Saturday, January 28, 2012

On swollen knees, community, and the God who heals

This week, I had a doctor's visit with a physiatrist from the Walnut Hill family.  I've had chronic pain and swelling in my knees for ten years, and to be honest, I had pretty much ignored the obvious signs that something was wrong.  In hindsight, I'm 26 and relatively healthy--so I should really be able to jump my horse, go for a run, or play some light tennis without my knees swelling up to the size of saucers.  As I was telling my doctor about my symptoms, he cracked a joke about how people who let these things persist for say, ten years without seeing a doctor, are pretty delinquent.  I then had to admit to him (rather sheepishly) that no, I hadn't been to see a doctor about my problem since it first showed up when I was 16.  Oops.

The good news is that with physical therapy, nutritional supplements to boost my joints' ability to repair themselves, and maybe some ugly old lady shoes from the podiatrist, the problem (stemming in an alignment issue with my hips and my flat feet) should be corrected in time.

The whole thing got me thinking, though.  I mean, I'm generally a lot more disciplined about my spiritual health than I am about my physical health.  But in both arenas, there is sickness I ignore at times.  I want to believe in my own self-sufficiency.  I want to believe there's nothing wrong.  I live on the surface of things instead of in reality sometimes. 


At the heart of it--if I'm really honest with myself, and with you, dear reader--I don't believe the gospel.  Ouch.  That is tough to write.  But here's how I know it: If I really believed that Jesus is after Restoration, if I really trusted that he came to redeem me, body and soul, then I would jump at the chance to be healed.

This idea that our bodies are of secondary importance to our souls smacks of the Gnosticism the Early Church battled.  God has created us as people with bodies, after all.  Christ came to us in a body.  And therefore, God cares very much about our bodies and what we do with them.

I confess that it is difficult for me to believe that healing in my body is oh-so-connected to the gospel.  That is why I've ignored my swollen knees for ten years.

Last night, I was at a worship gathering at my friends the Mancinis' house.  As I tried to get settled on the floor of the living room, I was suddenly hyper-aware of the pain in my knees.  It's nothing new for me to have to switch positions every two minutes because of the discomfort caused when I sit cross-legged--but for some reason, I was suddenly aware of how abnormal that is at my age.  (There is something powerful about finally, finally voicing our need.) 

After we sang six or eight songs and lots of people prayed about a variety of things, I confessed my brokenness before my community--the group of college students and 20-and-30-somethings present.  After I shared my story and prayed thanking God for his grace to me even when I ignore my own need, my friends laid hands on my knees and began to pray.  They prayed for God's Kingdom to break out in my body.  For God to do a miraculous work.  For faith that we would believe in Him as the Able Healer.
And an amazing thing happened: although my knees are still cracking and my hips are still misaligned, the pain is gone!  I can kneel.  I can sit cross-legged.  I was even able to ride today, short stirrups and all, with no discomfort.  He is able.

Someone prayed last night regarding Luke's account of the paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof to get him in front of Jesus.  I feel a lot like that man, who was healed through the faith of his friends.  Community is a beautiful thing.

I gather that I will still need physical therapy, and the vitamins, and maybe even the ugly shoes to restore my body to its proper order.  {{thank you, Father, for the way your healing can come in practical, everyday ways!}}  But I'm praising God today for the reminder that when we call out to Him, He is faithful to answer us.  The physical healing I received this weekend is a signpost to me of a spiritual reality.  In the face of our delinquency, God is merciful.  He meets our brokenness with boundless grace.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Matthew 7:7

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hot Off the Press

Another one of the students from the Nassau team, a senior named Josie, just completed her college essay--and I am dying to share it with you!  I am soooo proud of my girls and they way they use their experiences serving our Haitian and Bahamian friends to show others the face of poverty.  Their passion for the global Church is a beautiful thing to behold!

I walk along the long dirt road with the hot sun beating on my back. With each step my team members and I take, a puff of dust elevates from the ground. Little shacks line the road and a rocky path leads deeper into the area. Our group divides as we approach the first shack. A group of women sits under a cluster of trees with car parts and debris scattered about. As we greet the women, small figures begin to appear through the doorway of the house. “Would they like to come out and play?” my teammate asks one of the women. Upon their mother’s call, the children come out of the house and run toward us. What happens next is unexpected. I feel arms surround my body in a tight embrace, and a sweaty forehead against my shoulder. The children grab our hands as we lead them back to the church. They introduce themselves with Haitian names as we approach the building. Others on our team have gathered children from the neighborhood as well. Each little face I lay eyes on is illuminated with a smile. A girl has beads all throughout her hair. Another boy has two different sized shoes. Joy radiates throughout our group for the next week.

I sit with a boy named Joshua on my lap under a wooden gazebo. We listen to our Vacation Bible School lesson. As I see each child’s hand excitedly go into the air, and listen to each triumphantly say his answer, I am reminded that this is what I live for. Working with children is my passion, and serving others is what I feel I am meant to do.  I hope to study elementary education, and later to teach and serve in the mission field. I dream of providing help and rehabilitation for young women and children who have suffered from sexual abuse. I want to be able to show others the power of healing and to renew joy.

Later in the week, I find myself walking into a room the size of a closet to see a women as frail as a small child in bed. Miss Moxey, who is living in an AIDs camp called All Saints, greets us warmly. As I sit on the bed beside her, she shares her incredible story of how she contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion after being hit by a drunk driver in Miami. Miss Moxey has refused medical treatment since the 70s, her children have abandoned her, and she is paralyzed from the waist down. Still, she is strong. I can’t help but cry when she speaks of her undying faith in God. Visiting with Miss Moxey and other patients like her reminded me that to be able to serve is one of the greatest things I can do. 

Now I am preparing to walk down another long road, a journey into my future. I have always had extreme empathy for others around me, and my mission trip to Nassau, Bahamas showed me how I can use that gift to engage in community wherever I am. I know that I would be a fantastic addition to your university. I am looking forward to becoming a part of the community on campus and continuing to explore opportunities to serve locally and globally.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Read this today.

The highlight of my day was reading students' college essays.  True story.  It is one of my favorite parts of my job...especially when they write their essays about our trip to Nassau!  Here is one of the essays from an awesome senior named Abby, who has already sent it to colleges up and down the East Coast :)  I always learn so much about the Father's heart through my students' experiences...and I think you will, too!

“There are starving kids out there who would love to eat that,” was a familiar phrase as I stared at half eaten plates of food growing up. 

It’s different now. I know their names. 

Nakiesha, Wedeline, Kyria – and the list of impoverished children I now know goes on. 

Behind the paradise of Nassau, Bahamas lies a swarm of Haitian refugees. They fled the hell of Haiti for a better life in Nassau, yet found themselves still surrounded by poverty and the shame of being unwanted immigrants. With time, somehow their plans for a better life disappeared as they struggled to provide food and clean clothes for their families. Garbage piled up outside, cars settled like ghosts in their front yards with motors and spare parts lying everywhere. Old furniture and toys were left outside overnight and unstuffed by looters and animals. Over time, they became blind to the grime around them and allowed their toddlers to play in squalor among broken glass buried inches deep into their dirt roads.

In July of 2011, I am a volunteer at a Bible Camp near those very roads. As the Bahamian heat beats down, I thank God ten year old Kyria didn’t pierce her foot on a nearby shattered bottle. Yet as I look back down, I realize glass is everywhere and there is no way I can gather it all up. Kyria then begins to climb a pile of trash to pick fruit from a tall tree growing atop it. As I watch her, toddlers swarm around me with the question “I can go on ya back?” in their Creole accents. I pick up one each hip and begin to cry at the realization that their poverty is far from over. They are three year olds who are being taught ambivalence to their own squalor by parents who were raised the same way. I soon realize that the tropical trip I spent a year working to pay for would break my heart, as well as inspire me to spread the word about this injustice. On the trip I smelled poverty, held its hand, kissed its little faces, and cried as its youth told me stories of rape and abuse much too old for its age.
I was in no way naive to hard times upon entering the trip. As a child, my parent’s financial collapse and subsequent divorce led us to rentals and awkward social times in the wealthy Connecticut suburbs. I began working and saving money since my sophomore year in high school. This has left me with a strong work ethic and determination to take charge of my life and do what means most to me, which is helping other people. On my trip to Nassau, I realized true poverty incomparable to the Fairfield County poverty line my family occasionally fell below, real social class rejection, and the work it takes to change a community. While my sister receives a college scholarship because of her work, and I have opportunities despite my economic background, the children I came to love have little view of this future.  

I realized that the cycle of poverty takes generations to break and millions of volunteers willing to sacrifice their comfortable lives for 110 degree heat, tarantulas, piggy back rides, and the vision of a better life for children they don’t even know. As I returned home, I became conscious of the ambivalence of so many people to the things I had seen, and it caused me to want to become a voice for those who have none. I am now willing to seek out those in need, and help them in any way possible because I want to do good in the world.