Chapter 3: Are you sure Lord?
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted.” II Cor. 1:3,4
Now we certainly know that God is always sure of what He is doing or saying. He IS Omniscient! But we in our humanness don’t always see that big picture and have great difficulty in figuring out the whys and whats of our lives. Sometimes in our foolishness we do ask “are you sure Lord?” Yes, He’s sure.
I’ve actually pulled about seven years of difficulties together for you rather than jumping back and forth, so that you get a better picture of why we sometimes ask that question even when we are “kind of sure” that we’ve understood Him properly. While I’m trying not to be that frog, and jump, there’ll still be a bit of it so that I can explain this tortured tale a bit better. Some of the events in my life came long before we were ever called to the field, but it is so much easier now to see how the Lord was going to use them. The call of being a Nurse and then being called to the field was easy to understand (or so I thought). My areas of advanced training were Coronary Care and Hospice Care. It wasn’t so much the specialty that was the advantage, but that each one of them requires someone who is a critical thinker, independent (No Jack, not stubborn) and dedicated to continuing on even when your soul feels as if it has been ripped out of you. I just knew the Lord would be able to use that training He had put me through to good use on the field. After all, as Jack so frequently put it when we were presenting the work in churches while trying to gather financial support, we were going to the mission field “late in life” so I didn’t have to worry about children. Taking care of a husband and home for the two of us on the field would be easy (hysterical laughter), so I could devote much more time to those things for which God had trained me. Even when you think you know the answers, it’s not always the right answer. My clinic experiences will come up in another chapter, but I just wanted you to see the beginning of the plan. I graduated Nursing school in 1980 at the age of 30, but God didn’t call us to the field until 2003. I guess He knew I needed a bit longer to train for what was coming. But preparation in the States is not the same as preparation in the field. Heart disease and Diabetes were big issues in the States. Here in Zambia, it’s Malaria, Typhoid, Typhus, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Cholera, TB, Plague, and the women drop their babies right in the dirt! What do you mean there’s no doctor there?! What do you mean there are no meds?! What do you mean there’s no dental care?! I needed a whole new library! But one thing I didn’t need was spunk! I’m a Critical Care Nurse and I ain’t afraid of nuttin! (yes, we all have attitudes). But I have taken to heart His promises of “I can do ALL things through Christ, which strentheneth me” and that He hasn’t given me a “spirit of fear but of POWER “. Jack isn’t so sure I got the “strong mind” part. A friend who is a Nurse also asked me about coming to help me in the field. She asked how many people I had in my team. When I quit laughing, I told her that when she came there would be a team of two. Early days of clinics here in Zambia were so much fun (I hope you can recognize sarcasm when you see it).
Another area of my training that took place before “the call” was sign language. It didn’t even start out as an area that I had even thought about, even though we have a beautiful cousin in our family who is deaf. Our Pastor, Mark Brown, asked me if I could take some vacation time from work one summer to help him take a group of young people to the Bill Rice Ranch in Tennessee. There wasn’t anyone else at that time who could go, and since I loved working with the kids I said sure (God is smiling here). I didn’t know anything about the Ranch, but it was that summer I met Dr. Kathy Rice and fell in love with the language of Sign and with the Deaf. I threw myself into learning sign, bought her books and videos and went about learning Sign. This would be a great help in my job as I had met several deaf people whom no one could communicate with other than by writing, and I would finally be able to talk with Missy, my deaf cousin. When we were called to Zambia, I saw the need for learning Sign, and the real light came on. No one is even sure of the number of deaf people here, mainly because they are considered a throw-away part of society. There is not a single area of this Country I have been in that there haven’t been deaf people. The incidence is high because of malaria and the drugs used at one time to treat malaria. Also, if someone gets an ear infection here the medications they use are ototoxic and can lead to deafness. Oh my goodness! The first time I signed to a deaf person here I came to realize one thing – they may not be able to hear, but they can shriek! The response is immediate – joy, dancing, hugging, and shrieking! Now you know why God was smiling. While the sign I learned in the US was ASL, the sign used here (for those who have been taught) is English, and of course their own natural sign, so I had a little more learning to do. Those of you who know Sign know that each country has its own form of sign language, so adapt it is! But the part they get really fast is there is a God that loves them. Hindsight really is easy.
So those were the easy parts, healthcare and sign language. Got it Lord. But some “training” we go through is not as easy to understand why. And here is where the “why” comes in. In the summer of 2003 is when Jack and I were called to the field. We were both still working, and trying to figure out how this would all work. We were approved for the field in November of 2003, but had already hit our first setback. My Mother had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2002 and was declining rapidly. My heart was being torn, and then it was shredded when she asked me one day “Sissy, what are you going to do when it’s time for you to leave and I’m so sick?” Words Lord, I need words! The only thing I could say was we would just have to leave that in the Lord’s hands. And then I went home and sobbed like a baby. But the Lord already knew the answer to her question and would reveal it in His time.
Then it became Jack’s turn. In May of 2004, before we could really get into deputation, Jack injured his back at work. He had slipped while moving equipment, twisted and caught the full weight of everything. By the time he got home he could not walk up the flight of steps into the house unassisted. Doctors visits and scans later – two torn discs in his lower back. Now he’s flat on his back either in the bed or on the sofa for weeks. Bless his heart, all he had for company was a house full of cats because I was still working full time and taking care of my Mom. Lord, we can’t raise funds this way! And then in August the Lord answered an earlier question – He took my Mother Home. August turned into a darker month as we learned that the precious missionary we were to join in Zambia, Brother Steve Richards, had died on the side of the road in Zambia while his precious wife Linda was trying to drive him to the hospital. But Lord, we had a plan! Yes, WE had a plan, but it wasn’t God’s plan. Jack was able to travel by January of 2005, and that is when we made our first trip into Zambia along with Mrs. Richards. Oh Lord, let this beginning of all things good! But it wasn’t to be. Later in 2005 Jack was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. The doctors thought we were insane when they learned we were going to continue on with going to the mission field in a Third World country. He would be on immuno-suppressants, leaving him at high risk for everything that is born on a breeze or crawls in the dirt here. But God knew before He called this would happen, and we wanted to be faithful to that call and trust Him. Jack responded well to treatment, and we were soon on the deputation trail. We were even able to come back to Zambia in 2007 and bring a young couple with us for their survey trip. We made several trips back and forth, staying as long as our money held out, then would go back to the States to raise more support. Then in 2009 came another blow. Jack came home from a long and tiring series of meetings in the northeast. Our Pastor even commented on Sunday how tired he looked. Then on Wednesday night before church we went out to eat. Seated across from me I noticed his left eye was drooping badly. He didn’t feel bad, just tired, but by morning even the left side of his face was sagging. Our doctor worked us right in, and after the exam hit us with the most unexpected diagnosis we could have imagined – Myasthenia. The next week became a whirlwind of visits to neurologists and testing. What started as ocular Myasthenia, rapidly became systemic Myasthenia Gravis. A second autoimmune disease! The only saving grace during this situation was that the drugs Jack was taking for his UC (they had been changed several times) would actually be the treatment for his Myasthenia, with steroids as a little bump. Again, doctors are shouting “are you nuts?! do you have a death wish?!” when we told them as soon as Jack was able to go, we were still going to the mission field. We even called a friend in Zambia to be sure we could get the meds here or if we would have to ship them. One of the doctors made the comment that he guessed God would protect fools, but we know that God protects the faithful.
Before I end this chapter, I wanted to leap-frog backward one more time. You remember I said sometimes the answer is clear and sometimes it takes us a while to fully understand (we really do look through a glass darkly)? While 2004, 2005, and 2009 were not particularly good years, 2002 was by far the worst. Not only had my Mother been diagnosed with ALS, she had also had quadruple stent placement in her heart (the stents came first), but April 19 became the day my world spiraled into darkness. I had come home (just behind my Mom) and made dinner for her and was carrying it across the yard to her house when a police car pulled in. Now I am a good law-abiding citizen, so police don’t scare me, but when one pulls into your drive something is not well. Two officers came in and sat down with my Mom and I and explained they had just found the body of my handsome, wonderful son, Aaron. He had committed suicide about a mile from our home. I have no idea how we finished the conversation, how my friends came, how our Pastor knew and came – nothing. I had never been in such deep dark despair, and I didn’t want to come out of the darkness. Just let me lay here and sleep. Don’t speak to me. Don’t touch me. How I made it through the week that followed I can assure you was only thru the strength of the Lord holding onto me. As I began to come out of the darkness about two weeks later (those two weeks are lost to me), I began to pray as I had never prayed before.I knew God had not left me, as even in the darkness I was aware of His presence and even could imagine the touch of His hand on my hair as He soothed me. I finally told him that even though I could not understand, and that I had no idea how He could use this situation, I wanted him to use my pain for His glory. Did you know that in Zambia 40% of the babies born will die before age one, and that another 20% will die before age 6? Can you imagine?! 60% of the children! While our cultures differ in so many ways, grieving mothers are the same the world over. Now I can understand. I can now sit down beside one of these grieving mothers, hug her, stroke her hair, and say “let me tell you about the Healer of broken hearts, because I KNOW HIM”. Comforting those in Zambia “by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” I understand Lord. Use my pain.