A letter

I wrote this letter to one of our long term patients, Tahina, a few weeks ago. I thought about asking one of our translators to help me write it in Malagasy for her but I ended up just keeping it for myself because I didn’t know if she would understand. I did tell her some of these things in person, but sometimes all she wanted was a friend to hold onto or a smile that didn’t need translating. 

Dear Tahina,

I know that I have never had a long conversation with you. It’s hard when we don’t speak the same language. I think you already know, but I want to tell you that I love you. I’ve never actually been your nurse, just your cheerleader and friend, but I feel like I know you. You might not remember me but I was on D ward the day you were first admitted as a patient. None of us knew just how long you would stay with us or what your journey would look like. I brushed past you, busy taking care of other patients and touched your shoulder to let you know that I was passing you. I remember vividly the way you cringed and shrank away from my touch and scurried back to your bed to hide under your blankets where no one could look at you. Or touch you. I thought about you many times that first day and my heart ached a little bit. 

I don’t know what your life has been like really. I can imagine things but all I really know are the facts in your chart about how you were so young when Noma ate away part of your face and changed forever what the course of your life would look like. I think about the stares and cringes and ridicule and loneliness and pain that has been part of every day for you. I only know you from here, D ward on the Africa Mercy, and your journey through these past 3 large operations you have been through. You have had to trust us with your life and your future every time you go back to that OR. I know you are tired some days, or frustrated with us for making you drink another can of formula, or just simply in a lot of pain because of your multiple incision sites. I know some days you just want to get back under those blankets just like you did that first day. 

But please keep fighting. Please be brave and strong. You are ALREADY beautiful. I know it matters a lot to you what your face looks like on the outside right now, and right now you are still disappointed. Your face won’t be perfect but honestly, when I look at you, I see your eyes when they crinkle up in a smile, your cute little chin, and your big cuddly hugs, even when you surprise attack me with them. I love that you don’t wear a scarf over your face anymore and even have dance parties with me in the hallway if I’ll play some Taylor Swift for you. 

I wish I could convince you of how precious you are. Like so you actually believed it. You are worth something that is much greater than you can imagine, not because of how your face looks or where you live or anything you have done, but because you are made in God’s image and you have a beautiful soul that will live forever. 

I’m so glad we are friends, Tahina. You may not know it, but you have changed me too. If you were the only patient I had met or taken care of here in Madagascar I would have happily come because you are so worth it. You are loved, Tahina. Not only by me but by so many others here on this ship. I hope you know and feel and believe that now and for the rest of your life. Keep being brave and beautiful, dear. I love you! 


 (Photos by the Mercy Ships Comms team)

Love is…

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”    -C.S Lewis

I have witnessed some pretty incredible examples of love during the past couple months. Parents selling everything that they have besides the clothes that they are wearing to perhaps give their child a chance to have surgery that will save or drastically improve their life. A doctor taking time to sit and look a mother in the eye to explain to her that is’s not her fault that her baby’s lip and palate have clefts in them, that she is a good mother, and that many children don’t even survive these anomalies because of severe malnutrition. A day crew member sitting up for hours at night when everyone else is sleeping to comfort a mother who is worried about her child’s operation the next day. People who have left their homes for five or ten or twenty-six years to love people on this ship without any monetary gain. 

Most weeks I vacillate between thinking I’m doing pretty alright in the loving people well department, and feeling sadly inadequate when I recognize my frequently selfish thought patterns. Sometimes I can dwell on feelings of guilt and come up with plans to change my attitude and be a better, more loving person. But I know that love is not just feeling differently towards a person but displaying it in how I live and act, even if I don’t say anything or even speak your language. 

I’m thankful for my Savior, who has allowed me to first begin to understand and experience real love that never changes. I’m so thankful for the people in my life who have loved and do love me well and allow me to tangibly experience and grow myself through their encounters. I know that I am where I am supposed to be right now. I know that the work that has been started in me will continue. And I know that God has good things worked out for me on this journey.