Malaria season has hit west Africa full force, which means things have been very busy at the hospital. This month, it feels like all I have done is worked and slept. Unfortunately, malaria season also means a lot of loss at the hospital. Malaria, although easily prevented and readily treatable, is a nasty parasite that is also responsible for the most deaths in Togo every year. Why? Because when it hits more vulnerable populations – the very young, the very old, pregnant, and immunocompromised patients – time is of the essence. And so often, by the time we receive these patients, it’s already too late.
There are some things I’ll never understand this side of heaven. We delivered one baby who didn’t breathe at all for forty minutes, and only when we finally decided to stop resuscitating did he take his first breath. A few days later, he went come completely well, a miracle baby. Around the same time, we had three babies who were all born perfectly well and transitioned normally. But within the span of three days, each one unexpectedly died despite all our best efforts.
I almost didn’t write these things. I tried to think of something happier to share with you, but the reality is that these are the things that are on our hearts this month as we work in a resource-limited environment in a developing country, and as we see the toll of disease and death every day, with seemingly very little rhyme or reason to who survives and who doesn’t. It reminds me of certain things that I feel are worthy of reminding you as well.
- This is the way the vast majority of the world is – low resources, lack of access to care, and much more familiar with death. The United States is the exception. We so easily forget how entitled we are to medical care, treatment options, and the money to pay for it all. We have so much control over our own health and medical care compared to the vast majority of the world. This is not to make us feel guilty, but to make us remember our responsibility to share instead of hoard our resources, to practice thankfulness, and to pray.
- God holds life and death in his hands, and our hands and efforts are only servants to his. In the grand scheme of things, we have so much less control than we think. But we know the one who is control, and we know he is good.
- We automatically label healing as success and death as loss or failure, but this may not be God’s way of measuring things. He can so very easily make beauty out of what we call terrible and make good out of what we too quickly categorize as not. In fact, sometimes the greatest good and glory is found in the dying and burial of the seed, for only then can it grow and produce fruit and flowers.
- There are some things we will simply never understand this side of heaven, and our proper response is to trust and love God faithfully.
- Even when your heart is raw and all hope seems lost, love is still a worthy cause. (Sara Groves, “Love is Still a Worthy Cause”) Sometimes, the best medical intervention is just to love the patient and their family when loss is imminent.
- There is a good way to grieve. It’s a spiritual process of feeling and healing, of seeking God and hearing from him, of remembering who He is and what is true, of leaning on community and holding each other up as you experience and process together.
It is an honor to walk with people and families through both happiness and loss. It’s also a gift to walk through it ourselves, for we never walk it alone, and the intimate presence of the Faithful One who walks with us and holds us close is worth it all.
I always think about Job, how when Satan asked permission to roam the earth, God said, “Have you considered my servant, Job?” It is almost as if suffering, even loss, is something entrusted to us. It is like an unusual gift that draws us closer to Christ, refines us as silver, and can even be invested for the advancement of his kingdom. When I think about it that way, I want God to consider me worthy of such a task.
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