Her grandmother and auntie meet me at my gate as I drive up. I've been gone all day and it was a long, hot one in a hot car with hot, sweaty babies climbing on me and clambering for my attention. I am exhausted, mentally and emotionally, physically and spiritually. Kenneth is staying in the village, and I am at the beginning of what is looking like a long week without him, judging by my attitude.
They have been waiting outside my gate all day.
“Ediaka ikoku,” she tells me. The baby is sick. Yeah, that's obvious. She's a shell of the little one I cuddled just last week, and I lean close to make sure she is still breathing. Her little body is emaciated, her eyes, dry and sunken in their sockets. How could this happen so quickly?
My children are tired and hungry, and I dial the nurse with one hand as I serve them “take-out” with the other. The monkey is climbing my leg, and the cats are trying to steal their share of our dinner. My house is a complete wreck, the dishes are undone in the basin in the corner and the laundry is still out on the line in the dark. I look around as the phone rings and just try to breathe.
Thankfully, the nurse is around and she's willing to meet us at the health center. I give some quick instructions to the girls. Feed the babies...change Acuka...put them to bed...I'll be back as quickly as possible...
It's just a short hike down the mountain, the three of us sharing one light and stopping frequently to climb over boulders and around cow patties. They don't stumble once while I slip and slide on a trail I know well in the daylight. I wonder again how having shoes makes me more clumsy. I'm glad I didn't offer to carry the baby.
The health center is deserted, and we wait uneasily for the nurse. I know they can run an IV, but that's about all the help I'm expecting. It's better than nothing for this little one with no other options.
As we wait they tell me about the week, how the baby fell sick and has had diarrhea non-stop since they left my house. The can of formula is gone, but the baby is thinner than ever. She is two months now and weighs around three pounds. Losing her mother and now this sickness has thrown her completely off the growth chart. Even with the milk we're giving and the soap we're teaching them to use (often), she has fallen sick. Very sick.
The nurse is able to run an IV after only three tries, easy as pie after our last foster baby's eight pricks. She starts her on antibiotics and sends us back with a bag of fluids for the night. We hike back up the mountain, me clambering, struggling to look like I'm not struggling, and them, climbing easily along. I set them up for the night with clean sheets, a lantern, water and a basin, and of course, the dinner we had missed. They eat while I tell my kids goodnight. One of them had been crying for me, not understanding why I wasn't there to put her to bed. Sometimes just the choice to try and save a life can be a difficult one. Something else always has to give.
Finally, the house is quiet. It's just me and the baby now. I had great plans for this night alone, plans that included finishing some journals for an order that needed to be done “now-now” as they say in Uganda, maybe getting in a quick work-out, and definitely some reading time. Now the baby fusses, and I try to feed her in between cleaning up dinner and straightening our “lived in” house. But she won't eat. She seems hungry, but she just mouths the bottle, pushing the nipple out again and again. Not a good sign. It looks like tomorrow will be spent looking for a feeding tube – if she makes it through the night. I am not optimistic.
A restless night follows, full of medicine and attempted feedings. She vomits and chokes repeatedly, and I almost wake up her grandmother. Surely she is not strong enough to last, but somehow she pulls through. As the cows move down the mountain in the early morning light she is sleeping, peacefully. Finally.
We rush through our morning routine and head to “town” with the auntie and little one. Eventually we find what we need and leave them at the health center to have a feeding tube inserted and high-calorie milk provided. I pray for a miracle as we drive away, that the health workers will actually do their job today and take care of this sweet baby.
It's two days later and they hand her to me in a cardboard box, her tiny body wrapped in a torn green hospital sheet.
Why did I leave her? I think to myself. She was supposed to get well, and I was supposed to be proud of the way I was able to help her and her family. Instead I feel the weight of all the decisions I made. Why did I take her there? I've already lost one baby there. What was I thinking?? Why did I not just bring her home? The questions come one after another and I have no answers. I am just tired with grief.
I take her back to the village and hand her to her grandmother, the box weightless in my hands. “Etwana ikoku,” I tell her sadly. And she begins to wail, falling to the ground prostrate, her hands to the heavens, drowning out the world with her cries. I turn to leave, trying to hold on a bit longer until I reach home, out of the view of all my passengers. I am thankful for the darkness that hides my tears.
It's just not fair. I am angry at the health center for not caring, angry at the grandmother for not seeing how sick the baby was, angry that this world can be so incredibly hard. I am so tired of watching little ones suffer, struggling for each breath, fighting for a chance just to live. I think as I drive about the whole point of helping people. It doesn't seem to really do any good. We try and try and try, and fail and fail and fail. Exhaustion, discouragement and frustration become a daily struggle. It becomes hard to remember that this story is not about me. It's not even about the tiny baby who was handed to her grandmother in a cardboard box. It's about our lives, everything we do, being about Him. Our lives as followers of Christ may never see success by the world's standards. We may love until it hurts and then love more, and people may never change.
But we are still called to love them.
We are called to love the hurting, no matter the outcome, no matter how much it hurts us. We are called to love the hurting so that we can remember. It's about us never forgetting how He carried us on eagles' wings and brought us to Himself.
“You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there...” Exodus 24:18
The homeless man that you tried to help may choose to move back to the streets.
The alcoholic that you sent to rehab and walked with for over a year may choose to drink again.
The teen mother that you took under your wing may never stop screaming at her children.
The baby that you cared for, giving milk, soap, clothes and medicine may still die.
But all these things don't matter. We are still called to love the hurting. Because these people are just like us. We were once lost and wandering, slaves to our addictions, giving full vent to our anger and never caring about anyone but ourselves. We are all human, sinful and prideful and selfish. I am no different than the people I try to “help”. We are one and the same. All of us slaves, but some of us, redeemed.
This story that we're living is a tough one. Thankfully, it's not about us. It never was and it never will be.
Today, remember the places He's brought you out of. Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt and rejoice that you have been redeemed!
"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." - Mother Teresa