Podcast Version – similar content to blog, but with recorded interview from Bangladesh! With the interview, this recording is about 27 minutes. It is also available here.
Saturday afternoon I got a text from my aunt: “I just listened to your podcast… I noticed you said ‘um’ a lot and started counting about three minutes into the talk. From that point to the end you said it sixty-eight times!”
For Your Information. I always forget how stressed out I get when I try something new, like ten posts in two weeks plus a podcast with each one. What happens is this. I think up these ideas, and they seem fun and exciting and then I actually implement them and I get all nervous and remember that I am definitely not cut out to do things like this.
So, I told Marnell “If I ever say I want to do this again, don’t let me.” Since I was probably driving him to distraction with my anxiety, I’m sure he was all in favor of banning future events. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to manage without him. He literally overhauled my second podcast. And by the way, I feel super blessed to have an aunt who cares about my work and helps me know how I can improve!
What in Life Matters Most?
Well, then Sunday morning came and I was sitting quietly in my chair drinking Captain Garrison coffee. I thought of checking to see how many people had listened to the podcast I posted, or how many people had read my blog. These are things that can really eat away at writers or other producers of creative work.
In his still, small voice, I felt God say, “Don’t.” A few times later, I almost did again, and I thought, surely God doesn’t care whether I check my stats? But no, I wasn’t mistaken. The “voice” remained.
Then, at church time (via Livestream) our bishop John spoke about the second coming of Christ. And I thought, What is really important in life? If we are really longing for a glorious day when we can see Jesus as he is, does human applause, success, or failure really count? Does not doing our work faithfully for the cause of Christ trump all other priorities?
And, THEN, I remembered that my post for today is on the same topic – Recording things that matter.
One of the best lessons I got in “What Matters in Life” was in a blue cholera hospital in the mountains of Haiti. Through it all, the faces of Bethanie and Joanna, strained on all sides by the epidemic, yet still smiling, became a symbol to me of what matters most.
“Have you ever put in IV’s before?” Bethanie asked.
I had just walked into the makeshift hospital. The nurses gathered around a dehydrated patient, I believe a young girl trying to place a needle in a flat, shrunken vein. It was not a moment for flowery introductions, but the nurses acknowledged me with smiles all the same. Someone introduced me as the new volunteer. I know now just how helpful it would have been to them if I had said “Yes, I place IV’s all the time.” But no, I didn’t know how.
“You’ll get to do some here,” Bethanie assured me warmly. As if she needed someone else to train in!
Ten Years Later
Ten years later, Bethanie works in a medical clinic in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. This cluster of camps, containing over a million people, is located in the part of Bangladesh that sticks downward beside Myanmar. From the camp, refugees can see the mountains of their homeland. In the camp, where people scratch out gardens in terraced hillsides, Bethanie eats food prepared by a refugee cook. She eats lentil sauce and rice and hard boiled eggs fried and flavored with turmeric.
Bethanie, who led the fight against cholera in Haiti, now poises on the brink of a battle against COVID-19. I talked to her by phone on Saturday. I asked her if any of the things she is facing today remind her of the 2010-2011 epidemic. The waiting is the same, she said. As the virus moves closer to their refugee camp, there is nothing to do but wait. Bethanie told me she remembers the same suspense in Haiti. In that case, the cholera jumped a few villages and arrived at their doorstep before they were expecting it.
Also, the national health care workers in Haiti feared caring for the the cholera patients. There are similar fears now in Bangladesh among the national workers.
Low Points and High Points in the Cholera Epidemic
Bethanie remembers the deaths from cholera, and how she processed each one. Could they have done something more? Something different? As a nurse practitioner, she had been trained to give orders, but it was still difficult to have no one to go to for advice. She also had no lab available to show her the patient data to help make decisions.
In addition, other organizations occasionally came to view the cholera hospital and criticized their work. They said they let in too many children or family members. They lacked a chlorine soaked mat at the door for people to wipe their feet on. These things, coming when you are giving everything you have with few resources, exhausted the nurses.
Still, Bethanie remembers many times of God’s faithfulness. Moments where a life was saved just in time by obtaining IV access. Relief flooded the team when someone who came in unconscious would revive and sit up after an hour or two of IV fluids. She remembers the tireless support of the staff around her, bringing iced coffee, or helping where they could. She remembers the nurses who came to volunteer, and how grateful they were for these people even though they had to train many of them in.
Christmas 2010, intrigued and fascinated by everything around me, I began to write. I was midway through nursing school, so I knew I had little time. It was now or never. A few months later, Blue Christmas launched. It remains a favorite of readers.
What Did I Learn?
No matter what trip you take, or new thing you experience, if you want to remember it, write down. Immediately! Here are a few rules that apply to books, but also to journals or photo albums or family letters.
1. Never trust your memory!
On night shift, after I made the rounds of the beds, checking to see that each IV was dripping at the correct rate, I scratched out descriptions of what I saw and heard on spiral bound pads. The blueness of the cholera hospital. The glow of the tarp walls in the night. The whine of the windmill, turning at the top of the hill behind the nurses’ house. The eerie thrum of voo-doo drums outside the tarp walls of the hospital. The singing parties bringing sick people on beds. The raspy breaths of the dying. The mother who had fed her 9-month old baby with sugar water infused with cheese curls. The climb up the mountain. The ride on the donkey.
Most memorable, for me, I recorded the peaceful expressions of the resident nurses in the eye of the storm.
2. Never assume you will have time “later.” It is so important to write when your surroundings feel amazing. If you let yourself get used to something, you lose your ability to see it with fresh eyes. I found this out when I joined the heart surgery team at the hospital. Even after two weeks of heart surgery, I lost my wonder at the new environment. It was soon “normal.” I no longer had the ability to detect what was fascinating on first sight. The magic spell of newness enables terrific writing.
3. Record “things that matter.”
For me, that blue hospital symbolized something powerful about Christianity which I still believe today. Jesus shines in eyes. In Bethanie and Joanna, I saw, not just skill and tireless commitment, but peace and joy.
If living in light of the return of Christ is what is important, I can’t think of any better way to spend life than as Bethanie has spent hers. However, I remember Bethanie once encouraged moms not to think of her medical work as more important than their work of raising children. People overlook potty training and nighttime teething vigils, but they are just as important in God’s eyes.
What matters in life? Not statistics or applause, but faithfulness wherever God calls us.
Ten years after the Blue Christmas, I’m thrilled to find Bethanie still serving God as she was then.
Grand Opening Specials and Trivia
My sister asked why I didn’t post a link to my shop Saturday night. It was a great question, but I try to keep Saturday night free of commercialism. I think I promised you that once in a post, and I’m happy to stick to it. However, if you haven’t browsed the shop, definitely take a look! If you click on each book, there are additional photos of the book with readers. Also, Leo and Larry, my pet lions, are starting to stray onto some of the pages. They are very hard to manage, so they will probably keep popping up. They’ve also taken over my trivia question below!
Just today, I was talking to fellow author Rachael Lofgren for an interview next week. She said that Blue Christmas is her favorite of all the books I’ve written. I’ve heard this from a lot of people. Have you read it? Let me know in the comments.
If you don’t have a copy of Blue Christmas, or need one for a friend, order one today! People who have been to Haiti at one time seem to enjoy it in particular. You will:
- Get a free leather bookmark.
- Get 10% off with code 10YEARS.
- You will automatically be entered into the drawing for $100 cash with any purchase in May.
I’ve had orders so far from the lovely states of: Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Midwest is represented well!
Leo and Larry’s trivia for readers (Leo reminds you that you can look in the book!): On page 129 of Blue Christmas, what did Bethanie say she would do if she got cholera herself? The first person to email me (Katrina@500-words.com) with the right answer receives a gift pouch of Captain Garrison coffee by mail! You can only win once. Congrats to Roselyn of Georgia last time. Your Captain Garrison Coffee is on the way! Update – you are too late! Correct answer? Bethanie said she would give orders from her bed.
Tomorrow, a fitting topic for this time of year. Tornadoes, and the 2012 book Shatterproof. I’ll be sharing on why you should not criticize until you’ve tried it yourself! I learned the hard way.