As I look back to the previous blog posts, there’s a theme: brokenness and grief. And here I am again, thinking about the broken healthcare system, the fact that it seems “not fair” that not everyone has the same access to healthcare or to quality healthcare. How the brokenness and hurt in this world is never ending. It’s as if everywhere you look, it just continues to get worse. More families who need help, sicker and sicker patients, malnutrition becoming more of a problem instead of improving.
Recently, we have been doing more house calls. I love house calls. But honestly, it’s like a love-hate relationship at times. House calls means they are REALLY sick. We want to do whatever we can to help. However, that requires extra money above and beyond the budget to pay for transportation to and from a clinic that can do labs, ultrasounds, ct scans, etc, money to pay for all the exams that they need done, consults with specialists, and treatment options that usually aren’t cheap by any means. I miss the days where I could help the sickest of the sickest and not be thinking about the cost, how we’re going to get the supplies, where do we draw the line, saying that we can help in this scenario, but not that one because the cost is too great and we need to be helping the greater number of people. Every life is precious. Every life counts. When do we say yes and when do we say no?
There seems to be a trickle down effect with house calls. More and more people are hearing about our ministry and are asking for help. We have been receiving messages about some really sick patients. It’s hard trying to decipher what our part is with each patient! One was a 24 year old with a severe rash all over her body, was now unconscious and the family didn’t know what to do. It looked like end-stage lupus. We were 7 hours away from this family at the time, and they are 2 hours away from the closest hospital. Because of liability, we couldn’t go and take her to the hospital as it seemed as though she would probably die soon and we couldn’t risk losing her in our car. There’s no ambulances that could go get her. The family didn’t have any money to pay for a hospital bill either. From the looks of it, all the family could do was keep her comfortable. A few days later, we heard that she passed away.
It’s ultimately all in God’s hands. We are His instruments. Peter and I (Donna) try to approach this matter by praying about how God is leading us to help these patients. Others have told us that we can’t be everyone’s “yes.” God may be calling us to be there to pray with them, to pray for healing, to pray for the provision to be able to see the specialist that they need to see; but it may not be us being the ones to take them there. God may be calling us to jump in with both feet and not looking back to pay for whatever treatment they need. Or He may be calling us to do something in between the two extremes. Many times, the decision as to how far we are going to go with a patient has to be made in a split second. That’s a hard call to make. I tend to second guess my decision. I want to help them. But, I don’t want to get their hopes up that we will try to do something and then the money isn’t there for us to make that happen. It’s easy to make the decision when the money is already in the bank account and I know we can pay for it (as everything is to be paid up front). It’s much more difficult when there’s a lot of unknowns about the case and the cost of everything and the money isn’t available yet.
I was just in the states, visiting family and friends, and speaking at some churches about our ministry. The fact that I was able to get to the states was a miracle. We didn’t have the funds for me to buy a plane ticket and spend all that extra gas, driving from one side of the state to the other. But our “village” (aka you all), pulled through big time and every penny of gas and my plane ticket was paid for. At the first church, the sermon was called, God’s Provision. We sang songs that had been on my heart as I wrestled prior to getting to the states about how in the world we would make through the month with all of the expenses. The pastor mentioned how God will provide. He will use others to get us through. We’re not alone. We have this community that God has allowed us to be a part of. God will walk side by side with us every step of the way. We just need to be willing to speak up about needing help and God will provide. At the second church, the sermon was about anxiety and worry. How we need to lay it at Jesus’ feet. He’s got us. He feeds and cares for every living thing, so of course He’s got us too! We see others being blessed, healed, having a breakthrough. Yet when it comes to us, we tend to think it’s not going to happen. Like we don’t want to get our hopes up and instead feel disappointed.
I needed to hear these messages. I needed that reminder that it’s all in God’s hands, that He will provide for our needs and for this ministry. How He chooses to heal people is not up to us. If He chooses to use us to get the treatment that these patients need or chooses to heal them in heaven is up to Him. I think that something that makes it a bit harder for me is that I’ve worked in healthcare in the states. I have seen patients taken care of with high quality technology, medications, and with well trained healthcare workers. Meanwhile, here in Guatemala, we’ve had to watch patients pass away, all while deep down knowing they would have had a shot at living if they would have had the same healthcare that is provided in the states. But, they aren’t in the states. They are here, deep in the jungle, along a river. He knows the big picture. We only see a small glimpse of it. If He calls us to help in a way that requires money, He will provide it. He will touch hearts to give that will greatly impact these patients.
As I sit here in tears, I ask you to pray about this current patient who we feel led to help. A 7 year old girl, who has been sick for the last 4 years with a swollen face, abdomen, legs and feet. Has been battling worms and intestinal infections, a protruding rectum when she has a bowel movement, severely anemic, short of breath, and is the size of a 4 year old. She has 7 other siblings and the mom is pregnant with child #9. The family lives deep in the jungle, only accessible by foot, and lives in a one room house, sleeping on wood planks. They have been praying for years that someone would come help their little girl before she dies. Then, from word of mouth, we showed up one day to their door. The family was so incredibly grateful and want what’s best for their little girl. But they don’t have the resources. They are working hard to make ends meet and have enough for some food each day. We need $1,500 to pay for everything needed to find out what is wrong with this girl.. That will cover all the tests and exams needed for this girl and all of the transportation needs to make this happen. Would you consider being a part of this girl’s story? We understand money is tight for almost everyone right now with the rising prices of everything. Every little bit adds up and makes a huge impact for this little girl! We are so incredibly grateful for each one of you! Anyone feeling led to donate, can do so on the home page or on the donate tab of this website. Thank you!
I’m struggling tonight. My heart is so heavy. This healthcare system is so broken. I know it’s no picnic in the states either. But currently, friends of a friend are sitting outside the hospital together while their baby, who has been in the ICU alone for weeks, is dying. Alone. The hospital won’t let even one parent in to be with the baby. Not because of covid. It’s like this in at least most, if not all, public hospitals. Baby needed a liver transplant. But no one in Guatemala can do that and the red tape to get anyone into the states for medical care is virtually impossible, even though the hospital in the states was willing to receive the baby. They looked into transferring to a private hospital. But the baby was too unstable and on top of it, the hospitals were requiring around $7000 to be paid in full, up front before they would accept the transfer. That is standard for private hospitals to not accept a patient until you pay up front.
Another family who takes in special needs kids and babies, many with terminal diagnoses, has one of their little ones in the ICU as well in severe respiratory distress. Thankfully, at least the mom can be with the baby. But because of covid, she’s not allowed to have anyone relieve her. You’re pretty much on your own. Most rooms that I’ve seen are just bare bones. You’re lucky if you get a flimsy plastic chair to sit on. You’re on your own for food, drink, toilet paper. So usually, family will bring that for you if they can.
A 16 year old fell out of a tree and has been bed bound with leg pain for the last 3 months. A witch doctor put pvc pipe around his leg to stabilize it at some point. Once receiving crutches today and after walking a bit, he was super short of breath, heart rate through the roof, coughing up pink tinged mucus, and oxygen levels dropped drastically. This family is dirt poor. Doesn’t have access to any resources. Now, missionaries are calling an ambulance and trying to figure out what hospital to take him too. Can’t just assume that any hospital will take him or give him even half quality care. Because of covid, hospitals are overrun, out of resources, denying patients left and right. It’s a privilege to receive healthcare. It’s not a right here.
Another family, who also takes in special needs kids, was to receive a one year old with severe lung issues. At the last minute, a judge decided to overturn the ruling and sent the child back to unfit parents, who have no access to medical care as well, rather than with a loving family who would fight for this child to receive the best possible care.
It’s exhausting. It makes me just want to start our own hospital and provide quality healthcare to those who can’t stick up for themselves, can’t advocate or don’t know what to advocate for, don’t have the medical background, or the attorney, or money behind it to force the health system to do what they are supposed to do to begin with. Where is the compassion? Where is the communication? Those parents are just as important as caring for the dying baby. It’s about complete care. But in an already broken system, that completely broke with a global pandemic, what little there may have been (I’m being generous saying there was any), it’s completely gone. Nonexistent.
Healthcare workers are exhausted. Globally, everyone is exhausted, burned out. The system here, especially in the public health system was already a “hot mess,” to put it nicely. They don’t have resources. They don’t have the up to date knowledge or equipment. They don’t have space. They don’t keep family members up to date or communicate with them. They don’t allow you to see your loved one. Many cases, you might as well say goodbye to your loved one when you send them to a public hospital. It could very well be the last time you see them. During the pandemic, they were so overworked and overrun, that at least some people who died from covid were getting buried before family even found out that they had died. There was talk of just making mass burial sites.
Could you imagine, calling, and calling, trying to find info about your spouse and you don’t get any answers, and then find out that they died a few days before, but no one had time to call you and tell you that? That’s happened here. Can you imagine being injured and needing surgery, but being told to go home and die because they can’t accept patients who don’t have covid? There’s no room. That’s happening here. Could you imagine not being with your baby in his last moments of life, and knowing that he’s dying alone? And not being able to see him at all for the last 2+ weeks? That’s what’s happening. It’s gut wrenching. It’s unacceptable. And honestly, it’s hard to see and listen to “first world problems.” People whining about wearing a piece of fabric across their nose and mouth when out in public, when the country they are in says it’s mandatory as a way to try whatever they can to keep as many out of the hospital as possible. People saying how this whole covid thing is just straight political and it would disappear once the US election was over. (Yes, I am fully aware that the media and politics ran with this whole thing. But it’s way more than that. This is a global medical crisis and not everyone has the luxury of having quality medical care at the snap of their fingers. And medical staff and essential workers are TIRED).
So, pray for the majority, who don’t have the money to go to private hospitals, and instead have no choice but to go to a public hospital. Pray for the families who are scared and left out of the loop as to what is going on with their loved one. Pray for those who can’t be with their dying baby at all, can’t even see him through a window, and feel so helpless, lost, and broken. Pray for the healthcare workers who are overworked and tired. Pray for those of us who are still out there fighting for those who are getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to the healthcare system. We’re tired too.
My heart has been feeling so heavy recently. Just hearing day after day, the increase in cases, the increase in deaths, both of which have affected people I know personally. Being in lockdown is really starting to get to almost all of us. There are moments of fear, anxiety, panic, boredom, depression, desperation, feeling the need to get out, get back to "normal" life. Many are without food, an income, jobs. Others are working more than ever and are just praying they don't bring this virus home to their families. Yet, many healthcare workers are becoming sick, along with other family members. Some have even moved out of their homes in hopes to keep their families safe as they work hours upon hours. Meanwhile, many have tried to turn this into a political issue, conspiracy theories, and just continue to show anger, hatred, and blame towards others. A few days ago, a mother of some friends, who is a nurse, was attacked and stabbed multiple times after providing home health care at a patient's home. She is someone I really looked up to when I decided to become a nurse, all during nursing school, and as I started my career in the hospital. Thankfully, she has pulled through surgery and remains in the ICU as she heals physically and mentally.
But what ever happened to love? Loving your neighbor? Helping those who are really struggling right now? We're all in this pandemic together. Some are struggling more than others. Some are struggling with different things than others. But you know what we could all have in common: loving others and doing what we can to help one another through this time. Some people are making masks and giving them to healthcare workers or those who are working right now. Others are donating for organizations and ministries to be able to buy food for those in need. Those organizations and ministries are providing food to thousands upon thousands of people who are starving right now. Other ministries are providing medical care to those who have never seen a doctor before and have literally 0 access to healthcare otherwise. Many are praying for those who are sick and for those who are working. Others are providing meals and groceries to healthcare workers and those in need. Many are reaching out more than ever with technology to get connected with people, letting them know they aren't alone, that people are praying for them. Some have taken in healthcare workers who have decided to leave their home for the time being to try to keep their families safe. Others are babysitting for healthcare workers who have to work and need childcare now that kids are all home from school. Teachers and parents are learning how to do school online for the students. And the list could go on with the many acts of kindness and love that are happening. That is what we need to hear about right now. All the acts of kindness and love. Not the hatred, blame, and anger. All that is doing is adding fuel to the fire during this pandemic as people already feel trapped, alone, depressed, and downright hopeless at times. How can you help to spread more love, kindness, peace, and joy to others?
I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.
Matthew 22: 36-39
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”
2 kids, come to our house and share that they have nowhere to go. Their grandmother is in the hospital and neither parent is there to care for them. Only other option is a government home, which here is way worse than jail. They move in with us, which we thought was a temporary situation. Almost 3 years later, they are still with us as a part of our family. We have had many ups and downs, lots of learning on how to parent teens, how to work towards healing through the trauma. We have walked through grief together as we lost their brother.
4 month old baby with hydranencephaly, missing 90% of her brain. Parents are told that she wasn't supposed to live past a week. After many months of fighting for this girl's life, lots of house calls, low and high blood sugars, seizures, urine infections, pneumonia, many nights of not sure if she would even make it til morning, but 3 years later, she's still here, doing better than ever! A little miracle right before our eyes.
A youth on the brink of wanting to commit suicide. Late night talks, lots of prayers, and he's still alive. He's learning how to allow God to put the pieces back together and starting the healing process.
A blind child who can't leave his house because his mother is so scared for his safety when he's outside of his familiar surroundings. A mother who has rheumatoid arthritis and struggles with pain everyday and how to care for her blind child every day. However, because of the outpouring from others to pull together and surround this mother and her child, to start to teach him braille, to provide medications needed for this boy's outbursts and the mother's RA, they have hope.
A diabetic with an amputated leg from complications of diabetes. She was one of the most grateful patients I've ever met. She would cry tears of joy over each bottle of insulin we gave, each glucometer and bottle of test strips we gave, the cooler box for her insulin to be stored during the day, for each blood sugar check that revealed that the meds were helping! She used to come in with sugars over 600. First time she came with a sugar in the 200's, she cried, so overjoyed and overwhelmed that she was finally catching a break. Finally on track to feel a little better. Last few months, her sugars have been consistently in the 100's and her blood pressure under control again as well. She was so happy. Only trouble was because of her sugars being so out of control for so many years beforehand, her kidneys were shutting down. Her lungs were filling with fluid. She needed dialysis, but couldn't afford it. We prayed with her many times during clinic. Now she's healed, in heaven, able to walk and breathe again.
These are just a few of the many stories from people we know and love here in Guatemala. Never would I have imagined the pain and joys we have experienced since I moved here 3 years ago. God has stretched and continues to stretch my faith in so many ways. God is teaching me so many things since I’ve moved. It’s crazy how my past has led to where I am today. It’s been used to understand and relate to others as they go through hard moments in their lives, to be able to sit by their side while they struggle going through a dark time in their life. There are a few people in my life who have made a tremendous impact on me, have sat with me in my darkest moments, have allowed God to use them to help me in the healing process. I am so thankful for them and how they answered God's nudge to reach out to me in the hard moments in life.
We all have a story. We all have a testimony. Impact isn't about the number of people. It's about the one whose life was changed. It's about going after the one who is lost. The one who needs a friend to sit with them as they go through the hardest time in their lives. The one who wants to celebrate with someone after they received that amazing promotion, finally got pregnant after years of trying, finally got approved to adopt a child, finally can smile for the first time after going through the worst moments of their lives. We all have value and purpose in this life, no matter what others say.
Our church just hosted its first women's conference here in Guatemala. Over 400 women attended, and around 75 men served at the conference. It was absolutely amazing! The worship, the messages, the people, it was all incredible! So many lives were changed. So many lives were impacted. The group we took couldn't stop talking about it. We heard about how we are daughters of the King. We all have value. We all have a purpose in this life, even though we all have struggles, been hurt by others, and possibly a past we may not be proud of. We may feel like our current situation prevents us from doing what God has called us to do. But that's not the case. We can all do what God has called us to do. He will provide. He is faithful. He has told us to get up and go. Do what we are called to do. Whether that is right where you are, or if you are being called to go to another town, state, country. No matter where you are, you can look for that one person who needs to be shown the love of Jesus. Someone who needs someone to reach out to them. Pray that God would reveal to you who you are to reach out to. You can make a tremendous impact on someone if you are willing to listen to God's calling on your life.
As I sit here, attempting to type, I honestly don't know what to say. I'm sitting here, watching 2 of my kids work on a "find the differences" book, and my heart feels sad, yet full. You see, these 2 kids just lost their brother last week. Martin had lived with us for a time as well, was a part of our wedding day, and a huge part of this family. We are all grieving. We are all adjusting to the transition of Mayra being back with us, starting over with getting everything she needs, and figuring out how to do life without someone who was a huge part of our lives. Martin cared for his brother and sister so very much. Mayra keeps going over the events after Martin was shot. Manuel said he's having trouble sleeping and thinks a lot about his brother. All normal after such a traumatic loss. This past week has been incredibly difficult and just crazy with one thing after another. This week so far has allowed us to try to get back into a routine and to start to process everything. Yesterday was a really hard day for me. The tears just kept coming. I'm so thankful for Peter being by my side 24/7, our family, our church family, friends both here and in the states, and mom's group for being so encouraging, supportive, and praying for us. As hard as this is, I wouldn't want it any other way than having these kids with us, helping them to grieve at all hours, sharing laughs between the tears. We love these kids so very much. And to think that is only a small fraction of how much God loves us. Mind blowing.
Through all of this, there is a song that has been playing over and over in my head: "Yes I will" by Vertical Worship. I've listened to this song on repeat a few weeks before everything that happened this past week. And during this grieving process, I keep thinking about the lyrics, "Yes, I will lift you high in the lowest valley...Yes, I will sing for joy when my heart is heavy." That's where I'm at right now with my family. We are in a low valley after losing Martin and our hearts are so heavy. This grieving process is messy. We can go from laughing to crying to ok to laughing again to can't stop crying. It's going to take time. I know that. Yet, I am having trouble at times allowing myself that grace. I need to allow myself grace, patience, time to heal. Time to even process what all happened. Each time Mayra talks about what happened, she tells more of the events after she was woken up by her father and shown Martin, lying on the ground outside, shot. It's overwhelming at times. What the future will look like, how to grieve and process this all, how to make it through the next moments. But, God continues to show his faithfulness. He has provided the funds needed for this transition with Mayra moving back in with us, the funds needed for Martin's wake, funeral, and preparing for the funeral. He has sent amazing people to stand by our sides through this time. He has provided the kids with an amazing support system as well. He has given us comfort when we feel like we can't even get out of bed in the morning. And despite the sadness, my heart feels full. I am surrounded by His love and those He's put around us during this time. And for that I'm thankful.
The waiting game. So many times in our lives, once we set our minds to it, we want it immediately. We want it to happen right away. But often times, we have to wait. Sometimes, a short period of time. Other times longer. And there are times where we never get what we originally wanted and had hoped. God knows everything about us, our lives, what will happen, what is best for us in the long run. We don’t know that. If we knew that ahead of time, everything that was going to happen in our lives, we wouldn’t be able to handle it. And big chance that we would just be so overwhelmed and say, “Nope! Not doing it!”
Just recently, I have been talking to a friend who is going through the, “What the heck do I do with my life” phase. More and more, her heart is here in Guatemala. I 100% understand! Legit. Those of you who knew me before I moved to Guatemala, especially my co-workers and some close friends, totally saw the whole thing unfold and many called it out that I would move, even when I was in denial about it still. I honestly thought I would be working at Reading in the ED until I retired and would lead medical teams down to Guatemala around twice a year when I could get vacation time. God had other plans that I didn’t see coming at all. And there have been moments that if I would have known ahead of time what was to come in this life, I might have backed out. Do I regret moving and what we do here? Absolutely, NOT! If I didn’t make the jump, answering God’s calling for my life, I wouldn’t be doing any of this: married to the most amazing man, have kids, clinics, doing youth and kids projects, hosting teams and meeting amazing people from all around the world, and walking with some of the toughest, yet most broken kids and youth.
Just a few days ago, I just let the tears fall as I listened about a youth we love dearly and his struggles he’s going through daily. I’m going to refrain from details out of respect for him. The more you’re here, the more you see how deep the poverty, pain, struggles, brokenness, and just messed up, more awful than you imagined kind of situations are happening. It’s not just here. It’s all over the world! Just a few days ago, 8 street boys in Uganda, who we visited when Yelsi, Conner, and I were there for 3 weeks in 2017, were sleeping behind a wall around a school that collapsed on them, killing 6. Their friends, all street kids, worked to dig them out and identify them. They were able to contact family for 4 of the 6 and give them proper burials in their home village. But they are still trying to figure out who the families are for the other 2 boys. These street boys are from villages all throughout Uganda, who leave their homes to travel to the capital, in hopes to get a job and better support their families. Most come and find out they can’t get jobs, which means no food or shelter and end up on the streets. When we were in Uganda, we spent some time working with these boys, teaching them about Jesus, and I even did a health lesson on the effects of drug use. Most of these kids were addicted to huffing paint thinner because it helped them to not feel hungry. They always ended their time together throughout the week with a snack, and that was usually the most food they had for the day. When I worked in the hospital in the States, I saw countless numbers of abuse cases, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, gangs, etc. It’s everywhere. We live in such a broken and fallen world.
It can be so overwhelming to be honest. That feeling of there’s so much we want to help “fix,” yet we can’t do it on our own. First of all, God is the one who provides, heals, touches these people’s lives. Not us. We’re His instruments. 2nd, we live in a fallen world and it’s never going to be perfect. Perfection is in Heaven. 3rd, God called us to do a certain part. We are a small part of a much larger picture that everyone is a part of. And many times when I feel overwhelmed, God reminds me to look right in front of me. Look at the people He has brought to clinic from literally all over the country. Look at the youth and kids and how much they have changed in the last 3 years since I’ve met them and many years since Peter and Estella have been working with them. What used to be a lot of anger, mistrust, distance, turned into trust, love, openness to share with us, openness to come to us when they need a safe place, need to talk, need help. Look at the kids in our own home. Even though it may not feel like we’re making a difference or a “dent” in the massive mess in this world, we’re doing what we’re called to do to help make a world of a difference to the person directly put in our path.
While talking with the friend I was mentioning about before, I gave her the link to my blog for her to read from when I was in Guatemala for 3 months and as I was preparing to move. I recently looked back through the posts and was struck at how everything unfolded. How I had no clue what was going to happen. I never would have guessed that I would have moved and have the life that I have now. It’s amazing to look back through the posts and seeing how faithful God was to allow healing to what I felt like was just too far gone to heal, how He showed me and opened the doors just when they needed to be open to move, meet the people I needed to meet at just the right time, put each piece of the puzzle together and unveil it at just the right time, even when I didn’t always feel like it was the right time. He knew better. He knows the bigger picture.
So as hard as it is to wait, if you’re in that time period of waiting, keep praying that God will give you the patience as you wait, doors opened clearly when they need to be, and peace and joy to be where you need to be in this very moment of your life, even if it’s not where you want to be. And that God will continue to give you the fire and passion for the end goal, what you’re striving for in this life, whatever that may look like for you. So that you can keep fighting and working towards that end goal, yet stay where God has you right now in this stage in life. And trust me, I’m speaking to myself right now. And meanwhile, no matter where you are, you can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Just look around you. Something that may seem so simple, may mean the world to someone else and give them the hope they need in this very moment. So go, bless someone, and you in return will be blessed!
If anyone is interested in looking through my blog from my 3 month trip and the months leading up to moving to Guatemala, if you haven’t read it already, here is the website: https://headingtoguatemala.blogspot.com/
Emotions are a funny thing. We go through so many emotions in the course of one day: happy, sad, angry, joy, etc. Usually they are reactions from things that happen throughout the day, or when we start thinking about something, a certain situation, hear some news, relationships. Ever since I moved to Guatemala, I have been allowing myself to feel, acknowledge, express my emotions more. I’m told it’s a good thing. But man, some days it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like the emotions hit all at once and way too fast and hard at times. When I first moved, it was the emotions of leaving friends and family thousands of miles behind. It definitely helps to be able to have different ways to communicate and frequent teams coming to visit and help us. Then, the emotions of starting to have kids living with us, who also are trying to figure out this who emotion thing, new life, new people taking the roles of their guardians, their parents, their new family. Emotions of when a child leaves for various reasons. The betrayal. The feeling like a failure. The constant wondering if you could have done anything differently. The pain of watching them make some really tough, rough decisions in their lives, despite our guidance. The realization, as hard as it is to accept, that no matter how hard you try to help a child, they have to want it and do their part to achieve it. We can’t force them to make the right decisions in life or change bad habits if they aren’t willing to take that responsibility. The pain in working with biological families of these children. How we can’t force them to do what’s best for their child and their family either if they don’t want to take that responsibility. The attachment issues. The identity issues that goes with being in a new home with a new family, while still having their biological family in the picture somewhat at least. It’s a struggle for the kids, the biological families, and for us. How do you step into that role as mom and dad, without stepping on anyone’s toes? That balance between biological family and us.
Then, there’s the issue with the rest of the world not necessarily acknowledging or accepting the fact that these kids living with you are your children as well. Anyone who has fostered or adopted understand that these kids, whether living with you since a baby or come in as a teen, are your kids. Yes, someone else gave birth to them and they have a biological mother and father somewhere. But that doesn’t mean that you, as the foster or adoptive mother/father, can’t be a mom or dad to this baby, child, teen. It really hurts when people refuse to acknowledge or accept that these are your kids too. Everyone belongs in a family, whether it’s biological, foster, adopted, or a friend’s family who took someone in as their own. Family isn’t necessarily blood related. It’s about a group of people who love one another, will do anything they can for each other, have each other’s backs.
Recently one of our kids living with us went back to his biological family. It was tough for all of us. A lot of emotions passed through each of us. We have had quite a few kids pass through our house. Some for a short period of time. Some longer and continue to be with us. You still have to go through a grieving process no matter what length of time they were with you. It shows you care. You love them as your own child. You were a family.
Another part of life here that causes emotions to run at times is clinic. A few nights ago, we lost a patient who more than likely had esophageal varices that ruptured. We had told this young man that he was very sick months ago, had an ultrasound done confirming all of that, and the tech said, “I don’t know how this man is alive right now. His insides are holding on by a thread.” We had told him at that point that there was really nothing we could do medically, other than treat any symptoms he was having and for him to remain sober. When Peter told that he had died after he began vomiting blood, I cried. I know there was nothing we could have done. This was going to happen. But there’s something about truly knowing your patients. Seeing them working, out on the streets as you walk or drive by. Knowing all of their family members. Having the nephews in kids’ club, youth group, coming to your mother-in-law’s house almost daily to say hi and hang out. It just seems so much more personal than when I worked at the hospital. At the hospital, I had more patients than I can count who were on their deathbed, did CPR on, and had to tell family that we did everything we could, but the patient died. Yes, it hit and was hard to handle, especially kids. But you didn’t have that long-term connection with them like you do here, where you’re considered the community “doctor,” youth leader, kids’ program director, have a relationship formed with practically everyone. Plus, at the hospital, you didn’t have time to feel. As soon as you finished a code, you had to put on your happy face and go to the next patient. It was never ending. You never could truly feel anything until you left the hospital, and by then you were just exhausted beyond measure. We need to grieve our patients, no matter where you work, whether in a foreign country as a missionary, or in a hospital, or as home health aide. It’s just depending on where you work and the relationships formed, it’s a different kind of grief.
Different circumstances and situations have happened recently that help you to re-evaluate what really matters in this life. Scary situations that we can see how God protected us. A missionary family with special needs children, losing a child. A friend diagnosed with cancer. It’s situations like that where you think that yes, money is tight. We may not be able to do everything we want. But, you know what, that’s not what’s most important. We have each other. We have another day with one another. So let’s make the best of it...at this very moment. We can’t be worried about everything in the future. It’s not guaranteed. What we have is the present, this moment right now. I recently was in the States, visiting friends and family. It wasn’t a long trip. But, I did my best to see as many people as possible who are a huge part of our lives and make the best of it. We’re not guaranteed even our next second. Let’s re-evaluate what matters. Our relationships with one another. Enjoying the time we have, even if it doesn’t seem adequate at times. It’s better than nothing. I would much rather live a full, joyful life. Rather than a life of regret, anger, resentment, conflict, bitterness.
It’s healthy to feel emotions. It’s ok to feel them. Just need to learn how to let them out in a healthy manner. And it may really suck sometimes. I’ve always had a tendency to bottle them up, shove them away, and just keep pushing through. That’s what a “strong” person does, right? Wrong. I’m learning more than ever that the healthy, courageous, strong thing to do is to work through the emotions and process them. It allows a much more joyful attitude to grow within you when you let out the emotions, and let go. There’s something freeing about processing your emotions, addressing what is bothering you, and letting go. Letting go of the pain, the hurt, the grief, the betrayal. Letting God cover you with his grace, mercy, peace, and comfort. Allowing joy to enter your life, no matter what the circumstances are. And moving forward where God wants you to be, who he wants you to be with. I am so thankful for my amazing husband he placed in my path, our kids, our missionary community here, our Guatemalan community, and our community scattered throughout the world. What started as a small community of friends and family for me in PA, has spread literally all over the world for Peter and I and we are eternally grateful for each and every one of you who have a part of this ministry. Even if you think your contribution is small, it’s huge to us and those who are blessed by it. So thank you! And let’s all allow joy to fill our hearts, enjoy the time you are given at this very moment, and encourage one another.
Working in the ED was nonstop, crazy, no matter how hard and fast you worked, it just seemed like the waiting room was only getting deeper and deeper. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my job...for the most part. I loved the trauma, really sick ones, the challenge, staying busy, helping those who were in great need of comfort, help, doing anything from saving lives, to comforting during loss. I don’t miss the physical and verbal abuse, the most ridiculous things, or driving in that crazy weather for hours during a blizzard/ice storm. I made lasting friendships, a bond so strong that my coworkers feel like family. Working nightshift in the busiest ED in PA took its toll. The things we experienced and witnessed, things you can’t talk about to anyone and how no one understands unless they have worked and experienced it too. Doing CPR on babies, having to hug the parents as you tell them that despite everything you did, their baby still died. Telling someone they have cancer that is everywhere and only have a few months to live. Pulling someone out of a car and doing CPR immediately. Gunshots. Stabbings. Massive brain bleeds. Starting IVs on someone who says they don’t have any veins or are a hard stick. Vomiting. Diarrhea. GI bleeds. Seizures. Death threats from patients. And the list goes on.
There’s a lot of things that I was a part of, witnessed, experienced, that affected me, some things more deeply than others. You can’t experience all of that and not feel anything. We had to put all those emotions aside to be able to continue our shift. But at some point, you have to feel. Whether it’s after the shift, or years later, you have to process it.
I worked at Reading for 7 years, 12 hour nights. I’ve been living in Guatemala for a few weeks shy of 2 years. Ever since I have been living here, I have been slowly processing everything I experienced at work, in my personal life, and transitioning to being a full time missionary. I honestly never realized how much I’ve experienced and how it deep down affected me. But I’m slowly healing from so many things. Ever since we started ministry together once I moved, we’ve experienced a ton! We have kids with us, kids’ club, youth group, clinics, teams, construction projects, soccer, preparing to open a coffee shop, getting married and adjusting to our new lives together, and a bunch of trials and tribulations.
Lately, Peter and I have been talking more about needing to take more time to slow down, allow time for ourselves, together, and as a family. Everyone has been saying it. I’ve been seeing it everywhere in the book I’m reading right now, verses that pop out, etc. And we knew it. But you know how ministry just doesn’t stop? It’s a 24/7 lifestyle. And you just kind of have to get to the point where it sinks in that you truly do need to slow down and take more breaks. We literally get calls and messages at all hours. This life a marathon, not a sprint. So we are going to make a conscious effort to take more breaks. Take more time for ourselves, together, and as a family. We need to fill ourselves up to be able to pour out to others. When I was in Africa 2 years ago, we met an amazing guy who was our driver while there. Something he said really stuck with me: we have to fill up our own cups first before we can give to others. Once our cups are filled and overflow, it’s the part that overflows that we can use to pour into others.
So even as ministry is growing, we want to make a conscious effort to fight for that time we need for ourselves, together, and as a family so that we can better pour into our ministry, the people here who need help. We greatly appreciate everyone’s support, wisdom, guidance, encouragement, and prayers. And yes, ministry will continue to grow, especially as this new coffee shop starts. But we are going to do our best to make the choice and fight for down times, which are much needed to thrive. Might not always be anything long or fancy. But even going out for a walk, getting some hot chocolate, sitting and talking for a bit, or whatever it is that we can do is better than nothing. So that’s what we’re going to do to build our relationship stronger than ever with God, each other, and our family. I encourage you to do the same with your crazy, busy lives. Find even just a few minutes each day or week to slow down, fill up your cup, and be refreshed. Renewed.
Holiday times always seem to be an emotional roller coaster for many people to begin with. Then go ahead and add in what life may throw at you. This past week has been just that for many. Many of you reading this blog know my story of how I got here, at least from what all happened in the States before I came for my 3 month trip. But there’s more to the story. One from how the people in Guatemala pulled my heart. I started coming in 2011 on short trips when I could cram my 80 hours into a week before and a week after with some days off in between. Sleep is overrated anyway, right? That’s what you’re supposed to do on the plane. When I started coming, I was visiting friends who work with kids in orphanages and children’s homes. I loved the break and playing with kids. But I felt like something was missing. I’m a nurse. I wanted to help with patient care some way, but didn’t have the connections yet. One trip here, I was called by a friend who worked in a clinic and asked if I wanted to join her. Sure! And that was the start of getting involved with the medical world here.
Later, when back in the States, I heard about a sweet boy named Mateo, who was placed into the care of Dawn, a missionary friend of mine. Every breakfast and any time he exerted himself, he would turn pale, blue, short of breath, and all but pass out. His way of recovering from these episodes was to squat against the wall. We figured out that he needed open heart surgery ASAP to repair congenital defects. That started the process of them trying to get the surgery done in Guatemala. Meanwhile, docs I worked with had some connections stateside to see if he could come to the states to have his surgery done. It was a race to see which happened first. He was finally scheduled for his surgery around Thanksgiving time in Guatemala and I booked my flights to help care for him and help Dawn, who was caring for him and 3 other children.
Mateo stole my heart immediately. His sweet smile. Amazing laugh. His determination to play, but couldn’t run without having chest pain and about passing out. So he found other ways to play, including lying at my feet or in my lap. One morning, he was eating breakfast, and began to have one of his episodes: turned pale. Then blue. Started to whimper. Gasping for air. We got him out of his chair and had him squat. I squatted down with him, telling him to stay calm and that he’s going to be ok. He looked at me, let out a cry, and started to pass out. I scooped him up, carried him to the couch, and had him all curled up on my chest. He continued to cry for a bit that his chest hurt. I just rubbed his back, prayed for him, and he fell asleep for hours, lying on me. At this point, he had been turned away for heart surgery multiple times for random reasons and we just prayed he would get it done soon. His little heart couldn’t take much more. Finally, a few weeks later, he was able to receive it.
Meanwhile, I had more time with him, the 3 other kids, and Dawn. We talked and talked...and talked about our futures. How I was seriously feeling a tug to come and do what she’s doing: fostering kids who needed a safe place. How I would love to start a clinic. Take in kids who had medical issues. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready to quit my job in the emergency department. I wasn’t sure if I could do all of that on my own and felt like I needed more support around me to be able to accomplish all of that. But having Mateo curled up on my lap, having the other kids snuggle with you well after their bedtime because they are scared and need some love and security, it just felt right.
Each trip after his heart surgery, I always visited Mateo and his awesome siblings. He looked amazing after surgery! Lips pink instead of purple. Seeing him run, laugh, be able to be a kid, and even just do something so simple like eat breakfast without passing out, was an amazing thing to witness! After some time, a judge decided to send him and one of his sisters back with his mother. Many who lived relatively close to them continued to stand up and advocate for him and his sister. We all continued to pray for them.
These past few days have been emotional for sure. Hearing that Mateo had a heart attack, went into a coma, heart failure, losing blood, needing a heart transplant, knowing half of what he and his siblings have been through. He had been through more than most people have in a lifetime. Being a small part of his 6 years of life have been such a huge blessing to me. He was the start of feeling the call to move to Guatemala. He touched my life and so many others as well. So many people fought for him and his siblings, trying to keep them safe, show them the love of a family. He has more “family” than he realized probably.
Yesterday, my family and I went out to Semuc Champy. Honestly, I was running from my emotions. I didn’t want to be at home, thinking about how Mateo was no longer with us. Yes, it’s amazing to think about how he’s completely healed in heaven, no longer in pain, suffering, dealing with trauma. How he is safe for eternity and can no longer be hurt. But it still hurts us, being left behind. But you know, running from my emotions didn’t really work. They followed. I spent a lot of time praying and this is what I felt God speaking to me:
People were commenting on my pictures of him about his smile and how much joy he had. He went through so much pain, physically and emotionally, and he still had joy, a smile, laughed. So, look for the simple things in life. It’s not always going to be pretty. But we can choose joy, choose to find the silver lining in things. So, perfect timing for “New Year resolutions:” I want to choose joy. Find the good in things. Learn the lessons God is trying to teach me and listen to Him. We have so many blessings, even in the midst of pain and sadness. But ask God to open your eyes to them and to focus on Him through everything.
Mateo, sweet boy, thank you for teaching me so much, for preparing me for moving here, taking in kids who needed a safe place, starting medical clinics, and the million other things we do in this ministry. You stole my heart years ago when we met and I never imagined my life to have turned out the way it has. But I’m so grateful for my life now: for my husband, kids, ministry, many new friends who have become family, our supporters/ encouragers/ prayer warriors. Now, Mateo, you are HOME. Safe. Healed. Whole.
Last year around this time, I was a hot mess. Straight up. It was the first time not with my family in the States for Christmas. I obviously was happy to be spending it with my fiancé, the kids with us, and my Guatemalan family. But I felt like something was missing, or just not right. It was a huge change to not be with my family from PA, our traditions, the fact that it wasn’t cold, no snow, not working 12 hours, driving 3 hours across the state to be with family, feed and milk the cows, head back to work, etc. I tried to “normalize” Christmas, while being surrounded by new traditions. And failed miserably. Couldn’t find my cookie press, didn’t have time to make other cookies, no snow, not cold, no cows to feed or milk, no working crazy hours. It just didn’t feel “right” or “normal.” To me, it was just a lot of changes all at once.
But now, here we are a year later. Many more changes have occurred from the past year. This past year has had its share of ups and downs. Marriage, moving into a new house with my husband and making it a home, adjusting to a new life, becoming more comfortable with my new home country, financial struggles, challenges and triumphs with kids, transitions with some kids, moving 3 kids with us in our new home, spending time as a family, giving up the mission house in hopes of bigger plans in the future, 1700+ patients treated, hosting teams, 8 kids fully supported in school and over 35 others assisted in some way or another with their schooling, forming a soccer team, starting free English classes, youth and kids’ club activities and seeing amazing growth from them, spending one on one time with many youth, volcano relief after a devastating eruption, making new friends who have become family, continuing to fight a spiritual battle and show the love of Jesus to those we come into contact with. And another thing that has changed is the fact that I feel like I’m in my earthly home for Christmas this year and can’t wait to spend it with my HUSBAND and kids.
Thinking back over the last year, it amazes me how much God has blessed us, in big ways and small ways, has shown his faithfulness to walk with us through the trials and triumphs, and to see how many people were blessed because God tugged at your hearts to partner with us in one way or another. Words can’t express our gratitude, thankfulness, and how humbled we are to have you all a part of our lives and the lives of everyone here. So for this Christmas season, I pray you all can feel the blessing in return that you have given us and so many others here. And that you can realize the impact that you are making, how you are helping to save lives, and giving so many people a chance and a hope to break the poverty cycle, receive healthcare, and learn about how through Jesus we can receive the greatest gift of all: eternal life. So until we all get to our heavenly home, I pray you all make wherever you are your home for Christmas this year and can enjoy it. Enjoy the little and big blessings God has given you this year. And if you are feeling stress, grieving the loss of a child or another loved one, or dealing with pain or depression, I pray that God can give you comfort, peace, and the most amazing hug during this difficult time that can easily consume you to the point that you can’t function, just crippling. Christmas season can be amazing and it can be the most dreaded time of the year depending on what you have been through. I pray that no matter what you have been through that God can give you the comfort that can only come from him, giving you grace, mercy, rest, and help you through this season, in hopes that one day you can breathe and live again. Meanwhile, we have the hope of eternal life to be reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us, that they are healed and made whole, and that we will be with them and our Heavenly Father. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more suffering. No more trials. Just pure bliss...and finally HOME.