Fluffy rice. White beans in red sauce accompanied by a colorful salad chock full of cucumbers and tomatoes. Tiny store bought cakes alongside generous cups of supersaturated, sugary earl gray tea. Laughter, side conversations and the ever present game of improvised charades used to communicate attitudes and emotions to one another through the language barrier. All of these wonderful things seem to be quite standard for our communal meals with the Kurdish families here. However, the most recent meal we all shared together this past Thursday contained a little something extra in the air besides the Kurdish worship music playing just a little too loudly in the background; and that was a palatable feeling of gratitude and hope. This was no ordinary gathering. It was a time to celebrate the commencement of Hewa and Ahmed's time of healing in Israel.
For Hewa and his mother, their journey up to this point was especially difficult. Even before Hewa could have his surgery, his platelet count had to be stabilized through multiple transfusions and nine of his teeth had to be removed through an invasive oral surgery. Upon returning to Jerusalem after surgery, he promptly had to be readmitted to the hospital because of a dangerous buildup of fluid around his fragile, healing heart; an unfortunate reality forcing both he and his mother to spend the majority of their time here in Israel in the pediatric cardiac unit. His was not an easy recovery, and the general mood of his mother often reflected the hardships they bore. Yet they both endured. The fluid buildup around Hewa's heart disappeared and his blood INR levels stabilized within a desirable range. As his heart continued to heal, it seemed as if a dormant ember of joy inside him ignited and his energy level started its upward and hopefully exponential trajectory. And now here they were, content and happy, poised to return home to their family just days before Eid-ul-fitr, the festivities following the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. They opened a small pile of presents gifted to them and words of affirmation were exchanged between Hewa's mother and the Shevet staff members. A small video clip of some of these moments can be seen below:
During this time, Hewa's mother said something which simultaneously filled me with feelings of great happiness and desolation: "I would gladly make myself tired for any of you." It was a happy moment because it conveyed in such simple, yet profound terms the depth of her gratitude for what had been done for the sake of her son's life. But it was also a moment of great sadness because it was only then that it hit me just how attached to them I had become and that they were both leaving. So it was with great bittersweetness that I watched, most likely for the last time, this mother and son duo joyfully interact with everyone at the party.
Watching Hewa at his farewell gathering, it was still hard to fathom the drastic extent to which this boy has changed since being with us here in Israel. He came so weak, fragile, and seemingly defeated. But since his surgery, he has blossomed into a beautifully spirited, exuberant child with a quick witted sense of humor.
His transformation has been nothing short of extraordinary and bearing witness to his recovery has been a deep blessing and lesson to us all in God's patient faithfulness. We are all sad to see this special boy leave, but we take heart in knowing that he is now home in Iraq with his family, who are finally able to enjoy his newfound health.
Today was a bittersweet day filled with much sorrow and joy. We embarked on our journey toShebathis morning with high expectations for Hewa’s discharge. He knew the potential this day held and his spirits were high. His mother, on the other hand, could not share in his enthusiasm due to the disappointing news we recently received about their departure date being postponed. All of the tickets for this Wednesday’s flight to Kurdistan were sold out, forcing Hewa and his mother to wait another week before returning home. His mother, being very homesick, had her morale crushed by this news. She could not even put on a smile for her animated, healthy boy.
Despite the sad news, we plunged ahead praying for a good report from the doctors. Hewa whistled most of the way to his echo, showing off his newfound skill and his reluctance to be discouraged. To our delight his lungs and heart were found clear of all fluid and were working as well as the doctors had hoped. He was given the okay to go home! We rejoiced with him and tried to draw his mother into our thankful mood. She would not be persuaded away from her grief, but Hewa’s smile continued to shine brighter than her tears. He has found health and with that came the ability to celebrate independently from his mother.
Despite the great news we received today, much prayer is still needed for Hewa’s mourning mother. The Muslim holiday of Ramadan is drawing to a close this Saturday and they will be missing out on family festivities. We will try to make this a special day for them, and show them support as their second family. Please pray that God opens Hewa’s mother’s eyes to see the precious gift that He has given her, a healthy son. We are confident that as Hewa’s smiles continue, joy will triumph over sorrow.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
It seemed as if everyone had smiles on when walking out the door this morning. Hewa and his mother were headed to the Sheba Medical Center for another echo, and Ahmed and his mother came along for the appointment as there was the promise of a beach visit afterwards.
But before the fun in the sun could be had, there was the serious business of checking the status of the fluid buildup which had been found surrounding Hewa
Huge smiles and packed bags greeted us upon entering the Sheba Medical Center. Hewa was ready to leave the hospital and face the world as a healthy and whole six-year-old boy. But before we left, Kristina relayed to Hewa
"... but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
As we approached the pediatric cardiology ward today, there was an unexpected sight: Hewa's mother sitting alone in a waiting area outside the ward, looking discouraged. I was surprised to see her there, partly because she is rarely separated from her son, and partly because my first thought was that there might be a problem which caused their separation. The actual situation was that Hewa was sleeping, and she was taking time for herself while pondering the continuing reality of life within the hospital, and her longing to go home. We sat together for a few moments, tears appeared, and I knew that the best thing I could do was find a doctor to speak to for an update. Dr. Amir was glad to fill me in, and the news was encouraging.
He explained that Hewa was stable in every way, except that his current dosage of Coumadin, the medication needed to prevent blood clots, was not yielding a stable INR result within the desired levels. An INR lower than the desired range means the blood is
Dawn. The sacred beginning of each day, when first morning light appears on the horizon and darkness flees, and the world begins afresh. I often consider the faithfulness of Messiah as beautiful and mysterious as daybreak. The prophet Hosea reflects on this aspect of God's nature, imploring that as we press on to know Him, "He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn..." (Hosea 6:3). Over the last week, Hewa and his mother have dwelt in the shadowlands, perpetually weary and dismal. It is in this state that God has heard and answered our prayers, penetrating the darkest night with unrelenting hope.
The first glimmer of light shone on Friday when our Shevet team saw Hewa smile for the first time in days. He was moved to intermediate ICU and only a small amount of remaining fluid necessitated the chest tube. The nurse informed us that doctors were moving cautiously in his current recovery plan. Still, progress was being made! His mother, however, remained somber and distant. As Donna aptly described, Hewa was like a small plant trying to thrust his way upward through the heaviness of his mother's depression. In spite of this, Hewa also showed delight in a bag of fresh fruits and vegetables. He carefully selected his produce before requesting that his mother make him a salad, pronto!
While greatly encouraged by his brightened demeanor, we sought the same in his mother as well. Admitting to being at the end of her strength, she listened tearfully as we shared how God's strength is perfect in our weakness. We encouraged her to hold on one day at a time and said goodbye with renewed urgency to intercede for them.
On Saturday morning, I found nine missed calls from Hewa's mother. She answered me right away, voice quivering and desperate. Initially I thought something was wrong with Hewa and promised to call back after speaking with his nurse. The nurse assured me that Hewa was doing fine physically and that no new problems had arisen. It was then that I realized Hewa's mother was at last crying out for help. "I'm not good!" she expressed. "I'm so tired!" Her silence was broken with the acute need to be heard and to be comforted. Tears, so often, are cleansing to the soul. In our conversation, I spoke again of God's perfect love and strength for her and that she wasn't alone. How I ached for her to find hope in this truth.
The sun rose in splendor over Jerusalem this morning--Sunday, the day we remember life resurrected! The Shevet community prayed together for Hewa and his mother before sending our team of five women to visit them. Would we find hope still buried, just as a group of women anticipated two centuries ago at Messiah's tomb? As Donna, Madelyn, Ruth, her sister Catherine, and I approached their bedside, we found life instead! Hewa's mother greeted us warmly, a smile now present on her face as well. Her joy grew, as did ours, when the medical team arrived minutes later to announce the removal of Hewa's chest tube! The procedure was painful but brief. Tears were still fresh on his face when Madelyn initiated a game of balloon toss. We gathered around Hewa, bouncing first one, then two, then four balloons in a circle. Our laughter spilled out into the otherwise empty hallways. Both Hewa and his mother joined in on the fun as you can see by the picture!
Afterwards, Hewa requested to go for a walk, but we weren't sure if this would be okayed yet by his nurse. The request was answered in the affirmative, even as an order: "He must go for a walk!" replied the nurse. Without skipping a beat, Hewa was on his feet and moving quickly down the hall.
The first thing he headed for was a small tricycle, which, and as you'll see by this video, took him on a victory lap through the ward! His mother's relief and joy were undeniable. The spirit of heaviness was gone, and her shoulders were draped with a garment of praise!
What brought about this miraculous transformation in Hewa and his mother? It can't explained any other way but by the grace and faithfulness of Messiah! He continues to bring light out of darkness and life from the grave. All glory and honor belong to Him! Thank you to each of you who have been praying for Hewa and his mother. The Lord has responded to us and to them as certain as the dawn!
Kristina, Ruth, Natalie and I all agreed after visiting Hewa and his mother today, that entering their room in the ICU was like walking into a cloud of melancholy.
"The attached picture was taken discreetly at the door of Hewa's room."
Hewa was somberly watching cartoons, and his mother sat solemnly nearby. After greeting them, we simply spent time together quietly. I stroked Hewa's head, and prayed quietly to myself. He soon fell asleep and I went out to check with the medical staff on his condition. The doctors' report was one of great improvement, praise God! The update from the attending physician informed us that, since the chest tube was inserted yesterday morning, one and one-half liters of fluid has drained from around Hewa's right lung. Today's echocardiogram showed that the fluid is gone! More good news is that Hewa has no fever, and is not on antibiotics. Hopefully you can see the vast difference in puffiness after the reduction of fluid; his weakness is much more apparent now.
Despite this good news, there was no basic change in Hewa's mother's demeanor. I believe it's because of the unpredictability of his recovery. Can you imagine the conflict of emotion within her? She wants so much for her son's treatment to be finished, his body strengthened, his joy returned, and a reunion with their waiting family in Iraq to be on the near horizon. Yet after the obvious deterioration in his condition, and urgent need for the chest tube, what can she do but submit to the demands of treatment needed to help her beloved son?
It was in this setting that I was moved to share a gift, prompted this morning during our staff worship time by the Lord's heart for this dear mother and son. I had hoped someone else might help with translation for me, as my Kurdish skills are limited, but it seemed clear, at that moment, that the best way to impart God's compassion which prompted the gift, was to use the simple words I know to explain what they were receiving. So I presented to Hewa's mother two olive wood sheep, a copy of Psalm 23 in Kurdish accompanied alongside each one. A sweet smile briefly appeared on her face as she listened attentively to my explanation. I explained that as I'd prayed for them, I knew in my heart that God wanted them to hear of his special care for them, the same beautiful care that a good shepherd has for his sheep. I told her that even though she couldn't see this good shepherd, he is very near, and taking care of her and Hewa all the time because of his love for them. Just then a nurse came in for an assessment, and Hewa awakened. When the vital signs were finished, I knew it was time for Ruth and I to exit so that our coworkers could share time with Hewa and his mother as well. I gave Hewa his gift and quickly shared the same message with him as I had with his mother, showing him both of the sheep together to represent he and his mother. I then asked them both to remember this important truth: they are like sheep with a good shepherd, and he is with them right now.
Kristina and Natalie's time with mother and son brought a similar report. Though few outward responses to our visit were visible, some simple truths Kristina shared were received by Hewa's mother with a change of demeanor. By faith we trust that God will bring comfort and encouragement to them both as he continues doing his healing work. Please join us as we continue to intercede for Hewa, for his mother and the baby she is carrying, and their family back home. May each one experience the tender presence of the God who knows, who hears, who cares, who is with them.
I absolutely delight in old hymns. There are quite a few volunteers at Shevet that share this same delight and we found ourselves discussing it a couple of nights ago. Whether from early exposure in childhood, or a later discovery, our delight lies in a common source: these hymns are full of proclamations and prayers centered upon the story and nature of the God that we love so much. I find it impossible to sing or even recite the lines to one of these hymns without recalling, in some way, how great is the Father's love, faithfulness, and grace for us. This delight and recollection usually causes me to burst out with, "This is one of my favorite hymns!," whenever I hear the first few lines pour forth from someone's mouth. I realized this afternoon that I probably say that for most of the hymns that I know. The truth is that I could never settle upon one "favorite," because all are faithful ambassadors. There is a story behind each hymn through which an author has penned words that plead, praise, and testify to the way in which he met the Lord.
As Kristina and I made the drive from Wolfson over to Sheba to visit Hewa and his mother, we found ourselves continuing an earlier reflection upon Proverbs 13. We were particularly struck by verse 17, "a faithful ambassador brings healing." Throughout our reflection, the familiar words to one of those favorite hymns kept playing over and over in my mind: Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart, And all is darkened in the vale of tears, Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart, Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears. Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay from His own fullness all He takes away. Knowing the state of despondency and frustration in which we had left Hewa and his mother yesterday afternoon, our prayer became for hearts that were still before God, so that we could be "faithful ambassadors" to bring healing and life to both mother and son.
When we walked into the regular Cardiac ward at Sheba, we were informed that Hewa had been transferred to the ICU due to the significant amount of fluid around his lungs. They had just inserted the drainage tube about an hour prior to our arrival, as yesterday had been spent trying to stabilize his INR levels. After hearing this news and anticipating the effect such a move had caused to both mother and son, Kristina and I quickly made our way over to the ICU.
It was a wide-eyed, delirious little boy and teary-eyed mother that greeted us. Hewa was extremely restless and uncomfortable, due to the drainage tube that had been inserted, and I could tell that his mother seemed to have hit a wall of complete and utter helplessness. Her anger had dissipated and was replaced by a loving and concerned mother's fear. My heart longed to reassure and comfort both of them and yet, in my very limited Kurdish, all I could seem to utter over and over was, "hosh ma whey," "I love you." My words of love were only a small portion of the love that I know God holds for this little boy and his mother. My prayer again was the Lord would bring healing to both of their hearts. For the majority of our hour-long visit, we simply sat in silence, offering comfort in the only way we could: through silent vigil and comforting hands. It was in this time that my mind again began to recite familiar words: Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on when we shall be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past all safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.
By the time we were getting ready to leave, Hewa had finally settled down into sleep. Though our words were few, I trust that God's perfect love will soothe all sorrows and fears, replacing them with the purest joy: a life restored and blessed future. Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change, He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
The last five days in Jerusalem have brought welcome reprieve to both Hewa and his mother. Everyone experienced their delight in being back in Jerusalem again. Home cooked food, sunshine, and the company of friends were like medicine for the soul. It was also special to celebrate Hewa's sixth birthday shortly after being discharged. We had an honorary picnic, complete with the ever-popular Kurdish dish, dolma! Hewa and his mother seemed most satisfied in being outside in a beautiful park. While we all hoped that Hewa's condition would improve daily, Saturday brought the first indication that something might be wrong. His oxygen saturation decreased slightly, and the summer heat combated with a lower energy level. Though the rest of his vital signs were normal, my attention was raised. Ruth, fellow Shevet nurse, and I noticed the following morning that Hewa's face and eyes looked swollen, and his oxygen saturation was unchanged. A quick phone call to Sheba's ICU put me in touch with Dr. Amir, the chief Internalist. After describing Hewa's appearance and symptoms, Dr. Amir advised me to bring him Monday morning for an echo exam. I explained to Hewa's mother that there may be more fluid around his lungs and that it was important for the doctors to verify this. She agreed wholeheartedly but admitted to how fearful she was of another delay. Hewa, the perceptive boy that he is, picked up on her anxiety right away and spent the evening sullen.
Both mother and son were very quiet and serious en route to Sheba this morning. They were a perfect mirror of each other in temperament. Prior to leaving, our community had just reflected on Proverbs 13:12, which says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life." We then prayed for God's grace and strength, knowing that we would need them in full measure today. Hewa was not too pleased once he discovered we were returning to the hospital for more tests, but he braved it well. His mother, on the other hand, began crying before the echo exam was even completed. It was as if she already knew the outcome, and to he it was the worst possible news. Without hesitancy, the doctor confirmed that Hewa had accumulated pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) and needed to be hospitalized. He added that a chest drainage tube would also be reinserted to remove the fluid over the next four days. As we proceeded to complete the admission process, Hewa's mother slumped to the floor in the lobby, her back against the wall, sobbing. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick..."
After the medical details were translated, her defeated stance turned to anger. Thankfully, Hewa had gone ahead with Donna as his mother shared her emotions with me. In the heat of the moment, she declared they would leave after one week, no matter what. As an expectant mother caring for a sick child far from family, she has a good case for being upset. For all she's been through, however, God has been faithful to strengthen her and Hewa