Sometimes I ask God questions out loud. Yesterday the question was quite simple. We were standing in the hospital laundry room, “God, where is the green bonnet?” We needed this bonnet so badly, for the patient who owned it was missing it and hiding her face and her heart from life.
The day before when I had come into work, she was lying in bed, a blue towel covering the whole right side of her face, her body buried in a pile of blankets. Her eyes were closed. The nurse told me she had refused to eat lunch. She was also requiring high dose painkillers for the surgery that she’d just had the day before. She had so far been unable to move from her bed and walk to the toilet since the pain she felt from the wound on her thigh. She was stubborn about not moving.
Her name means Help in Malagasy and as she lay in her bed, face covered, still as a statue, my heart broke for her. The situation is all too familiar to me. The facial flesh eating disease, noma, was the one who ate away her face. Like so many other patients I have cared for and fallen in love with in the past, she too needs patient, constant, unconditional love. She has clearly been rejected and shamed in her community. Only God knows the awful things that may have been whispered about her as she went about her daily life, her face hidden in shame.
My years of nursing in this place has made me soft and cry more than I ever thought I would but also one of the toughest, unafraid to push the patients to return to a normal rhythm of life despite being in a hospital. Yesterday I pushed her gently and was actually rewarded with an unexpected smile!
Our mission now, if we should choose to accept it, is to sing love over her until it seeps into the very depths of her soul. She has a long road ahead, but being constantly bathed in God’s beauty and goodness is sure to change her.
When I look at my own life, sometimes I shield my face from others. Well actually to be honest, living in such a close community like the ship makes me shield my face often, from those who care, but aren’t the ones that I would choose to share the intricate details of my life with. I think many of us cover our face and stubbornly lay waiting for God to heal our hearts or make our daily life better. Sometimes when your heart is broken and laying on the floor, all you can do is lay in God’s arms, but I think that’s when we need to ask Him for strength to face the new day and to draw off his strength. In that moment we feel carried on his shoulders and He is made strong in our weakness.
There is a lot of sadness in the world at the moment. You don’t need to look very far to see the massive need of the Syrian refugees, the wars that still rage, natural disasters, the friend who is struggling, the patient lying in her hospital bed struggling to accept the road ahead of her, my neighbour who just lost his battle with cancer or the loss of friends who were killed in a car accident over the weekend.
I have asked God all sorts of questions lately, not just about finding patient’s bonnets, but about the plan that he has for us. He says He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future. (Jer 29:11) But what about all those who are suffering harm? The next verses in Jeremiah carry on by saying that when we call upon Him and come and pray or talk to Him, He will listen and when we seek Him with all our hearts, we will find him. In my experience, in the moment we call out to God and find Him, the pain doesn’t just vanish, but as we learn to lean into Him and let Him carry us, He’ll also carry our pain.
As I was reading the news articles about the Syrian refugees and just feeling so discouraged for them, I was asking God, “How do they know that you are a good God when all they have known is war for the past four years? How do they know that you love them?” I didn’t hear an immediate answer, but the next day as I read more articles, they were about people in Europe standing by the border crossings with banners saying Welcome, passing out free food for those walking on the highway from Hungary to Austria, new shoes provided for those who’d walked and walked and families who’d welcomed strangers into their villages, God whispered to me that he showed these people he loved them through the people who reached out and showed kindness and love. It was a strong reminder to me of the different ways that God shows His love and also to remember to listen to God’s spirit whispering to me to be the one who hands out love in the form of a batch of cookies for a friend who needs encouragement, a bunch of flowers to a family member who has lost a loved one, an extra moment to sit with the patient who is struggling to interact and receive love.