“The God of Miracles”: Reflections on My Time in Costa Rica

This May, I was able to spend 10 days in Costa Rica with a nursing student team from my college to partner with CFCI and run health clinics around the communities of San Jose. Check out my reflections below:

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Our God is the God of life-renewing miracles. Recently, I have struggled with this idea, and over the past few months I have stood in the face of some of the toughest questions about my faith. In Costa Rica, these doubts were shattered as I was reminded of the power of our ever faithful God.

I saw Him in our answered prayers. During our orientation night, one of the CFCI leaders (Christ for the City International, the ministry we partnered with) told

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 8.41.37 PM.png us about the miracles of God he had witnessed, and asked us to pray for them as a team. “How interesting,” I thought. “To speak the first night about miracles – something is different about this place.”

And so, I prayed. And the next day I talked to a man who was helping at our first clinic. He told me about his testimony – that his family had fallen apart because of his past decisions. He lived as a criminal, addicted to drugs, and had almost died on more than one occasion. He always knew about God. But when he decided to enter into the presence of Jesus, his life was completely changed. I prayed for him, and he prayed for me, and he humbly declared that it was purely God’s “milagros” that have saved him. He translated this phrase for me on my phone.

God’s miracle — a changed life.

I saw God in the hearts of the people that we served. Some live in inexplicable circumstances. Yet, they had hope. Some cried as we offered them the simple care of a listening ear and prayer, and many left our clinics with radiating joy.

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My Wonderful Host Family

God is moving in the communities we visited.

 

I saw God in my own team members, leaders, and host family. Each day, we worked together, and we served together cohesively. I saw the joy in their hearts. I saw their passion for each person they intentionally took the time to love on. And I was ignited by their burning hearts for Christ.

Perhaps most profoundly, I saw God in His restoration and peace. I witnessed how He is completely restoring lives and communities in Costa Rica. But I also witnessed His restoration in me. While filled with many incredible experiences, my previous trip out of the country was wrought with internal disaster. For the past year, I have struggled to reconcile what happened on that trip. I’ve had to learn how to accept the fact that God loves me, and I’ve had to learn how to love myself.

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On this trip, every single day was filled with supernatural peace. I felt God life this burden of shame off me. He renews. He restores. He is always faithful. We won’t experience His glory fully until this broken world is made new. But for now, I rest in His life-changing power.

And so, here I am. There is a lot I don’t know about what my future holds. But one thing I am sure of is that it is hard being content living in one place while my heart lives in the lives of people and countries far beyond my own’s border. What can I say except that I feel unbelievably grateful?

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I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to know the hearts of so many different people from all over the world. I love them. And I know I will return to them some day. For this, I cannot wait. But there are so many I love in the home in which I grew up. There are many to love here whom I have yet to meet. God is moving here. And we need Him.

God, let us love well, wherever we are at.

“Yo soy la luz del mundo. El que me sigue no andará en tinieblas, sino que tendrá la luz de la vida.” – Juan 8:12

The Perspective of Love

I often don’t let my exposed heart lie in the open without covering it in reflection. And thus, I felt the need to write this account of this night that I was reminded of the importance of perspective.

My day started off slightly rough. Our peds lecture was about childhood cancer. I’ve seen the grips of cancer in my own family’s life and so I tried to put a wall up between my emotions and the videos she was sharing. After lecture, I went to work and started feeling sick. Just before clinical. Great.

Despite not feeling quite well, I was still excited to learn that my patient had the most interesting of conditions. “Finally!” I said to myself.

“The family won’t want a student,” the nurse told me. How untrue, I later learned.

Rather aggravated, I started to look further into my patient’s chart. “Hmm. This syndrome…wow! This is fascinating. Oh…prognosis of at most ten years. Well, such is the nature of  nursing, I suppose.” And I hid behind my emotional wall.

I loved briefly shadowing the patient’s medical team – I find the body to be vast and full of complexity. Then I watched the patient grimace and cry during the exam. My emotions started to bleed. But, I continued to hide behind my emotional wall.

Slightly later in the afternoon, I heard the patient’s mother refer to her other child. I asked her to explain. She resolutely stated that her other young child had just died from the same disease. She never told me she knew this daughter would die around that age, too. But I knew that she knew. So I took care of this child of a mother who would soon be childless. Who will have spent years of her life raising children she knew would die. And this small child was the most cooperative patient I have ever had.

For about the next two hours — among some other brief things — I sat outside the room documenting and reflecting, not feeling great. I sat and tried to comprehend everything, but it came out as crap because I just wasn’t feeling well. I tried to write some reflections, but I couldn’t. By this point, I gave up hiding behind my emotional wall. I didn’t go down to eat with the group because I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t want to partake in discussing frustrations about nursing school for 45 minutes. Then my instructor told me I had to take a break. So I found a chair to sleep on for half an hour in a small corner of the hospital lobby.

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Kayla. And just…stop thinking about all of this. Really.” – I told myself repetitively over the remainder of the night. But I left clinical that night feeling like crap for all the things I have chosen to focus on over the past couple of months. All valid, in its own right. All unfair, in reality.

But…inconsequential. Oh, so inconsequential. A single tear slipped down my face as I texted my friend and talked to God about the experience the following morning. “Father, forgive me. For my frustrations have slowly blinded my eyes.”

This experience has reminded me that the only thing that matters in the end is that we get to choose our perspective on life. And I must choose hope. In Christ. If I don’t…then the futility of life swallows whole the shadow of my existence. Which is far from what Christ died for.

I pray that I will remember this experience as I am tempted to focus on the inconsequential things of life, even if they are partially valid and unfair. I pray that I will focus on what truly matters — that I won’t become enveloped in vacillant reflections, or bitter opinions, or selfishly resolute philosophy.

I pray that my perspective… would be rooted in love. 1 Corinthians 13.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Across the River”

A short story about the nature of God and darkness in every culture, and reconciling living in our own after experiencing culture overseas

 

In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, And the darkness did not overcome it. ~John 1:4-5

            In my village, there is a river. I often find myself sitting on its banks. On these banks, I reflect on the nature of life. By it, I like to sit and observe the people across its currents.

One particular day, I sat in the reeds of the tall grass surrounding the familiar flow of water and watched the lights illuminate the residences of the people on the other shore. I have travelled there a few times, and each time, I have attempted to bring some of that light back into my familiar world, only to watch it dwindle, seemingly due to the insufficiency of my apparent self-given nourishment. It never seems to be enough.

I sighed. I thought of the darkness on my side of the river and I wept. “What makes them so different that they have obtained this light that we don’t have,” I Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 12.17.19 PM.pngpondered.  A thousand times I have come to this bank, only to reach the same disheartening conclusion. I live in a world of darkness – darkness that does not seem to go away, no matter what I do. And darkness that only seems to grow blacker every time I have left it to return.

With my heart heavy, I wiped away the tears from my eyes and I noticed my father sitting several feet away, also apparently reflecting on the nature of our existence. Despite the hours I had spent observing the nature of the illuminated village, I had only just become aware of his presence.

“Father, what do you think of this situation?” I asked, in despair. “How do you stand to live in this darkness when there is so much light on the other side of the bank?”

“Child,” he responded. “There is light on both sides of the river.”

“But…”

“And,” he said with noted anguish, “there is darkness. For as much light there is on either side, there is an equal battle between the dark realms. While you have grown adept in responding to the darkness of your own world, there is much to learn about the nature of what you see. Do not forget that I am here.”

As I returned to the river over the following months, I began to ask my father to explain more of what he meant. He pointed me to the book he had written for our family before I was born, which tells of the nature of life, and, as he imparted wisdom and understanding, left me to reflect on his words and decide what my conclusion may be.

Through my reflecting, I began to see my village and the people across the river differently. I realized the dichotomy between dark and light no longer existed on either side of its banks. Rather, I saw a gray mixture of groups and individuals with illuminated candles standing tall in the surrounding darkness in both my village and the other. While, I also noted, the qualities of the darkness are different on either side, each desperately depends on the light in a similar way.

I realized that my familiarity with my world and my decision to focus solely on the other side of the river had caused me to see past the light bearers amidst me and become entangled in the darkness between them. In my darkness and my ignorance, I strived to see the lights on the other side of the bank and claim them, thinking that they offered the solution to our darkness when they were necessary to illuminate the darkness in their own place.

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With this new knowledge, I persisted in asking my father questions, to which he continually redirected me to his book. I wanted nothing more and nothing less than to figure out what my place in the world of darkness and light might be. I wanted to know the source of these lights, and I wanted to know where I should go with my own light, which I only just realized has been radiating from me.

Finally, I realized what I had always known but had forgotten for so long – my father has given each person their light. And, while each light shines differently depending on the type of darkness it must overcome, the light still exists in each village to illuminate a path to him, the source of pure light and the overcomer of all darkness.

In my village, there is a river. There is light and darkness on both of its banks. I have realized that my role as a daughter of the light-giver is to persist in being illuminated by him and illuminating others with his never-ending source, no matter where I am. I just want to share my father’s light with him and our family, no matter where that may be.

I no longer feel discontent on my side of its currents.

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In every corner of the world, there exists a certain quality of darkness. Whether that be poverty of mind, poverty of spirit, poverty of security, poverty of resources, or just a general lack of contentment, I pray God uses me and the people I serve with to be light bearers wherever we go – both in this stage of life and forever going forward.

Beautiful Imperfections

Below is a journal I wrote after participating in a schizophrenia simulation experience as part of  my mental health nursing class. We were required to listen to voices similar to those with schizophrenia would experience through earbuds as we completed various tasks. 

By the time I had made it to the community support program simulation, I had had enough. As I listened to Professor L’s condescending words*, determination welled within me. “You can choose what career you are interesting in pursuing,” she said, as she handed out our simulated job applications. “There’s nursing…but that is a demanding job,” she continued, in a doubtful tone. “You guys should consider other important jobs, like janitorial work…”

“Janitorial work? Hah! We’ll see about that,” I said to myself as I indignantly indicated that I would be pursuing the job of brain surgeon on my application sheet. Simultaneously, the voices in my head repeatedly reminded me about the supposed fact that I could do nothing but mess things up, and that I was a dumb-a**. Their deprecating words, albeit distracting, gave me all the more reason to fight them as hard as I could. I tried to perform all the assigned activities to a greater degree than I would even be able to do without the internal menaces. I would have nothing to do with bowing down to the verbal mistreatment from those who viewed my status as discriminatory. I would beat the challenge of simulated schizophrenia. Just like I learned to beat my own real-life battle of anxiety and depression.

Perhaps my past experiences occluded my perception of what I was supposed to be experiencing during this simulation. All I know is that when I shared my feelings related to the activity in class, Dr. R seemed surprised. And she reminded me that, although for me it might be a natural reaction to fight against the voices with sheer determination, most people suffering from auditory hallucinations in real life are not able to easily distinguish them from reality. People who are diagnosed with schizophrenia often do not have the mental capability or reserve to fight their symptoms, she noted. I paused for a moment, and I reflected on the gist of what Dr. Raj had just made clear to me — the inability to separate truth from a lie is powerful. Perhaps this simulation helped me to realize that how I process information is not necessarily how each one of my patients will be able to process what is happening to them.

And yet, one transferable emotion I know I experienced in this simulation was the feeling that arose within me as I faced each professor whose role seemed to be to make fun of me and my peers for our disadvantages. I felt degraded, despite the knowledge that none of them really meant what they were saying. I’ve always believed that each person on this planet is valuable and should never be looked down upon because of their abilities or lack thereof. And yet, being a high achiever, I know that I tend to innately make these judgments when I come across people who seem “mentally slow” or “delusional.” In this regard, this activity  saddened me. It forced me to think of the judgments I have made in the past and it made me realize how those people would have felt if they knew what I was thinking in my mind. I pray that, as I progress through nursing school, I would truly act out my knowledge that all people are equal in value, and that these lessons will help me truly love on every patient I interact with in clinical and in my future profession.

Nobody deserves to be or wants to be disrespected. And so, I have made the conclusion that I should approach patients who hear voices with the same respect I wished I was shown during this simulation experience. I believe that true healing and recovery is best facilitated in an environment that assures the humanity of the client. As a nurse, I can and I hope I will be aware of the struggles this population deals with. I hope I remember the confusion they must be experiencing as they attempt to separate falsehood from reality. I hope I remember my desire to fight this battle, and my realization that these patients may not be able to fight their battles on their own. But through this all, I hope that I partner with my clients by meeting them where they are at and showing them respect. Because nobody should ever be made to feel worthless, regardless of their struggles. We were all created in God’s image, even when our reflection of that image has become distorted due to the nature of our fallen world.

To recognize one’s own self-worth and yet equally recognize their imperfections is a difficult task. And yet, I believe it is a crucial one for every nurse to learn, especially those who work with those who are mentally ill. We must value ourselves enough so that we can truly “love others as we love ourselves.” But we must not buy into the illusion that just because we, as nurses, may be physically or mentally healthy at a given time, we are better than any of our patients. Because, we are all imperfect.

Perhaps that is what makes all of us truly beautiful.

*none of my nursing professors are condescending at all! They are wonderful. Their attitude I described here was only for role play.    

“Where There is New Wine”: Thoughts about Finally Starting my Junior Year of Nursing School

When I was in Brazil, and trying to overcome my struggle of anxiety, I discovered and listened to the lyrics of Hillsong’s worship song, “New Wine.” I repeatedly recited the line “Where there is new wine, there is new power” in my anxious mind as I prayed that God would somehow bring new power and freedom into my broken mindset.

It was these three weeks of listening to and praying the lyrics of this song countless times that I believe God began to shape my heart and teach me how to trust Him much more than I previously was.

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The Beautiful Location in Brazil Where I Originally Listened to the Lyrics from New Wine Many Times

Now, despite being such an impactful song during the trip, I actually avoided it for the majority of the following months. Although I’m not quite sure of my reasoning for this new and unexpected aversion, I suppose it had something to do with the fact that the song, while simultaneously encouraging, also reminded me of the emotional pain I felt when I began to listen to it.

However, at some point over the last couple of weeks, I tried to listen to the song again with a fresh perspective. And then, for the first time, this past Sunday, we sang it in church. As I pondered its words for the 100th time, I was reminded of the hours I spent on a bench in a different hemisphere listening to its lyrics. In addition, I also thought about how it might apply to the new challenges I am about face. For those who don’t know, at my school, everyone considers the first semester of Junior year in nursing school to be the most difficult and notorious semester of nursing undergraduate studies.

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Today, as I prepare to embark on what may be a difficult journey beginning in exactly one week, I decided to do a little research on the parable of the wineskins in Luke 5:36-39, and thought about verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:17, which remind us of the new creation that we are in Christ. I came to the conclusion that through the lessons God has taught me this summer (see previous post), I have learned that my perspective on life has changed and must continue to change if I am to make it through this upcoming semester in a healthier way than I went about it in the past.

If we want to see transformational growth for the good in our life, we must let God make us into new vessels, for our old ways cannot sustain the Kingdom mindset.
I must continue to let God take my habits of seeking human perfection in academics and people pleasing, as well as my anxiety and desire to be ultimately in control and surrender to the new wine that He wants to bring out of me.

And so, for all of my friends about to start a difficult semester in school or a challenging season in life, my thoughts are as follows: with God, we have the ability to truly enter in with nothing except all that God has given us.

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Let us press into becoming more like Him, using what He has given us to better the world around us. Let our minds be transformed so that we may leave our destructive ways behind us, and truly experience the peace that only Jesus can give.

His transformational Spirit is a free gift, so let us take hold of it.

How incredible it is to wake up each morning and not know how God will choose to shape our ever growing hearts when we let Him.

Life is a process. Trust in Him, and trust the journey. Jesus, bring new wine out of us.

 

Reflections on the Unexpected

Surprises are the bane of the Type A existence. Of course, if you add anxiety to the genetic melting pot of the aforementioned perfectionist, unplanned circumstances are perhaps doubly unwelcome.

This Summer, I learned to deal with the unexpected.

This Summer, I learned to deal with pain. I suppose that severe physical pain can be described as excruciating. But the pain that comes from the emotional trauma associated with self-deprecation, depression, and anxiety is gut-wrenching. Although I know my experiences pale in comparison to the severity of countless atrocities that others have to face day in and day out, I cannot downplay the hatred that I lavished on my brain that culminated at the end of May and month of June. In my mind, I had disappointed so many people that I looked up to, I had disappointed myself, and I had ruined my potential at the college that I knew was and is a huge blessing in my life.

To make it worse for my already fed-up brain, I had to shove down and learn to discard the pride that was slashed when I was rejected by not one, but three potential jobs. I had to face being rejected from an incredible traveling and scholarship opportunity simply because I take a moderate dose of an anxiety medication. I did not even receive the small to moderate scholarship that I was all but promised to receive form a separate source.

And then, death. I suppose death is the catalyst for both grief and growth. Here, I am not referring to the death of anything metaphorical. This Summer I faced the death that I knew was coming – that of my family friend who so courageously fought the battle of cancer. And then, I faced the unexpected death. Suicide.

I lost a friend who I had known my whole life to suicide. Granted, I had drifted from her over the past 12 months or so due to unfortunate circumstances, but when a 20-year-old whom you shared clothes with, makeup with, laughs with, and hearts with at one point in your existence takes her life, you have to stop what you are doing and seriously take some time to evaluate and reflect.

But, God.

I’m not sure where things began to change for me. All I know is that these deaths mutilated my self-loathing. Something within my mind finally accepted that I have to spend each day wisely, and being wise, I decided, did not include tearing my own self apart and succumbing to anxiety and fear. And aside from this, in the midst of this all, I was finally able to join a small group of similar-minded young adults seeking the Lord who encouraged me through the process.

You see, this Summer was unexpected in a lot of horrible ways. But I was also able to reconnect with old friends (as I write this, I am sitting next to a friend from elementary school who goes to RIT in the Roberts science lounge!). I was able to strengthen current ones. I was able to increase in love for my family. I was able to meet a whole community of fellow believers that do nothing but encourage and strengthen each other. I began to let my mind be transformed.

Finally, one day in August I woke up almost crying. However, this time it was not due to the heavy burden of depression, or the fear of guilt, or the nausea of anxiety. This time I woke up in tears due to the realization of the incredible blessing that is the life God gave me.

Suddenly, and yet not so suddenly, the weight of the death and the disappointment and the unexpectedness of this Summer became absolutely beautiful. I looked back at what God had done in my life and those around me in just a few short months and I realized I was not afraid to move forward anymore.

I think I have realized that life is about moving on. It is about accepting each second, reflecting, and being thankful for each moment that we have the opportunity to inhale, exhale, count our pulse, and rest in the confidence and steadiness of the God who made us. Because when you rest in the confidence of an unchanging God, moving on and facing unexpectedness ceases to be the bane of the Type A existence. Rather, it awakens the soul of drive and excitement. Surprises are welcome and even disappointment is beautiful.

How wonderful it is that we can share with others that “Beauty there echoes a speck of our Source.” Without Him, I truly believe, life is nothing. Life is a philosophical journey best lived in the hands of an unchanging and all-knowing God.

Simple Joys

 

As made quite obvious from the content of my recent posts, this Summer has been filled with an interesting conglomeration of various life lessons. Many have been weighty, as this Summer has not been the definition of sunshine and happiness.

However, today I believe I was able to see past the perplexity that is living for a moment of time and be comforted by the appreciation of the small joys around me.

Today, among other things, I decided to play with my dog. Surprisingly, this is not something that I often consider doing. Why, I’m not quite sure. Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 6.10.02 PMRegardless, as I stood in the warmth of my sunny backyard and tossed the deformed yet hilarious football for my lively yet old dog, I couldn’t help but smile and be consumed with happiness.

And in that moment, as I took a step back from the complex intertwining of life’s dynamics, I thought back to the many happy moments that have scattered my days over the past couple months.

I thought back to the joy that filled me when a customer was gracious and patient with me at Wegmans.

I thought back to the many texts I received from family and friends displaying their care for me.

I thought back to the moments of laughter and revelation and conversations in my small group.

I thought back to the ab-hurting moments of laughter as I goofed around with my friend in the car (we were safe, I promise!)

I thought of the car rides with family that made me thankful.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 6.12.43 PM.pngMost importantly, I thought of the moments where I was keenly aware of God’s presence and peace –moments spent worshipping, reading, or just observing creation.

I have realized that there are many things we can choose to focus on. We can focus on the negative circumstances and situations that plague ourselves and the world. Or perhaps we could also focus on life’s greatest moments that come a few times a year, such as a new birth, or a large celebration.

Or, we can focus on the simple joys – the smiles, the feelings, the laughter, the moments, the time spent with our Creator. Because, if we take the time to look for them, they are always there. And it’s pretty amazing how joy-filled life can be when we take the time to be grateful.

It’s a daily choice, but I know my perspective is shifting. Life can be and is beautiful. Let’s take the time to find the simple joys in every moment.

It can be a hard perspective to adapt, but perhaps it truly is quite simple.