shaking a little red toy tambourine (her favorite toy since the first days she was here). She indicated she wanted me to clap while she shook it, and then we passed the red plastic tambourine back and forth, the other clapping to the (off) beat. You guessed it, she was wearing the shirt. My life used to look a lot different, but I still have my share of rock n' roll. Baby style.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let the adventure begin...again

Well, we're here. Safe and soundly docked in Durban, my new home for the next 5 months.

It feels good. I had butterflies pulling into the harbor, a mix of anticipation of many sorts. Of course, after being at sea for 15 days, anticipation just to walk on solid ground is enough in itself.

Tonight I will spend my final night on the Africa Mercy, the place I have called home for the last 18 months. Tomorrow Michiel will drop me off at the orphanage, something I have been excited for since the first email correspondence with the woman there several months ago. We will successfully navigate through the city while staying safely on the 'wrong' side of the road (driving on the RIGHT side of the road is called the RIGHT for a reason, Therefore left, is wrong. Its simple(for any of those who are rolling your eyes). See how optimistic I am?

Many people have asked if I will miss it here. "Sure" I respond. I miss home too, you know. I miss my family, my friends, I miss my church, I miss a lot, but it doesn't mean I am sad, or have bad feelings about leaving and being away. I know I am in the right place. I know this life was hand picked for me. I didn't run from anything, I'm not on a quest to find myself, I am simply living by faith (and having a grand old time doing it, if I may say so).

I try and think sometimes about how many may view my life. "When will you settle down?" "Yes, this is great, but when you're done with it.....what will you do?"
I imagine these are legitimate questions, I even ask myself them, like, once a year. Maybe.

I have learned a lot on this ship. I have learned a lot about myself, about people, about a little culture I learned to love with all of my heart, and most of all a whole bunch about God. I learned that life isn't always safe, we don't always know where we will go, or what we will be called to do. I have also learned that through God anything, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, is possible.
Raising enough support money for a whole year in just 3 weeks? No problem.
Leaving home, saying goodbye to the people who have loved me my whole life? Not easy, but the right decision.
Finding strength to hold a mother while she clutches her baby and watches him take his lasts breaths? Yes, by His grace.
Carrying burdens that left me on the floor gasping for breaths through tears? I made it.
Packing everything I own to move off to another unknown place? Well, I have one last bag that needs to be packed, but basically, I've got it.
As if that even skims the surface.

So yes, I will miss parts of this life on board the Africa Mercy, but I am ready to go. Its time for the next chapter, time for another change. My departure notice read : Suzanne Zickell- Palliative Care Nurse/Pediatric Ward Nurse/Burkitt's Lymphoma Program Coordinator/Cook.
It was funny to me to see it all laid out like that. It makes me think of Dr. Seuss and "Oh, The Places You'll Go". I've worn a few hats, all bringing unique and different experiences. I even have calluses on my hands from scrubbing the Galley floor today!

I can't thank you all enough for making this time possible, and those of you who continue to support me while I go on with some more volunteer work. For those of you job hunting, I will let you in on a little secret. If you don't care about salary, try missions. The market is really good right now.
Really though, I truly couldn't be here without my wonderful supporters and those of you who pour out love, prayers, and your time in encouraging me.
My next place of residence and salary-free employment will be at Sinakekele Ministry. I will be working with the babies there. For those of you who know me, this will be a huge stretch. Can you imagine me day in and day out surrounded by babies?! I'll make it though, I will. For those of you who don't know me, well, hopefully you're quick in picking up my sarcasm.

From there I go to Holland for a bit, but that's another story for another day. I'll be popping in from time to time to tell you more tales. Of babies. In Africa. Clearly my favorite variety.

For now though, I will leave you with the verse my mom has prayed over my life since she knew she was pregnant with me. Yeah, she's awesome, I know.

"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".
-Jeremiah 29:11
(and mom, I packed away every magnet except the one that has this verse. I will sleep with it next to my pillow one last night here on the ship. Tomorrow I will put it somewhere new, where I can see it every day again during this next adventure)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


We crossed the equator sometime in the middle of the night two nights ago. We are heading south, and the next land I set foot on will be in Durban, South Africa (assuming my visa waiver is all set).

I started making mental notes int he last few weeks in Togo. I tried to capture the cultural nuances and pieces of West Africa that I love so dearly and tuck them away somewhere inside of me so I can revisit anytime I grow homesick for the area of the world I have considered home for almost one and a half years.
One explanation I have been using while trying to explain to people, in hopes of getting them to understand why I will miss my beloved West Africa, is related to the culture. When you walk through the streets, dust being stirred beneath each step you take, you can feel it. You breath in the smells, feel the heat of the African sun surrounding you and enveloping you as if you've just laid in a warm bath. The culture of West Africa is beautiful, exceptional, and quite honestly, baffling at times.
I will miss it, the pain of the loss will certainly come with me to my next assignment. More importantly, the joy of the experience will never be far from my conscious mind, and that is what I am so happy for.
Oh Africa, you are good for the soul.

Where else in the world can you...
Pay a stranger on a motorcycle 40 cents to go 15 minutes out of his way to bring you in the right direction when you find yourself lost.

Take a baby from its mothers arms and cuddle it as long as you see fit while at the market/gas station/hospital/street corner/restaraunt/church.

Watch a family of 6 hop on one motorcycle and ride away, all looking seemingly comfortable and without a second thought to whether or not their actions are 'normal'

Drink fresh squeezed pineapple juice on a deserted beach lined with palm trees. Every weekend if you wanted.

Find a market where you can buy all of the following:
Fresh vegetables
Chickens (alive or dead)
Snails the size of your head (who don't look like they are alive, but then shock you by moving when you get closer. Not like I'm speaking from experience or anything)
"Street Meat"-enough said
Fake gold jewelry by the case
"Authentic" all star converse sneakers for 6 bucks
Wooden sticks to chew on as an alternative to tooth brushes
Some clothes you gave away to salvation army years ago.
2 dollar DVD's such as "Leo vs. Matt" containing upwards of 20-30 movies, staring either, and sometimes both, actors. Chinese subtitles included. Quality questionable. Definitely illegal.
Watches, belts, purses, shoes, kitchen appliances, brightly colored fabric, toy cars and bugs made from soda cans, you name it, its there my friends.

There is always a cold treat to be found in the form of a walking Fan Ice vending machine. The vendors may even be savvy enough to own a horn, which you would think they would stop squeezing once you've stopped them to buy a 20 cent bag of frozen ice cream, but you would be wrong.

Craving a coke while you shop? They have the really cool 'vintage' bottles, you just have to stand with the vendor while you drink it because you buy the soda inside, not the bottle. This in turn makes you a sitting target for the others selling the watches, belts, purses, shoes, kitchen appliances, brightly colored fabric, toy cars and bugs made from soda cans, and other wonderful crafts. Consider yourself warned.

I love that people exclaim 'ah!' when you say something they think is just plain crazy. I like that few of the local dialects have a word for 'yes' but rather use the same 'ah'(with a different tone, of course), or a more easliy interpreted 'ah-huh'. I smile when I hear a West African clicking his or her tongue in the back of their throat while nodding their head in disagreement.

The other day we were looking (unsuccessfully) for an electronics shop that sold voltage transformers. Michiel flagged down two guys on a motorcycle and got the driver to agree to help us find the shop. His reason for asking these two men in particular? One was holding a drill, of course.
Turns out his logic was spot on, our trusty friend was an electrician and proceeded to spend the next 3 hours with us shopping for the items on our list. His friend and the bike disappeared after our first stop so he hitched a ride with us, perfectly natural here.
Each different salesman who didn't have what we were looking for walked us to the next place, some even crossing the street to retrieve something that may be close to what we were looking for.

Our last Sunday in Togo we went to a local church with two of the day workers from this field service. My favorite part of the morning was our visit to the different Sunday school rooms. The littlest children sang a song for us. It was about how is Jesus was there with them, they would put Him on their backs.
Here in West Africa, the mama's put their babies on their backs to carry them. Their bodies are next to each other nearly all day. The song is saying that a baby is put on its mama's back because it is precious. Ergo, if Jesus was there, who is precious to them, they would put Him on their backs.

When you greet someone here, you snap each others fingers as you pull away from the handshake. It takes practice.

Taxi's are filled to the max, 7 adults and a child in 1 was my record. The car was car built for 4 passengers.
Everything is loud. Everything.
Directions are different depending on the person you ask, prices are never fixed, and the people will almost always return your smile with an even bigger one.

Watching people worship at church leaves me wondering if there is anything we, or I, get that excited about. Does anything make us jump, sing, shout, or dance anymore? Is anything really worth that much to us? To these people, its simply God. They allow themselves to be moved by the spirit and don't think twice about being the first one to stand up. They aren't shy when they jump into the conga line heading straight for the front of the church. They don't look around to see if anyone is watching when they shake their hips past the pastor.
The babies nod off after being bounced on those shaking hips of their mama's and are placed on the floor, (we wouldn't want babies falling of church pews now) a thin piece of brightly covered fabric put down under them.

I could go on, and maybe I'll revisit these precious memories and write more down again for you as I think of them.
This is Africa as I see it. I love it in a way that is indescribable, and feel sad knowing I can never fully capture all of it and bring it home to you. There is no way to neatly wrap up and present a culture so rich and so stunning. I close my eyes and can feel the jewelry between my fingers, carved out by hand from a single piece of wood. I can feel the goosebumps, a reaction to the extreme heat of the afternoon sun. I can smell the dirt, and see the red clouds of it painted against the green bush of the country as we speed past. I can hear them calling out, "My sister, come here, just looking. Come look at my store. Looking for free!"
I try desperately to hold on to the memory of warm babies who drool and giggle, entertained for hours by a small piece of cloth.

I feel good now, like I've had a strong dose of medicine whose effects have washed over me. I want West Africa to remain real to not only myself, but somehow for you reading this too. Its strange not knowing when, and if I will ever return to that home. I can't imagine my life thinking I won't ever go back, yet years ago I would have told you I couldn't imagine my life bringing me there either.
The next stories will be beautiful too, I'm sure. I'm not afraid that this new place will be any less amazing. For now though, for now when I lay out on the top deck of the ship, sleepily looking at the stars and listening to the engines working to bring us closer to my next home, I'll remember West Africa and all of her beauty.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A day in the life of a 28 year old

Its a strange thing to ask on ones birthday; "How does it feel to be a year older?". I'm only a day older than yesterday, really. There wasn't some fast-forward button pressed which brought me to today, all of a sudden somehow feeling a year older.
I thought of that while walking down the hall today. Nothing too profound, just thought I would share.

Birthdays are a good time to reflect on the past year, I suppose. One day when you feel like you should at least do something concerning yourself.
For some reason this year I am feeling more of an urge to think forward, though. I am excited for South Africa, I can't wait to see another corner of the world, all while feeling the familiar weight of a little baby in my arms with my work in an orphanage there. I am excited for the joy, the stress, the hard work, the tears, the frustrations, and the overwhelming contentment of living for God, watching Him fulfill my hearts desire.

Then I look back, and I feel such a mixture of emotions. It was still only a year ago that I was holding baby Anicette on my birthday, her tiny body so small in my hands, her hair so soft on my neck. We were still celebrating little Maddie and her successful treatment for Burkitt's. Life felt so good. The stress was incredible, but it was so so good. Sailing out of Benin left a hole that still needs a patch from time to time, even to this day.
Tenerife, Togo, a stop in the Netherlands, a wedding in the states, back to Togo, and 6 months of working back in the culture I have grown to love immensely, here I am. Its hard to believe all that has happened in one year. Sometimes it feel like a lifetime of experiences all crammed into just 365 days. Not in a bad way, just in the sense that it takes longer to process all that has happened in those days, in just that small window of time.

I think I'm talking in circles. Or my mind has already raced ahead of itself 4 times over and now is coming back to this point. There's this song called 'The beast in me" by Matrin Sexton. One line says; 'The beast in me is the best in me'. Sometimes I think my ADD is the beast in me, and at the same time one of the best things I have going for me.
Point proven, wouldn't you say?

Moving on.
Here I sit, still trying to work through what I still have to work through (try and follow), yet feeling at total peace with where I am. To say I have been blessed sounds terribly cliche, but what the heck, I'll go for it. My life since 25 has been incredible. I am on a journey with the creator of the Heavens and Earth as my guide. Not too shabby.
So today, when I look back, I don't feel a year older, per se. I feel like I have experienced in the last year enough for 10 years, and more than ready to see what this next year holds, already excited to see what I will have to reflect on when I turn 29.

Thanks for the birthday wishes, everyone!

Monday, July 19, 2010


I've tried, I really have. I sit down or sometimes just start thinking about what to write about here, but clearly I struggle. Whether the battle is between not thinking I have anything to say, or just not knowing how to articulate what I think or feel, is yet to be determined.

My dad mentioned something on the phone last night that made quite a bit of sense (to me at least). We were talking about the ever constant debate men and women have. Women want men to know how they feel, they want them to understand their inner angst, whatever it may be that day, week, month... we all know what road this discussion can go down...
I've never been one to be offended by my dad or his opinion of women (and friends, he does NOT claim to know the inner workings of a woman's mind). But what he said has stuck, and maybe even spurred this post.
He said women often don't know themselves what they are feeling until they start verbalizing it. "They process as they talk" he said.

To be honest, it doesn't matter if you agree with this thought because for me its true (I was the intended audience, after all). And helpful. Thanks Bob, another pearl to add to my collection. :smile:

As life on board a floating hospital, docked in a third world country, surrounded by amazing stories, astounding people, and life changing moments becomes normal, what is there to write about?
I feel like such a jerk even saying that now because that's not how I feel anymore, its just a sum up of the last few months. You see, I started talking about these things, and I'm figuring out what in the world is going on in my heart.

Last week Alex died. Our little wide-eyed, prone-to-streaking-naked through the hospital ward, Alex. His Leukemia won in the end, but not before he touched the hearts of both myself and my dear friend Becca.
Africa proved itself again with a story of extreme joy coming right on the tail of losing little Alex.

Gerald is going home, and so is Joseph. They are going to be ok, at least medicine is saying so at the moment. Some people heard me talk about the Burkitt's program this year as I worked trying to learn every detail I could about the disease. I broke my own stereotype of being utterly incapable of concentrating for more than a few hours by logging hundreds on the subject.
I told people I would do it all again, even if all the work was for one kid. Just one.

Maybe its because the challenge wasn't as big as last year. Maybe the hospitals were too independent in the care of the kids, already following strict protocols. Maybe I didn't feel needed. Maybe I thought all that work had to count for something. Maybe that's why I couldn't string together words worthy of a blog post.
Maybe God was thinking;
Suzanne, when will you figure it out? Will you turn to me for the answer today?

Now, God. Now I see. It was about just a handful of your children. All of that work was just for those few boys. I'm sorry I let it become about me.

"Painless or painful, enjoyable or distasteful, God always works to prepare us to serve Him, but He rarely prepares us in ways we expect"- Beth Moore

My smile after reading that line felt beautifully familiar. My precious intimacy with the Maker of the Universe was returning. We talked, I processed. He listened patiently, and He spoke in a way only I could hear.
He made me see my life, my situation, this floating hunk of steel, the people, the stories, are all far from normal. There is immeasurable beauty and wonder in every day, we just screw it up most days by not opening our eyes.
I'm not trying to be poetic, I am not trying to tell you life is wonderful and you should stop to smell the roses. I'm saying, well, I'm still processing actually (can of worms dad, a big fat can of worms). I'll let the end of the quote from Beth Moore bring it home today.

"...Why must we experience such preparation? Because any work we've grown accustomed to is usually a work completed. As soon as we've learned one lesson, He brings another. He will continue to work until we see His face, because that's the ultimate moment for which He's preparing"
From the study "David, A Heart Like His"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A simple touch

Upon successful outcomes of surgery, our VVF women here dance. They are clothed in new, vibrant dresses and their heads are wrapped like you would expect if you came across African royalty.
I hesitate to re-tell their stories here. The only thing I can guarantee is that I won't come close to recapturing the emotion in the room last Sunday. With a lot of these posts, the resounding theme seems to be found in glimpses of perspective.

The ceremony starts with all of the women proudly walking into our crowded wards. The women still healing, and those struggling with complications, are all there watching from their plastic chairs or freshly made beds with hopeful expressions.
They are introduced one at a time and asked to share their story.
"This came upon me 4 years ago"
"I have had this sickness for 10 years"
"I have been wet for 20 years"

Here's where it gets hard for me. I don't come close to fully understanding how horrible life is for these women. My thoughts in trying to understand barely skim the surface, I imagine. After laboring in pain, trauma being inflicted on so many levels, these women are left leaking urine. All of the time, day and night, they are wet.
Many dehydrate themselves intentionally to try and fix the problem. The result is even more putrid smelling urine.
They don't have sanitary solutions here. Just like babies wear diapers made from scraps of cloth and black garbage bags, these women have limited options.

One started her story, captivating her audience at once.
"They told me the baby was dead."
All around the room I looked at the faces of women who shared this part of her story. They lowered their heads, some nodding in agreement.
"After 4 years I realized my sickness wasn't going away. My husband left me, my village made me leave because of the smell."
More nods.
"In my tenth year I read in the bible about a woman who suffered from disease for 12 years. Jesus healed her. I told God this will be my story too. If I am not healed in my 12th year, I will throw my bible away"
Myself and a few others raised our eyebrows in reaction to her bold statement.

"It was the 12th year, in the 3rd month. A man from my church came to me and said he felt God telling him to help carry my burden. He said he would like to do my laundry for me. All of it."

I wasn't expecting what happened next. In that instant, I watched the women around her fix their gazes. Some gripped the corners of their dress with all their might. Others immediately stained their cheeks with tears.
The woman continued her story, and as each detail unfolded, I watched the shoulders of the other women tighten, pulling forward. It wasn't the shared pain they cried about, or maybe not entirely. From what I could tell, it was the simple display of compassion from this one man in the story that they cried for.
"He covered my bed in plastic so it could be washed more easily. Sometimes though, sometimes it was just too hot and I chose the floor instead."
My stomach twisted in knots watching these women react with such emotion. My own eyes blurred with tears thinking about this woman in front of me sleeping on the dirt ground, soaked in urine, with one person in 10 years to help her. My heart screamed inside of me for the others, all the others who know this same pain so intimately.

Please, for one minute, scratch the surface with me. We complain about heat waves while these people live in constant high temperatures, the humidity always at an uncomfortable level. We have a million products and commercials to match for things that make us look, smell, and appear more attractive. These women are soaked in their own urine. We try and plan our weekends and complain about having nothing to do while these women lie by themselves somewhere on the outskirts of society, the lowest of the low even in the eyes of the people who are supposed to love them no matter what. They reek of stale urine, a smell stronger and more rancid than ammonia for those of you who have never encountered it. They are full of shame, and the world has failed them in the worst way.
My bet is that I wouldn't last a day in their shoes. What about you?

It was in the 10th month of her 12th year when she heard about a ship that was doing surgery. She found a way down to the city and to a screening. She faced a long line, twisting down the dirt streets. She waited, she talked to God, she boldly stood her ground. She was one of the chosen women that day. As she spoke, we saw a redeemed woman. The parts of her covered for a long time with shame were uncovered.
She looked beautiful.

She spoke to us, proclaiming her healing, in the 12th month of her 12th year. She approached Jesus and in faith reached out her hand to touch Him. She knew He would heal her.
Hebrews 4:16
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Oh my, how many lessons can be learned in this one example (if I can speak for myself). The first being that it doesn't have to be someone literally compared to a leper, an untouchable person, to appreciate a gesture of kindness. Regardless of what you believe, or if you think there is only one source of love, reach out to someone. The second, for those of us who do believe, is to be confident. Be bold, be courageous. Ask and be in a posture of expectation that your prayer will be answered. If you don't believe, ask simply for God to reveal Himself to you. There is nothing to lose, but there is so much to gain. So much.

Simply reaching out to touch a person, or stretching your arm out towards Jesus has profound implications. Someones life, maybe even you own, will never be the same.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Joy Restored

Any outsider may see our daily life here on the ship as strange. I observe the occasional overwhelmed looks on the faces of new arrivals as they try to take it all in that first week on board. I try to think back to when I first arrived, how I felt, how things looked. I was so filled with joy watching the Africans, working among them. The energy of the children and the sleepy gaze of a baby never failed to make me smile, they still don’t.
I have been working through a lot of things in the past couple of weeks in regards to where I am in my relationship with God. Over the last two or three days I finally feel that contentment of not only being in the right state of mind, but all is well in my heart, my soul feels good.
And now I’ll tell you about it…

I came to work on Monday evening, my shift started at 2pm. Shortly after we all gathered our reports and set off for our tasks, the music started.
The drums and shakers were only overtaken by the voices of all involved. The songs are all familiar, a result of being in West Africa for over a year. The women were dancing as they marched up and down the halls of deck 3. Many carried their catheter bags, the plastic clip dangling from their extended fingers.
Most appropriately a 3 year old was leading the pack of women. The son of one of thepatients, he marched with purpose, clapping off-beat, drool saturating the front of his shirt. He has a classic look, one I have seen many times as a pediatric nurse. His head is disproportionally small, his movements, although subtle, are spastic at times. He doesn’t speak despite his age, and his muscles are clearly underdeveloped. He almost certainly has high functioning cerebral palsy, a condition which can be the result of interruption of oxygen during birth.
He is a walking miracle. An off-beat, slightly spastic, miracle (which happens to be one of my favorite varieties).

Many of these women with VVF (vaginal fistulas caused by traumatic, prolonged births) don’t have a child to claim as their own. Most women come through our doors with stories of stillborn babies. As if constant leaking of urine, being an outcast, and losing everything at once isn’t enough for one person to endure…
Seeing this little boy march, knowing his mama was behind him somewhere in the parade was enough to carry me for months, I only had to recognize it and accept it as the gift it was.
Walking back into A ward, I was greeted by the face of Akossiwa’s mama, they were visiting after a post-op appointment. My eyes fell on little Akoss, her fro of black hair now neatly divided into tight braids. Her fat baby brother had that look I talked about, the one where you would think he was a little drunk, if he were old enough to hold his own cup, that is. I lifted Akoss in her small purple dress into my arms. We sat for a while, her legs crossed at the ankles, and I silently thanked God for the afternoon, for my life.

Yes we look strange, dancing up and down the halls amongst women in hospital gowns yielding full catheter bags. Yes, it’s overwhelming at first trying to take it all in. If you let it though, this experience will change your life. It will bring you joy, or restore the joy which has been elusive for a little while.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Its Time

I haven't been totally honest with all of you this year. When I look back at last years posts here, I can feel the emotions rise up again inside of me. I desperately clung to God and poured my heart out to all of you in the times when I felt utterly hopeless. I faced giant bouts of heartache and was miraculously lifted again and again from the despair that threatened to swallow me. This year though, it feels different. I don't feel as connected, I'm missing the sense of realness I had last year, even if that connectedness came with the cost of tears.

The glimpses I have had into true emotion have been over the kids from last year. Maurice, Luc, Anicette, Maomi... The problem with that, is that all of these stories have ended with them dying. Without God, the human heart cannot take this pain. With only a little God, the heart can bear it for a time, but not remain open, never mind free to love, and certainly not with the abandon required to live here and be effective. I thought I had a good handle on it, I thought I knew how to deal with all of this weight. Turns out I don't think I do. I haven't been as desperate for God like I was last year. I haven't given Him the chance to weave these children's stories, which now include theirs deaths, into beautiful lessons. I won't think about Anicette. I can't. It physically hurts me to think about her. I was thankful I missed the community meeting when they showed footage from last year of her in her village. It was from the day I was there right at the end of Benin. What I call the best day of my life.
I can't stop crying thinking about it, yet I still don't want to deal with it, or at least I didn't until now. These tears, as I type, confirm what God has been whispering to me lately.

Its time, Suzanne. You have to face it. If you don't see the beauty in the lives and deaths of those you loved, you will deny Me the power to heal your heart. You won't be able to love like I know you can.

My old self used to go into self-protection mode when my heart was broken. I shut people out, quietly and politely, all while building up walls. I let God in and everything changed. Something changed though, this year it hasn't been the same, except for the brief moments I let myself feel again for those precious ones from Benin.
I go through the actions, I still show love, yet I am so scared when I feel my heart open to Kossi, our Burkitt's patient whose tumor is refusing to grow smaller.
To be honest, I am so tired of experiencing the death of children. Anicette wasn't supposed to die, she was my joy, her mama was so good, I loved her so much. Luc was so funny, his brother and sister loved him so much. His parents wanted him to be president, I wanted to hug him again.
Writing it down makes me realize so many things. Unless I let go, unless I call on God to consume my thoughts and lift my soul, this will never end. I will never move on. This all manifests itself in a variety of ways, for me its been blatantly obvious. Leave it to God to use a little girl to help me.

Akossiwa was badly burned as a baby and now she is around 2 and a half years old. She only has one full arm, her right one lost above the elbow to injuries from the fire. She has a little fro of hair, interrupted only by a burn scar on her scalp. She has another small mark on her left cheek, a smooth, black scar. We released contractures in her hips and her side where the burn was the worst. Over the last weeks this little girl has found her way into the parts of my heart I was trying to protect. I laughed at her genuinely when she would scoot her way into my lap after vein attempts to put her back into bed. I marveled at the way she smiled, and how cute her little feet were when she crossed her legs at her ankles anytime she was sitting down. I held her close when she would rest her head on my chest while I sat at the computer. When I would walk into A ward I was greeted by little Akossiwa lifting her good arm and small stump up in anticipation for a cuddle. I couldn't resist the curly eyelashes, raised eyebrows, and nodding head for more than a moment. I realized quickly that I loved her. I didn't just show her love, I loved her deeply and truly. I kissed her cheek over and over again, the smoothness of her scars beneath my lips. I sang to her and listened to her babble, lost in her own world at times. Her discharge was yesterday and I went in to tell her mama I was praying for her, that I saw something special in her, and I knew God would use her to do great things.

He already had.

I don't try to figure out why He chose her, but even if I did I know it would make perfect sense. After weeks of feeling defeated by how people are forced to live here, sending off a dying boy to sit in a long, hot bus ride north, and dwelling on sad news from Benin, I know God intended for this little girl to break down the walls that started to grow again.

Lets go, God. I'm ready.

The battle line is drawn, it's all in black and white.
Hope is pulling forward, can feel it from behind, it's time.
It's time to make a move, so what will you decide?
The clock is ticking on, don't let it pass you by, it's time.
It's time.

The time is now, for lifting souls.
The time is now, for letting go.
From your skin, to your core.
Let light, and love, come rushing through the door.
Oh, come rushing through the door.

It's time to hold your shield,
It's time to draw your sword,
Let's lead the resistance,
Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord, it's time.
Yeah it's time.

It's time to make a stand, to put your heart in greater hands,
From your skin, to your core,
Let light, and love, come rushing through the door.

Sisters, Brothers, thieves, and lovers,
Come on, come on, eternity
Turn your faces, with fine eyed places,
Heaven's grace will set you free.

The time is now, for lifting souls.
The time is now, for letting go.
From your skin, to your core.
Let light, and love, come rushing through the door.

-The Time is Now, Phil Wickham

Monday, May 24, 2010


If toddlers could talk (or at least in a language I understand)

"Samuel! Hallelujah"
"Hey, watch me. I just dumped this huge bucket of random goodies out all over the floor. You want this dirty sticker?"
"No, I'm good. I'm going to keep on working. You keep playing with it, I know, its amazing."
"Ok, I'm going to eat it then, and I know you will naturally take it away from me, but then I'm gonna put this paint brush in my mouth. The red handle leads me to believe it will taste delicious"
"Its your prerogative kiddo"
"Now watch me prove my manliness while I fix this bed with a blue wooden wrench."
"Genius, really. But Samuel, you just walked away from a huge mess. Don't worry, I'll clean it up, I love you that much. You're a typical boy though, you know."
"Why would you put all that stuff away, its much better here on the floor. Watch, I am so strong and clever I'll dump it out again so you can hear the fantastic splash of toys, pencils, and beads against the floor"
"Give me the bead, Samuel. Spit it out sweetie. There's no choking allowed on A ward"
"I'll beat you, silly Yovo. And look, you took the white bead, but I had a green one in my hand too. Try and pry THIS one out of my mouth."
"The jokes on you, little man. I am a master at getting slimy beads out of toddler’s mouths"
"Whatever, I'm going to take my Jenga block tied to this green yarn and walk it like a dog around the ward. See you later"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Boys

Every week, my friend Becca and I visit the local hospital. The two boys with Burkitt's we diagnosed on the ship are there, along with a handful of other boys with one of two diagnoses, Burkitt's Lymphoma, or Nephroblastoma. They are at different stages of treatment, and some would say, from appearances, different stages of dying.
Their parents eyes were filled with skepticism at first, they asked for money nearly every time we came. They resented Kossi and Gerald's mamas for the perceived special treatment we were giving. It was frustrating, we didn't know quite what to do, but we continued going. At first we would visit for a while and then end with a group prayer. Sometimes Becca or I would pray and have Dodgi, our faithful translator, interpret. Other times we would just let him pray in their language.

Each week we take photos as a way of playing with, and interacting with the kids. They howl and grab at the camera when we show them the picture, one of them in the mob always managing to place a dirty finger directly on the lens(welcome to Africa). One day I printed out all of the pictures taken in the weeks prior and brought them for the families. As it has before, this simple act softened them. I don't think I can tell you how much it means for them to have pictures of themselves. Often times here, pictures are very formal and from a wedding even, you may only see several in total, proudly displayed or carefully placed in a book. When they pose for our pictures they have solemn looking faces, that is, until we force them to smile.
Apparently a yovo saying "Konu", meaning smile, is actually quite funny and produces the desired smile more than the command itself does.

That same week I had felt convicted to pray for the boys at different times. While sitting and visiting I decided to pray with each family individually. My heart broke when each and every boy prayed to be well enough to play again. Every one of them.

They're just little boys who want to play. How simple.
How profound.

Last week Becca and I went and stuck with the same plan of praying with each family alone. The first boy was so sick, paralyzed by his illness and what seemed to be days away from death.
Please, Lord, let him know you as God. Ease this suffering, be with him. We know you love him. Come and comfort him.

Other prayers were fairly standard that followed, but two certainly stuck out and left Becca and I wondering if we could ever do any work besides this, if we could ever possibly love kids more than we currently do.
Mark and Gerald are both 4. Both sport complexions free from the tumors that once disfigured them. They are a real pair, Frick and Frack, if I may.
They sat on Gerald's bed, their IV's acting as a leash, keeping them contained to a 4 foot area. They giggled and called for us to come over. They sported sly smiles as we sat down with them, their own personal yovo's, I'm sure they thought.
Dodgi asked Mark for us;
"Mark, we will pray now, what would you like us to pray for?"
Dodgi turned to us with a straight face and told us Marks reply;
I still laugh now thinking about it.
"And what else, Mark?"
"That he can go home, he has been here too long"

On to Gerald
Dodgi told us he wanted to be healed, to be able to return home.
My heart ached again,
Gerald, that's all I want for you too, I thought to myself.
"No pasta?" we inquired.
"Yes" Dodgi answered, "To be healed and for pasta as well"
Naturally, we concluded.

So we prayed for healing, to be able to go home and to eat all the pasta they wanted. In my heart, I know God heard and loved those requests as much as we did. I picture him chuckling at Gerald and Mark as they dream and pray for nice oily noodles. I also picture Him flinching when He hears the other boys pray for the ability to play again, be restored to perfect health. I know He longs for them to know how much He loves them. He wants them to know that when they come home to Him, they will know no disease. They won't be intoxicated by the stench of stale urine or blood soaked mattresses. The tests and drugs and tears will be a distant memory. They will run, and play, and...
eat pasta.

Without further ado, the boys:

When you ask him his name, he replies
"Edoh, Gregoir". To answer politely, children always give their surname followed by their first. For some reason when this one does it I can't help but smile.

Gregoire's tumor rests squarely on his right Kidney. When I held him I could feel it, hard and pressing harshly against his soft belly. He was pretty wiped out last week, yet he can't contain that smile even on the worst of days.

There are far too many cute photos of Alex to pick just two. Here are the ones I can't help but show you:

Pray for little Alex, please. He is quite malnourished and each time we visit his energy can range from playful to being barely able to lift his head. Treatment is clearly taking a toll on him, and we often question how much is too much with this system.

Do you recognize this one? Gerald is kicking Burkitt's butt. He looks fantastic and his attitude only gets better as the weeks go on.
These pictures were taken as the whole ward was in the middle of taking their baths. As you can tell there is no lack of powder to go around.

Sweet Kossi. He told me when we sat down to pray that he didn't know how to. I told him it was ok and explained to him simply what he could do. He has a more advanced stage of Burkitt's meaning they found tumors not only on his face but in his abdomen as well. His treatment is more complex and we haven't seen the immediate results indicative of successful treatment. Pray for him and his mama, they are both so thankful for everything that is done for them, and I know they would covet your prayers.

I know this sounds awful, but our little Mark is incredibly non-photogenic.

This one isn't so bad, but it only came after me searching for several minutes through all of them to find one that did his cuteness any justice. We love him just the same, especially when he scrunches up his shoulders when you go near him, expectant, and practically begging for a tickle. He is a rascal and is always in our bags when we aren't looking. He would never take anything, but is just chronically curious. That is, until his mama gives him a good smack which quickly deters him from snooping.

This is Joseph (prounouced yo-zeph) We learned last week that he had a 'crisis' and was in the emergency department of the hospital. Please pray for him and his mama who loves him so dearly. He is quite sick and also malnourished, yet joy seeps out of him and his smile makes you believe that joy rests deeply and safely inside of him.
So there they are. The boys. Good looking group, don't you agree?

Philippians 2:1-5
"Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus"

Monday, May 3, 2010

A blog post named Desire

As promised, here is the post I have been formulating for a few weeks. It started when I was having a bit of a tough week. Since coming here I have always done my best to find the best in Africa. I don't ever want to portray this beautiful place in a bad light. I don't want to give those of you reading an image that would for a second make you think that wherever you live is somehow better than here, that you should somehow pity these people. In balancing that, however, it is hard because what I see on a daily basis IS different. Parts of this place ARE much worse than in other regions of the world. Of all the places I've been, not one has it just right. There are positives and negatives regarding every inch of inhabited earth.

I was driving to the local hospital a couple of weeks ago and while stopped at a light I caught the familiar scene of a child, no older than 5, walking up to my window. She held in her hand a dusty rag no cleaner than the rags covering her own body. She had the intention of wiping down the window of the land rover. She couldn't even reach it she was so small.
I looked her in the eye and shook my head 'no'. She twisted her wrist, turning her palm up, a gesture for money, and again I shook my head. I glance up and not 10 feet in front of me I saw who I assumed to be her father. He was just sitting there, staring back at me with his empty eyes.

How could you sit there while your daughter begs right in front of you? I wanted to yell. Get out here yourself and do it, don't send your little girl. What does she think, does she even realize that this isn't how life is supposed to be? Does she know that she should be in school worrying about which color to paint her picture, not asking strangers for a few cents?

I caught myself in this line of thinking and forced myself to stop. All week I had been letting the conditions here get to me. I am sick of seeing malnourished/exploited/abandoned/the list goes on- kids. I am tired of not having answers for patients who are dying only because there isn't basic interventions in their health care available. I hate that parents here are resolved to the fact that their kids die. Regularly.

Suzanne, I hate it too. This wasn't My plan. It's normal to want more for these people, I do too.

I got to the hospital, still trying to shed my crap attitude. The thing is, I'm not any help to anyone if I don't keep going. If I succumb to the despair that so easily could envelope me here, the enemy would win.
And that's not going to happen.
I have the answer too, which is my only comfort. When I feel the devastation of watching a baby die and crying with a mama as she washes him one last time, I know. When I see children barefoot in the street and wonder about their future, I remind myself of one thing.

This isn't it. We were written into an eternal story. CS Lewis got it right;

"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world"

So I stay in Africa. I continue to follow the calling to live here, clinging to the promise that one day there will be no suffering. These children will know love someday. Its what I desire, and its what God desires, too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Watch out
The boys

Above, you see the titles of the different posts I have swimming about in my head. No, I haven't written in a while. You'll find out part of the reason in the body of the aforementioned blogs. (That I will eventually write). For now though, I have to write in order of importance, and that happens to be something that happened today.
Rewind to last Wednesday with me first. I went to the local hospital to see the kids we are working with. The doctor asked me to come and see a little boy in the ICU. Fidele was emaciated, clearly struggling to breath, and being carefully watched by his worried mama. All eyes were on me as I walked into the 40-something bed unit. Children at different stages of acute illness were sprawled across blood and fluid-stained beds, only separated from the dirty mattress's with a colorful lappa of bright African material. Fidele shared a bed with another patient, I don't find it necessary to elaborate on that image.
I felt the eyes of desperation staring at me. My presence, my attention to just one of them undoubtedly sends the others thoughts into wondering why this boy in the corner is special.

Fidele had been seen at one of our screenings and given an appointment card to come tot he ship for a biopsy. He clearly had cancer, growing so fast it was claiming his ability to breath by pressing on his airway. It didn't look like Burkitt's, but the doctor asked if he could come to the ship for the biopsy just so they could know what they were dealing with. I knew in my heart Fidele was too sick to transport, but I arranged with the ship for the doctors at the local hospital to collect the sample, which I then brought back to put through our process. We planned to meet the next morning at 8.
In typical fashion, the doctor arrived around 10:30 and the biopsy began by 11. Right on time... (On the positive side, I learned a lot about the translator working with me. Turns out 3 hours of sitting on a bench lends to lots of diverse discussion)

I took in the sights of the treatment room where they brought Fidele. As many times as I have walked into an African hospital, I still feel my mind reject the conditions. I suppose its normal, really.
They laid him on a dirty table, graciously slipping the material he was covered with under him. He cried out in pain as they held him down. I found his hand and held it firmly. I tried to calm him by rubbing the back of his hand, feeling the bones sticking out under his dry skin. Once finished, we walked behind him and his mama, splitting up when we passed the pediatric ward so I could go see the other kids.
On the way out I felt a quick conviction that we should go and pray for Fidele.
I'll pray for him the next time we see him.
Go now

I'll pray for him when I get to the car

Go now

We've already walked nearly to the parking lot (my defense: its a long way from the car to the ward!)

Go. Now.

I've had a headache for a week, I'm so hot, this 10 minute procedure has now cost me 5 hours, this is my day off.

Suzanne, go pray for Fidele. Be an example of Me, tell him that I care for him. Show all of those people in that ICU who you serve, who you believe in.

At this point I was already driving towards the gate.
I put the car in park and began the walk back to the ICU. I felt the burden of the situation lifting with each step. I walked back into the ICU and straight to the corner bed where Fidele lay. I felt the eyes on me again, and without a translator, I gestured to the mom that I wanted to pray. A small smile greeted my actions and she bowed her head with me over her sleeping son.

God, I know you have the power to heal this boy. I know you love him. If your will is to take him home to you, please do it swiftly, end his suffering. Amen.

I said my goodbyes and left, wondering if I would see Fidele again.

When I got to the hospital today and asked about Fidele, the doctor told me he had died on Monday evening. I felt such peace in my heart. I knew God was pushing me last Thursday. I fought it with all of the pathetic energy I had that day, there are no words to describe how grateful I am that I listened in the end. I remember when people used to talk about the Holy Spirit, such an abstract thought for me to wrap my head around at the time. Maybe it is for those of you reading too. All I can say, is that when the Holy Spirit moves, you know it. It is an undeniable force when you actually shut yourself up for a second and listen.
God knew He would be calling Fidele home days after I saw him, and maybe the lesson in going to pray for him was just for me. If I know God at all though, I have a feeling He had a very specific purpose to push me that day.

Lesson #1089- When god is telling you to 'go', don't bother arguing, He knows what He's doing. It might cost you 5 minutes, or it might cost you your life as you know it. Its the right choice either way.