Sunday, December 17, 2006


about a week ago, i sat on a thin mattress in a small adobe room holding the hand of a dying man. we were surrounded by his family: some helping hold him in their laps, some crying while others stood stoic, some attentive while others were distracted, some eager to help while others were anxious to leave the situation they found themselves in the midst of. and even though we were only there for about 30 minutes, i still remember looking at this 86 year old man, gasping for air in front of me, and realizing that in a few hours this family would be the legacy he would leave behind. and i felt a tightening deep, deep down in my stomach, that type of tightening that is unconscious; the type that comes when you realize you are in the middle of one of those moments that speaks of the things that truly matter in this life, that speaks of the things that are Truer than the tangible world we live in.

and it might not have been such a meaningful moment if it had not come at the end of three weeks filled with death and dying. within my first two weeks back, we had a sixteen year old brought to our clinic late one night, having suddenly died only moments before, leaving behind a 3 months old baby, surrounded by her mother and her friends, all crying and screaming their confusion and sorrow at the loss of their loved one. hours before, we had been asked to come see a 56 year old lady in town who we soon discovered was dying of complications from what we assume was pneumonia. her family, in their agony over the decision of how to care for their sister/wife/aunt had simply wanted some reassurance, someone to help hold their hand as they watched one they love slip away. a few days later, we were called to a friend's house who was in labor. upon arriving at the house, we found the baby already delivered, dead from "complications" of a breech birth, and the mother in the next room, weak from a long delivery. as we were starting the long walk back up the hill leading away from her house, we were interrupted by the screams of her daughter, calling us back to the house where we discovered the mother having what seemed to be a seizure due to blood loss. after some of the most intense, scariest minutes of my life, she regained consciousness and we left her in the care of her daughter and friends. and later on that week, we had another close friend who had been battling a brain tumor die, leaving behind a wife and four children, two of whom have been placed in a local children's home until the mother is able to make ends meet.

and in the midst of all of this, we have had one of our own, the little eight year old girl who lives with us, martina, start to decline in health, due to reasons unknown to us or the other medical professionals we have consulted. over the past few months, she has slowly started to lose weight and grown weaker and weaker until she is now barely able to walk with assistance and seems to have lost the desire and/or strength to eat.

and as i am walking through these experiences, i am finding myself humbled over and over again. as i have faced the frustrations of inadequate health care and ignorance of what i would consider basic health care measures, i have had to remember that these people are also doing the best they can with what they have. as i have sat next to death and dying, i have had to acknowledge that most of the things in this life, including death, are not in my control, but are in the hands of One much bigger than i. as i have walked alongside of a little girl who testifies of the harsh realities that this world offers many, bothered by the unknown of what is happening to her and frustrated by my own selfishness in the situation, i have heard "whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto Me..." whispered to my heart. and as i have stood in moments where fear gripped my very being - fear of being alone, fear of being inadequate, fear of being wrong, fear of being too consumed with myself to be used by God - i have found the Truth that "true love casts out all fear..." washing itself over my soul.

and as i have faced the raw emotions that are brought about in these types of situations, i have learned that in all the confusion, selfishness, fear, and inadequacy, there is only one thing that matters; the one thing that remains constant, the one thing we must turn to, the only thing that brings about healing in all of these situations: Love. but, not my love. see, i am also learning in the midst of all this humbling that the foundation of my hope does not lie in the fact that one day i will no longer be the very ordinary, selfish, imperfect being that i am, but instead that the true Love of our Father and Savior will be known in the midst of each of these situations. even if it reveals my inadequacies, even if it hurts my pride, even though it is a reminder that my attempts at loving those around me in my own strength only hint at the love of One who truly knows what Love is.

and it would be easy to leave love at that. to release myself from all responsiblity in the matter, to step back, to allow my own human inadequacies and fears to be an excuse to not have to engage in loving those around me with a love that i myself cannot create. and i have faced that temptation. but that would not be love either. so, this is the gray area i find myself in: striving to live out a love that is not mine, learning that as my own inability to love is revealed, His love seems to have more room to work.

there is a song by one of my most favorite bands, over the rhine, that speaks to this paradox much better than i can or probably have in this post. these lyrics were born out of a time when, at the height of their musical career, they left their tour to go home and re-discover a marriage and love that was falling apart, realizing that they could not save their marriage, but that as we all walk through this life, our hope is that we are learning... learning to laugh and learning to love, and letting a love bigger than ours get us through those times that speak to the depths of life.

I was born to laugh
I learned to laugh through my tears
I was born to love
I'm gonna learn to love without fear

Pour me a glass of wine,
Talk deep into the night,
Who knows what we'll find.
Intuition, deja vu,
The Holy Ghost haunting you...
Whatever you got, I don't mind.

Put your elbows on the table,
I'll listen long as I am able,
There's nowhere I'd rather be.
Secret fears, the supernatural...
Thank God for this new laughter,
Thank God the joke's on me.

We've seen the landfill rainbow,
We've seen the junkyard of love,
Baby it's no place for you and me.

I was born to laugh
I learned to laugh through my tears
I was born to love
I'm gonna learn to love without fear