Footprints, Seeing, Gossip, Grace…

 

On a recent morning walk after a storm, the majority of footprints on my muddy path (predawn walkers to the clinic) were shoeless.

 

Medicine can be such a humbling and human endeavor.  I am learning to better evaluate the heart with ultrasound (echocardiography) and a woman presented to our clinic with back pain and shortness of breath for several months (debilitating back pain is a common complaint in this high-labor culture).  Because of her breathing complaint, I evaluated her heart, which appeared to be fine.  I found nothing on her exam of concern and was ready to discharge her when I looked at the time and realized that I had a few minutes before lunch (not enough time to begin a new patient) so I thought I would re-look at her heart on ultrasound and practice some measurements.   I did the measurements, confirmed that her heart was fine and, just before shutting down the machine, I noticed a small something in the corner of the image.  On further investigation, I found that she had a small pocket of fluid in her chest cavity, which enabled me to make the diagnosis of pleural TB (TB in her chest, but outside of her lungs).  She has responded beautifully to treatment and if I hadn’t taken a second look, for academic purposes in looking at a healthy heart and not at her chest cavity, she would have gone home with TB and likely died without appropriate treatment…

 

Last week we made our regular trip to Huambo, leaving at 5a for our five hour trek on dirt to the closest city to purchase meds and supplies.  We had a delightful lunch with a Brazilian missionary couple, Ismael and Sibeli, who have become dear friends and who lead YWAM in Angola and surrounding countries, we had a flat tire, we burned out our clutch, and we broke the rack on the top of our car (put too much weight up there).  We didn’t, however, get stuck (many opportunities for the same) and made it back by 10p (the goal was 5p)!   We did find, though, that they are grading the “road” between Cachiungo and Chinhama (first time in 40 years), which will help us greatly for a few years.

 

We are nearing the end of malaria season, and had five kids die in our clinic this week, each within hours of arrival.  They each had been ill for close to a week and several hadn’t had fluid or food for several days.  We currently have several comatose kids, some of which won’t survive.  It is so costly for rural folks to come to the clinic (hours to days of walking) that they delay until the situation is grave.  It is a sad, and oh so common, consequence of inadequate access to basic care.  The number of deaths published around the world for malaria are grossly underestimated…  Sometimes we participate in healing (most of the time) and sometimes we participate in loving a child immediately before his/her death and loving the family through the first moments of profound loss.  Jesus demonstrated quite clearly that our perspective must be, and always remain, one based on eternity.  How will today’s tragedies appear to us in eternity?  In 1000 years, how important will it be, to the child dancing around her King’s feet, who died from malaria at age 7, that she didn’t have a few more years on this earth?  How important will it be in 100,000 years, as we joyfully bow before our King, that we were abused here, we were neglected here, we divorced here, we made unhealthy choices here, we were successful here…?

 

On a recent morning walk, I looked over the landscape and saw hills.  I looked again and saw plants of innumerable variety, size, shape and color, I noticed a dawn sky of billowing, pinkish clouds, I followed several birds dancing airborne in the early morning light, and I felt the warm breeze cool my sweaty brow, while the blossoming, fragrant autumn flowers swayed around me… and I was drawn into worship of the One who put all of this beauty together and Who opened my eyes to “see” it (five minutes prior, I didn’t “see” it)…  How often I don’t recognize the wonder He has put right in front of me, every moment of every day…

 

The folks with whom I work eat to live.  Eating is not a pleasure, but a necessary task in order to live.  Their food is simple and bland and little effort is made to improve a meal.  Three meals/day is not the norm.  They eat when it fits into their day (usually at the beginning and end) and they have little understanding of my “need” to break for lunch every day.

 

On our return to Cavango, we’ve been sought for counsel re gossip about several leaders.  Gossip spreads like wildfire among the immature and unwise (as to its potential destruction) and we’ve recently experienced wildfire in front of our house in Cavango.  I burned our trash, as I always do, in a hole dug for that purpose.  This time, however, the fire jumped into the dry autumn grass and burned up several acres in an hour.  What impressive power!  We tried to put it out and our efforts were futile, once it had taken off, and it burned until it reached a place where there was nothing more to feed it.  It was an interesting illustration of what had occurred while we were in the US re several leaders in our community.  So much destruction had occurred in such a short time.  We encouraged Jesus’ counsel in Mt 18, brought the accusers and the accused face-to-face, and saw much misunderstanding resolved.  There were the accusers, there were the accused and there were all those who helped spread the “fire”, who will hopefully see the reconciliation and stop feeding the flames.  I’ve thought about our enemy being called the “accuser” and how we must respond in the face of criticism and accusation.  I’ve been on the receiving end of suspicion and criticism over the years (as we all have) and some thoughts follow…

 

I’m reminded of Jesus before His crucifixion, standing before Pilate and his countrymen and hearing the false accusations, gossip and criticism that eventually lead to His death.  The newspaper-like account of this dialogue was enough to convince me, years ago, that Jesus was more than a man (Jn 18).  A Jesus-lover, like the One he/she follows, must humbly remember who she/he is and where he/she is going, must remain humbly unconcerned with negative/indifferent responses from others, must not judge or label, and must continue to humbly love, serve and share with others the good news of our Father’s grace, regardless of the response (because we can trust our Father’s oversight and ability to influence, as He will, the hearts and minds of those involved in any circumstance (like Jesus before Pilate). Jesus (humbly) washed Judas’ feet!  Trust…

 

We can judge actions and behavior as healthy or unhealthy, but we are completely incapable of accurately judging another’s motives (we struggle to accurately judge even our own), yet we do so frequently.  We must diligently guard against this because our conclusions about circumstances and people are always drawn from incomplete information.  Working cross-culturally, our perspectives on circumstances and people are even more cloudy.   There is no way I can understand the world view (that from which they make their decisions) of those I serve, shaped in an environment of which I am completely ignorant.   I have lived in a developing culture setting for more than a decade and yet I have never worked in a field every day, never gathered wood in order to eat, never carried water from a river in order to drink, never had a sick child with no access to treatment…  I simply cannot interpret their responses to life with any real understanding and I must, therefore, love and serve and remain unconcerned that their responses (toward God, toward me, toward life) might be different than mine.  My cross-cultural experience (as a minority) has made this more real to me, yet it applies to every person with whom we have contact, in every cultural settingWe never know the path that one has walked when we meet them on the way.

 

Judging applies to self, as well.  When we look back critically on a decision or response we made in the past, we are judging another person with the same name.  Judging in hindsight eliminates the mess and confusion of life at the time.  When I was sued as an ED physician, all of the discussion in the lawsuit was around one particular set of circumstances (one patient), pulled out of the normal ED chaos (many patients at one time) and set aside and examined, as if it occurred in isolation.  It’s ok to do that (good medicine is defensible), but we must not label our hindsight assessment as “reality”, and judgment must take into account the fact that the light on a situation changes when we look back.  We make our decisions with the light that we have at that moment (life’s chaos limits our ability to see anything with complete clarity) and there is nothing “wrong” with looking back on a situation with more light (hindsight knows what was unknown at the time) but we are wise to remember that judging someone (including ourselves) in different light can be unfair, inaccurate, and destructive.

 

I am often working in situations with less than perfect light because our clinic has no electricity (we use candles, flashlights and dim LED lights), and it is simply amazing how clearly a wound or situation looks when I shine bright light on it.  There is so much more guesswork when something isn’t clear!  Because of our human-ness, our life is lived in an arena of less-than-perfect light, and we must give ourselves and others grace, much grace, to err and/or to see things differently than we do…  Life often happens in darkness, fuzziness, and incomplete understanding.  We simply cannot judge by the light of day decisions made with the limited perspective of the “darkness” (incomplete understanding) in which we live. Because our very human perspective will always be quite limited, because this life is like walking through a minefield, and because only light gives clarity to darkness, Jesus, in a phenomenal demonstration of love, offers to walk with us every step (“I am with you always”) and He wrote to us many letters (He called both His letters to us and Himself, “light”) to help guide us on this challenging, foggy and wondrous journey…

 

Judging is like pulling one isolated frame out of a video, examining it in detail and evaluating the whole video based on that single frame.  We can evaluate a single frame, but we must acknowledge that one frame is not the video, just like one particular decision or aspect of our life (or that of another), past or present, doesn’t define who we (they) are. The only accurate judgment is all-knowing judgment, that which takes into account a whole life (all circumstances, thoughts, motives, wounds, influences, etc), which is why only God is in a position to judge.

 

We also must never receive/accept the judgments and labels of others, as they are made with the same ignorance and lack of clarity.  We might consider another’s opinion in a matter, but we must never simply accept labeling and judging about us, without taking the matter to our Father and/or to those who know us.  No one understands you or your motives at any given time.  Many hearts (in the church) have been significantly wounded by receiving/accepting another’s judgment of them.  Judgments about actions and decisions are, of course, necessary, yet must always be distinguished from judgment of a person. 

  

Grace (favor apart from performance) and mercy (favor despite poor behavior) are beautiful, indeed, and are rarely found outside of our Father’s Kingdom (unfortunately they are often absent within His church, as well).   Contrary to much church teaching, morality is not the key to our Father’s Kingdom, but grace and mercy are principal characteristics of the same and take into account life’s messiness, our lack of light at any given time, and our inherent humanness.  They are more beautiful to me in my later years than ever before, more beautiful than goodness, prosperity, happiness, success…

  

Judging…  On one of our long and brutal trips from Cavango to Lubango, we had a car full of patients needing surgery and we always buy soft drinks and lunch (usually dried bread) for our travelers on the way, knowing that traveling into the unknown of the city is a frightening experience for them.  During this trip with twelve people, much trash accumulated in the car, and a thoughtful lady took it upon herself to clean out the car.  She gathered all the trash and unceremoniously tossed it all out the window (littering is not illegal here as there is no trash pickup or trash receptacles).  Someone from a western culture could have observed this from outside the car and labeled her as thoughtless, lazy, and neglectful of the environment, etc when her only motivation was to keep the car of her “host” clean and to “do unto others…”.  Her motives were pure and beautiful, and she could have easily (and ignorantly) been judged quite negatively.

 

What biblical hero was without significant flaws, and how easily their hearts could have been mistakenly judged via their errors?  Moses appeared to be a spoiled rich kid with low self-esteem, no direction, and then he committed murder, David broke all of the ten commandments, Joseph had a prison record, Paul was a murderer, impulsive Peter walked around with his foot in his mouth, Noah had a drinking problem…  As I was investigating the claims of the bible as a young man, I was struck by the honesty, transparency and humanness of the main bible characters and this, in my mind, substantiated the accuracy of each account.  If I was trying to establish a movement of influence, I would never highlight the flaws of its leaders and, yet, this is exactly what our Father did in His profound letters to us.

 

I remember today that the kingdom of God is about Him and His profound love for flawed creatures.  It is the grace and mercy of God that make this messed up creature smile and worship, and it is this same grace and mercy (not my goodness or that of Moses, David, Paul, etc) shown to others that will open their eyes to see my Father’s beauty…

 

 

3 comments

  1. Thanks Tim. Good points on judgement and how easy it is to be enthnocentric even after living decades in a host country!

  2. Thank you Tim for once again pointing me back to my loving Father. I do get caught up sometimes in the sins of my past. I have spent awhile lately wallowing so this really hit home today.

  3. “Grace and mercy are beautiful indeed… and rarely found outside of our Father’s kingdom.” I’m so thankful that I have tasted of His grace and mercy in a multitude of ways! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ponderings, so much wisdom here. May God bless you and Betsy with the riches and wonders of His love!

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