I came from a very stoic family environment. Sure, we loved each other: from afar for the most part.
Have you ever had someone give you an air hug? You know, the kind of hug that displays comfort, support, and caring without having to actually touch each other? That's the kind of hugs I have always been comfortable with.
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed, Amen.
Ask me to pray out loud? That's the prayer you would get from me about six years ago.
And as far as displaying a fish on the back of my car and raising my hands in the air during church while singing . . . well, I was out on that one.
Kids? Sure I thought I would have one someday, but I didn't have that motherly instinct and desire to hold every baby I saw growing up and I definitely didn't jump at the chance to get paid $2.00 an hour to babysit someone else's bundle of joy.
So, when I felt a tug at my heart to go on my first medical international mission trip, I really did try to ignore it. That prompting on my heart continued to bother me every so often and soon became more of a continuous and annoying nag.
After twisting my husband's arm a bit (he is not one for roughing it), we signed up.
The first team meeting was held about 6 months before departure date. There was no easing into this Jesus freak thing either. We had been assigned a prayer partner that we would pray with, confide in, lean on, and support before and throughout the trip.
I was totally okay with this concept until our team leader told us to get together with our prayer partners and pray together . . . out loud.
For those of you, like myself, that don't understand this concept: It means that you are to actually hold hands with the other person and verbalize a prayer based on the other persons prayer needs. Generally I would just have prayed the familiar Lord's Prayer but I knew, at that point, I was being challenged to think deeper.
My next and my biggest challenge would be the touchy feely stuff with the kids at the orphanages. I had been told that the kids are very affectionate and the days would be filled with them fighting over who got to hold my hand next, braid my hair, and caress my sweaty skin as if I was royalty.
Come on, if you are a nurse, you are thinking the same thing. I know society views us as self-sacrificing angels but that just isn't reality. We are human and we know the vulnerabilities we are exposed to everywhere.
Pretty much these are the anxieties that overcome us when our charge nurse tells us we're getting a new patient from the Emergency Room with unknown history and questionable background: What contagious diseases will we encounter? Would it be really rude to double glove at all times? How much antibacterial gel is too much? What are the indications to take Vancomycin prophylactically?
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I engaged in a mantra of self-talks.
I had convinced myself that I could portray any personality I felt warranted to get through the uncomfortable situations that I would encounter. I could be a Jesus freak for a few weeks. I just wanted the experience that I knew I would get on the medical team and this mission trip was the only way I would get it.
Or, I could just be honest and tell my prayer partner that I am just not comfortable praying out loud and that I would be happy to take her list of prayer requests to add to my nightly chat with God as I fall asleep. She can't really bully me into prayer, right?
I had predetermined that I was going to venture out a little and attempt to bond with the kids. If any of them felt as though I was the American they chose to hang out with for the week, I sure was going to give the hand holding a chance and, maybe, even let them braid my hair. But, I was pretty confident that they would see right through my wall of emotionless gestures and move onto the next American.
We arrived to the orphanage the first day and as I departed the bus, I had four girls gather around me. They touched my arms, held my hands, and smiled at me as if they had been waiting for me for the past 6 months as we prepared for the trip.
Although they didn't speak English and I, of course, spoke no Burmese, we communicated through hugs, giggles, and sweet smiles.
As they led me to the chapel for the opening ceremony, I felt the anxiousness of my feeble attempts to figure everything out disappear and my need to mask who I really was quickly resolved.
And as they lifted their arms in worship, with their eyes closed and tears on their cheeks, I finally understood that it wasn't about me. For once, there were no expectations and no predetermined standards to live up to. No one was watching me or judging my responses to anything. It was a very surreal experience.
I thought to myself, "If this is what it means to be a Jesus freak, I'm in."
Don't get me wrong, it's not like they passed around some freakish Kool-Aid that everyone drank. I didn't come home, sell everything I owned, and concoct a plan to move across the world.
Yet, I definitely saw not only my nursing career from a new perspective, but my reason for taking up space on this earth became my focus.
I still get somewhat nervous when I pray in front of other people and, although it brings me great comfort to raise my arms to Him during the time of praise and worship, I sometimes still feel like that little Missouri Synod Lutheran girl that's breaking all of the traditional rules.
I definitely use "touch" much more freely and often in my daily life. I think it's made me a better nurse, mother, and wife.
International medical missions is definitely not for everyone and that's okay; but, if you feel a nudge to at least investigate the possibility, do it.
I still get caught up in the craziness of the western world: cell phones, Kardashian drama, 50 shades of grey controversy. Attending church services still poses a weekly mental challenge but one I am continually working on.
But, during those moments, I am able to close my eyes and go back to those times of clarity. I can feel those precious little fingers entwined in mine and hear those sweet angel voices praising Him.
It's just the motivation I need to continue to pursue a better me.