Edy joined our home right after his second birthday, but you would never have guessed his age. Due to severe malnutrition, he was, and still is, tiny for his age. His mother abandoned him, and his grandmother did the best she could. But the coffee and tortillas that were all she could afford were just not sufficient for an infant.
It is unclear if his brain damage was due to the malnutrition, if it was from complications in pregnancy or birth, or if both were contributing factors. But the results were devastating. Our neurologist informed us that 80% of his brain was damaged or dead, including his brainstem, which controls his autonomous functions such as heartbeat, breathing and body temperature. He also told us that he likely doesn’t have long to live.
He is blind and severely cognitively and physically impaired. Yet his smile and laugh can light up a room. His laugh is the most contagious I have ever encountered. You cannot hear it without laughing yourself.
Yet he seems to be slipping away. Due to the brain damage he suffers from apnea. He simply stops breathing. He exhales and doesn’t inhale again. And these instances are terrifying.
We have different levels of intervention to get him breathing again, and until recently they have worked well. In some instances, a loud noise such as clapped hands will startle him and restart his breathing. At other times it requires a sudden pat on the back or chest. If these don’t work, we mist his face and chest with cold water, which has always worked.
But as time passes, the frequency and severity of these episodes are worsening. The loud noises and pats seldom work now. The cold water occasionally does. But we have recently had to resort to giving resuscitation breaths. We pinch his nose, seal our mouths around his, and forcibly blow air into his lungs, just like we would while performing CPR. And, to this point, this intervention has restarted his breathing. But it seems his time is running out, and I find myself wondering when this final step will stop working.
Last night, after a particularly scary episode in which I administered the resuscitation breath, I prayed a one sentence prayer that was more of a statement…
“God, I can’t do this again!”
In the last three years we have buried four of the children from our home. These were children that we loved like our own. Esperanza, Thania, Micah and Angelita all came into our home, captured our hearts, and then left us…taking a part of us with them. The grief has been deep, powerful and, at times, devastating. And the thought of facing that again terrifies me. So, maybe you can understand that prayer I prayed last night.
“God, I can’t do this again!”
Yet, even as I said the words, I know that I can and will. We will likely lose Edy, and we will grieve. Oh, how we will grieve. And it won’t be the last time. There will be more children, likely some who are currently in our home, who will begin to decline and slip away. They will leave our arms and go straight into the arms of Jesus. And there will likely be others whom we have not yet met.
The call will come. We will be told of a sick child that needs a home. We will be told that they are very severe. We will be told that they may not live long. And we will say “Yes,” against every piece of common sense that tells us to guard our hearts and our sanity. And we will do it all over again. Because if we don’t, who will?
Over my adult lifetime, I have often heard believers utter words that should never come out of a Christ-follower’s mouth. This sentence usually follows a conversation in which they hear of people serving in a way that sounds extreme to them. They open their mouths and the words come out…
“I could never do that!”
These words are quickly followed by their reasoning for why they should never be expected to do such a thing.
In response to foster parenting: “I could never do that! I would love the children too much!” (If you have ever uttered that to a foster family, please go find them and beg their forgiveness.)
In response to the mission field: “I could never do that! I wouldn’t want to uproot my children!”
In response to caring for dying children: “I could never do that! It would break my heart!”
In response to going to dangerous parts of the world to minister: “I could never do that! It would put my family at risk!”
As Jesus followers, the words “I could never do that” should be stricken from our vocabulary. They should be taboo in our household. I need to stop allowing it to pass my mind, even in the heat of crisis. These are spiritual profanity.
What’s the big deal? Why are these words so forbidden? Here’s why…
- If we cannot do it, who can? If we have the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead living within us (Romans 8:11), how can we believe any work that would bring glory to Jesus Christ is beyond what we can do emotionally, physically or spiritually? If we, the church of Jesus, cannot do something, then who can?
- They deny God’s power and rely on our abilities. We speak to the world about the greatness and majesty of God, yet deny His ability to accomplish His work through us. It makes our faith appear foolish a weak, because it is, at least if we think this way.
- They place a limit on our level of obedience. Do we really want to tell our God who left His throne and hung on a cross that there are things we are unwilling and unable to do for Him? What can He ask of us that He is not worthy to receive?
- They slam the door on God’s calling in our lives. This is important! The things that most break our hearts are likely the things with which God wants us most involved. What most stirs your heart? What makes you shed the most tears? What injustice keeps you awake at night? These are the areas in which God is moving in your life. But if we shy away from these areas of brokenness because they are hard to face or contemplate, we will miss our calling.
This life we are living is both hard and wonderful. There are moments that the beauty and privilege of this ministry and calling take my breath away. There are other moments in which I am brought to my knees in brokenness and grief. And, through it all, I feel God’s smile.
Almost everyone we encounter loves the ministry we do. They love the IDEA of children with special needs being cared for and loved. They love the IDEA of children who are dying being surrounded by a loving family. They love the IDEA of ministering to the broken and poverty stricken. But very few love the idea of actually doing it.
I occasionally am told, “I would love to do what you do!” And my response is always the same. “Great! Then do it! I will help you!” And that is where the back-peddling begins. And that is where those five stinking, lousy, good-for-nothing words rear their ugly head.
What breaks your heart? What is the one thing to which you find yourself saying, “I could never do that”? I am begging you…please stop saying it. Instead, hit your knees before the Savior who went to the cross for us. And ask him...
“Jesus, do you want me to do that?”
If you can find the courage to do so with an open and obedient heart, it will likely transform your life and take you to places you have never imagined. Who knows? You might even find yourself loving a dying child…and feeling God’s smile raining down on you. And He will give you what you need to do what you never thought you could.
Blessings from Guatemala!
Daryl, Wanda and the Crew