Monday, June 24, 2013

When things don't make sense

Last week, I was headed to work like any other normal day. It was a sunny day, and I was enjoying my coffee, listening to music, and just enjoying the beauty of the morning. I stopped at a gas station for gum because who wants to talk to someone with coffee breath, right?

As I pulled in the parking lot, I noticed him. He was old, dirty, unkempt, frail looking. He was walking without much purpose across the parking lot, unnoticed by those gassing up their cars or hurrying in and out for their morning dose of caffeine. As I got out of my car, he stumbled and fell, and I rushed to help him up. One other lady met me at his side. I reached down to touch him, and there was no response at all. I thought he had knocked himself unconscious and "nurse Holly" took over.

But he wasn't unconscious. He was dead.

I did CPR as the staff from the gas station called 911 and the lady kept others away, not allowing this to become a spectacle. As I did chest compressions to pump blood to his brain, the gas station attendant said "He walks here all the time, but I don't know his name". He had no wallet, no identification of any kind.There was no one to contact to come and be with him, no way of knowing what his medical history was. He was utterly alone.

EMS arrived with an AED machine to shock his heart, but there was still no response. They took him away wthout many words at all except to ask how long I had done CPR. I later learned that a "John Doe" had been pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

And so it set in...that feeling of "You should have done more, Holly" and "If only you'd been there a few minutes earlier", and "You're not that great of a nurse after all, are you?". Before you go telling me the opposite, please hear this: I know I did all that I could. I simply wish that I could have done more for him. I wanted to save him.

But really, I wish so much more than that for him. I wish he had not been alone. I wish I had known his name to call out to him, instead of just "sir, sir!". I wish that I had known if he had a family, maybe kids somewhere who need to know that he is not here anymore. I was angry that the staff there knew that he walked through the parking lot several times a week, yet not one person knew his name. No one stopped to ask his story. No one cared enough to get involved in his life.

That's not okay. It's not okay that people walk by us every day of our lives, and we turn a blind eye to them. It's not okay that people are in need all around us, lonely, afraid, worried, sad, whatever- and we just let them walk on by. It's not okay that this man didn't have anyone to hold his hand that knew him. It's not okay that he died as "John Doe".

None of this makes sense to me. I know it doesn't have to; I'm not that important that it should be made known to me. But still... I want it to make sense. I want all of life to make sense. I want it all measured out in perfect little pieces, arranged in neat little rows. But it doesn't happen that way, does it? And yet, I still love this life. In all of its uncertainty and unknowns, I love this life I've been given. I want to make the most of each day, and really, that involves not letting people walk past me without really seeing them. I want to grab each day by the horns and really live it, not just be a spectator watching others live. I want to celebrate each breath I'm given because I'm not guaranteed another.

And when my time on earth is done, I want to leave a legacy. I want my name to mean something. I want my children to say that I loved them fiercely, and poured the love of Jesus into them. I want my husband to be able to say that I was an encourager, his biggest fan in life, his best friend, his love. I want my friends to say that I knew them well, that I loved them even better. I want my God to say "well done, good and faithful servant".

Life doesn't always make sense, and I guess that's okay. I trust that I don't have to have it all together to make it count. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ethiopia 2013

We've been planning this trip for a year. The dates were set in stone at least six months ago. Funds have come pouring in since December, enough to pay for the installation of three water systems plus some. Everything seemed to be going just perfect, and I was sure that we had it all under control. 

That was my first mistake: thinking that I had it under control. It's not mine to have under control. 

Our first flight out of Louisville was delayed by 7 hours, making it impossible to make our next flight to Frankfurt Germany. We were told that we'd be re-routed through London instead, allowing us to arrive in Ethiopia just a few hours later than originally planned. No worries. We were even promised business class the whole way!  When we arrived in Newark, however, we were told that the London flight was not possible, and we were placed back on a flight through Frankfurt the following day. Our luggage had been stopped in Newark already, and we went to retrieve it but were told it was being re-ticketed already for our new flight. 

We arrived in Addis Ababa on a Saturday night, 24 hours later than planned, tired from a grueling 48 hours of travel, but still excited to do the work God placed on our hearts. We got through the visa line and exchanged money with no problem. We walked to the baggage claim area and waited for the carousel to begin to move. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. 

No luggage. 

Ethiopian staff told us that our luggage had indeed made it to Frankfurt, but did not get on the plane to Addis. "It should arrive tomorrow night", we were told. 

It did not.

Two days after arrival we had luggage, but Customs held us up and would not allow us to bring in the water systems. After hours of trying to get them through, we were told to leave and come back the next day. We were already supposed to have been gone to Awassa to set up two systems, and this would delay us  yet another day. To say that I was frustrated is the understatement of the year. I was angry, indignant, sure that God would show Himself and miraculously let us have them. 

The next day, they said "no" again. That story is a whole other blog post for another day. But at that "no", I stopped asking God to give me my way, and just show me Himself. He revealed that He had been doing just that all along, from the very first day that I wore my pink t-shirt and continued to wear it because we had no other luggage. Prior to this trip, God had been dealing with me about the excess in my life- excess food, excess clothing, excess stuff in the house, excess everything. And here I found myself in Ethiopia with no excess at all,  just a pair of jeans and a pink t-shirt. What I found was that the mornings were much simpler because I didn't worry over what I was going to wear. Instead, I found myself with time on my hands and in the Word. hmmm, there's a thought! 

As I rode through the streets of Addis Ababa, I saw person after person wearing clothing that was torn and tattered and did not fit well. But they weren't concerned about that; they were concerned about the person beside them. Men were shaking hands and holding hands. Women were kissing each other on the cheek. Laughter rang throughout the streets. Smiles were everywhere. You see, they didn't have the distraction of what they wore to keep them from really sinking their teeth into life. They value relationships above all else. They love each other well. And so, I began to dive in and really get to know my teammates. And to my surprise, I found that deep abiding friendships can grow overnight, that there are people you can meet and instantly have a connection with that is beyond understanding. I learned that telling our stories grows our relationships even further, and conversations around a breakfast table or in a dark room with no electricity make eternal impressions. 

When our plans changed sometimes more than once in a day, I learned that man's plans are never fool proof, but God is sovereign over all. He has gone ahead of us, straightening the paths before us. Those paths are not always the ones we had highlighted on our GPS, but they are rich in experience and love and fullness and contentment. As I held and prayed over a day-old baby boy named Barnabas who had been dropped off at the government orphanage that very morning, I realized that moment was one that I would never have been able to have had all of our plans gone as we wanted. My heart was full as I stood rocking a 5 day old baby boy, knowing that allowing him human touch was my mission for that moment, not what I had ond my agenda for the day. 
When I stepped out of the van at Hope for the Hopeless and immediately saw LemLem for the first time in a year, I knew that God had given me the gift of an afternoon holding her hand, talking and laughing with her, encouraging her, sharing favorite bible passages together, learning Amharic phrases from her. My heart was full because my plans were thwarted and His plans prevailed. Had those systems gotten through Customs when planned, we would not have had that time. We shared about how to know when God wants you to marry a boy, how to trust God for your future, what the bible says about trusting in His plans (how ironic). I got to see a picture of her mother who had passed away 11 years earlier, and I had the honor of hearing her say, "the bible tells me I can trust God has a plan for my life even though I do not have a family". Yes, my sweet friend. You can trust him, and I can too. 

I had this great idea in my head of what this trip would look like before we came. None of it included LemLem, Gabriel in the Customs office, Aruul from Canada, Barnabas, Martha the sweet baby girl who captured my heart at the orphanage. It didn't include Nina hugging my neck and whispering, "Stay".

Since being home, people have already started to ask, "How was your trip?" I find that hard to answer. From the outside looking in, one might think this trip was wasted money and time. After all, not one water system was set up. There aren't any more Ethiopians drinking clean water today as a result of this trip. But there are babies who were held for a few hours that otherwise may not have experienced human touch that day. There were prayers prayed over sweet little faces, two or three per crib, while we dropped off donations to help provide for them in a small way. There was laughter and bonding with kids who might have otherwise been overlooked for that day. So many things would not have happened had we been installing water systems. I cannot believe that these things were meant to be missed. 

I won't pretend to understand this. To say that I am not at all disappointed that we didn't get to put in the systems would be a bold-faced lie. But I know this: out of all of my trips to Ethiopia thus far, God spoke more clearly and personally to me this time than ever before. I can't explain it; it just is. I'm changed because of my time there. I'm changed because of the hands I held, the faces I kissed, the necks I hugged. I am changed because of the stories of my teammates that are a part of me now. I am changed because God saw fit to speak personally to me. We were chosen for this time, all of us on this trip. And we might get the opportunity to know exactly why things were allowed to work the way they did. We might not, and that is okay too. I trust in the sovereignty of God either way. 

So there it is... how wearing the same pink t-shirt day after day stuck with me. I dare say that I won't ever put it on again without seeing the faces of so many whose lives have changed my own. Thanks be to God.