Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dear precious one,

I'm amazed by your faith,
      that whether you've had your fistula for 5 months or 10 years, you took that first step onto the gangway hoping for a new life; freedom from ridicule, embarrassment, and shame. 


I'm amazed by your perseverance,
     that you would leave your family, all that is familiar and safe, to venture thousands of kilometers into the unknown--all for healing. 


I'm amazed by your trust,
     in God and us. You willingly put your life in our hands.  You trust us with the most painful and private areas of your life. Allowing us to care for you in ways only your family would.  You are vulnerable and trusting. 


I'm amazed by your love,
     despite all that you've been through.  I'm in awe of how much love you hold in your hearts, and how freely you share it with the nurses, and day crew.  Not a trace of bitterness towards God or people, just love. You've lost a lot in your short lives: babies, husbands, family, and function.  One event in your life has changed the course of your life forever. But have hope, there's a new life ahead!


I'm amazed how love transforms.
     My desire, dear one, is that you would know you are loved regardless of whether you are wet or dry; that your identity doesn't have to rest on that one broken part of you. I love seeing you turn into the fun, silly girls you are as you're loved on and cared for.   

     

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Same same but different

     Of course my best intentions were to write a blog at minimum every week, but alas here it is the end of week 4 of surgeries, and not one letter has made it to this page! It has been an amazing 5 weeks since I arrived, I can tell you that! In my last post I mentioned how it's always hard for me to leave my family and come here, but every time I come here God gently reminds me that I have family on this side of the ocean, too. It doesn't make me miss my family less, but it's like having salve for a wound. I feel so at home here, so known by those around me, so comfortable and with so many amazing people who wouldn't!? 

     A lot has happened in these 5 weeks, but I'll try and fill you all in! My first week back was so full. I barely blinked and before I knew it, it was Sunday and a bus full of ladies had arrived from very far away. I got a page that my ladies were on the ship, my favorite moment! (see this post) As I walked into reception it was immediately apparent why these beautiful ladies had suffered obstructed labor that left a hole in their bladder.  They were all well under 5 feet tall! Most of them looked like little girls even though they had all been mothers at one time.

    Madagascar is so different than any West African country I've been to so far.  The people are more quiet, and reserved; they dress differently; the country is green and lush; but the reasons women suffer fistulas is the same here as it is everywhere: young girls that are underdeveloped; lack of access to quality emergency obstetric services; and villages so far away from hospitals it would take days to walk to help. The ladies here carry the same stoic shell; they hide well the pain and misery-buried deep and covered with hard work and a smile when prodded. Sometimes I forget how much they've endured in their short lives. Pregnancy is not always a joyous occasion for a woman here. For some it's a guarantee of a difficult labor, loss of a child, and loss of function. 


     But there is hope! Function can be restored, hearts can be mended, and lives changed. Last week we had our first Dress Ceremony. A celebration not only of their physical healing, but also their emotional healing. A new dress is a symbol of a new life, a new hope, a new beginning. How precious are these women!? I love to see their transformations...they go from shy and quiet to silly and funny. 







Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ready or not, here I come!


     I'm not sure where to start; it's been a while since I've put fingers to keys to write a blog! I've not done a very god job keeping ya'll updated with what's going on in my life here in New York or what's been happening with the ship abroad! Quick update on me: I've been living in New York for the past 6 months, and loving it! Watching my niece grow up has been the best part of the past 6 months. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you know that's pretty much all I post about! Well, enough about me, more importantly what has been happening with the ship?! The ship has had a much more eventful 6 months. If you're not living under a rock then you probably know at least a little about the Ebola situation. The ship was originally supposed to be going to Guinea for the next field service come August. BUT the Ebola outbreak happened earlier in the year, and was not slowing down at a rate that Mercy Ships felt comfortable with. So they made the hard decision to postpone going to Guinea and change course to Benin. The ship had been to Benin before so it would be easier to set everything up given the new, shorter time frame. BUT Ebola followed our course and came too close for comfort in the neighboring country of Nigeria.  As you can imagine, any risk is too much risk given the tight living and working quarters on the ship; not to mention our patient selection process that involves gathering thousands of people together in one location to be seen by doctors and nurses. It would not be wise, nor beneficial to put patients and crew at risk for life-saving, but still elective surgeries. Sooo...now where can the ship go since West Africa is pretty much out of the question? Why Madagascar, of course! I'm not entirely sure the how this came to be, except that our new Managing Director's wife is from there. It's quite perfect, actually.  It's far enough from the Ebola outbreak, and there is a huge need.  God managed to orchestrate all the necessary necessities like visa waivers, car registration, nursing licenses, etc. in a record amount of time! I'll get to the need in a minute, but first let me give you a little history...

    Back in May of this year when I was in Congo working as the VVF Team Leader I committed to coming back to Guinea as the VVF Team Leader in 2015. It seemed like the right decision at the time- I would get to go back to the place where I first became Team Leader; I would get to see all my previous patients and Day Crew (Translators); and I would get a do-over. There were a few things I would have done differently now that I have some experience under my belt and know what I'm doing. Plus, a surgeon I worked with in Congo agreed to come again and that sealed the deal-easy peasy, right?  Welll...God threw a wrench in my perfect little plan! I don't know if you remember this time last year, but I do.  I was at the same place I am now-- grappling with the decision to go back to the ship, and pretty much for the same reasons.  Have you ever thought 'man, I'm such a different person than last year, I've grown so much' but then when faced with the same situation you respond in the exact same way?! Yeah, that's where I'm at. So much for growth! I obviously need to learn this lesson because I keep coming back to it. I'm that kind of person that can live pretty much anywhere and I would settle in, find my niche, and be comfortable. I've done it in California, I've done it in Africa, and now I've managed to do it here in New York. But, it isn't always good to be comfortable.  In the discomfort of a challenge is growth; an unexpected gem or discovery lies just on the other side of your/my comfort zone and I don't want to miss out! I'm uprooting my life once again. I'm trusting that God will take care of all the details. Big details like who is going to rent my room for the 3 months while I'm away; or where will I live when I come back and only have one month to decide; or where I will get the $1800 that I need to raise to pay for the rest of my flight and room and board.  He always know and holds the small details, too.  So here I go, ready or not here I come Madagascar!  My friends who are already exploring beautiful Madagascar are telling me about my lovely VVF ladies who are patiently awaiting my arrival.  Come March we'll start chipping away at the enormous need there.  It's been reported that there's some 50,000 VVF ladies needing surgery, and 5,000 new cases each year!  The need is overwhelming, but God is a God of details.

     Please start praying for the VVF program. Keep me in your prayers, too.  Pray that I would lead well, and love even better; that I would be able to provide the emotional and spiritual support my nurses and patients will need; For my nurses, vetted with the difficult task of caring for these special ladies physically, spiritually, and emotionally. They have a big job ahead of them. There will be success's that bring tears of joy, and celebration, but there will be tears of sadness that comes with the surgeries that aren't successful.  There will be wounds that are deep from loss of child, loss of identity as a woman, and years of isolation and injustice. Healing is more than closure of physical wounds-it comes with unconditional love, it comes with unconditional acceptance.

Thank you to all of you who have loved me and supported me and make it possible for me to go time and again.

      

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mothers

I'm in awe of these beautiful ladies. 
Sometimes I get caught up in my role as Team Leader and all that I have to do, I fail to stop and see; to see that the women right in front of my eyes, the ones I've come half way around the world to serve, have suffered for so many years. Most of them waiting decades to receive their healing, and in those years of waiting many have been abandoned by husbands, family, friends; have become the ridicule of the village; have lost babies and their ability to bear more; identities as mothers, wives, children gone because they were born on a continent that lacks adequate obstetric services and a culture that marries young. 
It's my mother's birthday today (Happy Birthday Mom!!) and Mother's Day is right around the corner. Some of these ladies won't know what it's like to be a mom. They've birthed babies that won't grow into children. But, as I sat watching the seven beautiful VVF ladies stand and sing praises to God for their healing, I was amazed. They may not be birth moms, but they're mothers in my eyes. I've watched countless times as they love and care for each other as mother's would their own children. Here's to all the mothers around the world, in the words of Dr. Itengre "The man is the roof of the house, he provides and protects. But the women are the house, there would be no house without them."
  










Friday, April 18, 2014

Survivors

The other night I was talking with a friend who worked with Doctor’s Without Borders in South Sudan. She was recounting story after story of women who died in child birth during the short 3 months she was there.  The numbers of maternal death here are staggering.  It hit me so suddenly that the beautiful women on my ward, the one’s who sing me to sleep most nights, are the survivors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve preached about VVF in the past 2 years, whether through in-services here or church talks at home, but just now it really hit home.  Pregnancy is deadly here. We focus so much on how deadly HIV, Ebola virus, and malnutrition are in Africa, but fail to see how dangerous pregnancy really is. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, or negate how serious the many problems faced here, but it’s a reality for many-especially the VVF ladies.  This hit home when a caregiver's youngest sister died during childbirth on Wednesday.     


This time around the ward has had a few mascots! Meet Beni and Ali:
 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thankful

I’m flooded with so many emotions right now as I stand on the dock, waving as the Mercy Ships Land Rover carries Dr. Itengre away.  5 am is not my usual time of getting out of bed, and definitely not a preferred hour of starting my day, but he’s worth it. A long held custom on Mercy Ships is gathering on the dock to say good-bye to those people who enter and leave your life so quickly, but impact your life so deeply.

While I was still in New York preparing to come here, I emailed Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, the VVF surgeon that I thought I would be working with come February.  Dr. Steve informed me that instead of coming for 8 weeks as he originally planned, he wasn’t coming at all.  I have to admit that reading those words were a little disheartening.  I was already going back and forth on whether or not I made the right decision to come back to the ship, and not entirely sure if I was ready to lead another round of VVF surgeries.  In his response email, Dr. Steve told me not to worry because he had arranged for one of the African surgeon’s he trained in Danja, Niger to come instead. He described Dr. Itengre as “amazing” and that I would love working with him.  Trusting in God, and Dr. Steve’s opinion didn’t come easy, but all I could do was trust, and so I booked my plane ticket.

Fast forward a few months, and I’m standing on the dock with tears in my eyes waving good-bye-for-now, knowing that this won’t be our final good-bye, it’s more ‘see ya later.’  Amazing doesn’t quite describe Dr. Itengre fully. Over the past four weeks I’ve watched him gather a group of translators and teach about the importance of consenting patients for surgery; I’ve seen him in the middle of a circle of nurses patiently answering questions about the surgeries he’s performing; I’ve witnessed him praying over patients, and sitting by their bed holding their hand; and I’ve seen the many grace-filled responses to frustrating situations, none of which included anger, only patience and understanding.  There really aren’t words to describe how thankful I am, the English language only has one and it isn’t adequate.
 




The beautiful VVF ladies


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The God of all comfort

Sometimes, well a lot of times, my ladies surprise me.  I spent a good part of my morning talking with one of the ladies (we’ll call her Hope) that just had surgery.  The conversation all started with a complaint of rib pain. As the doctor and I delved deeper to get the full story she revealed that a lot was going on in her life.  About 10 years ago her very well off husband died, leaving her to care for their 3 children alone. As if that wasn’t hard enough, his family took over their house, as is customary here, and left her homeless.  She felt hopeless, and often when she would think of her situation she would consider ending her life.  After praying with her I left her to talk more with the translators.

Later in the day I get a call that one of the ladies I discharged home 2 days ago was back because she was having pain in her leg, and a whole myriad of other problems.  I peeked my head out of the door and saw her hobbling down the corridor with a very stoic look on her face. The moment she entered through the doors of the ward and saw me, the translators, and nurses, she burst into tears.  Mid-sentence of her verbal catharsis of how she hadn’t slept in the past two days because of the pain, none other than Hope runs over to comfort her. Mind you, they have never met before.  This, the very same patient I was talking off a ledge mere hours before. It’s amazing how hope restores, and being comforted enables us to comfort others.

Next time you’re in a situation where you need comfort see it as an opportunity to comfort others. God will use you to comfort someone else--it might be in the next instance, or the next decade, but God will use it.

This came to mind when I saw the hopeless melt from Hope’s face, and in it’s place the beautiful face of compassion...

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5