I got a phone call last week from my friend Tabitha, who’s still in Uganda. She had been in the hospital visiting Grace, who was having surgery the following day.

Grace is the young mother I wrote about in my column two weeks ago. She’s from Gulu, in Northern Uganda, and I met her when I was there to speak with a group of women who have formed a farming co-op and are now rebuilding their lives after years spent living in refugee camps.

Grace had either an advanced case of breast cancer, or a severe, untreated infection, and was now in a hospital in Kampala for testing and treatment. The diagnosis was cancer but, miraculously, it hadn’t spread. She was now preparing for surgery, and the prognosis for her recovery was excellent.

Tabitha had called to give me the news, and also to relay a conversation she just had with Grace. Apparently, Grace had asked her where I was, and why I hadn’t come to the hospital to see her.

“I’m sorry,” Tabitha told her. “I should have had this conversation with you earlier. Betty returned home to the United States. She’s been back there for about two weeks.”

“When is she coming back?” Grace asked.

“I don’t know,” Tabitha answered, “but I know she wants to come back as soon as she can.”

“Because,” Grace continued, “if it weren’t for Betty, I’d be dead by now.”

I could feel the lump forming in my throat and the tears coming on as Tabitha told me what Grace had said.

I was overwhelmed by her words, although they weren’t really true. I was one of many, many people who had contributed, but it was Tabitha, not me, who was most responsible for saving Grace. She’s the one who took charge and took action. She’s the one who made all the arrangements, who got Grace from Gulu to Kampala – a long and difficult drive – and who had been supervising not only Grace’s care and treatment, but that of Grace’s nine-month-old baby, who was with her in the hospital.

I tell this story not to be melodramatic, or to call attention to myself, or even to call attention to Tabitha – although that’s one of my favorite things to do because of all that she does for others. Instead, it’s simply to remind everyone of how powerful we can be, and of the mountains we can move, when the driving forces in our lives are compassion, determination, and faith.

There are many people who would have said that although Grace’s situation was very sad, there really wasn’t anything that could be done for her. Or that there was no point to it, and it was too bad her disease wasn’t diagnosed and treated earlier, when her odds of recovery would have been much better.

But there are also people who say, “The odds aren’t good, but that doesn’t matter,” or “I don’t know how we’re going to accomplish this, but we are.” Or simply, “Let’s take a few minutes right now to pray for Grace,” which is what some wonderful friends actually did say when I told them about her.

And because of people like this, miracles happen.

I have a photo of Grace on the day I met her. I have another photo – taken in the hospital the day before her surgery – of a beautiful, vibrant, smiling young woman that I can’t believe is the same person. And I have a photo of Grace sitting tall and strong, bandages covering her as she recovers from surgery, with endless possibilities for the life ahead of her. The life that’s now been returned to her.

I know that Grace’s life will not be easy, but I hope it will be a good one. I’m confident she will use it to make a positive and powerful difference in the lives of others.

Another hope I have is that I will, indeed, be able to return to Uganda soon, where I can continue the work that Tabitha and I – along with many others – are doing there. Where I can see old friends and make new ones. Where I can learn more about this amazing country and continent, and then return home to share what I’ve learned with others.

And where I can hug – warmly and enthusiastically, but very, very gently – the woman I now know as Amazing Grace.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 29, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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