23 August 2013

F. is for Favorite

I know I've written a lot about the numerous patients, children in particular, who have touched my life since moving to Niger in 2011 . . . and from time to time I claim to have a current 'favorite'.  But if I look back on the past thirty-one months, there's only been two that have reached so far deep inside of me, stealing a little piece of my heart.

In September of my first year at Galmi, my faith was shaken down to the core when a sweet six year old was stripped of her life through a scenario with which I wrestled for months.  Little N. did not accomplish anything significant in her few years . . . but she has left a lasting impact on my life that has come to define a part of my spiritual journey (you can read bits of her story herehere and here).

Little N. was a favorite because her life (and death) deepened my faith . . . and now there is F. whose example is facilitating my ability to trust.

Chillin' with Granny, sporting her mask

F. came to us in the fifth month of her healing after she was burned by boiling water. The moment I saw her, I was struck by how calm and bold she was . . . just four-years-old, she was so severely disfigured that passersby would stare in disbelief.  But within a few days, those same gawkers came to greet her by name when sauntering down the hallway as if she owned our hospital.

For four months she was treated at an NGO clinic a few hours drive from us.  During this time, she had come to know the drill of dressing changes, and despite her fear of the pain, she approached me with confidence.  Over the ensuing weeks, she placed her trust in my hands and went along with everything I asked of her: laying still as we covered half of her face with plaster gauze . . . sitting motionless as I strapped a molded piece of plastic over her nose, mouth, cheeks and chin . . . and waiting patiently as I wheeled her into a cold room to have skin from her leg transplanted onto her forehead.

Last week, F. came back after two weeks at home.  Her graft was beautiful (well . . . as beautiful as a skin graft can be), but the contractures under her left eye were reforming and once again she couldn't blink or draw her eyelids closed . . . which means, more delicate surgeries are coming.

To protect against the strong sun, I found a pair of slightly-too-big hot-pink sunglasses at the market that she could wear when outside.  Needless to say, she rocked them!

F. and Granny graciously stuck around for a few days, during which time I spent hours playing with . . . I mean, remolding, her mask.  F. wouldn't go anywhere with me unless I was carrying her and when possible, she'd climb into my lap rather than sit beside me.  If I walked into her room, she'd scoot to the edge of her bed and hold up her arms to me, ready for a squeeze.
Rockin' her shades

There is something indescribably beautiful about earning the trust of a child.

But the thing about F.'s trust that is so remarkable to me is that her burns weren't accidental . . . she was held down in just-boiled water by someone she trusted . . . someone who should have protected her from such pain.  And yet, this little one, despite being tragically brutalized, has reopened her heart to a silly white lady who blows bubbles and pulls face masks.

One of the pictures God uses to help us understand His love for us is that of a Father with His children.  It's an image woven through His Word . . . a picture of vulnerability and trust.  He is in the position to care for and we to depend on.  He wants us to take His strong hand as He walks with us into the unknown.  He invites us to climb into His lap so He can comfort us.

But unlike my four-year-old friend, I find that level of trust difficult.  F.'s scars are sprawled across her face, on display for all the world to see . . . mine are hidden, deep inside where I can coddle and protect them.  The mask F. wears is to help her scars heal . . . the one I put on is to help me pretend mine don't exist.  Despite the pain of her experience, F. trusts without reserve . . . but I allow history to justify the fortress I've built to protect my secret vulnerability.

When I think about the image of God as Father, I find myself frozen in the balance . . . I want to stand at His feet with my arms in the air, ready to be scooped off the ground, but more often than not I shrink back to hide behind the false security of my own strength.

F. is also for Fabulous
In her book, Strong Women Soft Hearts, Paula Rinehart writes:
Trust hangs somewhere between knowing what your heart longs for and trying to dictate the shape or timing or outcome of your heart's desire.  It lies in the willingness to accept the particulars of how and when and where God chooses to intervene.
Trust lies in the willingness to accept the particulars of how and when and where God chooses to intervene . . . so really, it's about the surrender of control.

Now, each time when I look down at F. lifting her hands as she silently asks to be held, I remind myself that I need the same spiritual posture: arms up, heart open.


LauraG said...

Love this! I'm doing a sermon outline for a class and you just provided a perfect illustration. Thank you!

Leah said...

Oh wow, Deb. It takes some spiritual and emotional sisu (to borrow from my Finish in-laws) to 1. witness the difficulties others face, 2. allow those difficulties to touch you rather than become calloused to protect yourself, and then 3. to allow God to use the difficulties of others and their intersection in your life to uncover spiritual truth within. That's hard, good work, and, on a more superficial note, it shows that you've started to LIVE where you are, in the role you have and in that different culture. Another step through the acclimation process. Go you! Go God! I feel like I'm so far from that place yet; still sort of being dragged along, holding on to shirttails.

Joyful said...

Beautiful post. How horrible for the little one who was burned by someone she trusted. But thank God she has learned to trust again. It can be done. xx

Linda Stouff said...

Surrender...it usually is pictured cowering with a white flag. You have given another visual...a "child" of the King of Kings reaching up for His strong and mighty arms to rescue and deliver. I much prefer that one! I sit in my safe little world but understand after 60 yrs that God is using each moment in my life for His purpose and I need to surrender daily...my life, my children, my job, my everything. Thank you for reminding me and trusting Him! xoxo

Julie Korn said...

Beautiful. Fighting back the tears. Thank you for sharing.

Deb. said...

Thanks Linda!

I like your comparison here of us 'cowering' under the white flag . . . I read that as a posture of shame, that surrender is a last attempt to survive at the mercy of another. Rather, we are invited to come willingly, being fully accepted 'just as we are'.

Deb. said...

Oooh! What's your sermon on?

Deb. said...

Are we back on the same continent again?

LauraG said...

Hebrews 12:1-11 so lots on trusting God, the perfect and forever father. F's choice to trust you in joy despite the pain of the healing process and experience of human sin in the past is such a picture of trusting and submitting to God as he disciplines/trains us for our own good.
I often feel like a toddler who whines and has tantrums when their parents tell them or discipline them for things they don't understand and don't like. While I'll never fully understand God and his ways, I want to react like F., with trust, joy, and surrender (and more maturity than a 2 year old) and reap the fruit of submission to God's discipline.

Doug Morris said...

Wonderful Story!
I came across your blog while scanning the web for "Christian occupational therapists." I am the program director for a new OT program at Indiana Wesleyan Univeristy in Marion, IN. I would love to invite you to come and speak on campus whenever you are back in the States!
Also, if you know any OT friends who would be a "mission fit" at an evangelical Christian OT program, I am looking for faculty!

elizabeth said...

thanks, deb for once again making me cry. :) thanks for taking the time to share her story. i just want to give her and you a big hug. love you, sis!

Deb. said...

I hugged her for you today! She came down to the gym while I was doing an eval on a patient with a spinal cord injury . . . and as I talked with the patient's family, she climbed up into my lap to cuddle. Four year olds are great cuddlers, no matter their culture!

elizabeth said...

i truly can't wait to come visit you in the hospital!! now off to make my millions so i can just travel! ha! :)