Sunday, October 16, 2016

No Pictures on Purpose...

*I never put up posts with no photos, but there's a reason for this photo can truly capture the spark of God in humanity...

so I'll try with my words...

I walked into church this morning in the wards and passed a boy with most of his head wrapped in gauze, a little girl missing an ear, so many precious kiddos with their arms propped in braces that hold their arms at a ninety-degree angle from their bodies, and I sat down between two men with various amounts of dressings and stitches and IV tubes coming out of their arms. Before actually coming to the ship, I remember seeing so many pictures and watching so many video clips about Mercy Ships and having to turn my eyes away at times because the disfiguration of some of the patients is just so hard to look at, but you know what I’ve discovered here? In person, I’ve never felt the need to turn my face away when I go down to the wards. I look around and see complete and beautiful humanity. I find that I want to look at them and smile at them and shake their hands because no matter how much of them is covered in dressings and no matter how many fingers have metal wires coming straight out of them, and no matter what disfiguration they have, they are so clearly precious humans created in the image of God. It’s impossible not to see that spark of God in them and I think that that must be God taking my eyes and showing me what He sees, which is very exciting and also very humbling.
We sing worship songs together, some in languages we know and some in French and some in Fon and everyone does what they can to worship. Some stand and the many who can’t stand sit. Some clap and some, like the man sitting next to me today, just touch his gauze wrapped hand to his other hand in the motion of clapping but making no noise…because that’s what he can offer. We were told at one point in the service to give a clap offering to God and I couldn’t help but think that his silent “clapping” of his wrapped hands together must have made a beautiful noise in the ears of the Father.
Today we talked though the story of the Good Samaritan. Our Ward Chaplain told the story, which was then translated and then we were instructed to retell the story to those around us. Those around me didn’t speak the same language as I do so I acted the story out as best I could with my fingers pretending to walk along the road, etc. to the confused smiles of those around me. It’s a story that I’ve heard so many times, but as we talked through that story today, surrounded by so many who look rather beaten down like the man in the story, I wondered if we aren’t doing the same as the priest and the Levite. When we see or hear or know about others in need around us and finish seeing the news clip or finish reading the article, and go back to whatever it was we were doing, are we not choosing to walk by those who could use our help? That’s a big and scary question to me because I don’t want to do that. I don’t want be like the Priest and Levite who looked and then chose to keep walking. I want to choose to help, but it’s overwhelming because there are so many in need of help. I suppose the Samaritan didn’t have to help every person that day, he just chose to stop and help the one that God literally put in his path. Then it becomes less overwhelming. I don’t have the answers to this thought about how to love our neighbors, but it’s something I need to think more about.
I am privileged to work on a ship full of people that are choosing to see those beaten down around us and not just walk by, but to do something about it. I think we can all make that choice. Before I came here, when I told my littles in CA about the people that the doctors on this ship help, I remember trying to find video clips to show them of the patients and looking through clip after clip and deciding not to show them most of the clips because frankly they had disturbing images of patients with tumors that have taken over their faces and I didn’t want to scare my littles. I don’t regret that choice because I do think there’s a time and place and age for people to be exposed to certain realities, but you know what I wish now? I wish I could bring some of the patients into my classroom of kinders from last year so they could see these beautiful people in real life, because pictures and videos can look disturbing and scary, but  actually seeing past the deformity or tumor to the spark of God within is so different and so wonderful. I wish I could share that with them. My kindergartners onboard don’t have that choice of turning away from the TV screen because they live here and they see these patients in reality. And yes, when we walk down to the hospital together or walk out to deck 7 where the patients are getting fresh air so we can play with them, my girls cling pretty closely to me because it is a little scary sometimes for those of us who aren’t used to being amongst all the hospital gowns and tubes and dressings, but I know that it’s scary for those patients who aren’t used to those things as well. I think it’s a wonderfully unifying things for the patients and the kindergartners and me to know that none of us probably feel totally at ease, but that we’re in this thing called life together and God is taking good care of us all.

At the end of the church service we all file out, some to go back to their hospital beds and others of us off to call home and read or rest, but no matter what we’re doing next, the walk out is one of my favorite parts. It’s a slow meandering down the hospital corridor because there are so many in wheel chairs or on crutches in front of me and I get to just walk slowly among them and smile and think and praise God for this hard and wonderful place He has given me to be today.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Settling Into Awkward Goodness

Some things feel quite weird, but you know they’re good. I’ve experienced quite a bit of that feeling recently. I work on a hospital ship, but the extent of my medical expertise includes putting band-aids on my students and giving them my most sage teacher advice for the two things that heal any ailment:
1.     “Why don’t you you get a wet paper towel to put on it for a bit.”
2.     “How about you go take a big sip of water!”
I want to spend time down with the patients in the wards, but it’s quite an uncomfortable place for me because I can’t help them physically in any way and I always feel that I’m in the way. However, if I don’t intentionally go spend time in the wards, I will never even see the patients who are the very reason we are all here. Sooooo, that’s how I ended up for the past two Fridays down in the wards where I don’t feel at all that I belong… and it was good! I’d like to say that I jumped in and tried to talk to others in French and Fon and held lots of littles with arms wrapped stiff and made everyone feel the love of God…it was a bit more like trying to get out of the way of nurses with medicine, watching babies who I wish I could hold, and awkwardly smiling at patients with whom I really have no other way of communicating what with my tiny amount of French and miniscule amount of Fon. But two Fridays ago I did get to play Uno with a group of patients, and hold one little guy with wrapped hands before he decided he liked the nurses better, and yesterday I brought dot paints down for the patients to play with and held the hand of one of the little girls who couldn’t get out of her bed to play with the dot paints.

            In the same way I want to intentionally make spending time with patients a normal activity in my kindergarten class. This past week was the first week that we went out to deck 7 in the afternoon to play with patients. We talked beforehand about what they might see and how to treat the patients with care and the girls immediately expressed fear about going out. I asked what they were scared of and they said, “well, the bandages and stuff!” We decided to pray that God would help us to have courage and be kind and I wish everyone could have heard my littles pray! One of them prayed with such fervor and sincerity, “Dear God, help the patients to put on Your healing and help us not to be scared because they are just normal people with nasty diseases! They are just normal people!!!” When we did go out, the girls were apprehensive, but quite excited! They told me that they thought they might like to stay close to me and I told them that that was ok. In accordance with what I have experienced down in the wards, I’d like to say that it was glamorous and amazing and that my littles became fast friends with the little patients and they knew God’s love because we came out to play with them…however it was more of that awkward goodness that I mentioned before. We brought out a princess memory game and spent quite a bit of time trying to get the one patient who wanted to play with us to not flip over all the memory cards at once and attempting not to get in the way of the National Geographic team that was filming out there. It’s was more jostling and overwhelming than glamourous and compassionate, but it was a start.

            So, my endeavor to connect with the patients onboard, and have my littles do the same, has begun. It hasn’t been easy or what I imagined and I don’t always want to go, but it’s something that is important to me and more importantly, it’s important to God I believe. So I’ll keep on in the endeavor and pray that as I continue, the awkward goodness will become less and less awkward, and more and more goodness.