On Tuesday, my littlest one – my foster son - had surgery at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. The notorious Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto; the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.
When my son, and I first walked into the bright yellow waiting room outside the pediatric operating room, there was only one other person in it. She was a very young woman - maybe even a teenager(?) - sitting quietly alone on the far end of the couch in the other corner of the room. As my little one played loudly with the toys I could feel a suffocating well of pain in her soul, almost pulling me to her. Her blank gaze was on the floor and she had tissue wadded in her hand. She was not crying on the outside, but I could see she was wailing on the inside. She looked so young and so fragile. I walked to her and sat down on the arm of the couch next to her. I put my hand on her back and said, "You look really sad, sisi wami ('my sister')." She immediately burst into tears and said, "MY BABY JUST DIED."
My heart sank to the bottom of my feet.
I wrapped my arms around her, tucked her head under my chin, and began to pray over her as she quietly wept.
I asked for the comfort of His Spirit. I asked Him to surround her with His presence. I asked Him to remind her that her baby girl was now resting sweetly in His protective arms. And, finally, "Lord I thank you that you understand my sister's pain because you lost Your son, too." She immediately began to weep loudly and uncontrollably. With a look of confusion, one of the sisters (nurses) walked into the room to see what the commotion was. With a look of surprise she immediately approached, laying a hand on her shoulder, closed her eyes and began to pray, too. What a precious moment.
In a hushed voice, this young Mommy began to tell me with her beautiful Zulu accent about her baby girl, born prematurely. She told me how she was so tiny and could not breathe on her own. How she had tubes all over. How she had been in so much pain for her short two months of life. How the breathing machine she relied on for life gave her the lung infection that soon killed her.
"Ndodakazi ('daughter'), do you have family I can call for you?"
"My Mom is on her way."
"If it's ok with you, I will stay with you until she arrives?"
I listened... held... and listened some more. She eventually stopped talking and we just sat in silence. A silence pregnant with this sweet, momentary connection between two Moms brought together by little ones with broken bodies. Two strangers from different ends of the earth, separated in age by many years, of different skin color and culture, utterly different in so many ways... And yet brought together for a single, solitary moment in time when Jesus showed up to unveil the depth of His adoring love, concern, and compassion for a broken spirit buckling under the weight of immense pain and loss.
I called my little boy over as I held her in my arms. "My Love, Auntie's heart is sad today, would you tell her about Psalm 23?" His little searching eyes went from mine to hers - which were still fixed on the floor - and back to mine again. Just then he broke out in a grin that took up his entire face.
Out came this tiny little voice busting with slow and methodical but utterly exuberant words. Articulating every syllable, as though trying to infuse into her the confidence in those words that he felt as he said them.
"The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want, He makes me lie down in green pastures."
His eyes sparkled with delight.
"He leads me beside still waters."
And with the emphatic gusto that we always add to this verse when we recite it at bedtime,
“HE. RESTORES. MY. SOUL!!!”
That grin that still covered his face exposed the gap where his four front teeth had been removed 5 months ago.
And that word that I never corrected because his interpretation was just too cute:
“He guides me in paths of ripedness for His name's sake.”
And finally, the crescendo. As he recited it through the big gap in his grin, and the little eyes that sparkled with something words could simply not express, out came,
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I. WILL FEAR. NO! EVIL!”
In that moment, I could only marvel at what was unfolding in front of me. The shattered heart of a grieving Mom in the darkest moment of her life, overcome by the anguish enveloping her weary body and broken spirit.
Met by a little boy.
A little boy who knows a level of suffering and anguish, destitution and treachery, trauma and devastation, that few in this life will ever know. A little boy who knows what it is to feel lost and utterly alone in the world. A little boy who's been found. A little boy whose very presence now GUSHED life and vibrance and Jesus from every pore in his little body.
He didn't know her story. She didn't know his. But together, in that moment, their hearts met.
With those last words from my little boy, the corners of her mouth turned up in the slightest sad smile and tears filled her eyes. “Thank you so much,” she squeaked out as she dabbed her eyes with the wadded up tissue and put her head back under my chin.
A small boy who has literally walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – and almost died twice – in one of the most harrowing stories of neglect, abuse, and resilience that I have ever heard or witnessed, reaching out with his tender-hearted hope, offering comfort.
And three hearts met, right there on a couch in the notorious Baragwanath hospital... These three hearts met, most importantly, in the shadow of the Cross. The cross where He was mocked and laughed at. The cross where He was pierced in body with a sword, and in spirit with grief. The cross where our own Savior hung like a scandalous criminal in His Valley of the Shadow of Death, showing us what it means to “FEAR. NO. EVIL!” The cross where our own Savior walked us into LIFE in the shadow of His own DEATH.
There, in the shadow of that cross, the three most unlikely hearts met, huddled together under His banner called Love.