The fevers started Saturday night with a whimper. It took three days, two trips to the clinic, a remission, a relapse, countless second guesses, two sleepless nights and one negative test to finally confirm that Carmel has malaria. Although my fears imagined other cases, this is her first time. When I heard the result, I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or terrified. Malaria is a diagnosis with treatment. As scary as it is, I hardly go a day without talking to someone who has it or who’s child has it. We’re often praying for healing, and healing comes. An unidentified temperature could be a cold, the flu, side effects from teething or something more sinister that will only worsen the longer it goes unlabeled. When we go to the doctor we want to leave with an explanation of what’s wrong and a clear way to fix it. Malaria gives both.
This morning I was holding my weepy baby as dawn light bleached the world grey. I celebrated the rays only in as much as it signaled the passage of time. Almost halfway through the treatment, halfway to having my laughing, smiling, playful (ok, also tantrum throwing) 14 month old back. Two days from my husband returning from picking up visitors and getting the children’s catechism printed in the local language down country.
Soon life on the mission began. Employees arrived and work commenced. I marveled at these giants who face this trial frequently, who’s children are more resilient to the disease which merely means that there are more parasites when it is discovered and more often an emergency. I wondered how their hearts can handle the constant strain. I’ve wondered this before, wondered at their ability to outlive multiple children, to face hunger and still laugh at dark humor.
Onyang Esther arrived. She helps me around the house. It has been a joy in the past to see Carmel interact with Esther’s baby, Loduk, who is five months old. Carmel was calmly playing with some toys, the first calm all morning, while I tried to throw some breakfast together for myself. Immediately when she saw Esther, she stood up with arms outstretched and teetered toward her crying to be picked up. Esther held her for awhile and then passed her off to Joyce, another Karamojong, when she needed to start work. Joyce held her for some time even tying Carmel to her back. When she started to cry, Joyce brought her back to me, but when I reached for her Carmel shook her head and made it very evident that she did not want mommy who might at any moment make her take medicine, drink water, eat food, put her down while she accomplished things around the house or hold her rocking for hours. Then the guilt set in. Is this disease, this trial in my poor baby’s life my fault? Is there something I did wrong? Would any of it have made a difference? Guilt is a common companion to missionary parents. Our decision to live in Africa affects our children in everyday tangible ways. By choosing to be here, are we strengthening or scarring them?
My thoughts return to Sunday, the first full day of fever. Christopher took Carmel down to the clinic to get her tested for malaria. He was gone longer than I expected. I soon grew anxious, stepped into my mud boots and followed him. On the walk I prayed that I would have the faith and strength to face whatever I found. God reminded me that although as her earthly parent I have a responsibility to care for Carmel, it is truly He who provides for and protects her. He blessed us with her and when he chooses he will take her home. He gives and he takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I arrived at the clinic to find Carmel’s blood drying on a slide to be examined soon. The delay had simply been life in Africa, not an emergency. Nonetheless, that has continued to be my prayer even as we got a diagnosis and I began administering the treatment. Even though I have full confidence in her recovery (and my own survival through it), there is always more to learn of faith and resting in the Lord.Be still my soul: the Lord is on your side, Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain Leave to your God to order and provide, In every change he faithful will remain Be still my soul: your best your heavenly friend, Through thorny ways lead to a joyful end Be still my soul: your God will undertake, To guide the future as he has the past Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake, All now mysterious shall be bright at last Be still my soul: the waves and winds still know, His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below Be still my soul: when dearest friends depart, And all is darkened in the vale of tears Then shall you better know his love, his heart, Who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears Be still my soul: your Jesus can repay, From his own fullness all he takes away Be still my soul: the hour is hastening on, When we shall be forever with the Lord When disappointment, grief and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored Be still my soul: when change and tears are past, All safe and blessed we shall meet at last