25 December 2012

The Heart of a Servant

What is Christmas about to you? Is it the gifts, unending holiday food, being surrounded by family or snow? When I think of Christmas, it requires snow (even though it’s cold and no fun to drive in); when on vacation in FL last week with my favorite twin, my mind was boggled by the fact that there was Christmas music and lights but no snow—rather 80° weather. My favorite part of Christmas, however, is not the snow, chocolate, or even the gifts but the undeniable joy and hope radiating throughout the atmosphere, amidst the normal chaos and hatred. In my eyes, Christmas is about giving hope and spreading joy, which is why I give up Christmas Eve with my family to spread love and cheer to the exceedingly vulnerable—those who need it most. No, this is not an easy task; in fact, nearly no one is willing to do it because it is not all “fun and games” as it looks on the outside but is instead, behind the scenes, consumed by stress, sore muscles and excessively tired bodies. Here is an inside look at my favorite part of Christmas: serving those who need it most—those intubated and/or surrounded by IV pumps and catheters, heart monitors and medicine of all kinds—most unable to survive on their own. Christmas isn’t about getting but giving.

This morning, as I was getting ready to be an “elf”, otherwise known as “Santa’s helper”, my heart leaped with excitement at the thought of doing what I love most—spreading contagious joy merely by serving. Nothing is more rewarding than a life fulfilling its purpose—a life created to serve the King. This year, unlike last, I was not going alone but with another “elf”—my little sister. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited to have someone following in my footsteps, so to speak, and experiencing the atmosphere I love most: Akron Children’s Hospital.

Once we arrived at the hospital, surrounded by endless donated gifts as well as chocolates and other goodies, we headed out to the Atrium desk I normally run, in order to get a good view of Santa arriving by Air Bear—the hospital’s very own helicopter, which landed right above my room in ICU after my spinal fusion four years ago. As soon as Santa was spotted, amidst the Air Bear, people went crazy and lined up along the fence, only to be viscously sprayed with cold snow from the helicopter. As soon as he stepped one foot onto the once snow covered grass, cheering and screaming filled the air and smiles consumed each face. Wherever he went, a crowd seemed to follow which certainly didn’t change the entire day, requiring absolute patience—in fact, we had to sneak him into the hospital so we could get started passing out gifts to each patient, both young and old. As soon as we arrived on the floor and sorted the gifts according to age and gender, as well as each room’s specific patient characteristics (which changed often throughout the day due to discharges and admissions), one “elf”, arms piled high with gifts, stood outside each occupied room awaiting the presence of Santa. Despite small hallways and unlimited medical equipment, the media (yes, I felt like a superstar which ended suddenly as my annoyance sky-rocketed) bombarded every corner with cameras literally right up in our faces as we only tried to get things done. Questions were thrown one after another and recordings of which required special sound equipment we had to put on were endlessly taken. Honestly, it may have been the most awkward time of my life (and I’ve had many of those) due to the endless on-the-spot questions, cameras literally inches from my face (exaggerating every flaw) and 24/7 surveillance, catching every move. One hour or more behind schedule, we finally arrived to our destination, after the media had gotten all the coverage they needed. Once there, everyone was “thrown out of whack”, so to speak and the process was a “hot mess”, to put it bluntly. Since the “main elf”, who’d organized this event for countless years, moved out of state, I was voted to “get things flowing” despite the fact one “elf” had already made herself boss. If there was one thing I learned from today, it was that organization and pre-planning is essential to this process in order for a timely delivery to be made and stress minimized; despite the fact that leadership is at the far opposite end of my comfort zone, I will do it if it means more children can receive hope and joy.

At each floor, an accurate census must be received in order for us to be able to pull appropriate gifts for each patient in the hospital; every year I am absolutely blown away by the generosity of average people, who selflessly donate enough gifts that we can administer at least one to each patient and have a six foot cart overflowing with extras for the emergency room. These gifts are not just stuffed animals and blankets but iPod Touches and American Girl Dolls, as well as countless other prized possessions. My personal favorite part of the day was when a young boy who’d been waiting after discharge to see Santa said, with eyes as big as the moon, “Santa, how did you know?! How did you know I wanted this? How did you know?! YOU must be the REAL Santa because the one at the mall had pimples!” Kids never cease to effortlessly paste a smile on my face and consume my lips with laughter by their hilarious comments as well as loving hearts—I can feel my heart melt in their presence! Every year, as well, I look forward to visiting the NICU(neonatal intensive care unit) where infants as small as one pound are taken care of; the miracle of life abounds in each corner, as tiny cries escape the lips of premature infants whose survival denies nature. The joy of serving is what Christmas is about for me

My Christmas Eve may not have been stress-free but I wouldn't change a thing because through it God is preparing me for my future and teaching me to accept leadership, whether I like it or not. Merry Christmas everyone! 

04 December 2012

Bethel Camp

“His voice leads us not into timid discipleship but into bold witness” (Charles Stanley).
What distinguishes us, as Christians, from this decrepit world? How are those of the world to know that we are His disciples?  According to John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The very essence of love is what separates us, so we are, in the words of Britt Nicole, to “look like love” in all we do. This is my prayer—what about you?  When I think of a place that “looks like love”, so to speak, the first place that comes to mind is Bethel Mennonite Camp—the very first place my abominably wounded and overlooked heart found rest.
The very first time my trembling feet entered the doors of this camp located in Clayhole, Kentucky, I was scared to death yet strangely set at ease by the incomprehensible love overtaking every corner; my scandalously disregarded self—sexually, verbally as well as emotionally abused—remained wholeheartedly confused as to why she even mattered and convinced as to never be worthy of love—true and selfless love, however that looked. After but a week spent here, I was convinced this was no typical camp but indeed a bold witness for Christ—a place distinguished from this decrepit world. Convinced of these things, I was able to begin the arduous journey of allowing God to heal the incapacitating wounds and scars camouflaging my fragile body, both inside and out, and to embrace my identity as a Beloved Daughter of Christ. No matter how many times the devil shot debilitating arrows at my penetrated and vulnerable being, God’s plan as well as unending love for me never changed but indeed strengthened my feeble legs. Grounded in truth, I was now able to fight back—no longer a victim but wholeheartedly protected for the first time from the devil’s wicked schemes. No matter what came my way—abuse; trauma; a seven hour surgery fusing my 60° spinal curvature to less than 20° with 21 screws, 2 titanium rods and multiple hooks as well as bone grafting; the life-threatening disease of Anorexia determined to absolutely annihilate my life by causing me to fear the one essential to survival: food, leaving me at the verge of death countless times; these scars as well as immeasurable others could not come close to separating me from the unrelenting love of my Pursuer and Creator—my God. Had I not been exposed to the atmosphere of love Bethel Mennonite Camp expressed, my life may look drastically different, I dare to argue.
Even though I could only attend this camp several times as a camper, due to infinite Anorexia treatment centers and hospital admissions as well as a newly fusing spine, my life was undeniably changed. This summer, for the very first time in several years, I was able to set foot on this very same ground I’d once entered with fresh wounds oppressing my being--now completely healed by the undeserved grace of God. Even though I was not a camper but a videographer, of which I was scared to death to attempt, the experience was not the least bit disappointing but absolutely unforgettable and encouraging. Truly, I cannot put into mere words the astounding experience of being surrounded by fellow disciples, encouraging one another in this so called battle of life. Though I can never repay this camp for the unending work they do to merely keep it running, I am not about to let that stop me because my heart, after all, was created to fight for life; discipleship requires unending sacrifice but it is my dream to play a part in awarding these selfless beings with but a glimpse of the provision God has promised as they blindly walk by faith. I imagine it is quite costly to run a camp but this has not stopped Bethel Mennonite Camp from continually keeping their doors open; they've had the same facilities for countless years, lacking the commodity of air conditioning despite the high ninety degree weather as well as a single dining hall now outgrown by the increasing number of campers--over fifty from my area. They are hoping to build a new dining hall as well as chapel, with an aim to reach as many people as possible with the incomprehensible love of Christ, but finances are not in their favor, so to speak: $360,000 is needed by the end of March in order to make this dream feasible but $150,000 is what remains in their hands thus far. I am well aware of the fading as well as corrupting economy, especially that of the nearly nonexistent middle class, but out of faith I am asking you to consider giving in some way to this life-changing camp, whether through time, money or prayers. If God has called you to give financially, CLICK HERE where debit/credit cards can be  used via Paypal or the money can be sent directly to Bethel Camp at: 2773 Bethel Church Rd., Clayhole, KY 41317. For more information, see http://www.bethelcamp.org. Your help is much appreciated! 
“What makes the Dead Sea dead? Because it is all the time receiving, never giving out anything. Why is it that many Christians are cold? Because they are all the time receiving, never giving out anything” (D.L. Moody).
What we see now

What we hope to see