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.