Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Romania ROCKing Me

Hello Everyone!

You are past due an update : ) But beware, it is LONG (oh, come on, you expected it to be!!). I’ve labeled various topics in bold so skip through and find what you want to read about...

I have been in Romania for nearly 3 weeks now.
I'm standing in tired and broken awe.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, they say, so view mine here. I add new ones most every day so skip to the back if you’ve seen the ones at the beginning.

The Babies:
He continues to ravish my heart through my babies : ) But it is a beautiful ache…
I’ve seen both Carlos and Alex go home, would you believe? My boys : ) You’d think that would be the happiest of occasions but it’s hard to be glad when you don’t know what they’re going home to. How great could it be if they were left here for weeks at a time in the first place? And Carlos, they tell me, has been here before in his 4 short months of life, and he was in rough shape.

The most obvious mark of this was his refusal to meet anyone’s eyes. Kari, the young missionary with ROCK from CA says that it’s a natural reaction to being left on his own in his crib all the time. He wasn't in the Big Room, but Kari would help me keep dibs on wherever he was in the hospital so I could spend time with him when there were enough people with the babies in the Big Room. I was delighted to see him improve, to have him meeting my eyes as I played with him, and to see his leg muscles gaining strength as I got him moving around in different positions rather than just laying on his back in the crib. It amazes me how little it takes to make such a difference in these babies. All it was for Carlos was a bit of loving attention…

Alex was a bit of a mystery to all of us. He was such a well-adjusted 5 month old, even if he was a bit skinny. His body would feel obviously stiff after being left in his crib for too long, but his face would light up when anyone came near and there were no telltale signs of detachment with him at all. I fell in love with this baby : ) He grew very sick while here too and was suffering with a high fever—and still when I’d get away to his room to cuddle him he would smile and be so lovely despite obvious extreme discomfort… That weekend I was thinking about him all the time—spending Sat, Sun, and Mon. away from the hospital for various reason. Tuesday morning, I couldn’t wait to get up to see my little guy! Only to find when I got there, that his family had come for him over the weekend, while he was ill, and taken him home… wherever that is. I want to believe that he has a loving home because of his open personality…

This whole situation is so humbling because I discover the depths of my own inability. Sure, I can love the babies for a few weeks, and I know that love and positive attention means everything to their little developing souls no matter how short a time, but it is only a few weeks, in the end and we are powerless over what happens next. This realization goes to glorify the place of prayer, putting it into its profoundly rightful place. The babies teach me my own dependence on Him, as well as His aching love for this broken world. They are wonderful teachers…

Yesterday we went out on our break. When we came back into the Big Room, there was another baby occupying a once empty crib. We each peeked in at it in turn, curiously. Then the rest of the girls went to the other side of the room to take their break, have their snacks, etc. I tentatively sat down in a rocker next to the crib, quietly watching this baby. It was dressed in ill-fitting clothes, wrapped in a dirty blanket. It had a pacifier which one of the nurses had given it from our ROCK stash. It was impossible to know whether it was a boy or a girl. I thought it looked about 5 or 6 months old, dreadfully skinny. It’s eyes met mine, and I smiled. It smiled back : ) Slowly, carefully, almost sneakily, it started to sort of feebly toss and turn its way toward my end of the crib. I didn’t even realize until there it was, close enough to reach out and touch. So I tentatively reached my hand in through the bars and rubbed a single finger across its hand, cracked with dry skin. It smiled and reached for me :) And the rest is history.

After Break Laura, one of the Romanian ROCK workers (and one of my favourite of the people I’m working with, I must say ) declared the new baby her own and set about giving HER (we were all surprised at this pronouncement as even the nurses had thought she was a boy) a bath, some proper clothing, and some food. Her little body was so painfully skinny as she bathed her, her little head looking so awkward on that itty bitty frail body and her tummy distended and rotund sticking out from spindly arms and legs. The doctors examined her, told us her name was Elena (so pretty), and that she was 11 months old (shock/horror!) and had come from the sewers… When we fed Elena she cried and cried whenever the spoon would be taken away for a millisecond. The nurses had to draw blood for some blood tests and couldn’t get a vein in her arm so drew the blood from her forehead--- which is appalling. So much trauma for this little one and yet her smile is still so bright and so willing to shine (as the pictures will testify:)).

(The Big Room)
The ROCK “usuals” right now are all still doing well :) It’s amazing to hear the stories of what each of them were like when they first came in and to see them now– each one so improved and happy...

8 month old Emil (the one I pretty much refer to as “Handsome”) they tell me was sickly skinny and ill when he arrived 4 months ago, constantly unhappy and hopeless-looking. If you look through the photos today you’ll find that he is the picture of health– really chubby and so so so perpetually happy and loud! I love that cuddly guy :) 8 month old Mario’s story is similar– he was too tiny, he was sick and greenish in colour, he’d come from the sewers, now he’s the most clever and advanced baby in the programme and smiles brightly and affectionately at the drop of a hat :) 14 month old Petruta was detached and unresponsive when she came in, now she cries when we leave (which is what we aim for in this situation, as backward as that may sound, because it’s a sign of healthy attachment to carers!). 7 month old Florica, as you know, is perfection (she’s my baby). She’s bright and happy and beautiful. Her only set-back is that she hasn’t had the activity of average babies with families and her muscles need strengthening, but that doesn’t take much, just someone willing to play with her in ways that get her using all the muscles she doesn’t use when just lying on her back in her crib. Already in my three weeks here I’ve seen her start to sit up far better and even start to hold herself up on her legs (with me holding her, of course, but she wasn’t standing on them at all when I first got here!). Year and a half old Dragos has some conditions that will keep him from catching up to his age group developmentally, but he’s a riot. He’s adapted to orphan life by finding creative ways to make noises with his mouth and hands and often he’ll break into laughter for no apparent reason at all– he’s just that delighted :) Lifting him into my arms, his body feels floppy like a little doll, but once he’s up there, he wraps his arms around my neck and gives the most precious hugs :) 6 month old Aristita suffers much from her deformities in trying to breathe, but she rests easier in my arms which means long hours of just straight-up cuddling for this little girl :) She had a doctor tell us yesterday that they can do surgery on her toes when she’s a year and a half and on her fingers when she’s five to separate her webbed appendages. I’m not sure what they can do about her sinuses. Aristita’s easy as long as she’s getting enough cuddles and she loves to feel the skin of my hands, arms, or neck... and 8 year old Ionut is still a sad tale as his condition and care doesn’t seem to allow for improvements but only deterioration. He and 4 year old Mariana, who lives across the way where Carlos and Alex stayed, are both suffering from Cerebral Palsy in various forms and it’s very difficult. I remember feeling shocked when one of the girls showing us around my first day here admitted sadly, “these days I’m just praying they’ll die so they won’t suffer anymore” but as I spend more time with them and see their sad routines play out, I can’t help but wonder if that’s the appropriate prayer. Why stick around here like this when they could be with their Healer, healthy and whole and happy? I have to believe He knows perfectly well what He’s doing and I’m learning to pray for and want His will over these little ones...

The City:
10-step instructions for taking a city bus in Bucharest:
1.) Don't stand at the bus stop, but out in the street in front of it in a great crowd of people.
2.) Try to be near the front of the crowd, but resist being trampled by them...
3.) When the bus comes, crowd in close to the door so that the people getting off have to fight for their right to leave the bus. This is vital.
4.) Take a deep breath and plunge in, but don't expect to find a seat-- you'll only be disappointed.
5.) Go right on up the aisle as close to the strangers next to you as is bodily possible. You can either choose to put yourself that close to them, or the people coming in behind you will shove you in that close, so you might as well uphold your own dignity.
6.) Forget all distant dreams of personal space and squish in CLOSER. The doors must close, afterall.
7.) Don't worry about having a pole to hold on to. The pressure of all the bodies on the bus being squashed together is sure to keep you on your feet as the bus swerves and careens down the road. And don't be offended if various parts of your body are touched rather rudely by random strangers, they aren't doing it on purpose.
8.) Do not attempt to take a deep breath. I repeat, DO NOT attempt to take a deep breath. It will not be pleasant should you succeed. Oh, and don't look up or you'll land your face directly into the armpit of the man holding onto the pole beside you. You have been warned.
9.) As the bus approaches your stop, start pushing and jabbing your elbows into people as required to worm your way through the tightly packed space so you end up somewhere near the door. Don't forget to throw in a few, "scuzati ma!"'s for good measure.
10.) Check to be sure all your personal belongings are intact as you jump out quickly, avoiding any oncoming traffic and a head-on collision with the next round of people attempting to get on the bus!

Gotta love public transportation, but I have never ever experienced anything like this until Romania!! I assure you, it is not for the faint of heart : ) My most usual mode of transportation here is the Tram— around 45 minutes to the hospital and 45 minutes back each day—and it’s not much better, though generally riding it doesn’t involve morphing into a sardine : ) I like the tram for the venue it is to observe people. All kinds ride the tram. The businessmen with their sour looks and ‘I’ve gotta be somewhere important” airs, the legless beggars scooting up and down the length of the train on their backsides shouting out in their pleas for all to hear, the groups of glamourous teenagers stewing in their insecurities and trumpeting it so loudly by how they dress, the beautiful old ladies dressed in mismatched layers and big heavy boots, shawls worn over their heads and tied under their chins (I find the elderly faces here very beautiful, very full. They tell stories without a spoken word). I wonder what each of these are thinking, what they are living for, what their agendas for the day are… We all ride side by side with nary a word spoken, broken person next to broken person, walled off, as if unaware, as if uncaring. It makes me a little sad. Romania is frustrating because I keep on wanting to talk with people, to ask them their stories, to look into their eyes and let them know I'm listening. I hate the rude way I feel when someone speaks to me and I have to smile apologetically and mutter, "Nu vorbesc Romaneste." I can attempt little bitty phrases like, "Cum te cheama?" but people don't answer simply, by the book. They go off into heaven knows what while I'm left, yet again, shaking my head and smiling apologetically.

My favourite thing about the tram is when we pass a church (Othodox) and the whole car (pretty much) starts frantically crossing themselves 3 times over. I remember the first time this happened and everyone all around me was doing it and how strange it seemed, how bewildering : ) I don’t know why it’s done, but then, I doubt that even they understand why they do it. Because it’s always been done and will always be done, I suppose.

Living on my Own:
Having the apartment to myself is so far, so good. I love how independent it feels to finish up my day, take the tram home, climb the miles of stairs key in hand, and unlock the door to my own place. I turn on the music and experiment with cooking (don't laugh-- I'm not that bad) and throw the laundry in and all manner of ‘a place of your own’ type things :) So far the grumpy neighbour hasn’t been seen or heard of (thank the Lord!), and every grocery or necessities shopping excursion He’s provided for– either some stranger who speaks English has come forward right when I need them, or I’ve been able to make out with my few words of Romanian and lots of hand motions, pointing, etc.... Language barriers make life so interesting :)

And God Thoughts:
I’m half-way through this particular endeavor of 6 week to follow wherever He leads and I am already forever changed. I feel as if I am catching glimpses of His heart in new depths and I think what I’m discovering the most deeply is how much love hurts, but what a delightful pain it is to bear. And that it almost should hurt, it ought to be giving something of myself to experience it, because that’s what Christ-shaped love is.

And oh, how He has a tender place for the fatherless. And the widows. And the strangers. The Old testament is replete with the laws that ensured God's people would care for these three categories. They even had to leave crops purposely in their fields for these to gather for themselves. In the New Testament, one of my favourite verses, James declares that the only religion that God accepts is to care for the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (they both are naturally easier said than done).

It occurs to me so strongly lately that this has to be a matter of entering in to someone's pain. There has to be an involvement, an interaction, an empathy. God is God; He might have saved the world by waving His finger if He so chose. But His heart is completely relational and He became flesh and moved right in, knowing that He designed our hearts in the image of His and that we are completely relational as well. Shouldn't this then be our model? To enter into the suffering and wrap our arms around it, holding the wound to slow the bleeding until Heaven comes down to set everything to right?

I wonder if we can possibly expect to be Jesus to anyone if we're not willing to meet them right where they're at and enter into whatever their suffering might be.... the amazing thing about Him is that... He infuses it with beauty when done in His Spirit. And sure it hurts, sure it's inconvenient and there are sacrifices, and sure it means vulnerability and it means looking outside of yourself and your cushy little world and self-schemas. And there is pain in that... but how beautiful the pain is... how worth it all.

He's making me believe that prayer is where the real work is done, and we avoid it because it's such hard work and we are lazy. True prayer is all submission. True prayer leaves no room for our own glory, and His Son's character is wrought in us as we struggle on our knees...

If there’s anything else Romania’s teaching me it’s that I want to livebreatheeatsleep on my knees. That is where I can lose myself in Him. That is where it happens, that is how it works. No amount of effort on my part, no amount of statements of want, no amount of trying to do better, be better. The passion is born bowing at His feet. And then we can go out from there to touch the world with His hands...

Each year He's bringing me deeper into the aches and hurts of this world. Each day I'm looking into the eyes of these babies, walking past children begging on the streets, explaining that I don't speak Romanian to the legless man calling out to me on the corner. And even outside of the poverty, the ache is real and true and deep. In Christian friends who "have it all together". In Marriages that seem perfect. In ministries that are great on vision and action, short on hours spent humbled in His presence submitting to His perfect will. In me.

Emerson once wrote: "Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise." These lovely babies, continued expressions of His hope, being abandoned and mistreated are only a tiny fraction in an itty-bitty corner of a world cringing and cramping with the symptoms of separation from its life-giver. My placement here has only been added proof of my own smallness– but deepened faith in His bigness... In light of the hurting and need, I am, and anything I can do is, nothing. I want to change this world that is ever-overwhelmingly too big and too problem-riddled for me to make any sort of mark. So I’m learning my place is to submit to prayer in a whole new way, to actively pursue intercession and adoration and constant connection with the King in my thoughts in ways I haven't before. Nothing else I will ever do can matter without that."'You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed'.... All the work of the kingdom of God begins with simply being with Jesus. If it doesn't start there, it doesn't start at all" (Ben Patterson). He’s using Romania to remind me how real a battle we are in. He's calling me to some nights of isolation before Him, surrounded by angels waging wars. This world is too broken not to painstakingly wrap it all in my arms and hold it up before Him. It is yet another lesson in His strength being made perfect in my weakness.

"The earth is filled with Your love, O Lord" (Psalm 119:64). May we unlock it and pour it out until all may see and feel and know Him. May we bathe in its flow ourselves and then go out and splash it on everyone we see-- His hands, His feet... Life is too short to act as if even one day doesn’t matter...

He is not safe, but HE is so good. And Love is Who He is.
Know Him,
Leah <><

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