Monday, July 23, 2012

Joyful Hearts After Tears

A nervous little Hani got into the van this morning to depart for the hospital. This perceptive little girl has put 2 and 2 together. Getting into the van means we are probably going to the hospital. Going to the hospital is scary. Therefore, the van is to be avoided at all costs. But she still remained calm throughout the whole ride and even had a smile on her face when we entered the play room at the hospital. Toys are always exciting and we had a fun time climbing in and out of the little playhouse while we waited her turn. Mohammed on the other hand could not be pleased today. He does not like car seats. Or hospitals. Or echoes. Or doctors. We did everything possible to get him to smile. This was achieved frequently, but only for brief periods. Once he again realized the horrible situation he was in, the wails of protest resumed.

Both children's worst fears were confirmed when the doctors called them in and placed themon the echo table. Their protests could be heard echoing down the hallway, despite the closed door. For Hani, her mother and Shevet staff member, Ruth, were at her side to calm and sooth her through the echo. Thankfully it did not last too long and the result is excellent news! The doctors announced Hani has "trace" amounts of fluid around her heart which they consider to be "trivial"! Since she is doing exceptionally well they are reducing her medication significantly and plan on taking her off it all together in three days. They expect that next week will be her final echo and she will be able to return home! Mohammed was also accompanied by his mother and Shevet staff member, Kristina. They were able to console him after the echo. He also did well, but we learned we would have to take him downstairs for some blood work. Na xhosh bo Mohammed. Not good for Mohammed. Little guy doesn't like giving up his blood to the evil needles.

However, we had some time to kill so we took a little jaunt to the sea!  One again cries emerged from little Hani, but this time they were cries of joy. Her laughter and enthusiasm were contagious as we all got soaked by the splashing waves. It took our best efforts to keep her from jumping into the water and swimming away forever. This child has an enthusiasm for water that cannot be matched. Mohammed on the other hand was terrified of the water. The poor little guy probably thought the sea was going to come up and swallow him whole. We tried to put his feet in the water, but he strongly opposed, so that ended quickly. Maybe when he gets a little older he'll be able to appreciate the sea.

We headed back to the hospital so that Mohammed could have his last terrible experience of the day. While he had blood drawn, Hani, her mom, another Shevet volunteer, and I waited in the "Fish Room". This room decorated with drawings of fish, Ariel, and dolphins is where we hang out while we wait. Hani, still joyful, charmed everyone who walked by. She quickly made a new friend in the girl who runs the toys and coloring supplies. Within a minute of introduction they were blowing kisses and waving. She also waved at anyone that walked by and uttered more than one tentative, "Hallo".  

It was a long day, but a ton of fun. It is good to see both of them doing so well. On the drive home, Hani dozed off while Mohammed stayed happy and played games with his mother. Between the fun and sad parts of today, I think they will both sleep well tonight. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Night and Day

Proverbs 13:12...."Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."
Today's two hospital visits so perfectly displayed this verse. The difference between the two was like night and day. There are two main hospitals that do the heart surgeries for our Iraqi kids. Right now we have 3 kids between the two. The first hospital was so sad... 

Night: Poor Hewa has been in the hospital at least 90% of the time that he has been in Israel due to various complications. This is exhausting to his mother who is tending to his every need. It is also very scary and wearing. Each time we rush him to the hospital it's not like he just needs a check-up. There is something seriously, life-threateningly wrong that has to be looked at immediately. Right now he is in because there was a large amount of fluid built up around his lungs. This is a common side effect after surgery as the body is in shock. However, Hewa has an abnormally large amount. Today they drained over a liter from his body! When we walked into his room in the ICU the heaviness in the room was as thick as a storm cloud. Both Hewa and his mother's faces remained serious and pained throughout our entire visit. Hewa's furrowed eyebrows made his little man face look even older. The best we could do was stroke his hair, speak softly with his mother, and bring words of encouragement to lift their heavy spirits.

Day: The second hospital was a completely different story. Joy was abounding in ICU! Normally, that room is very high pressure and tense. However, the light radiating from Achmed and his mother's faces had everyone around them smiling.

 After a leaving a tense mother post-surgery yesterday, we were unsure what we would walk into this afternoon. Would she be fretting over her son? Joyed that he was out of surgery? Thankfully it was the latter. We opened the door and immediately were acknowledged with big smiles. We made our way over to Achmed's bedside and were quickly welcomed and seated by his beaming mother. We quickly engaged Achmed in making funny faces and blowing bubbles. Achmed was extubated this morning at 11 and his oxygen level was also really high. Before surgery it was in the low 70s, but today, only a day after surgery, he was breathing without assistance and his oxygen level was at 99%! It was wonderful to see him doing so well so quickly. All of the nurses in the ICU have also been charmed by his darling little smile. They all love to stop by his bed to check on him. We also were able to visit baby Mohammed, who had his surgery last week, and his mother. He was looking great! All of the tubes and monitors have been removed and we hope to bring him back to Jerusalem tomorrow! We had a wonderful time playing with him and the other Gaza kids in the children's ward.

It was so encouraging to end our day with these families and celebrate with them. But we continue to pray that Hewa and his mother experience the same joy and hope. Interestingly enough, Hewa means hope in Kurdish. So we are constantly reminding them to have hewa for Hewa! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the Face of Poverty

In our morning Bible study before work, we as a staff are working through the book of Proverbs. There are so many themes that we pull out in this rich book every day, but one that continually reoccurs is the rich vs. the poor man. Sometimes this seems very literal. Do x gain wealth, do y lose wealth. Other times it seems to refer to more spiritual or moral poverty or wealth. But in the midst of all of this learning, the topic of beggars came up.

At home, I live in the suburbs. I have my whole life. Until I went to college where I live in the cornfields. In these settings, I see very few beggars on the street. This might also be compounded by the fact that 8 months out of the year it is freezing and we have penguins for neighbors. But anyway, I have never on a daily basis had to look poverty in the eye and decide what to do about it.

That is not the case here. There are homeless people all around. There is one woman who sits at the top of our street on a bench. For awhile we didn't know if she had a home. But, she carries a couple bags and is always wearing the same clothes and is almost always on that bench, so I'm going to assume she lives there. We invited her over for dinner and she actually has showed a couple times. Now I say hi to her if I see her around, and a couple times she has given us gifts of pudding and marshmallows she bought at the store.

But that is just one woman, what to do about the dozens of others I've seen? Most social workers I know always say not to just hand out money, but to support ministries that can help the homeless get clothing, lodging, and jobs since we don't know what the money will go to otherwise. I get that; it makes sense. But it doesn't ease my conscious. I don't want to always be judgmental and critical of someone who might honestly be trying to survive. Like today, when a handful of clothing items and sheets when missing from the wash line, I want to be upset at this injustice. But it is likely that the person who took them needs them far more than we do.

I don't have the answers... If I did I could probably solve worldwide poverty. But for now I will just remember Proverbs 19:17: "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ups and Downs

Well, after the past few days being stuck in bed, I am finally up and starting to engage in a normal work day! Yipee! I will say, I knew I was actually sick because for four days I did not mind being told to stay in bed and rest. My roommates know it can be hard to get me to call it quits. Last year they had to help me write an email to my professors saying I was sick and going to the health center. I could barely function, but I didn't want to miss class!

Anyway, it was actually a blessing to get a diversion from the temperature here. It is hot. Hot. Hot. Our house has fans in most rooms, but no air conditioning so sweating is just a normal part of the day. But this weekend I was freezing! I wrapped up in all my blankets and curled up in my bed. The nurse felt my head and sad I was actually hot, but my body enjoyed being confused for a time!

But it is good to be up and around again. I wasn't able to see the kids while I was sick. It is extremely important they stay healthy or it can be dangerous since their bodies are already working so hard to recover from surgery. I wandered back in there today and we were able to reconnect quickly. Although, I think they like anyone who smiles and plays games with them. But it was a good thing I saw them today... one was admitted this afternoon for surgery and one was readmitted due to fluid build up around his heart. He has to have a chest tube reinserted for at least five days. The poor little guy is handling it like a champ, but his mother is clearly distressed to be back in the hospital. The ups and downs of hospital life are difficult on all the patients and mothers. We just try to be a source of encouragement and love when we can. I just hope I can be a little bit more empathetic after experiencing the confinement of a small space for a few days this weekend.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fireworks and Firecrackers

I'm sorry I haven't written in forever. Sometimes I get so busy living life here I forget to share what we are doing! But hey, that's the way it should be, right? It has been one crazy week full of energy and changes.

Last week we celebrated the 5th of July. I know that's weird. We were going to celebrate the 4th of July since a lot of our staff is American, but we sent most everyone to the hospital that day, and then that evening we got a call to bring another kid in for surgery. Since there was no one here, we postponed our party a day. For the fifth we went all out.... hamburgers, french fries, potato chips.... we even built a bonfire in our tiny garden and had s'mores! Somewhere in the city fireworks went off (probably for a wedding), but it felt like the city was celebrating right along with us.

We've also had a lot of changes with the kids here. Since sending two kids home last week, we got one new one. His name is Ahmed and is a four year old that is full of energy! Apparently he has learned screaming accomplishes a lot and has tried to employ this method to get things he wants. But in the few days that he has been here he seems to have settled down a bit. But he still has a ton of energy! We also have two other kids in the hospital.

Little Hani is.... well if you took a firecracker, the energizer bunny, and a spinning top and combined them into human form then gave it a vente starbucks coffee you might almost reach the level of energy that Hani possesses. This kid is off-the wall awesome. However, she just had surgery last week. When they started to wake her back up after surgery, they had to tie her arms and legs down because she flailed so much she was going to hurt herself by pulling out the i.v. and chest tube. Now, only four days later she is up and walking again. We expect to have her back in the house in a couple days.

We also unexpectedly admitted our other child for surgery today. Little Mohammad is about 7 months old. He has this huge toothless grin that is absolutely adorable. His surgery tomorrow morning is supposed to be very difficult. I was at the hospital yesterday for his diagnostic echo. It took an hour. (Normally they are less than half that time). The doctors wanted to make sure they really understand his condition. Despite all this, they still don't know exactly what they will do once they open him up tomorrow. They have three different surgery options and won't know which to pick until they are looking at his heart. If you think about it, pray for the little guy. He'll go into surgery about midnight today, US time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An Everyday Miracle

Yesterday I got to sit in on Sarchil's echocardiogram. What an amazing experience! I am not a science person at all. General Biology was general torture my sophomore year. It has always seemed really boring and complicated. I trust that God made the human body and that it runs and that is all I need to know! The rest can be cared about by other people. I am content with understanding the basics.

However, seeing a live echo has made me realize what a miracle the human body is. The echo basically gives an ultrasound of the heart. We could watch the muscle pumping blood through the body. From certain angles we could see valves opening and closing to let blood in and out. The valves look like stiff arms clapping. The blood shows up red and blue on the screen depending on whether or not is oxygenated. Then they turned the sound on and we heard the heart whooshing as blood went in and out. I can't even explain how cool it was!

On top of all this, for Sarchil's heart, this is a new thing. He has lived 8 years with his heart struggling to get the blood where it needs to go. But now, it works perfectly! You and I have hearts that have worked forever. But watching these kids run around and have more energy than ever before is incredible. It is a miracle, one that happens every day, but one that we rarely remember.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Middle Eastern Hospitality

If there is one thing that I am always amazed in in this culture, it is their hospitality. I think the western world has failed in many ways in our ability to make people feel at home. Here, I have visited  several shops of people we know that are overwhelmingly welcoming. In some stores this is because they want you to buy something. But in the stores of people we are friends with, it is simply because they like you and want you to feel comfortable there.

I also had the special opportunity to visit a coworker at her home in the Old City of Jerusalem. She is an Arab Christian that has lived in Jerusalem her whole life. Today, she invited three of us over who have never been to her family home before. Her mother graciously welcomed us in and fed us a delicious lunch of rice, an okra and chicken stew, salad, and ice cream for dessert! During our time there, a couple of their friends dropped in to visit and we all were able to chat with each other. It was so comfortable. Even though we didn't know these people, they accepted us as their friends. I felt so special to get to be part of their lives and see what a normal afternoon in a Jerusalem home looks like.

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's a Small World After All!

Yes, you can thank me for getting that song stuck in your head for awhile. But seriously, this has been more true today than ever before!

I went on a little outing around Jerusalem today with my mother and two other co-workers. Our adventure started with a tour of some famous sites in the city. We walked through Hezekiah's Tunnel. That place is super sweet but really dark and really tight. I never get claustrophobic, but I found myself a little on edge if I stopped to think about our situation for very long. But all in all the tunnel is so cool I had to just marvel at it. If you ever go to Jerusalem, it is something you gotta see!

We also stopped by the Wailing Wall (aka Western Wall). We visited it last Friday evening, but it was resting because Shabbat had started so we couldn't take pictures of it. This afternoon was much less busy so we were able to walk right up to it. This is one of the few places in Jerusalem that I can really feel a Holy Presence despite the busyness that surrounds. Also a good thing to put on your to do list if you come here. 

Then we had to make our way home so that we can buy food for dinner. On our way back we stopped at a store owned by a man named Shaban. He is Old City famous so if you come here make sure to stop by his place. He always offers us something cold to drink! Today we had a delicious strawberry-banana juice. In his store were half a dozen other students, one of whom was waring a Jerusalem University College (JUC) t-shirt. My first time in Israel was 3 years ago when I took a 3 week course at JUC. We struck up a conversation with them and quickly found out some fascinating things....

"Hey, where you guys from?"
"Oh, the four of us are from Indiana."
"Really? Where?"
"I'm from Taylor!"
Look at that... Jesus bringing about reconciliation between rival schools in the middle of Old City Jerusalem. 
Then we turned to the other girl in their group.
"Where are you from?"
"I go to school at Bethel in MN."
"Really? We know tons of people there!"
We then proceeded to list of names of a bunch of people we knew before discovering she was actually roommates with one of my brothers good friends from high school! It's really a small world after all!

As we left one of the girls said, "Bye! Oh this is sad, we might never see you again!"
"That's ok." I replied. "I'll see you in heaven."
"Amen!" she cried after us.
And so we will. It's sad to say good-bye to friends, but I know I'll see you on the other side. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It Comes Down to Love

There are two rabbit trails that my mind has been down the last few days. Very, very different trails. But both come back to the central idea of love.

The first makes me angry. I'm not very good at being angry. It's one of those emotions that the Christian church really suppresses, probably for good reasons for the most part. But there are times we are supposed to be angry... a righteous anger, it is sometimes called. My frustration is toward one of the mothers here. Her son has recently suffered some post-op complications and has to stay longer than expected. She, however, desperately wants to go home. This is understandable since she has been here for a couple months and has left 4 other children at home. We are really trying to talk to her and see what is causing her such distress. This culture doesn't always treat women the best. Some of these women have very supportive husbands, others not so much. This mother refuses to share any details with us that could clarify why she is so upset and wants to leave so badly. This week they were supposed to go home, but her son relapsed. When we took him back to the hospital, she wanted to leave him there and come back to Shevet. She even said she didn't care if he died. She wants to go home. My heart breaks for her son. She sad this right in front of him. I know there has to be a deeper issue... something she isn't saying. We pray for her constantly. If you think of it... would you as well? This is the first time I have seen this problem. Most of the mothers are so loving and tender towards their children. Even if they really want to go home they put on a good face for the kids. There has to be a bigger problem here... A reason she cannot love.

The other trail my mind is on has happened during my morning workouts. Thank you to my soccer coach for motivating me to get up early and stay in shape! These times are great for thinking and processing life. At first this made me nervous. I asked a friend earlier this spring if questions are a good thing. I'm still asking that question. Sometimes I feel like people don't want to ask really hard questions. They are content with the answer they have, however shallow or deep it is, and don't want to evaluate if they have it right. I have felt belittled the past couple months when I wasn't willing to accept the answers people want to give.
Then I thought back to something I had studied with Professor Loy in Political Philosophy that John Stuart Mill had written. He talked about opinions and how all should be listened to, but the thing from his writings that I took away during my morning musings is that questions are a good thing. If we question a fact or opinion and find it to be true, great, it's still true. If we question if and find it to be false, we can throw it out. But few things are usually completely false, instead there are glimpses of truth in them that must be considered.
Living in this city where three religions clash has made me sincerely question what is different about Christianity. On our street I can find orthodox followers of each of those religions, and I am sure if I asked them all, they would insist they knew the truth. How then do I know that this religion that I claim is different? Especially since each of these share similar elements. Which has partial truth or no truth vs. the whole truth? To go on a full explanation of my wandering mind would take far too much time, but the essence of what I came down to is love. All three of these religions have laws, rules everyone is to live by. But Christianity is the only one where God came to us. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not perfect. Never will be no matter how hard I try. But God knows that. He knew that I  could never be enough. So He gave me Jesus. Jesus is the solution to my imperfection and the answer to all the questions I have. So for now, I am content with the basic truths- I am a sinner, Christ is a Savior- and seek answers for the other questions I am puzzling over.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How M&M's Saved My Hair

With the language barrier, sometimes it is difficult to communicate serious things with the kids. How do you explain the concept of sharing with a limited vocabulary? Still working on that one... 

However, communicating funny things is really easy. Kids talk in gibberish half the time anyway! So for example.... "Nom nom nom"is a pretty easy way to express eating if you are putting whatever is "nom nom nom"ish in your mouth at the same time! Right? Well, Sarina thought this was great fun and decided everything under the sun was good to pretend eat! The food. They toys. The sand. My hair. Yep, the list goes on from there, but you get the idea. So what to do? This child is ready to consume my locks! Well, thankfully we had brought along some M&Ms! Now, when I eat some of these colorful candies, I can consume dozens. But this is an unfamiliar treat that when handed out one at a time can last forever! So we sat on the floor of the hospital. Sarina got one. Sarchil got one. Mom got one. I got one. Then you had to stick out your tongue to show you were done. Then the whole process repeated. But then mom got distracted. I was in the middle of a round of m&m distribution when Sarina stopped me, grabbed mom's hand and pulled it down. Bo to! (For you!) She was not going to allow anyone to be missed! So cute! 

The funny experiences like this one are non-stop. I just have to chuckle through them all and pray that through these ridiculous experiences, the kids learn how much we love them. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Always Waiting

Waiting can be one of the hardest things to do. For the mothers here, they are in a perpetual state of waiting. Waiting for surgery to be scheduled. Waiting for the next doctor appointment. Waiting to go to the hospital. Waiting to leave the hospital. Waiting to be discharged. Waiting to go home. The average stay here is probably 2-3 months... a long time for these women, most of whom have several other children waiting for them at home.

For Sarchil's mother, the waiting has become almost unbearable. She has a breakdown almost every day now. She and her son have been here for over 2 months now. I also found out today she has a three month old baby at home. Poor woman! Sarchil has been discharged from one department in the hospital, but in a new twist, we have to get permission for him to leave from a second part of the hospital. His blood was too thin so they put him on medicine to help with that. Then it bounced too far the other way and became too thick. Now they are trying to make the sure the balance is in the perfect range. It's tricky stuff, but zor gringa (very important)!

We thought that we might be able to help cheer their spirits with a trip to the beach! Who doesn't like the Mediterranean, right? It worked out beautifully. They had a wonderful time splashing in the waves, collecting sea shells, and chilling out in the sand. It was so good to see Sarchil's mother smile and laugh. After all the tension she has held inside the past few weeks subsided and she was able to just enjoy life.

We also had to stop at the hospital on the way to the beach for Sarina to get an echo. We thought it would be her last one, but turns out she'll need another on Thursday. I think it was good for Sarchil's mother to see her son isn't the only one with complications. Waiting is normal around here. The question is, how will you bear it? With joy? Or despair?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Confession

I am so excited to have my mom with me here in Israel. But I must confess, back when we first decided she was coming, I wasn’t so sure about it. You can judge me because I know I am a selfish daughter. But I wasn’t sure how I felt about having my mom volunteer for the same organization I am. You see, I crave independence. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a normal part of growing up, or maybe I’m just weird. But I love the freedom of going to a new place without connections and seeing how it goes. I know if it flops I can always go home and be safe, but this desperate part of me that wants out of my safe box has to try. So when we decided she was going to come to Israel for two weeks, I wasn’t sure how I felt. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I wasn’t ecstatic about it either. It was going to be different having her where I lived and worked and had grown so much the previous summer. It was going to encroach on my independence.

But then my world changed. The past two months have been hard. I lost a dear friend and didn’t want independence. I wanted security. I didn’t want to leave my friends. I especially didn’t want to leave my family. For once, all I wanted was security. I almost didn’t come back to Israel this summer. I didn’t know if I had the courage. But I knew God had told me to come here this past winter. And I knew He, being all-knowing, was aware of how my world was going to change in April. And yet, He told me to go. So I came back. Fearful. Insecure. Broken.

I didn’t come back to complete strangers. There are a handful of staff members I knew last summer and the other new people I have met here have quickly become good friends. But when my mother stepped out of airport security yesterday, I have never been happier. I am so glad to have her here in Israel.

God is everywhere. I know that. And have not been alone the past two weeks. But God gives us family for a reason. He knows we need people here to hold us up when we are broken and love us unconditionally. I appreciate and love my family now more than ever before (and I never would have dreamed that is possible). I loved getting to play tour guide today and show my mom around the city. I loved getting to show her why I love this place so much. I loved getting to see the city through her eyes, falling in love with it for the first time just as I once did. I love having her here.

When I set out this summer, I knew I was going to blog about my life at Shevet just like I did last year. But I knew that it would be different because I am different.  I am sure I will share many more funny, sad, or boring stories of daily life here. But I hope you also will accept my introspective thoughts. My confessions. I live in a world where many people try to appear perfect. I have tried to do so as well. But I am not. I pray this summer I grow in many ways. But I know the only way to do this is to accept some simple truths. I am a screwed up sinner. I need help. Jesus is the only one who can fix me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pink is Better than Blue

One of the interesting parts of this job is learning fancy doctor words that make me sound way smarter than I am. For example.... Before surgery, Hewa was quite cyanotic, but now his lips and fingers are much more pink as his heart  is able to properly circulate blood. Are you impressed? Probably not, but that's ok.

Today we went and visited Hewa at the hospital. Due to the severity of their heart conditions, it's not uncommon for these children to have a bluish tint to their lips and fingers where the body unable to deliver enough oxygen. This was particularly true in Hewa's case. His surgery yesterday fixed the circulation problem and when we walked in to visit him today, I was immediately struck by how different he looked. The pink color to lips was remarkable! You would never realize he had a serious heart problem if you looked at him now. It's truly amazing.

The children are kept sedated for a few days while their body recovers from the surgery. Because of this as well as the tubes running into all different parts of them delivering medicine, giving blood transfusions, and removing fluid around the heart, they cannot eat or drink anything for a couple days. This was not ok with Hewa though who was constantly demanding juice! It is actually good to see him so insistent. I would be more worried if he was completely docile. The fight in him that wants juice is just what he needs to push through and recover quickly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

75 Minutes

That's right. An hour and 15 minutes. What did we do in this large amount of time? We played with a jump rope. I know, how is this possible, right? Well I did get my second workout for the day showing off my jumping skills, but I also found out that a jump rope can be used for a large number of things. We also wiggled it around on the ground like a snake, played a modified version of limbo, and played telephone. Little one year old Hani would "answer" the phone (one end of the jump rope). "Hallo?" Then she proceeded to hand it to me. I would have a "conversation" in Kurdish (the little bit I know) with the person at the other end of the line. "Hallo? Kristina? Ah, hallo. Choni bashi? Ah, bash, bash. Mmmm? Oh, ok. Yah. Yah. Mushkilayniya. Ok. Ah, ok. Kwa ha fis!" Translation: "Hello? Kristina? Ah, hello. How are you. Ah, good, good. Mmmmm. Oh, ok. Yah. No problem. Ok. Ah ok. Good bye!"Then I handed the phone back to her only for it to "ring" again and we start the whole process over. I had more or less this same fake conversation with everyone that works here. I think I'm starting to lose my mind! Oh well, next time you're bored, grab a jump rope. You never know what you can think of to do with it!

This job has great funny moments like that that make our crazy days fun. In the course of this 13 hour work day I was the children's coordinator, housekeeper, and event planner. Oh what a busy day. But all of it is worth it. I love getting to spend time with the kids, playing with them and getting to know them better. I also love getting to see the leave. I will miss them, but our farewell parties, like the one we had tonight for Fatimah are wonderful celebrations of the miracle that has occurred in each of their lives. They have a new heart and get to go home healthy and whole. Praise God!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How did you get your scar?

The bright pink line running down the children's chests after heart surgery is hard to miss. If they wear any shirt that isn't up to their collarbone it's bound to show. Bound to mark them as different. We try as hard as we can to help the kids see their scar as a mark of honor. They have been through a lot. They have come a long way. Their scar is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to be celebrated.

With this in mind, I had the opportunity to connect with the kids on a deeper level today when they noticed the scar on my right elbow. They pointed it out and held up their hands. Where did you get your scar. I'll explain it to you the way I did to them and see if you can figure it out. The fun of only knowing the few words of a language is the pantomime we do to fill in the gaps. The words in quotes are the words I know in Kurdish. Everything else is me acting this out:

Point to self. "Soccer. Futbol." Stand up. Pretend ball at feet. Kick and run around. Fall down. Crying. "Surgery." Point to elbow. Sewing up the wound. "Good."

Did you get that? It's amazing what you can communicate with actions and a few basic words. I liked being able to share this with the kids. They then proceeded to show me their scars. It's a new level of trust and assurance for them. I can almost hear them thinking: "You have one too. You won't think I'm weird. Instead, you'll celebrate it with me."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Shabbat Shalom

Life is tiring here. We work long hours and 6 day weeks. Most of us our up around 6am and work doesn't finish until 5pm... sometimes later. It's really good stuff, but exhausting. On top of that is the emotional drain. The percentage of kids that survive heart surgery is very high, but that doesn't mean it isn't scary. Without these surgeries most of the kids only have a few more years of low quality life to live. Sometimes only a few more months or days. It is certainly miraculous to see them change from weak, tired kids, to boisterous, energetic ones after the surgery.

But how do you communicate that to a worried mother? How do you tell her that this risky operation is the best option. We went to the hospital yesterday to visit our Gaza families. You can tell what stage a kid is at in the process by looking at their mothers. Mothers whose children are waiting for surgery are tense and nervous. Mothers whose children are in the ICU after surgery look exhausted and anxious. The children are hooked up to dozens of monitors and tubes making them look even more helpless. Those mothers look like they want to cry at any moment. Mothers back in the children's ward after surgery are slightly more relaxed. Depending on how their child is doing, they feel more at ease chatting and smiling. They try to put the other mothers who are waiting at ease. We walk in to the midst of this and try to bring a little encouragement. A smile. A touch on the arm. Raised arms to heaven. Inshallah everything will be ok. Inshallah. God willing.

By the time we get to Saturday, we are desperate for a break. Not because we don't love these families, but because we do. We love them so much we feel this pain and nervousness with them and for them. Saturday is our day of absolute nothingness. We don't work. At all. After that, what you do is up to you. Personally, I take Saturday off in a couple other ways. I don't do my soccer work out- I have 6 other days for that- and I don't study for the GRE. Not doing those two things alone make the day more relaxing.

But the true essence of Shabbat/Sabbath is not in what we don't do. One of my very smart friends here who studies Hebrew was explaining to us last night what the essence of Shabbat is. It is not simply what we do not do. It is what we do instead. You see, when God rested on the seventh day, the word there doesn't indicate simply stopping. Instead it has a positive quality to it. The action of rest. The action of pursuing rest. So as we stop for Shabbat, it is not so much about what we cease to do, it's what we do instead. We seek rest in God's word. We seek rest in fellowshipping with other believers at church. We seek rest in sleeping because God made our bodies to need a break. Make sense? It's a cool idea. I like it a lot because it makes me focus less on what I'm not going to do today, but what I will pursue instead. What I will choose to do to pursue the rest of God fully on this day of the week he has set apart as different.

Last year when I came, I was really skeptical about this idea of complete Shabbat. American culture doesn't really support taking a day off from work. My homework load alone made it seem impossible. But as I lived here for 3 months, I was challenged to give it a try. We certainly enjoyed having a full 24 hours off of work here, maybe it would be possible in the States too. So this past school year from 6pm Saturday evening to 6pm Sunday evening, I didn't work. I rested. I don't say this to brag, but to offer this as a challenge, just as I was challenged by the community here. Do you take a Sabbath rest? It doesn't matter if it is Saturday or Sunday or another day if that works better for you. But do you take an entire day off to rest. God has given this time to us as a gift. I found that as I did this, my work was more efficient. Yeah, there were some Saturday mornings I was up at 9am to get my homework done that day instead of waiting til Sunday. Yeah it was scary during finals week, especially when I had 2 exams on Monday. But is it possible? Oh yeah. And the longer I went, the better I was able to budget my time and get stuff done. And finally, when I got to my Sabbath, I wasn't fretting about the work. I was able to fully pursue rest.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Old Faces. Old Places. Never gets Old.

Being back in Jerusalem with some of my friends from last summer is a lot of fun. Last year when I came, I entered the country alone. I didn't know if I would be working with a staff of 50 or 5. I also didn't know if they would be 50 or 5. They all turned out to be even better than I expected. I had an awesome summer and was excited to return this year. 5 of the long term staff that were here last year are still working at Shevet. It is great to catch up with them and work alongside them again.

It's also great to be back in this city. There is just something special about it. The past couple days we have gotten to experience part of Jerusalem life that most tourists are not aware of. It's called the Jerusalem Light Festival. Winding through different parts of the city are different displays of light. Some hang from trees, some are projected onto walls, and others are stand alone works of art. They also have acrobats stationed at different points doing tricks with light as part of their costume. It's really a fantastic event. I was able to go last year when I was here and was excited to go again this year. The biggest display is a huge dome outside of Jaffa gate. I took tons of photos but here are just a few for your enjoyment!

I also got to meet up with some friends from my university who are here for a month working on a project. It was great to see them! One of the girls was with me the first time I came to Israel as a student at Jerusalem University College during our J-Term. It was crazy to be back in this city with her.

This evening, we also took the Kurdish families and children down to the festival. At first, the kids were really overwhelmed and nervous because of all the color and people. The crowds were out in large numbers for the last night of the festival. But as well held them and showed them the different parts of the dome, they gradually grew more and more excited and comfortable in this crazy setting, but they never left their starry eyed look. It was adorable.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Organized Chaos

Well I don't know if they are actually organized, but our Gaza patient days are certainly chaotic! Shevet serves two main groups, Kurdish children and Gaza children. The Kurdish kids get to stay at the house in Jerusalem with us when they are not in the hospital for surgery and are waiting for initial or follow up echoes. The Gaza patients, however, due to the politics of this region, have to go straight from the border to the hospital and back every time they need to go to the hospital.

Tuesday is our biggest Gaza day. There are kids coming across the border periodically throughout the week, but Tuesday is when we pick up a large number for echoes. Today we picked up 9 kids, each with one guardian, usually the mother or grandmother. In addition to our families, another organization called Save a Child's Heart that we partner with has children at the hospital as well. Due to all this, it is an absolute party in the echo cardiogram wing on Tuesdays! Anything and everything can be expected. Here are a few highlights from today:
1) Clowns dancing up and down the halls distracting frightened children
2) Knocking over dominoes, coloring pictures, and blowing bubbles to keep the older kids occupied while they wait for their turn
3) Cleaning up puke from the babies who can't hold down the medicine (The littlest ones get scared by the echo, so it is easier to give them sleeping medicine to knock them out for the whole procedure)
4) Yusef and Lina (our two Arabic speaking staff members from Israel) heatedly debating the Qur'an, Isa (Jesus), and the Bible with one of the fathers that had come with his daughter
5) Checking on our Kurdish kids who are there
6) Teaching Sarina rock, paper, scissors

Gaza days are always very long but very rewarding. We get a lot done and have a great time hanging out with the kids. I've found adults often struggle with the language barrier and feel uncomfortable. But kids can handle it. Smiles, laughter, facial expressions, and pantomime go a long way!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I'm not on Twitter so I barely understand all this hashtag stuff, but when a friend told me about this one I had to laugh. She said this as our mutual friend complained that her vente starbucks frappuccino was freezing her hand. Wow, life is rough. It's almost funny how often we get complain about stupid little things! I admit, I do it too so I can't judge. But every time I reflect on our minor complaints for the day, I try to keep it in perspective. Something that I confess, I do much better here at Shevet than I do in the States.

For example, emergency takes on a whole new meeting here. At school, "emergency" applies to a wide spectrum of things from some critical moments to more ridiculous ones. How often do we say something like "I'm dying. I need coffee! It's an emergency. I have 5 papers and 3 tests tomorrow!" But at Shevet, emergency is like the events that happened last night. Hewa is one of our Iraqi kids at the house. He's five years old, but so tiny he could pass for a three year old. Not only does this kid desperately need heart surgery, but his platelet count is so low they have to try to boost it before they dare touch his heart. The poor little guy has been in the hospital almost his whole time here. Friday he was discharged to come to the house for a few days before his surgery is scheduled. However, Saturday his teeth started to hurt. For those of you, like myself, who didn't know, teeth infections can have a direct impact on the heart. Strange right? But important to know when working with heart patients. By early evening, his temperature had risen; he was shaking and sobbing. Not good. We were able to rush him to the hospital and the emergency room. On a normal day, Hewa's oxygen level is in the 70-80% range. The normal healthy person's is between 95-98%. When they arrived at the hospital last night, his oxygen was at 30%.  The doctors stabilized his condition and he will stay there for.... well, I don't know for how long. Maybe until his surgery in a week or two. At least until then, he will be close to the doctors so they can attend to his needs. For now, keep the little guy and all the kids here in your prayers.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Back to Jerusalem

Do you have places that feel like home even when you know there is no rational reason for them to? I have a few and Israel is one of them. I am completely out of place here. The culture, language, history, etc. is so different from my own, I know I don't truly belong. But somehow I feel completely at home here. There is something about this place, something I'll never be able to explain.

I can't believe it was only a year ago that I was here. It feels like a lifetime. I am once again volunteering for Shevet Achim. This organization brings children from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and the Gaza Strip into Israel for open heart surgery. It is amazing work. In a world where Muslims, Jews, and Christians are usually bitter enemies, this organization unites them to heal hearts. Check them out at

As for me, I'm just excited to be back here helping out again. I'll try to keep this blog updated with stories. Thanks to all of you who read it last year and asked me to write it again. It is somewhat therapeutic to process the hectic days by sharing snapshots of them with you.

So far things have been mostly uneventful. The most exciting part of my flight yesterday was getting to spend some extra time talking to security. Who knew I looked like such a security threat? Note to self: if you pack an Arabic translation book, throw in a Hebrew one as well when traveling to Israel. But other than that minor hiccup, not too bad. I landed early in the morning and was met by a friend from last year at the airport. In true Shevet style, rather than head back to the house to unpack and rest, we headed straight to the hospital to pick up one of the kids. It was great to dive right back into things. Thankfully the handful of Kurdish I was able to pick up last summer came back quickly. We played an exciting game of Uno while waiting for his discharge papers and finally made it home in time for lunch.

Since it is Shabbat here, everything on the Jewish side of town shuts down starting yesterday evening until tonight. I woke up early (thank you jet lag) so a friend and I wandered over to the things that are open- tourists sites. We climbed the Mount of Olives and visited a couple of the many churches along the hillside, wandered through the Old City and still made it back before 11. It was a wonderful reintroduction to the city.

So like I said, nothing too epic thus far. But I'm sure all that will change starting tomorrow. For now, I'm content to sit in our garden and reflect on this past year. Shabbat Shalom, my friends!