Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happiness, Humility, and Hospital Visits

A couple of days ago I returned home from a week-long missions trip to Tijuana, Mexico at a ministry called La Roca. La Roca is very dear to my heart—I went on the same trip last year, and I fell in love with the place, the people, and the ministry itself. La Roca is a shelter of sorts for women and their children coming out of bad home (or homeless) situations. It offers the families a place to stay, feeding and clothing them, teaching the moms some jobs skills, giving the children a place to go to school for free, and most importantly, sharing the love of Christ with them. It is a ministry that I am passionate about, and I would love to be able to work there long-term someday.

When our team arrived at La Roca on the evening of March 6th, I was so happy I almost cried. I couldn't wait to reconnect with the friends I had made the year before and to start on our work project. The following morning we found out what that work project was—repainting the one-room kindergarten building at La Roca. We got to work right away scraping paint and priming the ceiling and the walls. Our team of 14 women and one very patient man was excited about this chance to be creative—we were given free-rein to design the room however we wanted. We decided on a Noah's Ark theme and started digging through coloring books for animals we could use for the walls.

That night, I went to bed around 10:30 feeling a little bit dehydrated. Shortly after midnight, I woke up, felt a little queasy, rolled over onto my back, and proceeded to vomit all over myself. I ran to the bathroom where I apparently spent the next two hours—I don't remember that much time passing. At some point during that time, one of my leaders knelt down beside me and said, "Look, Lyss, I know you're stubborn and you're not going to want to have to say this, but if you're going to need to go to the hospital, you have to tell me, because I can't make that decision for you." She was absolutely right—I am stubborn and I hate admitting that I need help. By that time, however, I had more or less reached my breaking point. I was losing a lot of water really fast, and I couldn't swallow without gagging, so I was getting incredibly dehydrated. I finally turned to my leader and told her that if I didn't stop throwing up in the next twenty minutes, we would have to go to the emergency room—I needed to get an IV if I hoped to get rehydrated.

I don't remember much of the trip to the hospital. I know that the road was bumpy, and that the guard at the border asked to see my face. Shortly after crossing the border into San Diego, we were at the emergency room. Several hours, some blood work, a CT scan, and one massive IV later, it was concluded that I had some sort of infection, but that it wasn't anything too serious. Once I got somewhat rehydrated, we left the hospital and headed back to La Roca, where I collapsed into bed and slept all but about two hours of the rest of the day.

The next day was Sunday. I felt significantly better when I woke up, but after walking down to breakfast, eating most of a pancake, and walking back to my room only to feel like I was going to crash again, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to spend the day with my team. The church everyone at La Roca was going to was 45 minutes away; the service was to be at least two hours long, and then they were planning to go to a park afterwards to have a picnic lunch and play soccer. I just didn't have the strength for a day like that. Andy, the incredibly patient leader who had taken me to the hospital, decided that she was going to stay with me so that I wouldn't spend the day alone. While it ended up being good for both of us (she needed the rest almost as much as I did), I felt terrible at the time. I felt like I was a burden to my team—a feeling that I loathed with every fiber of my being. In spite of that frustration, I knew that there wasn't much I could do about it, so I did my best to accept my temporary state of relative helplessness.

While Andy and I were alone at La Roca, I had to promise her that I would respect her decisions regarding what I could and could not do for the rest of the week as far as work was concerned. I promised that I would tell her if I needed to take a break, rather than being my usual stubborn self and just pushing through. It was not an easy promise to make. I love and respect Andy immensely, and I wanted to honor her as a leader, but I also wanted to keep believing that I could handle everything myself. I didn't want to admit that I needed help.

In the weeks before we left for Mexico, I was so excited to go back to La Roca. The week before the trip was one of the most anxiety-inducing weeks of my life. I was so ready to go down to Tijuana and be able to get my focus off of myself and just spend a week serving and caring for other people, and instead, within 36 hours of arriving, I was the one being served and cared for. The irony of it all was that just hours before I got sick I had shared my testimony with my team, deviating from what I was planning on saying to explain that God had been breaking me over the past couple of weeks, and that if any good came out of me being on the trip, it would be totally God, because I had nothing left to give—I needed to learn to let other people be there for me the way I loved to be there for them.

When the team returned from the park on Sunday, I had a sudden burst of energy. I ran upstairs, threw some regular clothes on, came back outside, and started playing with an adorable little four-year-old girl, picking her up and swinging her around. About ten minutes later, it started sinking in that I was feeling much better than I had been. I wasn't at 100% yet, but I was in a much better place than I was in when I woke up that morning.

Monday I was able to do some work painting and holding ladders for the girls who were painting the ceiling. I was doing well until about an hour before we stopped for the day—they needed people to haul rocks. It sounds crazy, but I wanted more than anything at that moment to be able to help. I knew that if I hadn't gotten sick, that would have been my job—that was what I did for most of the trip last year, and I had been waiting for the chance to do it again. Andy (wisely) wouldn't let me. At that point, my attitude was terrible. I knew that Satan was trying to turn a week that was hard but full of great (and necessary) lessons into something discouraging and negative . . . and it was working. I was determined not to let Satan ruin my week, however, so I did my best to give it over to God and to keep working where I could.

Tuesday was the day that we set aside to spoil the La Roca moms for a few hours. We had presents for each of them; we played games; we did their nails and hair . . . and we gave them backrubs. Some of the girls were doing laundry and cooking and cleaning while the rest of us worked on making the moms feel like princesses. They loved it. While there were some moments of frustration within the team, we were able to reach past that to make the day truly special for those women.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I was finally able to work again. I did everything from hauling bricks to bagging sand to doing detail painting on one of the animals on the wall. It felt wonderful to be able to work alongside my team again.

Leaving on Friday was hard. I had been able to have some great conversations with some of the moms and the kids while we were there, and I felt like I'd developed relationships with a lot of them. I didn't want to leave; several of the kids and moms told me to stay. I left clinging to the hope that I will go back someday . . . but it still hurt to say goodbye.

The night before we left, the question "if you could change one thing about the week, what would it be?" came up. Everyone was kind of laughing and joking that I'd say I wouldn't go to the hospital. The funny thing was . . . that wasn't what I would have changed. I needed to learn to be humble; sadly enough, that was what it took to bring me to my knees before God. He used the frustrations of the week to create something beautiful. I am still processing all of the changes that took place in my heart while I was in Tijuana. I am much more willing to let go of things. I'm finally starting to understand what it means to surrender everything to God and to be content wherever I am, in whatever circumstance—not complacent or apathetic, but content. It was a hard lesson, but it was so worth it. Because my ability to work was taken from me, forcing me to slow down, I was able to develop relationships with people that probably would not have occurred if I had been healthy. If I could have changed anything about the week, I wouldn't have made it easier.

I would have made it longer.