Playing God

“We have been waiting here since Monday. We came from Nigeria.”

Our eyes meet. I glance at the four-year-old twins next to him, both struggling to balance on extremely bowed legs. I try to hide my expression from their father, fearing my transparency will only make the situation worse.

“Please. You can help us?” His words feel like fire.

I apologize again. The response doesn’t feel natural at all, but thick and poisonous. My explanation regarding a full orthopedic program cannot dissipate his tangible sadness. Or his continued questions.

“But they have pain. Can you fix it?”

My mind knows the answer is still “no” but my heart cannot support it. I need back up.

“Nate?” I beckon my supervisor. “These twins…they’ve been waiting outside the gate for five days. I know we can’t…but I need your confirmation.”

Nate’s gaze falls on the young girls. “Technically, we can’t,” he says softly.

I turn back to three pairs of desperate eyes. Feigning confidence, I repeat that the program is full.

The father is staring at me. Finally, with a quick nod he motions his family off the cement slab and toward the exit gate. I watch the man shuffle through shifty sand, trying to support his twin daughters. My heart breaks. I feel like a liar.

Our orthopedic program isn’t full.

As a screening team we had decided to allocate the sixty one orthopedic surgery slots. We divided the slots among three weeks, which is how long the screening center is open. The alternative was to take all sixty one patients as they come. First come, first serve. If we had chosen this option our slots would have filled in about three days’ time.

Some team members thought it would be fair to offer surgical opportunities to patients who will journey to Cotonou over the next two weeks. We agreed that we would attempt this approach. This meant that we would take only ten more orthopedic patients this week. We had already found those ten.

 I had thought we made a sound decision. After all, I had turned countless patients away this week. This is difficult; however, “no” is more straightforward and undemanding when the patient doesn’t meet surgical critera. I feel okay when I can shunt the control elsewhere because the disappointment is not my fault. You’re too young to have the surgery. Mercy Ships only offers this to women who are past child-bearing age. Or I’m sorry, but Mercy Ships does not do this kind of surgery. Or unfortunately, surgery could make the problem worse. These conversations are certainly sad, but they’re doable.

This “no” felt completely different. Gone were the external factors. I had no organizational chart to fall back on, no exclusion critera to support my verdict. These Nigerian twins met the requirements for surgery, but there is an overwhelming demand so we had to pick and choose. Our selection system seemed ungrounded and unstable. I don’t even want to make life-changing decisions for myself. How can I make them for other people?

When the decision is mine (or ours, as a team) the responsibility feels sovereign. The power is dreadful and condemning.

I feel like I am playing God.

Speaking of God, I am not sure what Jesus would do in this situation. He faced desperate eyes and crippling ailments. I am willing to bet that he felt overwhelmed. Even though his divine nature had no healing limitations or surgical quotas, I am convinced that as a man he felt aching disappointment and deep discouragement in every breath he took.

I watch the twins approach the exit gate. I want to scream, Come back next week! We have more slots! But what if they are too late? What if they can’t make it through the gate? What if they are the ninth and tenth orthopedic patients in line, and are denied again because we accept the first seven?

I turn back to the weaving line of people, some of them soon-to-be patients. The queue seems more like a maze of fraught individuals eager to come out at the right end. I signal the next man to approach me.

Now I understand what Jesus would do. He would keep meeting with those who are suffering. He would come back to this cement slab every day. He would remain open and continue to offer his heart to the wounded, broken, and downtrodden.

Just because you can’t help everyone does not mean that you don’t try to help anyone.

 

0700 at the screening center. outside the gate nearly a thousand people gather every day .

Disclaimer: This is a personal and private page about my experience aboard. This is not an official Mercy Ships page. The reviews and statements presented here may not reflect the beliefs of the organization.

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I Would Never Do That

“Alright, it’s time!”

No. I close my eyes, pretending to sleep.

“Come on, Kayla, you have to come.” My co-worker, Kim, bounces eagerly, her shoes spitting sand on my face. She knows I’m awake.

I sit up, arms crossed with tension. “If you pressure me then I definitely won’t go. I have to decide on my own terms.”

“Ok, then, just come along and we’ll just…look.”

Kim, my roommate Christina, and I ascend the jagged rock behind my little brother, Jaron, who is leading the way. My skin has already transformed into a bizarre looking layer of bumpy raw chicken. “Guys,” I try one last time. “I’m already freezing cold and I’m DRY right now. I don’t want to jump in the water…” They ignore my dramatic monologue and we continue climbing.

The sun’s warmth is the day’s only redeeming factor. Unfortunately, the trek to the designated point is completely shaded, and the physical discomfort I feel intensifies the emotional dread I’m battling. My eyes widen in awe as we approach the cliff. I can’t move my gaze from the majestic beauty of Michigan’s Pictured Rocks lakeshore. The water is aquamarine and as clear as a glass of water. Powerful swells of Lake Superior assault the rocky peninsula beneath our feet. I shiver.

Jaron stands near the edge, pauses momentarily, and then jumps. I count at least three full seconds before I hear a splash. A moment later he emerges over 40 feet below, grinning at us from icy waters. He sports a stupid grin across his face, waving frantically for a follower. “Come on! IT’S AWESOME!”

Kim and Christina look at Jaron, glance at the shore, and then at each other. It’s clear they’re less concerned about the jump itself and more worried about the hazardous swim to safety. All I can think is that my little brother currently has one up on me.

I walk briskly to the edge, realizing that I don’t actually have a choice. My competitive nature and thirst for adventure win out. Behind me the girls are talking to each other, shocked that I’m even considering the plunge.

I blink. My mind and feet betray me. I jump. Behind me Kim is yelling, “STAY STRAIGHT,” but there’s only one thought on my mind that I can actually vocalize: “Shhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiittttttttttt!!!!!”

Three seconds later someone punches me in the face. Or did I just transform into a sock inside of a washing machine? Hard to say. I try to swim as waves argue with each other, pushing and pulling me in opposite directions. I sputter toward the surface.

Little relief comes after I inhale fresh air. I’m certain an old, fat woman is churning these waters around me, cackling, while I (a small particle of cream) fight desperately to remain afloat. I’m mostly upset that my boobs, which represent 90% of my body fat, aren’t helping me AT ALL. Good for nothin’. I guess I’ll have to use my arms and legs. 

The journey back to shore is both treacherous and tiring. Thankfully, my brother is a strong enough swimmer to support himself and act as my personal lifeguard. I love him for it–but let’s be real: I would’ve loved (even more) to receive first aid and mouth-to-mouth from a shirtless and muscled Coast Guard rescuer. Maybe next time. Right now all I want is food, warmth, and bed.

Several hours later, thanks to northern pasties and subpar coffee, I am thawed from the inside out. The four of us depart the flannel-filled establishment in search of a nearby campsite. No luck. Instead, we decide to make use of our time and drive to St. Ignace, which is over two hours away.

Jaron is navigating us through the darkened world. I peek at the stars, thankful to retreat to reflection. I can’t help but relish the delight of my cliff jump. Yes, it sucked, but I’m so glad I did it. I laugh, thinking of how I initially resisted the idea. Why was I so opposed? More importantly, what inside of me changed at the cliff’s edge? Why did I do it?

I suppose I was opposed because I didn’t consider that other factors (such as competition and adrenaline) would outweigh my fears. I realized at the moment, watching my brother below, that I could handle twenty minutes of bone chilling cold to achieve the satisfaction of a new experience. But those are influences I never considered until I was at the point of decision.

I’m starting to think that this happens more often than I realize. I ponder an opportunity or path and conclude, I would never do that. Or more often, I could never do that. When I finally come to the moment of decision, BAM. I’ve decided to do exactly what I had previously deemed improbable. 

I remember feeling deeply discouraged when I received my midterm grade during my first year of nursing school. Just before that term had started I told my parents that I was going to quit nursing school and move abroad to work with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). They laughed and responded, “no” (I wasn’t laughing). I began my pediatric rotation and suffered through the courses, receiving my worst grade in all of nursing school that term. What did I tell myself, looking at my scores? It doesn’t matter. I would never work with kids anyway.

Three years later I applied for a job at a children’s hospital. When the HR representative called me and offered the position, I still had hesitations even though I had sought them out. I was confused because I had always told myself I would never… But guess what: I did, and I’m so glad I did. 

A few years ago I considered (for a hot second) making a commitment to being single, but the thought actually made me nauseous. Several friends did this during college and all reported good things, saying they pursued healthy friendships, learned about themselves, and invested time in their faith. I, however, abhorred the idea of relinquishing control. I could never do that. What if I meet an awesome guy? Woof. So I said no and concluded I never would. 

Late this summer I sat at Reeds Lake, feeling an unusual craving, almost a burden, to pursue romance. I’ve been single for the last year and a half so this newfound pressure felt unnecessary. Deep down I knew that I didn’t want to start anything before moving to Africa in November. I also don’t want to pour my energy into a relationship while I’m working with Mercy Ships. Frankly, the timing just seemed right and I felt peaceful about it. So I’ve decided that I’ll stay single until I return from my worldwide endeavors–and this time around I haven’t felt nauseous.

Cheers to saying you’ll never do something and then doing it!

   

    
   
 
[yes, I did wear the same outfit for four days. You can see the photos were taken on different days by subtle changes in headband positioning.]