Peace and thankfulness

There is a strange expectancy in my mind these days. An expectation to have arrived already. I mean, I graduated and became a nurse a year ago. I’ve been living in this place with these people for 8 months now. Surely I would have something figured out? Surely I should feel more confident about this whole being a bush nurse in a third-world country? But I think these are just lies fed to all of us in different ways… making each of us feel incompetent or discontent in the place where life has us currently. Because I have grown a lot from a year ago. I’m a different Amanda from the one who threw that black cap in the air in May and looked with bright eyes to the adventure ahead. I’m living the adventure. So why am I tempted to become discouraged and hold my life to measure by someone else’s accomplishments? We each have our own unique journey. God is teaching me, in this season on my journey, to find joy in the small steps. My mind is busy with many things I need to do to improve, to work harder, to be more or better… and I hear Him whisper softly: Rest in me. Walk in peace. Listen. See.

Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God with thanksgiving. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

I am learning how to walk in peace. This verse has popped up during every season of my life in a different way, and I think this time God is teaching me about thanksgiving. The key to finding peace is thanksgiving. If you are thankful for where you are, right this moment, even in the middle of the confusion and chaos and busyness and hurry and worry… if you take a minute to remember what you do have to be thankful for, it leads you to remember who your God is. He is the one who can do abundantly more than you can ask or imagine. With that, comes peace. The faithful, unchanging, compassionate Savior… He is more than able to help you walk through this season. Peace.

So I’m finding reasons to be thankful, and I want to list a few here, so you can see the faithfulness of our Jesus. And I want you to know, no matter what corner of the world you find yourself in, you can have peace also. I’m still learning how to let it fill and overflow my life and my days, but Jesus wasn’t joking when He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). I think choosing to live in the peace we’re given is a daily choice, and the thing that helps us do this is seeing life through thankful eyes.

I am thankful for:
-Nachap- her quick smile and how she always has a song on her lips as she goes about her work
-that I know and can tell the story of Mary and Martha in Ngakaramojong
-rain on a tin roof
-a team to do life alongside
-the promise of peace that we have as children of God
-a day in the garden, seeing the crops grow and pulling weeds that threaten to choke out the new life
-praying with patients at the clinic
-the ability to give medicine and alleviate suffering for so many
-seeing the nationals learn bible stories and joyfully practice them and then share them with others
-harvesting squash and kale and herbs from our garden and using them to make dinner
-seeing the women jump and dance for joy at bible study
-…and lots more things but I’m trying to keep this post short so I’ll end here for now 🙂

I don’t have it all figured out. I think that “arriving” is somewhat of a perfectionist illusion that traps us into feeling discontent with the slow and steady progress we are making. So whatever season life has you in, I hope you find peace. I hope you take time to see the joyful things and praise God for them. Please do take time to feel the hurt and heartache and let it grow you. Let the rivers of tears carve out new pathways for grace to run wild in your heart. Let this season be all that it needs to be for you. You’re only human; you don’t have to figure it all out. Take that burden off your shoulders and put it where it belongs- on the shoulders of Jesus.

Praying that whoever reads this will find a bit more peace today.

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when the women gather…

The sun rises in an overcast sky, for which I am thankful because it tells of the rains that are coming now almost daily. The green crops sprouting across the land breathe praise to the One who gives life and rain and growth. My morning starts with a rush because I am hurrying to the women’s bible study. Typical to African culture, the “program” started at 7, which meant women started walking to the meeting place at 7am. I arrived about 7:40 to set up the benches and greet the early ones, and then they came by the dozens. Old akumats in dresses they bought for this specific occasion- the chance to gather with women and hear the word of God and praise Him together. Mothers with their babies on their backs and small children following close alongside. The woman who bought new shoes for this morning, even though she was hungry, because she wanted to have new shoes for when she entered to worship. Their smiles were filled with such joy as we all greeted each other… and then the singing! The akumat (grandmother) in her gray suit jacket and swishy green skirt with her hair tied up in a sassy floral bandana… shuffling to the middle of the circle, with her face split wide in joy and the other ladies laughing with her as she danced and clapped and praised Jesus with her whole heart, shamelessly, for everyone to see. Then Betty started the jumping and the women left the burdens and the cares of the day behind as they sprung into the air with big smiles… jumping for Jesus. And more women kept coming in, and I left to find more benches, and there still weren’t enough seats for all the women in that room! And then the word of God was shared- Holly told of how since creation God has had a plan and the stories leading to Jesus and His gift to us of salvation (Creation to Christ).. and women still kept coming in, sitting and standing along the walls just to hear this story that has been meant for them since the dawn of time, yet has taken so long to reach their ears. The meeting continued with some discussion and ended with everyone greeting their neighbors with smiles and laughter. Whether from the town or village, all are hungry for the Word of God. They’re beautiful.When the meeting was finished we drove the ones who had walked far back to their homes, and the 15 women packed into that Land Cruiser tried to lift the roof off with their songs- singing joyful praise from grateful hearts so loudly that people we passed on the road stopped and stared after us, wondering the cause of such rejoicing. As the women returned to the work of the day– weeding their gardens and cooking for their families and caring for children, they had the Word of God in their hearts and a song of praise to Him on their lips. God is moving here. Y’all. He’s hearing our prayers. Keep praying for these strong beautiful women of Karamoja. May they know a personal relationship with the Father, this One who loves them so deeply, and is worth giving our lives in surrender to Him for the joy and life He brings. I want them all to know true joy and love, because only a few do, but their joy is contagious. For those who do know Jesus, I want them to be discipled in His truth and share that hope with others. Ain’t no party like a Jesus party. When these ladies gather, walls shake.

life and death: healthcare in the bush

So Friday we opened the clinic again after being closed for a week in the city. Like always with Africa, nothing goes quite as planned. Jill was with Robert (the national nurse who helps us and translates for us) in the treatment room and I was taking names/payment/complaints/triaging in the other room and a man came to say that his wife was hemorrhaging from the vagina at 3 months pregnant, and she needed to get to the hospital. We have a contract with the hospital in town that we will take things outside a certain scope of practice to the doctor there. So I rushed out to the car and called Kelly (my other teammate) to come along for the ride so she could drive while I took the vitals of the woman once we picked her up. So we drove to the village (off-roading through the bush) only to find that the woman was so scared she was going to lose the baby that she started walking. So then I drove back and forth, through thorns and over termite mounds while the hot sun beat down on the hard ground. Her husband alternated between riding in the car directing me, and jumping out to run through the bush looking for her. And the land rolls and dips, hiding gullies and more thorns, with bushy grass and scrub that all too easily obscure the sight and ability to see a small dark woman fighting for the life inside of her. I prayed and drove and strained my eyes and another man joined the search. And their long loping strides took them out of sight once more and my head rested on the warm steering wheel as the car murmured beneath me. Out here, so many die. Healthcare is near and yet still so far away for so many. And all you can do is all you can do and sometimes all the waiting feels fruitless because people are dying and their souls are yet shrouded in darkness and firmly in the grasp of the enemy.

So finally they found her and the husband comes running back… Epunto aberu wadio. (She is coming slowly) and then he says softly, ekoku.. and makes an abrupt downward slashing motion with his hand. The baby is dead. His wife just had a miscarriage while walking alone through the bush. Not a tear passes his clear dark eyes, just the stoic face that confronts every tragedy in this hard land. That’s just how things are. These things happen. And the woman comes walking up slowly with a slight limp to her step… how many miles has she already walked this morning? No one can tell. The sadness touches at the corners of her eyes but stoic resignation is what she wears like the ashuka wrapped around her shoulders. The baby is dead but life must move on. And as I sit close to her and ask her name while Kelly bumps over bushes towards the hospital, only the softness of her voice hints at the pain she is feeling. And my heart breaks for her. I take her pulse and blood pressure and her vital signs are normal and that in itself is a relief. But she is still bleeding. We get her to the hospital but she must wait to be seen because there is only one doctor and the midwives are not yet there… and my heart and training rebel against the thought of this woman sitting in her pain… but I look around and see that I am surrounded by pain. And there on the next bed over is our friend, who has also been bleeding and doesn’t know if the little one growing inside of her for these past four months will make it through another night. I hold her hand and pray for her and offer to bring her what she needs? Soap for bathing and sugar for tea…so I promise to bring this when I return… And I have to walk away because I can’t heal everyone. I can’t help everyone. I can only do one small thing at a time and hope that it makes some kind of difference and pray my heart out- that God will see these hurts and bring his healing and somehow call these wandering hearts to himself.

Later when we went back to visit, the woman had still not been seen by a doctor and her husband talked of selling a goat to pay for the medicine and food his wife would need to get through this. I knelt beside her to pray for her again… And her stoic empty eyes looked past me like she was trying to be anywhere but here, sitting in her pain among a ward of mothers holding their newborn babies. And our friend, curled on her side in her bed, waiting for the next dose of medication and hoping against hope, with every beat of her heart, that a little heart still beats within her. I talked to the midwives and ensured both would be seen and cared for, but then I had to leave again. Because this is Africa, and there’s only so much us humans can do- the rest is in the hands of God alone.

So that’s what nursing in Africa looks like. We have seen many in the clinic, and we’ve been able to help with everything from malaria to respiratory infections and beyond… but sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do. Not the right supplies or training or healthcare facility available. But also knowing that if they were somewhere else in the world, maybe death wouldn’t have come calling so quickly. And that hurts like hell.

So for every patient we see, we pray for their soul. Because at the end of the day only healing from the inside out will bring any hope to these strong, stoic, hurting people.

a glimpse into the clinic with yellow walls

Pen scratching paper and halting words as I attempt to use my limited Karamojong to ask their name, age, village, and complaint… confused laughter mixing with the cries of another baby scared of the white person… tattered ashukas wrapping feverish little ones and hiding burns and breaks and various wounds… deep coughs and silent tears… with yellow walls reflecting the sunlight onto proud dark faces who came to this new clinic hoping for healing. And in the treatment room assessments are done, fingers are pricked, injections given, wounds tended to, babies held, diagnoses reached, treatments given, patients are educated, and many many prayers are lifted up for the hurting and hopeless souls that pass through the room with the yellow walls.

I wish I could fully put words to what it’s like to be a nurse here. Nursing school did not prepare me for this, and neither did years of Sunday School. Here the pain is raw and real and the needs are very apparent. Here some come simply hoping for cheap medicine. Others wait hours, bodies burning with fever or wracked by coughing, because each patient gets a full assessment and treatment and prayer and that takes so much time and effort rather than just tossing them whatever medicine they ask for like the other clinics in town. We try to triage but even then some are in the grip of severe malaria and the fever is not there and then mere minutes later it has climbed so high that their body is seizing with a fever of 105.2F. And like any ER in America you never know what will walk through the doors or what excitement the day will hold, but unlike America, we may or may not have the supplies to actually help the emergency. But seeing that in small ways we are saving lives- the girl with the high fever who immediately got care and an injection for malaria and medicine and cool cloths to bring her fever down is only one example.

This is not something I could ever do in my own strength. I don’t have that kind of education or wisdom, but I firmly believe that every day here is a step of faith. Only God can guide us to care for these patients in the way they need to be cared for. Out here there are no protocols or general practices or orders to fill… there is only the problem and the hurting person and a couple of nurses standing between sickness and hope with a bit of medicine and a heart full of faith in a Healer named Jesus who sees every bit of hurt and need before it even reaches their eyes. I see more of Jesus every time I go to work in the clinic and every time I walk to the village and hear people asking for medicine now that they know that I am a nurse. Imagine, with the heart of compassion that our Jesus has, how the crowds would flock to him begging for healing. And he, ever merciful, would see past their physical discomfort and into their hearts and offer so much more than physical healing- hope for their souls. I look at myself, often impatient and exhausted and see how much of that Jesus-love is lacking in me, but there is grace even in this. Because I am a work in progress and I do not choose to have faith and give love and show mercy in my own strength- it is by the grace of Jesus.

So sometimes I come home wearing baby pee or blood or the smell of unwashed skin, but these are small reminders that the humanity I get to brush shoulders with in that clinic are the very ones that Jesus would seek out to show love. My stethoscope hears the heartbeat of people who even still have yet to hear the gospel. And I am constantly reminded what a gift it is to be able to serve these strong, beautiful people in this small way. Every time I see the spark of surprise in someone’s eye and slight smile tug at the corner of their mouth when I offer to pray for them as they leave, my heart jumps- may even this one choose to seek Jesus. Because at the end of the day, medicine will fail to fix the problem and I want to point every person to the arms of the One who gives all the healing. Jesus.

I am officially a nurse among the tribal villages of the middle of nowhere Africa. It’s beautifully hard and daily pointing me to Jesus. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything else in this wide world.

clinic3

Pray that these people leave the clinic with a hunger and a hurt in their heart that medicine or food cannot fix- a desire to know and follow Jesus. Thank you for praying me through this journey. To God be all the glory forever and ever.

Much love.

thoughts from the garden

   
   
  
Here man wrestles with the earth- plow and oxen churning the soil into submission. Eyes looking expectantly to the sky for the coming rains. The greeting has changed to include, “How is your garden?” There’s a hopeful blanket of green weeds, needing the bending and pulling so the seeds have a chance to emerge into light. Since Adam, men have struggled with the earth, trying to till and sow and weed and harvest in such a way that they may share the fruit and benefits of their labor. But here is a land of thorns where the days are long and the soil seems especially tenacious. Today as I bent and wrestled the weeds from their clinging hold in the damp earth, my mind was filled with the metaphor of gardening and the kingdom of God. The weeds clung tight to the dirt, needing a firm pull to remove each piece from the hungry soil. Gardening is not a fast process; there is much time and care and effort spent on trying to give these little seeds- beginnings of life as it were- a chance to grow and thrive and by so doing offer sustenance for those who tend the garden. The hoe cuts through mud and turns the soil for the seed to be scattered and covered. Chickens and pigs are chased away and even the children join in pulling weeds and covering the scattered seeds to protect them from the scorching heat of the sun and the scavengers who would come and take what was planted. Everyone has a part in planting… and eyes eagerly search the horizon for the afternoon rains to come and bless what has been buried.
This soil of thorns seems to match the hearts of many of the people, but only because they have been taught by their culture a way of living that doesn’t cling to the sovereignty and hope of Jesus. But just as thorns can be uprooted, one at a time, to give life to the seeds hidden in their shadows, even here we are already seeing how God can change hearts and lives and bring new life to dry bones. We are but the ones who scatter seeds and look after a garden the Master is growing.

Many people spend days on their hands and knees when the rains come, panning for minuscule flecks of gold in the puddles of a dry riverbed. My heart cries for them to know the true Treasure that is even now in reach- “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” Matthew 13:44. 

My skin is slightly burnt and my back will be sore tomorrow. But the chance to spend time with friends in the garden- a physical reminder of all that we are praying for when we interact with these beautiful people- will be worth every blister. Here the garden is not some hobby, but the very sustenance of life. Much like the human souls with their thorns and hard ground, recent rains and weeds, seeds scattered and sprouted… this is the essence of life. This Treasure that should be planted in every heart is why we pray. This Treasure is why we go. This Treasure is a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of life itself. 

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all nations.” Isaiah 61:11

hope for a Monday

Some Mondays call for strong coffee. Ok, all Mondays call for strong coffee. But some days we too easily forget the hope of Resurrection morning that we carry within us. Like Mary Magdalene when she went to the tomb- forgetting that Jesus said he would rise from the dead; she was looking for him in the wrong place- among the dead. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” 

Jesus is nearer than you realize. And that beautiful moment when Jesus calls her name and she sees him, really sees him for who he is– the Risen Savior. He is near and always calling us to himself… when we fail and falter, when we doubt and despair, when we struggle to hold onto hope… still He calls you Beloved. Oh dear heart, do you see the joy? You don’t have to figure this out on your own because the Cornerstone of our faith is alive and near.

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not my beloved I will call beloved. And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God'” Romans 9:22-26.

This is the hope of Monday. Following the glory of Sunday, the mundane Monday lends its own word of joy- You who were a vessel of wrath, hell-bound for destruction, He has made you a vessel of mercy

So for every person who wearily regards the week ahead and the tasks that seem too much for the time… He sees you. He calls you by name. His strength, not yours.

You who have received much mercy; give mercy. We are all only broken clay vessels searching for a bigger purpose to fit our lives inside… and for those of us who have found Him, may we go out proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

Choose joy this Monday.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13  

ever up

To the weary traveler on this journey of faith: I see you.The wild reaches share the stories of sojourners passing through, some joyful and laughing, others weighed down by a backpack full of burdens and cares… many seeking a home that cannot be found in this earth. Wherever they are coming from, whether it is the field of Hope, Valley of Despair, River of Joy, or Forest of Fears… eventually all have to ascend the mountain. There’s a sign at the base: “It’s a steep journey up, leave your burdens here.” Some heed the warning, others continue on, carrying their packs like some sort of lifeline. 

The path up the mountain is called “Seeking” and lights in the trees mark the way- ever up. Some stumble along the way, some give up- is the journey really worth it? Some, who simply followed others to this place, whisper amongst themselves- What’s the big deal? Why do we have to take this path? The more experienced travelers say that here is where you meet with God, but the newbies are skeptical. 

Those still carrying burdens see another sign- “Come, strip off every weight that slows you down, especially the sin that so easily trips you up. Run with endurance the race God has set before you. Keep your eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Burdens are laid at the base of this, almost like a surrender of a life in disarray asking to be freed. Some stubbornly insist on carrying their packs- “I’m strong enough to make it, even with all this.” But the path keeps climbing and the underbrush thickens… not so many people traverse these upper regions of the mountain. 

Look there! It’s the compassionate man I have seen several times before… he’s always walking the wrong way down the path, looking for someone to help. Like that person! A few miles back that traveler scoffed at the burden sign but now he is stumbling with every step. So the man (I think they call him the Good Shepherd?) comes alongside him and takes his burden. He walks alongside the traveler for a while, and I guess the traveler decides those things he was holding so tightly don’t matter so much, because now there’s another pack discarded on the wayside.

We’re approaching the summit. There’s an almost tangible joy in the air and the light seems brighter through the trees. I see beside you and I, travelers who have journeyed far and somehow I know they are brothers and sisters. We greet each other like old friends and eagerly look forward to the ever-growing Light. As we get closer I see those who have finished their earthly journey. The Faithful Ones. They share stories of all they endured and give testimony to the faithfulness of God and the urgency of running the race. I feel their support, shoulder to shoulder with those of us still fighting our way up.

Continuing up, ever upward, closer to God. Forgiveness covers the ground like a blanket, absorbing the messy failures, stubbornness, doubting, fears, and despairing thoughts. And there He is. Welcoming each weary traveler with open arms, reminding us that we never were traveling alone. Even a glimpse of His glory takes my breath away and overcomes my heart with gratitude and joy. He reminds us to keep tasting that Living Water, choosing to trust His Presence is near as we walk forward. He shows the next step of the journey and reminds me of the many still wandering like lost sheep in the valleys, dying of thirst. Now is the time to move forward, to press on. There is breath yet in your lungs; the journey is not finished. He puts His love in my heart and I see in the distant reaches of the wild those who are struggling to find their way. He gives me the gift of Living Water to carry to them.

“Remember you are part of a kingdom unshakeable. Do not fear the obstacles you meet along the way.”

Now may the God of peace- who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood- may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
(( This allegory/word picture was inspired by Hebrews 12. Go read it! 🙂 ))