Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"I was right there."

Haitian roads are treacherous places. Vehicles are overloaded, speed limits don't exist, streets are poorly maintained, and traffic laws are more suggestions than laws. As I see the buses and trucks flying past on National Route 1from Port-au-Prince to Gonaives, I think of the accidents that happen and I say to myself, "Someday, an accident is going to happen and I'm going to be the first responder."
Apparently, someone decided to give me a 'Welcome Home' gift. On our way to Gonaives, my first week back after a 2 1/2 month furlough, we came across a bus that had crashed off the road and was lying on its side in an irrigation ditch at the bottom of a steep 20 foot slope. Grace and I slid down the hill and I helped her climb into the sideways opening that had been the door. While she oversaw the search and recovery from inside, I splashed through thigh-deep water to the far side of the bus and found several people, pinned between the bus and the muddy bank.  
The next 30 minutes are a blur for me. I know that I helped some men pull people out from under the bus and we carried them, one by one, through the filthy water and up to the road. I remember yelling at Katie to get our truck and telling some man to start loading the most serious victims into it. Mama Kathy left with 5 or 6 people within 10 minutes, but we filled 3 other pick-up trucks and sent them all to the hospital in St. Marc, about 35 minutes away.
There were ugly injuries, injuries that threw me right back to that awful night after the quake. I can remember distinctly the feeling of a broken limb in my hands, sagging and flopping like a rag doll. I remember the vacant look in the eyes of the victims, some of whom must have been stuck for 40 or 50 minutes before we finally got them out. I remember an older man whose legs had been snapped mid-calf; his bones were sticking out and his feet hung at a strange angle, held on by a thread, it seemed. He lay in the mud chanting to us, to himself, "My feet are broken, my feet are broken," over and over. While we lifted him up, "My feet are broken, my feet are broken." While we carried him up the slippery wet hill, "My feet are broken, my feet are broken." 

There was a huge crowd on the road watching. Cars and trucks and police and even reporters all stopped and stared. A select few were in the mud with us, working like madmen to save lives, but most just stood there. Time and time again, I crouched by a victim and yelled to men nearby, "Come help me move him!" but they didn't budge.  I was muddy and bloody from head to toe, but the police officers were still perfectly clean in their uniforms when it all ended. I don't think they even went down the bank to see the accident themselves. I don't know if fear, shock, or indifference kept the onlookers back; whatever it was, I still don't understand their hesitation. And I would love to talk with those who were in the mud beside me to know what it was that made them risk their safety for the sake of others.

The last one I pulled out was a middle-aged woman who'd been pinned in the very front of the bus. I crawled into the mud, half under the bus to support her lower body as two men yanked on her arms. She was limp and felt to me like every bone in her body had shattered. She'd been dead for almost an hour. I left her in the mud and walked away, feeling dizzy and sickened.

That was three days ago. I'm home in Gonaives, settled in, and trying to sort out my emotions. I honestly don't know what I feel. In some ways, this seems like nothing compared to the magnitude of what I did after the earthquake. But I know from the way I've been avoiding talking to God that there is emotion buried somewhere and that I'm subconsciously afraid of it.

This morning, I asked God one of the questions that had plagued me post-quake: "Where were You when all this was happening?" And for the first time, He answered me. I don't love the answer; it feels insufficient in some ways but it is an answer from a God that I have committed to trusting even when I don't understand or agree with Him. He said to me, "I was right there. Wherever you were, that's where I was, right there."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Camp camp-ness

There isn't a good word to describe everything we experience and become at camp. If you could combine crazy-amazing-strange-happy-ridiculous into one word, that would do it. Suggestions?

Surfboard races on Luau Night

Our bay on a peaceful morning

The Photo Thing activity with the boys' cabin of Pemaquid

A visit to the seaside village of Camden

Sailing in the Tern

The harbor seals that live across the bay

Our annual hike to Maiden Cliffs for a chapel talk

Making friends with the mannequins at LL Bean

Team Mario on Horse Races Night

 My favorite activity every summer: woodstacking with Team Sweat 'n' Splinters

Cooling off in the river, fully clothed

A minor fear of buoys and a loyal friend

Failing and falling at parachute games

Choreographed dancing on Lip Sync Night

Trying hard not to laugh in the game "Honey, will you give me a smile?"

Tied together by a camper, "so now we won't ever have to be apart"

Our version of a gang tattoo - purple big toes - much more easily removed

I think we need help. The camp crazy-amazing-strange-happy-ridiculous has gone too deep. We may never recover.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nothing else

One girl asked me this summer, "Kez, how much pain do you have to be in to hurt yourself?"

I don't know. I've never really hurt myself, but every year, I meet young women who do, whether through cutting or extreme exercise or purposeful starvation. Some of them can't explain why they do it, but others will tell me flat out the emotions they feel and the things they believe about themselves that trigger the destructive behaviors.

As I walked through this process with one teen this summer, I listened to her name all the things she thinks that are pulling her into depressive and harmful tendancies. We met every day until she left so that we could talk, cry and pray together.

I asked her to take time alone to write a list of all the things she believes about herself that probably aren't true. And I asked her to write the truths that counter each of those thoughts; "Even if you don't believe the truths, I want you to write them down because identifying them is the first step to believing."

She wrote the first part, the destructive thoughts, but she said that she couldn't think of the words to fight against them. So I took that list, that awful painful list, full of things like, "I'm not good enough", "Time spent with me is time wasted", "I deserve pain", and "Everyone's life would be better if I'd never been born" and I started to write my answers and God's answers to those lies. I wrote for five hours.

The night before she left, I sat her down and I read out loud to her all seven pages that I'd prepared. Seven pages full of my affection for this beautiful young woman and full of God's deep love for her. Seven pages of heartfelt hope that truth will win over lies. Seven pages to try to express one amazing truth: God's love defines us, nothing else.

The letter was written for her, but it was meant for all of them. All the girls I've ever mentored at camp, at youth group, at the orphanage, in the ghetto. Perhaps it's meant for all of us too, adults or children, experienced or inexperienced, in America or far away. Where do we choose to find our value and our joy? I've looked lots of places, but I always come back to this: God's love defines us, nothing else.

Hunger Games!

I love to take movies or books that the teens are excited about and turn them into evening activities. I've done Harry Potter Night and Peter Pan Night, and this year, I added Hunger Games Night to the repertoire. 

For those who aren't familiar with the story, the basic plot line is a teenage girl named Katniss who volunteers in her little sister's place to be a fighter in a modern-day version of Roman gladiator fights. But in this world, all the gladiators are children and only one can win.

With my co-worker Chloe and my faithful camper-workers, we prepared for the epic evening. The workers chose roles and rehearsed their parts with me in the days prior. It was their suggestions and eager participation that made the event a success.  

We had all the main characters. We even had some evil Peacekeepers, mutts, and a Capitol camera crew to record all the excitement.

As in the story, we had a "reaping", where 24 children were chosen to represent their districts in the Hunger Games. Before the fighting started, each district had to adorn their "tributes" in the unique style of their home and parade them in front of everyone. And just like the story, it was poor little District 12, Katniss' district, that won the crowd's favor.

Then the Games began! Tributes were set loose all over camp to hide or to "kill" each other by pulling a flag from their oppenents like one would do in flag football. Meanwhile, the other members of the districts performed tasks such as fetching water and picking blueberries to earn "gifts" for their tributes: sneakers so they wouldn't have to run through the woods barefoot and a drink of water. When things seemed to be getting a little quiet, I unleashed my secret weapon, a team of "mutts", terrifying dog-like creatures (played by the teenage boys), to kill tributes at my command.

All in all, it was a phenomenal evening. I'm not sure who had more fun, me watching it all unfold as I'd planned, or the campers partaking in a fantasy they've all grown to love. The best part, however, was the bond that formed between the kids who played the major roles. Perhaps it was the emotion they had to put into their performances, perhaps it was the type-casting by me, but either way, the relationships they acted that night were true by the end of the summer. And it was beautiful to watch.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Adventures of the "Almost Made It"

Two weeks ago, we were supposed to spend the evening at Pemaquid Point, a beautiful lighthouse an hour from camp. I stayed back to drive the 'late van' with the camper-workers because they would not be ready to go as early as everyone else. We almost made it, but in downtown Damariscotta, a beautiful little village off Route 1, my van suddenly died. I pulled over, started it again and was able to get off the road into a parking lot. I could have kept driving, but we've already lost 2 vans this year and I didn't want to risk it.

In those situations, you have a choice. You can be frustrated and disappointed or you can embrace the sudden change in plans and turn it into an adventure. By myself, I might go with the former, but with a van full of awesome teens, it has to become adventure.

We explored the harbor, skipped rocks, caught (and ate) crawfish, sang songs, danced on the bridge, and ate ice cream. Then the kids sat and watched a beautiful sunset while I shared a little message with them from the book of Numbers, about the 2 spies who weren't afraid to go into the Promised Land like God asked. I reminded them why those spies were different - in Deuteronomy, we are told that unlike everyone else, they actually spent time in God's presence. That's the way to be courageous when others are cowards and to do great things when others lead monotonous lives. Spend time with Him, trust Him, and follow Him.

Eventually, Dave came to rescue us with a fresh van. What a hero!

And that concludes this week's edition of Adventures of the "Almost Made It". Join us next week for another adventure.