hopesightings

finding hope and sharing it

Jesus, My Mama May 7, 2018

I have a sound clip I like to listen to from my most recent trip aboard the Africa Mercy. I recorded it from within my pocket, as we refrain from capturing personal images of our patients for the sake of their privacy. I wanted to savor the sounds of joy from one of our dress ceremonies – special celebrations we have every few weeks for the women with fistula who have been healed. These special women are gifted a bright new dress with a headwrap to symbolize going forth in new life, dry and whole. There is about twenty minutes of singing and dancing prior to the start of prayer and testimony-sharing. Following the ceremony, the joyful music goes on until the chaplains and musicians have to head home.

One of the songs has a chant that’s in English:

“Jesus my Papa, Papa — Jesus my Papa, Papa

Jesus my Mama, Mama — Jesus my Mama, Mama ….”

Other words are used to describe the deeply personal relationship Christ has with all of His followers, in its many facets and forms, and then there is a long, rapid cry:

“Jesus is mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine!”

There are whoops and yells, exclamations and shouts of gratitude and victory. I can’t get enough of this sound clip. Thinking that someone wrote lyrics like that, that someone’s relationship with Jesus is so multi-colored and variably shaped, is inspiring. I tend to think about the trinity in neat little boxes. Jesus feels like my dearest, deepest friend. God feels like a Father. The spirit is …. Well, I don’t know if I even have the right word for that. The spirit is a guide? (But so much more.)

Rarely do I think of any of these entities as being like my mother.

And yet, aren’t they all? Jesus the friend is a comforter, a nurturer, someone to celebrate with, someone to lean upon and cry with. God is who I turn to for protection when I am afraid, or when I need to ask for something – for courage, for power to do what is right and just. The spirit is what I turn to when I’m trying to discern the way. Aren’t ALL of these things the exact ways I respond to and interact with my own biological mother, and grandmothers? And with the other women in my life who are generations older and have gone before me? I don’t separate them into functions or roles. I expect (maybe unfairly) for my own Mother to be all of that for me – a nurturer, comforter, advice-giver, encouragement-provider, safe haven.

Somehow it is natural for us to think of women in our lives as capable of carrying all of that load, of being earthly examples of all of the best parts of the trinity mashed into one. The Proverbs 31 wife, for example, has got to be the most exhausted woman in history, but we look to her as a model of what a woman can and should be if she is living her life for God. To be so much, to take on so much, feels like it is part of the very essence of being “woman”, and especially of being “mother”. To be “mother” is, in many ways, to be an unstoppable force of positivity and light in this sometimes dark world.

So what happens when women lose some of that identity – like our sisters suffering from fistula? When slowly, as they “fail” to complete a long labor, as their babies die, as their husbands leave them, as they are cast out of their communities, they come to find themselves isolated and without direction or purpose? What happens to a woman when everyone stops wanting to connect with her in those ways that allow her to feel like a haven, a helper, a confidante?

These women feel like less of a woman, that’s what happens. And when they feel like less of a woman, they suddenly feel less “capable”. They feel ruined, bruised, worthless. Motherhood and womanhood are so deeply and intricately tied together in African culture – often, I feel you could almost use the words interchangeable. When our sisters are robbed of the opportunity to be “whole” mothers and wives, they feel robbed of their very identity.

I am so thankful for a Lord who sees any woman as less than whole. Jesus IS like a good mother, seeing the best and most beautiful parts of us at all times — like a good mother who wants to pull us into her arms, rub our back and dry our tears. Jesus is like the good mother who wants to kiss us, bandage us and make it all better – heal our wounds, from inside to out. However you best relate to Him, one thing I know that we all agree on is that He calls us to serve Him by serving others.

So we are called to be like good Mothers to our sisters. We are called to love and cherish them, to celebrate them, to work for them and do what we can to ensure they are living their lives to their fullest potential and with the highest quality. Whether you’re a mother or not, every woman can imagine what it would take to empower and encourage you if you were at your very lowest, full of shame and sadness. You would want someone to invest in your healing. You would want someone to tell you were capable of learning a new skill, or a trade. You would want someone to see you – to look past the condition you have and to instead look into the heart in you that hasn’t changed despite the way the rest of your body maybe has.

You would want someone to mother you. Those of us who are “whole” are called to be the hands and the feet of Jesus — and I think that often means being everything a mother would be, until these women are strong and confident enough to return to that role on their own.

We want to make sure that these precious women know that they are loved this Mother’s Day, that they are cherished by other women and mothers the world over.

Partner with us.

We want them to be strengthened by an outpouring of love and support so that they can continue to be restored, both physically and spiritually. We hope that in turn, they can return to their communities as positive change agents, advocating against conditions and practices that lend themselves to the injustice of fistula. They can become stronger women and better mothers because of the love they received from US.

 

Guest blog for Hope for Our Sisters Mother’s Day Gift of Life Campaign by Cara Brooks

© 2018 by Brooke F Sulahian

Hope for Our Sisters is currently generating hope and raising funds through our Mother’s Day Gift of Life Campaign to support our work with our precious sisters in Angola, the DR Congo and Nepal. If you want to help us generate more hope that ever, go to http://hopeforoursisters.org/donate-online/ to make a donation. For a minimum $25 donation, we will send a beautiful Mother’s Day card to a mom in your life if you provide the needed information in the text boxes on the online donation form. Thank you!

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One Woman April 24, 2018

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 6:23 pm
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One Woman

What a year to be a woman. One by one, women who had been hiding in shame stepped forward, illuminating their stories and inspiring others. They became more fully themselves as they told their stories of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. Their courage made a bold statement: “This will not define me. I am more than this.” And now, a culture that for so long accepted what was happening in secret has begun to change. It started with one woman.

When a woman is suffering with fistula, she does not need to hide in shame—she is publicly shamed. She is outcast, she is forgotten, she is told, “This is who you are.” For so many women, this lie is simply accepted. Nobody asks about the woman’s skills, her intellect, her passions, her personality—she is simply a woman who is broken, who cannot work, who cannot bear children, who can contribute nothing. Often, she is abandoned. This is the culture she has been made to accept.

But what happens when this woman, through the generous gifts of strangers and the tireless efforts of nurses and doctors, is healed of fistula? Who is she now? What can she do?

To empower is “to promote the self-actualization or influence of.” To empower someone is encouraging them to discover, “This is who I am. And this is what I can do.” For women healed of fistula, empowerment is the next step.

When she asks, “Who am I?” the empowerment program encourages her to discover, I am more than a woman who lost a child. I am more than a woman who was left. I am more than a woman who was broken. I am strong. I am brave. I am smart. I am capable.

When she asks, “What can I do?” the empowerment program helps her discover, I can sew. I can build. I can create. I can imagine. I can earn income. I can provide. I can learn. I can inspire others. I can change my life. I can change my culture.

If one woman learns to weave a basket, learns how and where to sell it, and earns her own money, she may feel good about herself and what she has accomplished. But if another woman is watching and thinks, “I could do that, too,” then she has made an impact. She has had influence. She has truly been empowered.

The work of Hope for Our Sisters has found that it is not enough to simply heal a fistula. Often, what a woman has endured is not only medical in nature, but emotional, spiritual, psychological, and cultural. When she gets out of the hospital bed recovered, she is a new woman. She has new hope. She has new opportunity. She has the chance to discover who she really is, and what she can do.

The cultural norms for many women with fistula are hard to overcome. But it starts with one woman willing to seek treatment, open to learning new skills, eager to share her story. It starts with a woman empowered. With the opportunities through the Hope for Our Sisters empowerment program, one woman at a time can look back at her past with fistula and boldly declare: “This will not define me. I am more than this.”

And as one woman empowers another, and then another, and then another, anything is possible.

Guest blog for Hope for Our Sisters Mother’s Day Gift of Life Campaign by Dianna Sawyer

© 2018 by Brooke F Sulahian

Hope for Our Sisters is currently generating hope and raising funds through our Mother’s Day Gift of Life Campaign to support our work with our precious sisters in Angola, the DR Congo and Nepal. If you want to help us generate more hope that ever, go to http://hopeforoursisters.org/donate-online/ to make a donation. For a minimum $25 donation, we will send a beautiful Mother’s Day card to a mom in your life if you provide the needed information in the text boxes on the online donation form. Thank you!

 

A Burden and A Joy – Guest Blog by Cara Brooks March 13, 2018

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 6:48 pm
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One of our Hope for Our Sisters board members is currently serving overseas with another non-profit, Mercy Ships, and one of the areas of focus for this group is treating women with fistula. Here is a blog post she authored, interviewing a friend about the great victories and joys, but also the emotional burdens, of working with our beautiful sisters. “Photo credit to the Mercy Ships Communications Department”.

I wasn’t terribly familiar with fistulas prior to working with Mercy Ships. I had heard of conditions that caused women to leak urine and feces, but knew very little of the reasons for the problem, or the enormous magnitude. The World Health Organization estimates that over 2 million women are living with untreated fistulas between Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; this statistic doesn’t include poor places in northern Africa, or South and Central America. In the interview that follows with a friend, she told me that a gynecological surgeon from the US told her that in his 40 years of practice, he had only ever seen one case of fistula, and it was caused by a medical error. Fistulas are entirely a problem of poverty.

Meeting these women, even just as a nurse encountering them outside of the ward, changed me. In February 2017, I joined the Boston-based organization Hope For Our Sisters, Inc.  as a general team member, helping with mail-outs and prayer chains, assisting with the website revision and attending events. Later that year, I was asked to join the Board of Directors. It has been an incredible gift, and provides an outlet for my heart to serve these women from afar. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because I blogged about it not too long ago.)

Many times in women’s health, we share the stories of our most down-trodden, disadvantaged sisters and their victories through surgery to become dry. But women’s health, unlike many other specialties, doesn’t always have a happy ending. It’s black and white – women walk away dry, or wet. They are healed, or they are resigned to a life of rejection, shame and isolation. While we are better when we dwell in joy and hope, there is a real and serious emotional toll for the providers who work in women’s health. These nurses, doctors and surgeons see miracles, surely, but they also are called to the terrible task of telling women there is nothing more we can do for them – their defect is too big, or their scar tissue is too tough. We offer them prayers and support, we hope that even in their trials they have encountered the love of Christ and know, in their hearts, that they are cherished beyond measure, even when their villages drive them out, their husbands leave them, their families abandon them.

My dear friend, Mary G., has worked in women’s health for the last three years with the organization we both serve with abroad: Mercy Ships. Mary loves Marvel Comic Movies, her coffee, sleeping in and FaceTiming with her family. She is faithful and committed – she traveled to Utah and Maine in the span of one month to attend both my wedding and our friend Jarah’s. She has been a shoulder to me in some of the hardest hours of my adult life. And, above all, her heart for these women is beautiful to behold. I have had many conversations over the years with Mary about “the ladies”, as we call them, and the highs and lows of caring for this special population.

I would challenge you, as you read this, to pray in a special way for the people caring for our sisters. Their job is so hard, and they do it with so much love and grace. This season in Cameroon has been particularly difficult for the women’s health providers. There have been many women who have had multiple repair attempts already, with a subsequent build-up of scar tissue, forcing surgeons to try “last-ditch” methods with success rates as low as 20%. Women who cannot have their fistula entirely corrected surgically have even less options now than before. Manufacturers used to create “urethral plugs”, which didn’t heal fistula, but did allow women with continued incontinence to release their urine in more timely and appropriate settings, versus leaking constantly. Production of urethral plugs has stopped, because “no one needs them”… meaning, no one who can afford to buy them would need one, because it’s only poor women in Africa who need them. One of our annual fistula surgeons, Dr. Norman, has just a handful left to provide to women who cannot be helped surgically. Imagine how he, and nurses like Mary, and our team leader, Tam, will feel when the last of those are gone. What do we offer women then? What sustainable option, beyond diapering if a woman can afford it, is left?


Cara: Mare [as I call her], tell me a little bit about your nursing background and your initial impressions in being assigned to women’s health back in Madagascar.

Mary: Ha! My background was in medical/surgical nursing, specifically in orthopedics and trauma. I saw a lot of geriatric hip fractures. So when I was assigned to women’s health, I was excited, but nervous because of the different population. I just didn’t know what to expect. In general, the nursing care was very familiar – catheters, IV, pain medications – all of that was the same. Yet it was harder because fistulas are something you don’t see at home, ever. You don’t know anything about it, so you don’t even know what questions to ask the patient or what to focus on at the beginning.

Cara: It’s been 3 years since you started. Now, when you encounter these women for the first time, what are some of the things you’ve learned to do, or to take in?

Mary: I always try to GREET them specifically as a person. The relational aspect has become so much more important to me and I try to really talk directly to her and just be friendly. In so many of their situations, these women are not treated with kindness. There is just a sense of unfairness to this all. It’s not fair that they suffer with these problems that don’t exist in my country. It’s hard dealing with the injustice of it.

Cara: Do you feel like certain women over the last 3 years have changed you?

Here, Mary paused. We were sitting in the cafe on Deck 5, where there is a wall plastered with images of the women’s faces. Next to each smiling woman is a single word she gave us to describe herself both before, and then after, surgery. 

Mary: [looking at the wall]  I love all of their faces. There are so many stories and so many different things they deal with. There are just so many of them, and so many different lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes its the more middle-aged ones that surprise me, the ones in their 40s who developed fistulas around 30 years ago, who have been wet longer than they were ever dry – their perseverance and their ability to love other patients around them, it’s inspiring. They reach out to each other, even when they’re suffering, too. It’s hard to describe. There was a middle-aged woman in Madagascar with a fistula who met one of our teenage fistula patients at a screening site. The teenager had no family or guardian to come with her to the ship (a requirement for Mercy Ships for patients under the age of 18). The older woman took this girl under her wing and came with her to the ship as her caregiver even though they had just met hours before and she was going to have surgery herself. That action of love and service in the midst of her own suffering was a great example to me.

Cara: Do you feel like there are certain attributes you would ascribe to them at certain phases (pre-op, waiting for the catheters to come out, post-op)?

Mary: It sounds weird to say, but that they’re strong. It doesn’t sound like enough, but they’re resilient and strong, in the good news and the bad. These ladies are so tough. We had one lady here in Cameroon who had an abdominal approach, and so that’s a big incision, so much pain, and she was up 3 days post-op trying to dance in the hall with the other ladies. We tried to get her to stay in bed but she just wanted to be up and dancing.

Cara: Are there specific prayers you find yourself praying for these women?

Mary: There are always prayers in my heart for what will what happen when they go home. Many of them are vulnerable to having a fistula happen again, like by getting pregnant. They’re going back to the same situation where the fistula started so the likelihood of recurrence is high. Especially the young ones who came form abuse, and who are going back to abuse; I pray for safety and change.

Cara: What do you feel like have been some “themes” of women’s health for you?

Mary:  I feel like I think often of how overwhelming, just how HUGE, the problem is. It’s not just women having fistulas – it’s people as a whole not having access to health care and care throughout pregnancy. It’s a problem of poverty. How do you even approach it? We can fix the hole, but not the problem that causes the hole. Yeah, a lot of them have a potential of it happening again, or it happening to someone else they know. Other nurses that I’ve done exit interviews with have talked about needing a more specific debriefing process for women’s health, because it can be so difficult to cope with the things we see. Some days, though, are more hopeful because some leave dry and are so empowered and will teach others how to prevent it. It all depends on the day.

Here, I steal one of my favorite interview questions from Jen Hatmaker, whose podcast “For the Love” is funny, poignant and relevant. Every week, she asks this of her interviewees and gets a variety of answers, from silly to serious. 

Cara: When it’s 1:30pm and you’re preparing for a 2:00pm evening shift, and you’re tired and heartsick and broken and burned out, what is saving you right now?

[Our ladies aren’t allowed to climb stairs for about two weeks post-op, so they shuffle up and down the hospital hallway for hours each day, carrying their urinary catheter bags and singing songs of praise and joy.]

Mary: The singing. It’s something so special to them. Even when I’m laying in my bed, I hear them singing in the wards, and it’s so helpful and it’s so sweet. It’s so unique to women’s health. The women in Beds 1-4 the other day were still on bed rest, and Bed 2 started humming, so then Bed 1 joined and then all 4 were singing together. It’s all so sweet. Moments like that make me keep on trucking.

 

For more information about Hope for Our Sisters, please visit http://hopeforoursisters.org/.

 

Fleece Thrown…His Answer? February 20, 2018

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 6:34 pm
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The door to 2018 stood ajar

Inviting me to walk through

Year seven for Hope for Our Sisters

I could not believe it…seven years of hope generation

Seven years of others coming alongside me to serve

beautiful women across the globe

Seven years of empowering our sisters and brothers to

change their culture for the better…

their choosing, their ownership, their version of better

Seven years of seeing God’s hand at work

more clearly than any other time in my life

However, sitting at the threshold,

I felt overwhelmed, stressed and confused

This is not what I expected

Hope for Our Sisters is my sweet spot, my calling

Even though I know this without a doubt,

doubt about carrying out this journey pops up from time to time

Feelings of being overwhelmed can take over when I least expect it

Stress creeps in when I forget that I am not the One in control

I share this because there are others like me…others like you

Serving out of our giftedness

Doing what we believe we were created to do

But feeling overwhelmed, stressed and confused at the same time

What we are doing is beautiful work, but also hard work and heart work

During my time at the door, I read about Gideon

I felt led to throw out a fleece

regarding Hope for Our Sisters

Really?

I did not take this lightly

I’m not sure I had ever done this before…ask God for an answer in this way

But my heart, mind and gut were clear…I needed to do this

 

When you throw a fleece, you need to be open to any and all answers

I had no less passion about my calling

I had no less drive or desire about this work

I saw new doors opening up for us in 2018

However, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and confused held me back

It scared me to do this…what if God said my time was up?

I still wanted to lead this effort, I still wanted to generate hope,

But I am doing this for Him, not myself

With a big gulp and prayer, I threw my fleece

I asked God to replace my current feelings with

Joy (not happiness), Delight, and Clarity

I went to bed…

Again, please don’t take this lightly

I only threw my fleece because I truly believe He prompted me to do so

How did He answer?

In faith, I threw my fleece and He responded

I awoke with a very strong sense of

Joy, Delight, and Clarity about 2018 and the years ahead

This does not mean I will never feel overwhelmed, stressed or

confused about my calling

But it does mean that leading Hope for Our Sisters

will continue to be my calling as I follow Him

© 2018 by Brooke F Sulahian

 

Leading the Way by Following January 30, 2018

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 2:16 pm
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You and I know our plans for today

I also know what I will do on behalf of our sisters today

But what about tomorrow and the next day?

What will those days hold?

 

Are we at Hope for Our Sisters setting goals for 2018?

Yes, we are!

We are setting bold goals with our partners that we believe will

lead to lasting change for the better in:

Angola, the DR Congo, and Nepal

We are setting stretch goals for internal growth enabling us to:

Generate more hope for our sisters, and

Create the opportunity for lasting cultural change enabling

greater health and empowerment for those we serve

We are dreaming big once again this year

 

But can you have goals without knowing the future?

We have to

Even though we can only see the steps we are taking now

We are trusting that Someone else knows:

The impact of today’s actions and decisions on tomorrow,

The paths we are to take today, tomorrow, this year and the next, and

The role we are to play in the lives of precious people

here in the U.S. and abroad

Someone knows

God knows

Just last week I was reminded to keep my focus on Him

Leading an organization requires seeking wisdom and insight

from mentors, team members, partners, investors, and our sisters

I am thankful for every person walking with us on this journey

But my eyes must first and foremost seek God and His plans for us

 

Walking home after dropping Lucy and a friend off at school last week

I was reminded to seek Him first

Due to the light playing off my glasses, there were beautiful cords of light

appearing to reach out from the sun and end at my heart

It was stunning and inspiring…I did not want it to end

I so wanted to take a picture to share with you,

but it would not work…you could only see it through my glasses at that moment

I felt these cords were pulling me to His light,

showing me the way I am to go

 

I know not what 2018 holds for Hope for Our Sisters

I have learned that each year is unique

The results of one year do not guarantee any results in a future year

However, as I walk with you, I will look first and foremost to

the One who knows the future

I will allow His cords of light to keep

Hope for Our Sisters and me on His path

 

We hope you will continue to walk alongside our sisters and us this year

May I be able to lead the way by following the One

Let’s all dream big together!

© 2018 by Brooke F Sulahian

 

YOUR WORD…YOUR FOCUS…YOUR YEAR January 1, 2018

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 7:31 pm
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It’s that time again…

New year

New beginning

New hope

New challenges

New paths

New mysteries

New disappointments

New knowledge

New experiences

 

Are you ready for 2018?

Are you going to dive into 2018 with a guide or map? Or

Are you going to dive into your new year without a compass?

Your choice

I choose to have a focal point

The word God keeps placing on my heart for 2018 is CREATE

This will be a year of CREATING through…

My walk with God

My role as a wife

My role as a mom

My role as a daughter,

sister,

aunt,

friend,

neighbor,

volunteer and

leader of Hope for Our Sisters

 

I cannot wait to see what the ultimate CREATOR

CREATES through me and my life this year…

if only I choose to fully follow and obey Him each day

with courage, trust and hope

 

What will be your guiding word for 2018?

What word has been pressed into your heart?

 

© 2018 by Brooke F Sulahian

 

Unfinished Stories December 8, 2017

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 4:18 pm
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One of my favorite books is Pillars of the Earth. It’s a 1,000+ page novel that tells a sweeping narrative of the building of a cathedral in twelfth-century England. I’ve read this book at least three times from cover to cover.  I know the plot. I know each scene by memory. And yet, each time a character enters a dangerous situation, I try to think of a new way out. I hope and believe with all my heart that maybe this time it will be different.
            But this novel is complete. It was written a long time ago, and there can be no different ending to any of the scenes within it. Nothing I hope for or imagine for my beloved characters will happen. The story has already been written, and it’s finished.
            However, our stories are not. Our stories, along with our sisters’, are still being written. So even as we experience or witness danger, violence, poverty, and pain, we know the story does not have to end there. We can help each other write new endings. We can imagine new beginnings. We can do this because we have hope.
             This hope is what motivates us to stick with a painful, uncomfortable, or challenging story. It’s what drives us to give generously of our time and resources. It’s what binds us together as sisters.
            And hope is what interrupts painful, merciless stories and redeems them into something beautiful. This year, we’ve heard shocking stories of abuse and rape. Unthinkable stories of neglect and gender-based violence. Uncomfortable stories that seem to have no light.
            But thanks to your generosity, prayer, and hope, these stories have not ended at the darkest moments. Our sisters-fueled by hope for a different, better, brighter story-stood strong. They fought for their futures, for their healing, for their babies. They lived, they thrived, and now they tell their new stories – hope stories.
            For Deborah, Solange, Esinam, and Elsabe, a painful story became one of redemption. But it doesn’t end with these four. Because women around them everywhere are watching. Women terrorized by gender-based violence, women living with fistula, women abandoned by their families and spouses, women recovering from painful deliveries and stillborn babies. These women continue to hope, because they see that good can prevail. They believe that a dark and painful story can become a hope story. And thanks to the help of sisters around the world, their stories are just beginning.
Written by Dianna Sawyer, Hope for Our Sisters Partner in Hope.
You can learn more about our precious sisters and help them write more hope stories at hopeforoursisters.org.