So, my husband and I did a thing. We flew to Honduras for a Medical Brigade through a Christian non-profit called HOPE Worldwide. Super honesty time- I was not excited before we left. My stomach was in anxious knots about leaving my daughter for 5-ish days. I was way too stressed about getting Zika and not at all stressed enough about packing the essentials…like enough pants. I had no idea what I was in for.
We landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on a Thursday to a throng of welcoming HOPE Worldwide volunteer arms…arms primarily concerned with hugs (despite my smell) and carrying luggage (despite my over-packing…of shirts, not pants. Definitely not enough pants). We were whisked away via bus to the hotel, chatting with sunshiny faces about how they came to be here, of all places. Our team featured anyone and everyone: doctors, a hot dentist (my hot dentist), a realtor, nurses, a life coach, all different walks of life. All needing to stretch themselves… and brave enough to stretch all the way into Honduras.
I was comforted to know I wasn’t the only 1) first timer 2) person who felt completely incapable of the task at hand and 3) person who took French in high school and now felt completely bummed about it. My particular seemingly incapable task was providing crisis counseling for residents of a San Pedro neighborhood called Chamelecón. I had no idea what this meant but was armed and ready with five Spanish informational sheets on various mental health topics and Google translate. I felt like David with a sling shot and was pretty sure the issues I’d be encountering were Goliath. In some ways I was right, and in some ways I was VERY wrong.
The pictures can give you a pretty good idea of the life the residents of Chamelecón live. Nothing is safe from the damp in the wet season and I’ve heard the same is true for dust and the dry season. Water is not clean, children do not have enough to eat, gangs strike fear on a regular basis and the government’s disarray leaves much to be desired in the way of opportunity. There’s barely enough food to go around, much less jobs, commerce, medication, or comfort. We’ve all heard the stats of communities like these. Dare I say, I had become a bit desensitized to them.
Before I go on, I want to share something that might sound bizarre. I do NOT find the photos of these children endearing or wonderful…yet. In fact, I still have a hard time looking at them in their joy. It’s true, they were joyful even though they had literally nothing and most likely would never have anything more. They played, chuckled at our bizarre attempts at Spanish, hugged, dutifully posed for silly snaps, and were breathtakingly beautiful. BUT, when I look at their little faces staring back at me in these pictures, I feel pangs of sadness. Not out of self-hate, but out of embarrassment for the crazy amount of self-doubt that paralyzed me from doing anything for them earlier.
You see, we had three days of clinic time. Six to eight hours every day. In 2.5 days we saw 900 patients. Incredible. People received free, life-saving medication, precious prenatal care, healing of their wounds and comfort in their pain. Residents had come to rely on, love, and live because of these brigades that dutifully return every 6 months to the same community. The impact from this brigade was astounding. The nauseating thing was that I was so distracted by my perceived inability to help. I was plagued by mental tapes like, “What can you offer?”, “How in the world are you going to provide counseling when you don’t speak the language, have one hour to see these people, and cannot at ALL relate to what they’re feeling?”, “There are doctors here, dentists here…they can actually physically heal people…what can you do?”
Some patients had situations that made me feel like I was actually doing something practical: insomnia that could be worked through, a severe case of Bipolar Disorder, a few cases of panic attacks I could help with. All in all, on a practical note, I didn’t feel completely useless. But that’s not what soothed the nausea. You see, there’s never enough “doing” that will make us feel good enough. Even at the end of a long day seeing clients, the nasty beast of comparison would whisper, “Well, you only saw eight patients and your husband saw twenty”, or “Who are you kidding…what you did is nothing compared to what they did.” No amount of doing will substitute for what our souls actually need: being.
The second day I had a woman share with me that she was raped by a family member. She became pregnant with twins. One twin passed away and the other was taken with the father to the States. No one in her family or community knew he was the father. They thought he was a caring relative who helped ease her “burden.” She literally never told a soul. After sharing her story, she dried her tears and stood up. I wondered if I had said something to offend…my Spanish is THAT bad…but I hadn’t really spoken much through my sniffles so I was confused. She thanked me for listening and went to leave. My beautiful soul of a translator gently stopped her and asked why she was leaving.
I feel so much better now that I’ve told someone, thank you for your help.
She knew she wasn’t alone anymore. Someone was PRESENT with her. Another being was “being” with her. The comfort from another heart beating to the same heartbreak, even for a moment, was more valuable than anything else I had to offer. Of course, we talked for a long time after that about grief and how she was processing her trauma but that first phrase stuck with me. It stuck in my brain and in my stomach…the nausea and self-focused anxiousness finally began to subside.
From that point forward on the brigade, and hopefully now in my life, I never will question what I have to offer. And neither should you. Whether you’ve always wanted to do something like this (shameless plug at the bottom) or serve a little closer to home, let me speak plain truth to you: YOU DO HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER. Your authentic just-as-you-are self is enough.
Sure, your ninja baking skills will be much appreciated by a friend who just had a baby. Your marvelous multitasking abilities will absolutely aid you in your effort to FINALLY organize that 5k you’ve always dreamed of organizing. Or even your love for adventure, yes, that will go far in helping you brave a trip like this to Honduras. But, more than any quality you possess, any skill you’ve acquired, any degree on your wall…your unique self being PRESENT and IN THE BATTLE with someone will move the mountains. I’m convinced that if we as moms push past that nagging fear that we don’t have much to offer, we will be an incredible force for good unlike any other. Whatever you are, take that self and give it to someone in need. I promise, it will be enough.
If you’re interested in a crazy trip like ours, check out HOPE Worldwide.