In Dar es Salaam my amazing assistant, Joylline, had a beautiful baby girl Hope. Aptly named, Hope was Joylline’s first baby-to-term after 3 miscarriages (i put her on ½ days the last few months of her pregnancy to ‘rest up.’) We all rejoiced with Joylline after Hope’s safe delivery & totally doted on her.
My house-helper, Miriam, also loved Hope. She sewed beautiful outfits for her & went over to Joylline’s often to help baby sit (just for fun.) Miriam & I prayed for Hope when she was in hospital at just a few months old. Usually a bit shy & quiet, Miriam got down on her knees & prayed with Great Fervor…and Hope recovered. (click here to read about the African tradition of ‘being with’ your friends & loved ones in crisis..)
Since Miriam didn’t speak English (she doubled as a mwalimu for my ‘intermediate’ Swahili) when the terrible call came late one evening, I told her in my wobbly Swahili: “Hope alifariki.”
Literally, “Hope died.”
How we cried & cried together for the loss of Hope & for Joylline’s sorrow. At 18 months Hope died from malaria & pneumonia.
Our Dar team was working on a malaria project for the whole country of TZ – at that time 70,000 children died each year from the disease. That’s just a number until a child you love dies.
The loss of a child is devastating. Joylline was Beyond Shattered. It was so hard after compassionate leave seeing her suffering while going through the motions (she was INCREDIBLY excellent in all things work related!) but without Hope, her heart was broken.
We prayed. We prayed some more. We kept praying… & over time Joylline began the mending process. Of course, the hole in your heart from the loss of a child never goes away, but bit by bit the sharp edges of grief can soften with love…& a little laughter.
A few months after Hope’s death, Christmas rolled around. It’s kind of a Big Deal in TZ – our offices shut down for 2 weeks & most of the country takes ‘summer school holidays’ (December is the HOT time of the year – drip, drip by the Christmas tree.)
I had started a Christmas Party tradition with our team at my flat (the balcony easily sat 25.) That year we wanted it to be special (in addition to Miriam’s outstanding cooking – they politely tasted my mains, but went back for 3rds of her festive Tanzanian dishes… although my Carrot Cake was a Big Success!) So, a week before the party, i tasked Joylline with finding ‘gag’ gifts for each team member. (Presents are not there quite what they are here, mainly just a few gifts for the little ones.)
How we plotted finding the ‘right’ gift – for our PR Coordinator, a huge toy phone (that rang), Toy golf clubs for our Marketing Mgr (who organized our annual Charity Golf Tournaments) & so on … then the Mkurugenza made an official-ish presentation giving each brightly wrapped gift to the givee (& when we gave Deo his pressie, his phone rang! For real –‘twas hilarious!)
I saw Joylline smothering a chuckle of two as each team member received his/her gift. But, then they sneakily presented ME with a gift: a flashy 1 foot toy maroon car with our logo emblazoned “Masaimobile” (which is what we called my wheels previously assigned to the CBD Director, who was a Masai from Kenya!)
Joylline laughed… really hard as they ‘got me’ with that one. (I recall the recounting of my 1st outing to our projects in Morogoro when I got a speeding ticket that was my introduction to the community leadership committee there…)
Seeing her laugh was the biggest gift of all.
Later that year near the anniversary of Hope’s death, I visited her grave in Moshi with Joylline. Yes, we cried… but we prayed, too. And I could see from Joylline’s sorrow a compassion for other mothers & a dedication to alleviate the scourge of diseases like malaria.
…the thing is, Hope lives on in Joylline’s heart as she treasures the memories of her too-short life. But real Hope lives there, too, because Joylline has made room for the love of Jesus… & His Presence continues to tenderly mend the broken holes there.
As we merrily make our way through Christmas week, suddenly today we remember all the children killed by King Herod after the Wise Men seeking Baby Jesus leave Bethlehem. Little boys under 2 yrs old, all massacred.
Innocents. Just like Baby Hope taken by disease.
Life is hard. Suffering is part of the deal, but Jesus came that we might have hope IN THE MIDST OF IT. Accepting & believing & offering up our grieving hearts to Healing Love (after lots of tears!) is the path to letting hope back into our lives.
“Hope is the wedding of two freedoms, human & divine, in the acceptance of a love that is at once a promise and the beginning of fulfillment.” Thomas Merton (No Man is an Island)
grace, peace & HOPE