11-africa(Image collection from my post on Vagabond Original)

As Jeff mentioned in his post a few weeks ago, my travels and experiences across Africa were some of the most important times in my life. As significant as they were, I still sometimes dread sharing my experiences. How do you casually share a story about something that changed the entire course of your life? How do you share about the tragedy, the suffering, the simple pleasures, and the overwhelming joy – and explain how all those things could possibly exist in the same moment? I was often in the midst of an internal battle to reconcile and balance the combination of polar opposite emotions that usually accompanied every situation.

Even now as I write, my eyes well up with tears as I remember a tragic, and yet very sacred moment. It was 2005, my first time in Zambia, and only a few days into our trip. My fellow volunteers and I traveled to a nearby teaching hospital to visit our friend, the head nurse of the NICU. After she and her staff showed us around the few sparsely equipped rooms, we were free to wander the ward, assisting where we could.

Toward the back in a dimly lit room, I found rows and rows of tiny, quiet cribs. There were so many babies whose mothers had either abandoned them on the hospital steps or had died in childbirth. Too many of the babies were close to dying themselves; some did while we were there. They were so tiny and weak that they didn’t cry, just lied and waited. They had to drink formula from a cup as they were too frail to nurse from a bottle.

africa-nicu

While the other volunteers busied themselves changing diapers and talking with new mothers, I felt the need to be with those babies whose time on Earth was hours from ending. Surrounded by loneliness and tragedy, I felt my heart numb as I subconsciously tried to protect myself from the overwhelming sadness. I didn’t want the trauma of what I was witnessing to define my time with them, so I slowly began to shift my focus. Instead of being overcome and wanting to distance myself, I wanted to honor them and their short time of life. I knew cognitively that I could transform this heartache into a holy moment and I was determined to do so. I held them and sang to them and prayed for their quick return Home.

Since that time, I’ve had numerous experiences when life is too overwhelming and I find myself retreating into the numbness. Through my experience in Zambia, I know that not only are you not protected when you distance yourself, but you miss out on empowering, sacred moments. When we build fortresses around our hearts, we really only wall in sadness and hurt. It is through our vulnerability that we find healing and beauty in life’s most brutal moments.

And so it is through my vulnerability of sharing these most holy moments that I hope to chip away those walls and encourage you to do the same.

africa-sunset