Thursday, June 26, 2008

on being home

It's hard to believe I have been in the beautiful United States of America for an entire week. Life is so weird.

No really, it's a rather strange phenomenon.

The weather in Bucks County has been unseasonably beautiful and I have been doing my best to take advantage of my lush, green backyard, and the beautiful canopy of twinkling lights provided by fresh air fireflies which transform the backyard every night into a fairytale sort of world.

The other night I was sitting on my patio thinking. i realized two weeks before I had been sitting on a port in Monrovia, Liberia. Enjoying the company of my ship friends, the heat of Liberia, and a hazy sunset. A week later, I was wearing a sweater and jeans, sitting in a cafe in London. A week later I was pretending to play guitar in my back yard with a cup of coffee. Three completely different scenarios all found in real life. It makes me wonder what reality is.

Reality is a strange idea. I wonder, what is it really? Is reality owning a house and a car? Is it having a family? Is it finding security? Is it following a life plan? Is it exploring the world? Is it helping somebody? Is it pursuing your dreams? Does it have a specific feel and taste?

Paul says
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

Jesus is reality. He is the only constant. He is loves tangible full expression. The metric of completion. The grade of the tangible.

We now live in a false reality. The goals and dreams; the plans and commitments; the houses and cars; the families and friends; the good deeds and sacrifices; they are dim fleeting shadows next to Christ.

Which brings such freedom. We can't produce reality. We live in the shadow lands. We build air castles. But the Spirit of God can and wants to produce an eternal reality while we live and breath and hope and dream and fall in our temporal state. The Spirit wants to produce in our hearts and minds that which rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal.

Galatians 5:22
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.

Eternity can be born from our lives at anytime or moment. It doesn't matter what we are doing, where we are living or going, who we are with, or what dreams are in our heads.

At any time, any place, any moment, we can learn to love. We can radiate joy. We can experience peace. We can become long suffering. We can exude gentleness. We can walk in faith. We can live in the light. We can effect our eternity. We don't need to live in the shadows.

I don't claim to live in the Spirit but I would like to. I want God to create and define a new reality in my life that is defined by eternal things rather then temporal.

I suppose life is for learning.

life in Bucks County

Saturday, June 21, 2008


As I unpack my bags and attempt to get myself oragnized I have stumbled accross an old journal. I like this entry.

August 24, 2006

It seems as if a spiritual death of sorts has occurred in the depths of my heart. The innocent and childlike faith that caused my heart and mind to be so easily influenced by the Spirit and nature of God has been replaced by a questioning mind and a jaded heart. Life which daily felt fueled by potential and possibility is deflated to no more than a cycle of days filled with things that must be accomplished.

I understand that daily life is as sacred as spiritual life and in fact there should be no separation between the two. But the thought of living the next 40 years in the mundane of getting by and doing what must be done is a thought that spirals my heart and mind to a depressed state. God has placed a thousand dreams in my heart for something different. Not better than the ordinary but far away from it. “There must be more than this”, is that anthem that haunts my mind throughout the day.

And there must be. And there is.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

a brave new world

It had been a year since I'd driven down this road. My tired tear stained eyes grasped their final view of my home for the past year.

A woman with a baby tightly secured to her back with a lappa, while carrying a large bowl on her head. The pedestrians who randomly dove out into the street seemingly timed so they would have the best chance at striking our vehicle. The broken concrete monument that stood watch over Monrovia's likewise broken skyline, with it's barely ledgible bold faced words "protect human dignity" amidst the faded chipped red paint.Liberia.

I remembered taking this drive a year ago. Sitting in the back of a nine seat Land Rover, staring out the window at the lush green terrain of Liberia's countryside. I caught my first glimpses of her people. Dark skinned with distinct cheek bones and large, wide set eyes. They were beautiful.

As we drove past the city limits in the lush countryside I thought about the group of 20 or so friends who had gathered at the end of the gangway to wish me goodbye. It had been an international salute of flailing hands in the air releasing, me back into the world from which I had came.Their faces froze in my short term memory, causing a sadness in my heart. This was goodbye. Tonight the momentum of the ship would continue on as it always did; but I would no longer be a part of it's force. My bed in cabin 3426 was temporarily empty and I'd been de-winged of my ID badge.

The self-sufficient independent cynic had acquired a group of remarkably lovely friends that had crossed a threshold in her heart that she previously rarely allowed passage too. Goodbye was sad.

As we pulled into the airport, my stomach groaned. Looking at the car clock I realized why; it was 5 pm; dinner time on the ship. My stomach had become conditioned like Pavlov's dogs.

After reassuring the baggage woman my two large bags didn't house any stow-away children, I was given a boarding pass and shuttled into a stale one room waiting area.

I took my place amongst the rows of plastic, undersized chairs that had the word "UNMIL" an the accompanying logo stenciled on the back. A man behind me asked a uniformed Liberian man about the state of the wall air conditioning unit that was hung amidst the sea of plastic, blue linzoid curtains. Apparently he was too hot. The transition to the western world begins.

Tired and uncomfortable in my chair, I moved my bags and laid done on the ceramic tiles, leaning against the wall. Listening to my i pod, falling in and out of sleep, my eyes roamed around the room.

A woman dressed in a police uniform with an UNMIL patch. Men in crisp suits. A presumed journalist with a large camera bag and a telegraphic lens. A few "aid workerish" types like myself.

I opened my Bible and began reading 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. Two photos fell out of My Bible. One of a group of friends at Nimba mountain, another of me and the "A Ward Men's Club".

I saw love and a few more tears.

Love is what I had felt this year. Love is what I saw. I had loved my friends; I had loved my patients.

A third class bus carried me from the waiting area to the plane. A staircase lined with bright lights served as my gateway to the world from which I had come. I strutted up the steps, as if waking up a bizarre catwalk. Before entering the plane I paused and looked back one last time. Liberia. This was goodbye.

In my head a thousand faces. Image's and storyboards. Tales of struggle. Tales of war. Tales of hope. Tales of sorrow. Stories of death. Stories of miracles. Stories of wickedness. Stories of love.

I carried them with me. They had forever impressed my heart and changed the way I viewed the world.

I settled into my seat and turned on my i pod as the plane dove into the dark abyss of the night sky. Heading towards the unknown. I still can't see where we are heading.

When I arrive home it will most likely be unchanged. I am certain the momentum of life has continued in my absence.But it will be different. I have changed. My eyes see a new world.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

who we are

Bendu burnt her entire face while reading over firelight. The top of her head is completely wrapped in guaze, protecting her recent skin graphs that will allow her to blink her taught eyelids, leaving only her right eye slightly exposed so she can see enough to fumble towards the bathroom.

Bendu recently graduated high school. When she is finished with "her work" (i.e. she leaves the ward) she plans on going to college and becoming an accountant. She is 24.

Last week I was thinking about how strange it is to be human. We identify ourselves by the image that is reflected on a shiny piece of glass. It's how the world sees us. We spend time and energy presenting an outward presentation of the inward man through our choice of clothes, make up hair, ect.

This outward presentation effects most things. It effects how people treat us. It effects how we are classified and defined. It may boost or hinder the opportunities given to us. It will be the basis people's formation of first impressions. Wrong or right.

And yet, this is not who we are. We know we are more. There is something inside the shell. A life, a soul, filling what will one day return to dust.

It's something we place so much security in and we often take for granted. But it's a fragile security. A car accident, a fire- our outer shell could be forever marred and our presentation to the world forever changed. And yet, who we were would remain unchanged.

When you first see Bendu, she can be hard to look at. Her scars and burns are rather grotesque.
But her dreams, her hopes, her likes, her dislikes, her emotions, her needs, have not changed at all. She is still Bendu and when you sit by her bedside and chat with her, you encounter her.

One of the biggest things I have realized being here this year is that we are all equal, regardless of our place of birth, how much or little we have, we share the same universal humanity.

And we are all children of God. He loves us all with the same love. We all drink from the same fountain of grace. We are equals. Who someone is, how much money they have, what they have accomplished, where they come from, or what they do should have no impact on how we treat them. To treat someone better or worse because of any of those reasons is as superficial as treating Bednu differently because her face is burned. It's wrong, and it's certainly not what Jesus preached while on earth.

While this has been a wonderful year, I would be lying if I painted a lilly white picture of ship life. I have struggled with many things.

Perhaps the biggest things I have struggled with is the consistency on the ship of treating people of status and affluence significantly better "normal" people. Being a respecter of persons which the new testament so clearly teaches against.

We have changed the names of the wards from Joy, Hope, and Peace, to the names of major donors. We have plaques all over the ship dedicated to people who have given large amounts of money. The Bible so clearly states to "Not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing". Jesus told his disciples not to do things to be seen of men like the Pharisees.

And I have yet to find a wall on the ship dedicated to the faithfulness of God and His provision. That plaque hasn't been hung.

It's not that I don't get; it takes a lot of money to run a hospital ship.

And it's not that I don't appreciate major donors; I do. We are all part of the same work; we all have the same goal; we are on the same team. It's just that I equally appreciate the Koontz family. Peter and Dana Koontz sold their house and car and moved onto the ship with their three children. They now live in small cabin and Peter and Dana sleep on a fold away bed in the family room. Peter is a Godly, faithful man who has the difficult and non-glorious job of over seeing the daily feeding of more than 400 hundred people.

I appreciate my bunk mate Michelle, who left her jet setting well paid job as a software designer and went to nursing school for the purpose of serving in medical missions. She exchanged living in a spacious house for sharing an 8 by 6 foot space with me for a year.

And I appreciate Eric, one of our ward translators. He is Liberian and has nothing by our western standards. He makes 5$ a day (a large amount for a Liberian), 25$ a week. One morning a mother and her baby did not have the 60 LD (one us dollar) needed to go home. When Eric over heard her conversation without a moment's hesitation he reached into his pocket and gave her the needed money. Eric who has nothing himself.

If Christ were to determine who gave the most, I think He would choose Eric. But I promise that Eric's name will never be on a plaque on our walls.

Jesus saw the widow give a very small amount of money) and said she gave more than others who were boastfully giving much larger amounts. His value system was different. He cared more about people's heart's than the superficial outer layers.

If the widow and the rich givers came to our ship, they would not be treated the same.

As a goal, I hope to never be impressed by people. By their status. By their appearance. By who they are. By who they are not. I want to learn instead what it is to love others.

As Bendu poignantly reveled to my heart, who we are does not lie in the superficial. We should never treat others like it does.

I'm glad for Bendu Jesus never will.

Friday, June 6, 2008

favorites from the past year...

the things I'll miss

Last evening I started writing down a list of everyday occurrences on my ward life that I will miss and not experience as an American nurse.
It was Thursday night, which means there was a community meeting. We always turn on the TV's and let the patients watch them. During worship, a little 1 1/2 year old male cleft lip patient, his chicken legs and diapered butt sticking out of his multi-colored gown, started dancing to the worship music. It was more like flailing. That crazy run around and just wiggle your body with a totally serious face kind of movement that small children seem to be so proficient at.

He beckoned me to join him. So I did. Together, we flailed our bodies throughout B ward.
Christian is a 10 year old who was here last year. We think his mother probably had rubella during her pregnancy and his developmental delays support this theory.

On his bedside name card, under his medical information, is the stared word "Deaf". Christian is deaf. Next to "deaf" is two large whited out blocks that use to say "and blind." Christian was blind according to last years records. However, after receiving bilateral cataract surgery, he can no see. Hence the white out.

At home I cared for a lot of developmentally delayed children and I readily admit to being bias. They are my favorites. They have the sweetest, most fun, free-est spirits. Christian fits this mold.

He is a sweetheart.

He laughed so hard when I tickled him. He jumped up into my arms and had me carry him around the ward. He enjoys being tucked in next to his mother at bedtime.

He had spent most of the day unable to eat while waiting to go to surgery. Another nurse was playing with play dough and he bent over and tried to eat it the way you'd eat a pie in a pie eating contest. His surgery was postponed and I was able to get him bread. He grabbed it from my hands and immediately started to chomp away.

I really like Christian.
Baby Rosseta, five months, belongs to Felcicia in bed 16. Felecia had an operation on her face after having Noma. We may never let her leave so we can indefinitely keep Rosseta on the ward.

No one has ever heard Rosseta cry. She has a tiny little afro and small pierced ears and feels like a doll when you hold her. We all pass her around. Nurses, translators, even patients visitors. Everyone wants to hold Rosetta and Felicia is very generous with her.

Last night Felicia was my patient which made me responsible for Rosseta. Not wanting to neglect my responsibilities I spent as much time as possible with her in my arms.

I was holding her at the end of the shift and she fell asleep in my arms. Of course, being my responsible self, that necessitated my holding her for the entire 1/2 I gave report. You don't want to wake a sleeping baby. It was enough to make even a hardened cynic claim a maternal instinct.

I was telling someone today I really don't know what I am going to do when I can't walk down the hall and get my beautiful-child-holding fix.

I'm guessing some serious withdrawal.
Bed 10 was crying. Not because of pain. Not because of anxiety. Not because his mother was gone.

He wanted rice. Everyone else had rice, but he could not have any because he recently had cleft lip surgery.

I know how it feels; I use to hate it when my mom wouldn't give me rice.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

never again

Today is my last ever ship fire drill.

If I never muster again in this life time it will be too soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

the kings and queens of Narnia

I am enjoying my last few shifts on the ward. Only here do I feel so completely free to just pick up a baby and snuggle with it, knowing it's mother approves. Only here do my patients serenade me with homemade rap songs.

***Today while getting coffee my friend Ali found out I was caring for 21 year old Austin and told me to ask him the songs he had written. Back at the ward I was treated to a free concert. The chorus if the first song went like this,
Your walking like a stranger
Your talking like an angel
Your skin is made of cream-O
I say your fine-O
Baby girl your fine-O

All I can say is thank you Ali. *****

Today we watched "The Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe". I freely admit that I tear up every time Peter, ready to take on the evil wiles of the white witch, heroically flings his sword in the the air and declares, "For Alsan, and for Narnia." I actually have the quote written in my Bible. I love the parallels to our Christian life. Why do we fight? For the God we love and the world that's lost. It's lovely.

As we watched Peter, Susan, Edwin, and Lucy be crowned kings and queens of Narnia, I felt inspired to crown our patients kings and queens as well. I was able to scavenge some shiny gold paper and create crowns to embrace the brows of our humble inhabitants. I even made one for myself.

I walked around the ward, flamboyantly placing the crowns on our patients heads and seriously telling them in a narrator's regal voice, "Once a king or queen in Narnia; always a king or queen in Narnia."
My over active imagination strikes again. Good thing I can almost get away with it when I am working with children. Almost.