Yesterday afternoon, as I was cleaning up after lunch, and welcoming four guests who had come to stay with us for a few days, the emergency bell at the clinic buzzed, jarring me out of my happy conversation. It was a summons to every staff person, whether they are on shift or not, to report to the clinic immediately.
I left Julia with our guests, and ran into the clinic to find two of our medical assistants and Doctora Darien, France’s cousin, already working feverishly over a small form. Bag and mask covered a tiny mouth and nose, chest compressions, one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, delivered in rapid succession, willing little water-filled lungs to breathe again. Epinephrine was quickly drawn up and injected into a tiny arm. The little four year old girl lay on the exam table, limp and lifeless, covered in sand, hair plastered wet to her small face, her only stitch of clothing a tattered Beauty and the beast T-shirt.
Crowds of onlookers already gathered outside the door, and bit by bit, pieces of information floated through the air, like broken pieces of a puzzle that no one wanted to put together. Kyla was found washed up on the beach near her hut-- a foreigner walking by had seen her and shouted for help. No one knows how long she had been lying there.
Her cousin, Charlie, whose mother works for us, had been one of the onlookers, not knowing it was Kyla lying on the beach until he wiped the sand from her face. He rushed her to us as fast as he could.
I called for two of my friends who had just arrived, both nurses, to come and help. Together the six of us become a well-oiled machine of gentle hands and I.V. lines, Ambu bag and oxygen, stethoscopes and medicine ampules, every voice raised -- a potpourri of Tagalog, English, and Ilocano, all pleading to our Father to raise the dead. Minutes passed and turned into segments of an hour… our worship grew louder, and tears mixed with the sweat that fell from our faces onto the tiny body beneath our hands.
My mind turned to the little dead girl who was touched by Jesus and told to awaken from her slumber. I spoke to Kyla to get up, to open her eyes and breathe again. I rubbed her tiny water-shriveled feet in my hands. “Come on, baby girl, breathe.” These feet had been running down the beach just hours ago.
“Jesus, life and death are in your hands, and we believe that you can raise her up, I’ve seen you do it before… do this for your glory. Oh please, won’t you do this?”
An hour passed. Kyla grew colder beneath our touch, her small hands and feet, her perfect lips, blue and still.
After one hour of continuous resuscitation measures, time of death was called in a quiet voice. “1:50 P.M.” We all stood rooted to our places around Kyla, our faces wet, our hearts pleading. For the next hour and a half, we continued to pray, surrendering our will to a greater one, still pleading for life, our hands caressing and loving this precious one, massaging her chest, longing to feel it rise again.
I filled a basin with water, and with a soft cloth began to wash the sand from Kyla’s body. These hands have transformed in the past year and a half to a mother’s hands. They were gentle before, but now they know how to cradle and caress, and how to give a perfect bath to a tiny girl. My tears turned to sobs as I cradled her small head in my hands, and spoke to her in quiet murmurs. “You are so loved and so precious, baby girl.” I continued to wash her, willing her to look up at me and smile.
One by one, as we cared for her body, our voices began to sing in small choked whispers, “Blessed be your name, on the road marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, blessed be your name.”
I went to our home and found among Julia’s clothes a beautiful pink dress someone had sent us for when she turns four, as well as little underwear for when she is a big girl. I pulled the dress over Kyla’s head and brushed her soft hair back from her forehead, telling her how beautiful she looked in her new dress.
Outside the door I heard sobs, and knew they belonged to a mother. Lina entered the clinic, her face in her hands, afraid to look up and see what would change her forever. She went to her daughter and buried her face in that new pink dress, and as we softly prayed over her, offering our hands and hearts as the meager comfort we knew to give, she wept with an anguish that no mama should ever know.
Kyla was born in our clinic four short years ago, to a mother who did not want her. She was placed in Lina’s arms as her own. Their family is poor-- living in a small hut with no running water, but they are rich in love, and they pour it out on their children without reserve.
Kyla went to church with her mama every Sunday, and stood in front, begging to sing for everyone. “She loved to read her Bible,“ Lina whispered. “I taught her about Jesus”.
We spent the next four hours with the family and planned the funeral, took pictures of them all, and wept more tears with them than I knew I had. As they drove off in the rusty funeral-home jeep, our entire team met in our living room, our hearts heavy, and turned all this grief and questioning back to worship. On our faces, voices raised, we asked to see God’s heart. God spoke to us, as He has so many times before, that He is still good, that everything He does is for the purpose of bringing life.
And so again, as I had done even as my own Mama took her last breath, I surrendered myself back into the hands of our God. I don’t understand Him, as my understanding is comparable to a minnow understanding the ocean and all its depths--arrogant and impossible. I know that He is good, and He is perfect love—it is impossible for Him to be anything other. I also know that He loves Kyla more than this mother heart could even imagine…. as I picture her dancing and singing for Him face to face, I smile a little under the torrent of tears.
I hate death. But I seem to remember Jesus said He hates it even more. We weren’t made for this-- we were made for forever…..and so, as the clouds sputter out a steady drizzle today, I reach my hand to my cheek and can’t tell if it’s the rain or my tears again…. then I start to sing in a croaky little voice,
“A refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm
This is our God
He will wipe away your tears and return your
This is our God
A father to the orphan, a healer to the broken
This is our God
And he brings peace to our madness and comfort
in our sadness
This is our God
this is the one we have waited for
this is our God
A fountain for the thirsty, a lover for the lonely
This is our God”
In the middle of the riptides of grief in this life, that quickly change to mountain tops of incredible joy, and crazy adventures of navigating both, my heart is longing more and more for heaven. But as I snuggle my own baby girl close, and hear her giggles, I feel the cracks in my heart filling-in a little, and thank Jesus that He is still here and has promised that if we let Him, He will navigate the way for us, with a love that won’t let go.