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On sickness, death, and the meaning of life.

06 Mar

On Sunday morning, we lost a precious little boy named Alex.  Recent rains in Uganda have taken already-dangerous living conditions and made them even worse, and this brought about an outbreak of cholera in the slum in which Alex lived.  Alex fell ill with cholera last week, and his little body just never recovered.

Alex was three years old when he died, and though his life was painfully short, through it God has taught us all so much.  Alex was born with AIDS, and shortly thereafter lost both of his parents to it.  So for his entire life, he was sick.  He was so ill, so undernourished, that he was expected to die any time.
Then God brought Noah into the picture.  Noah is one of my best friends, and his love for Alex breaks my heart in the best way.  Noah chose to sponsor Alex to pay for food and medicine for him, not knowing that by doing that, he was saving Alex’s life.  He chose Alex simply because they shared a birthday…but God had a bigger plan.
In January, we headed back to Uganda, and I had the privilege of watching Noah meet his sponsor child for the first time.  Alex’s caretaker fell to her knees thanking Noah, saying that if it weren’t for his contribution, Alex would have died long before.  Noah was astonished by this outpouring of thanks; he hadn’t realised the difference that he had made in the lives of Alex and those around him.  It was truly fantastic.
And even more beautiful was the way Noah poured his heart out to Alex.  The way the two of them bonded warms my heart to this day.
So, as you can imagine, we were afraid when we received the news that Alex had fallen ill, and we were utterly heartbroken when he died.
I loved that boy.  I didn’t even know Alex all that well, but I loved him with all my heart.  The love that I have for all of my children in Uganda…I don’t know where it comes from.  Actually, now that I write that, I do.  It comes from God.  A love as strong as the love I feel for Uganda couldn’t possibly come from anywhere else.
Alex knew he was loved.  The last few months of his short life were his best.  He was loved by his caretaker, he was loved by us (Noah especially) when we came to visit, and most of all he knew he was loved by God.

But that doesn’t make it easier to know that he is gone.
It breaks my heart so, when my children are sick, dying.  But really, I was thinking about it, and we’ve been partnering with Ray of Hope orphanage for over a year now, and Alex is the first child we’ve lost in that time.  So when I think about it that way, it’s amazing.  I mean, this is Uganda.  Children die.  It’s what happens.  AIDS, malaria, cholera, starvation, the list goes on.  So the fact that it’s been a whole year is pretty astonishing, and it’s reason to thank God.  Thinking of it in that way makes it hurt just a little bit less.

Sunday was the first day that Alex knew what it feels like to not be sick.  It was the first day he was entirely well, lacking nothing, complete and happy.  And though it’s painful to lose him, it really is better this way.  Dying this way was much faster and less painful than dying of AIDS would have been.  It’s better.  Not easier, but better.

Oh, but it still hurts.  My heart still aches persistently.  My eyes still tear up when the memory of Alex crosses my mind.  But though it isn’t pleasant, his death has brought about good things as well.

For one thing, Alex’s death has clarified my calling in life.  I have never been so sure that I want, even need, to use my life to save others.  Alex’s death has made me all the more eager for the day when I can prevent things like that from happening.  If I can make one less little boy die of cholera, that will make this worth it.  If I can heal one little girl from malaria, if I can sew up one wound, feed one starving child, save one life.  That is what I’m all about.
Mother Teresa said it well: “We can do no great things…only small things with great love.”  A friend of mine reminds me of that quote every time I begin to feel hopeless and overwhelmed by all of the sickness in the world.  And over the last couple of days, it’s become real.  I think I’m finally learning to understand what it means.
We were not able to save Alex’s life.  But we were able to pour love out onto him.  I won’t be able to eradicate all sickness from the face of the earth.  But that’s not the goal.  The goal is to do everything I do with great love.  And if I do them with great love, the small things become great things in their time.  That’s what I am about.  That’s why I’m here.
I am a small thing.  Just one small person in a world of big pain, big problems, big despair.  But love, love is so much bigger.

You know, it’s truly amazing how much my Uganda children have taught me about life, love, Jesus, poverty, happiness, and so much more.  These small children, three, five, ten years old, teaching me these profound life lessons.  They haven’t the faintest idea how much of an impact they have had on me.  Alex is just one of the many precious tiny lives that have changed me.
I thank God for Alex’s life.  I thank God for Noah’s willingness to step up and serve Alex for these months, because the impact that Alex has had on all of us will far outlast the short time he spent here on earth.

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