[Some of you may have noticed (and many of you have inquired) that I haven't been posting on my blog very often since moving to Ghana. I also haven't been posting on social media much either. The past three months have been a time of keeping close to God and not sharing much publicly. God willing, I will begin sharing the path God has me on here in Ghana. Thank you for the love & support.]
My little Theresa,
You were in my life for such a short amount of time, but you changed the course of my life forever. You taught me how to fight and fight and fight and never give up. You taught me how to love through the uncertainty and the unknown. You taught me to always have hope, even in the most desolate of circumstances. You reassured me again and again that this is the path I am supposed to walk down. You are a true gift from God to every person you came into contact with. You are God’s treasure, and I’m so thankful that He shared you with me, and now you are our shared treasure. You were on this Earth for a short amount of time, way shorter than we all wanted, but now you are whole, no longer in pain, and completely healed. You are in the arms of our loving Father and I know that you are safe with Him. I know that we will be reunited one day, but it’s very painful to realize that you are now gone from this Earth. Dance with Jesus sweet girl, cause I know you’ve got some mighty fine moves. Thank you for being a bright shining light in my life. My little angel, you are, and were so, so loved. We miss you every single day.
Three weeks ago I got a call from Kelly telling me that there was a child that needed immediate help. Kelly is a 16 year old American high schooler from California who I met this past summer at a local children’s home. We kept in contact after both her and I went back to the US last year. She enrolled in online high school for her spring semester, and came back to Ghana for 2 months to work at the same children’s home. She has been diligently working on organizing sign language classes for deaf adults, raising money to buy a bus to allow special needs children to attend school, and working around the clock at the children’s home tending to all their physical and emotional needs. She is one of a kind and has been a blessing to me in more ways than one.
Three weeks ago Kelly called me and told me of a little girl named Theresa that was brought to the children’s home that day. She didn’t know how she got to the children’s home, whether that be abandonment or relinquishment. She said the baby was around 6 months old, her body was seemingly healthy, but she had very severe hydrocephalus. Kelly said her head was three or four times a normal 6 month old baby’s head, her eyes were rolling into the back of her head, and she was screaming and crying in pain. For those of you who don’t know, hydrocephalus is also known as “water on the brain”, although the fluid that is filling the head isn’t water, but cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The excessive accumulation of CSF results in an abnormal widening of spaces in the brain called ventricles, which creates potentially harmful pressure on the tissues of the brain. This fluid causes the skull to grow and stretch and makes the person’s head very large and heavy. Hydrocephalus is most often treated with a shunt system. A flexible plastic tube is placed beginning inside the brain or near the spinal cord and continues down into the abdominal cavity where the fluid can drain. The prognosis for hydrocephalus varies case by case, but many people have had successful shunt surgeries and have gone on to leave long, happy lives.
When Kelly described baby Theresa to me, I knew she needed medical attention immediately. She was in so much pain and the fluid in her head was increasing by the day. The next day Kelly talked to the children’s home administration about taking Theresa to the hospital to be examined, and hopefully scheduled for urgent surgery. The staff didn’t think that it was a pressing issue and said that Theresa was fine. They said that no children could be taken to the hospital without the director’s approval, and the director wouldn’t be back until Monday, a whole 5 days away. Kelly pushed and prodded all that she could, but the administration didn’t seem to care much. We had no other choice but to wait and pray for the director’s return on Monday, and that Theresa’s little body would keep fighting for life until then.
That week while we were waiting, we learned more about Theresa’s story and how she came to the children’s home. A few days before Theresa was brought to the home, her mother took her to the hospital to get examined and they were referred to the Neurosurgery Department for shunt surgery. That morning her mother left her on the floor of the Neurosurgery Department with her health insurance card, clothes, and a bowl of porridge. The Department of Social Welfare picked Theresa up and brought her to the children’s home. The hydrocephalus shunt surgery cost around $2,000 USD, an amount of money that almost no Ghanaians would be able to pay. Theresa’s mother abandoned her out of pure desperation. It was evident that she clearly loved her daughter and wanted her to have the necessary medical attention. Her mother abandoned her with items that showed she cared for her daughter; an extra set of clothes, porridge to feed her, and her medical insurance card containing the name of her mother, the district she lived in, and Theresa’s hospital records. She didn’t leave Theresa with nothing and no way to figure out who she belonged to. I began praying for her mother to go back to the hospital and inquire about her daughter, and then be directed to the children’s home. I knew in my heart that this mother loved her daughter and just wanted her to get the necessary surgery and be healthy. I prayed daily that somehow, someway, Theresa’s mother would return and Theresa would not be left an orphan.
That week Kelly spent as much time as she could with Theresa at the children’s home. She fed her and snuggled her and told her how much we loved her. The house mothers at the children’s home kept their distance from Theresa, for fear of her, and for fear of “catching” what she had. In Ghana, children with special needs/disabilities are seen as cursed. They are viewed as wicked and evil, and sometimes not even human. There is a huge cultural stigma surrounding children with special needs that views them as a burdens to families, jinxes to communities, and the result of the wrongdoings of the parents to produce a child with a deformity. Children with special needs here are often killed, abandoned, or outcasted. There are little to no social services available for families who have children with special needs, and there are little to no services available for orphaned children with special needs.
On Monday, the children’s home director did indeed come back to talk to Kelly. She too didn’t show any sense of urgency in getting Theresa to the hospital. She told Kelly to wait until they had her medical records and then maybe Theresa could be taken to the hospital. So we waited more and continued to pray life over Theresa’s dying body.
A few days later, Kelly and the children’s home nurse were able to take Theresa to the hospital, and after waiting for 3 hours, were told that the specialist doctor wasn’t at the hospital that day, and they should return tomorrow.
So they returned the next day, waited in line with 16 people infront of them, got to the exam room, and were told that the doctor only has time to examine 16 children per day, and Theresa was number 17. They returned to the children’s home and we all were exhausted, frustrated, and enraged at what was happening. Day by day Theresa was getting sicker and was in constant, unending pain.
Finally we were able to get ahold of the doctor to schedule for him to come to the children’s home on Saturday to examine Theresa, and hopefully schedule for surgery. After weeks of being pounded into the ground with difficulties and setbacks, this news was so uplifting. We were hopeful that this was what we had been waiting for. We were counting down the days until the appointment and Theresa seemed to be doing well, and was actually eating more than weeks prior. Kelly and I were beginning to tell family and friends about Theresa, and many agreed to help us fundraise for surgery. Prayers were being said all over the world for our little treasure Theresa and I had unending faith that she would soon be getting surgery and her body would begin to heal.
Tuesday April 1st, Kelly called me and told me that Theresa’s mother was at the children’s home to pick her up. Somehow the children’s home was able get ahold of her mother from the name that was on Theresa’s medical insurance card that her mother left with her at the hospital. Kelly walked into the administration office to the staff yelling at her mother (Faustina) and shaming her for abandoning her daughter. They told Faustina to take Theresa away because they didn’t want to care for her. They told her to bring Theresa back on Saturday morning so the doctor could see her. Kelly took Theresa and Faustina to where they live and her mother cried the entire taxi ride back to the house because of all the hurtful things that were said to her. Kelly got them settled, and we arranged to meet on Saturday morning at the children’s home so the doctor could see Theresa, and then we would make a plan of action for surgery and recovery. After finding out the plan for surgery on Saturday, I planned on asking Faustina if her and Theresa wanted to move into my house for a few weeks, or months. This would make transportation to the hospital and follow up appointments more convenient, it would provide a safe, clean, and sterile environment to recover after surgery, and also ease the financial burden of Theresa’s mother so she wouldn’t have to worry about working while Theresa was recovering. I was excited at the possibility of welcoming these two into my home and pouring nothing but love, support, and encouragement into their bodies for weeks on end. I was rejoicing that God had answered my prayer of bringing Faustina back to her daughter. Theresa was no orphan, she had an incredibly brave and courageous mother who loved her so much. I was filled with so much hope that things were actually happening and there was no longer a standstill.
Friday April 4th, Theresa was called home to be with Jesus.
Kelly called me and told me the news as I was in town ordering bedframes. My body went into shock and I didn’t know how to react. I had no words. Life was moving all around me, traffic was whizzing by, and 5 different people were asking me what sizes and colors of bedframes I needed. My heart and body were breaking and I was in the midst of counting money and business transactions. It was not the time, nor place to digest and begin to process the news I had just heard, so I messaged a few close friends who knew the situation and just asked them to pray.
Kelly and I made a plan to go to Theresa’s house the next morning (Saturday) to talk to Faustina about what happened and to see what we could do.
I’m not going to lie, that day, Friday, was very, very heavy. I had a long to-do list of items that absolutely needed to get done, and I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other and work through the pain. I didn’t believe it was real. In my mind I was still thinking that the next morning we would wake up early to meet the doctor at the children’s home, see Theresa and Faustina, schedule for shunt surgery, and discuss the care plan. Theresa would have the surgery, slowly but steadily recover in my home, I would work with her mom on business and financial classes, we would find an area where she could begin a fruit stand or a bread shop, she would receive a start up loan, open her business, move back to her house, and start making money to provide for Theresa. I saw Theresa running around and going to school, and being in my life for a long time. I saw her laughing and coming over for sleepovers at Auntie Rebecca’s house. I saw her healed and happy. All of those dreams and visions came crumbling down around me and I didn’t want to allow myself to believe it.
The following morning Mike, Jamen, and I met up with Kelly and drove to Theresa’s house. The drive to her house was silent, no one said a word outloud, as I was praying nonstop in my head. This was supposed to be the day we had been waiting for, the day Theresa would finally be seen by the doctor. And instead I was driving to the house knowing that Theresa wouldn’t be there. We drove down bumpy dirt roads and turned right and Kelly pointed out the house. It was no house at all. It was five pieces of plywood nailed together with a piece of fabric to serve as a door. We all got out of the car and Kelly went inside to tell Faustina that visitors were here to see her. We walked into the 10 foot by 10 foot room that only held a double bed, half a bench, some jerry cans, a charcoal stove, and a few pieces of clothing. Faustina’s mother (Theresa’s grandmother) was also in the room, and the six of us shifted around on the bench and bed so that we would all fit.
I will never forget the moment I looked into Faustina’s eyes for the first time. Her dark brown eyes held so much pain. So much suffering. So much mourning. I saw a very dim light in her eyes. It was as if she was holding on, just barely, with a thin rope that was worn to just threads. Her eyes weren’t filled with hope, they were filled with sadness.
Kelly had printed out pictures she had taken of Theresa and I asked Faustina if she would like to see them, and keep them, to always remember her precious daughter. She nodded her head and Kelly took out the photos. Faustina took one look at them and muttered in Twi, “She is so beautiful”. We all huddled over the photos and admired how beautiful, perfect, and loved little Theresa was.
I began asking questions that Mike translated for me. I started off with simple, surface level questions, and as she began opening up to us, started to dive deeper. She looked me in the eyes as she answered them, even though she knew that I couldn’t completely understand what she was saying. She spoke with such sadness in her voice, as if she was forcing the answers out of her body, using all the remaining energy she had. I spoke long, winding answers and when she was finished Mike would translate and explain them to us.
She told us that Theresa’s father left when Theresa was around two months old. He left because he said Theresa was a curse to their family and he could not be near her. He believed that her head was growing because she was a possessed “child from the sea”. He has not come back since.
Faustina told us that she has 3 other children who are living in the north of Ghana with their aunt because school is free up there and the children are provided with one hot meal per day. Faustina said she wants to be with her children, but there are no jobs in the north, so she works in Kumasi and sends the money to her kids to pay for their upkeep.
She told us that before Theresa was born she was baking and selling bread everyday which didn’t make much money, but it was enough to feed herself and send money to her children. After Theresa was born and she began getting very sick, she was unable to work because Theresa couldn’t be carried on her back, thus forcing her to stay at home all day and find some way to feed herself.
Then she told us how Theresa passed away. I will not share details because it is a very private and sacred matter, but I will tell you that Theresa passed from this Earth in her mothers arms. Praise God that Theresa was in the arms of the person who loved her most.
Because Faustina is from the Upper East of Ghana, and is a member of the FraFra people, Theresa had to be buried in a certain way. Elder FraFra men came to Faustina’s house after Theresa passed away and took her to the FraFra cemetery for their proper cultural and spiritual burial. I wanted to make sure that Theresa had a proper burial and was what Faustina wanted.
Faustina pointed outside to a cardboard box and said that was the box they put Theresa in when they took her body away. In that moment the air in the room felt even thicker and the heaviness came pounding down. Everything felt too real. I knew God was surrounding us and filling every corner of the 10 foot by 10 foot room, but it sure felt lonely. Coffins aren’t meant to be that small. Babies aren’t supposed to die from treatable conditions. Young mothers aren’t meant to bury their children. Necessary surgeries aren’t meant to be unattainable. Children with special needs aren’t supposed to be seen as cursed. It all didn’t seem right.
The conversation was ending and we were getting ready to leave. I asked Mike if he could ask Faustina if Jamen and I could pray for her. She agreed. Faustina was to my right, Jamen was to my left, and Kelly was to Faustina’s right. We squeezed close together as I grabbed Faustina’s hands. Jamen laid her hands over mine, and Kelly held Faustina’s arm. I asked Jamen to pray because I knew if I even opened my mouth nothing but tears would come out. Thank gosh Jamen had the words. She prayed the most eloquent and beautiful prayer I have ever heard. Tears were falling from my eyes and were landing on our stack of hands. In the middle of the prayer Faustina grabbed my hands tighter and I just prayed for God to be with us. The prayer was a true out-of-body experience and there are no words to describe it. I have never had a moment like it. The Holy Spirit was lifting us up so high and filling all of us with love and light. I knew God was there, sitting in the cramped, sweaty, and humid room. He was sitting on the tattered mattress holding Faustina in His lap.
Before we left Jamen and I asked Mike to translate one more thing. We wanted Faustina to know that nothing that happened was her fault. That she was loved beyond words by all the people sitting in the room, our Heavenly Father above, and her little angel Theresa who was always watching over her. That she was, and is, an incredible mother. That we would be constantly praying for her, and so many people around the world would be as well. I looked deep into her eyes again. They were still very dark and filled with sadness, but the light seemed a little brighter. A little flicker of hope that was slowly growing bigger. I saw strength and courage and determination in her eyes, even though it was masked by grief. I hugged her tight and we walked out the door.
(Faustina on the left & her mother on the right)
We got into the taxi and headed back into the city. The whole ride again was silent, but I still constantly prayed for God to be with Faustina in every moment of everyday. We went to the market and picked up rice, sugar, salt, bread, peanut butter, water, new shoes, and a phone charger to bring back to Faustina and her mother. We wanted to make absolute sure that they would have enough food to eat before they traveled to the north to visit Faustina’s 3 other children. When we brought the items back she thanked us endlessly, and for the first time since meeting her, she smiled. She smiled back at me when I told her that God had provided us money to be able to buy the items for her.
When Faustina returns from visiting her kids in the north I will be meeting with her again to talk about the way forward. I want to provide her with a grant to re-open her business. We were discussing the possibility of her running a fruit stand on a busy road near her house. I want to help her be able to help provide for her 3 other children. I want to help her get back on her feet. We all agreed that she should stay in Kumasi and work, because in her village there are no opportunities, and that she should go and see her kids as often as possible. She was so excited talking about the potential of re-opening her business and being able to provide for her family. She is one incredible, strong, brave, and resilient woman. I admire her and look up to her so much.
The last three weeks with Theresa have been an absolute roller coaster. Days when everything seemed so hopeful, and days there seemed to be nothing but despair. But I am constantly reminded of the most important thing, God was with us through it all. Through the days when we thought Theresa was going to die, and the days when she was fighting strong. God stood right beside us, fought for us, and surrounded us with an astounding amount of peace through the ups and downs. In this situation it would be so easy to turn my back on God, to say that He is not good because He took Theresa away from this Earth. Because He put us through a three week storm. Because He did not heal Theresa’s body. But I know that nothing is wasted, and He bring everything together for His purposes.
But that doesn’t make mourning any easier. I don’t know why He called Theresa home. And I might not know for a while. But I can see His hand so clearly in the last three weeks. He moved Faustina to return to the children’s home, even with all the guilt and shame and stigma surrounding her, so Theresa could spend her last few days on Earth with the woman who loved her most. He moved Kelly’s heart and mine to this situation that seemed hopeless. He protected and guided us to the right people. He instilled the wisdom and words to comfort Faustina and envelop us in His goodness. And for that, I rejoice and praise Him.
But, I am left with a lot of unanswered questions and a heart that is broken and bleeding. It will not instantly be healed overnight, and this process of recovery will take some time. But that is okay. It will be a time of climbing into the lap of my sweet Savior who knows exactly what I need. For He works everything together for our good, and His glory.
I miss you. We miss you. Ghana, and the world, is not the same without you. Thank you for being the most beautiful gift from God. You are my treasure forever and will never, ever be forgotten. I love you. We love you, always & forever.
Dance with Jesus my little angel. I’ll see you one day soon.
Love, Auntie Rebecca
PS. If anyone would like to help fund Faustina’s start up business grant, you may donate here.