Friday, June 7, 2013

Not Mine

There is a certain shade of blue I know very well. All too well. It’s an icy blue. It’s cold. I’ve seen it many times in my career. The first time I saw it was fulfilling a pathology requirement in medical school. And I’ve seen it over and over in the Emergency Department. And it’s a color I hate.

It’s always associated with purple lips and cold skin, like you might see on somebody’s grandparents in the funeral home.

It’s the blue of death.

Zane, June 5, 2013, is a day I will never forget. You were that shade of blue. Your lips were purple. Your flesh had the feel of death. You did not breathe. I could not find your heartbeat.

We had decided to take a family getaway from Bere to the big city of Moundou, visiting James and Sarah Appel, and their children Miriam and Noah. Miriam’s twin, Adam, died a year and a half ago from malaria. I remember holding him as he died, turning that awful shade of blue.

Along with us were Mommy, Lyol, Gamma, Wendy and Cherise. Wendy and Gary lost their own little boy to malaria too.

You had woken up happy and eaten a good breakfast. You played and slept on the way to Moundou.

Then, about 11am, while shopping in a hardware store, you became even sleepier. And you started vomiting. And you vomited repeatedly. And you felt hot.

By 1pm, we had IV quinine pumping through your veins, that poisonous medicine that is so effective at curing malaria.

And still, you wouldn’t wake up.

For hours, I sat by your side and watched you, baffled how you got so sick, so fast. Your breathing was rapid, in the 80s; your heart rate was high, in the 180s. And you slept.

Was it sleeping, or being unconscious?

Just before 5pm, less than six hours after you gave us your very first sign of being sick, less than the time it takes to fly across the Atlantic, I noticed your little, tiny twitches. It didn’t look like malaria seizures. It jumped around. A twitch in this finger. A twitch in that leg. Almost like the twitches when you fall asleep.

And then the twitches started to progress.

James came home. Mommy came home.

And then you started vomiting some more.

We got a blood sugar. It was 298. You weren’t hypoglycemic. You were stressed.

We got a hemoglobin. It was 9. Low for a child, but not critical. You were anemic.

And then you seized.

You started crying inconsolably. I held you. I talked to you. I told you it would be ok. I told you I was sorry. I hoped and prayed you understood how much you were loved.

You stopped crying. Your eyes rolled up in the back of your head. Your entire body shook and jerked violently.

It may have been one minute, it may have been ten minutes. It felt like all 712 days since your birth passed before my eyes. The 712 days since I first held you, a swaddled, sleeping bundle with little dots on your nose. And it felt like your entire future, created long ago in my mind to usurp my own future, was being actively and cruelly cut down to mere moments.

You turned blue. That evil blue.

Your lips turned purple.

You stopped breathing.

I couldn’t find your heart rate.

And I broke. I begged you to come back.

Zane, your Daddy had no idea what to do. I had lost you. I, who pride myself on never getting worked up in a crisis. I froze, broken, shattered to pieces. It felt like my heart had been strewn around the world, a million pieces that would never be fit back together.

All that played through my head was James telling me the morning his son died, ‘Adam just seized, stopped breathing and died.’ And only yesterday would have been the eighth birthday of Caleb Roberts, had he not died from the same disease. June 10 will be the fourth anniversary of his death.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on you, Zane. I did the only thing I could think of.

I gave up on me. And I gave you up.

While you were blue, I gave you up. You are no longer my son. I relinquished any and all rights I have concerning you.

In that moment, I told God that you were His. I could not fix you. I had done everything perfectly, and you were dying, if not already dead. I could not protect my own son. And I could not handle losing a son to death. So I gave you to God.  I told God that if He was going to take care of His son, He’d better start doing something.

The next moment, your jaw started to unclench. You started to grind your teeth. Saliva started coming out of your mouth, frothing it’s way to freedom in a marginal sign of life.

And you finally breathed.

And the blue, that awful hard pale blue of death, started to fade from your face, slowly to be replaced by a softer pink. The purple in your lips gave way to a rosier sign of life.

You became a more beautiful version of yourself than you had ever been. More precious still. I stroked your long, light, perfectly-disheveled hair. I touched your nose. I reminisced about what your eyes would look like behind those lids. I found once again your lone freckle on your chest. I opened your mouth to stare at your crooked tooth. I rediscovered how magnificently created you are.

Figuring you had had a febrile seizure and wanting to prevent any further damage, we dumped ice water on you and gave you several Tylenol suppositories. We gave you normal saline to correct any possible hyponatremia.

By the time we finally got around to taking a temperature, you were still over 104 degrees, despite everything.

Very slowly, over the next several hours, your breathing got better and your fever abated. Finally, around 3am, roughly 16 hours since you had last spoken, you opened your eyes and asked cautiously for your Mommy.

Probably your last memory had been in a car during the morning. Now you were awakening in the middle of the night in a strange house with Mommy and me hovering over you, staring.

Mommy and I eagerly started grilling you on members of your family, body parts, anything that could help us know your brain still worked. You responded appropriately, and we prayed a prayer of praise that you had come through unscathed.

And you ate for the first time in almost 24 hours.

After that, you were so tired, you just fell asleep again. 

And we prayed that the next six days of treatment might go better than the first six hours.

Zane, malaria and seizures are common together. I see them all the time in pediatrics. And I’ve seen that only about half of those cases, those children leave the hospital breathing through non-purple lips. In the last four years, the Adventist missionary community in Tchad has lost Caleb, Adam, Minnie and numerous local Tchadians near and dear to us, all on account of malaria. This is why we treat malaria so aggressively. Zane, don’t be the next to succumb to this infuriating disease which would be rapidly eradicated, should it be endemic in America in 2013.

When you’re older, don’t ask me why I brought you here. Don’t ask me what I would do if I knew I was bringing my son into a place where he would be staring down 50/50 odds of survival. I won’t know how to answer that. Am I selfish?

There’s a certain community of missionaries that have lost family members while serving in the mission field. I do not want to join that community. And all those who have lost loved ones while in the mission field… they don’t want to have their numbers added to either.

I caught a glimpse of the pain a parent experiences losing a child. I thought I had lost you, Zane. But I can never lose you again.

You are no longer mine to lose, although I love you more than I ever have.

You have a better Daddy now.


  1. Wow! What an awesome story of faith Olen! We pray that your family will continue to be protected as you are doing God's work. We love you all!
    Trish Turner & family

  2. Thank you for your trust in God.
    Thank you for sharing.
    There is nothing so scary as watching your child struggle to live. ( We had our nine month old extremely ill in Puerto Rico years ago and thought she would not make it, but thankfully she is alive and well and about to get married this fall).
    Thank God for giving your son more hours, days, weeks, months, and years to live.

  3. Wow well written ....... From the heart. Blessings to you and your precious family

  4. Kristen Jarnes BrowningJune 7, 2013 at 5:20 AM

    Wow Olen and Danae, praising God that the blue went away and the breathing came back and that precious Zane is still with you.

    I hadn't checked the blog in about 6 weeks as things have been crazy here, but when I was putting Fiona down for her nap today I suddenly was flooded with thoughts about "our" missionary kids, (as our kids pray it "Lyol-and-Zane-and-Miriam-and-Cherise" - we will have to add Noah and the New Netteburg to the list!) but Zane especially because last post I'd read in April mentioned the fevers coming back. Then your folks posted this link on FB tonight, and I am awed again by the ways that God works and by the faith shown by you missionary parents.

    We definitely will be keeping Zane (and all of them) in our prayers - but obviously God is doing a better job of reminding me about those precious kids than I am of reminding Him (as if that were necessary). Still praying for protection though, especially from malaria - no more missionary babies, please, Lord. Thinking of you all tonight!

    Lots of love from the Browning gang,
    Kristi, Ed, Malcolm & Fiona

  5. What a gripping account! My heart literally stopped because I thought this would end in heartbreak. But praise the Lord for His mercy and healing that it wasn't to be. We will keep Zane and your family and the other missionary families in prayer. May the Lord bless the you all.

    Michele Heath

  6. I can't imagine what you were feeling during the chain of events. I'm still sobbing from the grief but then joy. I am so incredibly glad that Zane came back to you, and I can only imagine how much this experience has changed you and Danae. Praying for and thinking of you guys everyday!

  7. I thought about Kaleb all day on his birthday. Can't believe it has been 4 years. I am so thankful for you and your family you didn't have to join those ranks. I don't know how they have done it. We pray for all of you on a regular basis. All of your crowns in heaven are going to be very very heavy!! :)
    Cherise White

  8. Love you guys! So heartbreaking and inspiring. Your response to near tragedy is faith-building. Every day I am here, I wish I was there with your family in Bere. We pray for you continually. Stay strong. You really are making a difference. See you soon.
    -Mason Kim Maddie and Emmie McDowell

  9. Praise God! Miracles still happen. So thankful this story had a happy ending. We continue keep your family in our prayers.

    The Gomez Family

  10. Praying for you guys. Hopefully we will see you soon.

    Drew and Cara

  11. Selfish? Yes. This is your dream, your mission. You have options to keep your children out of harm's way, and you need to take advantage of them.

    1. It seems like an astonishing transcendence of self to include all children in your circle of love and compassion, not only the ones that share your genes. This is how God loved us

    2. I'm sure they have wonderful family back home who could look after Zane until he is thoroughly well, so that his parents can continue their selfless mission.

      The families in Tchad didn't choose this life. If they could take some action to better ensure their child would live, don't you think they would?

    3. Anonymous, why comment? your comment doesn't provide any kind of healing, hope, anything. I am sadden that you would take the time to write such a selfish comment.

    4. God, the Omnipotent One, sent HIS son, to planet Earth. I'm sure for Him it was I don't know how many times worse than what Chad would be for us. Being a missionary gives you a glimpse of God's selfless love and Jesus as no other experience can give. We can choose to go where they are, because of God's love working in our lives to see beyond our human eyes.

      I was in expectation when I started reading. I was praising our wonderful God when I finished!!

    5. Wow...I have heard about your work, but just now found your blog. Never believe it is selfish to do what God has called you to do, no matter what people say. It would make as much sense to believe that the Father was selfish in sending His Son to die for a sinful race. This story has inspired me even more. Can't wait to get back to the field... thank you for sharing.


    HOPE: Faith is determination to see God work
    Faith is desperation to let God work
    Faith is surrender so God can work

    TESTIMONY: Faith is knowing that God has worked
    Faith is telling how God has worked

    Thank you Olen. Because of you, and Zane, and God we may all believe.


  13. We began praying as soon as we got word that Zane was in trouble. Praise God that he came through the crisis!

  14. Danae, this is an amazing story, Thank you for sharing. I had seen a fb post regaring Zane just a few days ago and was wondering so I'm happy to read this. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers especially as you serve the people in Africa


  15. The Lord has miraculously saved your son. Don't squander the gift! Find another place to minister for a few years. You can go back to Tchad when your kids are older.

  16. Praise the Lord for His mercy and grace. May the good Lord continue to guide and protect you ad you serve Him.

    John Kang
    Daejeon, Korea

  17. Profound, inspiring and heartbreaking. You are leaving a legacy in your words of faith and love for your boys, Olen. You're right that God gave us our children "on loan." His care for them goes far above our earthly understanding, but what trust you exhibited "giving" Zane to Him. May He bless all your family for the sacrificial love you continue to show in Tchad. Love to you and Danae.

  18. I wish soooo much that I could privately message you... but I don't have your personal info and I guess this forum is quite ok. No one understands the life-line that a blog provides when you live forever far away. A blog is the phone call to a friend, the pigging out of comfort food (that you don't have access to do) and the binge shopping/eating/movie watching that you would do in the US but can't do in the mission field. By opening up your thoughts for everyone to read, it somehow gives other people the perceived right to support you AND to publicly flog you. The support is good but its not why we write-- at least it wasn't for me. I hope that you feel love, acceptance, and clarity by writing it all out. But if you don't, keep writing anyway. Accept the support and shut out the flogging. This blog helps us keep connected to you guys, sure. But I suspect it helps you feel connected in ways we cannot explain or understand. What it did for me while I was in the mission field is not something I can replicate here in the states. Can't explain it. The point of all my rambling is this... YOU ARE GOOD PARENTS WHO ARE MAKING THE BEST CHOICES YOU CAN! We all love you. God loves you. And what will be, will be. All in accordance to God's love and mercy. Stay strong. Or just stay. Either way, I support you. And I pray for your continued faith and sanity. Blessings to you-- in the dark times and in the light.

  19. Thank you so very much for your heart-felt entry. You and your family have made a huge contribution to the precious people in Tchad. We have loved reading of your adventures, and we uphold your family daily in prayer. Our God and Creator has His hand over you, and He will never let you down. Please continue to share with us. We feel as if you are part of our family now, and we will continue to pray, especially as you expand your family. A thrilling time, indeed.

    We wish that we had a Hawaiin home. We would be honored to have you as guests. Best wishes, and looking forward to more of your lives.

  20. You are a pure representation of God's love for all mankind. He loves everyone. The nameless children of Tchad for whom you labor are as precious to Him as any here. God bless you! It is a selfless choice. I pray for you everyday.

  21. Praying for you and your family,and praising God for His wonderful watch care. Wishing God's greatest blessing. May you always find in Him your source of strength. Thank-you for sharing this in such an open way. May your story serve to encourage others to a life of service for the Master

  22. Wow. I am incredibly happy that Zane is okay. Praise God!! He is always in control, even if it doesn't seem that way at times. I can't imagine what you were going through..but you did a great job of putting it into words. Yet I can only watch from a distance and pray, pray, pray...that God will continue to overwhelm you with His presence...for there is peace and hope in Him.

    Human logic is no match for God's ways.
    He told Abraham to leave a comfortable, familiar land...and Abraham left, not knowing where he would go. He had Moses in the desert for 40 years....and human logic would have declared Moses a waste of a man....but God had bigger plans...

    So, you keep doing what God has called you to do, Mr. German. Do not listen to the voices of human logic, however tempting, compelling, and well-intentioned they may be.

    In the end, it is my prayer that you will always desire God more than anything or anyone here on earth. It's all about Him. But rest assured that you will never be given more than you can handle. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

    You will all be in my prayers!

  23. I was praying for Zane from Chicago---so glad his Father restored him to health!

  24. I agree that if Malaria were endemic in the US with the same fatality or even morbidity rate, it would be declared a public health emergency and wiped out pronto. It is not fair that so much of the world still suffers from it.

    I read about Zane with a terribly sinking heart, tears running down my face because we have a little girl who just turned two and I can't imagine being in your situation. Surely I would be tempted to think that if I came 'home' my babies would be safe. And they might be safe from malaria, but there is no country, no town, no place in the world that is free from Satan's influence. Our little girl is exposed to spoiled children with foul language, never-ending advertisements for movies with witches, ghosts, and magic - not to mention the sheer apathy that can set in when you live in a country of such amazing excess. The risks that your kids are exposed to physically may be 'worse' than the US, but they are certainly learning valuable lessons about being real Christians, about what is really important in life, about service to God, and love for people around the world. And, if you are where God asks you to be, there is no place safer (so easy to say when it's not my kid, I feel dumb even writing that!) Thank you for serving. We are praying for you. Alison and Jay Cover

  25. I love how God held your/his son through this crises. I love how God asks us to do hard things for Him. As you all to well know....bad things can happen. I have really had to grapple with this in Indonesia, but that is where the huge step of trust and faith comes into play. I pray that you are not discouraged but only inspired to keep pressing on in the calling that God has asked of you all, until He says..."OK, you can serve else where". Thank you for your faithfulness, for your example. Sweet blessings.

  26. I think that the love God had when He sent His Son to this earth, is the kind of love missionaries show when they know there is a risk of illness and death, but they love God more than life itself. I have the greatest respect for all of you out there in Tchad. My heart, and my precious child, is there with you. As a parent I worry and pray for her often, but who am I to choose where God leads her? Who are we to questions where God leads anyone? God bless you for following His calling. It's not the easy way - its the very very hard way. Jesus said 'If you love mother or father, (child or partner) more than Me, you are not worthy of Me.' It's not something we can always understand easily, but it's listening to God. You are all in my prayers each day. Mariana Pretorius