Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meeting Karla

Today started off rocky as I felt nauseous, light-headed and shaky all morning. I wanted to be able to go lie down or find a cool place to sit and rest, but there really isn't time for that here. We can rest after the hours of 6:15am-5:30pm, but inside of those hours it's not about me.

When lunch rolled around I was asked to pray for the entire group, all 50 or so of us Gringos and Nicaraguans. It was an honor to be able to pray for the team and thank God for everything He has and will continue to do through us, with us, and for us this week. After the prayer I grabbed my allotted sandwiches and settled into our lunch circle where I was seated next to one of the most amazing women I have EVER met.

Meet Karla: sweet, humble, joyful and holds a giant's sized heart in her petite 5'3 frame. She has a smile that doesn't quit and faith that outshines her smile. Karla began to share her story with us and although I will not give it justice, I'll try my best to share it with you:

Karla was married when she was 14 years old. Soon she and her husband would have a child together named Joel Jose. Joel Jose was diagnosed shortly after birth with Polio and the doctor told Karla and her husband that their baby boy would never walk, would most likely not be able to use his arms, and would not make it past 7 years old. Upon this news, Karla's husband left. Her husband thought it a disgrace to have a handicapped child and abandoned the family leaving Karla to become the sole provider for Joel and her mother who lives with them.

What captivated my attention was that as Karla was recounting this part of her past, her smile never really faded. Every single time she mentioned Joel the word "blessing" followed his name. I was sitting there in silence and awestruck by this woman's story and faith, all the while thinking in small mind "why her, God?" However after listening to her describe her precious, paralyzed son, my silent questions started to turn into silent praises of "why not her, God! She can clearly love Joel better than 95% of the people in this world would!"

I have never seen a mother speak so highly and so thankfully as Karla speaks about Joel. She told us that he is getting bigger as he ages and everyday she must ask God for the strength to be able to carry her son from his wheelchair to his bed, to the bath, etc... Although it went unsaid, I am sure she is also asking God daily for not only the physical needs it takes to raise Joel, but also the emotional and financial strength, as I am sure both are equally as great. There is no doubt that God is answering this humble, faithful woman and mother.

On the last day of our clinic we were honored to have Joel attend to see the doctors and receive the medical are he deserves at no cost to the family. Meeting Joel was amazing, but even more amazing was watching Karla lift her son from his wheelchair, carry him across the floor, and hold him as they stood on the scale together. That sight was literally like watching a miracle happen in front of our very eyes. The strength this tiny woman exerted effortlessly was blinding. All 7 of us in the pharmacy stopped whatever we were working on at the time and watched them stand on that scale together on Joel's 14th birthday (August 15th, 2008).

When the doctor's gave Joel Jose 7 years to live, Karla's love and the Lord's grace has given him 7 more. Thank you God for Karla.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The truth will set you free

Today was another early morning with a 6:15 start time. I wish my parents could be here to see the "waking up" process here. For those closest to me, and especially my parents, you probably have been victim to my "5 more minutes please" morning ritual. Alarms mean nothing to me and I dread mornings. Here however, mornings go on with barely a stirring sound in our bunk room. One person has an alarm on their cell phone, which I have yet to actually hear go off, and one by one, 8 girls wake slowly and quietly, climb out of their bunks and get dressed in utter silence. I know I keep journaling about the "peace" that has embodied this trip, and the mornings here are not any different. I never hear anyone grumble or complain, but instead scrubs are put on, teeth are brushed, hair is done, and faces are washed around one mirror and one sink without any commotion, hassle, and sometimes not even a word.

Thankfully the clinic went on without a hitch and I was able to spend the entire day in Pharmacy. I've never worked in a pharmacy a day in my life, yet I felt like I had just stumbled across a passion that I didn't even know existed. With a team of 4 "pullers", 3 script writers (in Spanish mind you), and 2 Pharmacists, we were able to fill 281 prescriptions. The decoding of the Nicaraguan Doctor's handwriting was a bit of a challenge but we managed. At one point we had a diagnosis in question; I thought it said feces, someone else thought it said fever, and finally one of our louder southern belles on the trip finally shouted out in here southern twang "It's for fiber y'all". We laughed for hours thanks to that one line and it was moments like that among the pharmacy gang that kept my spirits lifted regardless of the hot, sticky temperature and our lack of expertise.

As the day drew to a close and with 121 patients served on the first day, it was time to head to the ranch to share my testimony with the team. I was a bit nervous, but who wouldn't be when making yourself 100% transparent with 21 pairs of eyes watching you and 21 mind's judging you? As I shared my story through truth and tears, I felt anything but judgement. For that moment in time, I felt like I was able to reveal myself to others by sharing the things that I usually keep locked inside. I brought my darkness to light, and much to my astonishment, it felt good. After it was all said and done, I feel worlds lighter than I did when I started sharing my story. My teammates now know me, they know my struggles, they know my heart, and even more importantly, they know that God has made me new in Him.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Games+laughter= Friendship

Sunday, August 8th:

This morning we woke slowly and quietly, ate breakfast (which consisted of the typical rice and beans, plantains with sour cream, toast and fresh Nica pineapple which is much better and very different than the pineapple we eat in the states) and then headed up to the "Ranch" for our own church service. As we sat in our rocking chairs, with eyes closed, singing worship songs led by one guitar and 21 humble voices, the best breeze I have ever felt swept across the open air ranch and across my face. With the sun illuminating my closed eyelids and the soft wind on my cheeks, I felt more peaceful in that moment than I have in a long time. God is so good!

After breakfast and church, about 10 of us decided to stay at the ranch and play a game of "signs" as a way to break the ice and get to know each other better outside of the clinic settings. What started off as a short game to create camaraderie, turned into a 3 hour marathon of gestures and laughter (see pictures of the signs team above). It has been amazing to bond so quickly with people I barely know. If I am being honest, I'd have to admit that I was nervous about going to a 3rd World country with 17 people that I didn't think I had much in common with but as each day unfolds, I am constantly blown away by the personalities and hearts inside each of my teammates.

After lunch was served, and yet another game of signs (I think we might be addicted), we loaded the bus to head to the church where we would meet the team of church members/volunteers who we'd spend the next 6 days working alongside. We were greeted whole-heartily by new faces who immediately whisked us off into a huge circle for an icebreaker. The game was called "El Pollo" which in English translates to "the chicken" and we played until all 40+ people had a turn in the center. We sang a silly song about a chicken with two feet, little wings, and a little tail, all the while in our sad attempt at Spanish. It was crazy to see that many adults playing a game and making total fools of ourselves, all for the sake of breaking down barriers and forming one team.

After the game, their Pastor welcomed us and prayed over our arrival and the clinic. His words, again in Spanish, were foreign to me, but he prayed with such reverence and passion that I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. His prayers often had that affect on many of us and became moments that I looked forward too and will cherish. I will never forget a line in his prayer, thanks to our translator Fifo, were he stated that our God is not an unfair God and that He sends those who can help to His people who cannot help themselves. This sentence struck me to the core. For the last 2.5 days I had been struggling with how God could allow His people, people that love Him so much, to live in such poverty. I hated the fact that the only thing that differentiated me from the people of Nicaragua was the fact that I was born in the US and they were born there. How is that just and FAIR?! But as the Pastors words hit me, I realized that He was in fact fair and because of His faithfulness and fairness, He had allowed 17 unqualified "gringos" to be the medical miracle His people needed. Yet again, God is good.

As I lay in bed tonight, I am struggling with the feeling that I have laughed way too much today. In know that sounds odd, and it feels even more odd, but I feel as though today was too light-hearted for a 10 day trip outside of my comfort zone. I feel like I should be more stressed, more stretched at this point, and definitely not wrestling a side ache due to games and laughter. I wonder if the Lord, in His fairness, gave us today as a way to unburden our hearts before the real burden comes. I wonder if today was a "recharging" before a life-changing week ensues. I pray that we remain lifted-up and that the "child-like" hearts we possessed today will carry over into the relationships we form with our clinic attendees. I pray this because I know their lives must be full of burden, and I want them to know and see that no matter how uncomfortable and stretched you may feel, God can carry us through anything, and sometimes He'll do it in a way that you even feel guilty for how easy it will feel.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Los Torres, Hugs, and Liwuska

After arriving in Nicaragua late last night, we woke at 5:45am for a hearty breakfast and boarded the bus to the Christian Academy of Los Torres (http://www.caltnica.org/). With this being my first clinic of the trip, I was a bit unsure of what to expect, but was anxious to dive in and get my hands dirty...literally.

On the bus ride to Los Torres we were briefed by the full-time missionaries of Christ for the City that the neighborhood we were serving in would not be safe and therefore we were not to wander far from the gates that would be locked all day for our protection.

During today's clinic we saw 44 patients, mostly students of Los Torres, and a few of the teachers and family members. I spent the day playing soccer, bowling, dancing and singing, and running around with the children as they waited to see the doctors. The language barrier was tough and would later serve to be the cause for most of my tears this evening during our nightly recap. I can tell both of us (the children I am playing with) want to speak to each the other, but our conversations fall short and usually end in "no se" (I don't know) or "no comprende". I just wish I could talk to these children and tell them how excited I am to meet them and to be in their country. I want to tell them so badly how beautiful they are. I want to know what their favorite color is, do they like to dance, and what's their favorite song. Without words to share, all I can do is hold their hands, hug them, and play with them. Smiles take the place of language and playing games with the girls becomes my way of showing them that they are my priority during our time together. I soon start to realize that actions really do speak louder than words, and although I do not know much about their likes and dislikes, I can feel their heart and I hope they can feel mine beating through our sweaty, clutched hands.

Halfway through the morning, I met my Liwuska Gabriela Lovo, my favorite Nicaraguan thus far. Liwuska is 9 years old and attends Los Torres. She is beautiful, gives amazing hugs, and for some reason she chooses me to latch on to all day. We play all day, exchange addresses and at one point throughout the clinic she quietly slips a picture of herself into my hand and smiles. Liwuska has two small sisters and in watching her interact with them, you'd almost think she was their mother. I can tell she is mature beyond her years and most likely has to be. I decide by the end of the day that I want to sponsor Liwuska through the program at Los Torres, which in my heart makes our bond even stronger.

When it is time to go she walked me to the bus where we exchanged what seemed to be 20 hugs. We'd say goodbye and she'd walk away and I'd get on the bus and then a minute later she'd come back to my window and I'd get up and walk back down to hug her. I've know this child for a total of 5 hours and I cannot seem to leave her. Each time she hugged my neck and kissed my check, my heart melted and I wanted to bring her home with me. I want to rescue her. I want to bring her back to the states and give her the life she deserves. Regardless of my wants, I am helpless. I can love on her today, and I can write to her when I leave, but she has to stay here. God is the only one who can rescue her and I pray that he does. I pray that for all of the children of Los Torres, all 44 of them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Now That I Have Seen, I am Responsible. Faith without Deeds is Dead.

This past week, I was blessed enough to travel to Managua, Nicaragua to serve on my first medical mission trip. I can honestly say that my heart and my soul are forever changed. Although I am back, sitting in my cubicle and soaking in the non-polluted, air conditioned air, my heart and mind are elsewhere. I would give up every convenience I have, every luxury, even my clean non-parasitic water that runs so freely from my sinks, for one more week serving the hearts and medical needs of Managua.

Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, just behind Haiti, and it shows. From the minute we left the airport gates, I felt overwhlemed by the sights blasting before me from every direction. I am not niave and I have seen poverty on our own streets of our very own country, but nothing compares to what I saw this past week. Trash takes the place of grass and front yards in Managua. Animals are imaciated and covered in sores and mange, but what was even more devestating was watching small children reach into buckets of murky, stagnent water for a drink while we were playing a game of baseball with them. The water they drank wasn't even something I would allow my dog to drink, but they have no choice. One of the hardest moments was having to tell 3 children that they couldn't have a sip of our water because we only had enough for our team and without adequate hydration in a climate we were not acclimated too, we wouldn't be able to serve them to our best abilities. I couldn't force the word "no" from my lips, so instead I walked away from them and their request. How can I deprive a child from water???? In the end, I understood, but it didn't make the pain in my heart any less crippling.

Over the next week, I am going to use this blog as a way to open up my journal to you all. I will take you through the days with me as I am able to recount them and hopefully even process them a bit more in my own mind. As one of the worship songs we sang throughout our stint in Managua states "Now that I have seen, I am responsible, faith without deeds is dead. Now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go until you are". I am not sure if anyone even reads this blog, but I feel lead to share the stories of the people I have met and the sights that have been seared onto my heart. I will not forgot and I will tell the world of what I've seen. I truly am responsible.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sticks and Stones...

...can break your bones but words can cut way deeper than any bandaid can cover.

My thought for the day is this: Before you launch a verbal grenade at someone, please stop and think of what it's worth to you to tear someone else down intentionally. Words, once they're out there, cannot be retracted. Words linger and resonate. Credibility can be lost within a sentence.

Is the 30 seconds of anger and vendication worth the lasting effect your words might leave?