Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Two Girls, Two Days

It was different than any experience that I’d ever had in sports. I mean, it’s been a little while since I’ve broken out a volleyball, but I don’t remember all of that being part of the game. This game had kicking and hitting the ball, whichever was necessary to get it over the net. And within the players, it included hitting, kicking, wrestling, and biting. Thankfully, since it was my first time, they left me out of that part. The deaf kids were glad to have me there. We played and played. My arms were sore, but my heart was happy. Dinner time eventually came and the headmaster sent all the kids inside but one. She was a sweet-faced girl. Initially I had noticed that she was a bit less confident and a bit more shy. It seemed she wasn’t sure of her ability to hit the ball, and was a little embarrassed to try. She was the oldest girl out there. In fact, they told me that she was a graduate of the deaf school who had now integrated into mainstream school with a sign language translator. (As a side note, it is nice to be able to talk about someone right in front of them, and not be worried about if they can hear you.) I heard the headmaster brag on her, saying that she had found her courage to come out and play, as she was often too shy. Though she wanted to, she sometimes held back. After all the other kids had been sent away to dinner, it was only one teacher, the headmaster, and the two of us girls. I watched her confidence grow each time she successfully hit the ball into the air. She wasn’t scared anymore, she was accepted and having fun. At one point, the girl’s phone dropped to the ground as she ran. The headmaster picked it up and said, “Everyone’s got a phone now”, half-jokingly adding “even the deaf”. I said back to him that with texting the whole world is wide open to communicate,  whether or not you can hear. He added, that if they were taught to read and write, a whole other realm could be entered. “Empowerment!”- he reveled for a moment in the victory that he got to be a part of as the leader of the deaf school. I agreed, that it was a big victory, for each child a much wider world of possibilities. I didn’t think any more about it. Just kept hitting the ball back and forth til the darkness began to overtake us.

The next day I had three surgeries. The third was a girl just over 20 years of age. She was deaf and mute, and couldn’t read or write. She made some hand motions, but she didn’t know sign language, so no one understood. When she got excited and was really trying to make something known, she would make some vague noises. All the history came from her caregiver. The exam was not showing any real issues, but there had been a cyst on ultrasound. Based on the caregiver’s persistent claim of the patient’s pain, she had been set up for surgery. She came into the OR, obviously a bit nervous. I stayed by her side the whole time as we prepared for the surgery, intentionally giving her a face and hand that she could trust. The time came for the spinal to occur. I sort of got across through hand motions that someone was about to prick her in the back. My hands rested on her shoulder and leg, calming her, soothing her. She made it through, but tears were streaming down her face. The anesthesia had some issues, so we needed to test and see if she was numb. It became like torture for her. She was already scared. She couldn’t understand why we were pinching her. Her eyes became wild, scared, untrusting. Breathing increased. Sweat poured off of her skin. The medicine that was supposed to make her numb wasn’t working. Finally the anesthesia team agreed to put her to sleep, this was too much for her. She couldn’t understand or enter our world. My heart broke for her. The final tears dropped down her cheeks as the sleeping medicines took effect. This magic drug took away the need to trust, the need to understand, the need to communicate.

I thought of how different the two stories were. Both were born to the same kind of life. But the worlds have become very different. One had entered a world where she had gained confidence in herself little by little. She had integrated into a normal school, she had been willing to take one step in front of the other to slowly make her way in toward the volleyball net (even though a white stranger was on the other side of it). The other had no way to enter the world around her. Her value was no less, but the possibilities were drastically inferior. All the world was filled with unknown risk; fear and misunderstanding lurked everywhere. What set them apart now wasn’t some amazing healing or great medical advance. It was the persistent, day to day struggle that had occurred in a classroom, and in a deaf community. Someone had a vision to care and to make a difference in the lives of deaf children. Each girl represents what could have been. Different choices, different opportunities. Now very different lives.

May we, as God’s people learn to reach into the dark worlds, the quiet worlds, the shameful worlds. Those hauntedly isolated places where people dwell. For me, I need to learn to speak love and truth into lives which cannot hear. If only a hand could come along to lift someone out of a lonely place and draw them near. That is what has been done for us. He brought us out of the pit of sinking, miry clay. He brought us out of the sins and failures and weaknesses that were smothering our life, and He pulled us up and drew us close. He showed us a life of kindness, mercy, and grace. And it has made all the difference. May we look for opportunity to do the same. May we not pass by those who need us. Those who need Him.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Quiet Joy

I had been trying for a while. It seems like the kids need so much love. But it was awkward and I felt out of place. It kept burdening my heart, so I kept stepping down the path that led to the dorms and cafeteria building. But when I got there I didn’t know what to do. I would give a little wave and smile. Some of the kids would gather around, wondering what I was doing. But that was it. I didn’t know how to make in-roads with relational development. They couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t use sign language. We were only inches apart, but I didn’t know how to cross what seemed like such a wide barrier.

But I kept feeling that I should engage, that I should keep trying. One hundred and twenty kids, ranging from 5 to 20 years in age. Three house parents. Including staff at the deaf school, 9 total adults to pour into the hundreds of souls and lives. On the best and most intentional day, every child wouldn’t get attention, most wouldn’t get touched. Love spread so thin doesn’t even usually feel like love. If there were “the least of these” in my world, they were probably there in that school, there in those dorms. What if I could somehow, with a few hours a week, pour out just a little to let them know that someone cares, that God cares.

A midwife is here, one of the first volunteers that I have had within the Ob/Gyn department. She bubbles with excitement at everything. What are burdens to me, she waltzes into. People who are hard for me to connect with as their boss, I find her laughing with and enjoying. So, after church I asked if she wanted to go to the deaf school with me sometime in the afternoon. She was thrilled to agree.

We turned off of the dirt road to enter their silent world. At first it was the same old awkward – longing to communicate, wanting to engage. But then, I deciphered the invitation. Soccer (football) was being played somewhere. My sign language may not be good, but I could figure that out. I shook my head, excitedly. A quiet, but thrilled entourage of deaf children accompanied us down the path to the football field. Crowds more joined us there. The older boys were engaged in a football match. But swarms of younger children were hanging around on a small playground dotted with sparse, old jungle gym equipment.

Guttural noises and rapid hand signs kept coming. But I helplessly shrugged my shoulders over and over indicating that I didn’t understand. I spelled out my name in the alphabet, and then spelled out doctor, then imaged a big pregnant belly followed by a downward sign indicating a baby coming out. Name and role, that was about the best I could get across. But then – lighbulb!!! I remembered that on my hip was clipped the i-phone that someone had given me. I grasped it, and began to type. “How many children? Girls? Boys?” The oldest girl, who had been most engaging in trying to communicate, typed back “120 - 70 boys, 50 girls”. She typed her name. On and on and on we went. Then I typed, “I want to learn, tell me the names of these”, and showed pictures of animals. The children delighted to teach the signs - zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs (though they thought that was a tiger and so I just went with it), elephants – my hands learned to say their names. Then it was time to play. I wrapped my skirt between my legs and twisted up to the pull up bar. Swung up and hung by my legs, no hands. It was the most impressive that I could still accomplish from childhood without checking my health and disability insurance policies first. The children copied. Shelly (the midwife) climbed the dilapidated jungle gym. She, and it, became so covered with children that she disappeared in and under the piles of faces. Finally I saw unveiled what I knew was there. The need for and delight in adult attention and engagement. And somewhere deeper – my soul saw a glimpse in their eyes, and I felt it in my heart - hope. Hope for relationships. Hope for the future. Hope that my love might make a difference in these kids.

I brought back out the iphone as the sky became dusky and the night threatened to set in. “Good to meet everyone! I am excited to come see everyone again.” I left with a happy heart and new dreams. Too many dreams – Christmas party, Easter party, next weekend, Bible stories, cooking classes… I had to reel it back in. One day at a time. Relationships just started. But I’m super excited to dream of this new place to pour life out. Such great needs unleashed. Their need for love, my need to love. This could be the start of something wonderful.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Other Side of the Continent

I pretended that it was vacation. The thrill of a new place with old friends. It didn't matter that the real reason was revolving around training for work. It took 2 days of a journey before I even would arrive. A long bus ride into the city the day before the flight. Night  in a guesthouse, then off to the airport.

I was leaving the frustrations behind. Well, at least the usual ones. I awoke at the guesthouse the morning before the flight feeling freedom all around me. The recurrent tune beautifully resounded from a bird in the courtyard. I wished that I could write down the way that the melody kept coming. But the tune and note, mixed with the alternate language of the bird, made it impossible. I was grateful. Grateful for time to consider such things. Grateful to have been woken by it. I turned over and grabbed the Word, read another song, this time in my own language from the Psalmist. Then on to words of wisdom of Solomon.

The rest ended, I packed the few things that lay scattered back into my luggage. The driver would come any minute. I'd better go once more to get rid of all the water that I had been drinking before the airport. Once you make it to the airport, the restrooms there are anything but "restful". My personally developed system becomes - roll up my pant legs to avoid tainting from the urine which coats the floor when I pull them down. Take a big breath just before entry, hoping I don't have to inhale the inevitable stench that constantly lingers inside, then rush in, balance above the toilet, while the heaviness of my carryon threatens to pull me to the side - no forward - an awkward shuffle and balance. All that while keeping the breath held. Oh yes, such a situation must be avoided. So, one last time before I leave the guesthouse.

I'm only there in the hotel bathroom for 25 seconds or so, during which of course, the driver arrives. In that brief time, he has knocked twice, and rung the bell 4 times. I thought the frustrations had all been left behind at the hospital, but he reminded me that they were still there inside me, lurking and waiting for a moment of expression. I rolled my eyes and ran out from the toilet, hands wet from a rushed drying trial. I grabbed the bag and off we went.

The airport was- well, it was the Douala airport. Hopefully no one reading this will have to know the implications of that any more than described in the "bathroom" section above. It's no fun, no pleasure. But, then came a previously unknown perk. In addition to my ticket, she handed me a slip for the Kenya Airways lounge. I found myself sitting in a cushy chair, thankful for whatever course of reasoning or mistake had obtained my entrance, wondering if all the food on the counter was free. Finally, the gentleman came and asked if I would like anything. I crunched the green apple in delight. Not only the delightfulness of the sweet-sour bite, but the knowing that it was free, unmerited, and undeserved. It was greatly appreciated.

Finally, out of the life of luxury, and into the plane. Across Africa, excitement rising in my spirit. The meeting was to last most of the week, but a few of us were meeting a few days early. Where we live there isn't anything to remind one of the National Geographic scenes representing Africa. So, we wanted to go on safari. And we did. Gazelles leaping, elephants crashing through the trees, long-necked giraffes giving birth to wobbly-legged offspring, lions tearing through flesh while eating their kill. It was definitely not our typical day in Africa. Not only amazing things to see, but great company with friends. It was strange to think of how many would call this "real Africa", when what each of us was trying to get away from - endless pursuit of death, unending stench of rot and disease, unending tears of pain - was what we would call the reality of Africa. Just for a few days, it was nice to think that National Geographic was presenting the real picture.

Then the actual meeting. No one wants to read all the details of that, though it actually was pretty useful. But everything is better when mixed with some goofy, yet like-minded members of the body of Christ. And any meeting is also better when there's a deep, long bathtub filled with steaming water waiting on you in the room. Oh, and  a candle lit, with flame dancing, just to feel fancy. And a refreshing (though embarrassingly slow) run every morning through the trails weaving through the woods. And cheese. And ice cream. And meat. Even smores. Oh, delights so often unobtainable, so much more precious because they are often far beyond our grasp.

I've wondered many times over the restful, fun days - why is it so easy to see God's blessing and seemingly glorify Him more when situations are conducive? Why is it so easy to have joy in times of ease? Why, when the days get stressful and the risks get higher, do I feel the weight and frustration well up inside? A small twinge hits me reminding of how I don't meet my own expectations, certainly not His... And then I am reminded that God is making and molding us through it all. Sometimes He keeps us in the wilderness. Sometimes He takes us to a place of rest. He tries us, brings us through difficulties, and then we look back, seeing that indeed we have developed some evidence of perseverance and some change in character. But He is making us, developing us - we are in process. It isn't something that has been completed, it is very much in the making. His glory will be seen as we are more and more transformed. We aren't now, as we will be. We are in His process. Not always through gentle,soothing massage, more often hammer and chisel - beaten with pressure to transform into something He delights in. But in His hands to make, and to re-create. I love His hands. But it is in the times of refreshing that I tend to remember that they are His hands, doing His will. That is how He refreshes me most. I am reminded.
Newborn giraffe (so newborn that placenta still inside mom)

Elephant Family

Mom and Baby Lions