Sunday, October 28, 2007
On grief and bread and Jesus
All week I’ve been drawn to John 6, Jesus the Bread of Life. I came across this chapter in my regular Bible reading, but kept coming back as I watched kids admitted for malnutrition growing stronger, meditating on how Jesus brings life, to them and to me. This morning we had communion at church, which prompted me to read the chapter again. This time I was struck by the context: the people wanted bread, they wanted the gift, the health, the results, and Jesus said you need ME. I am so much like that. I want a successful ministry or healthy kids, I want peaceful relationships and a good life. Jesus promises in this chapter that He is bringing all that and more, but only through Himself. He’ll set all things right, but not necessarily on our schedule.
The promise and the challenge of that hit deeply right now. Every six months (well, at least annually!) we have a team health day, a time to do routine health maintenance. Some is the typical doctor check-up stuff: blood pressures and weights, reminders about calcium or cancer prevention. Much of it relates to living in the tropics: checking on malaria prophylaxis, updating immunizations, dispensing medicines to intermittently clear the body of other potentially dangerous parasites like schistosomiasis or filaria. It is also a time to pray with people about their emotional, physical, and spiritual health. With a team our size that can take the better part of two days, so we were thankful to put our visiting Physician Assistants Rachel Locker and Scott Will to work. And happily most of what we found was good. For people who live under a fair amount of cross-cultural and plain old survival stress, we have remarkably low blood pressures! Kids who had been a bit on the skinny side were catching up to better percentiles, testaments to the hard work and careful planning of their mothers.
But I went into this period knowing that I was worried about Chase Gray, and actually planned the health days as a way to gracefully call attention to those concerns. Chase is the Gray’s 8 month old, their third son, cute as a button, bright smiles and rosy cheeks, fair hair and kissable pudge. Over the last month it had dawned on me that he looks like a perfect 4 month old, but he’s not 4 months old anymore. Even for me as a doctor looking for problems, I had strong defense mechanisms to assure myself that Chase was OK, just on the slower end of the normal development curve. After all the Grays had been through with Grant, where a quick trip to the US for delivery turned into a four year odyssey of surgeries and therapies for his arms, it was hard to believe that Chase was not OK. Then Julia drew his name for Christmas and decided to crochet him a hat, so I measured his head for her and compared it to my charts. That got me really worried, though even then I thought I might have made a mistake. The night before his check-up I stayed up very late reading up on developmental milestones. By the time I finished I was pretty convinced that his small head and significant lag in development were indicators of potentially serious problems. The next morning I shared my concerns with the Grays, recommending that they go back to America within the month for more extensive evaluations in case there is a definable diagnosis, but more importantly to start on early intervention therapies that could make a real difference in his development.
Well, team kids are family. We’ve all been crying. First it is hard to look at sweet little Chase and project that he might have significant challenges with sitting, eating, walking, talking, learning. It is too early to tell but it could be a long road with a lot of struggle, and that is just plain painful to know. Then it is hard to look at Rick and Wendy our friends, and tell them that even though they thought they’d been through the worst and made it, they had survived Grants umpteen surgeries and managed to move back to Uganda, now they have another child with possibly serious medical problems that will send them back to the States and back to the endless routine of appointments and tests and therapies again. Then it is hard for our team and for our community in Bundibugyo to open up again to the uncertainty, to wonder what the impact will be on ministry and life. God can redeem even this I know, but right now it is hard to see any good in the brokeness of the world as it slams into the Grays again.
Then it is hard to step back and look at the bigger picture. MOST of the families who have served here have left before they planned due to serious physical, emotional, or educational problems with their children. Starting way back with Alan and Sally Lee’s son Ben . . . And now potentially up to Chase. Facing that possibility again takes a toll on all of us. I have some survivor guilt: why are our kids thriving? Yes, there is part of me who is like the people in John 6, all this Jesus and missionary stuff is nice but let’s get to the real point, I want assured daily bread, I want to know my family is going to be OK. But over the last couple of days what I think I’m hearing two things. First, I’m seeing more clearly is that this same Jesus gives himself to all of us, in the ways that we need. Some of our team mates will eat of His life by facing the challenge of children with disabilities, or even death. Others will find Him in the long haul of slogging it out here in Uganda. Secondly, I’m so aware that it is only by God’s mercy and plan that we are still here, so we need to seize the day and plunge into His life and work. Whenever a family has to face a new challenge, our hearts break together, but then I am left with a sense of perspective, that the momentary afflictions we Myhres have really aren’t so significant after all, that it is a privilege to be here. We’ve been given so much! So it helps me to press on, not only for ourselves but for the Lees, the Carrs, the Herrons, the Bensons, the Learys, the Fillyaws, the Tabbs, maybe even the Grays, we don’t know.
Then Jesus said: throw your lot in with the One God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works. . . I am the bread of Life. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me. This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up time I have I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. . . I am the bread of Life. The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.