It’s a shame I don’t have a medical degree.

Something else I’ve been reading is the weblog of a missionary working with Mercy Ships (basically a floating hospital providing free healthcare in Africa). Her name is Ali and she has done more than inspire me. Her words have reaffirmed a where my heart has been heading; I especially needed to read them this week. There are a few posts of hers that I’d like to share with you and I’m quite tempted to share them in their entirety. So buckle up, I guess. This is going to be long (If you’re prone to skim this sort of stuff, please be sure to read the last two paragraphs).

Wednesday, August 20. 2008
until you reached this place

As days go by here in Liberia, I find myself realizing that I’m possibly a real grownup now. Don’t tell any of the myriad kids I play with every chance I get, but I don’t think I am one of them any longer.

I think the straw that broke my proverbial back (not that I’m a camel or anything; the metaphor just seemed to fit) was getting this poster in the mail. Go ahead and click on that bright red square and you will see the reason I’ve had to say goodbye to my childhood once and for all. It’s not really anything spectacular, nothing but a piece of posterboard with kids’ signatures scattered across it in black marker. But if you look up there at the top, you’ll see a little card with a photo and an address on it. It just happens to be me. Ali Wilks. Missionary.

I’ve gone to the same church since I was about two years old. Ever since I can remember, Mr. Don has been leading Vacation Bible School in the summers. Every year there was a missionary of the week, someone he would tell us stories about and someone we would pray for. And every time we would sign a poster that Mr. Don promised to send to the missionary in question; I’ve probably signed close to twenty of those posters. This year, it was me. I was that missionary, and I sent stories back to be read to the kids each day and I totally forgot about the poster thing until it showed up in the mail a week or so ago. When I pulled it out of the envelope and unfolded it across the floor of my cabin, I was overwhelmed with what I can only describe as the absolute weight of my calling and the unmistakable realization that I’ve grown up.

I’ve spent my life hearing stories about missionaries. The last Wednesday of every month sees my whole church in the basement, eating potluck casseroles and listening to a different warrior of the faith from some far-flung corner of the world. I sat there, enthralled, promising my grown-up, future self that I was going to be a missionary. Going to live in Africa and take care of those laughing, dark-eyed children. Going to let God use me however He felt like it.

I knew he was telling me that I’d go. Somewhere, someday. I guess I just didn’t completely believe that He was serious.

And so, of course, because that’s what happens when you doubt God, here I am. I’m that girl, the one who grew up and became a Nurse In Africa, which needs to be capitalized because I always thought it was such a big deal. And now that I’m here, I realize that missionaries aren’t anything special. Not really. And neither are grownups; they aren’t the superheroes I’d always made them out to be, because if they were, there’s no way I could be one. They’re just people. People who laugh and worry and do things right and do things wrong and somehow get through each day more or less intact.

I thought growing up and becoming a missionary would feel different, somehow. I figured I’d get to some magical point where I felt qualified to make decisions that affect the entire course of my life. And where being in charge of someone else’s life while they lie helpless in a hospital bed wasn’t flat-out scary. Where I’d know what to say and when to say it and then I’d be grown up.

Instead here I am. Just as petrified as the day I heard that still, small voice tell me not to get too comfortable in the States. And just when I’m ready to pack it all in, to throw up my hands in surrender and retreat from this strange world of responsibility and adulthood, that same voice whispers to me again.

There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his daughter, all the way you went until you reached this place. (Deuteronomy 1:31)

These waters are not so uncharted as I’ve made them out to me. A wiser mind than mine is laying plans. Stronger hands than mine are guiding me.

And a deeper heart than mine is loving through me.

Sunday, July 20. 2008
pouring out

My Granny just wrote me an e-mail and asked for an update on Baby Greg. It’s funny, really- I’ve lost sight of the fact that there are people in the world who don’t eat, sleep and breathe this situation. People who have to wait and read a blog entry before they know what’s going on. I’ve become so entangled in his small life that I don’t know that I’m ever off duty anymore. It’s draining, and I know I’ve said this before, but I’m tired. I watch my fellow nurses getting days off and playing with their patients and having fun at work, and I’m wishing myself back to the days when my biggest worry was whether or not my little ortho patient was going to wipe out on her crutches.

Baby Greg has been up and down the past few days. He rarely has two good shifts in a row, but he’s starting to gain weight and his breathing is markedly improved when he’s able to tolerate being off the CPAP. (A photo of which I have included just so my esteemed PICU colleagues can laugh at my creation; it might not be pretty, but it gives him PEEP!) His g-tube isn’t leaking like it used to, and we’re working on getting him a different one from the States. He needed a transfusion yesterday; the charge nurse jumped at the chance, left the ward to donate and then came back to finish her work just feet away from where Greg was receiving her blood. The ship has taken Baby Greg under their collective wing, praying for him non-stop, twenty-four hours a day. All these little details and myriad more swirl and mix and have become second nature to me; reciting them comes as easy as breathing.

Phil came to visit the ward last night and hung out with Baby Greg for a little while. I was talking about it all with him over cinnamon toast at some point during the shift (which has stretched on so long I’ve absolutely lost all concept of time). Ever pragmatic, he just patted me on the back and told me not to worry. I can see why you’re attached to him. It makes sense when he looks at you like he does. But just keep serving. You’ll find your inspiration again.

Right now, I have to smile. Because it just happened. He’s had a good night, honestly. He’s slept comfortably most of the time, only thrown up once and never had the panicked look of a baby who can’t get enough air. (That look breaks my heart every single time he brings it out.) About an hour ago, he decided to wake up and be angry. I changed him and patted his back and snuggled him on his side and did all the things he usually likes. No dice. So I climbed into his bed and pulled him into my arms. Whereupon he put on little hand on my chest and immediately fell asleep. And I was left there in the dark, my heart a puddle in my chest.

I’m in Africa in the first place because God told me to pour out my soul. To kick over my heart and let everything spill out. I remember talking about this with my youth group girls last year. We all came to the conclusion that we should go to bed every night absolutely empty, completely poured out on the world and relying on God to fill us up again for the next day. I’m wondering whether or not this is the first time I’ve really managed to do it.

Click here to read the final update on Baby Greg.

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