The Mission (A Very Long Post)

For any visitor new to my blog, I must mention that I have not always been wired this way.
By 'this way' I am referring to how about 7 years ago, I started developing a mild travel phobia.
It started innocuously enough, but not really enough to actually stop me from going anywhere.
However, one day, without realizing it, my affliction metamorphosed into a full-on habit of completely dreading vacations due to extreme anxiety.
I would brace myself for all trips and then would start obsessively dwelling on my fear of the unknown.
And then because of the gargantuan effort (an act) I put into making sure that everyone had a great time, I would be emotionally and physically drained after a trip.
A very vicious and messy cycle.

But that was before I started making changes in my life.
Ever since I incorporated a healthier lifestyle
(prayer, meditation, exercise and a better diet),
I am sensing that part of me is in the process of being healed.
So in the continuing effort to rewire myself,  I decided a few months ago to practice pushing myself to say yes to life. (The caveat being it must be a healthy choice)

This is how I ended up in Kingston for 6 days last week.
With 48 high school girls.

Let me backtrack.
I was asked by Kika if I would chaperone the junior and senior girls on a mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica.
Kingston is the nontouristy (no beach) side of Jamaica.
I was born and raised in a nontouristy part of the Philippines.
I knew exactly what to expect.
A foreign mission trip's goal aside from helping others, is to allow people to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture, stripping them of their comfort in order to either commune better with the people being served and if it is a Christian/Catholic led mission trip--then ultimately,  it is so people get closer to God.
Meanwhile, I had been praying for help with my difficult relationship with Kika.
Imagine my shock when she, who up until this point seemed to actively despise me, actually chose to invite me. (!!?!?)
So, in an effort to practice a faith of action,
I went against the raw desire of my core that wanted to decline this "honor," and said YES.

As the trip approached, I practiced my "don't dread, don't dwell" strategy.
I literally decided not to expect anything. I didn't even allow my brain to think about the pending week. Every time it would enter my mind I would tell myself:
"Live in the now. We are not there yet."

I did not dwell on the fact that this mission trip conflicted with a family vacation planned and that Steve and Gabi were going to proceed to Florida with family friends (JB's) without us.

So, while these two were away at a beach,

Kika and I went on a mission trip.

Nothing about this trip was easy.
It started first thing in the morning when I made a game day decision not to drive to the airport. (Steve was already gone)
My friend DZ drove us to a nearby bus stop so Kika and I could catch the public bus to the airport.
While I loved not having to drive in icy, unpredictable traffic and airport parking conditions,
Kika hated it:
So if my singular mission for going was to improve my relationship with her,
we were off to a rocky start.


I photographed many parts of this trip except our visits to the Jamaica National Children's Home (JNCH) and Tegwyn Unit.
JNCH is an orphanage  and across the street is the Tegwn Special Unit.
Tegwyn is a facility for mentally and physically disabled orphaned children and young adults.
I went to Tegwyn.
Having almost zero exposure to people with disabilities, my first day there was rough.
I could not bond with anyone.
Incapable of communicating with the residents, I was so unsure of how to interact with them.
Initially,  I felt sick to my stomach at the severity of their conditions.
It was somewhat shocking to see such a concentration of, what I perceived to be, imperfect and broken people.
It felt so artificially forced to reach out and feed and hold and wipe and smile and sing and pray.
(I felt like a politician.)
Don't get me wrong--everyone on this trip could choose whether they wanted to visit  Tegwyn.
No one was forced to.
Except me.
I forced myself to stay.
Yet, although I stayed, I could not bring myself to feel love for them, which is ironic--considering it was Valentine's Day.

I was secretly counting the minutes and seconds until it was time to get back on the 90 minute long and bumpy bus ride back to our accommodations.

As we drove away from the Tegwyn Special Unit, I sat in silence questioning God.
I pondered the fairness of the Tegwyn residents' lives, seemingly, stuck in a torturous purgatory.
Guessing that most of the orphans had, among a host of physical deformities and complications, autism, and cerebral palsy.
I am ashamed to admit that I pondered whether death for these individuals would be or would have been a blessing.
It was a troubling feeling.
And so I started to pray.
I prayed not only for them but for myself.
I prayed for peace.
Suddenly, amidst the smell of diesel and the zigzag mountainous roads, I had a revelation.
I thought about that part of the Bible that reads,

"But who are you, my friend to talk back to God? 
a clay pot does not ask the man who made it, 'why did you make me like this?' 
After all, the man who makes the pots  has the right to use the clay as he wishes, 
and to make two pots from the same lump of clay, 
one for special occasions and the other for ordinary use."
~Romans 9:20

I recalled how startlingly impressed I was with the high school girls that chose to visit Tegwn.
They were so natural, loving and selflessly giving to all the residents.
As to whom God was using for special occasions in this instance, and who was for ordinary use, I don't know--as the actions of the teens were not ordinary.
All present were special.
Bear in mind that up until this point of the trip, I was merely tolerating the high school girls.
(a manifestation of my personal struggle with my own daughter.)
My epiphany continued.
I realized that we are all connected in sharing the goal of glorifying God--in whatever capacity given to us. No one more important than the other.

"Jesus answered, 'his blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents' sins.  He is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in him."
John 9:3 

I remembered the kind and lovely workers at Tegwyn.
How none of them seemed impatient nor burdened with the amount of work and care that needed to be done.
How very evident that God's love was being expressed by the caregivers.
Everyone embodied the word: authentic.
Then, I called to mind one of my favorite verses in the Bible that says,

"Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.  Then you will be able to know the will of God-what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect."
~Romans 12:2

Before our bus even arrived at our living quarters, I knew that I was not done with Tegwyn.
So, even if our small group was not scheduled to go back there, L (another mom) and I asked our mission trip director if our group could return.
D accommodated our request.

"May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be safe from all things physical and mental,
May you be truly happy and free."
~A Loving-kindness meditation

On our fifth day in Jamaica, two of our groups went back to the orphanage.

This time,  I was ready.

The moment I got there, I started visiting with as many residents as I could.
One 27-year-old woman named  Nikki, I could not ignore.
When I saw her the first time we visited, she was slumped in a wheelchair but had no use of any of her limbs.
She was non-verbal with zero mobility.
I think I was drawn to her because her face, although with a vacant expression, had normal features that did not seem to belong to her misshapen and diminutive body.
And then there were her eyes.
She had a piercing stare that seemed to look right into your soul.
It was during our second visit that I noticed that she was beautiful.
This time she was not in a wheelchair but rather placed on a large thick gym mat on the floor.
In an effort to get down to her level, I ended up lying down beside her in order to hold her hand while I whispered my prayers for her.
Her continued expressionless countenance prodded me to imagine what it would feel like to be trapped in my body with a stranger in my face, without the ability to express myself.
I didn't stay beside her much longer for fear of irritating her.

I made the rounds with other residents sitting with them, interacting, hand holding, and back-rubbing when suddenly I noticed a young man (who looked to be about 20 years old) looking at me.
Roy, whose face had a stolid quality to it, seemed to actually see me.
I turned to him and asked (I think, rhetorically)
"What can I do for you?"

What happened next I will try to express, but I am afraid words can not do it justice because the experience was somewhat indescribable.

I sensed Roy was trying to communicate with me.
He ambled laboriously towards me with the help of his walker.
Also non-verbal (not a sound) and with minimal use of his hands,
he seemed to telepathically, for lack of a better word, get me to understand that he wanted to go for a walk in the grassy area outside of their covered  and fenced in porch.
I had to fit his walker sideways through a narrow gate, then go back in for him to lead him to his walker.
And in what seemed to take forever and yet in an instant--
We were understanding each other with very minimal cues.
We walked side by side until he stopped at a spot he seemed to like.
Then, in a curious turn of events--he parked his walker and then took my arm to use me as his walker--and led me back to the porch.
Now we were walking fast.
His body language was urgent.
As we headed back to where we came from, I glanced back at the walker we left behind,  wondering what we were doing.
Back in the porch, he decisively led me to a 17-year-old girl in a wheelchair.
Still using me as his walker, Roy took my left hand and placed it on the left handle of the girl's wheelchair.
My right hand he positioned on the right handle of the wheelchair.
I understood.
As I wheeled her towards the narrow gate, he somehow indicated a latch I had not noticed before, to make the opening wider to fit her wheelchair.
And we were off.
Pushing the girl's wheelchair, Roy hanging on my arm--I made our way back to the walker.
Once we got there, Roy made me park her wheelchair beside him while he sat on the cushioned bench of his walker.
He was clearly satisfied.
Facing them, I stared quizzically.
Then it suddenly dawned on me.
"Wait a minute," I said.
"I think I know what is going on here. I think we have a love connection."
Roy's face remained unchanged.
But the girl, without being able to focus her gaze on me (I was not sure if she could see) broke into a huge grin.
I was unable to pronounce that girl's name--which is why I don't remember it--but I will never forget her look of pure joy.

After my interaction with Roy and the girl, something mysterious shifted in me, and I suddenly felt like I could understand the unspoken language of the facility.
A 12 year old boy approached me and I was able to play ball with him and other children.
When we left that day, I felt an overwhelming love for each and every resident of the
Tegwyn Special Unit in Kingston, Jamaica. (<--please help)

Processing this now weeks later, this is what I know.

I know that the little bit of connection at Tegwyn made my heart crack open.
I am also aware that when I had no love in me towards them, they felt it and were not interested in interacting. But, when I returned with a peaceful heart and a desire to love, the Tegwyn residents became receptive and in turn, allowed me briefly into their lives.

In the beginning of this post, I mentioned how physically and mentally exhausted I become after going on any trip.
Strangely enough, this journey, while quite difficult due to
-the sporadic and weak, cold-water showers, non-flushing toilets, the absence of evening quiet and privacy,  the garbage-strewn landscape, the dead dog we walked by as we visited a few invalids in a poverty-stricken neighborhood,
the long stretches of the helter-skelter commute from where we slept to where we worked-
--all of these aspects, surprisingly did not drain me.

The shared goal of service with an incredibly lovely team of 60 selfless people,
the simple but delicious meals coupled with the discipline of focusing on the now,
made me return home energized.
(Plus our Moms' Evening Tabata Workouts and
our 'Rose, Thorn, Bud' sessions definitely enriched.)

And, if my sole purpose for going was to improve my relationship with my daughter, then I will say that we've taken a step in the right direction.