Two weekends ago, our home was filled with a lot of celebrating in the Valdez Tucker family. Our eldest, Annalucia, turned 5 and had a party with 13 of her friends from school and church. A small chill in the air did not stop the children from running and laughing and enjoying the life each of them has been given.
I, Elizabeth, have always loved birthdays…always! Now, most kids do. Who doesn’t enjoy a day where it’s okay to be loud and silly and eat as much cake and ice cream as you can without an ounce of guilt? Even out of my childhood, I continue to celebrate birthdays with full gusto (in our home, we celebrate birthday “weeks” and even get a special cake for the ½ year milestones!) But, as I’ve placed more candles on my daughter’s cakes, and many more on my own, birthdays have come to take on a deeper significance. They have become more than just cake and confetti, and are now TRUE celebrations of the most precious gift – life.
Over nine years ago I was introduced to a ministry that quickly became a fixture in my heart and a daily part of my life. Through the hospital ministry of Kairos my eyes and heart were opened to a world of hurt that I never fathomed coming across and still cannot fully comprehend. A world where parents enter the hospital with their child, but leave only holding one another in consolation of their loss. A world where a mother will sit for weeks or months by the side of her child, leaving five others at home, and is faced with the decision, “Do I stay here neglecting my other children and means of living or return home, abandoning this one child, whom I cannot care for physically or financially, so that I can care and provide for those who are healthy” and more often than not, chooses the latter, leaving the ill child as a ward of the hospital with nowhere to go and no one to wipe their tears. A world where young children as small as months old, are diagnosed with rare forms of cancer and fight the ugly disease for years until their frail bodies can no longer fight and God takes them home to be with Him. Witnessing all of this as a 20-something-year-old greatly affected me but it really impacted me when I became a mother.
I remember the first time, after Annalucia’s birth, when I went back into the halls of Roosevelt Hospital to share bread and coffee as a part of Kairos Ministries. I had been in and out of that hospital dozens of times prior and had worked with families here in the USA that lived in “poverty”, feeling sympathy for each of those whom I encountered. However, something was very different in July of 2005. There I was, a new mom of a 2 ½ month-old, healthy baby girl, and I found myself face to face with other moms, my age or younger, sitting helplessly in a dark hospital room as their newborn babies lied ill and weak in make shift cribs. Their cries were not strong, but meek. Their coloring was fair. Their prognoses were poor. My heart was broken. For the first time, I lost it. I broke into tears and had to physically leave the hospital so my tears would not burden the grieving parents. My sympathy quickly turned into empathy. I could feel the pain of each mother sitting there, imagining it to be my sweet, baby girl. The pain grew in my heart as I knew I really couldn’t fully fathom their anguish. The anxiety of not knowing the prognosis of their child; the helplessness of not being able to do anything; the despair of contemplating the costs of the medicine that could mean life or death for their small child. Then I felt guilt – why were these mothers not blessed with a healthy baby that can live in comfortable conditions? How will they believe my sincerity of caring for them when I get to go home and hold my baby in peace and eat more than the piece of bread and cup of coffee-all that they had to nourish themselves for the entire day? Then, my guilt turned to thankfulness and praise. Praise to God for my healthy daughter (and niece and nephew and then soon to be niece, in a month’s time). My praise then turned into purpose. It is not my job to understand why God takes some of His children home earlier than others nor is it my job to bring this understanding to others. But I am called to give comfort to the hurting, strength to the weary and food to those who are hungry (Matthew 25: 35 – 40). I am called to be a difference maker and bring awareness to others.
The church we attend regularly in Lancaster County, (while we are here in the USA and not visiting other churches), is doing a series entitled More Than This,(LCBC, Manheim, PA April 2 – May 2, 2010) based on the book A Hole in the Gospel by Rick Stearns, President of World Vision, USA. The book has been read by several individuals in our family and we highly recommend it. Its central theme, and each of the messages given by Pastor David Ashcraft during this series, parallel very closely with the values we have in Kairos Ministries. Several scripture verses have been highlighted in the book and in this sermon series[i] that speak to what Kairos Ministries is trying to do in answer to God’s call to help the poor and hurting. In Psalms 82:3 & 4, we read: “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.” Similarly, if we go over one book to Proverbs, we can read the words of advice from a mother to her son in chapter 31:8 & 9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” As a ministry, we have decided that we cannot sit idly by and pretend that there are not people dying of rare diseases, or suffering from malnutrition and poverty. We must take seriously the words spoken in these verses and be the hands and feet of God, reaching out to those who need a helping hand. We do not judge those whom we serve, saying “they brought it upon themselves with their sinful lifestyles” or, “If they only educated themselves or got a job, then they wouldn’t be in this situation,” as we see the disciples asking Jesus and Jesus’ response to them, and to us, in John9: 1 – 4, “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.”
I have learned through the years that we are presented with two simple choices when faced with a situation that challenges us . . . Apathy or Action. Apathy is doing nothing, having no change in your life in any way; continuing to do the same routine, day in and day out, without a shift in your purpose. Action is doing something, anything, which shows you allowed a situation to impact your life in some way. Where Apathy looks the same with everyone, Action may look different for each of us. It may be writing a check to support a missionary or ministry, or it may be volunteering at a local charity. For some, it may be creating an email network to raise awareness where others may go on short term mission trips. Action may be challenging the injustice that is causing the challenging situation or being a prayer warrior for those who are suffering and for those who are helping. The words in Psalms and Proverbs which I shared above call us into action. For those of us who live in developed areas with modern infrastructure and access to media and common conveniences, we find that it can be so easy to get caught up in ourselves, not thinking of others around us. We focus on our daily problems and tell ourselves, “no one can understand what I am going through . . .if people only knew how bad my life was, then they’d understand why I cannot [help; participate; celebrate; fill in the blank . . ]. Very often, we don’t want to be interrupted and get annoyed when we are asked to help out in the church nursery or cover a shift for someone at work. However, we can look to Phillipians (4: 2-18) to be reminded that we need to look outside of ourselves and help those around us (vs 2). I confess that I am guilty of this at times, where an opportunity may arise in my daily life to help someone but my first response is, “Now? I’m so tired? I have a million things to do around the house . . .” In the Kairos House, Paco and Priscila never have to look for people who are hungry and sick and may die within a year of getting to know them. They have times when they themselves are tired and emotionally drained and would rather not be burdened by other’s sorrows. Similarly, when we are working in the villages of Chiquimula, we are there with our own “agenda” of what will be accomplished during the week, but frequently are “interrupted” by a family in need whose problem does not “fit into” what we saw as the original purpose of our visit. It is easy to say, in any of this situations, “Sorry, we cannot help you right now”, but we are encouraged by the wisdom found in Proverbs 3:28, “If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, ‘Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.’“ God calls on each of us, at different times, to do different acts of service. We all have special gifts that are unique to us as individuals. We need to be ready for what may seem like an “interruption” in our life and look at it as an opportunity to serve God personally. An opportunity for celebration!
Many of you know that on Thursday, April 15th, young Andrés, whom we have been writing to you about for several years, went home to be with God. All of us in Kairos and in the Valdez family specifically, were greatly affected and in different ways. Paco and Priscila and their children who help in the Kairos House were affected by the loss of a dear friend whom they had bonded with over the years and visited daily in the hospital. The loss of Andrés has left an emotional scar on the hearts of those who knew him personally, as has the loss of so many others over the years. I was heartbroken at his life ending so early but was grateful that he was no longer suffering. I grieved for his parents who will always feel his loss and I cried at the tragedy that he couldn’t have the simple “luxury” of having his mom hold him on his death bed since she could not leave his siblings at home and could not make the long trip with them. To try to contemplate the idea of only being able to whisper to my nearly unconscious child through a poor cell phone connection causes me to sob now even as I write this and question God and His purpose . . . but then, I remember the words of the mother of Esperanza, a now 5 year old girl born without an esophagus, when she shared, “if you [find yourself in a similar situation, don’t] complain to God, because we have a living God” and those of Don Pasquel, Andrés’ father, who shared with Gustavo moments after his son took his last breath, “I am so grateful for the prayers of everyone and am putting my trust in God right now”. These two parents have been given big interruptions in their life, but still find it within themselves to praise God in their darkest moments. They, and the many other parents and families, whom we serve, in the Kairos House, and in Chuiquimula and in San Marcos, understand that life is not about “us” but about God and about loving those around us. Life is worth celebrating always.
Annalucia’s birthday was not just a celebration for her life, but due to the timing of it, it was also in memory and honor of Andrés, to celebrate his precious life and all the other children´s who are now celebrating their eternal lives in Heaven.
How will you celebrate the life God has given you today?
Celebrating in Service, Elizabeth Valdez for Kairos Ministries
[i] You can view or listen to the recent series completed at LCBC by visiting http://lcbcchurch.com and clicking on the Current Series tab in the upper right corner, or clicking on the links provided on this site, entitled More Than This Series. Categories: English, Monthly Updates/Noticias del Mes