Day 20: Hour 480

I tossed and turned all night. I am not really sure why. Sleep is often an elusive companion. Last night he took a trip. Far away from me. I glanced at my bedraggled form in the mirror as the morning sun filtered through the glass door.

In jest, I whispered to my reflection that sleep would be back for a visit soon. Probably during today’s clinic time, unfortunately.

Today was my birthday. I had forgotten until late last night when Betsy reminded me. It’s amazing. I can remember as a young boy, the sharp excitement that would fill my core at the thought of my birthday. The countdown would usually begin several weeks away.

I really must be getting old.

There’s something about your birthday. You probably know what I’m talking about. The question “What am I doing with my life?” traveled up and down my neurons. It’s a healthy question to ask, no doubt. But for an introspective and philosophical guy like me, it can be a double-edged sword. Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to think. The clock was ticking towards when we needed to be at the clinic. I made my disheveled form appear a little less disheveled before sauntering toward the kitchen.

I sat down at the table for a quick cup of hot coffee with Betsy, Kyle, and Ben. Tiny sugar molecules escaped my spoon as I shoveled it into the steaming cup. Such wonderful company. So many good conversations.

I will miss this table.

Dr. Kubacki joined us in the room and announced it was time to leave. Again, we were reunited with our morning routine of driving to the clinic. We chatted briefly about the two beautiful babies who had been born yesterday. As we drove, my eyes caught the gray sky that was beginning to enshroud the sun.

The air grew thick and heavy, pregnant with the promise of rain.

But the dark clouds were not confined to the heavens.

Before I set foot in the clinic, I could hear their sobs. The three of us entered single file with somewhat confused looks on our faces. What was going on? With a glazed look, the nurse met us. He shared the unexpected news.

Last night, the two precious newborn babies died.

My throat went dry.

What?

When we left last night, they both were doing well. An image of me and Kyle standing over the cooing baby yesterday crash collided into my reeling skull. Such beautiful little lives.

Dr. Kubacki entered the patient room first. The mother cradled the lifeless child close to her chest, tears bursting forth. The moans that traveled from her throat knew no language barrier. Her heart was swallowed in grief.

He gently put the stethoscope onto the tiny frame and paused momentarily.

With a nod of his head, he softly rubbed the mother’s shoulder.

No heartbeat.

There I stood, beside him. Questioning my ability to move.

According to the families, both children had been fine until the early hours of the morning. The one child “lost strength” and died suddenly. The other family reported that their child began to seize before passing just as quickly.

Dr. Kubacki motioned for us to follow him outside, like a coach would call his players in for a huddle. I needed something. Anything. Some sweet words of comfort to latch on to, to communicate to me that everything was going to be okay. I could tell he did too. The infant mortality rate here in these rural villages soar high above those in developed nations. The conditions, the lack of prenatal care, the rampant infectious diseases, they all conspire together to make a newborn’s chances of survival slim.

He reminded us that as a doctor, it is okay to grieve. He reminded us that we do not hold the keys to life and death. He reminded us that it’s okay to ask “why?”

Why?

With tears in our eyes and anguish in our hearts, we beg for answers.

Why create a precious life, only to stand by as the same life is snuffed out?

Dr. Kubacki retold us the story of how humanity looked into the loving eyes of Jesus and asked Him why. They wanted to know why a man was born blind. I needed to hear this. Jesus gave a short answer. But then He acted. There is nothing passive about Jesus. He is not far off. He is not a mere theoretical figure. He refuses to be confined to the abstract.

He moves toward suffering. Not away.

He lit up the blind man’s eyes.

“We too are called to act”, Dr. Kubacki continued. “Like Jesus. And as a physician, one of the best ways that I know how is to learn.” He was right. We need to learn why the babies died. What can we do next time to foresee complications? To alleviate suffering. We discussed several reasons why the infants may have died. Cerebral malaria jumped to the top of the list. It is a disease that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in any obvious way until it is too late. It gives little warning.

As we finished talking, the crowd of Angolans that gathered around for the pre-clinic discussion grew quiet. These people see far more death than we do in the developed world. They are a hearty folk. They do not expect to live a life without pain. Though they grieve genuinely, they do not expect to live a life without loss.

We sat down as Dr. Kubacki addressed them. He shared with them that we have a God who knows about suffering. Who knows what it is like to lose a Son. When Jesus arrived on our earth, He suffered much.

But amidst that suffering, He had a few things to say about the life to come.

Hope.

Yesterday, two precious little babies entered the world in rural Angola.

Today, two precious little babies died.

As I wrestle. As you wrestle. Call to mind and heart the recognition that beyond our need for answers, beyond our need to understand, beyond our need to control…

We need deep relationship. It is in knowing our Father that we can come to trust. It is in walking with Jesus that we can hope to be able to slip our hand gently into His. And feel His strength.

I have repeated these lines numerous times throughout my many posts. Forgive me if you tire of hearing it. It’s not necessarily for you.

It’s for me.

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4 thoughts on “Day 20: Hour 480

  1. Just this morning at church our preacher, preached about how big God’s Love is for all of us. But also that we can give love to all the people who need this love. We can do this in different ways, by helping the sick and needy, and do what ever God gives you to do with your hart and hands! That’s how God wants and uses us to do that where why are good in. God Bless you Nigel. Joanna Prins from Lubango, Angola, at the moment in Holland.

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  2. Oh, Nigel, you can’t repeat too often the need for each of us to experience on a moment-to-moment basis the deep, abiding love of our Savior, Jesus! Such intense sadness can only be assuaged by the Master. He alone knows the why of those sweet little ones’ deaths. I’m continuing to pray for your strength while you learn these valuable lessons from Angola. Happy birthday!

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  3. What a powerful pen – you capture every emotion so meticulously; and then to see it all turned over to the Lord. God did SO bless the day you were born, but it’s hard to type out ‘happy birthday’ after reading that. God give grace to you and mercy to those suffering mamas.

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  4. Nigel, probably 2 of the most depressing words in the English language are “no hope”. We do live in a sin-infested , fallen world where life and death play as characters who are not necessarily “fair” in who they influence and attack. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that everything “under the sun” is vanity. It is not that we do not enjoy and value those things that are necessarily “under the sun”. It is not that we don’t grieve necessarily when we lose those things that are “under the sun”. It is that our ultimate hope and trust are in those things that are “above the sun”. Because all those things that are “under the sun” are temporal. They will one day be gone, taken away, forever. Our spouse, our families, our lives, our money, our vocation, but also death, suffering, pain, sorrow, our sin nature. The one thing that does remain and it is all we will ever need , is God Himself, and that is Who the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, after he has philosophized and has lived through life, we should fear and focus upon. Praying that you through the power of God can bring some hope to the people you see every day.

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