Her name is Nadome Namoe.
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
“How do you know God as your Father if you've never known a father?” I ask her quietly. We were up late, too late for me, a mother whose children would rise with the sun.
“I don't know. I guess I see Him kind of like a grandmother,” she answers with a chuckle.
Our night had been good, full of laughter and worship. But late nights bring serious topics, and we'd finally gotten around to the heart of the matter, her heart on this matter. And it was hurting.
“I guess you don't miss what you've never had,” she whispers, looking down at the pillow clutched to her chest.
But I knew better. I could see it in her eyes. She was wishing she knew just what to miss. And I was missing it for her. Because I knew what she was missing, I had known the love of a father and I missed mine terribly.
“A father is an irreplaceable thing.”
It's the only line I remember from the hundreds of sympathy cards. This one was addressed specifically to me, and I couldn't forget it. It was just so true. To this day, seven years later, I think of this on the 19th of each month. And for her it was bleeding over into everything else.
“I just don't believe it. My friends tell me they love me, and I just think, 'Yeah, right. They don't really mean it,'” she's says, looking at me intently now, “and I have a hard time believing God as well.”
The concept of God as our Father is central to the gospel. He created us, and we are His children whom He loves passionately. He is where we find our worth. He is where we find our purpose. He is our sustainer and fulfiller. Our everything.
And we, we are the pride of His heart.
It seems so much easier to think of who God is to me rather than who I am to God. Even I, who've had a good, loving father, struggle with the idea that I am cherished by my Father. Why is this so difficult for me? Why is it so difficult to accept the unconditional love of the One who created me?
My heart breaks for her and for me, for all of us who limit God by not believing He is who He says He is. We are all the same, children struggling to climb out from under the weight of a lie, a lie that says our Father doesn't really love us, doesn't really want the best for us, that He isn't really a good Father. It's a lie that's been smothering His children for centuries. It's the lie that started it all, or ended it all, whichever way you want to look at it.
But this is the good thing about lies, they aren't true. And we still have a chance to change things, to make it right again. We don't have to believe the things we've learned to feel or think.
We don't have to believe the lies.
These things in our lives that have shaped who God is to us are not truth, and they can't be our excuse for holding ourselves back from our Father. I believe God expects more. He has given us His word, and He expects us to believe it. He wants us to change our thinking to match His truth. Our minds need reshaping and refilling with new truth about who God is and what He thinks about us.
But...how?? How can we learn to reshape and refill our minds with only His truth?
My conclusion is immersion.
Only when we are totally immersed in God's truth will our minds begin to accept it as truth, to believe it as truth. The biggest influence in our every thought needs to be God's word, His truth.
A few years ago Kenneth and I tried an experiment. It was a life-changing and mind-altering experiment. It reshaped our thinking, our feelings, and usually our hearts. Our experiment was to read the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each week for three months. Not one gospel per week, but all four, every week, for three months. Twelve times each. Total immersion.
And it changed me.
I came to the realization pretty quickly that these stories, parables, sayings, truths that Jesus taught were bleeding over into everything else. All of a sudden everything in my life seemed to relate in some way to the Gospel, to something Jesus had taught. And it felt like I was meeting Him for the first time. I wanted desperately to know more of this man who chose me as His child and loved me despite all I had done or ever could do. He became real to me. I began to believe He is who He says He is.
So my challenge for you is this: If you are struggling today with believing God is who He says He is, immerse yourself in His truth.
Take three months and get to know your Father. (Of course, three months is not enough to know everything about God, but you know what I mean...) Immerse yourself in His word. Learn to know Him as Father, and listen to the truth about who you are to Him.
You will come away changed.
Blood pooled on the dirt floor of the hut as the new mother leaned, exhausted and spent, against the mud wall. Her baby lay nearby on a pallet of clothes and blankets, breathing shallowly. It was evening on Christmas Eve, and I had set out down the hill full of anticipation for my first birth.
This was not what I had expected.
“Sorry, Mama Nakiru. So sorry...”
A chorus of grief had met me at the fence and followed me as I crouched low and ducked inside the dark hut.
“The baby is not ok. There is some problem. You come see,” said my friend.
I knelt next to the pile of blankets, hesitant to look and hoping that they were mistaken. Maybe the baby was just early. Maybe he just had a small birth defect.
I was not prepared. He was deformed, severely deformed, by multiple birth defects. I could see immediately that he was not going to live. His pale body was turning cold already, and his breathing was shallow and infrequent. The mother turned her face to the wall and covered her eyes. She knew. I placed my warm hand on his cold chest and tried to feel his heart beating beneath his clammy skin. Just a flutter here and there...just a gasp now and then. It wouldn't be long.
We squatted next to the baby and his mother, all of us mothers ourselves, all of us grieving for her loss. She had carried his weight for nine months. Not exactly nine months of expectation. She was given a baby she did not ask for from a man she did not choose, yet it was nine months of knowing he was there and wondering when he would come. She had been a widow until a relative of her dead husband took her as his own wife. But he wasn't all that interested in the responsibility of a wife and hadn't been around since he gave her this baby. She was on her own.
We chatted quietly about her pregnancy, how her stomach had felt too heavy and her appetite, non-existent. She had not felt him move for some time and had wondered if there might be something wrong. This one was different from her other three. Now she knew the reason why. He was not normal.
She wrapped a sheet around her, a gift I brought for the baby. He wouldn't need it now. Her mother brought a basin of sand to sprinkle on the blood and began scraping the floor with the hoe, removing the stained soil and putting down fresh. Birth in a hut is a messy affair.
I listened to the quiet conversation going on around me and thought about the story of another baby in another time. A story about another birth, this one in a cow stable, a corral really, even dirtier and smellier than a hut. And a woman who gave birth alone, without anyone to comfort and catch her first little one. No midwife, no mother, no sister, no support. And the flies that must have been present. No one mentions that. I know all about flies. I live by a corral and I see a lot of blood. She must have been driven crazy by the flies at her birth. She did not have an easy time, birthing among the cow dung and flies. And that new baby, born into the filth of this world, he would not have an easy time either. He was destined for a life lived among the suffering and broken of our world. His life followed the pattern of his birth.
It's Christmas day and I continue to think back to that deformed baby. My heart is heavy and I feel overwhelmed by the weight of the suffering around me. Another baby is staying with me, a tiny one whose ribs I can count and whose arms and legs are wrinkled like an old woman. She came early because of her mother's sickness and then lost her shortly after. Another orphan in this country already known for its orphans. Her grandmother is trying, but pneumonia is already wrecking havoc on her little body. I hold her, nearly weightless, against me, and I struggle to find joy, to know God's peace in this place of suffering.
And it hits me that what I'm feeling, this dull ache in my heart that doesn't fade, this is God's heart as well. That baby born in a corral so long ago wasn't randomly born into the filth of this world, it was the plan all along.
That baby who came so long ago, that baby who grew to be a man “of sorrows, acquainted with grief” knows. He knows the weight of our suffering because He suffered. He lived among the broken and eventually became, for us, broken and poured out. God sent Him, His own son, into the filth of our world to be broken for the broken, to suffer for the suffering, and His heart aches with the aching because He knows.
Even these things and often especially these things, God uses to bring us closer to His heart. He knows our pain intimately, and He chooses to walk with us through it again and again in order to show us His heart.
His heart that is for us.
His heart that beats with the hurting.
He understands and He is here, in this pain, in this moment, now.
The suffering of our world is not purposeless. God's plan included a difficult birth in a filthy corral, and maybe it also includes the pain you are facing today. He does not always deliver us from our suffering, but He knows.
And Oh, how He loves us.
Today I pray that you will let your pain and suffering bring you closer to the heart of God, His heart that beats with furious love for you.
Kenneth and Kristi Williams
The Williams Family
Kenneth and Kristi
Nevaeh, 18 years old
Rikot, 18 years old
Ezra, 17 years old
Zion, 16 years old
Izzy, 14 years old
Selah, 12 years
Acuka, 11 years
Benaiah, 8 years
Jubal, 5 years
Jireh, 1.5 years
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