Friday, December 27, 2013

Serious Stuff

     A friend of mine and his wife—who I'll call Douglas and Sharie—have been missionaries in China (where foreigners may not wish to openly disclose their missionary status) for the past three years, in a western, modern, technologically advanced, and comfortable city that is getting startlingly expensive. Tuition for their son's highly rated preschool shot up over a hundred percent to several thousand dollars a semester. They struggle to make it on Douglas' meager side-business income and minimal financial support from Hawaii (their small, young church meets in a community center).
     Within a few short years after marrying, they chose to deliver their first child, a boy, in Hawaii; their second, a girl, in Japan (where they stayed near Sharie's missionary parents, who live there); and their third, another girl, in China.
     I received a jubilant newsletter e-mail from Douglas last year describing the birth of Theresa, their last child. Sharie had suffered terrible bouts of morning sickness with all three babies, requiring intravenous drips administered at home, even, for the final pregnancy, and frequent dosages of anti-nausea medication just to be able to hold solid foods down. He hadn't stated this as the reason for stopping at three (she had originally wanted more), but I guessed it may have been a factor, the decision sounded so definite and sudden.
     Within the week I sent him a congratulatory e-mail, rejoicing with them, and again marveling that here he was, a China missionary, finally, after twenty years of having longed to go.
     A week passed with no reply—which was no surprise, they were so busy and he rarely corresponded with me personally, anyway, he had so many other contacts, commitments, and responsibilities. The next mass e-mail I received gave me the same shocked chill of disbelief as the TV images did the morning of 9-11: Theresa had displayed symptoms (quick, shallow breathing; paleness; low temperature; vomiting) the day before (a Saturday) and they were told to bring her in that night, and by Sunday, she was in an incubator in the intensive care unit with a tube to help her breathe and constant monitoring of her vitals. CT scans and blood and other tests revealed serious problems in her heart beat, brain, respiration, blood pressure, and other bodily functions. Despite her critical condition, they were allowed to see her only once a week for two hours on Wednesdays. His e-mail was urgent, asking for prayer, but not at all panicked.
     I received that e-mail Monday and, already dreading the worst, sent an immediate response saying I had and would continue to pray and that no matter what happened, God would take excellent care of Theresa, she was so sweet and innocent. Days passed and no e-mail updates of a miraculous recovery or stablized condition or even further concerns came, so I dreaded even more—Douglas was always good about reassuring those that might worry for them. The next news of Theresa came through a friend who had heard of it through another: Theresa died Sunday evening.
     I don't know how Douglas and Sharie did it, but they immediately posted a web-based tribute to Theresa. The photos depict as healthy a baby as I have ever seen—alert eyes, strong neck, responsive face, and well-formed limbs. A photo of ultrasound images of Theresa as a fetus suggested the doctor's close monitoring of her prenatal development. Douglas described the hospital's newborn care in glowing terms, in certain respects superior to that at Queen's, where his son had been delivered.
     “It doesn't make sense!” kept popping into my head, reminding me of what a gentleman at a church I once attended said of his wife's premature demise: “It doesn't make sense. No matter how much I go over it, it doesn't make sense. It will never make sense.” Yet Douglas and Sharie's web tribute showed their faith and thankfulness, even joy that they had been blessed by Theresa during her short three weeks of life.
     Would this have happened in America? I can't help but wonder sometimes. Theresa, I noticed, was conspicuously delivered the modern, Chinese way, unlike her two siblings and brother in particular, who had received the full western-style medical treatment. Is that what caused it? An infection perhaps? A missed congenital birth defect? Their hospital—reputedly the best in west China—was located only a mile away from their home and their doctor had excellent recommendations from other expatriots whose babies he had delivered. Our modern western and natural human tendency, perhaps, is to want to know, a need for assurances that no matter what happened, it couldn't have been avoided as it was God's will for it to have happened that way. But such closure has not happened for Douglas and Sharie, not that it matters much because nothing will bring back Theresa, which is all they really want even now.
     I didn’t question in my mind anything they subsequently did or did not do—stay, leave, curse God, or love and praise Him more—it was their decision. But I did pray for God to bless them with peace and rest in the midst of turmoil and that they would continue on, day by day, knowing God would bless them for their faithfulness, and that all they hoped for for Theresa and her legacy would come to pass.
     They recently had a get-together in Honolulu—they had come back for the delivery of their fourth child. They were glowing and flush with joy for the reunion as they gave presentations of their missionary experiences. As Sharie started to sob as she described the birth of Theresa and the subsequent build up to what fallowed, I left the room with Jaren and Penelope—the impressionable ones—and we waited outside. Fifteen minutes later, Deanne and Braden came out and we left together for home—it was an informal gathering and we had already exchanged our well-wishes with the upbeat couple who had a ways to go with their presentation. They knew our hearts and it was enough for now.

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