Barefoot and Bottoming Out
I keep thinking about the children from the neighborhood I served while on a missions trip last year. I would have preferred to be with adults, discussing theology and using the apologetics I'd loaded up on, but I found myself on a patch of dirt and garbage in a dangerous neighborhood. And then the boys came. Lots of them. And they wanted to play soccer. What had I gotten myself into?
There was this one small kid – let's call him Moe – who clearly wasn't getting it. He didn't know how to run the drills; he didn't know how to kick the ball; he was lost. "That makes two of us," I thought. So I started playing with him, one on one. I set up a little soccer goal off to the side and he would kick the ball over and over and over while I cheered him on even though he was absolutely terrible. Every now and then he would stop and watch the big boys. He wanted to be like them. But what was so great about them?
I noticed that some of them lacked shoes. The field in which they played every day was strewn with countless thousands of bits of broken glass and garbage, and they were barefoot. They had such a love for playing soccer together that the cuts on their feet didn't matter. They were totally committed to play – even though they risked pain. I began to wonder how many Christians are so committed to the field with their brothers and sisters that they'll gladly accept the inevitable hurt. How many Christians love Jesus that much?
When I returned home, I was tired, but not simply because I'd played soccer with kids for hours on end every day. I was wracked with pain, constantly fatigued, twitching, had trouble walking and difficulty even forming complete sentences. I was a wreck. After falling asleep at my desk within 30 minutes of arriving at work one morning, I made a beeline for the doctor. He determined that I was sick with a tick-borne illness and loaded me up with antibiotics.
A week later, on a cool afternoon, Alison served coffee on the porch. We sat in rocking chairs and made small talk.
"I think I'm starting to feel a little better," I said.
"I'm a little chilled," she said. "I'm going to go inside."
Perhaps five minutes later, I found her in a scalding hot shower, curled in a fetal position, shivering uncontrollably. Her hands and feet were blue. She had an extremely high heart rate, extremely low blood pressure, and was running a high fever. I called a friend, my parents, and an ambulance. They arrived in that order.
At the ER, her blood pressure would bottom out. Her heart would race out of control. Doctors argued amongst themselves. After several hours, they admitted her to the hospital.
They drew vial after vial after vial of her blood and hooked her up to all manner of bright and beeping things. They didn't tell us anything initially, and offered few clues about what she was experiencing.
Even still, we had the most amazing, supernatural sense of peace. While my parents kept our children, I stayed by Alison's side. I was able to share with her more about the mission trip I'd been on. I told her the names of the kids I'd ministered to. I told her about the field of broken glass. I drew on the weird little whiteboard chart in her room in a bid to make her laugh. "You're different now," she said.
After a few days, they determined that she had become infected somehow with E. Coli which led to sepsis and some really technical-sounding complications. She had come very, very close to death.
It took months for us both to recover. I spent time reading in a hammock. I played with the kids. We went to church. And the whole time, I could feel the Lord chipping away at me. I kept thinking about those kids.