Get sick. Be still. Find God.

No travel, no farm visits, no big adventures on Day 8 - just one view from my window in Kampala. I'm sick, but that's OK. It was still a great day.

No travel, no farm visits, no big adventures on Day 8 – just one view from my window in Kampala. I’m sick, but that’s OK. It was still a great day.

I’m sick.

I’m not under the weather. I’m not feeling a little off. I’m in four-alarm, green-gilled, holy moly sick. My stomach and intestines are in a battle royal with my other internal organs and they’re losing. Badly.

I think my body is trying to turn itself inside out. Did I accidentally drink Drano? No, wait, I have Ebola. I just know it.

I awake early in the morning of Day 8 to my worst nightmare. When I envisioned my African adventure, I never feared the 20-hour transcontinental flight, muggings by local hooligans or wildlife attacks. I only feared being sick. But here I am, violently ill. There is a moment of pure panic when you realize that you’re getting sick … in a “developing” country … 4,000 miles from home, modern medicine and your bathroom.

There is a moment when you say, “If I didn’t pack something for this (insert horrifying ailment), then I’m sunk.”

Like grief you go through five stages. First, denial. This isn’t happening. I’m OK. This is a bad dream. I’m going to wake up at home … Now!

Then anger. This is horse crap. Why in the world am I getting sick? This is my big step of faith, my chance to experience something grand, and I’m going to have to call in sick. Stupid. Not fair.

Then comes the inevitable bargaining. Listen, God if you could stop this from happening, I’d gladly take on a few extra duties. I can volunteer at the soup kitchen. I’ll put a little more in the offering plate. I’ll wash crude oil off of baby seals. Anything. Sound good? Hello?

The fourth stage comes on strong – depression. In my case, it was more a general sadness mixed with cramping that ran from my jaw to my toes. Here, I was having this profound experience and now I’m sick. Why would this happen? Is it just one of those things? God, I don’t understand. Make me better exactly when I want it. 

Finally, acceptance rolls through the situation. I’m sick. In Africa. This is happening. At least I have a clean bathroom, a flexible schedule and compassionate travel mates, one of whom is also ill. (Poor Vicki.)

Luckily I brought a small pharmacy with me, and I begin to feverishly down pills. Say what you want about Western medicine but in this moment I am its biggest fan. Hours pass and the medications have only managed a small victory in the war waging inside my body. I send reinforcements and the tide begins to shift. While I wait for a surrender (or the sweet embrace of the afterlife – either will do), my thoughts swim around one question: How did I get sick? I attempt to sleuth out the cause like it will somehow remedy my suffering.

Was I bitten by an unknown insect, arachnid, mammal, bird? No.

Did someone I encounter carry a toxin or virus? No.

When I was washing my hair with my pursed lips, did some of the tainted water somehow absorb into my system? No.

Is my body rejecting sunshine and fresh air? Maybe.

Did I get food poisoning from yesterday’s stop at the café de sicko? Hmmm … .

Eventually exhaustion chases away any care as to “how.” It doesn’t matter. The only agenda item is rest.

I find myself lying on top of the covers in my bed upstairs. I’m under a mosquito net, so I must look like a bagged fish. I’m a ginger sun perch.

I’ve snagged the small, oscillating fan from Steve, who has gone on to visit two other Watoto farms. The fan’s sweeping buzz reminds me of when I was young at home. We were financially challenged then so the air conditioner was usually set pretty high. Everybody had fans, though. Mine had blue blades, and I spent countless hours talking into it like Darth Vader.

I shut my eyes and I hear home. I can hear a child’s giggle and I feel safe.

The window to my room is open and the air carries on it the day’s bustle. I’m usually only here at night so the afternoon offers a unique palate of sounds – different birds making different calls, the conversation of the staff downstairs and the faint sound of distant traffic.

All the knots, all the tension began to fade. I lay in the quiet with no TV, phone, people, work, pressure. I don’t move. I just listen and breathe.

I am finally still.

I haven’t been still since I was … well, I can’t remember. Certainly not since I was 16. That’s almost 20 years of hectic work, climbing ladders to nowhere, pushing to the next task, checking the eternal to-do list.

Before I left, two people gave me the same scripture – Psalms 46: 10, “Be still and know that I’m God.” I understood the scripture in my mind. I’ve read it hundreds of times, usually as I raced out the door to work. Yes, stillness, check. Got it.

But here in this unexpected moment I experience it.

I began to think about my life, about the last year, about the divorce, about my job, about people and priorities, about my past and my future.

I begin to pray and wait. Muscles unlock. The fog around my mind clears. I have no fear.

I am content here in the stillness.

The concert of sounds has faded almost entirely to a subconscious level – present but not really aware – when a new sound enters my little sphere, one that requires immediate attention. Down the hill a children’s choir begins practicing. The soft afternoon breeze carries their sweet voices into my room like a magic carpet; their melodies only broken by occasional yips of joys. It is praise and worship. It’s beautiful.

In this moment of complete vulnerability, I experienced a sense of unparalleled peace that can only be from God. There is a wordless conversation happening. My mind becomes ordered. The weight of the last year evaporates. I put down past pain and watch it drift away like a ship to the horizon. I accept healing that’s always been there. I am going to be OK. I am at peace.

People question whether Christians actually hear God. Heck, Christians question whether they hear God. His voice is never audibly – at least not for me – but he’s there if we listen. If we wait. If we’re still.

I believe the Lord is a master craftsman. He takes his time, sets the stage of our lives and aligns everything perfectly. Then he waits until we’re open. In those moments, real change happens and you’re never the same.

By the time my feet touch the floor in the evening, I feel new inside. In a trip filled with unforgettable moments and inspired revelations, it turns out this sick day was the most important. God took me to Africa, unplugged me from my distractions, from myself, and I rediscovered Him.

He had been waiting for me the whole time, there in the stillness.

7 responses to “Get sick. Be still. Find God.

  1. Thank you for your beautiful way of putting things. got back from Uganda a couple weeks ago after being part of a support team to the Women’s Conference put on by First Methodist Church of Ardmore, OK. Reading your Chronicles immediately takes me back. One is never the same after visiting Watoto. I am humbled by the experience, the people, the land. Thanks!

  2. Psalms 46:7,11 “The Lord of host is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.” So it remains, in this stillness, this place of helplessness, we are attentive and attuned. Our own vitality has failed and we cannot deliver self. Only God can! If “we are still” long enough, we see by menu of heart revelation- He is really God, on the throne- over heaven and earth. The Lord of host, our refuge. It does not matter what happens, only that we were obedient, the true meaning of seed faith- Not a matter of the size of the wallet, rather the journey of a son or daughter obedient to Christ, be it life or death!

  3. Love Love Love this! Well… Except the falling sick part. Weird thing is I have been here all my life and falling sick still sucks! (It’s worse if your parents have a medical encyclopedia that you occasionally look through)

  4. We read all three of these together at the breakfast table.

    Just amazed at what God is doing in your life.

    with love,

    Gpa & Gma

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