Things We Can’t Unknow

It was the day after my daughter returned from her first mission trip to Uganda.

She was unpacking and putting away her belongings. . . or so I thought.

Instead I found her on the bed crying.

“I have so much stuff. I had more in my backpack than most of those people own.”

Those people are the refugees in the settlement she visited, people from Sudan and surrounding countries.

Those people are no longer pictures on some missionary’s website. She has looked in their eyes, held their hands, heard their voices, and seen their poverty.

She will never be the same. None of us will.

Because we can’t unknow.

smiling girl in Uganda

Now we know that a little girl with a pretty smile wears a dirty, tattered dress, her only one, in a place where everything is scarce, including hope.  And she is one of many.

We can’t unknow her or them or the circumstances in which they live.

I’m reminded of that morning early in my nursing career when the OB/GYN nurse from the next floor burst into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit grabbing my fellow nurse and crying, “Come! You have to come help!”

A few minutes later the NICU nurse returned with a tiny baby boy, the result of a failed abortion.

We couldn’t save him. We didn’t even have equipment small enough to try.

It was my job to watch him die and record the process.

But he didn’t want to die. He hung on, clinging desperately to a life he would never live.

I watched and prayed and wept.

I can never unknow him.

I can never unknow abortion, the silent holocaust happening right under our noses.

I’ve seen it. I’ve known the horror of it. I can never forget it or him.

It’s so easy in our comfortable, prosperous world to revert to the American default of complacency when we hear of suffering.

We don’t want these things to be true so we look the other way. We deny. We pretend. We do anything but confront.

It hurts to know. So we choose not to.

But then life throws suffering right onto our path in a way that we can’t miss it.

Then we know.

And we have a choice.

We can act or we can walk away.

But we can never, ever unknow.

Writing Prompt: What can you never unknow? Maybe you’ve never written about it. Now is the time.
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  1. Humans are part of humanity. Love them all. Looks like you did a great jobs raising your daughter.

  2. Such a moving post. It is too easy to become complacent… I’m guilty of just tuning things out when I feel overwhelmed, and it becomes a habit. Thank you for the reminder to value what I have.

  3. The only response is Love. So thankful for you taking time to write out the moments of your life. My life was forever changed going to Kenya last year as well. Got home late Sunday and was in Wal-Mart first thing Monday morning and was literally sick to my stomach. Our response as a family is to serve the city of Charlotte as missionaries. Our spirit tells us to serve here and now. One day knowing that serving here and now will allow us to serve wherever He needs us. Love to the Lillie’s

    • Ed, yours is a family of beautiful servants! I love your take action attitude and the fact that you do what you can where you can with what you have. You and your lovely bride have been such an inspiration to me!

  4. We’ve all heard it said “Knowledge is power”. Somehow it never sounded quite right to me. Sometime knowledge is dangerous and sometimes it is powerless. We want to know and then when we do, we are left defeated. The knowledge didn’t make it better. Christ’s knowledge is what matters, and Christ knows all about all and we have to believe that He has his hand on it. Thank God that now your daughter knows that little girl in the dirty dress. Maybe she knows her name so she can pray for her by name. Compassion is a wonderful thing to possess although it breaks our hearts. But that is a good thing, to be broken. I’m sure God will use this in all of your lives. Thank you and thank her for sharing your lives.

    • Mary, she has several children that she really bonded with and she took individual pictures of them so that she can look at the pictures and pray for them by name. She really wants to go back to Uganda maybe next summer so she can visit them again.

  5. I appreciate this post. When one sees the injustices it is hard to unknow. Beautiful post even though the unknow can be ugly. Thank you for sharing.

    • I have to remind myself that God sees all of the ugly suffering in this world when my inclination is to shield my own eyes from it.