Originally published January 30, 2007
I went to Brazil four years ago with a group from my church. We worked with an organization called Project AmaZon, or PAZ for short. They work along the rivers in the Amazon Basin. Our group, we had been told ahead of time, was going to be on a health boat, visiting several villages along the Amazon River.
Our first morning in Santarém we each purchased a rede (Portuguese for "hammock" and pronounced "hedgie") and went down to the public line boat that would take us out to meet the PAZ boat at the first village. And when I say "down" I really mean DOWN. I can't find a photo of it right now, but trust me when I say there was a big huge high sea wall and a rickety spindly little ladder.
Down and I are not good friends. I have no problem with heights, but going down from heights is pretty anxiety inducing for me. I spent several minutes at the top of the wall, watching everyone else head down, including several local workers who carried large boxes on their heads while they fairly danced up and down the steps.
When I finally made my descent, complete with sweaty palms and shaky knees, I realized that there was no way I would be able to repeat this journey later that evening with my luggage. I hadn't even been able to carry down the plastic grocery-sized bag with my rede in it.
On the dock beside the line boat, I spoke with another member of our team, sharing that I was a bit nervous about the return trip down the ladder. I asked him if he would be willing to help me with my suitcases. "Of course," he told me. "We're a team. We'll take care of it for you."
Climbing back up the ladder, it started to rain. I was grateful, because it helped to hide the fact that I had tears streaming down my face. At least, it did until I got back to the van and completely broke down sobbing among the rest of my teammates. Several of them hugged me, told me it would be okay, and prayed for me. I managed to stop crying, but I didn't really feel any better.
That afternoon we had a rest period to recover from our overnight flight into Brazil and to prepare for the overnight voyage on the line boat. I was supposed to be napping, but whenever I tried to lie still and close my eyes, I felt completely unsettled and upset about my experience that morning.
Finally, I asked one of my teammates to please finish up in the bathroom because I needed to be in there right away. My urgency wasn't because I was desperate to use the facilities, but because I really needed some time alone, without anyone else intruding on my space. At the PAZ guest house, the only personal space to be had was in the bathroom.
I sat on the floor and spent several minutes simply crying out the rest of my tears. When I'd finished, I began to pray. "Why?" I asked God. "Why am I so upset about this? It's not that big a deal. What's going on?" As I prayed and pondered, I began to understand that I wasn't so upset about the wall or the ladder or the down, but what was really bothering me was my inability to do for myself.
I'd been raised as a typical American, full of determination and independence. Like a small, stubborn child, I sat there on the bathroom floor saying, "No! I want to do it myself." Yet, I couldn't. The realization left me feeling very vulnerable and frightened. I decided to go back to bed.
While I was trying to fall asleep once again, I heard a message from God. This doesn't happen to me with any regularity, but I was pretty sure God was talking to me, even though it sounded rather a lot like just talking to myself inside my head.
God told me to look at my hand. "Huh?" I looked at my hand.
"Look at your fingers," He instructed. "See how they move? Aren't they beautiful?"
"One finger, all alone, can't really do much, can it?"
"I suppose not."
"But, when all the fingers are together, working in concert as your hand, think how much more they can accomplish."
"Well, yeah, I can see that."
"You and this team are like your hand. On your own, you can only accomplish small things, but when you open yourselves up and work together, you can do so much more."
And that was all God had to say about that. The rest of the trip was really pretty uneventful for me, by comparison. But the image of all my fingers working together has really stayed with me.