Friday, February 17, 2017


Sunday worship. A padded pew.  A tidy sermon wrapped up in an acceptable time frame so we can make sure to get home for kickoff. The band, the songs I know by heart, and the coffee and cookies while the kids run through the fellowship hall.

Last Sunday, worship was closer to God than I know I’ve ever been. While I prepared his body for burial I played the same songs I had listened to just 48 hours before while I sat next to him and held his hand. I had spent that afternoon praying silent, wordless prayers. I didn’t know what to beg for. Healing? Release? I could only trust that the cries and the groans of my heart were deciphered because even though I speak several languages, none of them could express the things I didn’t know how to say.

Emano came to me in the late afternoon, the setting sun reflecting off the deep shadows of protruding bones. I gathered his 20lbs in my arms and something inside of me cracked.

I hold a lot of malnourished babies. Most of them live but many do not. I hold them and I meet their needs and I disassociate when I have to because if I didn’t I couldn’t do this. This “job” that doesn’t end at 5pm, this job that both fills and destroys my heart. Emano broke me wide open. I couldn’t stop the wave of love I had for him with all the strength of my flesh. Disassociation wasn’t an option. I knew that this was going to hurt like hell. I knew the pain that was likely, but I was powerless to hold it at bay.

I heard the news as I was sitting down to breakfast early on Sunday morning. The food we had prepared turned to sawdust in my mouth and it was all I could do to choke down the bite I had taken. I wanted to scream, to take out all my anger at the injustice of this world on a plate of eggs. I wanted to hate food. I wanted to throw it against the wall and curse it and blame it for the death of every baby I have held and loved and watched slip away.

Instead, I got up from the table where my own children filled their bellies and I collapsed into the corner of their tiny playroom off the kitchen, trying to stifle my sobs.

Emano was dead.

Not a malnourished foreign child. Emano.

Once you have seen the shuddering and groaning and pain of starvation you will never forget it. Once you’ve watched it tear through the frail body of 5-year-old child the image will be burned in your mind forever. Once you realize that thing you do every day without even thinking about is the thing that would have saved his life, you will never, ever be able to erase that from your mind and you will never, ever be the same.

You will never be able to turn off that burning desire to kill what killed him.

Sunday worship. A cement, windowless room behind my house. A room that is only entered in reverence and shrouded in the deep pain of a life gone too soon. Soft music, tears and sweat mingling together while I dress the body of a 5 year old boy in a hand-me-down suit from my own son’s closet.

Emano, I wish we had seen you sooner and fought for you harder. I wish the fighting wasn’t necessary at all. I wish that your birthplace wasn’t your death sentence. I wish that this world had been fair to you. I wish things were different. I wish you hadn’t hurt. I wish you could have stayed.