Friday, November 20, 2009

We have had one of those really great days when I can't stop praising Jesus for this life. The girls are on holiday from school (thank goodness because almost all of them have had the chicken pox!). Today I managed to clip all of their 140 fingernails and 140 toenails, file them and paint them. On a quick trip to the pharmacy I found surgical gloves almost small enough to fit my child-sized hands. During nap time I got to sneak in a long, quiet run. Chocolate chip cookies are in the oven. I feel so full and so very blessed.

But as I sit down, content, something is weighs heavy on my heart. Something that I have been milling over for some time, unwilling to write about it because my words seem too inadequate to describe the ache I feel. However, I know that this is urgent. An emergency. And as adequate as my words may be, maybe I should at least try.

It started a few months ago when my great friends Mike and Suzanne were here to adopt their daughter. In finding out she had HIV, they were obviously broken. Mike made a statement that stirred something within me. He said, "I guess you know that children are out there suffering. You know that children are sick, this sick. But it is different when it is your child. It's just different." And it is. I don't mean this blog to criticize you in any way, Mike, because what you said was true for me too. It is different when it is my child. I spend countless nights awake with dying, or at least critically sick, children. I love them and I cuddle them. I sponge bath them and give them their medicine and wipe up their vomit. I hold them and pray over them and tell them how special they are and how Jesus loves them. My heart really does hurt for them. But it doesn't hurt the way it hurts when I think one of my own children is close to death. It doesn't hurt the way it does when Sumini's fever just won't go down or when Patricia is up all night coughing with her third case of pneumonia in three months. It doesn't hurt the way it does when Margaret's teeth run into Agnes's eyebrow and I can see her bone, and then watch in terror as the doctor stitches it up WITHOUT anesthetic. Somehow, when it is my children, there is a bit more urgency, a bit more panic. There is a bit more frustration at the lack of medical care we can receive here and a bit more google searching of what to do. I am not saying that I am proud of this. I am just letting you know that it isn't just you I have held several children as they died of inadequate medical care. It was horrible and I grieve and cried, but I promise you that I wasn't as devastated as I would have been had it been one of my daughters. Its ugly, but its true.

Its just different when its your child who's suffering. But should it be? This is what I have been struggling with. I believe that this is a normal human reaction. I also believe it is WRONG. I believe that each human on the planet is God's child, perfectly made and beloved and cherished by Him. I believe that His heart hurts like mine does, even more than mine does, when my baby is hurting for EACH and every one of the hurting, dying, starving, crying children in our world at this moment. So I HAVE to believe that if my heart was truly seeking to be aligned with the heart of God, that I would have to hurt for each of these children as well. But sometimes, I forget. Sometimes I'm busy. Sometimes hurting for my very own children just feels like enough. I believe that the world says that this is ok. And I believe it is wrong. And this keeps me up at night.

Angelina is seven years old and barely weighs 15 pounds. You remember that picture that was made popular in the 1980's during the famine in Ethiopia of that little girl (who looked like a bag of bones) curled up next to a vulture? That girl doesn't look nearly as sick as Angelina. Her mother has not had any food to give her in over four months. When Angelina musters enough energy to let out a cry of hunger (she is far to weak to walk or even hold her head up on her own), her mother gives her some locally brewed alcohol to keep her quiet. For four months, keeping her a little drunk has actually probably been what is keeping her alive. The dirt floor where she has been laying her whole life accumulating bedsores is covered in waste, animal and human. Jiggers burrow deep into her little feet causing them to crack and bleed. She is naked, filthy, and cold. It is far worse than appalling.

I bet right now at this moment your heart is sad for her. Is it as sad as it would be if Angelina were your daughter? Angelina is God's daughter. His heart aches for this perfect, wonderfully made child of His. Her circumstances do not surprise Him, but I have no doubt that they grieve Him tremendously.

And it's not just children, because we are all children in His eyes. Grace is maybe 60 years old but looks to be pushing 100. She can't weigh more than 85 pounds. Grace is a mother to six children, but 4 have died of AIDS and the other two have deserted her for a better life. She lives in a 4 by 4 foot room that is pitch black, but she doesn't mind; in addition to being to weak to walk, Grace is blind. She NEVER has any visitors. At night her bones ache against the hard dirt floor and her feeble body shivers with cold. A cough racks her body and her stomach rumbles in hunger making sleep impossible.

Its sad, huh? How sad though? Sad enough that we want to do sometime about it? Sad enough that we will remember Grace tonight as we snuggle down into our beds or next month as we pay the bills? Maybe. But maybe not. Because it hurts, but it doesn't hurt that much. It doesn't hurt the way it would if Grace was your grandmother all alone there in the dark. It does for God. Because Grace is His.

As I snuggle both these sweet girls, as I kiss their cheeks, as I spoon Pediasure into Angelina's little mouth or watch Grace rejoice over the gift of a scraggly old blanket, I allow the tears to fall. The tears that hurt for these people as if they were my family. Because they are my family. And it SHOULD hurt. It shouldn't be different. I desire for it to never again be different.

We are the body of Christ. But do we know what that means? Do we long for our brothers and sisters to be comfortable and fed and well? Do we long for it enough that we are uncomfortable under our blankets at night or eating our pancakes in the morning? Do we feel the hurt that God feels as He watches the body of Christ sit back and allow these precious children of his to perish? Maybe sometimes. But sometimes, we are too busy, or we forget, or hurting for our own children is enough. We are the body of Christ. We need to hurt. We need to react. Their needs to be the same urgency and panic and frustration and desperation as if these were our own children. They are God's children.

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for Angelina. Thank you for Grace. Thank you for creating them perfectly in your image, your precious, beloved children. Thank you for your beautiful plan for their lives and thank you for bringing them into mine. Thank you that they are YOURS. Help me to hurt. Not just a little, but the way you hurt when your children are overlooked and perishing. me to never be too busy or too comfortable to remember the people who suffer. Help me to never stop desiring to do something about it. Lord help us to remember that as the body of Christ, this is our responsibility. Thank you for loving us, even when we forget. I never, never want to forget again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I decided to check my facebook today.

The first thing I saw when I opened it up were pictures of my awesome little (much bigger than me) brother at his Bellarmine University signing. I cannot describe how proud of him I am! He is officially a Knight, going to a Division 1 lacrosse school on scholarship! While this is SO exciting, it doesn't begin to be the reason I am the proud big sister I am. Brad may be the most kind-hearted, loyal, genuine guy I know. He loves Jesus, his family and his friends; they always come first. He is an extremely talented athlete, but may still be the most humble guy you will meet. My husband one day may have his work cut out for him, because Brad has taught me what it is to be treated like the most important lady in someone's life. He is a shoulder to cry on and a friend to laugh at everything with. I miss him more every day.

As I looked at these beautiful pictures, I could not hold back the tears, because you see, these pictures are missing something. It's me. The part of my heart that will always stay in Brentwood, Tennessee with my sweet family throbbed and ached. I longed to be here...

I wanted to be here....

(so did Wes. did I mention that because Brad is the greatest friend ever, he HAS the greatest friends ever...)

I wished I could be here...

Every day of my life is filled with immense, extreme Joy. More Joy than anyone ever deserves, the Joy that comes from KNOWING that Christ died for me and LONGING to give my whole heart, my whole life back to serving him. The Joy that comes from standing in the center of His will and just watching Him orchestrate everything perfectly. The Joy that comes from being able to look into a little brown face that seems hopeless and tell her that Jesus loves her. The Joy that comes from being called "Mommy". But that does not mean that it doesn't hurt. Hurt deep in the pit of my stomach where Paul's words, "I want to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in death" ring true. Where I believe that when Jesus said I must "leave my father and mother and follow after Him," He was not kidding. God's word is simple and straightforward. However it is not always easy. Today was one of the heartache days. Some days I just long for that first home, for my mother's smile as I walk in the door, my dad's bear hug as he gets home each night, and late nights of movies, ice cream and laughter with Brad. Missing things will be a part of this life, because I will hardly ever be able to be with my American family and my Ugandan family at the same time. But, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold every thing he has and bought that field." Missing things hurts my heart sometimes, but is always a gentle reminder to me that giving up EVERYTHING really IS worth it. HARD and worth it.

Brad, I am SO blessed to call you my brother and my best friend. Thanks for loving me, for loving my girls, for being there for me, supporting me when I may be crazy, and for funny texts in the middle of the night. Thanks for sharing your life with me. Thanks for loving those around you the way Jesus loved and for being kind, patient, loyal respectful, hilarious, wise and humble. I love you so much.

Mom and Dad, Wow. I know that you must (because I do) have moments as parents where you wonder if you could have done better. I think that by looking at your children you know the answer to that... You ARE the greatest parents anyone could ever ask for. Thank you for teaching us about Jesus and loving those around you so well. Thank you for reminding us that ANYTHING is possible and to reach for our dreams. None of this is possible without your love and support. I love you.

*thanks Ms. Dykes for the great pictures!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ok, so does anyone actually read my blog anymore? If not, I don't blame you. Our internet has been out for weeks and going to the internet cafe to sit and wait has been on the bottom of the priority list, as you can imagine :)

I don't even know where to start to tell about all that God has been doing in our lives since I last wrote. I know that my words aren't even close to adequate to describe His goodness and love.

A week ago today, I turned twenty one. I sat in awe as I celebrated with 14 beautiful girls who call me Mommy. (Ok one actually calls me "Maamaaaamammaaa") I wondered why God chose me, little ole twenty one year old me, to be entrusted with so much. There is nothing greater than the responsibility of raising a child to love Jesus. Except maybe raising 14. Words are escaping me. Two years ago today, two we moved into this home. In the last years I have learned more about Jesus, about myself, and about life than I ever could have imagined. I am so thankful. So, so very thankful for the life you have given me Jesus, for entrusting me with so much when I deserve so little...

Last Thursday as I was meeting with some women in the village of Masese, one of them got a call from her brother that there was a child dying near the local steel mill and did she know anyone who could help... So it was off to the steel mill where I met the sickest little boy I have ever seen (I know, I know, I say that every time, but I am serious.... God just gears me up for it a little at a time...) David looked merely dead, breathing shallowly as I took his naked, 15 pound, 4 year old body into my lap. His mom was "scrapping", or digging around the steel mill for nickel-sized pieces of scrap metal that she may be able to sell for 2 cents. As we waited for her to come back, I felt sure that this child was going to breathe his last at any moment. When she got back to their closet-sized home, she explained that her husband had left her for another woman last year when she miscarried (often viewed as a curse in rural villages). Since he has been the only one providing an income for her, David and her other 3 children, and since she had never been to school, she began the practice of picking scrap metal. In just 30 minutes in her yard, WITH shoes on, I cut my feet twice... It broke my hear to think of all the physical pain she was having to endure every day as she cut her hands and feet trying to find this metal that may sell for enough to buy them a small sack of corn flour. She cried as she explained that they had not eaten in three days because no one had wanted to buy her metal. I felt certain that David would not make it through the night, and I am guessing I do not have to tell you what happened next. I scooped him up, put him in the car and took him home where my sweet, loving girls welcomed him with open arms, and we gave him all the ORS and Pediasure he wanted :)

The next day at the hospital, we found that David had sickle cell anemia, which was worsened severely by his chronic malnourishment. While they gave him his blood transfusion, I was very thankful for a doctor that, though he may not know it all, knew more than me. I watched David like a hawk all weekend, making sure he had lots to eat and drink and all his medicines and vitamins at the right time, but he continued to weaken after the initial improvement following his transfusion. He cried all the time as it hurt his little body to sit, to stand, to lay... just to be. He finally gained the strength to stand, but shook the whole time. This morning, when his feet began to swell, I took him to the hospital where I asked that he be admitted. Though they won't do anything different, I imagine, I want his mom to be able to sleep with him and I will feel better with someone who knows more than me about sickle cell supervising. Please pray for sweet David tonight...

At the same time all this was going on, three of my children have had very high fever's and Patricia has had severe pneumonia (they are all doing so much better now, thank you Jesus.) Sleep was infrequent for this Momma and I had a lot of time to just ponder the fragility of life. We are but a vapor. I think we know that we could die tomorrow, or worse that our children could, but do we really KNOW it? You know, LIVE as if we know in our hearts that we are just a breath, that we will wither and fade like the grass and the flowers... I know there are days when I don't. I am not meaning to be morbid, simply realistic. Because I know that if I lived like I really KNEW this truth, if I treated everyone as if they were David and might be taken tomorrow, I would love better. I would hug my children tighter and hold them longer. I would tell people thank you more often and I would tell God thank you more often. I am thankful that as I care for sick children often, this is something I am reminded of often, and I pray that it would change the way I life my life.

Francis Chan wrote, "How we live our days, is how we live our lives." I had to read it several times as I let it soak in. Because it is true. So often we find ourselves waiting for a specific moment, a specific call, something special. For what? How we spend our days... that will be our LIFE. Because today could be it. If Jesus came back today and said, "Let's go!" would we be ready? Would we be doing what we want to be doing when we meet Jesus? People say to me often, "You are so lucky that you found your calling, that you know your purpose in life." This statement boggles my mind. I AM so blessed to live the life that I do. But it isn't rocket science. God did NOT part the sky and shout out to me, "Katie! Serve my people." I read it in His word. You can too. We can all see as plain as day that Jesus says the number one commandment is to love the Lord and love your neighbor. I happened to move to Uganda and love those neighbors, but that is not the point. As believers, we should already KNOW our calling; it is to love the Lord and love our neighbors by caring for them in whatever broken state they are in. When He said that "the poor will always be among us" I don't think he meant that as an excuse not to worry about it but as a reminder that there is ALWAYS a neighbor, no matter where we are, in a worse condition than we are. I can only believe that God created us to make this world a little better. That he designed us in love to show that love to others. I just don't know what everyone is waiting for.

I am so thankful for my sweet children and their beautiful example of loving their neighbors and welcoming them into our home without blinking an eye. When my head is thinking (don't judge me ;) ) "Oh my goodness. God? Do you really think I can handle one more? I was just starting to get used to Josephine being here and the meds schedule she is on... are you really giving me another one?" My girls do not question. They see a baby who needs love and carry him off to feed, bathe and dote on him as if it is the most normal thing in the world. Shouldn't it be? While I am starting to feel overwhelmed, they are feeling overjoyed at the prospect of helping someone else. Oh, what I learn from their beautiful hearts... As I remember the brevity of my life, I pray that I can live more like them. I pray that this whisper that is my time on earth would change the whispers' of my neighbors, would strengthen and enrich them.

So hug your children a little tighter and hold them a little longer. Say thank you to people more often and say thank you to God more often. Love your neighbor well today. We will be trying our best to do the same over on our side of the globe :)