The thoughts of a woman trying to live simply yet abundantly, contentedly yet expectantly, wisely yet adventurously... all for His glory.

10.26.2009

gazing out in hope

Yesterday's twelve hour shift was twelve hours of difficult. I've been caring for some of our VVF ladies, and while I love the work, at times it requires more than I am able to give.

For the sake of all my non-medical readers, I won't go into details about my shift yesterday. Suffice it to say I spent most of the day cleaning up after some ladies who were not feeling too well. I had to search high and low for every single supply I needed to take care of my patients. I had a million little tasks to do, each competing for priority. And at the end of my shift, when I accidentally knocked over a container of urine onto my flip-flop shod foot (this is why you have to wear closed-toe shoes in hospitals at home!), all I could do was laugh. It was either laugh... or cry with frustration.

And so last night I didn't set an alarm for this morning, sleeping in until my body chose to wake up. Today I have done little except be with friends, read a good book, and work on a Bible study. When I finally got online this evening to check my email and catch up on some blogs, I realized that today is Monday. Multitude Monday over at Holy Experience. And as I was reading what others in the gratitude community were thankful for, I came across this gem at a blog I enjoy: gazes out in hope.

Gazes out in hope. What a beautiful word picture.

Yesterday's shift was a tough one, but I think about the VVF ladies and am reminded of their strength and hope. These women hope for a life reborn: freedom from shame and belonging once again to their families and husbands. While we may provide the free surgery to fix the hole in their bladder, only God can fix the hole in a wounded soul. He is the Hope-Giver and the Healer, and for that, I am thankful. I am also thankful for:

15) the gratitude community: as we share our stories together, we are reminded of God's goodness.

16) waking up one day last week with a worship song in my head: "holy, holy, holy/ is the Lord God almighty/ who was and is and is to come/ with all creation I sing/ praise to the King of kings/ you are my everything/ and I will adore you."

17) the study of the book of Esther by Beth Moore. I am learning, I am seeing God's hand at work, and I am seeking to know Him more. And I am finally--finally!--enjoying being in my Bible.

18) a quiet room to myself tonight, a rarity on this ship on which 400 people live.

19) God's quiet reassurance breaking through my fretting about how it will all get done

20) a beautiful story of redemption told by my dear friend Eva.

21) Akouvi, a VVF patient. Although her surgery failed, and she continues to leak urine constantly, she continues to smile, laugh, and even tease me as we communicated yesterday through broken French and translators.

22) anti-malarial medications for baby Jenga. In God's gracious timing, his mama Mora is currently a VVF patient, so we have been able to give her surgery and also treat his malaria... which could otherwise have been deadly.

This week, may we each continue to gaze outward in hope.




holy experience

10.20.2009

hope reborn

Today two women had their VVF surgeries, the first two surgeries of a two week season. I had the pleasure of caring for both of them and was reminded of just how much I love these women!

VVF stands for vesico-vaginal fistula, which is something that typically occurs during childbirth, and typically only occurs in developing countries with little access to health care. (In the developed world, the problem is fixed immediately in the hospital.)

Sometimes in Africa women with complicated labors will labor for many days to a week. Part of the problem is that many of the women, especially in the most isolated and rural areas, are physically very small. Although they may have had enough food growing up (or maybe not), all the energy and calories go towards the heavy work of hauling water and fuel for cooking, instead of going towards growth. Another part of the problem is that sometimes the nearest road is many hours' walk away and the hospital further still. So a woman may labor for days or weeks(!) with only her family and the villagers for help.

After a while, the constant pressure of the baby inside the birth canal can cause tissue to die, and a hole forms between the bladder (or sometimes the bowel) and the birth canal. The end result is that for the rest of her life, the woman constantly leaks urine, stool, or both. Tragically, the baby almost always dies in the process of the difficult labor.

A woman who leaks urine is shunned by her family, outcast by her community, and usually abandoned by her husband. Her worth as a woman is intrinsically tied to her ability to bear children and raise a family. She often thinks of killing herself with poison.

Somehow she hears about a ship that has come to Benin to help her; somehow she endures hours of walking and bus rides; somehow she survives the ridicule of strangers; somehow she finds her way in an unfamiliar city to the Africa Mercy and is screened for surgery.

She arrives in the ward with her lappa wrapped tightly around her, eyes downcast, trying to make herself unnoticeable.

I welcome her with a smile, help her get washed and give her a bed with clean sheets and pads to help her stay dry. I explain the surgery: what it will be like and what she should expect. And we pray together before she goes into the operating room--that she would know Jesus' love, that God would guide the hands of the surgeon, that she will have a successful outcome.

She comes back from the surgery, sleepy and worn out... but she smiles at me as I help her get back into bed. She is dry--so far so good--but only time will tell if the surgery really worked.

Today, her name is Justine, and her name is Rosalen. Tomorrow, there will be three new names: three women having surgery, three women hoping for a new chance at life. If the surgery works, she is given a new dress to symbolize her new beginning, and we celebrate with dancing and singing praises to the Lord. Then she returns home, hopefully back to the now-open arms of her family and husband.



(Women dancing for a dress ceremony after successful VVF surgery)

The surgery isn't always successful, so we walk a fine line between dancing and mourning on the wards during our VVF surgery season.

Our VVF program on Mercy Ships is called Hope Reborn, completely apropos for a surgery that can give a woman new hope and new life in her community. We also talk with each woman about God's love for her, so sometimes she is also born into the family of God while she is here! Many women are already Christians when they come to the ship, but have not been truly loved or seen for years--sometimes decades--due to their condition.



Watching these women bloom as they discover they are loved and they are not alone is one of the most beautiful things I think I've ever been part of.

Today, at the end of my shift, the other beautiful thing was the pad underneath Justine: it was dry.


(For more information about VVF, watch the movie A Walk to Beautiful, or read the book The Hospital by the River. Both cover the work of Dr. Catherine Hamlin, a missionary in Ethiopia who first brought VVF to the public eye.)

(Linked to "Tuesdays Unwrapped" at a lovely blog called Chatting at the Sky.)

10.19.2009

thankfulness

holy experience


Continuing a thread from last week, I am listing things I am thankful for. Want to join? Head over to Ann Voskamp's lovely blog, and be part of the conversation.

6:: a perfect cup of Earl Grey tea with a splash of milk and a hint of honey
7:: competing solidly on team "Lok and Keys" at the Benin Games (the Mercy Ships version of the Olympic Games)


(Lok is in the middle surrounded by the Keys; photo by Mariechen)

8:: iced bissap, also known as hibiscus tea
9:: a gorgeously sunny day at Bab's Dock yesterday... water volleyball, water frisbee, swimming, napping in the sun
10:: everyone who supports and partners with me so I can serve with Mercy Ships--I made a list today in order to write thank you notes, and it is a very long list!
11:: knowing I am headed back to Minnesota to see friends in about two weeks
12:: knowing I am headed to Houston in December to spend the Christmas season with my parents
13:: knowing I will also fly to Seattle to see extended family and friends over Christmas
14:: knowing I am coming back to Mercy Ships in January for the outreach in Togo

What one thing are you most thankful for as you begin a fresh week today?

10.17.2009

the meaning behind the title


(lovely image found here)

My blog title, "The Art of Reflection," originally comes from this thoughtful quote by Saumel Taylor Coleridge:

There is one art of which every man should be a master--the art of reflection.--If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all?
Of course, this is true for women as well!

What does it mean to reflect? It simply means to think. Wrestle. Process. Wonder. Feel deeply. Be inspired. Learn. Grow.

Being a thoughtful, reflective person is an essential part of growing personally, spiritually, emotionally, relationally... you name it. One of my hopes is to live as authentically and purposefully as possible. I think that's only doable when I am able to pause and reflect on what happens, what my heart says, what God whispers.

"The Art of Reflection" is also a reminder that as Christians we are created Imago Dei, in the image of God. I am to reflect Christ to those around me. I blog to share what I am learning, thinking, and praying about... I hope as a visible 'image' of how God is at work in my life. I invite you to share in the conversation (I always enjoy reading your comments), and join with me on the journey!

Please share your thoughts as well. In the last week, what have you found yourself reflecting on most often?

10.14.2009

a warm welcome!

Since I've noticed that some new folks are reading my reflections, I thought I might just take a moment to say hello and introduce myself a little.

My name is Lindsay, and I'm so glad to meet you! I'm a nurse currently working with Mercy Ships on the Africa Mercy, a floating hospital ship currently docked in Benin, West Africa. Before I coming to Mercy Ships I worked at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for three years.

I believe that reflecting on what's going on in your life--especially on what God is doing--is an essential part of personal and spiritual growth. My blog is a place to share what I learn as I seek to follow God's leading and where I can dialogue with you on your own journey. And now that I am (temporarily) living overseas, the blog is also a place for me to share stories and pictures from West Africa... and process the joys and challenges that come along the way.

I'd love to get to know you, too--feel free to introduce yourself below, perhaps by answering one (or all!) of the following questions:

What do you do for a living?
What's been most on your mind recently?
Where would you most like to travel to, and why?

You can always get in touch with me via email at theartofreflection@gmail.com.

10.12.2009

gratefulness

holy experience


I've journaled for years, and while some of my writing has been about things I am thankful for, I have never actually listed my blessings. I may or may not be consistent in this weekly exercise, but I have so many things I am thankful for that I just have to start listing!

1. My loving, supportive parents. What would I do without you? Even when I choose paths that increase the physical distance between us, and literally guarantee that I won't see you for birthdays and Mother's or Father's Day, you are able to say "we love you. Go where God leads."

2. The amazing library on board ship. From a great Christian fiction section to newly-discovered nonfiction gems like The End of Poverty by Jeffery Sachs, it has all I need to keep my little bookworm-heart happy.

3. I live in an age of technology... so that while I may be in Benin, I am able to keep in touch via phone, email, and internet with friends and family. I think I might have jumped ship before now if I hadn't been able to cope in this way!

4. The faithfulness of dear friends who keep in touch, sending emails longer than my arm and pretty postcards that made them think of me. And nameless friends who will dress up in pinata and fox suits, lugging guitars and accordions to busy street corners in town, just to create photos that will make me laugh (*cough*Eva*cough*Chinwe*). And my dear "landlady" Rachel, who sends me sweet stories of "our" house and opens bills and deposits checks for me while I am away from home. And Ang, who sends me pretty little baubles just because.

5. The warm, sweet smell of freshly laundered clothing.

I could keep going, but said laundry needs to be promptly removed from the dryer...

What are you most thankful for right now, at this moment?

10.09.2009

God alone knows why

Wednesday was a difficult day. I showed up for my evening shift and the charge nurse, unaccountably solemn, gathered the nurses together while she sent the translators over to another ward.

Daniel, one of our translators, was killed instantly when his motorbike collided with a truck Wednesday morning. He was married with two little girls, and his face lit up whenever he spoke about them. He could make trumpet sounds with his mouth to accompany himself on the guitar or piano.

I have memories of Daniel playing "trumpet" while Patrick played the guitar and sang, calming restless patients as they tried to settle down to sleep the night before surgery.

Yesterday I drove with some other nurses to visit his house and express our sorrow with his wife and family. Between the nurses and day volunteers, we were too many for one car so some followed behind on hired zemis. At the house, we were too many for the seats, but we stood and sat and prayed and cried and sang together. We reminded each other that we loved Daniel, but that God loves him more than we ever could. We reminded ourselves that God alone knew the number of his days, and God alone knows why the number of his days was so much shorter than we might have wished.

We reminded each other that God is the father of the fatherless and the husband to the widow. Never before have those words had such profoundly real implications to me as I sat and watched Daniel's two little girls seek their mother with questions in their eyes--who are all these people, and why are they in our house? Why is everyone so sad?

And we kept coming back to one theme: thankfulness. Surprising, perhaps, under the circumstances... but never more true.

We are thankful for Daniel and for his life, and for the ways in which we were allowed to share it. We are thankful for the way he loved his wife and family. We are thankful for the way he interacted with patients on the wards, with laughter and with guitar and with smiles and songs.

And we are thankful that Daniel is in heaven, finally fully alive, making people do double-takes as they search for the trumpet.