Monday, March 10, 2014

A light in the shadows

Some months here in Togo are just rough.  Some months in life are just rough.  We seems to be under a shadow as we have had some incredibly difficult losses as a hospital over the last 4-5 weeks--many involving things that may have been all-together preventable.  I signed a death certificate every night last week.  This isn't a plea for pity as it is a recognition of reality. To paraphrase one of our other missionaries prayer letters she said- "I haven't been telling any good medical stories, but I can't seem to think of any….maybe it's because the sad stories just seem to overshadow the successful ones." And there comes a point, even in the most faithful of believers, when we stop and lift our tear-filled eyes to the heavens and say, "DON'T YOU SEE US LORD? Don't you see them?"

There is no greater place than the foreign mission field, to find out what your weaknesses are.  (and yes, the word weaknesses is definitely plural for all of us!) Not only will you, and everyone around you, see those weaknesses, but they will be magnified X 20 under the stress and culture shock of life.  My weakness magnified is pride.

As I had to explain to the mother of quadruplets that a second baby of hers would be leaving this world, all I could think about was that her sorrow was caused by my failure as a doctor. What did I miss?  What could I have done earlier? How did I let this happen?  As grief continues it evolves into anger, which is sometimes lands on God.  "Lord, how did YOU let this happen? Where were you?!" It's at this point when the Holy Spirit calls me by my nickname, Job.  Not because I am as faithful or have suffered anywhere near this Old Testament friend of God.  But because like Job, I feel like I want the chance to stand before a court and make my case before the Lord, in order to explain why these things shouldn't have happened.

If you've read the account, you know what response is coming from the Lord:

             Who is this that darkens counsel without wisdom?…
             Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth
              Tell me, if you have understanding.
             Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
             Or who stretched the line upon it? 

             On what were its bases sunk,
             or who laid its cornerstone,
             when the morning stars sang together
             and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

            “Or who shut in the sea with doors
             when it burst out from the womb, 
             when I made clouds its garment
             and thick darkness its swaddling band,
             and prescribed limits for it
             and set bars and doors,
             and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
             and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

             “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
             and caused the dawn to know its place,
              that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
              and the wicked be shaken out of it?
              It is changed like clay under the seal,
              and its features stand out like a garment.
              From the wicked their light is withheld,
              and their uplifted arm is broken.

            “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
             or walked in the recesses of the deep?
             Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
             or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
             Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?

             Declare, if you know all this.   

The Lord goes on for several more chapters to show Job his mightiness and omniscience.  Job's appropriate response:

             “I know that you can do all things,
              and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
              ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
              Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
              things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
The Lord doesn't always respond to our sorrow this way, but for me it is often this way as the Lord shows me that He is indeed in all things and His sovereignty is sure.  He shows me that when the focus is my own failure, I am failing to recognize his glory and purpose.  I am also failing to recognize how he wants me to respond in a way that glorifies himself. As a result, there is nothing left to do but repent of thinking we know better.  Repent of believing that we are in control. And worship the ONE whose plan is above all things.  He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. He alone is righteous.  He alone is justice, love and mercy in perfect harmony.  He alone has conquered death and made eternal life with Him possible.  He alone makes beauty from ashes.  He is and always be the Savior, my Savior. 

There is a beauty and grace that is only to be found on the other side of suffering.  There is nothing more gut-wrenching that weeping alongside a mother over the loss of her child, nothing more humbling than holding a child while he takes his last earthly breath.  It is only the love of Christ that allows us to do these things and not be swallowed up in despair.  Because the answer for death here in Togo is not better medicine, a newer ventilator, or even more doctors--it's Hope, Hope in the One who conquered death so that it no longer reigns over us.  There can never be a true shadow over the hospital or over our lives when Christ is the center.  For Darkness can never overtake the light.  The light will always shine through, casting out darkness at all times.

"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail." Isaiah 52:6

Grace and Peace