Lessons Learned in 2013

Oops. The end of 2013 has snuck up on me. Even today, driving in the van, Ken and I discussed when New Years Eve is. We both agreed it was tomorrow, until we subsequently agreed that there is no such thing as December 32nd.

Tough and tumultuous. Promise and progress. 2013 has been a chronicle of contradictions and a season of learning.

A year ago this week, we challenged the kids to speak no more Lingala. Addie and Palmer were content to have their own family, their own conversations, and exclusivity of their loyalties and affections. They were content to live in our house, play with our toys, eat our food, but only converse with each other. Sure, they knew some essential phrases to get along, “Pizza,” “Please,” “Bathroom,” but relational conversation was just between the two of them.

So Ken and I bribed them.

With incentives of bicycles and allowances, Addie and Palmer began to let us into their world.

I sometimes think this is how God must feel about us — we are happy to consume His provisions, enjoy His creation, bask in His blessings. We may even offer up phrases, “Thank you Jesus for this food. Amen.” or recite a laundry list of prayer requests. What He wants even more is relationship — He made us in His own image, breathed life into our nostrils, walked with us in the Garden.

Addie remained fairly silent for months. She started speaking in sentences a full 9 months after coming home from the Congo. That’s a really long time to wait for a child to speak. Fortunately, Palmer’s verbal skills were much more quick to develop. Intelligent  and analytical, he has an incredible memory. As he began to speak, we began to learn more and more about their lives in the Congo — and why they had been so hesitant to speak to us to begin with. They have experienced more tragedy and hardship in their lives than most of us adults have or even will. The guilt associated with their life experiences was unbearable. How do you parent a child who has more life experience, more survival skills, more responsibility shouldered then you can comprehend? He has a bent toward not disobedience and arrogance because he has been his own parent. Can we teach him to merely be a child again?  Can we teach him to trust and respect authority?

Countless times throughout scripture, we are encouraged to have faith of a child, consider ourselves children of God, and even challenges us that if we don’t become like children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? After living with a 9-year-old adult for the last 18 months, I can see it: trust and respect for God’s authority in our lives. Willingness to release our guilt and experience joy. Less dependence on our survival skills and more dependence on God.

Addie has had different struggles. Because she is less verbal, her grief has been expressed in behavioral problems. After months of baffling and awful behavior at home, I talked to her about the dark places in our heart that hurt and make us want to do bad things. I also talked to her about Jesus being the Healer of those dark places, and if she wanted, Jesus would come and help heal the hurts in her heart. I felt so inadequate to try to explain theology of the sinful nature to a 7-year-old with poor verbal skills. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit translated for me and she accepted Jesus into her heart. The change in her behavior has been, well, miraculous.

I am reminded that Jesus not only wants to take away our sin, but heal us of our bent to sinning. Too often we want Jesus to forgive us for our actions, but what He really wants to deliver us from is the sinful nature itself. We want a band-aid. He wants to do surgery.

At the end of the year, I am shocked by the remarkable progress the kids have made. Physically they have grown approximately 7 inches and gained nearly 20 pounds each. They look very much like the 7 and 9 years old that they actually are . . . we think. Educationally, they are catching up to their peers, and getting good grades at school. Spiritually, they ask very deep questions about God, salvation, heaven, and sin on almost a daily basis. Emotionally they are beginning to relax and have a sense of belonging to our family.

My health has made less progress this year. After thousands of dollars of treatments, procedures, far too many steroids, and cultures we still know very little. The cultures from my bronchoscopy all came back negative, but I always improve almost immediately on antibiotics. Unfortunately, we have progressed to using strong antibiotics used at dosages that most medical providers wouldn’t feel comfortable prescribing. I’ve gone through 2 courses in the last six months, but the residual nagging cough seems like it’s here to stay. Again this year, I’ve come close to death several times, but I’ve realized that I’m not afraid. “Jesus likes to keep me close,” is my mantra. Illness just reminds me that I cannot do His work on my own, but must trust Him for my every breath.

The biggest challenge of the 2013 has been my job. With the loss of 4 employees (out of 11) and 2 more going part-time, I’ve felt like I’m trying to steer a ship in a hurricane. I’ve retained my old job as Didactic Education Coordinator, taken on the position of Program Director, and am also doing much of the work of the Clinical Education Coordinator. With no one to train me, it’s been a steep learning curve. I recently did a utilization review to try to establish bearings, and found that my to-do list per day is usually around 70 items, and additionally I get between 80-100 emails daily, and respond to most. Then there are meetings to attend, classes to teach, students to advise, interviews to conduct, and on and on, that aren’t really to-do items, but important nonetheless. We’ve had more critical issues in our Program in the last six months than we’ve had in the 5 years that I’ve been there combined. I come home exhausted every day. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed by an all-star team of new employees who love God and want to be a part of His work in our Program. And God is at work. Students are coming to know God in ways that are remarkable. They are learning to balance grace and truth. He is calling students to Himself,  to work among the poor, and now even in countries where Christians are persecuted, because this is where the future of missions is. We are still teaching excellent medicine, but God is clearly calling us to focus on serving the poor domestically and globally.

I went to a Christian Community Health Fellowship conference in Atlanta back in May, in the first few weeks of my Program Directorship. In the week afterward, I debriefed with the students who went with me, and we all came up with summarizing statements about what God was speaking to us about. It was at that time that I shared with my students that just like our hearts individually, our Program needed a Savior, and I am not it. Jesus is. The job of calling, cleansing, and redeeming is not mine. I am only a tool in His hands, and my job is to ensure that our Program lives and breathes the aroma of Christ in all that we do. There are many Programs that train Physician Assistants, but He has called us to educate not only excellent medical providers, but PAs who practice medicine as ministry. Yes, there have been obstacles this year, but Kingdom work has never been safe work, has it?

Ultimately, 2013 has been a year of diving into the dangerous waters of knowing God and doing His will. My students often tell me that they are impressed that I have the ability to make everything spiritual. Perhaps that is because I believe everything is spiritual. We were not meant to have divided lives. Whether it is parenting two traumatized children, coping with illness, or directing a medical Program, God has lessons to learn in all things.




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