I’m in the middle of the jungle. And I’m freezing. Thin top sheets are piled on top of me, my daughter’s small, square blanket, but it’s not enough. There wasn’t a reason to bring thick blankets. Though skin is like fire, I shiver and teeth chatter. Body hurts; joints, muscles, I ache all over. Stomach does flips over and over again and it’s all I can do to pry myself out of bed to walk outside to the pit toilet.
I lie there, eyes closed tight, hoping just to sleep through the worst of it. When my husband joins me later, he wraps arms around me, legs around me, trying to spread warmth.
The nurse had spoken it that night: malaria. The sickness that scares those who aren’t familiar with it.
It’s our last day in the village. Tomorrow we leave. This isn’t how I wanted to say goodbye. How can I say all the things I wanted to say?
Morning comes, I can still barely move. My house is packed up about me, children in the arms of their brown-skinned sisters. The world around me has blurred.
The news comes that the truck has arrived to pick us up- a fifteen minute walk away that starts with a large, steep hill. I pray for the strength to make it to the truck. I get out of bed, my village mama helping me.
They give me a staff to lean on. But after only a minute or two the staff isn’t enough and I must lie on dirt and grass.
Every ounce of strength has left me.
Hands pick me up, guiding to the path. The dark-skinned man comes toward me. He isn’t much taller than me, a Highlands man. On his head, the grey hair far outnumbers the black. He is the papa of brown and white skins; my papa. He bends down in front of me, the women help me sit in to him. I wrap weak arms around his neck. He lifts up his white daughter.
We climb the hill in front of us. His breathing heavies, but he doesn’t stop.
We make it to the top of the hill, he gently sets me down. Mama is there to pick up the slack. The two of them come on either side me, each pulling an arm over their necks, putting their arms around my waist. We move slow, easy. They keep pace with me, letting me rest when I need to, holding up my frail body.
Finally we see the truck and soon I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat, eyes closed again. I can’t say goodbye like a want to. Mama finds my hand again. Tears brim and spill, and I pray they speak while my voice remains silent. Papa too, his hand grabs mine and squeezes. Brown and white, embraced and melded.
There are other times I’ve felt this way, weak and immobile. Times when the body’s strong, but the heart feels feeble. Times when uncertainty comes quick: I don’t know if I can do this. But always, always, Papa comes. I lean in to him, and he carries me. Arms of strength, arms of love.
I think of the Shepherd. He lets me rest in green meadows; He renews my strength. He brings me to His banqueting table, laden with the finest and richest of fare, His love banner flying high. And how he carries his sheep on his shoulder and in his arms.
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, Holding them close to his heart.”
And when He left the ninety-nine and the one was found, did he not, with great delight, carry him on his shoulders?
“And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.”
I am learning, for really the first time in my life, that my strength is not enough. And it never will be. That weakness is a gift. That I must give way to the journey; that I must give thanks for the process. Surrender in its purest form: giving thanks in all circumstances.
I am learning. I’m learning to give thanks for spilled milk, and messes, and yes, even malaria. For what a joy to be carried in sickness. What a joy to feel physical healing. What a joy to know when skin shivers and body aches that the Son Himself shared in sufferings greater and more painful. So, right now I say thank you, Jesus; You are wonderful in all your ways.
Give me the Good Shepherd, the Papa of the flock. My Care-giver and Keeper on High. For He is familiar with my ways and knows me deep and wide. And when I suffer or stray, his arms find me.
I wrap puny arms tight. His breathing doesn’t heavy, it’s slow, patient. I lean in now, giving way to the weakness, finding His warmth.