Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tempestous Emotions

My emotional nature often gets the better of me and I find myself with tears running down my face prompted by things that are only slightly sad, or with laughing too hard at something only marginally funny to others but that has me in stitches, or with tight anger burning in my chest--with little provocation. Did God make me like this or is this my sinful nature? Sometimes I can take intense sadness or frustration with some grace and respond the way most of the rest of the Christian world would in the same circumstances--but other times I become an emotional basket case.

This past week was a case in point. We had a 12 year old boy arrive at the clinic with tetanus spasms. I had never seen a patient with tetanus and I hope never to again. It is a extremely painful and distressing disease. The body begins this response 5-15 days after exposure to the tetanus toxin. First the jaws begin to get stiff and within a day the body goes in to repeated spasms where the muscles clench all at once--creating what my Kenyan teammate refers to as the "Devil's Smile" where the body arches backward creating an unnatural curve head to toe as the muscles contract simultaneously, painfully and completely out of control. Unlike some other conditions that are distressing, in tetanus, the patient's mind is completely lucid so they are fully aware of how much they are suffering.


For the first day of Abuth's care I maintained decorum and did not cry as I provided care for him--pushing sedatives through his IV to relax the muscles for a short time and giving him injections for the pain. I was oncall that night and the strain wore on me as I saw his condition worsen in spite of the increasing amounts of sedative I gave him. As his distress increased my poise was finally lost the next morning. I went out behind the clinic building and sobbed. I returned some 10 minutes later but the evidence of my tears was on my face. I'm now told this could have been distressing to the family and made them think I had no hope for their loved one and/or no faith in God. That further burdens me. Obviously I do not want my emotional reaction to a patient's illness to make anything more difficult for the patient or the family!

For the next two days my heart was heavy for this boy and his family. He died during the third evening of his illness in the hospital closest to our clinic--a 30 minute plane ride away. I was alone in my tukul that evening and heard the mourning begin. My heart sank, but still I hoped that there was another reason for the wailing sound coming from the next compound--where some of his family are our neighbors here in Doro. Two teammates and I went and sat with them that night as they began the grieving process (following a phone call they received from the uncle who had accompanied him to the hospital.)

The Sudanese are usually very stoic and we are often left guessing as to what they are thinking. However, in death, the stoicism is gone and the raw pain comes out in their posture, faces, voices and flows over to all those around them. When there is a death immediately the women begin wailing and preparing the body while the men begin to dig the grave. Female friends and family gather around from the nearby villages and mourn with the immediately family--joining their voices in the haunting wails and songs. We sat on the ground in the dark without even a fire to light the night. We sat in support, we sat in silence, we sat in prayer. Suddenly there too I once again lost my composure and began sobbing. I hoped my sobs, different from their crying and wailing, were lost in the noise.

It was late and they gave us water to wash our faces with before sending us home. The next two days, while we were still at work in the clinic, many more friends and family joined them sitting on the ground in silence, sharing their pain. I appreciate their cultural way of sharing the grief. In Western culture we often try to fill the silences with words, uncomfortable with our thoughts and really not knowing what to say-but babbling on anyway.

I found the Mabaan mourning process comforting and honest. However, I'm concerned that lately I have been far more emotional than usual--when I do not have the excuse of a tragic death.

I've said "I'm wired this way" as an excuse for my occasional emotionally lability. Today in a Bible study I looked at my inadequacy and God's strength in my weakness. The question about when I feel most inadequate was easy--it is when I'm emotional. The Word tells me to fill myself with His Truth, to form my mind around Him and the wealth of information and life instruction He has provided. I'm told to ask for wisdom and to cry out for understanding. In the wake of last week, I'm doing that.


I wonder often what it really means to "guard my heart" as instructed to do. Lately my heart seems to be all over the place. In Proverbs 4 it tells me "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Let your eyes look directly forward and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure." Prov 22 "Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way."

My heart is surely wayward, following after this passion and that cause, blown about by the persuasive opinions of people of influence in my life. My emotions swing this way and that depending on my level of fatigue, physical hunger, the people I'm in the presence of, the fluctuations of my chemical make-up, my abilty to lean upon God, my sin weighing me down, the encouragement-- or lack there of-- from my friends, etc. 2 Tim 3 tells us that the Word equips us. I know sometimes when I'm studying, it is particularly piercing and so relevant to my life at that moment. But my life is so full of work, people, stimulating influences--distractions-- I forget so much of what I read and find myself floundering about, having my confidence and joy stymied, failing to stand upon the Truth of who God is in who I am in Christ.

Would that I could always "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might..."

2 Timothy 2:22 "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness."


Longing for more self-control and peace in the tempest...

1 Comments:

At 12:00 PM , Blogger NurseJulie said...

Thank you for posting, Sheila! You are a blessing and I praise God for your friendship; your heart for Him is so beautiful!

 

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