By Kari Miller
I saw what I saw and I cant forget it / I heard what I heard and I cant go back / I know what I know and I cant deny it
Something along the road cut me to the soul
Your pain has changed me / Your dream inspires / Your face a memory / Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I am afraid of and what I know of love… and what I know of God
I love this song by Sara Groves. When I first stumbled across it on iTunes, a huge rush of emotion came over me. Have you had that experience? The lyrics of this beautiful song brought a tidal wave of powerful memories and a torrent of intense emotion. Suddenly, I was reliving the first time I saw Jane, a bone thin Ugandan widow suffering from AIDS and TB.
Her skin was draped on her frail body and she coughed in painful spasms. She was standing there in front of me weeping, her shoulders hunched over, her eyes full of indescribable pain. She couldnt feed herself or her children. The memory still reduces me to sobs. It still feels as intense as the day it happened. Then I saw another HIV positive widow named Joyce. Years earlier she watched in horror as her parents, her brothers and sisters and her husband were slaughtered by rebel soldiers wielding sharp machetes. She and her daughter were the only survivors. She somehow managed to dig their graves bury them herself. Then she took her siblings children with her to Kampalaall 15 of them. Last year, her only biological daughter was killed in a car accident.
The injustice of it all brings an intense white-hot anger. Then one after the other, I remembered all 120 of them each with a unique story to tell. I choked back sobs and refused to shake free of the memory. As hard as it was, I sat in itall of it. As the memories of these widows washed over me, I looked over and the only thing I could say to Jesus was “I love them.” He gently smiled and said, Do you know what love is?
Do I know what love is? This questioned lingered in my mind for days. There is no doubt I feel deep empathy and compassion for these dear widows. There is no doubt that some of them have become my friends. There is no doubt that I have given my resources to meet their physical needs. There is no doubt that I have tried to share their courage, hopes and dreams with anyone who will listen. But, does that answer the question?
About a year ago, I asked the God to teach me to love–really love–like he does. Now a year later, it seemed as if God was going to peel the onion a little deeper. As it turns out, you never really master the art of loving. It is a lifelong processat least for me. So, I lowered by defenses, turned back into the memories and asked myself that question that seemed to probe into a tender place. Do I really love them?
I have been communicating with the widows since I have returned to the US and life for them has not improved. Although, we raised $16,000 in order to purchase a piece of land for them, no land has yet become available. It has been a much more difficult task then any of us anticipated to purchase a good sized piece of land. I just spoke with them the other day only to find out that they have to be out of their current houses by January 31st. Time is running out. They are scared and clinging to the slim hope of finding a piece of land in the next week. As you can imagine, conversations with them are becoming more frantic and I have found myself wanting to avoid the phone call. Wondering if it would be easier to distance myself from the weight of it all.
Some Christians have told me that I was foolish to try to help them in the first place. In their opinion, it is better left to the professionals in big ministries and big NGOs. Some have tried to comfort me, saying, You tried your best. You did more than most people. God will bring someone else forward. Still others try to spiritualize it all by saying that if God doesnt find the women land, he just isnt in the project. So, here I am wading deep in the memories of women I have come to know and love while voices of doubt and rationalization are begging me to escape the stench of failure. In the midst of all that, a beautiful voice sings a song and God asks the question, Do you know what love is?
Finally I dare to say, “Yes, I know deep down despite all my selfishness that I really do love them.” As much as my plan of rescue may have failed, I do love them. It isnt just emotion; its commitment. So what do you do when you love someone in deep distress? Do you back off slightly hoping God brings someone else to help? That would be the easy way out. Or do you throw up your hands and say I tried? After all, it is a total failure, right? God doesnt allow things to fail, does he? Then a small wisp of a memory comes floating by
I see Joseph rotting in prison in Egypt for years. Then I see the Jews wandering the desert for 40 years. Neither one of those plans went as planned; yet, God was not asleep at the switch. It was as if failure was as much a part of his plan as success was. He didnt love them any less even though they saw more failure then most. Through it all God never left them. He loved them. Suddenly, it occurred to me that love means standing in the darkness with them. It means letting this looming failure wash over me too. It means clinging to the promises of God in the same frantic way they are. It means standing beside them no matter how difficult it gets. It means putting their needs ahead of my own. It means cozying up to sacrifice. It means saying even when it is easier to leave, I will stay put.
I am scared, though. I know my own propensity to opt for the easy way out. I know my own desire for a pain-free existence. I want to live a life of happiness, wealth and privilegenothing but butterflies, ice cream cones and beautiful sunsets. Yet, I have fallen in love with women whose lives reek with pain, loneliness and despair. It is so much easier to fleeto go back to my comfortable life, but now that I know what I know and have heard what Ive heard, I just cant go back.
One thing I know about God is that he is ever present in times of trouble and can be found in the most painful places. So, to love is to stay in the place where Jesus is; therefore, I will love the widows not just in emotion, but in commitment. I will stay with them in the pain and the uncertainty and, yes, even in the failure. After days of wrestling with this question of love, I look over at Jesus, and he smiles nods his head and says, Your love story has now begun
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Kari Miller is a 4th grade teacher who is passionate about loving Jesus and loving others. She longs to inspire others to love the least, the lost and the left out. She spent five months in Uganda last year and is planning to go back permanently in February.