Island Life: When God is All You Have

This is a story about the most difficult time of my life. I’ve wanted to write it down for a long while, but I put it off because I knew it would be hard.  I pray that God will be glorified as I tell of his faithfulness to my family.

Several years ago, God asked us to pack up and move our family of four to a small  island in the West Indies. On the second day” on our own” in St. Vincent, Abby got sick. She was just two years old at the time, having celebrated her second birthday the month before we left. She had a pretty decent fever that morning of 102.5 or so. My kids have always gotten really high fevers, like over 104, so I wasn’t really alarmed. Our landlord came by that morning to check on us and saw that Abby was sick. Her fever was probably over 103 now, but we were trying to manage it with Tylenol and Ibuprofen. These fever reducers nauseate her, so she was throwing up too. He was very concerned and insisted on driving us to a doctor about half an hour away. I thought that was really unnecessary. But he was being very kind and trying to help, so we agreed.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that in our new living situation, a fever like that is a problem. First of all, we had no air conditioning to help regulate and cool down her body. Secondly, we lived an hour and a half from town and had no vehicle of our own. If we needed medical care very quickly, we wouldn’t be able to get to it. There was a bus that we could ride into town at two different times in the day, but that was all. Also, our bodies needed us to drink extra in this climate to stay hydrated, and this was hard to explain to toddlers.  These were just factors I wasn’t used to considering and hadn’t had time to think about yet since we’d just arrived.

That doctor we saw told us that he thought we should quickly get her to town (an hour and a half away) to see a doctor there, and he gave us a doctor’s name. So we rode back to our village house and started figuring how we would get to town. The bus came by that afternoon and we could ride it to town. We hadn’t ridden the bus to town yet, so this would be yet another new experience. I packed a small backpack with changes of clothes for each of us, because you always carry extra clothes for a 2 and 3 year old, and because parents holding sick kids may get barfed on.

We caught the bus for the long and windy ride to town. You haven’t been hot until you’ve held a lethargic 2-year-old with a 104 fever in your lap on a bus when it’s 90 degrees and you’re crammed up against neighbors on both sides. More and more people kept getting on the bus and we pretty much couldn’t moved. My arm went numb from holding it up to support Abby’s head, and we were both completely drenched in sweat. I just kept praying that she wouldn’t throw up on the bus, and thankfully she didn’t.

We saw a doctor that ended up being lovely and kind, who we visited again later on a few occasions. She was very concerned about Abby. As shocked as I was that we had even gone to the first doctor that morning, the real shock came next when she told us that Abby needed to be checked in to the hospital to be treated for dehydration. At that point, everything started happening in slow motion. The bus had left us near the doctor’s office. The hospital was very nearby. I will never ever forget our little family of four walking to the hospital to check Abby in. Nathan carried her while I held Sam’s hand. It felt like the longest, scariest and most unreal walk of my life. I was in complete shock that this was happening, and that everything was so completely out of my control.

You see, as far as moving my family to St. Vincent, I had done my homework. Several months before this adventure, Nathan and I had come to St. Vincent on a scouting trip. We stayed in the village where we would be living. I knew what it would be like. I knew what kind of shoes to bring for the kids, and to bring peanut butter and as many disposable pull-ups as possible. I had mentally prepared and thought through scenarios. I knew how we could live creatively and what we’d have to do without. We were prepared for this in every way that we could be, and we were backed with lots of prayer. Health was one of the few things that I couldn’t control, and a hit to our youngest would challenge and test our faith the most.

Keep in mind that we didn’t have a vehicle, a phone, or internet connection. We didn’t have a place to stay or know where to get food or water. We could barely communicate because only some people spoke some English. We were in an unfamiliar new place and we were all alone in a hospital. We now had to fully depend on God, because he was basically all we had.

They have socialized healthcare on the island, and the hospital was a far cry from the healthcare we were used to. The room they took us to had rows of beds with plain white sheets. It was a big room with a courtyard in the middle that had opened doors and windows. It looked like a scene from the  TV show MASH. The staff at the hospital didn’t smile or seem to show compassion. In hindsight, a lot of the problem was us not understanding the culture and language, and part of it was just that the staff thought we didn’t belong there.  I walked outside to a little shop with Sam where I managed to purchase a cold bottle of Sprite and Coke. These shops didn’t have bottled water, and we really needed to drink something.

It felt urgent to me to tell someone that this was happening. I needed the people that loved us and cared about us to know our situation so that they could pray, and so that I could feel not so completely far away and alone. There was a payphone in the hospital, so I bought a calling card when I bought the drinks. I could not figure out how to use it or how to work the phone. For several years before this day, I’d had a recurring dream where I was trying to dial a number to make a really important call and I messed up a number every time and got a recording. In my dream, it was so urgent to make the call that I was panicked. On that day, my recurring dream happened in real life.  I tried and tried to make that call. I finally figured out how to call collect, but I could not get an answer from any of our parents. And I couldn’t leave a message because it was a collect call. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I knew that all my friends in Texas were about to go to church. I had to call numbers I knew, because  I had no phone or stored numbers. I finally called my dear friend Kim. I remember the relief I felt in hearing a familiar voice, and how I struggled to get the words out. I told her to please tell everyone at church to pray, and to please call my dad until he answered. It was so difficult to figure out how to call her that I had no idea when I could call anyone again.

Pretty soon we were told that only one person was allowed to stay the night with Abby in the hospital. Nathan had the phone number of a pastor that lived in town that we had gotten to know a little. We called him to tell him our situation, and he came to the hospital. He then contacted another couple that lived nearby, a sweet older couple also from the states that helped print some materials for his church. The couple said that Sam and I could stay with them for the night. As far as Abby’s comfort, she might have chosen me to stay the night with her. But I was scared to death and we knew it needed to be Nathan. He was so good about watching to make sure that everything was sterile and came out of a package, and he held our precious girl absolutely all night long and kept her from pulling out her IV that she kept tugging on. I can’t imagine how he felt, how exhausted he was and how hard it was to watch our baby so scared and hurting. I found out later that she would cry and ask for me in the night, and it broke his heart that I couldn’t be there.

I had never met this couple, and now I was being welcomed into their home on the hardest day of my life. Before we left the hospital, I was getting a migraine and Sam was refusing drink. He didn’t like carbonated drinks when he was little, and we hadn’t had access to clean water or any juice. I was just about in a panic about him not drinking, thinking that he could end up dehydrated as well. I was in horrible headache pain, trying to discreetly be sick in the bathroom of this couple’s home without them knowing. I remember sitting in their living room drinking their clean filtered water and getting Sam to drink while trying to make some type of decent conversation. I have probably never been more mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted in my life. I just kept thinking how I had to get through this. I couldn’t sleep that night because I was in such pain myself, and all I could think about was Nathan and Abby, wondering what was happening and how she was. It all still felt like a nightmare, and I just lay there asking God what he was doing with us.

The next morning I was so anxious to get back to the hospital but dependent on our hosts to take us. She wanted to cook us breakfast, and all I could think was that we just needed to leave. By this point, Nathan  hadn’t eaten for almost 24 hours, so I quickly made him 2 tuna sandwiches to take with us. At about 7 am, he called their house. When I answered he said abruptly ” When are you coming?” I knew I had to get there fast.  I believe it was the hardest night for him ever.

At the hospital that morning we waited a long time for the doctor  that we had visited in her office the day before to come by and check on Abby. This finally happened about midday. The doctor said that Abby was definitely getting better, but she wanted  her to stay another night in the hospital. Nathan immediately protested. The doctor explained that she didn’t feel good about us going back to our home in the village so far away from town when Abby was in this condition. Nathan quickly asked if she could be discharged from the hospital if we would stay there in town for a couple of nights. The doctor agreed for us to do that, and to come back and visit her office before we headed back to the village in a couple of days.

There was a guesthouse in town where we’d stayed just about a week before that with our colleagues to do some training together. We knew how to get there on the bus, so we headed there and got checked in. We were able to spend some time there sort of  recovering from this experience. The people who worked there were kind, and there was a small store on the first level where we could get food and drinks. There were even phones in the rooms that we already knew how to make calls from, so we could call home to those who were anxiously waiting to hear news.   Nathan also used this time in town to figure out how to get some of the things that we now knew we definitely needed, like a cell phone and our own vehicle.  We saw the doctor and Abby was cleared to go back to the village. And after being “thrown into the fire” with this initial experience, we went back to our village house and started trying to figure out how to function and make it our home.

I would like to end this story by telling you that eleven years later, I see clearly what God was doing and why this happened. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. There are parts of this that are still unresolved for me and maybe always will be. I think that God allowed us to be tested. I know that the enemy did not want the people of St. Vincent to have God’s story in their language. I wonder if he thought that he could discourage us or plant enough doubt to make us give up and come home. I’m not sure about all that, but I do know this: God wanted to make it completely clear to us that he was in control. He knew there were a lot of things that we could control on our own, and he wanted to teach us to rely on him even for the little things we thought we could manage without him.  And all I can figure is that he had to take away all our control in order to do this.  And once we got past this first experience, we knew we were going to make it on the island. Because even the hard days later were all easier than those first ones.

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