July 17, 2018
She struggled to push out each word; just that one sentence left her exhausted. She looked over at me from where she lay. Breathless. But I was unable to look back at the woman stretched out in front of me. My eyes quickly found the tiled floor where I sat. I wanted to hide the stream of tears that was now freely flowing. She asked again. “Mamma Selah, please?” I looked up into her big brown eyes that were sunken deep into her beautiful brown face and said, “Of course we can!” And just as she used everything in her to form those few words it took everything in me to smile. But my smile only went as far as my lips because inside I know that there would not be a next time…
On that warm December night our home was very quiet. It was December 25th. Christmas night. I had come home early from dinner with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. I was filled with good food and encouragement as I made my way back to a practically empty and dark malnutrition center. Our big brick house that’s normally ever booming with people, noise, and light was strangely still. This night as I opened the squeaky front door and I stepped into the house I could hear only the crickets outside, and the hum of a refrigerator…but as I moved into the stillness there were faint voices heard in the distance. In the darkness there was light streaming from one small yellow room. I closed the door and made my way through the house, my footsteps echoing in the empty hall, toward the soft voices where 2 ladies that are very near to my heart met me with smiles…
For weeks we had been preparing children who were enrolled in our program for discharge-we had pretty much cleared the center out. So by the time Christmas morning came we only had 2 children remaining at our house. Well, one child and one adult; Lydia a 23-year-old mother of 3 who had become a dear friend of mine.
Lydia had lived in our community since before I ever moved to Masese. Over the past few years I have gone through a lot with this sweet friend. We used to buy bananas for feeding program from her and Her oldest son, Allafat, was enrolled into our program for 2 months back in 2009. He is now fat and healthy and we see him at our gate and running around near our house almost daily! I sat with her in her empty house after the midwife delivered her stillborn twins. I picked her up off the dirt floor and attempted to offer comfort, to tell her that it would be ok even though I knew nothing about losing the life that’s been growing inside of you is just ok. When she tested positive for HIV I took her to start on ARV treatment. She stayed at my house after her husband forced her out and refused to allow her to see their children. I walked to their house every day for a week trying to convince him to change his mind. I was there when she delivered a happy, healthy baby girl! I looked in horror as I was told that my friend was dying of anemia because there was no blood and I drove like a mad woman to a small Catholic hospital in the middle of a sugarcane field because they had one unit of blood. I went to the hospital every day with food and literally watched her come back to life over the course of a week. I prayed with her every day.
Everyday. I sat in the lab with her as she told me that she wanted to know Jesus in her own heart and saw the transformation take place that only indwelling of the Holy Spirit can bring!
After her recovery, Lydia moved out to the village to stay with her family for a while. 6 months later I got a phone call from her brother who said that Lydia was very sick, so the next morning we went to visit. I don’t think there was a whole lot that could have prepared us for what we would see…
Standing before us was the same woman I’ve always known; when I looked into her eyes I saw little difference but as I looked at her physical body I didn’t see the friend I’d grown to know and love. I saw a frail, thin, tired, very sick woman. My heart broke. I tried not to show the shock I was feeling on my face. When we moved Lydia into our house the next day she weighed a meager 53 pounds. 53.
For days we forced her to take her medicine, eat and drink. It was a constant battle; she had seemingly lost all desire to live. She refused to take the medication that was her only chance at life. We tried and tried. She was counseled, prayed with, prayed over, and over and over again. But as the days passed she continued to grow weaker. She lost the strength to walk, and then even to sit on her own. We were told that there was nothing more we could do. So we just did all we knew. Pray without ceasing, and love unconditionally.
So Christmas day… There we sat, two people, broken and hurting for different reasons that seemingly felt very much the same. Two people from opposite worlds who had yet been brought together by the God who created us both. Two people at a loss for words, or was it just that we were unable to speak them…
There we were at the end of the day, Lydia’s hand in mine. It’s hard to say whether I was holding her hand, or if she was really holding mine. I guess it’s safe to say that we were comforting each other in the silence of those few moments. It was then that I noticed her long beautiful fingers… So much of her body had been overtaken, consumed by her sickness. She was scarcely recognizable. But her hands, and her feet; they remained the same. Almost untouched! I rushed upstairs and dug through my bathroom. After finding what I was in search of I ran back down. She lay still in bed, just the way I left her-her skeletal figure almost invisible underneath a single sheet.
I sat down near her and spoke softly. “Would you like me to paint your fingernails?” She slowly opened her eyes and barely nodded in response.
I picked up one of her limp hands and started to change her dull nails into a bright shade of red! I painted each fingernail slowly, with care. Praying healing over her body. Praying for God to restore strength. To renew what had been lost… To give her the opportunity to use her hands for His glory; to allow her the privilege of holding her baby girl again, even just once more…so that the next time I could paint her fingers purple… because purple was her favorite!
The next day God decided it was time to restore Lydia, to make her completely whole by taking her to be with Him. It was sad to say goodbye. But I know I’ll see her again, dancing in heaven, clothed in many shades of purple!