Lessons from Nana…Accept help

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Thanksgiving 2019

Why women believe we must bear the weight of the world on our shoulders I’ll never understand; and I’m guilty as charged. We carry the world’s burdens in our hearts, careful not to drop a single one, feeling immensely responsible for their outcome whether we truly are or not.

There’s a visual image seared into my mind that haunts and follows me when I am alone. I’m walking on a road, swimming in the ocean, or climbing a mountain and I have the person or problem literally strapped to my back. The more people and problems, the more piled on and on and on until I’m falling on bloody knees, drowning under the waves, or hanging on the side of the cliff with nails dug deep into the dirt wall that presses against my sweaty face.

Even still, I won’t stop. I just keep going…and going…and going reluctant to ask for help. I smile anyway. “I’m fine,” anyway. “It’s all good,” anyway. It’s not good and I’m not fine. So I retreat, slipping into the shadows of life to avoid the fronting, fake smiles I wear like a pro. I go deep into my hiding place until I’ve slept, regained train of thought, cried, journaled, or whatever it takes to breathe again. Only then I step back into the daylight, return texts, messages, phone calls and resume whatever normal looks like…until the people and problems heap on my back again and I break under the pressure, again.

Not so with Nana. She has always been very vocal about her needs. There’s no ambiguity of where she’s at in life and her outspokenness is kind of a family joke (in an endearing way).

However, stating a need and asking for help are two different things.

Nana is one of the most strong and strong-willed women I know. For 32 years I’ve called her MacGyver and watched her sew torn luggage with dental floss in the middle of the airport; foster over 60 dogs with her husband; and throw together a dinner for twenty in less time than it takes most of us to drive to the grocery store.

When she moved to our city, I committed to helping her move in, get settled, and do life with her. We found great deals for nesting her apartment at consignment stores – her happy place other than garage sales. Two weeks in, she fell. For these past two years it has literally been one health crisis after the next starting with this fall and maybe a month thrown in here or there to come up for air.

I know it’s been hard on her. Relocating to a new city, joining a new church, leaving old friends while remaining open to making new ones, learning new roads, finding new stores, it’s a lot for anyone at any age, and she was 79 at the time. She met the challenge with a strong spirit and determination to conquer the city. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Needless to say, her health issues have been a total surprise; with each one more serious than the last. This isn’t the retirement she had planned; certainly not a terminal diagnosis within six months of moving here.

I call her my Naomi and I’m her Ruth. I told her we’d get through all of this. ER trips, surgical boots, physical therapy, fourteen doctors with just as many medications, surgery upon surgery, MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, pre-op, post-op, a broken ankle, a fractured vertebra, sinus infections, cancer, a mastectomy, bridge work, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and more doctor appointments than I can count just to name a few.

She’s been such a trooper with each episode. Whether it was days when she was up and ready to go, or days I arrived and she had forgotten and was still in her jammies, she rose to the occasion and simply trusted me to care for her. If I filled a new prescription, she took it. If I gave her the walker, she used it. We waded waters of medical decisions, dental decisions, orthopedic decisions, neurology decisions, split decisions, decisions made with family; so many decisions I can’t recount them all. I sat with her through every single doctor’s appointment for two years. She recovered from both surgeries in our home.

I’ve watched her defer to us for help of all kinds. Her “tough ‘ol broad” self-proclamation became softer as her mind became fuzzier, and she began to lean on us more for direction and decisions. Treating her no different than I would have treated my own mother if she was still alive, and how my sister and I cared for my grandmother, I’ve helped Nana as if we were bound by blood, not marriage.

Perhaps I got a little too close. Her life and mine became so intertwined I’m not sure where she stopped and I started. My family saw this. They encouraged me to have boundaries and take time for self-care.

But there’s this advocate in me that won’t be quiet. I’m a fierce fighter who will stand in front of whatever moving train is threatening someone in my care. The voiceless, the helpless, the vulnerable – we are called to help them and I take it to heart. And when those are family, we are called to help them all the more. And as for widows, God specifically mentions our duty to care for them several times throughout the Bible. Another box checked on the life list for my Naomi.

An attitude of, “I’ll fix this. I’ll handle this. I’ll take care of this. I’ll protect you. I’ll fight for you. You’re safe with me,” is the advocate in me that won’t stop or rest or back down for those who need it. Not ever.

I’ve watched Nana have to accept more help the more serious her physical and neurological needs progressed. The worst was having to take her car away after she put herself in a dangerous position and didn’t realize it. She was mad at me, and the family, for four months. I’m not sure she ever fully forgave us. But with every other decision, she’s been amazingly compliant because she has always known we are working in her very best interest. The way we’d want to be treated. They way her husband, my favorite father-in-law, would’ve treated her if he were still alive. The way I will stand before God one day and be held accountable for caring for his daughter, a widow, elderly, lacking memory to advocate for herself, and lacking physical health to provide for herself.

I’ve taken this task extremely seriously which is perhaps why I often cry all the way home on the long drives during every season and in every kind of weather until near hyperventilation.

As she has let me help more as her needs grow, I watch her fight herself for freedom. Two moves: the first one was to relocate down here and gain independence, and the second one to forfeit that new independence exactly a year later to an assisted living facility, with no other option for her safety. She has desperately wanted to stay independent in her desire to make one more meal for herself; pay her own bills and balance her own checkbook; power-walking up and down the halls of her apartment just to prove she still could; moving very heavy furniture by herself to demonstrate her strength (which led to the fractured vertebrae); working crossword puzzles and word searches to stay mentally sharp; answering the neurologist’s memory questions honestly, as I turned my face away to avoid her seeing me weep at the six answers she got wrong compared to the one answer she got right.

We locked arms and boldly marched on with every appointment. Most times she didn’t know which doctor we were seeing or why, but I had her back. I peeked over her shoulder as she stepped on the scale so I could monitor her weight. I held candid discussions with the doctors and her when she didn’t want to admit she had lost more physical or mental ground. Sometimes I felt like a tattletale, but as her advocate doctors needed honesty to treat her properly.

She fights to hard to stay independent, yet she has a keen sense of knowing when to accept help when she needs it. I look back on the past two years, which feel like a lot more in some ways with all the physical and mental battles she’s fought and me at her side fighting for her, and it’s sobering to see where we are now.

I’ve had her strapped on my back for two years without ceasing. Without ceasing. It has been some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, but also some of the most rewarding.

So on December 18th, exactly a week before Christmas, I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot barely able to breathe. Choking back tears, I walked in, not knowing what the person looked like whom I was meeting.

Not one, but two women greeted me; both with the same first name. They were with Hospice. This meeting about killed me. It was supposed to last about an hour. We were there 2.5 hours with my never-ending questions. They were incredibly patient, kind, and gentle. They assured me the decision was totally up to the family and that they were there to answer questions and help if we so chose.

Our family knew this meeting was happening and I had their blessing. Still, signing the paperwork as her HCPOA, the weight of responsibility nearly broke my heart in two. Despite the emotional fit I was having on the inside, I hid it pretty well on the outside…until…

They explained that Hospice would now be her PCP, oncologist, etc. I know their help is a good and necessary thing, but a wave of grief overtook me in one tsunami tidal crash I didn’t expect and couldn’t control. The women saw my countenance drop and asked if I was okay. I replied, “I need a second,” and looked away. Turning back toward them, with tears welling up, I asked, “So the last time we went to the oncologist was the last time we would see him?” Short answer, “Yes.”

Grief grabbed me and choked the lump in my throat. “It’s just that, well, he was the best doctor we’ve ever had, and I didn’t get to tell him. We didn’t get to say goodbye.” There was a chasm in my heart, a gaping hole void of closure between me and this decision to sign on Hospice.

Suddenly, the past two years flashed before me like a movie reel in fast-forward. Memories we made together came flooding to mind such as the many trips to various doctors and surgeons; trips through the drive-thru after a hard appointment, as my grandmother did for me when I was a child to make things better; our hundreds of car conversations; wringing my nervous hands in elevators; endless waiting in waiting rooms; dashing to fetch the car for her in pelting rain; heating the car for her in the dismal, frigid winter; finding every handicap parking space at nearly every medical facility in our city; wearing face masks and gloves in the ER; falling asleep sitting straight up in stiff, hard doctor office chairs in the middle of the night; watching other patients wait with us who were just as sick as Nana was, or sicker, as they moaned and groaned and threw up and passed out all around us in the hospital; checking voicemails and texts in the bathroom so she wouldn’t feel overlooked; half-reading half-interesting, outdated magazine articles in doctors’ offices; meeting up with the sweet driver at her assisted living facility when she could help drive her to appointments – we must’ve rendezvoused in every parking lot in a twenty-mile radius in our city; more of her favorite hamburgers and milkshakes; more waiting at the pharmacies; watching her struggle to find one of the five lipsticks in her purse she swore was not in there; assuring her that she looked pretty as her appearance has always been important to her; triaging her symptoms-of-the-day to discern whether or not it required a call to the doctor; sitting with endless doctors and making endless decisions with her and for her…it was all over. In one conversation and a few signatures, it was all over.

I suddenly wanted so badly to drive her to one more appointment, shoot the breeze in one more waiting room, fix her a cup of complimentary coffee, listen to her muse about the world around us, shake hands with one more doctor, and check one more doctor’s visit off the list.

What felt so dreadfully hard on some days, I silently begged to have back now sitting with Hospice and realizing this lap of her race is over. I didn’t know what to do with this new reality. The adrenaline that fuels the advocate in me was still pumping in my veins to do, to act, to help Nana. I wasn’t ready to hand this baton to anyone else and trust them to run on her behalf.

I understand Nana is no less Nana in Hospice’s care. She is no less our responsibility as family. Hospice is help. They are the very best at what they do and surely, they answer a calling 99% of the population could not handle for one minute. I am convinced there is a special place in heaven for Hospice staff. Their crowns will shine like the sun. But the protector in me struggles to let go.

I looked at the two ladies eye-to-eye and said without blinking, “Please don’t be offended, but it’s hard for me to entrust her to you. I’ve done my Hospice homework, but don’t truly know you. We’ve just met, and although so far so good, I’ve had some other medical companies ditch us and neglect her care. I’m worried.”

They sat with me for 2.5 hours until I was satisfied this was the best thing for Nana even though I knew in my heart and head it was time. Nana’s physical needs outgrew what I could provide. No number of doctor appointments could keep pace with the progression of Angiosarcoma and Alzheimer’s.

I often woke up in paralyzing fear in the middle of the night worried about her. If I wasn’t with her, I worried whether or not she was okay. Did she not answer the phone because she forgot she had a phone, accidentally turned the sound off, forgot to recharge it, forgot how to use it, lost it (which all of the aforementioned have happened), or was she lying on the floor unconscious from another fall? Rational and irrational thoughts warred in, and wore on, my mind and soul.

Hospice has been the very best thing for Nana. Her needs are tended to every single day in the comfort of her own space. They are a godsend and I couldn’t be more grateful for their help. It gives us enormous peace of mind and comfort as they happily accommodate my request for daily updates on who was there, what they did, and how she is doing. And in their words just today, “She’s doing as well as can be expected as the cancer grows.”

I’m so appreciative for their updates, but still I am not okay. The fighter in me feels like a failure. The advocate sits in awkward silence. The warrior stands weaponless on the battlefield. The protector feels the powerless weight of empty arms that are used to holding Nana, figuratively and literally.

I’m trying to follow Nana’s example of accepting help. I’m thankful, I really am. But in one morning meeting the dynamics of “us” completely changed forever, and that is something I wasn’t emotionally prepared for, even though it’s a good thing.

After hours of conversation and signing the paperwork, one of the ladies had to leave for another meeting as the other one sat across from me with tears in her eyes. She told me her story of going through a similar situation in her own family and that she understood my feelings.

I looked at her, and with a shaky voice muttered, “For the past two years I’ve been 90% caregiver and 10% daughter-in-law. Who am I now? What is my role…now?”

She tenderly answered with a quivering chin and merciful smile, “Now you’re 90% daughter-in-law.” We both sat in silence as she gave me time to process.

I broke the long silence between us with an, “Okay,” said under my breath, slowly nodding my head in peaceful acceptance, trying to hold it together in a bustling Starbucks full of young moms busy with their babies, business men in expensive suits with important places to be, and hipster millennials with earbuds in and eyes fixed on their laptops. “Okay,” I said again agreeably.

In that moment I understood a little of what Nana felt when she conceded to help with big steps like allowing the family to help with her finances, handing me her keys to the car she loved, and once again packing up her apartment and the independent life she loved after only a year.

Knowing decisions are right, and are even for the best, doesn’t make them any less difficult to live out.

Fast forward one month later. I’m huddled in my heavy robe scrolling texts and toggling between Hospice nurses and family. I texted the Hospice chaplain to see if she could visit Nana again as her health declines and the calendar continues to turn. To my surprise, the chaplain responded by calling me back. I didn’t want to talk and would’ve rather had a one-dimensional conversation through text as I struggle to find my way out of my emotional hiding place from all of this.

She said, “I can be at her place in 20 minutes.” “Whoa,” I thought to myself. I was shocked she could get there so quickly! Borrowing some of Nana’s willingness to accept help, I sheepishly asked, “I don’t want to burden you, but, um, how often do you think you could visit her? The doctors have given her a couple of months at best, and I think the more visits from friendly faces the better, but I don’t want to take too much of your time.”

The chaplain replied, “I can come as often as you’d like.” “Oh wow. Um, would once a week work for you?” I asked. She replied, “Baby, listen to me…” Her comforting words and soothing, motherly tone made me feel emotionally safe in our conversation. “Kristi, Baby, listen to me. I am here for Miss Salli. But I’m also here for your family. And I’m here…for you, too.”

Bundled up in my robe, hiding from life, tears streamed down my face I sat speechless. She touched a soft spot in my soul. It’s like she knew it was difficult for me to ask for help without me admitting it. The confidence with which she spoke allowed me to let down my guard and accept her support because she can be someone to Nana that I cannot be; just like the nurses; just like so many people who have joined us on our journey these past two years. Her words and voice convinced me she really meant it. She really wants to be there for Nana. My heart quietly raised its white flag of surrender, yielding to the truth that there is safety in numbers. Not even my husband and I together can do this. Nor can rest of the family spread out across three states. This is bigger than all of us.

“Are you still there, Kristi?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m here,” I spoke in a faint whisper.

“Okay, then I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” she assured me.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I pleaded.

“It’s what I do and I’m happy to do it. And if I can make a difference in Miss Salli’s life, and help your family at the same time, then my life won’t be in vain,” she said.

How does one respond to such authentic compassion and genuine empathy?

We hung up and I laid the phone in my lap. Staring into the dark, for the first time in a long time I felt the strength of a helping hand pulling me out of the pit.

So many wonderful people have been available to Nana 24/7 and it has been a blessing beyond measure. She’s accepted their help with graciousness and gratitude.

For me, on the other hand, I’ve still wanted to be a part of things. Not controlling or in the way, but I deeply care how she is doing on the days I am not able to see her. In part, because I love her and my heart aches knowing she’s fighting the battle for her life. Also, in part, is the humbleness of admitting that everyone needs help, including me.

Nana – the fearless, strong-willed warrior – has taught me one of the greatest lessons she could teach: Accept help. Know when we need it. Know when to ask for it. Be willing to accept it. And say thank you, which she has said no less than a million times.

Truly, her wisdom regarding when to fight and when to relinquish is something that will be part of her greatest legacy to me. Man, she knows how to fight for what she wants! Her persistence on lesser matters has caused me much anxiety. But she also knows when to say enough, end the arm wrestle, and trust someone else with the decision.

She’s spending a lot more time in bed these days. The cancer pain has been a challenge to keep under control. She is accepting everyone’s help: the nurses in their daily visits; the chaplain who prays and sings hymns with her (or to her depending on the day); the med techs who are amazingly awesome and shower Nana with love and care; and all of the folks, medical or not, who have walked a mile or more with Nana, sojourning on the road leading her to heaven.

It has been, and will continue to be, a privilege to serve her in this way as caregiver these past two years in the good times and in the hard. As much as she has allowed my help, and as I’ve watched her let others in and trust them with her care, I believe the best way for me to pay tribute to her legacy in this is to learn to do the same in my life…another passing of the baton, if you will.

In her example, I lay down my pride and stubbornness, my clinging to in the name of love and worry, and my heart will smile and accept help in honor of Nana – the fearless, strong-willed warrior – who taught me we don’t have to fight our battles alone.

Seeing God’s blessing with fresh eyes: Guyana Part 2

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Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow…(Psalm 146: 5-9)

We’ve had the honor and privilege of serving folks in multiple countries in many capacities with several non-profits over the years. However, our recent mission to Guyana’s jungle and remote areas brought a new task for Bruce and me.

It was a joy to fit men and women with reading glasses! Such a small token can change a life. I know because I’ve worn glasses for most of my adulthood. Not only do glasses help make words easier to see, but no more eye strain means no more chronic headaches. Hallelujah! No squinting. More reading!

I love how Psalm 146 describes the mercy and compassion of God our Father. Yes, he is focused our salvation and eternal destination, but he also cares about the here and now. The Bible is full of ways he offers tangible help to meet people’s needs.

We’ve all been the recipient of his gracious heart. The farmer gives thanks for rain. The sailor gives thanks for wind. We give thanks for medicine, help with a broken car on the side of the road, and neighbors who offer to help chainsaw huge branches that fall in the storm (Thanks, Jesse!!). All of us receive blessings every single day from our Creator as said beautifully by the anonymous author of Lamentations.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

It’s always exciting to wake up on mission and see what the day will bring. Fitting folks with reading glasses was a tangible way to help better the lives of others. We enjoyed great conversation with them, helping improve their reading vision, and serving them in this personal way in the name of our Lord.

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There’s also a physical exchange that was quite meaningful. The exchange of glasses hand-to-hand; helping gently fit them on their faces; the eye-to-eye contact when asking how they well they worked for them; and cleaning the lenses & straightening the arms of the glasses for them once their perfect pair were found was personal and sweet. It felt intentional. Care-filled. Love-driven. One person at a time. One pair of glasses at a time. It was beautiful.

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The process is remarkably easy. Start with a 1.0 lens and ask them if it makes it easier to read. If it’s too strong, then they don’t need glasses. If it’s not strong enough, keep going up until we find their perfect number. Then they can pick out the frames they like and that’s all there is to it! They leave with a new pair of reading glasses free of charge.

ICA buys the glasses from dollar stores so they’re an affordable, helpful way to bless someone in need. I have no idea how many pairs of reading glasses we gave out on this mission, but a few folks’ smiles stay with me.

One woman only had sight in one eye and that eye was strained. Keeping her only seeing eye is imperative to her quality of life and independence. She owned a pair of glasses, but they were the old, were the wrong strength and were pretty much useless. She was THRILLED to have a new, correct pair. Her smile said it all!

One man, in his late 40’s, never spoke a word. Bruce and I helped him together as we tried pair after pair. We knew we found the perfect ones for him when he did one thing – he gave two thumbs up, way up! His enthusiasm was contagious.

Another man showed up hours early because he was going to be at work when we opened the reading glasses clinic. We were more than happy to fit him with new specs, just in time for his shift. Yay!

Missions is God’s time, not ours. It’s not volunteer tourism – though that in itself is a great thing. Our daughter volunteered in Costa Rica to rehabilitate injured animals for eight weeks. Amazing work!!! We are huge fans!!

Mission work for God is surrendering oneself to the cause of Christ however needed; easy or hard, in our comfort zone or way outside of it, it’s all good. Even a simple conversation can be life-changing, both for us and those we serve. That’s a different blog post. 😉

There is nothing more rewarding than to be a vessel to help heal hearts while meeting tangible needs. This assignment was to give away as many reading glasses as possible. I loved every minute of it and hope to do it again and again.

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One of my favorite quotes is from Schoolhouse Rocks, “Knowledge is power!” The more people can easily read, the more information they will have that can change their lives and others’ in countless ways. This was one of those tasks that you walk away from knowing it will have a lasting effect and that feels GREAT!!!

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Below are photos of some of the recipients. I never grew tired of seeing people walk in with curiosity and leave with new reading glasses and big smiles. We can’t wait to do it again! See below how you can get involved.

Wow! These folks are rockin’ their new specs!!! 🙂

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If you’re inspired to help, there are two easy ways. You can donate to ICA as they continue to ship reading glasses, clothes, shoes, Christian books and cds, and a non-denominational bible study to Guyana on a regular basis. The Guyanese team with this ministry directly receives it, no middle man. They also organize food distribution to those in need all over the country of Guyana. Everything given away is a gift of the ministry with no cost to the recipients.

Another way to help is to choose International Celebration Association as a charity that receives a portion of your Amazon orders. There is no cost to you as Amazon donates a portion of your order. Simply to go AmazonSmile to find out more.

(Disclosure: Bruce and I are volunteers with this ministry and do not receive any compensation of any kind for our time or service. We serve in a volunteer role and do not work in any official capacity for this non-profit.)

 

 

 

 

Tyrique: Guyana Part 1

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We were serving a village deep in the jungle. It was our fourth mission to Guyana and Bruce and I were thrilled to back. However, this was our first time in the jungle. We came by ourselves from America, representing this ministry, and partnered with three of the ministry’s Guyanese team for this mission.

We were guests in a small, wooden, hand-built church where we worked and slept. It was nestled between the dirt road before us, the river they call “black water” behind us, and the warm spring sun above us.

It had been a couple of hours since we climbed out from under the mosquito net and began another day in the “interior” (locally known as the jungle).

Our team lead, Jai, was cooking lunch while we fitted folks for reading glasses as part of our ministry when a man with a long, desperate face walked into the church through the back doors propped open for ventilation. His eyes were swollen and glassy. His clothes disheveled. His countenance down and body utterly depleted.

We will call him Tyrique for privacy. He came for prayer.

The service we planned to hold did not start for several hours, but his body raged with malaria and spiked a high fever, nausea and joints screaming in pain.

Bruce, Wayne and I gathered around his body slumped on the wooden bench, one arm slung over the back holding him up. I stood next to him, and for a moment we caught eyes. His eyes were bloodshot and tired. As he wearily looked up at me, they pierced my soul and told me he wasn’t only struggling with malaria.

Bruce gently placed his hand on Tyrique’s back. Wayne clasped his hands together in reverence, and I rested my hand on Bruce’s back, agreeing in prayer.

The prayer was simple and to the point. We asked God to heal his body and for relief from the symptoms of the illness.

Tyrique softly muttered, thank you, and slowed peeled himself off the bench. A young guy, he walked hunched over in pain and weakness like an old man. Slowly, he shuffled through the doors and down the steps of the little church built on stilts.

He disappeared into the bright sunlight, and I left him in the Lord’s hands and went back to the people waiting for reading glasses.

Hours later, our evening service began. Music played and I could feel the thin boards beneath me rumble with vibrations of enthusiastic kids and adults singing to the worship.

I was alone at the back of the church photographing the service because one of my primary assignments of going on this mission was to photograph and videography the jungle part of this ministry.

Behind me in the dark night air, I heard a horrific screeching howl and chills ran down my spine. I thought it was a child. I quickly turned around to see one of the feral dogs who had been sitting on the steps of the church being attacked by a much larger feral dog. It was awful. Bruce ran past me and chased them off. My heart raced as they reminded me, I was in their element; a guest of the jungle.

Focusing back on the task at hand, photography, I caught a glimpse of someone on the back row through my lens. I lowered the camera and took a closer look.

It was Tyrique!

He wore the same dirty white undershirt and black jeans. His dreads were wrapped in black cloth. Something about him was different, but I couldn’t figure it out. He was standing for one thing. He clapped his hands to the beat of the worship music as his body swayed back and forth.

I thought to myself, “Wow! He looks totally different from this afternoon.”

His body had strength again. He participated in the worship. His face was no longer drawn and depressed.

And just like that, my job as photographer turned to speaker as Jai opened in prayer and I stepped up to the mic to give my testimony. I’ve had the privilege of sharing my story all over the world. Each time, God gives me the pieces of it to share for that particular audience. This night was no different.

Before speaking, I always pray that God will put his words in my mouth for that moment. Indeed, He did. God pulled out parts of my story that were right for these folks. As I spoke, I gazed into the faces looking back at me. No one even blinked. They sat silent, captured in the moment. I knew God was doing something.

I caught eyes with Tyrique more than once. His body leaned to the left, so he had an unobstructed view from the person sitting in front of him. He stared at me the entire time I spoke. This time his eyes gave a different message. They looked like my dry plants at home in that, when I remember to water them, their dehydrated soil soaks up the water faster than I can pour it.

His eyes absorbed every word. I knew for a fact God was doing something in Tyrique’s heart.

The service continued and then we concluded and said warm goodnights to everyone and the little church on stilts was once again quiet.

Bruce and I pulled out our air mattress and mosquito net while the Guyanese team hung their hammocks for another day’s job done.

The next morning, while packing up to leave for another village, Tyrique came back. He told the team that the day before, when he came for prayer, he was completely healed! He said that on his way home after praying with us his fever broke and malaria symptoms simply vanished.

He. Was. Healed.

God’s healing he experienced was why he came back for the service that evening. And what happened at the service was why he came back the next day.

Turns out, Tyrique is a drug dealer, and at the end of the service he prayed to accept Christ.

He came back the next day for counseling and sat with Jai, Bruce and Wayne for a while.

He has amazing potential for change and we are thrilled to know a local pastor will follow up with him for discipleship.

God surely had his hand on Tyrique’s heart. He was calling Tyrique and he answered the call.

Just think, if Tyrique had never caught malaria, he would have never wandered into this church for prayer which led to him accepting Christ as his Savior. It’s all about perspective.

This was the first time this ministry has witnessed a healing in its 12 years.

His miracle was water to my thirsty soul. In the excitement of it all, I’m glad I didn’t know what was coming next…

Stay tuned for more posts about our Guyana mission.

If you’d like to know more about the ministry, check out InternationalCelebration.org.

 

 

Mission-heart lag

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When people hear that we’re coming home from a mission trip to Guyana, their response is always the same, “So there’s no time change. That’s great! No jet lag!”

I wish that were true.

It would be far easier to feel the physical effects of jet lag versus the emotional, mental and spiritual effects of mission-heart lag.

This year in particular, I packed my bags with a quivering lip. My hands loaded luggage ready to go. My feet refused to move, longing to stay.

Three airplane rides home were heavy, weighted with quiet moments staring at the floor, out the window at the clouds, or lost in the darkness of my eye mask, trying to block out the world.

Logic says that it should get easier to go on mission trips. I’ve been blessed to be a part of several all over the world. But my heart disagrees. Sure, I’m much more able to handle the sights and smells from a traveler’s perspective, but the stories and circumstances behind those sights and smells haunt me long after the last load of laundry has been washed and put away.

The long-term effects of corrupt politics, poverty, a lack of resources and all forms of abuse grip my heart and won’t let go. Over the years and across continents, I’ve served the perpetrator and the victim; the ill and disabled; those voiceless and powerless; the hard-hearted; the tender and a kaleidoscope of backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, personalities and religions.  So why don’t I just tick the “do good” summer box and move on?

Because these are real people and our real God loves them. They are valuable and matter as much as anyone else in the world and it makes my heart ache to know that there is so much still to do in places where the world has turned a blind eye.  The hurt continues. Abuse continues. Poverty continues. Helpless and hopelessness continue long after luggage has been claimed and the pause button on our lives lifts as we re-enter what we know as normal.

Time change or not, there is definitely a mission-heart lag, as so there should be. If not, the trip was merely an adventure.

Coming home, there are things about here I can’t stand. But there are things about there I can’t stomach.  When I’m here, I want to be there. When I’m there, I know I need to here. With every mission, my heart splits farther in two.

Air-conditioning is wonderful. A hot shower is marvelous. My own pillow and puppy, they’re the best. But so is listening to exotic tree frogs serenade us in the evening on the porch of a home in the middle of a foreign country. Nothing compares to looking into the eyes of a soul who is amazed we went all the way there for them, and then to realize that this God we speak of did so much more by sending His Son for them.

Kr2Our home this evening is still as jazz plays faintly in the background. Everywhere I look there is travel clutter. The exhaustion from a twenty-two hour venture home has numbed the urgency to make all of the mess go away. So to forget it all I schlepped to the grocery store to fill an empty fridge. I found myself drawn to the aisle with some of the ethnic foods we just enjoyed there. I will look for guava in everything for a long time. I’ll make roti bread and cook-up rice with chicken to remember the flavors of mission. But it’s not the same as being there.

I think about those who denied accepting Christ when asked; precious babies sleeping on mamas’ shoulders; the reluctant, mischievous teens in the back row; the mothers (of a different religion) who looked on with both gratefulness that we came, and skepticism toward our motives; and those who were just passing by and stopped in to see what all the hullabaloo was about as we sang with the kids, washed their feet and gave them new shoes.

I can tell you countless awesome stories of those who asked Jesus to be their Savior; men and women, boys and girls who asked for prayer for their families and themselves; and those who traveled a long way just to be a part of the celebration. I thank God and rejoice over each one. But, for those whose story doesn’t include Christ, they are why I continue to go.

Leaving the grocery store this afternoon, the bagger began chatting with me. She asked how my day was going. I responded with a soft, “Fine, thanks,” hoping she’d leave it at that. Then she asked, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Her question was like a tiny hole punctured in a balloon as I felt the last bit of energy deflate. I mustered up a smile and response, “I don’t have any plans. We just got back in town and I’m really tired.”

(Could that be the end of conversation for now, please?)

“Oh yeah, from where?”

(sigh) “Guyana.”

“Cool. Were you there for vacation?”

Wait for it….

“No, it was a mission trip.”

Any other day I’d be ecstatic to talk about all things mission. Today, I just needed milk, dinner and tissues to wipe the tears from my eyes. My response was the Pandora’s box for a delightful, but draining conversation. She was so sweet. It was me who crawled to the car playing all the social cards in my hand.

There’s a lot to unpack and put away strewn about the house, but there is much more to unpack in my heart. The problem is I don’t know where to put it all. The demands of daily life and international mission life have little overlap in this season, sans the insane, and very thankful, amount of fundraising we have to do to afford going. A few pictures on the wall and some local, handmade trinkets on a shelf help to be something my heart can focus on as I move through the day. All of our personal effects still smell like Guyana, just like they smelled of burnt wood when we returned from Africa. The same is true for smells unique to the other countries which now have pieces of our hearts.

At the end of the day, this mission was just a shift, if you will. Helping and encouraging those working in the mission field full-time. We took a shift to go and be salt and light to them and those they serve.

I gave it my all, but feel like it fell far short of what is needed. Jet lag is something that can be slept off. Mission-heart lag can’t be shaken off, nor should it be. I hope and pray the pains of mission never go away, lest I forget the needs and fall into a pleasure coma of the society in which I live.

I am haunted and humbled by what I’ve experienced. Come quickly, Lord. Until then, I’ll keep going wherever You lead.

It was her!

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My friends and I gathered in a small room tucked away known as the Glitz & Glam room, what I affectionately call the Cinderella Room. We hugged and prayed over the night in a quiet moment away from the noise and bustling activities of Joy Prom.

Guests began to arrive not long after we prayed. They were awestruck at the sparkle, mirrors, and colors of the room. Here, a guest can have lip gloss applied and pick out earrings, a necklace, a bracelet, a dressy headband and a ring – all to keep.

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joy prom8The guests’ favorite item in the room? Blinky rings! 🙂

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After they browse the selection, my job is to greet them at the table closest to the exit lined with an army of glitter hairspray. The guests LOVE it!

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A few hours into the night, it felt like a pound of aerosol and glitter was sitting in the bottom of my lungs, and my brain was a little foggy (LOL) but I wouldn’t trade this night for anything.

The room was full as crowds of guests and hosts had a ball getting ready for the ball that awaited them.

I turned around to greet the next guest and there she was.

I knew her!

She is the bagger at my local grocery store. She often greets me in the store’s uniform of khakis and a polo shirt. I’ve seen her donning the store’s bright neon, pedestrian vest to collect carts as well as sweeping the aisles with a huge broom in hand.

Tonight, this was her night. She was Cinderella at the ball.

Her beautiful blonde hair professionally done. Soft pink nails, too. On her wrist was a gorgeous corsage and her dress was fancy and formal. She looked like a princess.

This was her first year attending Joy Prom.

I smiled a HUGE smile and said, “HI! I know you!! Do you know me? We see each other at the grocery store!” My excitement was a little dorky, but I was so incredibly happy to see her I could not contain the joy.

She stared wide-eyed around the room, a little overstimulated from the people, noise and busyness of everything. I asked if she would like glitter hairspray in her hair.

Without a word, she nodded yes.

I guided her to the chair and asked if she would have a seat. Next, I gently placed my hand on her forehead to shield her from the spray and asked her close her eyes real tight as I began spraying the glitter hairspray.

In an instant, her beautiful blonde hair now shimmered with golden highlights.

She looked in the mirror and smiled. She never spoke, but I could tell she was amazed at the night’s magical feel. This night was about her. She seemed so humbled as though she’s never had so much fanfare on her behalf.

For me, I loved seeing same guests that I’ve come to recognize over the years. It was also a hugely fantastic moment to share a short conversation in sign language (something I don’t get to use much on a daily basis) with a guest who is deaf. I loved soaking in the laughter, squeals of delight and even some strutting from our special guests who knew that looked that good.

Serving with my family and girlfriends is deeply rewarding and fun. Watching my teens serve warms this mama’s heart that we are raising them in the way they should go when they are on their own. Being the hands and feet of Christ to our community is life-changing.

But the best moment of the night was having the opportunity to serve the young woman at Joy Prom who so faithfully serves me at the grocery store every week. It was a personal moment for me to say Thank you, by way of simple glitter hairspray. I choked back a lump in my throat as I had not anticipated getting to serve someone who works hard for me bagging my groceries while making pleasant conversation. I cherished our role reversal.

I am so grateful God connected our paths at Joy Prom. I had the privilege of watching her be blessed back and honored as our special guest, as well as see her as who she truly, beautifully is – the beloved daughter of our Good Father.

Take away our uniforms, hats of responsibility we wear, job titles, community titles, how others see us and how we see ourselves, and when God looks at us I believe He sees in us the masterpiece He created us to be – uniquely made by the Creator for the display of His splendor. ❤

Isaiah 61:3, They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

 

 

 

 

The Photo Challenge

Years ago, I was asked by my friend, Robin, to be part of a challenge and post a photo of myself that I thought was beautiful. I literally cringed when I read the request and told her I hate having my photo taken. She said that’s WHY she wanted to include me in the challenge. She was curious as to my response.
 
Robin, I’ve never forgotten. It’s taken me these past years to decide how to respond. I’ve finally got my answer.
 
This is the photo I chose. I know. It misses the point of the challenge. I saw others’ photos and they were truly beautiful. I understand I was supposed to find a photo that I felt was flattering or that I simply feel represents me well. I may have missed the first goal, but the second hopefully one nails it.
 
* This photo is of my wrist. A wrist with a bone chip floating around in it from a fall 6 years ago that has had flare ups since the accident. It represents that I am broken.
 
* The sun damage represents I am scarred. My life hasn’t been easy, but it has never been forsaken by God and for that, the intangible scars I have are being used for His glory and my good.
 
* The bead bracelet is the one we made and wore in Guyana last year and I’ve never ever taken it off since. We wore them to communities, churches and prisons to share the Gospel story of Christ told in colors as we tied them on wrists to all we met. Black = our sin, life without Christ. Red = His blood shed for the atonement of my sins. White = my new life in Christ by accepting Him as my Savior. Yellow = the promise of heaven for all who have accepted Christ and Green = our growing relationship with Christ every day.
 
* My $10 watch because #1 – I don’t store up treasures on earth that we can’t take with us and #2 – time is short. This life is not my own. I surrendered it to Christ and it is for God’s glory however He wants to use it. Time is short and I don’t waste it.
 
* More than anything, I don’t need my face (or my body, oh please!) to be remembered. I want His features, the fruit of the Spirit, to be remembered in me.
 
I didn’t post a photo of “me” because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is also fleeting. As I age (which I will fight to the death) I want to become more beautiful in ways that time, age and experience cannot damage or destroy. I want to be a woman that, no matter what I look like, will be remembered for being beautiful because the light of Christ shone through me. And every time I blow it (embarrassingly often :O), let it be a beacon of hope to others that His grace and forgiveness is bigger and can cover any sin.
There ya go. A photo of broken & beautiful. Of scared and sacred. Of hope for today and for a time still to come and a passion to share this hope with others. ❤
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Making a local, global and eternal difference

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Twenty-five years ago, God told my husband, Bruce, and me His vision for our marriage in the most unexpected, nearly unbelievable, way. To skip to the spoiler, His message was that our marriage is to be an extension of His open hand.

Huh? Not sure what that meant.

In the last two and a half decades, we both graduated from college, celebrated weddings, retirements, births & baby dedications, buried loved ones, moved, changed jobs, honored anniversaries, graduated our firstborn from high school and sent him off to college (with two more teens right behind him), endured surgeries and illness, learned a lot of lessons and made a million memories along the way.

We did not understand what God meant all those years ago about being an extension of His open hand as we just did our best at living life.

We were cruising along to the rhythm of the American dream of the house with a picket fence, kids running barefoot on the lawn with the family dog, and saving for retirement while planning the next annual vacation.

Then, five summers ago God rocked our world through several very significant moments placing us at life-changing crossroads.

He was totally setting us up for a one-way ticket from a life and future we worked hard for to a life He had planned for us since before the beginning of time.

Cut to the chase again, and we found ourselves on our first mission trip (and first trip out of the country sans the Bahamas for our honeymoon) with our 10, 12, and 14 year old children in tow.

Are you kidding me? Bring our children? This mama bear was hyper-vigilant, anxiety-ridden, and fear-filled about doing this at all, much less as a family, much less to Africa. I felt utterly unequipped to handle being a chaperon with school to the local museum (stressful!) to taking my kids so far out of our comfort zone I can’t even describe the angst that churned inside me. Our trip leader stills says that he really didn’t think I’d actually get on the plane.

But I did! We did! And, our family has never been the same.

God blew our hearts away with a bursting love for this world in a way we could never conceive. He took us to four more countries around the world over the past four summers on mission, and we have never been so in love with a world He so loves.

This love continues to multiple in our hearts every single day as we laugh with, cry over and pray for those from every walk of life around the world who we now consider family.

Fast forward to this past December 29th. Bruce went in for simple shoulder surgery, which proved to be anything but.

After a full tear was reattached and repaired, he had some serious, and extremely painful, recovery waiting for him.

Four months into recovery, after not having been able to return to work due to the pain, he was unexpectedly laid off. We felt like we were kicked when we were down.

However, God reminded us of a conversation Bruce and I had a year ago. Bruce said to me, “I’ll be honest. I’m never going to have the courage to leave this job. It’s too stable.” To which I replied, “Since we’re being candid, I’ll never have the courage to tell you to jump. It’s too stable of a job. The most stable company you’ve ever worked for.”

Bruce then said, “If God ever wants us to make a change, He’s going to have to take this job from me.”

So when he came to me on a regular ol’ Tuesday morning, after almost nine years with the company, and sat down at our son’s desk and looked at me, I should not have been surprised when he said, “Well, God took it.”

We both knew exactly what he meant.

Ever since then, Bruce has looked for work.

Nothing.

He told me in the beginning of his job search there is nothing for him in this city.

Then came an interest in him, but it involved relocating. I’ll save that story for a blog post, but here we are. No relocating. No more job prospects.

All the while, he was meeting weekly with a dear friend in albeit a different kind of work situation, the end result was the same – unemployed.

They began meeting as encouragement to each other over coffee.

Like a good pot of coffee, their hearts began to percolate an idea that brought both of their long-term visions into one plan.

NEED POINT, Inc. was born.

Nothing quite like this exists in America, much less the world. As God has brought people across their path over the past few months, something beautiful began to take shape. Something neither of them could have ever imagined.

NEED POINT combines our team’s passions for both global and local missions in new and innovative ways that meets individual needs on a community level.

NEED POINT is a non-profit that connects people in need with people in local churches and faith-based businesses to help meet their needs. From needing lawns mowed, to helping with medical bills, to befriending the lonely and beyond, NEED POINT is the liaison to match the person in need with someone who can help meet it.

The vision is to expand this blueprint to local communities all over the world!

Curious as to how this all works? CLICK HERE to visit the website.

This grassroots movement is swelling as folks get excited about how they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Our team is stoked about this opportunity and trusting God for every step of the way.

Between global missions and NEED POINT, Bruce and I are beginning to understand what God meant by our marriage being an extension of His open hand. We only wish I didn’t take twenty years to get there. But, better late than never, right?! 🙂

We would LOVE to have you join us in the journey. Check out NeedPoint.org and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/needpoint. Let’s get going!