Friday, July 30, 2010

Leaving My Comforts Behind

Most of my days are filled with routines, some fun, some trivial and some difficult. Most days, I arise from my comfortable bed between 5:30 and 6 a.m. I wake up to a quiet house with a cool breeze blowing through open windows of our two-story condominium. I take a hot shower to help loosen up a body that feels the aches and pains of being 51, having had two discs fused in my neck in 1995, who has chronic bursitis in one shoulder and arthritis in most of my joints.

After I get out of the shower, I make my morning coffee by grinding fine Colombian beans, listening to it brew in my gourmet coffee maker, then add the requisite half-half – never the powdered cream or non-dairy creamer and milk only when my preferred creamer is empty.

I read the Bible near first light, pray, and read the morning newspaper – all over a steaming hot cup of coffee. As I read, a heating pad warmed in the microwave oven wraps around my neck or rests on my shoulder. Half an hour later, ice sits on the same spot if I am in pain.

Three weeks ago, I injured my right shoulder, my good one, by lifting a propane tank after competing in a chili cook-off at my church. Since then, I’ve been managing the pain through stretching, light lifting, oodles of Ibuprofen, heat and ice and prayer – something I’ve done more days than not since age 21 – and lots of prayer. If my shoulder doesn’t get better by Monday, I may not be able to fulfill my desire to work on reconstructing an orphanage in Leogane, Haiti. My team leaves tomorrow night and will arrive in Leogane sometime early Sunday afternoon in sweltering heat and humidity.

When I am in Leogane, all my items of comfort will be left behind. My bed may not be comfortable. The hotel we are staying in may or may not have air conditioning to battle the low 80s temperature we will face most nights during our stay. I will be working in 95-degree heat and 95-percent humidity during the day, so having air conditioning then is a moot point.

According to the Starbucks locater map, there are no franchises in Leogane. Drinking black coffee or coffee with the powdered cream is a very reasonable possibility. Although I brought one-time use ice and heat packs, they are meant for emergencies, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Or falling off a roof. I will continue to take 600 mg of Ibuprofen several times a day until I return from Haiti.

At least for me, pain always seems to be a pre-curser to going on short-term mission trips. Five years ago, when I went to Hackberry, La., severe back pain nearly forced me to cancel my trip. Then, the day before we were to leave, the pain miraculously disappeared and I was able to roof houses every day and carry heavy shingles up ladders to roofs. Amazing what prayer and God can do when you choose to serve God in some God-forsaken place.

I have asked friends to pray for my shoulder so that I can work hard on my trip. I come from Midwestern farm stock and a family with a strong work ethic. Not working hard is inconceivable. Haiti is not a vacation for me; it is work. In the past three weeks, I have gone from not being able to raise my right arm at all, to being able to rotate it fully with very little pain. That in itself is a miracle.

What I learn from times like this is that my life is totally in God’s hands. For three weeks, I have prayed for a complete healing of my shoulder, knowing full well that if God chooses not to heal me I may be switched to the team playing with and loving the 80-some orphans in our care. Maybe God has something to teach me in that area. I don’t know.

I do know that I believe God has called me to lead single men, remarried men and teenage boys to do construction on the mission field, so I have signed up to do construction in Leogane. I need to learn carpentry skills in order to lead men. God does not simply choose a man to lead and put him into circumstances with which he can’t lead. Didn’t David first slay a lion and a bear before facing Goliath on a one-on-one duel on the battlefield? When I went to Louisiana five years ago, I went with no roofing skills to speak of the first time, but left with the ability to roof a house three months later on my own, when I was a group leader. God prepared me.

Tomorrow, it would not surprise me to wake up with absolutely no pain in my shoulder. Or maybe Sunday, after sitting scrunched up on an airplane for eight hours, I’ll exit the plane, backpack slung over my shoulder and pulling my travel suitcase and realize something: the pain in my shoulder is gone.

We shall see. One never quite knows what to expect on mission trips. We go leaving our bodies in the able hands of the one who created us, a God who is loving and compassionate. Beyond the construction goals, we go down to Haiti to simply love on people who deeply need to feel love.

God willing, he will provide real cream from a cow for my coffee on Monday morning. Or at least milk -- but nonfat is out!

To see where Leogane is located, search this link (it's just east of Port-au-Prince):

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