Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blessings - Abigail in Mayaguez


The Remnant of CHRISTmas--by Abigail

For many people, the beginning of December brings on a frenzy of Christmas decorating, with its pros and cons of oddly-colored tinsel paper being tracked around the house and the sharp, nostalgic smell of pine permeating the house.  In children, it brings a rapidly growing anticipation of the Christmas presents.  For all the procrastinators out there, December means long lines to buy the same things you should have bought a month ago, but didn’t.  It means breaking-out your Christmas music, with Joy to the World and Silent Night ricocheting off the walls.  And of course, the kids keep everyone reminded about the number of days until they get out of school to drive all the adults nuts for a couple days.
However, for music students like us Matthew kids, the beginning of December is the eve of a long-anticipated event which we’ve been preparing for in the last semester:  the annual Christmas concerts performed by our own local music school.   We have practiced Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer well over fifteen gazillion times already.  As usual, the music teachers endlessly remind us of the dress code for the concert: black closed shoes, long black dresses, and black tuxedos, hoping all this repetition will somehow discourage the rebels from distinguishing themselves in the most unconventional ways; these attempts usually prove futile.   Within all the usual protocol, in a Christmas-like fashion, we all find precious surprises in the midst.

I sat in a rehearsal, half listening and half fiddling with my mangled oboe reed as my director when over all the last details for the concert yet again.  It was our last rehearsal before the concert, after all.  I turned my full attention back to the director in time to see another teacher walk up and tap him lightly, but rather urgently, on the shoulder.  They spoke quietly for a moment, and then the teacher stepped forward to address the class.  “Young people-,” he said quietly in Spanish.  The usually cantankerous percussion teacher was clearly choked-up.  He continued.  “I just received a call about one of my students, Paola, the one who played here in this band,” he said, gesturing toward the percussion section.  “I’ve been told that she’s in the intensive care unit at the hospital.  She had an accident while on her skateboard, and I’m told it’s quite serious- life or death…”  The room of eighty kids was in somber silence.  The teacher looked around the room.  “I know that not all of you pray, but I am asking you to please do this yourselves for Paola-” 

The director standing the side gently interrupted. “No, let’s just pray right now.”  Not another word of instruction was said, but in one accord, all eighty of us stood to our feet and bowed our heads.  The director began to pray.  I was taken aback by the prayer; it wasn’t any of that politically correct nonsense or interfaith prayers to Mohammed, Buddha, and Jesus.  He made it quite clear Who we were praying to.  “Lord Jesus, we pray for our classmate Paola…”  I do not remember all the words, but it was full of Jesus’ name, unashamedly spoken in a secular school, by a man clearly comfortable with conversing with his Savior in the beautiful language of Spanish.  
Another subtly of his prayer was how he referred to God.  He spoke directly to Him, often using the pronoun “You.”  In Spanish, there are two “you’s”: one is usted, which is used in a formal setting and indicative of staunch respect; the other is , which is used with someone you know personally and are comfortable with.  The director boldly called on his God using , as if declaring to all that “this is my God and friend”, and taking hold of our right to come boldly before Yahweh’s throne.

This prayer went on for several minutes, and I stood with my head bowed, taking in the words in awe at the preciousness of this moment.  I knew, there and then, that this was one of the few times I would ever hear a prayer like this uttered in a secular institution, and received by such a respectful crowd.  There was no mocking or whispering.  Instead I heard the boy next to me whisper “amen” during the prayer.  At the end, everyone said amen in unison as the director sealed the prayer “in Jesus’ name.” 

As I rode home and shared this treasure with my mom, both pairs of eyes filled with tears.  We are forever being surprised by the prayers before concerts, and public nativity scenes and Biblically themed lights here.   We are reminded that Jesus is still here in the public square, despite our anti-Christian, and anti-CHRISTmas world.  This prayer was just another precious reminder.  Yet we know that this remnant of a “Christian culture” is quickly eroding…

Perhaps these moments are the true gifts of Christmas.

Abigail and her piano teacher, Mr. Edner


Friday, November 23, 2012

“In that Day!”…

Among the many things that will be unique about heaven is the commonplace of thanksgiving.  Definitely, not by solicitation or by obligation, not imposed, everyone will have infinite reasons for their thanks…  Really the master plan of God eventuates, erupts, crescendos to thanksgiving…  Wow, what a day that will be!  Could you imagine the day when the clamor and seeming orchestrated chaos both for those in and for those coming into the gates of heaven were resplendent with animations of thanks… Surely that day will be the furthest extreme opposite of what the morning hours of a Black Friday is…  It may rightly be called black because for many a profiteer, it is the turning point in business when, from another year, losses are turned around, the red of deficit becomes the black of sudden gain.  But I dare present that it is black for another reason.  It spells doom and disappointment for the once hopeful, those who waited long hours into the early morning only to be met with lost opportunity, an empty shelf, having been pushed and trampled on and now with a broken limb or heart, the mob has scurried on to other things caring less of injury exacted on another… Oh, no, in that day there will be thanksgiving.
If there are tears, it will be from profound gratitude; if there are shouts, it will be from the catapults of a heart unable to put words and expression to unmerited favor; if there is silence, it will be from the ineffable understanding of the restraint of God; humbled by His longsuffering, His mercy; His unimpeded, untempered, unconditional love for you, for me! Oh, in that day with eyes to see, the unseen; ears to hear the unheard; with appetites to savor what was once rejected by our calloused humanity; with emotions uninhibited in purity, every passion and desire would find its resolve in Thanks… Unlike Moses’ experience, we, every man, woman and child would be as a burning bush and well would we say as Jeremiah did, “This I recall to my mind therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” (Jer. 3:21-23)

Did He, the Lord not say?… listen to Him again: “Ho, every one that thirsts, come you to the waters, and he that hath no money; come you, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, eventhe sure mercies of David.” (Ish. 55:1-3) My friend, my brother, my sister, what is found here is not ill-gotten gain; these are the sacrifices of God to the undeserved.…Because the Books were reconciled! –at Calvary—what spelled loss to God —of His Son; Red, a deficit—the Blood of Jesus, are today, forever, your and my righteousness… Ah, ha!: “Paid in Full!”Exquisite!This is not the retraction or adjustment of some businessman to break-even (for the items once overpriced), no! this is the divine propitiation and expiation of God who was unrelenting in His specific charge –“without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin”(Lev. 17:11, Heb. 9:22).Oh, the blackness of Golgotha and the red of Jesus’ Blood equals newness for the believer…Called, Reconciled, Justified, Sanctified and now Commissioned as Ambassadors of the same ministry (I Cor. 5:14-21). Once injurious, now an intercessor! Wow!...

To each one who has allowed your Thanks to God to overflow into our support and continuation on the Puerto Rico, Caribbean missionfield, by prayer and financial support – Thanks! Because of you we are still pursuing the temporarily invisible, the Lord and the soul that He made (Heb. 11:24-27).Until that Day…

Thanksgiving Day 2012 with a great bunch of friends!

Baptism, November 2012 -- These young believers made the great decision!

Pastor Chris McFarland was visiting from Florida!


There was a great rain prior to the baptisms, then the Lord gave a rainbow (kind of faint in the picture)!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Highly Suggestive of Malignancy...

I spent the past seven weeks in a faith challenge like none I’ve encountered in my forty-one years.  It began with a mammogram with bright papers stapled on the front.   On the inside was the analysis, “highly suggestive of malignancy”.  With the recommendation for a biopsy and excision, I figured fast action would be taken on my behalf, and consoled myself with my two previous benign biopsy results from 20 years ago.  But as the weeks dragged on, I came to more clearly understand the inefficiencies of the medical system in my part of the world.  I often felt as if my “appointments” were of no more use than a fax or mail-delivery system could have been.  Hours…weeks…hours….

When I finally saw a surgeon, he gasped, “wow!” several times as he examined my radiology reports.  When asked, he admitted that they were in fact concerning.  The big blow came when I asked about surgical options.  He said that if it were malignant, he would perform a mastectomy and we would wait until later for “reconstruction.”   Later, of course, most likely meant after chemotherapy and radiation.

At 41?  With five children depending on me not only as a mother, but as a homeschool mother?  I stressed to him that my youngest is only seven.  Tears came and my throat tightened so much that I was unable to speak.  He asked, “You believe in God?”  I could only nod.

That appointment threw me into a tailspin of research.  Yes, I was praying.  Yes, I was consoled by verses like Psalm 37:7 (Amplified) “feed surely on His faithfulness”.   But a looming dread and questions still hovered over me.  With today’s internet, you can figure many things out quickly. As I researched, I was puzzled by the major breast cancer risk factors, since I didn’t seem to have any.   I’m not overweight.   I’ve never miscarried or aborted.  I’ve breastfed my babies.  Don’t drink, or smoke.

I also got inundated by well-meaning friends who strongly advised leaving Puerto Rico for medical care because it is not up to U.S. standards.  I quietly established in my heart that, were I to have cancer, we’d need to consider leaving Puerto Rico.  This, in itself, was a new level of “disaster” seeming to ensue . . . What of the missionary work we’d felt called to five years ago?  Move our family with no money, no car, beds, furniture, or job?  In the weeks previous, we had made a decision to relocate to the nearby city of Mayaguez (half- an-hour north).  What about hearing God for the new move?  My life seemed literally scattered every which way and I know the enemy’s attack was on—to question God’s faithfulness to us.

At my second “paper-delivery” appointment with the surgeon, we basically had an argument.  When I expressed how frustrated I was at how long the process was taking to get a biopsy, he chided me, “You know you have the worst medical coverage in Puerto Rico?  It’s bad coverage and it takes long and it’s not my problem.”  I believe the doctor presumed that this white-American lady had neglected to take better care of herself as she clearly COULD have.  I believe Satan was basically mocking and teasing:  “How could you be out here by “faith” while not taking better care of yourselves and your children?”

“Neglecting” myself?  And now my children’s mother might have cancer… with presumed terrible, insufficient medical coverage and care to boot?

The psalms about the enemy desiring to put the righteous to shame became personal to me (Psalm 40:14-15).  Satan was saying “Aha, aha!”

A couple of days were spent weeping between my daily tasks.

I delved deeper into research and found a breast specialist in San Juan, but she didn’t even have a secretary and getting an appointment seemed elusive.  I found that there is one particularly aggressive type of breast cancer that seems to increase its risk in mothers of many children.  Self-diagnosis.  Greater discouragement.

Then, the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice said, “It is enough.  It is too much for you.”   Considering the possibilities of what this all SUGGESTED was more than I could handle.  He convinced me to cast it, ROLL it all upon Him and go to Him for rest.  And, I did.  When I was stirred, I asked others to pray.  I asked my husband to pray out loud again.  The Holy Spirit gave His peace.  He gave his assurance.  I can’t say He gave confidence in the outcome, but nonetheless, He gave assurance, rest, and peace.  I spoke more words of confidence toward a potential negative biopsy.  That was about a week before the procedure.  The Thursday before the biopsy, while I was spending another day waiting to sign papers, I heard several ladies behind the exam room door crying out in pain.  I had a stir, but had more peace.

The day of the needle-guide biopsy wasn’t as I had planned.  Julian wouldn’t be there because he was dropping our daughter to the airport (the only sensible flight to get her to our church Convention conflicted).  The sweet lady who offered to accompany me at 6:15 a.m. came with an ice-pack on her eye because she had fallen out of bed (but at least she was there).    Our almost-dead-vehicle that we usually limit to a two-mile radius stalled in the streets of Mayaguez when I was within walking distance of the building.   I forced the van to go for a few more blocks, apologized to Maggie for our “clunker” and vowed to remember to fill all the fluids after the appointment (every one of the fluids leaks!).  As Maggie and I waited from 6:45-10:30 a.m. for my biopsy procedure, we concluded that she needed to go to the emergency room on our way home.  She is exceptionally high functioning but has muscular dystrophy.

My name was called.  Assurance and peace guided me. The room was cold.  The nurse barely spoke English.  “God, hold me?” Rest.  Trust. 

The procedure was awkward, but pretty painless.  I walked with Maggie to a cafeteria to get her something to eat before the emergency room.  She’s also diabetic.  We walked to the vehicle, and as I poured oil, transmission fluid, and water into the clunker, I chuckled up to heaven and thought,  Are the angels getting a kick out of this?  As we pulled up to the hospital, Maggie suggested we park in the secure area (I usually park outside because it is free).  I thought I might be saving her a long walk, but the lot was very full.

Another day, I’d like to write about the shocks of this U.S. Territory’s medical system.  The cots lining the hallways to the emergency waiting room truly alarmed me.  One hallway alone must have had thirty people in cots, with family members in attendance.  They came with colorful blankets and pillows from home, and luggage for the long stay.  I saw one man holding his own IV bag up because there were no more IV stands.  In Puerto Rico it is unheard of to leave a patient without an attending family member with them in the hospital.  There is simply not enough nursing staff, and the medical staff expects the assistance.

Maggie and I had a six hour stay in the emergency room.  Her CAT scan showed no fractures.  We returned to the “secure” parking area to find that I had locked the keys in the car.  Luckily, because our automatic windows don’t work, Maggie’s window was cracked.  We found some branches and I was making good progress breaking into my car, while joking that security wasn’t worth much if I got away with it.  Just then, a security guy showed up and offered to help.  As he went to retrieve his lock-popper, I told Maggie he ought to at least check my i.d.  He never did.  I told Maggie that my husband should come later and claim he was missing his van.  We joked that we looked so innocent that we could start a burglary spree!

Peace presided in the next eight days as we waited for the results.  One thing I don’t want to lose is the awareness that we could be on “borrowed time.” It causes a certain type of cherishing that we shouldn’t let go of—Cherishing our children’s smiles;  Cherishing a meal together;  Cherishing my husband as he had his own silent challenge of faith in what was happening...

Getting ready for the results appointment was a bit surreal.  But I walked in assurance and peace that could not have come from my own strength.  My husband tried to replay a beautiful song we came to enjoy, “Never Alone”, but I asked him to stop because I was trying to stay strong and avoid tears (I didn’t tell him that at the time).  We had another typical wait.  With ten other patients we spent the first hour waiting, even though the doctor wasn’t expected yet.  I considered that many others experience these tense waitings in surgeons’ offices—and some without Christ.  I offered praise to the Faithful One for His orchestration of my life.  My name was called.  The doctor simply started with, “I have good news…your biopsy was negative.”  And it felt like newness was given to me like a gift.

I praise the Lord for this “good news”.   I was delivered from what seemed like an imminent change of life, geographical location and direct involvement in the lives of my five children and my husband.  God knew from eternity past what the outcome would be, but I believe that hundreds knocked on heaven’s door on my behalf in the last few months.  Prayer changes things.  Whether it changed the outcome, or carried us through, we needed both; we praise God.  He is eternally faithful and knows the plans He has for us (Jer. 29:11)!