Beyond the Smiles

I remember her lying there. The bare metal bed frame. Her hair pulled back behind her head. The blood on the floor. The coughing and then the bright red vomiting as her thin frame twisted and shook. And the pool of blood grew.

This woman had no family. In this Cambodian hospital, family members are the ones who bathe, clean, clothe, reposition, provide food for and feed patients. They are the ones who faithfully stand at the bedside and move plastic fans back and forth, back and forth, creating air movement in an un-air-conditioned building and preventing the ever-present flies from landing on the sick. 

This woman had no family. 

Her eyes were closed, her body weak. There was nothing with which to clean up the crimson puddle. “Wait,” they told me. “The cleaning lady will come later with the mop and bucket.”

I remember the moral dilemma when a doctor told me they had no more blood to transfuse for this woman. The need for blood, the safety concerns if I dared donate, the fact that even with several transfusions this woman may not live because we could not correct the bleed at this facility… These are the moments that pushed me to the end of my rope again and again until eventually, when I came back to the States, I felt I had completely lost the rope a long, long time ago.

Yet, as Bethany Williams writes in The Color of Grace, “when our level of desperation becomes greater than our pride, true healing can begin.”1

It has been in the pride-swallowing desperation following those experiences that I have discovered true healing. 

True healing, I found, requires courage—and learning what courage is. Courage isn’t going without water heaters and microwaves; it isn’t forcing my eyes open to watch drivers navigate the wildly crowded streets of Phnom Penh. It isn’t becoming comfortable riding on a motorbike or even eating fried crickets and silk worms.

Courage is living the story that is happening beyond the smiles, beyond the Facebook posts and beyond the Instagram snapshots. Courage is struggling—hard—and being vulnerable with others about those struggles. Courage is walking into a counselor’s office; courage is asking for help. 

Courage is learning to acknowledge grief and wrestle with suffering, being willing to embrace my humanity, and humbling myself enough to recognize I'm in over my head. In that moment in the Cambodian hospital, standing at the bedside of a dying woman, I felt helpless and defeated. What had eaten away at me for years was shoved in my face: I was not enough. This time courage meant wading through years of lies to find the truth that although I am not and never will be enough, I don’t have to be.

True healing, I found, happens in the presence of Jesus. 

I can never do enough, say enough, sacrifice enough, love enough; I can never be enough for Cambodia, for those around me, or for myself. Yet when I relive that moment in the Cambodian hospital remembering that Jesus was present, too, I find that He is enough.

As healing happens within, grace creeps into the relationships with those around us. We don’t have to be enough, for God is enough. When we believe this truth for ourselves, we can extend grace to ourselves for our imperfections and failures. When we believe this truth for others, that they don’t have to be enough either (for God is more than enough for all of us), we can extend grace to them. True healing embraces Truth, brings forgiveness, and overflows with grace.

Healing is a process, and it requires humility and perseverance and sincerity. It is not easy. But the freedom on the other side is well worth the work. For me, it has brought freedom from the pressure to please, perform, and perfect. I am free to feel and to fail and to forgive, to be the imperfect me He created me to be.

If healing happens in the presence of Jesus, what glorious news that Jesus is Immanuel, that Jesus is here with us! And He is enough. His sacrifice is enough for our sins. His love is enough for our souls’ deepest needs. His compassion is enough for our grief. His strength is enough to catch us when we fall. His presence is enough to heal. He is enough.

Deepest gratitude to my wonderful counselor, Lynette, who continually ushers me into Jesus’ presence and who walks with me in this healing process. I am truly thankful, from the bottom of my heart…

1) Williams, B. (2015). The color of grace: How one woman's brokenness brought healing and hope to child survivors of war (p. 29).

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