I held a fat baby in my lap at church last Sunday.
Those big, round baby cheeks said more to me during church than any sermon ever has. Because this wasn’t just any baby. This was Esther’s baby, Mangaliso.
I held that same baby in my arm seven months ago and looked at his despondent mother, too hopeless to be desperate. I told Esther on that January day that her baby needed to go to the clinic immediately. They were quickly transferred by ambulance to the government hospital for a few weeks of rehabilitation.
|January 2014 - Mangaliso after 1 week in the hospital|
At 7 months old, baby Mangaliso was literally starving to death. The weightless bundle in my arms was past the point of being able to cry, his undersized body distorting. Esther was too hopeless and too overwhelmed to register concern for herself or her four children.
We kept going to the hospital.
We kept going to visit the borrowed room they live in.
We brought food, baby supplies, and we showed her how to use them.
Most importantly, we modeled how a family cares for each other.
She’d never known. She’d never experience being worth rooting for, being visited, being provided for. She’d never known a life worth living enough to take the medications her body needs or to understand the gift and responsibility she’d been given – although not through her own choosing – to sustain, uphold and languish in the lives of four incredible little lives.
Now, with 1-year old Mangaliso tied to her back and a 2-year old twin in each arm, Esther walks up a mountain path to come to church and Sunday Lunch each week. She keeps coming because we kept going. And coming and going says a lot more than words.
Last Sunday, I remembered how scary it was to know a baby’s life was fading away in my arms. I remembered the tears, frustration, and how many times I stomped my feet at that baby’s Creator and said “WHY!?!”
And then I looked at these cheeks.
His big sister waddled over, and I watched them sit at my feet – two healthy, whole, loved babies – playing with each other. They laughed louder than I should have let them during church, and their dirty hands were all up in each other’s face holes. And it was amaaaaaazing.
When I thought I couldn’t get any more thankful, the other twin appeared in my lap, and I looked up to see it was because her mother had set her down to go dance in the aisle during worship. The woman who didn’t have it in her seven months ago to ask for help got up and danced for the glory of the One in whom her help comes from on Sunday!
(Esther's the one in the very back.)
I suddenly felt the weight of those gloriously chubby cheeks more than I could put words to.
Later, at Sunday Lunch, we had a special cake to celebrate Esther’s oldest son, Wandile’s excellent report cards. And I remembered that, just a few months ago, at 10-years old Wandile had been destroying property, skipping school and stealing from his own family.
We laughed and laughed together as baby Mangaliso’s body, now strong enough to be mobile, lunged for every bit of food he could find and covered himself in our celebration cake. We cheered on Esther’s parenting strides, and we congratulated Wandile’s accomplishments.
Esther’s life is still not perfect, and neither is mine. But we all celebrated great gains on Sunday, from chubbier cheeks to wider perspective.
Because what these pictures don’t show you is that the beginning of the month feels different than the end around here. Many moms like Esther receive a very small monthly stipend from the government on the last day of the month to help them provide for their children. It’s often around week three, when food and money runs out, that life begins to look barren.
There’s a good chance that, despite the budget training, group shopping trips, and parent education, that Esther’s money and food will run out again this month. It’s likely that Mangaliso will miss another meal and feel hunger in his little baby body.
But I remembered what glory means as I held that much heavier baby in my arms this Sunday.
Glory comes from the root word weight. The weight of God’s goodness rested in my lap that Sunday morning, clothed in sweet, slobbery baby smiles.
He reminded me of His promise that as we behold the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into that same glory “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Esther might find her house empty and lonely again this month, but she’s not starting from January’s despondency. She won’t ever lose the weight of the day she danced in the house of the One who says He sets the lonely in families.
Mangaliso might feel hunger pangs again one day, but he’s not starting with starvation. He’s gaining weight.
From one degree of glory to another, we grow.
Things break. We’re broken. We’re not to the happily ever after part yet. But we are gaining weight. One stride, one meal, one dance, one victory at a time.
We’re not starting in the same place every time.
We are gaining weight.
Father, let Your Kingdom come heavy.