A group of us has recently returned from a trip to Madagascar on an outreach which saw us share our resources and our skills and hopefully express our love to 30 families and their children who had varying degrees of disability. In return, they shared, among other things, their lives, their enduring love and their courage with us.
A few days before our departure, the words of Deuteronomy 31:6: “Do not be afraid or terrified for the Lord your God goes with you,” kept coming into my head. (I had to use Google to find the source of the words because although my faith is robust, my knowledge of bible verses is not).
I have been a therapist for almost twenty years and have worked in a wide range of settings in a number of places with children with different types of challenges. What I experience in Madagascar (this was not my first trip), is often the most terrifying and overwhelming of anything or any place I have encountered. I have seldom been in a position where the lack of access to what could be considered basic services is so serious. We would walk to and from work some days, through sewerage running in the streets, ceaseless noise and neglected and desperate-looking dogs, no clean running water for many people, and most distressing, old men living next to piles of rubbish and tiny children with flies their faces and torn clothes sitting or playing in the dust or dirt.
But what I noticed most, as we worked and engaged with the children and their families and with others, was that, although life appeared to be a ceaseless struggle for so many, there was not sense of overwhelming hopelessness or of bitterness, but rather a humble resilience and quiet courage.
I have returned, forever changed, as I was by my trip there last year. And I have realized how afraid and terrified I have been of so much and so many things for so long. I know that I am not alone in this.
Our family of three have had a challenging week and as I was tidying the house this weekend, I found the photo album that one of my children had been tearfully looking at. The photos were taken around the time that their father and I separated and it was as unbelievable to me as it was to that child that the marriage ended when our children were barely out of toddlerhood. They are such beautiful children who love us both so much and will never know what it feels like to have parents who love each other, delight in each others company and work through hardship in the pursuit of a deeper, stronger and enduring relationship. And how my other child with a new Instagram account searched the profile of the man who used to be a father-figure to both of them and took some comfort in seeing that the pictures of our time together had not been deleted as if that somehow proved that child worthy rather than erasable. I also received a diagnosis that finally explained the chronic fatigue and pain that I have been experiencing that could not be explained by my ulcerative colitis.
Previously, I would have been overwhelmed by events such as these and in order to deal with the fear, would have made myself feel courage. But what I have realized is, that being afraid meant that I found courage like a boxer prepares for a fight and my courage took the form of protecting myself or attacking, not allowing my vulnerabilities to show because that would have risked being wounded. But thankfully life should not be a boxing match and I am no longer overwhelmingly afraid nor terrified because I know God truly does go with me. I also know that everyone experiences something that makes them feel afraid, terrified and overwhelmed at times. And so we need not feel alone. What I was learned in Madagascar was that courage means standing strong and firm, but with gentleness and humility, not allowing fear or circumstances to overwhelm us.
So, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”