Monday, September 25, 2006

tiny juana: part two

well, after a week of fighting and growing, little juana left our clinic. there is much to the story, and much that we do not fully know, but right now she and her mother sit in a room in the hospital in quiche where she is living without oxygen and is being treated by a pediatrician and checked in on by friends of ours (matt and heidi - heidi is an american doctor working in the city of quiche with the mission agape in action; they have been helping us in the clinics and were in san andres the day we brought jauna home. if you are getting sick of reading my blog, you can read some cool stuff on theirs at and let me tell you the many answers to prayer that it takes to even be able to write that last sentence.
first of all, it is a miracle that she was admitted to the hospital. many times, babies will simply be sent home if they are too malnourished instead of being admitted to be treated. it is also not surprising for there to be discrimination against the indian families (which juana is a part of) because they are less educated (generally speaking) and often only speak quiche (which is the case with rosa, juana's mother). which leads into another blessing: that rosa was allowed to stay in the hospital with her baby; the families are not always allowed to stay with the patient. next, when juana left us, she was still dependent on oxygen, and when we arrived at her home (which she had traveled to without oxygen - about 15-20 minutes), she already looked worse than when we left our clinic. however, she is currently in the hospital without oxygen and doing fine, according to the reports we have been given. it is also wonderful that heidi and matt have been able to check in on her daily (their house is on the hospital grounds and heidi has worked with many of the staff at the hospital). and lastly, it is an answer to prayer that she is being looked after by a pediatrician because by the end of the week, we wondered if there was more than simple malnutrition that caused her state (something such as a heart defect or chronic/congenital problem). since she is being treated in the hospital, it will be much easier for an underlying condition to be caught and for her to be able to be treated for it.
and that is just the tangible answers to prayer in this situation. spiritually, i found myself learning much more than i possibly had to offer. i watched as throughout the week, this mother chose to depend on God instead of us or her own strength, as she kept gently smiling and telling us that she knew it was in God's hands. i watched as the guatemalans that work here came into the room to check up on the baby and pray with and for rosa and juana in their own native language. i watched rosa's family come to visit and make sure that their little granchild was being cared for properly; it was so refreshing to see how much they cared for her. and i joined hands with this little family, leslie, matt, and heidi one last time as we laid it all before God again.
praise God.
of course every situation brings both good and bad, denial and blessings, both heartache and joy. and this situation was no exception. there were many sleepless hours, a few walks and a phone call to hannah, feelings of fear, inadequacy, uselessness, and frustration, and times of searching God and Scripture. i faced the tears that come when you realize that someone really might die and the helplessness that is felt when you know there is nothing you can do to stop it. i had never realized how much faith i had in the health care system until there wasn't one to depend on for this baby to be treated. and i never realized how little faith i had in God until He was all i had to depend on for this baby to survive. i had forgotten how important prayer and the body of christ are until i sat down to write an email asking close friends to intercede for juana's life and the faith of her family. i had forgotten how sweet jesus is until one late night i found this little mother kneeling by her bed in the dark praying for her little girl. as i held juana for the last time in our clinic, i remembered the bittersweetness of saying good-bye to someone who has become a part of your heart, yet knowing that they were never yours to keep. i grew a little stronger in the belief that God really does want to be the first one we turn to and the One we hide ourselves in. and i stand a little more in awe of a God who moves among the tears and the laughter, protecting and comforting those who seek Him, proving again his worthiness of our lives as he works out His will on this earth.
i know that often when a situation is over, certain aspects are forgotten and other aspects are glorified until the story reads however the person wants to remember it; i am sure that already there are aspects i have forgotten and others i have chosen to remember. i know that my eyes and my thoughts are all you have to navigate you through this experience, although even if i could take you through each moment of that week, i know you would each read it quite differently.
so, no matter the feelings, thoughts, memories, or forgotten moments, i hope that what you remember from this story is the neccesity of the body of Christ, the wonder of prayer, and the comfort and strength that is found in the power of the God we love. although the specifics are different, this story is one that is told day after day in many different countries and many different lives. i thank you for your prayers in this specific story; i pray that they led you closer to God as you brought us before His throne.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

tiny juana

there are few times where i get the opportunity to write about something before it has already ended. this is one of those times.

today in clinic one of our nutrition kids came back to see if she qualified for the program. (the "program" is our nutrition program where we supply undernourished children with formula or milk, a protein mixture and vitamins to be used in conjunction with breast-feeding.) her mother, rosa, had brought her in a few weeks ago stating that her breast milk was insuffucient for her baby. so leslie sat down with her for about 15 minutes and talked with her about how and when to breast feed and answered any questions she had. she then told her to come back if her baby was not growing and we would re-assess the situation at that time. at that visit, juana was one month old and weighed 8 lbs.

today rosa brought juana back to be weighed and looked at. the young children are usually wrapped in a million layers of clothing and blankets, so i placed juana on the scale and started to peel off the many layers. as i was discovering the actual weight to be a mere 7 lbs, she also started coughing, and i was becoming more and more aware of just how tiny this baby was. when we finally took off the last layer of clothing to listen to her lungs, i was shocked at the state of this little girl in front of me. i have never seen a person as wasted looking as this baby; she barely had skin covering her bones. although her lungs sounded clear, she was breathing about 80 times a minute, her heart rate was about 160, and her mouth was completely covered in thrush (leslie said it is the worst case she has ever seen). bottom-line, she is dying.

to make a long story shorter, we talked with the family and told them the gravity of the situation and their options. one of the options was to come back to canilla to our clinic here where we could place an ng-tube and feed the baby through that in conjunction with breast-feeding so that she will hopefully receive the calories she needs to be strong enough to come out of this okay. they live somewhat close to canilla and chose to come back to the clinic with us.

so tonight, rosa, a nineteen year old mother, and her one and a half month baby sleep in our clinic where leslie and i will go in every two hours to check the oxygen and ng tube placement, give her nebulizer treatments, and feed her through the tube in her nose.

i do not know what will happen to juana. in fact, i really do not know much right now as i perform nursing measures brand-new to me on a baby who may not make it being held by a mother who only speaks quiche. but, i do know that there is One who created this little baby and her mother, and who is in control of this situation and using it to call this tiny baby, her mother, and her family closer to Him.

please pray that no matter what the outcome of the situation, we will know God's guidance and protection, and that His love will be known by this little girl and her mother.

Monday, September 11, 2006

the women we see

monday september 11

while there are many things we see here that are heart-breaking, one of the things that is starting to really tug at me is the state of the women. i wrote an email to a friend of mine within the first few weeks i was here, and i described it like this:

"the people here are a little different than what i expected. they are very gentle, very tender, and very reserved people. they all look like they are about 40 when they are usually closer to 20. and i know this sounds cliche, but truly, i look into their eyes and i just want to sit down and hear their life story. i can't even imagine it. i love the old men with their work worn hands and their sun worn, wrinkled faces; there is something comforting in their smile... like they are content with the fact that their life consists primarily of getting up in the morning, working their land, being with their wife and 14 children, 200 grandchildren, and then going to bed tired at night; they are happy when the food comes, and go work at the coast when the food doesn't come. but, even as i write that, i know that that is not true for the majority of the families that live here. and i am reminded of that when i look into the eyes of the women. they are often looking at their hands due to fear, rejection, humiliation, exhaustion. there is a large amount of physical, sexual, emotional abuse that happens to the women by their husbands. they are looked at as and treated like dirt. they are not educated, and no one sees any value in it. for many of them, their life consists of getting up, finding food, cooking food, taking care of a million screaming babies, and trying to keep their husbands pleased. oftentimes, though, the husbands are drunk and will do whatever they want anyway. and when the husbands leave or die, so does the woman's very livelihood; there is no one to work the land, bring home food, or work to get money for food."

now, the facts behind a lot of what i wrote to my friend are based on my initial observations in this country and are of course not applicable to all families in guatemala or this region of quiche; however, while i know i still have much to learn about this culture and the concepts and beliefs that create the basis for daily living for these people, i am finding these facts to be true for a lot of the women we have seen and heard about. clinic on saturday was one of those blessed days where we seemed to be able to spend more time with each patient and minister to them a little more holistically than we sometimes get to, and we saw three different women whose stories reminded me of the abandonment and downright abuse that is so commonplace for them.

many times, people will come in complaining of symptoms of stress and anxiety and asking for medicine to help them. we tell them we have no medicine that can take away their anxiety or depression, but we ask them if they are involved in a local church, share about how jesus is the only one who can truly provide peace amidst the worries of this life, and then give them a bible and pray with them. these were the complaints of one of the first women we saw who came in with her two children. as we asked more questions and she shared more of her life, we learned that her husband had left for the states when she was pregnant with her daughter who looked to be about 6 or 7. since then, he had found a new family in the states and no longer planned on coming back or supporting his family here. sadly, this is a story that i have heard countless times already in the month and a half that i have been here. (it is also a cultural understanding among the indian population that if you remarry, then you give up your children from the previous husband, a sacrifice that some women are not willing to make, leaving them alone to find a way of life for them and their children.) we gave this lady a bible and a book for women about christ healing your heart, and talked with her about how only christ will bring the healing she needs. and as she left, i was left with a growing desire to be able to speak the words this woman needed to hear in her native language.

another patient was a young girl who came in with her mother thinking she might be pregnant, and after ultrasounding her, we gave her the happy news that she was indeed pregnant. however, she was followed by a man whose complaints also revolved around symptoms of stress. as the story came out more and more, we learned that his wife had had four miscarriages and "could not provide him with children." finally, he reluctantly revealed the main reason he had come when he asked if the young girl we had seen before him was pregnant. we told him that he would have to ask her that himself, and then also gave him a bible and talked with him about how only christ will bring the peace and answers that he is searching for in his life.

the third girl we saw was accompanied by her mother and little siblings. she was about 17 and looked at the floor through the entire consultation. at first, one might think she was simply shy or reserved, but looking closer, you would notice the nervous chewing of her lip and distracted twisting of the strings on her faja (belt) between her fingers. as she relayed her symptoms, seemingly random at first, leslie finally quietly asked her if she had been raped. the girl shook her head "no" while big tears welled up in her eyes, contradicting the answer she had just given.

i know there is abandonment and abuse in every country, every race, and every gender. i know that the situations we encounter in clinic are much more complicated than the surface level information we are given. and i know that there is need for prayers of healing and grace in so many lives, especially on a day when our own country, the united states, remembers injustice that has been brought on them.

however, i am asking that you would also send up a prayer for the women of this country today. that they will find healing, grace, freedom, and love that can only be found in our God. and that we will be faithful to take them by the hand, match our step with theirs, and lead them to this God, one consulta at a time, one Scripture at a time, one prayer at a time.

Monday, September 04, 2006

life on the farm

first of all, happy birthday to my dad (!) whose birthday was august 30.

a friend wrote me an email a few days ago in which he was telling me of his heart for people around the world, his frustrations with american life and values, and his desire and readiness to be away from it all and " crash through rubble, dive through blocks of concrete, just to help somebody." we have been friends for several years now, and i smiled as i read his email thinking back over the many conversations we have had throughout the years about our similar desires in life, and how many times i have written these very same feelings to friends. however, i also smiled as i thought of how my life down here has not exactly been that way.

the fickers live on a farm that, if it was not in guatemala, would probably be a pretty typical farm in the states, but i do not have much experience with "real farms" (we did live on a small one when i was little that involved chickens, rabbits and a garden) so i cannot say for sure. here, we have chickens that we get our eggs from, a cow that we get our milk from, a few rabbits which we get nothing from, a garden which we get some vegetables from, a lemon tree we get lemons for lemonade from, a pond stocked with talapia (the guatemalans love fish and we have had a couple fish fries with some people from the local church while i have been here... in fact, the neighbors just stopped by to get some fish this morning...), a couple of horses for riding (when they first moved here, you could only get to a lot of the places on horseback because there were not a lot of roads, so they used their horses a lot more then), some trucks that are usually being repaired for the next trip, a couple tractors (which duane, aaron, ryan, and david have used to help the local famers get their crops of corn planted quickly... this is a new concept to the guatemalans since most of them still use cattle to plow and plant), four-wheelers which we use to get supplies to places that we cannot get to with the truck, a pressure tank (which i have learned to turn on since it supplies my morning shower with pressure), and a few dogs.

and life would almost be similar to life on a farm in the states except for the fact that it is completely different 8) "slower" is the first word that comes to mind to describe the way of life here, but not in the way we northern americans describe the south. yes, there is a taste of it: saying hi to every person you pass, people hanging out in front of their houses talking to each other, more farming and less industrialization (well, really no industrialization down here), and saying you will show up at 8:00 on monday night and if you are there by wednesday you think you are doing good. but these aspects seem to be due as much to the lack of technology and advancement as to the fact that these people value community and people over progress and time-oriented thinking. if i sit and think about it, it is sometimes amazing to me that i am in a country that functions this way while a few countries above us in the states, daily life is functioning quite differently. here are a few examples of daily life from this past week.

tuesday, we went to clinic in chiminisijuan. the way the clinics work is that the people wanting to be seen arrive early in the morning and receive a number in the order they arrive and then are seen in that order. this works out very well, but it leaves us with no idea how many numbers will be given out. it will usually be around 50, but there are of course days with more and days with less. the numbers also do not tell everything since there are always the families of 7 that will get one number, but want all 7 to be treated. this past tuesday, we started later than normal and seemed to have a lot of people. i loved it, though. leslie and i split up the patients and i actually was able to understand the problems "my" people were presenting with and figure out what the treatment should be. it was nice to actually start to feel like i am starting to get somewhat of a handle on life down here. it was a long day, though, and we had promised one of the patients that we would look in on her neighbor who was sick in bed and unable to get out. she told us it was only five minutes off the road that we had to take to get home, so we started on our way and met the lady at the beginning of the trail to her house. i then realized that when the woman said it was five minutes off the road, what she actually meant was five miles off the road. as we were walking our long walk, i looked around me, amazed that this is what these people have woken up to everyday of their life. we were literally walking on the side of the mountain, weaving around tree roots and rocks, walking up and then down again over rise and falls in the mountain, on pine needles and loose dirt, through corn fields and past houses made of sticks and adobe, all in the pouring rain. we arrived at her house soaking wet and tired, but i would do the entire walk again tomorrow. the view was breathtaking and i am still trying to take in the fact that people actually live this way still. this woman was lying on a bed of small tree trunks tied together with a few blankets thrown over it. it was barely three feet off the dirt floor that created the foundation of their house, about four feet from the "loft" above it that comprised the sleeping area for the children, and you could tell that it usually slept more people than could probably comfortably fit on it. after getting the woman's full story, we treated her for a urinary tract infection and then we and the family prayed with her before leaving. then it was a long walk back to the road where we took a four wheeler up the the main road (the other road is too rough for a truck to be able to drive it) where the 4 runner was waiting. at this point, it was still raining, aaron and david were waiting to meet us at a "short cut" further down the road to home, and the 4 runner got stuck. so, i take the four wheeler down to the shortcut (i have since fallen in love with driving the four wheeler...) to get the boys to help us get out. we finally arrived home at 6:30, in time to make dinner.

on wednesday, duane and leslie got up early to drive to quiche so that they could meet with a doctor there who we thought was in charge of the medical work in the petin, the northern area of guatemala that is only reachable by plane in the wet season. the fickers went into the petin in april and found that there was one doctor for this entire region and that he has no supplies or equipment. the doctor in quiche told them that last month 3 women died in the petin because there was no way to get them the help they needed. we are hoping to be able to fly into the petin and assist with the medical care once duane brings the plane down from the states in the beginning of october. so, leslie and duane made the 2 hour trip into quiche only to be told that the doctor had been called to guatemala city for the day and would not be in quiche at all. they then went to the lawyer's office where they hoped to get some more information on the progress of the adoption of abi and grace. however, the lawyer was not in that day either. so, they had lunch with a pastor friend of theirs who needed some encouragement and then got in the car and made the 2 hour drive back, having spent the day accomplishing nothing they had hoped to. as leslie would say, "these are the days you trust that God was working even though you can't see it." as aaron would say, "welcome to guatemala." meanwhile, i spent the day here at the house where rachel and i took care of the babies, cooked lunch (yes, it actually was edible) and did other domestic things... things that, i have to admit, are completely foreign to me. i feel like this time here is almost as much of a preparation for motherhood as it is about living in a new culture 8)

on thursday, aaron and david went down to the river to get sand they needed for concrete that was going to be laid on friday in the hanger that is being built for when the plane comes down. the fickers are building this from ground up pretty much by themselves except for the help of a couple american teams that came down this summer and a group of men from the local church that come out to help on fridays. while getting the sand, the tractor got stuck, so they brought down a truck to get it out. the river winds down from the mountains and often it will be raining in the mountains unseen to a person here, and a huge wall of water will come rushing down the river, raising the water quickly and causing a current that could kill a person. leslie said that every year they hear of at least a few deaths from drowning. well, wednesday was the lucky day for the "wall of water" phenomenon to occur... as aaron and david were in the truck and on the tractor in the middle of the river. the river got so high that in a matter of moments, the tractor went from water lapping around its tires to being almost completely covered. thank God both aaron and david were fine. it then took about four more hours to get the tractor and truck out. it was quite an experience, and while it was scary to realize the potential danger of the situation, there was nothing more beautiful than seeing all the people come out to help. the mayor himself came out, and they were finally able to get the tractor out and up the hill while being towed by another tractor and a backhoe that someone in town came and offered to help with.

friday, the men from the church were supposed to come and help, so we started making the basketfull of muffins for a mid-morning snack, bought the chickens and ordered the tortillas for lunch, and were just about to start making a rice/cinnamon/milk drink that the people here love (i love it too - it tastes like cinnamon toast crunch with rice instead of "toast crunch"), but the pastor called and said they would be unable to make it. this actually was not a problem since there really wasn't enough sand due to the incident on thursday and the fact that the tractor was not working due to water damage, and then at about 10:00 in the morning a missionary family from a town a few hours away stopped by unannounced with cookies and stories to say hi and catch up on life. it was fun to meet them and hear about the work they do and where their hearts are. he is a mennonite pastor (yes, mom and dad, we talked about mcc and i told them you worked with the mennonite church in canada) and we have actually treated some of his parishoners in one of our clinics. then, it was pre-market at night (which i love) and getting ready for clinics on saturday and sunday.

so, not quite the glamorous "barreling through concrete to save people's lives" that i also once dreamed it would be, yet i can say without hesitation that i would not trade one moment of it. there is an oswald chambers devotional i read in "my utmost for his highest" when i was a sophomore in college and while i do not remember it exactly, the point of it went something like, "live in the everyday of life, and give the depths to the Lord." i like that. i am learning that there are very few things in this life that are in my control, and i am finding it much more fulfilling to be content to live in the everyday, and trust the Lord with the rest.

unexpected realizations

thursday, august 31

i knew the point would come sooner or later. it was a point that i had not experienced in the other trips i had gone on, and it was why i wanted to come down here for longer than 2 months.

it started a few weeks ago. things were starting to lose their newness: i started to recognize people that we had seen before in the clinic, i was beginning to anticipate what would come next on the road we were traveling on, i was starting to learn what we would buy at market on friday night, i was getting used to the drone of spanish and quiche everywhere we go. and with this loss of newness came some unexpected realizations: i do not know spanish well enough to understand a sermon or a story that does not involve the person having a fever, cough, or headache; nursing, while a tool God uses to reach others with His love, still comes with responsibilities and critical thinking and the possibility of causing fatal accidents (don't worry... no, i did not kill anyone...); that i really have little to offer these people that i find myself in the midst of, a people that does not have to accept me or my God, a people that has their own history, their own traditions, their own way of creating and living life on this earth; that i am going to lose some friends, friends i thought to be good friends, because of this path i have chosen to take; and, that even when living in guatemala, there is still lunch to be made, laundry to be done, babies to be taken care of, and schoolwork and lessons to be taught.

as i told my mother, "the honeymoon phase is ending."

but, while i thought this to not be the greatest thing ever at that time, i have since made some other unexpected realizations: learning spanish is not unattainable and is not only about the language itself, but i am also learning so much about these people as i learn their language; nursing, while holding the potential to end life, also holds an amazing potential to give life, both in aiding with the birth of a new life and in aiding with the quality of a life already begun; i may have little to offer these people right now, but i serve a God who reveals His strength in our weakness and whose plans surpass ours in greatness, love, and grace; that there are different seasons to every life lived, and with that, there are some friendships that are made for different seasons and some that will last throughout the whole of our lives; and that there is a joy that is found only in the little things: making a new meal for lunch that even david ate, remembering to take the clothes out of the dryer and hanging them up before they smell musty (even though you failed to remember that it is the rainy season, and those newly hung up clothes were soon enduring the late afternoon rainstorm), the purity of sleep that only comes after staying up with a screaming sick baby who is also finally having dreams of her own, and being able to help someone learn to love to play an instrument that has also brought such enjoyment to your life.

the older i get, the more i am learning that life is not about me. and that is a good thing. i didn't know what would happen when i got down here; i definitely didn't expect to change as much as i already have. but, as the honeymoon phase begins its end, i am finding something deeper than the excitement of "newness" and all that it carries with it. i am seeing God move among the ordinary, the struggle, and the routine of daily living. and as my own excitement at learning and seeing a new culture is starting to become mixed with the realities of the above realizations, i am finding that God is growing in my heart a love for these people, a love for this culture and this country instead of me trying to love those around me out of my own strength, which is a pool i am learning is actually quite shallow and inadequate on its own.