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)