In May I stood in front of a crowd of 500 people and spoke of our sweet adopted grandmother, Grace:
“Grace is an 80 year old woman, blind and all alone. The cold rain drips through her grass thatched roof and onto her face which she covers with a plastic bag. AIDS makes it impossible for her body to fight off any illness, including the tuberculosis that is wreaking havock on her already-emaciated frame. Malnutrition makes it impossible for her to even sit, let alone walk.
Today, Grace is an 80 year old woman loved by many, and loving the Lord with her whole heart. She is warm in her hospital bed. With the help of medicine and Jesus, Grace has gained weight, partially regained her sight, and is able to stand up to greet me. Today, Grace is still dying. But today Grace is dying with dignity, with love surrounding her, and with a place prepared for her in Heaven.”
In June, just a week after I came home from my time in the states, Grace went to that place prepared for her. Though still warm in her hospital bed, she had once again deteriorated to being unable to even hold up her head. She could barely speak, but rather just groaned or moaned to let you know she could hear you, that she was still here. I was able to be with her just hours before she went to be with Jesus. Her poor little body simply could not fight anymore. As I held her hand in those last hours, I w
hispered to her not to be afraid. That even though she was in immense pain, Jesus had not forgotten, He was preparing her place and soon she would be with Him forever. As I spoke the words into her ear, my heart said a silent prayer, “Soon Lord. Quickly Lord. Please. Please, please.”
Selfishly, I was devastated by her death. Selfishly, I hated having to tell me sweet little girls that there beloved grandmother was no longer here. Selfishly, I miss her sweet, hilarious personality and her kisses and her whispers in my ear. But more than I am sad, I am so thankful for our time with her. I am thankful for what we learned from her and what she learned from us. I am so thankful that God brought her into our family. And I am beyond thankful that she is now safe with Him.
A few weeks after we lost our sweet Jja jja, another friend joined us in our home. Napongo was a severely malnourished, HIV positive, beautiful 4 year old little girl. She had huge, infected wounds on her stomach that was swollen and distended from malnutrition and parasites. It is a common belief here that if you make many small incisions on a child’s stomach and rub local herbs and salt in them, that the swelling will reduce. Obviously this doesn’t work and had left napongo covered in nasty, oozing cuts. At first, I tried giving her 14 year old Auntie (who also happened to be Napongo’s primary care giver while her mother had gone to the big city to look for work) the medicine Napongo needed, clean bandages for her jigger infested feet and infected belly, and nutritious food. When I came back a week later to check on her though, I only found her condition worse. I think I don’t really need to tell you what happened next – we took her home, along with her 9 year old sister Alapea to be our translator since none of us speak Karimojong. (we are learning though!)
Napongo’s is a beautiful story of redemption, healing, and God’s incredible grace. I spent hours upon hours digging the jiggers out that had burrowed deep into the girls’ feet. My sweet children welcomed Napongo and Alapea with open arms and we fed them and loved them just as much as we could. Napongo was put on medicine and began gaining weight rapidly, turning into a healthy, happy 4 year old. Unfortunately, she never quite learned to use the toilet, and I am forever indebted to my children for helping me clean up all the poop left in all corners of the house. Today, Napongo is back at home. Her mother has returned from Kampala and is surprised to see how well she is doing. So far, she seems to be doing a great job of maintaining her care, which is such an answered prayer.
During the time we were caring for Napongo, my sweet friend Ashley lost her daughter to a sudden and unexpected bout with pneumonia. Just days later, my good friend Santina gave birth to a beautiful baby and as I sat on her dirt floor, covered in afterbirth and cradling this precious little life, she announced that she would like to name her daughter Katie. A few days later, my friend Kodette also had a baby, but the baby was almost 3 months early, and after being refused treatment at three different hospitals because of her tribe, this baby girl also went to be with Jesus.
Suffering. Rejoicing. Squalor. Beauty. Love. Pain.
If you have been keeping up with my blog you read about 23 year old Nabakosa, who my friend Renee was nursing and who I promptly fell in love with. Her death just 12 days later was far more devataing that the death of Jja Jja Grace. Of course, I was still rejoicing that Nabakosa, who had lived such a life of neglect and despair was once again with her maker, dancing with angel. But I was also infuriated at how preventable her situation was. She was in her awful state ONLY because no one had cared for her. No one had loved her. No one had even given her a second thought. Just typing it causes me to weep – to have no human interaction, touch or love for almost 23 years is simply unfathomable. My precious children spent hours sitting on our kitchen floor praying for Nabukosa when we were not at Renee’s loving on her. She had such a special place in her heart. When she died, I looked at God and plainly told Him that I was tired of this. Tired of telling telling my children that another one of their friends had died of something preventable. Tired of witnessing the suffering of these precious innocent people and wondering why God didn’t bring them to us sooner so we could do more to help. Trusting in His perfect plan but still wondering.
Today 20 year-old Maria and her 6 pound, 2 year old, beautiful baby girl Agnes are staying with us. Maria brought Agnes to me on death’s doorstep a month and a half ago and asked if I had any medicine that could help her because the baby she had before Agnes died a few years ago. I knew this baby needed a whole lot more than medicine, so we brought them home where I could monitor baby Agnes and teach Maria to make high fat milk and other things that are nutritious for her baby. Our whole family absolutely adores Agnes and Maria and Agnes has gained almost 4 pounds since being here. Most exciting is that Maria has been listening to the Bible read in Karimojong! She carries her “proclaimer” (a little radio-like device that proclaims the Bible in different remote languages) around with her everywhere – there is constantly a man’s voices shouting the Gospel in Karimojong through my house at maximum volume. I cannot wait to see what the Lord will do in her heart.
Today I drove into Masese with my van full of singing children only to find that my dear friend Mary had lost the baby she has been carrying for 7 months. Jja Jja Ruth passed away after she was sent home from the hospital where they said there was nothing more to do. Patricia’s biological sister Shariwa is about to lose her baby to the worst case of malnutrition I have ever seen because she stopped prostituting her self when she came to know Jesus 6 months ago, and now has no money for food. They will live with us now while we nurse the baby back to health and look for a job for momma.
I would like to tell you that as I become more and more surrounded with sorrow and squalor, it gets easier or less painful. But it doesn’t. The brokenness of this world does not become any less sad. Each and every time, it is overwhelmingly devastating that people have to live, and die, like this. While it does not get easier, I have found that I am able to face each one with a little more hope. I always hope that my friends will live here on earth with me, but I tell them all with a new sense of urgency about Jesus because mostly, I want them to live with HIM, whether here or in heaven. I see the sadness, but I also see the redemption.
If we are really following Jesus, we will go to the hard places. Being a Christ follower means being acquainted with sorrow. Because we must know sorrow to be able to fully appreciate Joy. Joy costs pain, but the pain is worth it.
So we go. This is where our family is today and where I hope to stay – loving, because He first loved us. Going into the pit, entering into the sorrow because He entered for us first and because by His grace, redemption is on the other side – again, and again, and again.