I’m back! Finally! After being absent for far too long I am finishing up my series on Africa. I look forward to continuing to share more of the story with you. Happy reading!
We were silent for most of the taxi ride. For the first time I was oblivious of the cacophony that is Kampala. Usually, the city’s organ-grinder pace demands attention but not today.
“I’m sorry you had to be there,” said Steve.
As we traveled to Entebbe, the din giving way to serene green hills, I tried to process the last few hours. Gut-wrenching cries. Tears. Blood. A flurry of unintelligible Lugandan. A little boy & his father. Shame. Overcrowded wards. Dirty bandages. A bare plastic mattress.
Any one of the things I had seen today could threaten to do me in. All of them together pushed me miles past my limit.
Usually when our time in Uganda comes to a close we go to Banana Village for two days of decompression. The original plan had been to spend the day unwinding by the pristine pool of the Victoria Hotel as we processed our work. But after meeting Joseph that seemed frivolous, especially since his biopsy was that day. So instead, Steve and I made arrangements to leave the group and go to Mulago Hospital to be with Joseph and his father.
I’m not sure what I expected. After touring the hell-hole of a hospital in Mityana I assumed Mulago would be better, and in some ways it was. I wasn’t greeted by scattered needles or soiled makeshift mattresses and there was an overall effort at basic cleanliness. Taken at face value it looked like a vast improvement from the village hospital. But as we ventured further into the cavernous labyrinth the stark reality hit me – no hospital in North America could stay open in this state.
By the time Steve, Joshua (our translator), and I found the correct ward Joseph had already been taken into surgery. We waited with Ellya by Joseph’s bed in a room that easily held 30+ patients. Eventually they called for Ellya. Stunned, I watched as he was taken to the door of the operating theater and they passed his still sedated son to him. No nurse, no orderly… they simply handed the boy to his father wearing the same clothes he had been wearing for 3 days. As Ellya placed Joseph back on his bed the wailing began. Blood tinged saliva ran down his chin as he thrashed about. I prayed his discomfort would pass quickly.
For too many minutes it took the energy of all 4 of us to hold him down. I can never forget the helplessness I felt as I held him, having no idea what he was muttering. Honestly, I wanted to run away. In a panic I began yelling for the one nurse who held watch over all the patients crowded in that too small a space. My requests for help went unnoticed. As he continued to cry and writhe in pain I noticed that the hastily placed IV port was about to be dislodged. That was the last straw. The mother lion in me reared her head and I roared. I roared at the nurse, insisting that they give him something for the pain. I roared that he was bleeding because he had pulled out his IV port. I roared at the injustice of it all. But what I really wanted to do was cry. I wanted to sit down on the dirty floor to heave and sob as if somehow my tears could wash away the absurdity of the situation.
I wanted to cry because five year old boys shouldn’t have sub-lingual biopsies. I wanted to cry because cancer is ugly. I wanted to cry because it all seemed so completely and utterly unfair.
The lethargic nurse eventually came with her syringe full of relief. Embarrassment washed over me as it became clear that she was more concerned about the blood that had gotten on me and Steve in the struggle than she was with Joseph’s pain. I am still ashamed to speak that out loud knowing it was 100% true. I try hard not to judge. I don’t live in her world, but it took everything in me not to slap her square across the face.
“I’m sorry you had to be there,” Steve’s words cut through the silence in the taxi. There is a part of me that agreed – it wasn’t my first choice of ways to spend the day. But then I started thinking. Why not me? Why should I be spared? Yes, it’s hard and uncomfortable. But that is exactly where I see Jesus. He was always involved in the dirty, messy, humanity of life. I am in no way equating myself with Jesus and the last thing I want to do is pat myself on the back for being there.
My point is this: real love means being present. If we as believers truly are living out the greatest commandment then we will find ourselves in uncomfortable, messy, heart-breaking situations. If we are living out what we believe, it is unavoidable. How can we expect to love others but escape the difficulties life brings?
My choice to walk through that day with Joseph and his father was an easy one. But I can’t help but wonder if I would have done the same thing at home. How many times do I go out of my way for others? How many times do I place myself smack in the middle of the undesirable? And the embarrassment that I felt with the nurse’s concern over me while ignoring a child in pain resurfaces. It resurfaces because I know the answer is not very often.
I can’t explain why it takes a trip to the other side of the world to teach me this lesson. I do things for people on the other side of the world that I don’t do here. Ouch!
The value of being present is a lesson I pray I never forget. Whether it is in the comfy confines of my life at home or on the other side of the world, being present in the suffering of others shows Christ’s love in ways that mere words never will.
My nerves were about to get the best of me. Walking into my first college class in over 13 years was beyond daunting! In a sea of 18-22 year olds, this 29 year old was feeling very out of place. Even though I had eagerly registered for my Into Journalism class, it took everything I had to walk into the class room. My nerves were at “first day of Jr. High” level.
I swallowed hard, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach, and opened the class door. The scene that greeted me was my worst nightmare come true. I was greeted by the face of *Ellen Smith! In sheer panic I nearly ran out the door. How could that be? She was my 11th grade AP English teacher. And she did NOT like me.
Okay, so it really wasn’t Ms. Smith. But my wonderful professor, Rosemary Roberts, resembled her. It had been over 15 years since I joyfully finished my last class in junior English. And honestly, I don’t remember thinking that much about the class once it was over. But every emotion that I experienced years before came flooding back at warp speed. Papers were returned covered in red ink. Biting remarks and belittling were the norm in that class. I honestly don’t know why this particular teacher disliked me so much. And whether or not I deserved the treatment I received isn’t the point.
Both women have a gift for understanding the English language. Both women are teachers. And both women have similar features. But they had one huge difference – the way they went about their jobs. One inspired and encouraged while the other criticized and intimidated. One was pleasant, the other was crotchety. One I feared, the other I respected.
It’s no surprise that I performed much better for the teacher who inspired me. So that leads me to examine myself. How do I deal with those around me? My husband, my children, my friends and family; do I inspire or intimidate? Am I pleasant or grouchy? In all honesty I am both.
I think everyone has the ability to be both. It’s easy to casually spew criticism, blanketing those around us with seeds of self-doubt. But is it realistic to expect that anyone can always be …well, nice? It’s hard to live between the two extremes, balancing honesty with encouragement. No matter how hard, I will continue to try. More encouragement, less criticism. More inspiration, less demand. More smiling, less scowling. After all, I would hate for someone to run shrieking in terror because they saw someone who looked like me.
*Name changed to protect the grumpy.
Some questions can be taken at face value. When my kids ask me what’s for dinner there typically isn’t anything behind the question other than a hungry stomach. Other questions aren’t as simple. They stem from something deeper – there’s a question behind the question. What’s being spoken is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s beneath the surface is the real issue.
The day I sat eating with Morgan, I wondered what was behind her question. “Is he thinking of someone else while kissing me?” were the words coming out of her mouth. “Does he desire only me?” was what was in her heart. On the surface, she knows he desires her, but does he desire every other woman he sees too? This fear lurks behind the veil of her question.
When we enter into a committed relationship there are some basic expectations that come with the territory — one of the most primal being that we will be the sole object of our partner’s desire. It is innate. We long to be desired. And we don’t expect to share that position with anyone else. I, like Morgan, never expected to be one of many women who floated through my husband’s mind. In reality, over the course of Steve’s active addiction, I was one of thousands. I wanted to be the only one.
Walking the road of recovery with Steve, I have learned that wanting to be the only one is fine. Actually being the only one is unrealistic. Before you have a heart attack, let me explain. Yes, in marriage it is fair to expect faithfulness – emotionally, physically and mentally. However, expecting that Steve will never have some image flip through his head is unfair. So the real issue becomes the intent.
In an active addiction, there is a complete lack of emotional intimacy between partners. An addict will attempt to fill this void by pursing false intimacy with someone else — real and/or fantasy. The intent is to use images or people for one’s own pleasure. It is selfish in nature and it is wrong. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that while I have never struggled with a sexual addiction, sometimes there are uninvited thoughts and images that appear in my own head. How can I hold my partner to a standard that I, myself, can’t keep?
So, maybe measuring the health of your relationship with the ruler of ‘being the sole object of his desire’ isn’t the most accurate way of finding relational security. It would be more accurate to use the gauge of intimacy. As real emotional intimacy develops between two people, the need for false intimacy will decrease. A working definition of intimacy is the willingness to be known for who I really am and the willingness to know someone for who they truly are. And true emotional intimacy can only take place in a safe environment.
I have found that when I am concerned with who else might be in my husband’s thoughts, the best thing I can do is provide a safe environment for him. This doesn’t mean I condone his entertaining thoughts of others, simply that I can inspire his focus to return to me much better than I can require it.
So if you value your relationship and want to heal it, it is better to focus on what you can do to cheer him on and turn his heart (and thoughts) back toward you, rather than berate him with a bunch of questions that can’t really be answered in a futile attempt to calm your own insecurities. Because in reality, there will never be a way to know who is in your spouses head as they are kissing you. But build emotional intimacy and it won’t matter. You’ll know his heart and body belong to you, even if another unwelcome woman invades his private thoughts on occasion.
“You can do it! I know you can! Look, it’s only this far,” I reassure, holding my arms out to give him a reference to the horizontal distance. He shakes his head no. Despite his overwhelming desire, he can’t make his feet move. Over and over he backs up the length of the picnic table and runs only to stop cold at the end. In his heart he is jumping. In his head he doubts.
To me, it’s so easy to see that he can do it. He has easily cleared that distance many times on the ground. But up there it’s different. Up there are things to fall off, onto and through. He has all the right ingredients; beautiful blue sky, a gentle breeze blowing off the Adirondack Mountain Lake, an encouraging mom, a picnic table and a gigantic flat-topped rock. However, the tiniest speck of doubt outweighs them all.
This incident came to mind last night during a conversation with a friend. The conversation bounced here and there, but eventually turned to me and my writing, or more accurately, my lack there of. While we don’t chat often, said friend always encourages me & asks if I’ve been writing. Last night I was in a particularly open mood and confessed that I still struggle with doubt. The realization takes me down a notch and reminds me of something from my childhood; something I haven’t thought of in years.
No matter how far I’ve come, at times I am still a 10 year old girl. The one who wants everyone to listen her recording of Christmas songs, but is told no one wants to hear them. And that realization isn’t pleasant. Haven’t I gotten over it? Haven’t I paid time and money to be healthy, to be happy with whom I am? The woman I am today knows in her mind that the comments weren’t meant to do the harm they did. The mother in me knows that a large, family holiday gathering isn’t the best platform for a tape recorded recital. In my head, I understand. In my heart I am still 10, and it still hurts. I have let ancient negative thoughts paralyze me.
So I wonder. Why is it so easy to see self-doubt in other people while turning a blind eye to it in myself? When will I get over it? And then I think back to a day last summer when I watched my son finally take a deep-breathed leap, throwing his hands up in triumph. And I begin to get it. No matter how old we are or how far we have come, believing in ourselves is still a daily choice. A perfect setting and good intentions can never take the place of actually doing. When I am tempted to give in and let doubt win, I will remember the conquering smile on Griffin’s face and tell my heart to jump.