Saturday, June 27, 2015

There is beauty here.

The fan hums loudly above us and a constant breeze courses through the outpatient room.
Papers rustle with the invisible motion, but the work of holding and pinning them down is well worth the effort.
It's hot here, yet not as hot as it usually is during this time of year. Everyone says it's because God knew I was coming and wanted to give me a break, so He cooled it down. If that's the case, I owe many thanks to the Big Man.

The outpatient room

It's hard to write an update, or to tell you what I've seen and done.
It seems impossible to put into words the immeasurable joy and gut-wrenching heartache that I've found in this place.
It's hard to know what should or shouldn't be shared, what's private and what's not.
It's easier to write about the weather or the Bay of Bengal, because I don't know where to begin or what words to use for anything else.

I wrote a post after my first day, but I deleted it shortly after posting it for sensitivity's sake.
Not for my sensitivity, or for the people's here, but for yours.

Long story short, within ten minutes of the first day I blacked out. Like, "couldn't-see-a-thing-someone-catch-me-cause-I-think-I'm-going-down-where's-the-cold-water" type of blacking out.
The sights and smells of stage four ulcers, pussing and attracting flies, on limbs that were attached to kind, beautiful, smiling women was a dichotomy that my horribly jet lagged brain could not compute.

It's funny how quickly you adjust, no?
On day one I could hardly look at the ulcers and a few days later I was scrubbing in on a surgery where a man's ulcer debridement went all the way through his foot. He had partial feeling in his foot and was writhing on the table until he was given a local anesthetic about half way through.

A  few days after that, a mother brought her child in and gave the doctors quite a shock when they saw the girl's baseball-sized abscess growing on her jaw and neck. The mother refused to go anywhere but to this hospital. Though they are not equipped to handle the surgery, one of the doctors took the case, knowing the alternative of letting her leave could be deadly. He was able to open and drain the abscess successfully, but the cultures aren't back yet, and the painful process of healing is only in the beginning stages. Never have I heard a little girl scream like she does when they go in to check and change her dressing, and never do I want to again. While her bandages were being changed, I played for 20 minutes on the steps outside with her sister. We both pretended like we didn't hear the cries, and enjoyed the rousing games of peekaboo and lets-run-up-the-steps-8000-times.
Who needs toys when you have two dozen concrete stairs? Am I right?

I've been in on one HIV cesarean, in which I wore four gowns, surgical flip flops (not even joking), two "sterile" trash bags around my feet/legs, a mask, goggles, and gloves (a rare commodity around here)...all in a little operating room, with about 6 people, in 90+ degree weather.
I've seen more leper's ulcers than I can count, and scrubbed in on nine debridement surgeries, which kind of all ran together into one two and half hour, rolling surgery (same instruments, cleaned in boiling water between patients :) ).
I've seen a woman weep as she found out that she had leprosy, and another stare off in the distance blankly as she found out she had HIV.
I've seen fourteen-year-old mothers, and mothers who have no interest in their children.
I've seen herpes zoster and a handful of cases of vitiligo.
I've seen a six week old baby weighing only a little over 2 kilos,
and so, so much more.

But, let me tell you, those are just the medical things. If we only focused there, this would all look really grim.

I've also seen the hope of healing,
the stunning beauty of a toothless, old-lady smile,
the unmatched joy of simplicity,
the promise of redemption in every man and woman marked by the Hindu religion,
the laughter and happiness of dozens of children when the crazy-white-lady decides she wants to play with them,
and the Father heart of God for his orphaned sons and daughters, for all of us, really.

I've seen the patient steadfastness of friendship as two boys rotate to sit day in and day out by their friend's side as he lay in the hospital bed, and we all pray to God that he'll send a miracle.

I've breathed in the fresh breath of simplicity, of taking breaks, of grilling in the dirt near the beach, of eating with your hands at every meal, of bananas-lots and lots of bananas, of mangos (oh man, the mangos!!), of playing and visiting, of conversations that are worth their weight in gold, of helping to rework distorted mindsets, of falling asleep at 7:30, of genuine joy, and of actually having time to read.
                                       ^^ Isn't this how everyone grills? 


In between outpatients, Dr. Annie is teaching me Telugu & everyone thinks it's hilarious. We pieced together our scrap pages, ripped off the cover of a prescription pad, and made a nice book. If all goes well, it should hit stores in the Fall of 2015.

God is so good here,
and he's so good where you are too.

Sometimes you just have to look past the ulcers and you'll see the smiling face.
Sometimes you have to look past the hurt and suffering and you'll see Jesus in the midst of it all.
Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to seek out and find beauty, and sometimes it finds you, but it's always there...He's always there.

I pray that you'd be drawn to worship, no matter what the circumstances around you look like right now. It may be ugly, but he's there, and with him is a host of angels bringing an abundance of good, joy, and beauty.
Don't wait for your earthly eyes to see the beauty. Just worship in the midst of the ugliness, and your heavenly eyes will be opened to the things hidden. If leprosy can beget beauty, than so can anything you're up against, I promise.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!!"
-John 1:5

"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!"
-1 Chronicles 16:34

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Welcome to India

Just in case you thought this stuff might be glamorous, let me recap the last roughly 72 hours for you:
I have done a lot of flying. In that flying, I have gotten nauseous from the altitude and turbulence, been slept on by a man from Bali, listened to two screaming babies, and watched the first five minutes of two films.

Not only was I the only, and I do mean only, white woman traveling on any of my aircrafts, I was also the only woman traveling alone. That got me some strange looks. In one of the terminals, a man across from me locked eyes with me, and then started waving and gesturing while angrily talking to his wife. Thank you Jesus, that I did not speak his language. I smiled and stared him down until he clearly felt uncomfortable and stopped.

I have accidentally paid eight dollars for a cup of airport coffee.

I’ve been detained by Indian customs and “questioned” by four different custom officials. I swear  to you, I thought I was coming home then. They asked every question except for "Are you a Christian?" I prepared in my heart not to lie if that question was asked, for I am no Peter. I still have no clue why they let me go. My answers were awful. Seriously, straight up awful. 

I have spent nine hours delayed at a terminal in Hyderabad because of flooding in Rajahmundry.It is here that I met another American who has travelled to over 15 countries in the last six years, sponsors 20-some children in India, makes several hundred thousand a year working for a Saudi oil company, and is looking for medical personnel to help him start a compound with a school, medical facility, orphanage, and more…. Our flight delay was spent talking, mostly as I listened to him dream and talk about the importance of having purpose. Funny how those people just “coincidentally” happen upon your path, no?

I have burned my esophagus with the spiciest food on the planet, offered to me as a complimentary meal for my flight delay.

I have taken a two-hour car ride through India with Miriam, the most personable woman I know. Bless my soul, that car ride….

I have seen seven men peeing on the side of the road & one woman with her skirt around her knees. Heaven help me, I have no idea why.

Even though my hair was a greasy mess, I stunk, and I looked like death-warmed over, I was showered with flowers and welcomed like royalty to a beautiful guesthouse in the middle of the slums.

I have slept on and off for over 12 hours and been awaken by some strange Indian music that blared throughout the town from 5:00 to 6:00 AM. I have since learned that it was worship. Why people were worshipping at 5:00 AM, while it was still dark out, I have yet to understand.

I have showered in the most freezing water known to man before realizing that you can only use one handle at a time, and that the hot water doesn’t work when the cold water is on. I promptly turned the cold water off and was then greeted with the most scalding water known to man. Cold showers it is.

The power has shut off twice. Apparently there are power outages for about 8 hours each day. Good times!

I have blown my phone charger, because us white people don't remember that you need both a converter and an adapter for the voltage differences. 

I have met the kindest and sweetest Dr. Annie and her mother (still unsure of her name….everyone just refers to her as Annie’s mother?) Her first question to me was, “What do you need to do for your studies?”
When I told her that this wasn’t a part of my studies she said,
“Well then why did you come? How did you hear about us?”
I explained very briefly the process of me coming and she said, “Oh you are very kind. Everyone is so afraid. We never get visitors! They are afraid of infection, but by God’s grace it is very good here.”

This morning we went to church. As we walked in, every head turned and gawked at the white woman in a skirt. Dr. Annie sat me in the front row, and everyone stared.
Then when the service- or was it worship?- began, the women all covered there heads. Me? No. I had forgotten to bring a headscarf. Oy.
I swear, I understood not one. single. word. of that sermon, or of the worship. I prayed so hard that it would be like they were speaking in tongues, and I would have the gift of interpretation. Real Pentecostal stuff, ya know?
It did not work.
They walked the offering bag around, and everyone, including the children, had something to put in it. Me? Nope. I had not brought my purse. Nor do I know the conversion rate, yet. With my luck, I would have put 200 dollars in and not realized it.

We walked back to the guesthouse & everyone gathered in rows as we walked through. I just wanted to hang out with them and play with the children, but I already sensed the divide that exists in their minds. We are sick. We are untouchable.
Today I’ll let it slide, as I’m still getting used to everything, but get ready my Indian friends, because you are touchable to Jesus and you are touchable me.

And now I sit writing. A breeze is blowing. There’s a cow (or maybe it’s a bison...or was it a buffalo?) off to my right next to a huge mound of straw that I see absolutely no purpose for.
Today we will have a day of rest, which is wonderful, because, lets be honest, I feel a little bit like I’ve been hit by a bus and don’t know which way is up, but tomorrow we will begin work (I still have no idea what work I’ll be doing…) at 7:30AM.

It’s going well, folks. It’s going well.

Welcome to India!
Clearly, I have no idea what I'm doing and while it’s not glamorous, I’m enjoying every single minute. I swear, a part of me that was dead has come alive. Jesus is good like that. 

Like Dr. Annie said, “It is very good here.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

the safest place...

"What are you doing with your summer?"
"I'm going to India to volunteer in a leprosy clinic and HIV/AIDS hospital."
Blank stare, shifty eyes, uncomfortable laughter.
"Oh, well...uh... good for you! Somebody's got to do it, right?"

As I prepare to board a bus that will take me to my first of three flights, I am overcome with the love and support that so many have showered me with for this journey. Yesterday alone, I talked on the phone with eight different people, five of which prayed with me and, all of whom encouraged me relentlessly.
Another handful of people have supported me financially.
Dozens and dozens of people have talked with me, prayed with me, and given me such courage over this last month.

And, yet, for every one that encourages and supports, there seems to be another with stifled fear and hesitation. Often, they're the same person: an encourager and closet-worrier in one.
So many have asked, "What if you get leprosy?"
"What if you get HIV/AIDS?"
"Isn't there, like, a terrible rape culture there?"
"You're traveling by yourself? A long layover at an Arabic airport? Better cover up!"
"What if you miss a connecting flight?"
"What if your suitcase gets lost?"
"Isn't it filthy there? You better carry lots of hand sanitizer."
"You're not taking anti-malarial meds? What if you get malaria?"
"You're so pale and light-haired. That's the worst. You'll be a magnet for creepy men!"
"Are you scared?"

No, I am not scared.
I am not worried.
I don't fear malaria, or leprosy.
I'm not afraid of getting HIV/AIDS or of being abused.
I'm not fretting over the filth, the masses of people, the culture shock, or the "creepy" men.
I am not scared. 

Partly because I have been educated, and have learned how little I really have to fear.
For every "creepy" man in India that objectifies and stares, there is a kind and respectful one who resents the image that those men set for his country.
In order to acquire HIV/AIDS, I would have to get an infected person's blood into my blood stream or have sexual contact with them. The chances of any other bodily fluids being enough to afflict me with HIV/AIDS are slim to none.
Leprosy, while an ugly disease, is now completely curable, and is only transmitted through "close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated leprosy."
Malaria is often acquired by Indian's multiple times a year. It is easily treated, if caught early, and a treatment costs about five bucks, with far less side-effects than the expensive preventative prescriptions.

Education breeds understanding, and in understanding, fear lessens. 

But, even still, I should fear, right?
I mean, flights, and car rides, culture shock, and scary things.
Here's the truth that I've discovered,

The safest place I could ever be is close to the heart of the Father and abiding in His will for me. 
He is love on steroids, my friends, and in love there is no fear. 

I gave my life to Him.
I said call and I will follow.
I said use me, for I am yours.
What a hypocrite I'd be if I backed out in the face of uncertainty?

And even if I could,  I don't want to back out.
I don't want to back out, even though I'll miss spending time with family that I haven't seen in years.
I don't want to back out, even though I'll miss the birth of my second nephew.
I don't want to back out, even though I won't see my friends, family, or boyfriend for two months.
I don't want to because He's worth it.
Worth every. single. bit.

The truth is:
I don't have a certain gene that makes me operate differently.
I'm not "called" to the missionary life.
Culture changes are no easier for me than they are for you.
I won't just magically adjust once I get there, and I definitely won't be smiley and happy every step of the way.
I simply fell in love with the Father & this is what He's asking.
You, too, can do this. You, too, can go where God is asking. You, too, can conquer fear by getting close to the Father's heart. You, too, can make people stare at you awkwardly when you tell them your plans in life. You, too, can be different and full of faith.

In perfect love, there is no fear & his love is oh-so-perfect and sweet, I promise.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

I do hard things.

So far this year has been characterized by one word: obedience.

When you cry out to the Father in desperation for more of Him,
when you vow that you want whatever He has at any cost,
when you say, "I'm yours. You can have me,"
when you pledge your obedience and faithfulness,
when you lay your life down,
when you hand him a blank check,
He hears. He sees. He knows.

But, God is a god of process.
He loves the journey.
Because it's in the journey that we are made; that's where we begin to know him, and our hearts become like his.

So, you might not see the plan right away.
If you're me, you might take a leap of faith, and then spend three years praying that same prayer: I'm yours. You can have me. Call me and I'll follow.

But, during those three years he'll be shaping you, molding you, presenting you with little moments to be faithful and obedient. He'll be teaching you, and preparing you, breaking down walls and building you new again. But, most of all he'll be proving himself worthy of your trust and affection. He'll be revealing his Father heart to you, and wooing you with his furious love.

Before the calling, comes the knowing Him, 
because He's far more concerned with your heart, than what you can do for Him.

So, he'll shape you and draw you close, and then all of a sudden, he'll ask you a few hard questions: Did you really mean what you said? Is your life really mine? Will you really get out of the boat? Do you really want all that I have for you?

And if you've come to know him at all, you'll answer the same way I did with a resounding: "YES! Whatever the cost, I am yours. "

And then things get real:

"What about your health, Lauren? Are you willing to lay down time and energy to take better care of yourself? I think you should start training for a half-marathon trail run."
A daily commitment to running for hours on end? I. Hate. Running. Who does he think I am? What good will that do? 
My yes got a little smaller, "Yes, God. I don't see the point, and I hate running, but I'll do it."

"What about your singleness, Lauren? Can I have that? I know how much you treasure it, but I've got something better."
Shoot. Right to the thing I hold most dear. 
My yes got smaller still, "Yes, God. I know you have only good in mind for me. You'll have to do a miracle in my heart, but I'll trust you even with that."

"And finally, what about your summer plans and all your money? People might oppose it and won't understand, but I want you to go to India by yourself to volunteer in a hospital and leprosy clinic."
Oy. God, these things are hard. 
My yes was soft and quiet, "Yes, God."

The majority of people will tuck tail and run in the face of hard things,
but I'm learning that it's in the midst of those things that our greatest and sweetest rewards can be found.

It's in the running of miles upon miles that I've learned about commitment, and how to stick with something when I'm tired, hurt, or burnt out. I've broken through mental barriers that held me back from so many things, learned invaluable life lessons, and realized who my greatest encouragers in life are.

It's in the dating of an incredible man that I've learned to conquer roughly 10,000 fears. In this I've been sanctified, challenged, humbled, and have come to know God more fully than before. I have had more fun, more laughs, more experiences, more joy, and more goodness because of our choice to pursue relationship in admiration of each other and obedience to the Lord.

And it's in the saying yes to a summer overseas, even when my bank account, practical mind, and all logic scream, "No!", that I've already learned about the Lord's provision, my misguided poverty mindset, and once again, who my biggest encouragers in life are.

There are gems hidden in hard places, and when we get out of the boat in obedience, he'll lead us straight to them.
But, first we have to know Him, because we'll never get out of the boat if we don't.
Once you know Him you'll realize that the boat is boring, not as safe as it appears,  and pales in comparison to the exciting life of walking on water, chasing after more of Him.

No matter the cost-pride, image, money, reputation, people, things, jobs, plans, homes, or, the big one for me, dignity-it will be hard, but saying yes to Jesus is such a joy, so freeing, and so. so. worth. it.

Stay tuned for updates from India!

P.S. If you accidentally stumbled on this blog in search of Havilah Cunnington's bible study called I Do Hard Things, you can find it here. It looks great. 

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