I didn’t want to risk catching whatever could be caught.  Oh, I had my list of excuses.  We were travelling. I had just seen her.  Surely, she was still, ok? But then I received the text that let me know everything was not alright. That the sickness was getting more serious. A cry for help. I passed it off to the pastor, again not wanting to take the risk. He reported back to me his assessment and it eased my mind of some of the guilt or that persistent nudging that has become very familiar these days.

Yes, that nudging. A quiet, still, voice in my heart that will not be silenced. It persists. It prods my stubborn mind with thoughts of needs, of specific food items, of random things like Christmas lights, warm socks, and sometimes little gifts of money. I cannot explain it, but I like to think of it as the Holy Spirit assessing other peoples needs and then telling me.  Sometimes the voice is not quiet or still at all.  It is urgent and loud, even roaring.  And it does not quiet until I heed the voice.

When I do, I always know that it was not just my own imagination. The tears, the gratitude. The words of one of the receivers, “I think when you wake up in the morning Jesus must tell you exactly what to do and bring, and then you do it.”.  If they only knew, how much I struggle with the bidding, with the asking, with my to-do list that doesn’t have time, or my own budget that is stretched with the endless needs.

And so, that morning, there is a familiar persistent urging. Also, the knowledge of what I would feel if I travelled, and she died. The regret. The guilt and shame.  Hence, I found a pharmacy that was open and purchased an N95 mask and I went to the refugee’s home. A worried elderly mother greeted me and welcomed me in, uttering Arabic concern for her daughter and relief that I finally showed up. 

What met my eyes, that have 30 years of experience assessing and evaluating someone’s health, told me that indeed there was need for great concern. The limp body, the lack of energy, and the skin color.  What I heard added to my concern. The gurgle cough that interrupted every weak whispered sentence. The plea to not go anywhere for an evaluation but to just let her sleep.  “Please, let me (cough, cough) sleep. I’m fine. (cough). I don’t want (cough, cough) to go anywhere.  I’m too tired (cough, cough, cough).  I want to sleep (cough, cough).”

I leave the room and tell her family that I think it is imperative that she go and get an x-ray and blood work done. This is backed up by the doctor who did a house call previous to my arrival. They refuse. Wondering if in part this a language barrier problem, I get an Arabic speaking friend on the phone and ask him to reason with them. His kind, persistent, gentle persuasion worked. Now to call the Red Cross to transport.

One step forward. Two backward. The Red Cross will not transport if the patient can go to the bathroom on their own.  But what about the flights of stairs?  What about her being in bed 4 days?  The family draws back to refusal.  I pray with them and leave, after hugs and tears were shed. We all sense death lingering near. It does not take a medical person to recognize its uncomfortable presence and finality.

Many people were praying.

I return to her home 4 or 5 hours later.  This time, I just stand outside the veranda.  The family greet me with tears running down their faces.  They ask me to take her to be evaluated NOW.  It has become much more complicated as the doctor’s office is now closed, and so this would mean an Emergency Room visit. The expense will be much greater. Fortunately, I have donations that have been given to Woven Dignity, the NGO that they are completely dependent on.  I can use those funds.  I tell them that I will find the people to carry her out and I will return.

45 minutes later the very ill lady texts me and tells me not to bother myself, with her need.  She does not want to go to the hospital.  She is feeling better.  I doubt the “feeling better”.  I feel relieved and frustrated at the tears, the critical need, the yo-yoing between not wanting to go, and wanting to go, and back again.  I am caught between this up and down reality of fear, trauma, culture, desperation, weakness, more fear, and glimmers of hope.

That night I tossed all night long. When I did sleep this dear refugee was present in my dreams.  The struggle was real and so was my concern. Before dawn, in the early morning, the jackals howl in the distance, I listen closer to make sure it is not the mother and the sister wailing the death cry. When I awake, I look to my phone to see any messages that may have come in over the night.

There are none. 

 I can’t imagine what it would mean for this family if she were to die.  They truly need each other for their different strengths. I finally hear that she is feeling better. Monday, I decide to do one more pop visit before I fly to the States.  The family, my dear friend, and I, rejoice and Praise God together, that she is feeling better. They don’t like me to leave and go to America.  I provide comfort to them…even though I am SO human. I reassure them I will be back in 2 weeks and then I’m gone.

The Jackals continued to shout out their eerie howls that night, pressing down into the city, seeking warmth. And the cry of this dear family reached me across the ocean as the refugee sewer’s health took another turn for the worse. All week long I was presenting beautiful hand sewn cards to people and sharing the stories of dear ladies, fighting for life and dignity and now this dear one literally fighting to live.

There continued to be a resistance to going to the hospital despite another doctor’s visit and an urging to go.  At last, the family could not deny the need any longer and my dear friend was admitted to ICU.  There she was nursed back to health for 3 days and 2 more days in the ward.  On day 5, it was not time to be discharged, but the family could not find any more money to pay, so they insisted on bringing her home.  

They borrowed 9 million Lebanese pounds to settle the hospital bill. This would take them over 2 months of sewing to earn this. To them this is a mountain. To American’s this is $350.00. 

I’m home. Back in Lebanon. I had the amazing privilege to go today and visit with this dear family. To see my friend, weak but recovering, smiling, and alive. To hand them the money (from Woven Dignity) to settle the hospital bill. To see their tears of gratitude. And I told them repeatedly, “Praise God for your health and healing!  The money was not from me, it was from friends who believe in what you are doing.”

Thank you to all who believe.

Tonight, as the fireworks and machine guns sound, welcoming in the New Year and as the Jackals will cry in the early morning hours; I will not worry that it is my lady’s family crying. No, I will praise God for hearing our prayers and granting life to my dear refugee friend. So long 2021, hello 2022. What stories await?