Some Light, Some Heavy

While in Malawi (a small country in Africa) at an Orphanage for three weeks, I kept a blog. A little background, the Orphanage houses 99 boys and girls providing for them along with giving them the opportunity to have the best education in Africa. This post is a little out of the ordinary, as it shares more from my perspective and a bit less of the story of others. It is important however, that you see where my heart is and the purpose for this blog. It stems from experiences like these that shook me and keep moving me to love the “least” to this day.

24 June 2016

I have had many feelings the last few days. Don’t let that scare you away from reading this post, the feelings are not necessarily emotional as much as they are realizations that shake the soul. There are two contrasts I want to lay before you. Upon leaving my cottage this morning and going down to teach in the dining hall, I watched four small children yelling “Auntie Jamie,” run down a hill after me. I waved at them. There really is nothing in the world that makes someone feel more loved than someone so innocent running into your arms and loving you without you doing anything to deserve it.

I had the privilege to sit in on a devotion with some older girls Tuesday evening. We discussed God’s will for our lives and how He can make anything happen if we have faith. How we always need to pray and seek Him to know what he has planned for us. After the devotion, they asked me question after question about my life. Many times, it is difficult to relate to the children because their world is just so different from mine. The music, the culture, the food. It can be very hard to relate. Once we started discussing our fears though, fears about our safety, our futures, even small things like the fear of being alone and being in the dark (I sleep with the light on in my cottage), we were able to connect and honestly, we laughed quite a bit about how similar we were. Things that made us happy also, the LORD, thinking about Heaven, having friends and those we love to spend time with. These were also things we had in common. More and more I see, we are really not very different after all. 

The children tomorrow have the opportunity to visit their families, if they have families, or distant relatives that are known. It is called Home Visit day. Many of the children are orphans because their parents could not take care of them or their grandparents raised them or something of that sort. There are some, however, that will stay here at the village. Part of me wonders what they must feel. The ones left here are ones that may have been found on the side of the road, in a toilet, or just wandering alone when they were very young. These ones have no known family to visit them.

Another heavy reality that struck me was when we visited the older boys’ house which is separate from all the younger kids. A little girl is staying here for the Home Visit weekend. This little girl has extra needs. She was diagnosed with liver cancer just a little while ago and already 70% of her liver is affected. Chemotherapy is no longer being considered and unless a miracle from God occurs, she will probably not survive to be an adult. Right now, her regimen consists of morphine for the pain and a small pill to unwind her intestines (a side effect of morphine). I am writing in a tone that is informative because, that is what I must do. [this precious girl passed away in August 2016 soon after I left; the funeral is shown above]

But inside, my soul aches about these realities. As you see, some of my feelings are light. But some are very heavy. I realized that I have been very selfish since I have been here and have not taken the time to really take a long look at the things that make me very sad. But these are the people that God loves. It is a lesson to myself and possibly to you. It is easier to focus on the fun times, to laugh. But sometimes, when your soul aches, that is when you know God is truly present. Because these are the people that Christ chose to love while He was here. When children have no families and a child is dying from cancer. All I can do. All you can do is pray. I am praying that He fixes this world, and makes things right. Because right now, things are just so incredibly wrong.

Thank God for the blessings He has given you today. As the children expressed their fears to me, I told to them that Heaven is a greater reward than all the things we fear that might hurt us now. Mostly reminding myself, not just them, of this truth. And one day we will know. One day we will see the purpose behind the brokenness. But right now, all we can do is pray during the sorrow and hold onto the hope we have for Heaven.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” 2 Corinthians 4:17

 

Bags of True Love

A human being living daily in homelessness: “This isn’t where I want to be. I used to be a manager of a company, this is not a permanent place I want to be (she covers her mouth while she speaks). All these people come in here and bless us so much during these difficult times. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Happy belated Valentine’s Day! If you are like me or have ever been in my position, this can feel like a somewhat overrated and lonely holiday. One of my purposes in life (I believe since the day I was born) is to notice and give voice to the invisible, to heal the sick and give hope to the hopeless in any way I can. However, I realize I am not a great orator for change, a Director of a charity, a Doctor or a Pastor. Therefore, this can seem like a lofty calling at times. But where I am in my life at this very moment, I can remind people of their value to God and that, though they may feel like it, they are not alone. I felt a tug to travel to a homeless shelter in Chicago that I feel is doing great things to help, redeem and empower the homeless. I made and printed out lots of invitations for support as well as ordered plenty of gloves and socks since it gets cold in Chicago in the wintertime. Slowly, I began packing up brown paper bags garnished with ribbons and filled with candy, moist towelettes, cough drops and other winter necessities.

162 bags total were packed, which may not seem like much but since I had three weeks to accomplish this along with the help of my faithful family, I believe the effort was not in vain. Bags of Love I called them. Yes, I know it is cheesy. But I figured since it was for Valentine’s Day and I was going to remind some important people that they are loved, Bags of Love suited the initiative quite well.

This blog is not about me however, so I will share with you the story of a lady I met in the shelter. I will call her S. I had been squatting on the floor chatting with another woman that was seated while my parents handed out the Bags of Love. A woman came over to me, she was wearing sunglasses though we were indoors and had long hair that was pulled up in a cloth. She squatted by me to chat. One thing I have learned so far is to hear an impactful part of almost any person’s story, simply ask them about their family. They will have plenty to say, good or bad.

“All three of my brothers died from drug overdose. It’s just me and my sister left in the family. I have twelve grand-children and I’m 64 years old. I went to the hospital a while back with stomach pain and underwent multiple procedures for gall stones. I went into a coma and was in that state for a while, woke up and went back into a coma for three months. They called everyone in, my family and grand kids because they were all going to say goodbye to me. But I woke up. I had to go through lots of therapy and recovery. To learn to walk again. They had tubes in me for so long. But I thank God every day for blessing me, I’m here and He is so good all the time. The ladies here, they may complain and say, ‘Oh, I want what’s in your bag,’ or be looking at someone else and say they want what they have. I am so grateful that you came and thought of us and it is such a blessing to us for people to provide for us even the basic things. Remember this, you are doing God’s work” ~S

God’s work is not something reserved for only great orators for change, Directors of non-profits, Doctors or Pastors. There is work uniquely reserved for each one of us. When you feel lonely, like I do at times, remember there are those who feel just as lonely or possibly more so. I would encourage you to take a step of faith and reach outside of your comfort zone. You have no idea who God will use to change your life, though your goal may have been to change theirs.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10

Rehab and raw realities – Part II

The night my second roommate arrived she was crying hysterically and screaming her mother was forcing her to be here. I did not know she would be my new roommate when she came in. Either way, I felt overwhelming compassion for her. I cried silently in my room the first night. I understood a bit how she was feeling. She, however, was going to be transferred to the 28-day program for drug addicted children after a bit of time in Rehab.

She cried that her mother would not listen to her at all. I cried with her while sitting by her and I gave her a few tissues to dry her eyes. She talked to me. I listened to what she had to say. She needed someone to listen. To be honest, Paula was not a person I would have been willing to associate with as a friend before this experience (to say that absolutely disgusts me because of her inherent importance). She was the opposite of me. A drug addict covered in piercings and tattoos. We talked a lot, Paula and I. We discovered quickly we were not very different. We both desired love and acceptance.

Paula told me many stories. She told me how her family rejected her because of her drug habits and every day in the hospital she would take birth control pills because she was sexually active at 15 years old. She admitted many things to me. The most heart-wrenching thing she told me was when she admitted to me when she was a small child her father molested her. She sobbed telling me this and told me this was why she was so “screwed up.”

I read my Bible every day. She noticed and asked me an interesting question. “Does that really work?” Her question was very vague and yet very precise in its intent. I responded, “Yes, because it’s the only hope I have.” She thought for a moment and inquired, “So you believe in all of that God stuff?” I nodded. “It’s totally changed my life forever.” She then asked me an unexpected question. “Can I read some of it?” I smiled and nodded, amazed by her curiosity. She read a few words and gave it back to me. I asked her what she thought. She responded she did not know. She felt like she was happy with the way she was, not her life, but she was happy with herself.

The second week passed slowly. Paula and I had an amazing time together. We talked and would often giggle so hard we would get in trouble for laughing too loudly and being a disturbance. How often does that occur in Rehab? The day we parted and I was leaving to go home, I promised her I would pray for her. We hugged each other in the bathroom (I was not too keen on the no touching rule) and crying, I told her she would always be my friend. Crying as well, she told me the same. I asked her if she had a Bible at home and she said probably somewhere, just sitting collecting dust. I asked her to try reading it. She told me she would try.

I still pray for Paula and Marsha, not as often since then but occasionally. It has been almost ten years since I went to Rehab. I learned some important lessons from the experience: No person is what they seem on the exterior. Great friendships can blossom in the most unlikely of places. There was a purpose for this experience and a purpose for me in this situation. There is always a story. A stream can be found in the desert. Hope in the midst of complete hopelessness. Some people require more digging than others to discover where they find their identity and purpose. Love and compassion for people in their very darkest hours cannot be overstated.

I do not know where Paula is now or Marsha or anyone I encountered there. But their stories will always be close to my heart.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights and fountains in the midst of valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water” Isaiah 41:18

Rehab and raw realities – Part I

This is my final word before the end…

Don’t count on seeing me again

Dear Dad,

It’s your daughter, Jamie. Remember me? Well you’re going to have to, because soon, I won’t be here anymore.  I’m leaving because I know for sure that you don’t love me anymore. And I’m sorry if I hurt you or something, but it seems kind of pointless for me to stay living in the same house with someone who hates me. Tell Jeanette and mom I’m sorry too, and I know that you all will be so much happier without me here. I want to go because living with you is too much pain for both of us. So, I guess this is the last time you’ll hear from me.

Sincerely,

Jamie

P.S. I hope you can finally be happy now that I’m not here

This letter was written at the beginning of two weeks that changed my life. I was only 14 years old at the time. My family had moved cities and I had spent all eighth grade trying to fit in and make friends at a new Junior High. These things did not come easily, however. For much of the year, I was angry at God and a horrible child to my parents. I often asked God, “Why would you take me here to this awful place? Why?!” I blamed Him. I blamed my parents and believed neither them nor God cared about what I was going through. About how hard it was.

So, I took matters into my own hands. I was suicidal and felt unloved and uncared for. I thought about it and even devised a few plans to end it all, but I never could get myself to do it. So instead, I decided to run.

Up above was the note I left my parents. So many things happened in between writing this note, running away and spending the next two weeks in rehabilitation. My life completely changed because my identity became redefined by the One who will never change and never stop caring about me. But those personal experiences are not what this blog is meant to share. This blog is about those that I met, the people I had the privilege of getting to know for just a bit, while I was there.

I am choosing to talk about these people in my first post mainly because of my personal experience being one of them. There is a very negative stigma attached to being in Rehab. I remember a couple times in High School hearing students in my classes gossip about so-and-so who was spending time in Rehab because they did drugs or were dealing with depression. Perhaps you were part of these conversations or maybe you were the one saying these things. Perhaps you were the one in Rehab like I was.

My first roommate’s name was Marsha. When first arriving there at around 1AM, I was absolutely terrified. The verse, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” was my only solace the first long, lonely night which I spent sleeplessly staring out the window.

The next morning my roommate returned to the room with wet hair after her shower and looked at me. “You came last night?” I nodded. She gave me a fake and weak smile. “I don’t really know what to do, I’m kind of confused,” I said slowly. “Aw, being in a hospital for a while can do that to you,” she replied. “For a while?” My heart began pumping harder as the fear and stress began to rise once again. She nodded. “This is my second time here. I’ve kind of gotten used to it. Two weeks really isn’t that long.”

TWO WEEKS? I thought to myself. She turned back to me after completing a portion of what seemed like her morning routine. She laid out the things I should know. No patients could touch anyone else, say their last name, leave the room after or before a certain time, etc.

The first meeting included all patients. We went around a circle and shared our names, schools, age and why we were in the hospital. The other children talked about their drug addictions, attempted suicide or their issues cutting. I had never realized this darkness and pain existed in people that went to a school like I did or to private schools better than mine.

I heard many stories from the people there. They talked about their painkiller overdoses, using hallucinogens to escape their lives or marijuana smoking. The third day there, my parents brought me my Bible. I spent time everyday reading it. Marsha would watch me and ignore me. I asked her about herself and why she was here. She had told her mother she wanted to sit on train tracks and hated her life. She told me this was her second time here and this program was stupid and they were doing nothing for her. I asked her if she ever thought about praying. She said she did not believe in God and did not care about anything anymore. On my fourth day there, she left because she had “finished” the program. But she clearly was not happy nor healed.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to Marsha. Did she return to Rehab again because she made another remark revealing her perspective that her life was of little value? Did she ever actually take steps to end her life? Did she ever find true purpose for her life? A sure identity?

“So God created mankind in His own image” Genesis 1:27a

 

Just a bath towel

Everything has a story. Sitting in my Aunt’s guest room in Taiwan right now I see a simple white towel hanging on the silver door knob on the inside of my room. This towel was certainly made at some point. Someone had to go outside, pick cotton from cotton plants and weave the cotton together. Perhaps they used a loom or maybe it was woven by hand. Either way, the towel was woven and sewn at the ends.

After hitching a ride on quite a few buses and cars, it reached its destination in the small market store down the street where my Aunt purchased it recently. This is indeed a story, but not a very interesting one. Because really, it is just a towel. I wonder about these things all the time. Not the towel per se but about the story that led to its existence. Who picked the cotton? Did they make a decent amount of money for their hard labor in the hot sun or were they left picking up food scraps off the cotton plant kitchen floor at the end of the day and sleeping in a shack not insulated from the outside elements? Who drove the cotton to its final destination? A man? A woman? Did it traverse over many hills and valleys and miles on the back of a bicycle?

To tell a story requires different elements. There must be characters: antagonists and protagonists. There must be a lesson to be learned. Oftentimes there is great adversity experienced along with great triumph. But in order to draw attention to a story, it must be interesting. There must be unexpected things told, mysteries which are left unsolved. The characters must be relatable, whether or not they are lovable.

But the greatest stories however, the ones that you hold close to your heart or remember at a random moment years later, are the ones that were fortunate enough to change your perspective. The world seems different. No longer are people and situations the same as they were before though nothing about these things has changed.

I am not very old. I have only seen a small part of the world. There are stories, quite a few I will share with you. Stories of people rejoicing. People in pain due to no fault of their own. People suffering as a result of their own decisions. Right now, on the outside, they are only a towel. On the outside, we see only a small glimpse, the result of much destruction and much growth. But there truly is a narrative, a story to be told about the lives of those we encounter every day as well as those we will never have the opportunity to meet.

All these stories culminate in the greatest story ever shared with humankind. All these people have a perspective, all these people have an opportunity to change mine and yours without ever encountering them. I will approach all these stories with a Christian perspective. My faith in Jesus Christ has opened my eyes to those He has put on this planet for a grand purpose. But God made these people. His story can be shared through theirs without much help from me.

Will you consider the story behind the towel hanging in your bathroom at home right now? More importantly, will you consider the stories behind the people you encounter every day? That is a lofty suggestion, I understand. So, for now, I would love to do the work for you. Walk with me as I tell you some stories of people you most likely have never met and my hope is you will come to understand why they must be told.

“In the beginning was the Word…” John 1:1a