I helped him up into my car, careful not to touch his bandaged right hand. We were leaving my hospital of preference because they were out of medication. Completely out of the sedation medication necessary to complete the dressing change and proper cleaning his burnt hand needed. Frustrated and tired, I made my way around to the driver’s side, and climbed inside. Before I put the key into the ignition I sighed heavily and looked over at my little patient who over these past 2 weeks has stolen my heart. The circumstances leading up to his injury are unimaginable. Enduring daily painful dressing changes at home with me and IV medications that burn his little veins every 6 hours, this kid has been tough. He smiles big, and gave a little giggle, scooting forward on the seat to get a good view over the dashboard and then puts his lips up to the air conditioning vent as he has done on every car ride for another outburst of laughter. The language barrier prevents me from explaining the current events of the day, but he didn’t seem worried.
I pull out onto the orange dirt road, and head toward the closest hospital, and this one I am hoping will have everything we need to change the dressing and clean the wound more thoroughly than I can do at home. We waited among many for our turn. Feverish children, a weak and dehydrated man, a pregnant woman, and a man with a gaping head wound he covered with a cloth. The doctor agreed to help with the dressing change, so we started an IV and waited some more. A group of motorcycles pulled up to the door. One of them carrying a man who had been badly injured. Three men carry the barely conscious man who is badly bleeding through the doors. He is allowed to be moved to a bed, but the hospital immediately demands a deposit from the people accompanying the man. The friends or relatives of the man plead with the doctor, and begin pulling small bills out of their pockets. One of them goes outside talking loudly on the phone asking for someone to come there and bring money, or quite literally, the man was going to die.
Most days this doesn’t shock me anymore. Most days I like to think it doesn’t affect me. Starting into my third year here in Uganda I know this is how it goes. This isn’t the first time or the worst thing I have seen or experienced. But today it feels heavy. Foreign. Wrong. Where the heck am I? Hospitals that run out of medicine. Doctors that refuse to treat dying human beings until they pay money. Malaria. Typhoid. Preventable diseases. Child abuse with little hope for justice. As I process all that is happening around me, I have a moment. I am so so far from home.
I feel it welling up in me…the “whys” and every other suitable question. I feel sad yet angry. Overwhelmed yet so desperate to make a difference here. Tempted to either go to bed and never leave it or to go on a rampage, seeking a platform to tell every living soul what is going on here and why they should appreciate what they have in developed countries. It just feels hopeless. Messy. Hard and desperate. The next thing I know I find my soul spinning, looking for a solid place to land.
But God is good to bring things He has shown me in the past to the forefront of mind just when I need them most.
Before I came to Uganda I was a flight nurse for 7 years. Providing emergency transport by helicopter and ground ambulance for critically injured and ill patients. As you can imagine, we had frequent safety training and even daily briefings reminding us how to assist the pilot if an emergency should arise mid- flight. The idea was that we were always drilling. Always prepared. So that if the worst were to happen, we would be prepared to be calm in the midst of the circumstance so that we could land somewhere safely, and everyone could go home in one piece at the end of the day.
One of the most common emergencies in flight for the pilot is weather. Unexpected conditions that don’t allow him/her the visibility they need to continue flying by sight alone. We would practice emergency procedures and protocols. What was emphasized over and over was that the pilots and the crew had to remain calm. If you found yourself suddenly in the midst of clouds and can’t see the ground or anywhere in front of you, don’t lose your cool. You have to think clearly. The next thing is to quickly admit you are in over your head, and need to declare an emergency. Waiting and wondering if conditions will clear just ahead and not committing to the fact that you are in trouble will get you killed. This means that the pilot radios the nearest air traffic controller and asks for help. Then you climb to a safe altitude higher than every tower, building etc in the area, and trust. Trust your instruments, trust the professionals on the other side of that radio. Trust. Because when you are in the clouds, you become quickly disoriented. When you can’t see the ground or anything else for reference, you have no idea whether or not you are flying straight or even right side up! Pilots have run helicopters into the ground due to this phenomenon which could easily be prevented by trust. In your instruments. In the air traffic controller who can see you on radar and knows the height of every obstacle you could possibly run into around you.
I realize how true this is for us in life. When I punch into the clouds-and I usually never see it coming-I don’t always want to admit my need for help. I don’t want to call out to God and say “Help me! I can’t see! I can’t even see You!”. I am tempted to rely on my own understanding and try to figure things out myself. I don’t want to trust my instruments-His Word, His past faithfulness, prayer. All I want to do is get out of the clouds. To see clearly again. To not feel the anxiety, the questions, the fear. And all too often I am flying sideways, and recklessly. Heading straight for a crash and burn situation. When all the time, I knew what to do but I didn’t follow protocol. The whole time He was there. I was on His radar screen. Ever ready to guide me, comfort and assure me that He was there, and there would be a safe landing, it just might take a little longer than I wanted. Because there are lessons to learn in the clouds. About trust. About His faithfulness. About His goodness. About who He is. I can’t learn these things flying along on a clear and sunny day. I can only learn them in the storm.
Doing life and ministry here in Uganda, you are never sure when you are about to hit a no visibility, cloudy situation. It comes out of nowhere leaving you feeling helpless and unprepared to deal with the winds that are shaking you to your very core. Questions of ” Do you see this, God? Are you even watching? ” “There’s a burnt child on my lap, a dying man in a bed. Children being abandoned. Helpless people being exploited, abused, and trampled on. Do you really see this? Are you really watching?” These are only answered by an assured “I do, and I am” but often my “whys” are left unanswered and unknown. And as my soul struggles for footing, I am reminded to trust my instruments. To cling to His promises for dear life because I know deep within me that they are true and steadfast. To cry out to Him in these times, not only for help and for answers but for the surpassing joy of knowing Him more.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him” Nahum 1:7
“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Psalm 22:24
“For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:5
This crazy, wild and messy journey of a life He has called me to is full of reminders of His past faithfulness. Stories, testimonies, real life changes. But none so evident than my own. I know He will keep calling me into the wilderness so he can speak tenderly. (Hosea 2:14). He will let the clouds descend around me so I can once again see His faithful hand at work around me.
After all…”…we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). So those moments in the sunshine are all grace anyhow. Lord teach us how to keep calm in the storm. Oh for grace to trust you more.