This past week we received one of those middle of the night phone calls that comes with bad news. Our cousin's daughter had passed away earlier that day unexpectedly from complications of peritonitis. My head couldn't quite comprehend the news, even as my heart immediately ached for her Mom and family. None of us expected that call, yet we weren't necessarily surprised by it either. Emma had spent her short time on earth bound by a body that failed her, and I had contemplated that she might leave us too soon.
Emma was born the year after my youngest daughter was born. We were fortunate enough to be stationed on the same side of the country as her parents at the time, so we were able to visit her soon after she was born. She was this tiny little dark haired sweet infant girl with soulful eyes who captured my heart the first time I held her. There was nothing that pointed to immediate problems, but as the months passed, Emma didn't hit those developmental benchmarks that the doctors look for. She began to manifest more serious medical complications, and her Mom started chasing answers, therapies, specialists, and hope. Months turned into years, and it became evident that Emma was on a journey very much her own and would develop and progress in her own time and way.
Because of her special needs, Emma didn't travel often, so we only managed a few visits with her over the years. After I received the news, I started making phone calls. Thee first calls were to my daughters. I was expecting them to be upset, but I considered the possibility that they might not have enough long term memories with Emma to feel the loss as deeply as I knew her local cousins would. I couldn't have been more wrong; they both melted down at the news. As we talked throughout the day, they shared memories of Emma and her sister, Eleni, that I had never heard. We laughed, we cried, we contemplated why, and pondered all of the things you do when you lose someone so young and so suddenly. And as I went to sleep that night night still thinking about Emma's life, it hit me. This was Emma's gift. You didn't have to know her long to fall in love with her. She may not have had the ability of speech, but she had an incredible capacity for communication. She could reach into your heart without uttering a word.
As we say goodbye to her, I find myself conflicted. I feel pain from her loss, but if I am honest, I also feel a sense of hope. Emma spent her years struggling against a body that didn't work for her and living in a world where most people measured her by all the things she wasn't able to do. In my heart, I know she is in heaven free from the physical constraints, embraced and welcomed by all around her. As my daughter Charlie so aptly said to me, "Emma's not Resting in Peace, She's Running in Peace. " Run in Peace dear Emma. We love you.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I come from a blended family. I have three brothers; one is a full brother, one is a half-brother, and one is a step-brother. To me there is no difference between them; they are just my brothers. I am not the greatest sister when it comes to keeping in touch, but I am sure they would agree that they are not the best at keeping in touch either. I know we all mean to do better, but we let life get in the way, and if I am honest, sometimes we let “life stuff” hang between us. I have decided that I have to try to do better at putting away the “stuff” and focusing on the relationship. Today’s blog is dedicated to my Big Brother, the Missionary, and finally pushing some of that “stuff” out of the way.
Many of you are probably already aware that my brother is a missionary in the Dominican Republic. You may have seen me like his page on Facebook or create events in support of his Mission work. What most of you do not know is that for years I was conflicted, even angry about the path he had chosen. For you to understand better, I have to start at the beginning. Rick had been working as a Food Service salesman, but had expressed a sense of unsettledness and a calling to the ministry. It wasn't much of a surprise when he started discussing his desire to work in the mission field, but his decision to move to the Philippines, did come as a bit of a shock. All the natural questions came to mind. “Is it safe to go there? Should you be taking a family there? How will you support yourself? How long will you stay? How will you transition back to the states when your mission is over?” These were just a few of the thoughts which raced through my head, but I was hesitant to voice them. I wanted to show support, not doubt. I told myself this was going to be a year to two year long effort, and when it was over, Rick would return and take a job working as a Pastor for a church somewhere. I was sure God had a plan, if he was putting all of the pieces into place. I could relax and let things unfold the way they were supposed to.
Rick left for the Philippines in the latter half of the 90s, and has remained in the mission field ever since only returning to the states for a few furloughs to raise support. Throughout the years, he and his family faced many setbacks and difficulties, but the two issues that seemed to continually plague him were medical and financial. After contracting an amoeba in the Philippines, Rick took very ill, and came home on a furlough for medical attention. I began questioning his mission. I started pressuring him to return to the states for good, but every time I would ask him not to go back, he would patiently explain to me that God was still calling him to be where he was. Despite the difficulties, he had to return to the Philippines. I am a Christian, but I didn’t understand. I felt like God was sending him enormous signs in big bold letters telling him to go home, and I was angry at him for ignoring them. When he returned to the Philippines I was heartbroken and bitter. I told him I couldn’t support his decision to be there any longer. I am sure that was a very bad day for him, and I still feel guilt and pain that I caused such heartache.
Several years later, Rick returned from the Philippines, but only for a very short time before he moved his family to the Dominican Republic to follow his next calling. During this time our relationship was strained. Finally, two years ago, I decided I had to try and bridge the distance between us that I had created, so I booked a trip to visit him. Truth be told, I was incredibly nervous prior to getting there, because I still struggled with deep conflict about his life. I knew, however, if i was going to be a part of my brother's life again, I had to let go of that fear and just go. I am forever grateful that I did, because it opened my eyes in a way that could have never happened by just reading his updates. I was finally able to see first hand the difference he makes in peoples lives every single day.
My husband and I flew into Santiago on a Friday. We were about two hours from where Rick lived, so we rented a car and started on our journey to his home. That ride alone was eye opening. I felt like we were on Mister Toad’s Wild Ride. We fought our way through traffic on roads where traffic signs were ignored, a two lane road meant there would be four lanes of traffic and every car on the road was riddled with dings and dents from battling its way through the streets every day. Multi-passenger scooters weaved in and out of the chaos, and brave men and women waited for a pause in traffic to step out into the melee and sell their wares. We passed resorts flanked by slums, large homes surrounded by shacks, and villages teeming with people mere miles from abandoned neighborhoods. It was a ride marked by the disparity between the haves and have nots.
While that ride was eye-opening, it was our visit to a place called Redemption Village that opened my mind and my heart again to my brother’s work. It was our second day in the country, and Rick was taking us on a tour of the places where he worked. As we drove towards the first village, he explained that one of his primary roles was something of an outreach coordinator. There were multiple mission groups in the local area all providing a variety of services, and he acted as a liaison who linked people in need with the right mission services to help them. Much of those efforts were targeted at providing basics; food, medicine and clean water. He also spent a large part of his time hosting mission groups who tackled large projects such as building schools, churches, and playgrounds. He was also involved in creating training programs that were designed to raise up church leaders in the small villages, and he provided counseling and friendship to whomever needed it. I listened as he spoke, trying to absorb all he was telling me, but I really had no reference point to frame the information until we drove into Redemption.
We parked the car at the front of the village. As I stepped our and scanned my surroundings, the first thought I had was that I had never seen this kind of poverty up close. I had driven through slums in DC. I had seen pictures in National Geographic or a documentary on TV, but I had never walked side by side with people who had so little. All around me were tiny one room shacks housing multiple families. Most had no electricity or modern plumbing. As we moved through the village, a group of children started to form around us. They reached for my hands or simply tried to touch me as I walked by. The further we walked, the more I began to feel like the Pied Piper of Hamlin as the group of children continued to grow around me. I was surrounded by beautiful little faces staring up at me; little brown urchins covered in dirt, wearing little to no clothing managing these huge smiles in what seemed to me should have been the saddest place in the world yet somehow these children were beaming with joy.
Random thoughts kept jumping through my mind. “Where were the parents? Why were they letting these children wander off with strangers? How were children able to survive in these conditions?” I watched as my brother and sister-in-law moved through the village with ease stopping to check in with family after family to see how they were doing. Within the span of a half hour, my brother was presented with multiple requests for assistance. One person had a kidney infection, but had no money to see a doctor. By that afternoon, Rick had arranged for a free appointment and funds for medicine. Barb, my sister-in-law and truly my Brother’s rock, introduced me to a tiny little baby who was failing to thrive. The Grandmother who was raising her had been thinning the formula to save money. Barb had arranged for free formula to be provided to the family until the baby was able to reach to a healthy weight. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually meeting my future niece Mariflor who was abandoned by her family shortly after my visit. The requests continued and so did the solutions. I was overwhelmed with the need, and awed at my Brother’s ability to see through the chaos to a solution each time.
As we neared the end of our visit, Rick suggested that we purchase some drinks for the children. The money would help the local store which funded the village church, and I think he sensed I needed to feel as if i could do something to help. We reached into the packed cooler and started passing out drinks to the children. In a matter of minutes, the word seemed to have spread through the village, and the group of children swelled. We emptied the cooler and bought every drink in the store, but the children still kept coming. I was horrified that we didn’t have enough to go around. I was appalled that I couldn’t answer every child’s plea. As my brother swept me out of the store into our vehicle, I dissolved into tear’s with the realization that this was my brother’s life. Endless need, and never enough support to answer every request. I was brought to tears in less than an hour, yet my brother and his family faced this pressure day after day, month after month, year after year. I knew that only with God’s support and blessing could they possibly sustain the kind of commitment and strength they needed to face their tasks daily. I finally understood why Rick hadn’t been able to turn his back on this calling despite the hardships he had endured.
My brother is facing a critical time in his mission work right now. He needs support. His wife's father has been struggling with some very serious health issues. After a short visit home it became clear that they needed to return for a longer furlough to allow time with her father. They returned to the Dominican to get things in order there, so they could feel free to return on furlough to the states for a longer period of time. Rick has a great network in place in Sosua with key individuals who will provide supervision over the mission work while he leads it from here. Rick is going to continue to go back and forth between both locations, but it will be challenging both financially, physically and emotionally, so I am asking for your support. Support can take many forms and whether it is a prayer to lift him up, a share to get his message out or dollars to fund his efforts, any support is appreciated. Rick and Barb are always lifting others up in prayer and support, it is my turn to lift him up by requesting your help. I have put a link under my suggested links to a web page which provides more information about his ministry and ways you can help if you feel called in any way. Thanks!