Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Empowering Love or Enabling Love, Maybe Both???

She smiled so much. Her big grin looked almost too noticeable as it contrasted to her little bitty 19 year old body. She stood below 5 feet tall. She would be lost in a crowd, but I kept noticing her. I knew that I had seen her in clinic, but the rest including why or when was forgotten. But day after day I saw her sitting on the benches outside of the hospital. Then I realized one day that she was sleeping outside on those same benches. She began to catch me as I walked by. The pain, constantly present, was worsening. Medicines weren’t helping. Blood wouldn’t stop coming, always dripping, then gushing, then dripping more. The story was the same from day to day. I kept giving her medicines to help, hoping things would change while we awaited the surgery date. But, I didn’t realize that the surgery date had already passed until she appeared again in the office. Turns out that she didn’t have enough money to have her surgery, so apparently she was turned away at the door. All emergency cases get performed regardless of ability to pay, but since she was a scheduled admission, she had not been considered emergency status. Week after week she had been staying at the hospital. She joined the ranks of others who lined the hospital benches and floors. Her family was to bring her the money, but they hadn’t come yet. She was too weak and in too much pain to leave without surgery. So, she waited.

Until I realized her condition. Then, we moved to operate. She required blood transfusion before she could withstand surgery. But she did well thereafter. I discharged her routinely on post-operative day three. She stayed outside the surgical ward for a few days waiting for her family to bring payment. It seems strange and harsh from outside of the culture, but that is what almost everyone does. The family takes care of their members, but it takes a little time to go collect the money and bring it back. So, I thought nothing of it.
But then I saw her a few days later, and then again, and again. Until Christmas Day. I greeted her warmly with a “Merry Christmas” and asked what she would be doing to celebrate. Well, that was an absolutely stupid question. What in the world did I think she would be doing – feasting and drinking in mad celebration? Of course not. She was back on the bench every night, still waiting for the money to come. No money for discharge, no money for chicken to feast on, no money for anything. I asked when the family was supposed to come, two more weeks was the reply.

Well, finally (it takes me a while), I decided that it wasn’t going to be okay anymore. I realized that I couldn’t help everyone, but that I could help her. So, I brought her home for dinner. Honestly, what I had cooked wasn’t so good. I felt kind of bad for that. But compared with hunger in the chilly air, it was tolerable. Her pain was still pretty strong, so I made her a hot water bottle out of my Nalgene and told her to lie down on the couch. And then, you know how things like this end up…I told her to go get her stuff because she was going to stay with me for ONE (1) night.

She thought that was great. It is warmer inside than out. I thought it was a great idea because she was bleeding too much and wincing from pain throughout dinner. I didn’t want her lying uncomfortably on that bench when she already was in bad shape. So, I drugged her up (with only ibuprofen and tylenol, don’t worry), made her get in the hot shower thinking it might help her pain, and then sent her to bed. By the next morning, she was getting a bit better.

I realized the next morning how different the lives of the two of us are. I mean, it’s obvious to everyone that we have lived our lives in different spheres, but it really becomes practical when you let someone in the house. You can’t imagine how funny, or how difficult, it is to teach someone to use a flush toilet or a shower. I did really enjoy the humor of the toilet and shower stuff, but it hit me when I looked at her bed. It was not unmade, it was never turned down. She had slept under that same piece of dirty cloth that she had been sleeping on outside on the bench. Though I had made her shower, the washcloth and towel still sat folded on the bed, untouched from how I left them.

I told her to come back before dark the next evening. Again, she didn’t like my food. She wouldn’t say anything of course, but she just picked at it a little until it was gone. The bleeding was still there, and the pain, but improved a little. I started to tell her a story, the story of a similar woman centuries ago. She bled so much, for twelve years. And then one day she saw Jesus. She was too ashamed to tell Him her problem, but knew that if she could just touch the edge of His robe that she would be healed. She did and was, but surprisingly, He knew immediately that she was there. She looked up to Him and told Him everything. She came empty, but left filled. Came sick, but left healed. I told the young woman in front of me that I didn’t have any other good options to help her, that we needed that same Healer to work in her.

Two nights later I came home too late. It was already dark and I hadn’t been there to let her in. I looked at the hospital on my way back home, but couldn’t find her. Next night, again I arrived late. I went to the hospital to find her. I looked from bench to bench, called the surgery ward, had the hospital security officers take me to places I had never been. But I couldn’t find her. I fell asleep wishing she were in the next room. Finally the next day I found her.

I thought as I searched for her both of those nights about how God had searched for me. He took me from darkness and cold and put a Warm Light in my soul. I wanted her to have light and warmth, temporal yes, but eternal more. But I couldn’t find her to help her. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to anyone else why, but I wanted to find her so badly. I knew that she was still in pain and not doing very well. The whole time I was going about looking for her, I thought of the parable of the lost sheep. I thought of it with regard to myself, and with regard to her – those sought so hard by a loving Father. There’s a song about that parable which I’ve only heard once, but I love the words to. It says:

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold,
But one was out on the hills away
Far off from the gates of gold
Away from the tender shepherds care
Away from the tender shepherds care
Lord Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine
Are they not enough for Thee?
But the Shepherd made answer
“This of mine has wandered away from Me
And although the road be rough and steep
I go to the desert to find My sheep
I go to the desert to find My sheep”
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night
That the Lord passed thro’
Fore He found His sheep that was lost
Out in the desert He heard its cry
Sick and helpless and ready to die
Sick and helpless and ready to die
Lord whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountains track?
They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.
Lord whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?
They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn
They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn
And all thru the mountains, thunder riv’n, And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heav’n
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne
“Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own!”
“Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own!”

 So, she stayed a while, and a bit longer, and longer. I talked to the social worker time after time to try to get her some help financially. Eventually, they let her do some work at the hospital to help earn money to pay her bill. She got better physically. Then I had to go away for a meeting for a couple of days. I told her to take all of her stuff with her in case her family came to get her while I was gone (since she wouldn't be able to get back in to get it). But alas, when I looked, she had left her bag of things there. Then I understood, that what started as need had become want. She had grown to enjoy my house a bit too much, and had made it her own semi-permanently. That hadn't been the initial agreement, or the course offered her. But I found out that she had notified her family that she was staying with me, so they knew that she was well cared for, and lost the initiative to come get her (and pay the rest of her bill). When I came home, we had to set a deadline for when she would leave. It brought some sadness for me to tell her that she wouldn't be able to stay longer, but at the same time, I didn't want her to lose her desire to get back to her own home. Who knows how to do these things perfectly. To navigate through people's needs, and yet not make them more needy. To empower them to live instead of empowering them to take. To love them well without making them dependent on you. We are all learning that - every culture and every family. May God grant us wisdom to know how to love others and yet to teach them how to rise up and walk on their own. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Prayers Offered

 I walked up the mountain today to rest my mind. I watched the white puffs of dust rise as each foot stepped upward. I thought of those I loved, and prayed for them. My mind wandered to a young cousin who I only get to see once in a while. I thought of how his road had been rough in some spots along the way. And how those roads have left some callouses. And yet I laughed aloud to think of how much I enjoy being with him. He almost never smiles, if he does, he tries to hide it. But to me, that is merely a challenge. I watch as the pumice stone of love wears down his callouses. See, those who know me well say that my love language is violence. They are just joking, but they are pretty much right. Well, with this young guy, it works wonderfully. My heart delights as I go toward his room, see him through the crack in the door, and then jump on him to tickle him. He writhes around, in joy and yet pain, trying to hold back the smile and laughter. But he can’t do it. And, boy, do I love it when he gets to laughing. I thought of him, and prayed for him. Wished I could be closer. Wondered what God would make of Him as he grows up into a man.

As I reached the place I had been walking toward, I leaned against the fence and watched the grass. I love to watch it sway beneath the wind. This area is so green, it is fenced off so that the cows cannot eat it until the other grass is dried up. I could watch that lush gentle dance for a long time with contentment. But, I figured it was time to head back. I turned my headphones to the next song. In the second long break before the song began, I heard moaning. I thought maybe it was just artifact, so I turned off the music to listen better. Nope, it was really there. A woman moaning and talking.

So, somewhat in concern and somewhat just plain nosy, I walked toward it. There, in the other direction from the way I had come, was a grove of shady trees with deep grass beneath it. I came right up to the barbed wire fence to peer over, but couldn’t see into the grove. I thought that maybe I should just turn and go, but then I saw a little inviting break in the barbed wire. So, I ducked under the broken portion of wire and headed toward the trees. As I walked, I began to realize that it wasn’t really painful moaning, it was praying. A woman was pouring out her heart before the Lord. As I reached the top of the little hill, I could finally see down in. A couple of women and a child rested in the tall grass. This woman cried out before the Lord, vulnerable in her pleading. It was as if I got to see inside someone’s heart for just a minute. Somewhere I shouldn’t have been, seeing what only the leaves of those trees were supposed to know. She cried out for a family member’s marriage, asking God to make it right. She begged for change and direction. I turned away, ducked beneath the fence again, and headed back down the dirt road.

I thought on the way back of how people all over the world are crying out for their loved ones. We are interceding for them, bringing them to the attention of God and asking for His provision. People far and near are reaching out to know God’s presence themselves, and make Him known to those they love. And it is amazing to see how God does move on behalf of those who seek Him. How He is longing for people to trust Him, and ask Him, and follow Him. His love is moving all over the world on behalf of their prayers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

For the One

Years ago, when I first came to follow the Lord, I looked back at so much wasted time. Regretting the past doesn’t really change much. But I determined to not waste more time. As days and years past, I continued to walk the paths he led. Then came medicine, then obstetrics and gynecology – things that I was called to do. I really wanted to pour my life out into others. To see womens’ lives and children’s lives changed. To see Christ imaged through medicine as I work with others to bring healing to bodies and souls. I used to pray that God would allow me to have a job like this – one where I could see lives changed, bring hope and healing, be poured out completely.

But now sometimes I think maybe I ought to have been a bit more specific in my prayers. Like, “Lord, please let me be poured out between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm”, or “please let me carry the burdens of others while I’m at work, and then let me relax and enjoy the time after work”, or “please let me bring healing to easy, manageable problems”. Sometimes patients are an absolute pleasure to serve. But regardless, in the middle of the night, I hate to hear that phone ring. I hate drunkedly, sleepily throwing on scrubs and rushing out into the dark. I hate finding myself in the middle of an operation which I know is beyond my ability to comfortably manage. The whole pouring out one’s life seems more pleasurable when it can be done at intentional times and in circumstances that I can control. But that isn’t what God has called me to for the moment.

It isn’t really what He has called any of us to – serving Him when we are good and ready. No, he wants us all the time. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to keep some healthy boundaries (which I very much attempt to do), but so many times the work He has for us isn’t what we planned or when we planned. I was thinking today of how many times this work, “important” as it may be, does not satisfy but instead leaves me frustrated. How many days differences may be made, but it is in a fury of what seems like useless toil. It starts to be overwhelming when I take my eyes off of Him and His purposes. It can be a big let down if our great hopes are put into the change we can bring by careers, the relationships that we can engage in, the money we can make, or the thousands of other things with which we fill our lives. A thousand hopes, and a thousand opportunities for disappointment. But there is one thing that always satisfies. He can move in every circumstance. He can fill us with His purposes on seemingly purposeless days. He moves in our sorrows that we may then be empowered to relieve other people's sorrows. He gives meaning to the most mundane. He increases the greatest joys and pleasures. He is the One thing stable in all those thousands of circumstances that can easily go one way...or the other.

I still don't want to waste anymore time. I still want to be poured out. I mean, I still don't like getting woken up frequently at night. I still don't like being out of my comfort zone so frequently. But I'm His wherever He puts me for today, and tomorrow, and every day until He brings me right to the place where He is. Because He is worthy of a life lived. So, I encourage you too to serve Him in the things that compose your life. The most important, and least important, all for the glory of the One. 

My Life in Hiding

Perhaps some would say its paranoia. But it’s not. It is the real deal. They are everywhere waiting for me. I thought of it when I was taking the back way home yesterday. When I say the “back way” it indicates walking down a construction board, over the grass, through a carpenter’s workshop, and onto the road that leads to my house. I just wanted to steal away for lunch. But I knew that if the clinic staff or patients saw me, lunch would definitely be postponed. That is why I didn’t go the front way. The sound associated with the front road is this one - “clop, clop, clop” – getting ever faster. It’s flip flops hitting the pavement. Why wait in clinic when you see the doctor walking down the road? Why not just chase her. But when I hear that noise coming, getting more intense as it gets closer, there’s only one thing that comes naturally. Run. I hold back, but that is what I want to do – outrun the patient. Now a good doctor would turn around, smile, and ask how they could help. My approach, however, is to walk quickly and steadily and do not turn around. Maybe I will be lucky and it will be only a school child running home. I wait until the more direct “Doctor” starts ringing out behind me. Then I turn around just as she shoves her outpatient booklet into my hand. These women can be pretty aggressive. So, that is why I took the back, more obscure route.

As I reached the house it continued. I came inside and locked the door behind me. Paranoia again? No, in my old life I didn’t care about locking doors. But here I’ve had patients and children just let themselves in and make themselves at home. Some are more appropriate and at least knock from outside. For those who just show up to visit, culture demands and you are expected to give them something to eat. The American in me wants to say, “you know, I didn’t actually invite you here, and I don’t have any food ready”. But that isn’t the way it works here. I walked in the kitchen to begin getting lunch for myself. Flipped the light on to get rid of the dimness. But never open the curtains. Because then they can see you. And they just wait for you and watch you, knowing that if they keep knocking you will have to come out. It’s better to just keep the windows covered.

There are a bunch of silly ways like these that I’ve seen life change here. The other day a super sweet missionary lady told me I was paranoid.  But I’m not paranoid. The discussion that day was on being taken advantage of financially while in Africa.  Nope, honey, that isn’t paranoia. People actually are all trying to take any money that they can get ahold of. And that includes yours too. I had to break it to her. From the children asking me for money as I walk to church on Sundays, to the thieves that cut your purse in the big cities, to every market price increasing when a white woman walks in. They surely are trying to take advantage of you. 

Now, I do have a tendency to focus on these issues a bit. They gnaw on me a bit. But I'm not consumed. And certainly not paranoid. :)