Beauty in the Brokenness

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I have learned more in the past month than I have my whole life. I thought I understood and embodied words like “overcomer,” “brave,” “courageous,” and “survivor.” I am pretty sure I had no idea what they meant until I sat across from women who told me their stories. Stories of unimaginable abuse, rejection, abandonment and being taken extreme advantage of when they were little girls.  Finally tonight I let the tears flow that have been accumulating for weeks.

I worked for DCF in foster care/adoptions for 4 years, worked as a Guardian Ad Litem for years, and adopted a child who lived 9 years in foster care. As a result of these experiences, I had very little compassion for birth mothers and the pain they brought on their children. I have always been very indignant, angry, and relentless in my resentment toward the damage that parents can inflict on helpless children.

As I sat today and listened to stories of moms struggling to get sober and learning to live clean, I have seen the bravest of women. For most of them it is all they know. All they have ever seen in life. Given drugs by their own moms, their bodies sold to support their mothers’ addictions, and raising themselves and their siblings while mom is passed out on the couch. I understand drugs are a choice. I don’t think anyone struggles to believe that…..but before today I never really heard about how many of them got there and when I did it was overwhelming.

I am not sure what to do with that. Right now, I just sit, completely broken. I am sad, feeling guilty that I never felt compassion before today, and asking myself how the church is reaching these women. Where have we been? Most of us have probably been just like me- arrogant, self-righteous, and unwilling to look them in the eye. Why? Because we might actually feel compassion if we actually SEE them. And then we might have to do something. And most of us don’t want to do anything. Let’s be honest…..entering into someone else’s struggle is exhausting and inconvenient. So we don’t SEE them. We just judge them. It is easier.

I bought the new Natalie Grant album that came out yesterday, knowing nothing about it. When I sat down to write I started listening to it and the first song is “Be One.” Here are the lyrics:

We don’t feel ready, we don’t feel steady
Question what we really have to give

Stay where it’s safer, claim faith but waiver
Is this how we’re really meant to live

We pray but never move
We say but never do

Chorus
It’s time to get our hands dirty
oh oh, oh oh
Be love – there’s a whole lot of hurting
oh oh, oh oh
Calling all hearts, Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one, When we can be one , When we can be one

A little somethin’ might feel like nothin’
But in His hands it’s all we’ll ever need

To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It’s who He’s calling you and me to be

We can be the change – be the hope
We can be the arms that don’t let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are we are where it starts

Chorus

We can be the light in the dark
We can be the arms that don’t let go

WOW. I have to ask the question…..do we “speak life to the broken?” Are we the change and the hope that God has called us to be? Are we light in this dark world? Or do we just use our light as a flashlight to illuminate our own path and let the rest of the world figure it out for themselves?

We are a very self-consumed country. It is time to rise up and enter the hurt and the pain with people. This is not my idea- God came up with it. But most of us want to be comfortable, safe, and “happy.” Meanwhile, women are all around us, desperate for truth, love, and just someone to listen.

We feel often like we have nothing to offer. I get that. I was talking to my friend Carol not long ago. I told her I felt like I had nothing to offer because I have lived differently…..no drugs, abuse, etc. And she told me, “God will use you because you are willing to learn.” Isn’t that all it takes? A willingness? Saying YES to God?

Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Is this us? I pray it will be, church.

 

Miracles Do Happen….

When I met Jean Marc six years ago, I immediately knew he was a rock star. Confident, driven, and committed to his schooling, he knew where he was going in life. He had embraced the fact that he could never farm because of his disability so he put all his effort into his academics.

IMG_1521Sometimes I would have to encourage him to take a break as he read the English/Creole dictionary into the wee hours of the night. He has been known to look at the back of the granola bar wrapper and try to have a deep discussion with me about the chemistry (that Ca for Calcium and Fe for Iron stuff I have no recollection of) and continue to try to teach me until I learned it. Those were some very long sessions, driving in the back of the pick up truck, and precious to me regardless of my lack of interest in chemistry.

IMG_1455He seemed to have a grasp on all aspects of his life, except his disability.

Until two years ago, Jean Marc had never seen a doctor. No one had ever been able to explain to him why his legs were deformed and he was so short. In Haitian culture, they often attribute disease to some kind of curse because they do not have the opportunity to be exposed to explanations we get from going to the doctor. At that time, we sent him to Dr. Frank Bertram who lived across the street from me for the majority of my childhood in Lakeland, Florida. He was doing medical missions work in Dominican Republic and agreed to see Jean Marc. This involved getting a visa, a passport, and going across the border from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. Not a small feat but accomplished nonetheless.

Frank was able to diagnose him with ” severe bilateral bowleg deformities secondary to skeletal dysplasia.”  Surgery was not possible in the hospital where he was working. We figured out how to manage his pain to some degree, but most days the pain was close to unbearable. The day I told Jean Marc we could not correct his condition he hung his head and a single tear rolled down his cheek. It was the first time I realized how difficult life was for Jean Marc. The mom in me mourned for my helplessness.

Two years have passed since his initial diagnosis and I have sent him to other missionary doctors in Haiti, but all with the same conclusion- no possibility of surgery. Although I think that Jean Marc felt encouraged that we were always searching for answers, I also think he was falling deeper and deeper into despair. The lack of mobility, the pain, and the tiring days walking to and from school and other times trying to navigate transportation where his legs were not even long enough to hoist him up into the truck had taken its toll.

When I talked to Jean Marc a month ago, he had returned to the farming village with his parents because he could not afford school. With only a year left of high school, he felt desperate to be in finish and go on to university.  After I traveled there a week later we made arrangements for him to start the school year. Perfect! Oh, and I had this doctor’s appointment for him the week after I left but was completely convinced it would be the same result- no surgery.

He went to the appointment on Wednesday, October 28th and that afternoon my team in Haiti called me. They had scheduled surgery for Jean Marc. WHAT??? I figured I had lost the information somehow in translation and kept asking questions to hopefully get the real answer.

After two days of probing, I realized it was true. They were performing surgery on Friday. To be honest, I was a bit concerned about what they were going to do since this was the first time we had been told that any procedure would benefit him. But Frank Bertram had highly recommended him and I fully trusted his judgement. So after a restless night and much prayer, Friday came and surgery was performed.

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These photos were taken while Jean Marc was in surgery and later posted in a blog about his condition which can be read here. Jean Marc was given Taylor frames for his legs. The doctors stated:

The Taylor Spatial Frame (TSF) is an external device for limb correction, lengthening and/or straightening that is based on the Ilizarov Method. This device and technique is a mainstay of pediatric musculoskeletal deformities at Hopital Adventiste. This external fixator takes advantage of the body’s natural ability to grow healthy new bone tissue and gives the surgeon the ability to accurately move bones to their correct precise anatomic alignment.  The TSF fits around the patient’s limb and is attached to the bone with pins or wires that extend from the rings, through the skin and bone to the other side.

It sounded to me like an absolute miracle that there was a doctor coming to Haiti for only 5 days, saw Jean Marc and performed the surgery 2 days later….and then Frank Bertram sent me this email:

“This is really the Lord at work. There are very few people in all of Latin America – let alone Haiti- who have access and can use these Taylor frames. He will be in the frames probably 6- 9 months.”

Rejoicing happened in the Ellis household and spread like crazy to all the people in our community who love Jean Marc- some of whom have never even met him. The Gerbers, the Bowers, the Bertrams, Savannah, and many others were having a time of celebrating this amazing opportunity for Jean Marc…..but we also knew the road to recovery was going to be very long and painful.

Soon after the surgery his mom came down from the mountain to take care of Jean Marc and his little brother, Reginald, who had a less invasive surgery. The always joyful Madame Anselme I know was struggling to watch her sons in pain.

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12212506_714562072008772_538535076_nJean Marc’s favorite quote is, “When you make well, it is not easy.” We talked about that on the phone- how what is best for us is often the most difficult path at the time but leads to the biggest blessing in the long run. Through it all, his precious personality continues to make him the truest overcomer I have ever met. From phone calls to selfies, I watched him persevere through the process.

 

After a week in the hospital, he was released with his mom who was trained in how to help Jean Marc work the frames to continue to straighten his legs.

 

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It takes a lot for me to call something a miracle….but this is one of those times. A child who was told his whole life he would never be anyone because he was a “cripple” has had the opportunity of a lifetime to correct his disfigurement. He will never be fully able bodied but any correction that can be made to his legs is a miracle to Jean Marc and all of us who call him our own.