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.
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.