If this is your first time here, WELCOME! Please note that this is part 5 in a series on a journey I experienced through anxiety. To read the journey in its entirety, click through to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and the wrap-up.
How do you do it? How do you kiss your 18-month-old and just-turned-four-year-old good-bye and then hop onto a plane that will take you to serve in a remote village for a week? How do you hug their chubby necks tight and then navigate the emotional waters that come with that? And how on earth do you compose yourself amidst those emotions when you’re newly pregnant with baby number three? I had no idea, but in May 2012, I was about to find out. If you’ve been reading, you know that several months prior, my husband and I had committed to go on a mission trip where we would serve in a remote Belizean village for a week (if you’ve just tuned in, you can catch up here). You also know that I experienced severe bouts of anxiety leading up to that trip. By the immense grace of God though, He walked me through that anxiety. And in May of 2012, the time had finally come to put one foot ahead of the other, to walk down that tarmac and enter the plane that would carry me away from my kiddos and deep into the jungles of Belize.
Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful. I said my good-byes, thanked my mom profusely for her availability to watch the kids for a week and held back my tears until they were out of sight. And as our team excitedly waited to board the charter bus that would take us to the airport, I bit my lip, swallowed the permanent lump in my throat and blinked back the tears that threatened to spill over. Dear friends of ours (the radiologist who had so graciously read my MRI scans just a few months prior and his wife) hugged me tight and squeezed my hand. They had journeyed the road of anxiety leading up to this trip with me, and I considered it an incredible blessing that they were traveling with us. Please hear me … God is ENOUGH! But He also often expresses His goodness in tangible ways through the support and encouragement of others. And in this case, He was so gracious to send this sweet couple on their way with us.
The flight to Belize was just a short two and a half hours; the bus ride from the airport and through the jungle was nearly double that. Traveling over steeply undulating roads, I prayed that I wouldn’t battle any bouts of morning sickness. We’d packed copious amount of crystallized ginger just in case. But barring a few short waves of nausea as we climbed deeper into the jungle, God was gracious to spare me from most of it. We finally arrived at our destination with the night closing in. Tired from the travel, the emotions of it all and first-trimester exhaustion, the hubby and I retired shortly after dinner.
Monday morning brought us to our first full day of service. We were partnering with International Servants, and our team would be assisting in the areas of construction, medical and children’s. My husband would be throwing his muscle around with the construction guys, and I would be assisting the children’s team. Meanwhile, the medical team would set up a clinic in one of the school buildings.
Shortly after loading suitcase upon suitcase of medical supplies, medications and an assortment of children’s crafts, we headed into the village. As we pulled into the schoolyard—a ramshackle compound with nary a playground in sight—we all took note of a line that had begun to form prior to our arrival. Word had clearly spread throughout the villages that we were coming. A medical team only serves this particular village once a year, and this one week is the villagers only opportunity to receive care or medication. Nothing is available to these people at any other time; even Tylenol is life saving here. On this first day, the medical team dove in, taking vitals, stitching wounds, assessing pregnancies via ultrasound and much more. Each patient also received vitamins and basic over-the-counter medications to last them throughout the coming months.
That same day, the construction team began their work on a large pavilion atop the school grounds. Working alongside several native Belizeans, the team completed the project in a matter of a few days, despite having to nurse a few cases of heat exhaustion.
The children’s team entertained a small group of kids who had walked (many barefoot) from their homes to the schoolyard. Although school was out because the government had unexpectedly declared Monday a holiday, the children came no less. This holiday gave us the chance to simply love on the kids, without the time restrictions imposed by a typical school day. Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, frisbees, soccer balls and beaded necklaces were some of the kids highlights. But those of us on the team relished the opportunity to simply relate to the kids one on one. Their joy was contagious. And what struck me the most was the discrepancy between their condition and their joy. These people have so little, and yet they are overflowing with contentment and grace.
Throughout the week, each team fulfilled their roles and served the people of Belize with fervor, grace and humility. The air was hot (exceptionally so), and it hung about us heavy with humidity. On Tuesday, an unexpected rain drenched the grounds and sent us all scurrying, bringing with it a momentary lapse from the heat and a cleansing that settled the construction dust and refreshed us all. Wednesday saw the pavilions completed, so the construction team began work on picnic tables. At week’s end they had completed a pavilion, three picnic tables and one outhouse. Over the course of four days, the medical team treated nearly 1,000 patients, with treatments ranging from a basic exam to minor surgery.
Those of us on the children’s team loved on 800 students while also sharing the gospel with each individual class. Literally every minute of our time spent at the school was marked by children clinging to us with enthusiastic tenacity. They attacked us with excitement from the time we got off the bus and hung on to our legs when it was time to leave for the day.
To pause for a moment and take it all in was to be a spectator in the diversity that is God’s creation. In a dilapidated schoolyard, deep in the Central American jungle, the beauty of verdant foliage served as a backdrop to the scene of hands and feet serving grace-filled people. At any moment, one quick glance around the schoolyard revealed children on our team member’s backs, white hands clasped with brown, and smile upon smile on every dog-tired face. And while surveying the ramshackle grounds upon which a profoundly moving scene played out, the dichotomy of Belize was obvious: poverty and joy; pain and grace. Ninety percent of Belizeans have substantially less than the majority of America’s most impoverished, and yet they overflow with a deep-rooted joy. Children run barefoot in the playground, blisters splayed across their feet and a smile plastered across their face. Women and men live with sustained pain for weeks, sometimes months, and yet they exhibit such humble patience and extraordinary grace as they wait for the care they so desperately need. And the astounding beauty of it all was that while we were trying to serve these people, they unknowingly served us in ways we couldn’t have ever seen. We poured out to them, and their joy and grace filled us back up.
By Saturday, I was certainly ready to return home, and yet sad to leave. God used the trip to minister to me in so many ways, proving His goodness again and again. And in some ways, the trip signified the end to my walk through severe anxiety. It was a tangible destination in the journey. And through it all, I came to a deeper trust in God’s goodness.
I still struggle with some anxiety (which I’ll share shortly), but it’s not the chronic battle it was. When the anxious thoughts do surface, I remind myself of God’s ever-present goodness in my life … Belize and the sweet baby girl who was in utero on that trip are certainly blessed reminders!
*Thank you to ALL who supported us on this trip! For more information on Belize and International Servants, click here or watch this video (which opens with a testimonial from my handsome hubby). All images in this post are ©Andrew Holzschuh. For more images of the 2012 Belize trip, click here.