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.