Profiles in Courage
Editors' note: The following is one of the third place entries in the "Why I Love My Mom" series. Click here for more >
My mother is unlike mothers of late. She floats in and out of my thoughts and reminds me with her quaint voice, “This is your greatest hope. Hold Him inside and capture all the warmth that He wraps you in.” Her spirit echoes in the love I show my husband; an unfailing softness in my kiss. My cheeks know her lips; their imprint is that of love unconditionally, my eyes are familiar to her hands because of how many tears they have wiped away, my heart knows her love because it’s been the rawest form of kindness it has ever known, and my small frame knows her hugs because they fill the cracks that others have caused.
Editors' note: The following is one of the third place entries in the "Why I Love My Mom" series. Click here for more >
Leticia Ann Kimura is my mom in many respects. She is not only my biological mother, she is also my spiritual mom, having baptized me last year, and my vocational mom, having inspired me to become a writer and not letting me give up on it. My mom tells corny jokes and is a total book worm. She is the complete opposite of tech savvy and I’ve had more ups and downs with her than any other person in my life—these are only some of the reasons I love her.
Last week, we asked our readers to submit short articles thanking their moms in the spirit of Mother's Day. We received an outpouring of beautiful and moving testimonies describing gratitude for physical and spiritual mothers. It was incredibly difficult to choose "winning" entries! After much deliberation (and drying our eyes), the Women Today editors have decided to award the following prizes:
Grand prize: Nina Dumornay, age 15, Montreal (published below)
Second place: Christian Duran, Los Angeles
Third place: Yamina Collins, New York; Sara Kimura, Los Angeles; Denisse Tristancho, Los Angeles, Shelby Downs, Fort Collins, Colorado; Jenna Allen, Boston
Thank you to everyone who wrote in. All entries will be published in the following weeks; their words are the best prize a mom could ask for!
Editors' note: The following is one of the third place entries in the "Why I Love My Mom" series. Click here for more >
My beloved mother, Devorice Jean Collins, passed away on September 28, 2010. Death, however, has hardly diminished the importance of her life, and it certainly has not diminished my feelings for her.
On the contrary, her absence has made my love for her grow even stronger.
I think I started off imagining my cup to be this little bitty stylish perfect sized cup but as God has shown he’d prefer my cup a large sturdy horse trough, or at least that’s how I feel! Chris and I had a plan for our life - everything was laid out nicely.
A little over two years ago I didn’t realize how much my whole life would change! We found out we were expecting and we were thrilled. I bought a crib within that week and the nursery planning began! My cup started to fill. Within the first month of being pregnant I got very sick. The next couple months following I had to quit my job, stayed a night in the hospital, lost a ton of weight and received IV fluids daily through a PICC line in my arm for almost 2 months. I thought, man I am going to let this little one know the craziness I went through when I was pregnant.
At 20 weeks we went in for our first ultrasound and we were told our little baby had something wrong. He had an extremely large growth coming from his mouth. My world had stopped. My cup was flowing. Over the next few days and months life was a whirlwind. We had tests, scans, and meetings with specialists. We were told to expect a poor quality of life for our baby at best. They couldn’t promise anything and there was even the option to abort.
We made the decision to leave our life in Boise, ID temporarily and move to Kansas City, KS for the rest of the pregnancy, for the delivery of our baby and the NICU stay. I flew to KC at 29 weeks. Chris packed up our car with our basic needs and drove the long two days. Our baby would have to be delivered by what they call an EXIT procedure. Only maybe a handful of those are done each year worldwide. They would deliver him around 36/37 wks. The timing was crucial. If they delivered too soon the baby may not have developed enough and would not survive or have long term damage. If they waited too long I may go into labor and there would be a slim chance either of us would make it. The safest place for my baby was inside of me. My cup was full.
For as long as I can remember my favorite scripture has been Philippians 4:4-13 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
My cup shattered but thankfully God had placed my cup in a sturdy strong reliable trough. On December 28 2011 at 31weeks my beautiful son was born via emergency EXIT procedure! My water had broken just before midnight on the 27th. As we rushed to the hospital I held my belly and thought I could no longer keep him safe inside of me. God had chosen this time, and although I was afraid I may have to say goodbye to my son I couldn’t doubt that God was in control and there was clearly a plan. I was covered in God’s peace. God had given me Jude. There was 37 medical staff at his delivery and another 16 waiting in the hallway. After the 3rd attempt they secured an airway and he was removed from me and given a trach and vent immediately. He stayed in the NICU for 111 days. At one month old his tumor was removed successfully. He had IVH 4 brain bleeds on both sides of his brain, he had a feeding tube placed in his stomach and was on a 24 hour continual feed for months. He wore a head brace to reshape his jaw, he had brain clots, multiple blood transfusions, pneumonia multiple times, and many other procedures and complications.
It was a week before I could hold my son and when I did I needed help to place him in my arms. I could hold him about an hour each day. I never had the option to breast feed him. I had to leave him every night for the 3 1/2 months. His first time opening his eyes were not with me. When we came home we were confined to a 6 foot radius because of all of his equipment. He had to be monitored at all times. I couldn’t carry him to the bathroom when I needed to go or to the kitchen if I was hungry. I rode in the car alone with him for the first time when he was 1 ½ years old. We average about 20 appointments a month for him.
My Jude is wonderful; he could arguably be the happiest kid out there. His smile literally is the greatest smile you will ever see and he smiles constantly. He’s hilarious, he loves people, he has so much personality. He has overcome so many odds and so many complications. I believe God has allowed this scripture to be lived out in Jude. When I think about it my life is not easy and well it’s not the life Chris and I had laid out but God has given me so much peace. Life isn’t about trying to fulfill our needs and wants but it is embracing contentment. Contentment does not come when you are focused on the hard things. I have been given so many blessings beyond what I could have imagined. God has certainly held us near. My trough is not filled with sorrow; I now see God had given it to me to fill with all the smiles of my son.
I came out of the baptistry and burst into tears. My friends were very concerned and asked me what the matter was. There was no "matter". I was just so relieved - relieved to be saved, relieved to get a fresh start, relieved to enjoy the freedom I had been craving for years.
I was not raised with any kind of religion. Growing up in France there was no talk of God, no visits to church, no prayer, no faith, no family devos, no sense of right and wrong. Of course my parents did try their best and they had high expectations of good behaviour, but there were no reasons given, except that "they said so".
Clearly that was not enough to convince a rebellious and adventurous teenager and I went off the rails at the age of twelve. Before that I was a sensitive child, an excellent student, and a day dreaming bookworm. After I went "wild" I still remained a good student, and I still read a lot of books, but I was not shy any more and I decided to break every boundary anyone ever tried to impose on me. I was a risk taker and I made very poor choices over the next ten years.
I did have a dream though. As a ten year old I had the deep conviction that I wanted to go to a third world country and do something to redress the injustice I saw in the world. I always felt it was not right that so few had so much while so many had so little. It upset me deeply. I remember watching the news as a child in the late 60s and being heart broken at the famine in Biafra. Unfortunately as the years passed and my morality degenerated I drifted from that dream. Life happened.
By the time I was twenty I was living life to the full, going from party to party and treating a string of boyfriends as if they were disposable goods. I was looking for something. I was looking for my passion. I was running after excitement and meaning in all the wrong places.
The summer after my twentieth birthday something happened to make me wake up. I betrayed someone who really cared about me and the hurt I caused jolted me into reality. I knew I could not carry on like that. I made a decision to change. I stopped smoking and getting drunk, I changed the way I dressed, I stopped going to wild parties, and I decided to be faithful to my boyfriend. There was still no God but I had the beginnings of a conscience. I knew I wanted to be "good".
I buried myself in my studies and I graduated at the top of my class in university. I was then chosen to go to London and for my first job to teach at London University. That year I also picked up a Bible and started reading out of curiosity. God was working in my life but I did not know it yet.
I moved to London in September of 1983. Ten days later at breakfast in my student hostel a tall friendly guy introduced himself and started talking to me. God has sent Douglas Jacoby into my life. He happened to live in the room on the floor above mine. He was also one of the most evangelistic Christians I have ever met. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the Bible and answered all the questions this arrogant non believing French girl threw at him.
I went to church that Sunday and I met Jesus. James Lloyd preached the first sermon I ever heard. It rocked my world. I was not sure if I liked church but I knew I wanted what those people had. The Christians I met that day were free and happy. I wasn't. I was empty, guilty, and lost. I would lie awake at night wondering what life was all about.
I did not believe in God and I had no intention of being a Christian but I wanted to know what made these people tick. I also wanted to know if this was all true. I proceeded to study the Bible with a vengeance. I studied every day, read almost the whole Bible over the next few weeks. I was desperate to find out... and the Holy Spirit worked its magic. I fell in love with this Jesus, this amazing and inspiring man who was everything I wanted to be. He was pure, kind, compassionate, and he knew what his life was all about. He had the passion I was looking for. I argued, asked a lot of questions, disappeared for a few days, but in the end I decided to "give in". I surrendered on a Saturday evening and the next day, Sunday November 27 1983, I was baptised. I did have my doubts whether I would be able to last more than six months. I felt so unworthy and so sinful. I would look in awe at the people who had been Christians for more than four years and think they were spiritual giants!
I felt so needy of my relationship with God. There was so much catching up to do! I was like a parched man who had found a spring of fresh water! I threw myself into this new life and enjoyed every minute of it. The first year and a half were not without challenges as I discovered my new faith but by the end of my first year as a Christian I had found my purpose. There was talk of a mission team going to India and I felt called to go. This was what I had dreamed of as a child. Now I could go to India and do something meaningful. I also met the love of my life through our shared love of mission work. Mark Templer was also going to India. We became best friends and got married right before the team left for Bangalore.
Six missed calls. One five-minute conversation, the sounds of which still haunt me. One last time braiding her hair, a hastily packed bag, twenty minutes later and she was gone, this time for good. Her father was barely breathing. We didn’t have any details, only that she and her brother had to come immediately. I watched her face grown smaller and smaller as the van drove away from the orphanage. I cried for what her life was becoming; I cried for the pain I knew she would experience, and selfishly, I cried because, in my emotion clouded head, I felt that her deadbeat father drinking himself to death had caused her to leave me. I was angry, sad, bitter, but mostly, overwhelmed. Was this really even happening? I was frozen for what seemed like hours. Eventually I got up, wiped away the tears, and went to find my phone. I knew the call would come soon.
Rewind to May of 2012 when I originally came to India. I had little expectations and only the intent of leaving with no regrets. I knew that where I was going would be dirty, the food spicy, the air polluted, and the landscape crowded. I wanted to change; change my perspective and change my heart. How I was going to accomplish that I was not yet sure. So I boarded a plane with seven of my closest friends and set off to spend my summer just south of Chennai in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Immediately India captivated me with its sounds, colors, and people. Everything seemed to be screaming out at me. From a tourist’s perspective, the India I first saw out of the window of our car was mesmerizing. Pulling up to the orphanage, however, I was struck by its simplicity; a stark contrast from the cities I had just driven through on our two hour ride from the airport. Unlike the building, the children were absolutely beautiful. Their faces looked like the subjects of National Geographic articles. I couldn’t help but fall in love. The young ones immediately clung to me, hungry for attention, eager to learn my name and everything about me. We played games, ate mangos, and taught English, all in the first few weeks there, and in the beginning they seemed happy.
I was first made aware of the harsh reality of their lives when I began to build deep relationships with the older girls of the home (ages 15-18). On the outside, they seem held together, capable of forcing a smile that may seem genuine to an occasional visitor. I have since learned the deceitful powers of defense mechanisms. A little digging quickly reveals just how intricate a façade they can create. Breaking through those façades proved to be almost too much for me handle on my own, and an incredibly long process I sometimes feel unqualified to help with.
Those façades are most likely to fall at night. Nighttime has an interesting effect on the orphanage and the kids. Only after the sun sets and the moon rises are guards let down and prayers offered up for healing from the disastrous disease they are all subjected to. Did I mention? All the children are HIV+. It was shocking to me as well. However, hearing that diagnosis is very different from actually experiencing its effects. Some days, I forget about how sick they are as I watch them play “house” and run around pegging each other with dodgeballs. On other days, it seems as if their disease is staring me in the face, making me sick with grief. Skin infections, outrageous scars all over, vomit-inducing coughs, and painful stomach ulcers are their norm. But perhaps the worst effects of HIV are those that are not seen with the eyes but felt with the heart. The emotional tragedies: the dead parents, siblings, and friends, the feelings of abandonment and alienation, the realizations of not being able to marry the one you love. These symptoms are more difficult to treat, and like the physical ones, they can sometimes prove terminal.
Watching the children battle these emotional symptoms and helping them fight to overcome them has become my life. This purpose is best illustrated in my relationship with one of the older girls, Sathya. It bothers me that I do not remember the very first time I met Sathya. She is such a quiet girl and makes every effort not to stand out. Years of neglect and emotional abuse have left her completely insecure of her ability to be loved. She was also pretty uneasy about speaking English, something we are still working on a year and a half later. As I started becoming closer with all of the children, Sathya started hanging around me more and more. It seemed like she was always there, intently looking at my face, as if making every effort to understand what I was saying. Even still, in the beginning, she kept an emotional distance.
Many late night talks, hours of listening to her cry, and days spent doing everything in my power to try and encourage her, and somehow we were bonded. It’s not something I can explain with words, nor do I even think I would want to try. She is my sister. She has my heart and I have hers. Not an hour passes that I don’t wonder if she is okay, if her month long cold is finally gone, if her younger sister is still working in the same shady factory, or if her mom is still just as neglectful. Sathya and I have experienced most of the happiest and saddest days of our lives together, spent morning after morning praying to God in two different languages at 4 am. Perhaps it was the sharing of those times that created the bond God gave us. I carry her picture with me everywhere, tucked inside of my phone case, and to anyone who has ears, whether they want to listen or not, I tell them about her.
Reasonably, the day I left India for the first time on October 21, 2012, was full of tears. At the time, I was returning to America without a job and with little hope of being able to visit India again soon. I was deeply sad, but determined. That determination produced in me a work ethic I had never had, and a short six months later on May 5th of this year I boarded a plane to take me home, to my real home, and back to my sister. Little did I know it was the beginning of the craziest (most dramatic, most emotional, most unbelievable) summer of my twenty-one years.
Sathya’s life story would most definitely make you sad, and if written perfectly most people would end up crying. She deserves an entire book to be written about her, I believe she is that worthy. But here are some highlights to fill you in. She is the oldest of three children, born to HIV+ parents, the older sister to two HIV negative siblings. She was put in the orphanage when she was about six years old. I don’t have the full story of how that decision was made; it’s something Sathya has very few words about. Her mother, never having attended a day of school in her life, cannot even write her own name. Her father is an alcoholic. Although at times loving, he is prone to violence when under the influence. I knew there was something going on within her family the first day I arrived back at the orphanage on May 7th, 2013.
Her tears were enough to convince me that something major was happening. To this day I am still a little confused as to why she never told me sooner. I call to talk to her and the other children once a week while I am here in the States. Maybe she was afraid of upsetting me, or maybe she did not want to face the fact that because her father was sick, there would only be four short days we would both be at the orphanage together. When she did return to her village for the first time, the event was nothing short of heart wrenching. Even writing about it now, I am easily brought back to the moment I hugged her goodbye and watched her step into the van. The emotions flood me once again as I remember the bitterness in my heart as I thought how unfair it seemed for her to be leaving to go stand vigil for a sick father she barely had any memories of. I remember not being able to control my tears as I realized what was happening to her life. I recall thinking, “this isn’t normal, seventeen year old girls should not have to be dealing with all of this”. Suddenly, the full weight of my sadness hit me as I realized that she was leaving to go watch her father waste away and most likely die from the same toxic disease that lives inside of her.
I can’t imagine what that would do to someone; to sit and watch another person die of an illness you know is also coursing through your veins, passed to you while you were an innocent infant. My sadness turned to anger as I questioned whether justice exists in this world. For a time, I even wrestled in anger with God. Something I may have thought was unspiritual or sinful in the past, I now see as an important step in God strengthening my faith through this time of life.
Through an entire book’s worth of events (from Sathya living at a tuberculosis infected hospital nursing her dying father, to her traveling back to her village to pick up her little brother who had not eaten in three days, to me pleading with her mother and the staff of the orphanage to allow her to return to the hostel) my sister came home at the end of May. Although it was nowhere near the end of the ‘war’, in that moment, for us, it was a small victory.
I wish I could say that her father got better, her mother became more loving, her younger sister didn’t have to work in the factory anymore, they have discovered a cure for HIV, and that I am still in India by her side. But a summer of this magnitude could not have ended so serenely.
I knew what was coming that morning I saw the six missed calls from her mother. I knew her world was about to crumble and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared enough to help her. The screams her mom released over and over again on the phone were audible from the complete opposite side of the room. Frozen, and crying, Sathya quickly handed the phone off and simply started packing her bag. I rushed to braid her hair and help make sure she took everything she needed. I filled my large water pink bottle for her six hour bus ride, put her things in the van, watched her again slide in and close the door, looked into her tear-filled eyes, and was unable to even form the words “good bye”.
Just two short hours after she had driven off, her sister called to confirm that her father had just died. We had no way of telling Sathya; she and her brother were traveling on their own without a cell phone. Even so, how would I have told her myself?
Still, even today, I don’t think I have gotten over her father’s death yet. Some may think that is a bit dramatic and self-centered of me to say as he was not even my own father. What I really haven’t processed are the sounds and memories of Sathya’s sobs and cries, of sitting and listening as she cried for her father but never questioned God’s love for her, and as she quietly accepted the trials of her life. I haven’t had the heart or mental capacity to be able to process the amount of surrender contained inside of her little body. She puts the “problems” of my life into perspective by her ability to seek joy in times of unimaginable sorrow. I have seen her do it, almost as if she just ritually hands over her burdens for Jesus to carry. It doesn’t matter what is going on in her life she always chooses joy. She chooses every day to trust, to be faithful, and to press forward. She is undoubtedly the most incredible human being I have ever met, and I am never more honored than when she looks at me and calls me her “Akka”, her big sister.
I encourage anyone reading this to seek out relationships with individuals you know are strong in an aspect of their character that you need help in. Two years ago I had no idea of the relationships God was about to provide me, nor was I really seeking out people who have learned to embrace surrender. But I can now confidently say that through Sathya’s friendship, through watching her trust God with her unimaginable hurt, through seeing how she always and without fail went to God first with her trials, I know that God was aware of what I needed and when. While I had to travel to India to find the person I am most challenged by, your “person” may be right next door, waiting for a friend to trust with the pain of their life. So speak! And never stop. Love them! And allow yourself to be transformed by their example.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish is work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” (James 1:2-4, NIV)……my daughter, Angela’s favorite scripture.
She persevered in prayer for me for 9 years, and on June 1, 2008, I made Jesus Lord, and was baptized by her and her husband.
September 16th, 2009 started out as a normal day for my daughter, Angela Williams. Angela had been a disciple since 1999. She lived a very busy life as a wife to her husband, Bekure, and as a mother to her two daughters, T’siona, age 6 and Desiree, age 10, and a daughter to me. First and foremost in her life, was her relationship with God. He gave her the strength to get through her busy days. She was working on her Bachelor’s degree full-time and working full-time in a substance abuse facility for young mothers, as well as being very active in her church, the Groton/New London ICOC. On this particular morning she called me at around 10:30am, just to chit-chat a little before she went to work. As always, when we talked on the phone, our parting words were “I love you.” This day was a day that changed our lives forever.
Around mid-day, I received a call from her husband, Bekure, saying that Angela had a seizure at work and was being transported to the local hospital by ambulance. I had a hard time wrapping my head around what he was telling me. I remember thinking, “that can’t be possible… I just spoke to her a couple of hours ago and she seemed perfectly normal!” Thankfully, I only lived a block away from the hospital, and I arrived at the hospital just as the ambulance was bringing her in. When I saw her and talked to her, I could tell that there was definitely something amiss. She was awake, but seemed to be in a daze. She could speak, but talked in a monotone voice, which was not normal for her. She complained of a headache in the area of her forehead. It was not long before her husband and kids got to the hospital. I remember how frightened we were, as we tried to reassure the children that the doctors and nurses would take good care of their Mommy. We very quickly alerted some of our brothers and sisters in our fellowship, and they showed up to take care of the girls and start a prayer chain. Angela’s co-worker (one of the sisters from church), who had been with her when she had her seizure, arrived quickly at the hospital, and thankfully was able to tell the doctor that she had witnessed Angela having a seizure that lasted about eight minutes. This sister’s husband had a seizure disorder, so thankfully she knew what to do to prevent Angela from being injured as she seized.
Shortly after Angela got to the ER, she was whisked away to have a CT scan of her head. It wasn’t long before the ER doctor came to tell us the results of her scan. None of us were expecting to hear what the doctor was about to tell us. She said that Angela suffered from a “subarachnoid bleed”, which meant that an aneurysm in her brain had ruptured and blood was pooling between her brain and the thin tissue that covers her brain. The doctor said that the neurosurgeon on call would come to assess Angela and give us the plan of action. After the neurosurgeon looked at Angela’s CT scan he came to examine her and tell us what he recommended for Angela. He said that she would have to have a procedure done to stop the bleeding and that they weren’t equipped to do it at our small-town hospital. His recommendation was that she be transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital, where they had state of the art equipment and some of the best Neurosurgeons in the US. It was then that I realized that Angela was in a life-or-death situation, and I prayed that God would wrap his loving and healing arms around her.
A few hours later Angela was air-lifted to Mass General. Bekure and I went to our homes to pack for the trip. Thankfully, a couple from the church who had children close in ages to Angela and Bekure’s girls took the kids to their home where they could stay as long as was needed. Once the girls were reassured that Mommy was in God’s hands and that He would take good care of her Bekure and I left to go to Massachusetts, praying along the way that God would heal Angela. Family members were called, and they all made plans to come to the hospital as soon as they could.
We arrived at Mass General late that night, and learned that Angela was in the Neuro ICU. We found our way up to the unit. I honestly didn’t know what to expect once we got there. Much to my surprise, when we got to Angela’s room she was awake and alert and seemed to be doing pretty well, considering. It wasn’t long before medical personnel came and explained what the plan was to repair Angela’s aneurysm. They would go in and do a “coiling procedure” to close off the ruptured aneurysm. They fully expected her to do very well since she was a normal, healthy woman in her 30s. I settled into the waiting room, and let Bekure have some time alone with his bride. He stayed with her and prayed and read the Bible to her. The next day I learned that Angela had asked Bekure to make sure “I” got plenty of rest, as I had a lot of pain in my back and legs and had a lot of other medical problems, one of which was having recently been diagnosed with diabetes. It was so typical for Angela to be concerned for my welfare – she cared about other’s needs before herself. She was truly a Godly woman.
Bekure and I spent that first night in the hospital family room trying to sleep as we waited for Angela to go to have her procedure done. I’m not sure just how much we slept that night, but what I can tell you is that we spent a lot of time praying for Angela. I begged for a miracle for her. Each and every time I heard Bekure pray, he prayed and thanked God for Angela’s healing before it was evident. His faith was unwavering. After spending a lot of time with Angela, we had to leave for a while to figure out where we would stay. Bekure and I knew were were going to be staying for the duration of the surgery. Thankfully, God provided for us in a big way -at first by having my next-to-oldest brother, Tom, and his wife come and pay for a couple of nights in a hotel for us. Also brothers and sisters in the church helped us financially to stay in a hotel for a while. Right before we were going to leave to go to the hotel, Angela said to “Bek”, “Baby, do you think that you could get my college textbooks so I can study while I’m here?” That was typical Angela, wanting to make sure that none of her spinning plates hit the floor.
The first evening that we were in Boston, Lilian Hislop from the Boston ICOC came to let us know that they would help us in whatever way they could. Members of the church lined up meals for us and housing, should we need it.
Since Angela was quite stable since she had arrived at the hospital, the coiling procedure got bumped to the next day. That morning, before Angela was taken to the operating room to finally have the procedure, we prayed with her that it would be a successful procedure, and Bekure read the Bible to her. The doctors expected that it would take several hours and promised to find us as soon as they were finished. We did leave the hospital for a while to gather necessities. When we got to the hotel we made phone calls and tried to rest a bit.
Later in the day, we received a call from the doctor, telling us that Angela had made it through the coiling procedure fine, but once she was back in the Neuro ICU she had another seizure and had a significant stroke in the frontal lobe of her brain. The doctors and nurses repeated how grave her condition was. Because of the procedure and subsequent seizure and stroke it was likely that her brain would swell, and they had to do a procedure to insert a sensor into the space around her brain to monitor the swelling. She was also at risk of having another rupture, or having spasms in her surrounding vessels in her brain. She was kept in a medically induced coma to keep her still so that she would heal. We didn’t see any of this coming. Our prayers became fervent, pleading to God to heal Angela and to bring her back to us, at the same time being willing to accept God’s will no matter what He decided.
The next day many friends and family members arrived to visit Angela and to offer help in whatever way we needed it. It was a blessing to see so many people gather around us and Angela and to have that much prayerful support. Angela’s sister, Melissa, and her husband and kids came from Springfield, MA, as well as her brother, Jordan. It was truly amazing to see how many brothers and sisters from church came. I had always known that Angela had touched many lives and was loved by many. All of my brothers and sisters arrived, along with their spouses, and one of Angela’s cousins came. Bekure’s sister, Askale (a disciple as well), also came, offering prayer and helping to figure out housing for us. Neither Bek nor myself wanted to leave Boston, but desired to stay near the hospital. One of the leaders of the Boston church came, also offering assistance in whatever way we needed it. It was a real blessing and very humbling to see how people from one of our sister churches rallied around us - offering prayer and other support to us, making us meals, and sometime housing us. We thanked God daily for our brothers and sisters and prayed that He would bless them richly.
That evening the swelling in Angela’s brain increased. Medical personnel said that they would continue to monitor the pressure, but if it continued increasing, they would have to do an operation.
The next morning even more brothers and sisters arrived at the hospital. So many were there, along with family, that we worried that some of them would get asked to leave due to the number of them and the noise level. The doctors brought Bekure, my son Jordan, and myself into a conference room. He explained that the pressure in Angela’s brain had continued to increase, and at that point doing a craniotomy was the only option that would give her brain a chance to expand, without pressing further into her brain stem. They presented the question to Bekure, my son Jordan and myself if we wanted Angela to have the surgery. It would entail taking out the front part of her skull, and leaving it out indefinitely. The doctors were very frank with us, telling us how critical Angela’s condition was, and suggesting that family members go in to see her before the operation because she might not make it. There was no way that we wouldn’t want her to have the surgery; we all agreed that we wanted to give her every chance of surviving. We did ask the friends that were keeping Angela and Bekure’s girls to bring them to the hospital. Bekure wanted to sit with them and tell them that their Mom was very, very sick and might not live, but that we were all praying very, very had that God would heal her. It goes without saying how upset they were.
Many hours went by before Angela was out of surgery and brought back to the ICU. I don’t think any of us were prepared for how she looked. Her head had been shaved, and her face and head were very swollen. It was hard to connect who we were seeing with the happy-go- lucky and loving woman she was. We all took turns going in to visit her. She was surrounded by so many people who loved her. One comforting fact was that as our fellow disciples went in to visit her she was prayed for and had scriptures read to her.
It would be many days before we would see the fruits of our prayers. Her condition remained very, very critical. We noticed every twitch, praying that it was the beginning of her healing. It’s hard to describe the look on the faces of the doctors and nurses caring for Angela when we reacted to movement. They told us that they were random involuntary movements, and then they reiterated how ill she was and how unlikely it would be that she would make the full recovery that were praying for. We reinforced to them that God is a God of miracles, and that we believed that God would heal her, and bring her back as the Angela we knew and loved.
Many days like this passed. She developed problems with the vessels in her head going into spasms. When this happened they would have to go in with a catheter and stretch out her vessels so that blood could pass through and not create increased pressure in her brain. She continued to be on a ventilator and was unable to be weaned off of it. Friends came off and on to see her, sometimes standing by her bed praying, reading to her, or singing some of her favorite “Songs of the Kingdom.”
Bekure started praying a very specific prayer, asking God to have Angela awake, be off the ventilator, and be talking to him for his birthday, which was coming up on September 29th. Each day, we prayed that prayer with him. Bekure made sure that EVERY day began and ended with prayer.....always thanking God for the miracles that He had done and the ones that were going to happen, never letting his faith waver. He prayed for the day that Angela would stand up in church and tell of what God had brought her through.
On September 26th, Angela started getting a head start on Bekure’s wish. Three of Angela’s friends from church had come to visit and were standing on one side of Angela’s bed talking to her. All of a sudden, Angela coughed, coughed again, and her eyes opened. The sisters and I looked at each other, and I said, “Did you see that?!” They said that they did. Then Angela coughed again, opened her eyes again, and they stayed open. I quickly went to the other side of the bed so that she could see that I was there and she looked right into my eyes. I told the nurse and he came over to her bed and told me that he had deliberately lowered her sedation to see if he could get a response from her. We quickly contacted Bekure to come back in her room. He stood beside her, looked into her eyes and said, “squeeze my hand”….AND SHE DID!!! The nurse asked her to hold two fingers up….AND SHE DID!! The angels must have been singing…we sure were!! We were on cloud nine. Nurses who had cared for Angela when she was in a coma came in and shook their heads, then cried. What a blessing to be able to witness non-believers seeing God’s healing power!
Now that Angela was awake, they started lowering her ventilator settings so that before long they would be able to take her off of it altogether. They weren’t able to get her off of it for Bekure’s birthday, but she did it on mine, the 30th! Best birthday present I ever got (or ever will get)!! Angela was definitely on the mend!
October 2nd brought us another surprise. When we got to her room, they had her sitting in a recliner. To protect her head, they had a helmet on her and they had to strap her in the recliner because she couldn’t hold herself up. She never looked prettier to me! One of the first things that I asked her once she had begun to speak, was what her favorite scripture was. Her answer, “James 1:2-4!” It was then that I knew that her relationship with God was intact! What a testimony!
Angela’s ongoing physical healing wasn’t the only healing happening. All of my siblings came to visit her; my oldest brother, who is 17 years my senior had held a grudge against me for almost 20 years. He didn’t want any contact with me at all, let alone be in the same room with me. God allowed those walls to be torn down. That very same brother was one of the family members who visited Angela in the hospital. My brother apologized to me, and asked to let bygones be bygones. He hugged me, and told me he loved me. I was able to share my faith with him that day and have more since then. Our relationship remains very good.
Angela did have a couple of setbacks, but continued to bounce back after them. Soon she was moved to the regular Neurology floor. As she continued to get stronger we felt that we could arrange to stay a little further from the hospital. One of the Elder couple’s opened their home to us. Angela got stronger and stronger, working towards going to a rehab facility. This was the woman that doctors and nurses thought wouldn’t survive!
On October 19th, she was transferred to Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, CT. When she left the hospital she was unable to sit up on her own, let alone walk. One of the doctors at Gaylord just happened to be a disciple and part of our church in Groton…no accident there! This is when the real work for Angela would start, as she re-learned many of the things that we all take for granted. Each day was packed full of therapies. For her first few days there, a couple from the Hartford ICOC let us stay at their house with them. After that Bekure and I took turns staying with her at rehab, encouraging her along the way. A feeding tube had been put in to feed her temporarily and then she eventually graduated to solid foods. Once that was accomplished all that was left for her to do was to get stronger. One of her therapies was occupational therapy. The therapist would take her down to the therapy room to work on different tasks. One thing she had her try was getting on the computer and into her email account. Angela got on. First, she sent an email to Bekure, and then proceeded to try to delete the thousands and thousands of emails in her inbox. The therapists had to pull her away! Later that day I headed home to take over with the kids so that Bekure could go back up to stay with her. Before he left he asked if I had sent an email from her to him. I laughed and told him that Angela had done that by herself! Needless to say, that made him happy.
Angela continued to improve daily as she got stronger and stronger. She was anxious to get home to her girls. Off and on she would be able to talk to them on the phone. They were anxious for her to come home as well.
On November 24th,2009, our sweet Angela was discharged from the rehab facility, and (using a walker) walked through her door at home. That was a truly glorious, victorious day. Her next challenge was to get back into the daily routine of family living.
That December, Angela made a quick trip back to Mass General so that the part of her skull that had been removed could be replaced. She was only admitted for a few days, and recovered quickly. Imagine the look on the faces of the doctors who treated her there at Mass General as they watched her WALK in their door!
At Angela’s two year follow-up appointment, one of the surgeons that we had reached out to and invited to church said he still had the invitation and planned to go at some point. He admitted that he previously wasn’t a believer in miracles, but admitted to Bekure that he truly believed that God was responsible for Angela being able to walk through the door that day.
Of course, Angela and her family have had their challenges over the years, but they are all doing very well. Angela, this year, is once again volunteering in Kid’s Kingdom. Her oldest will soon be 14 and has the heart to become a disciple. She recently returned from Teen Camp. During a phone conversation with her, I asked her what stood out to her the most during camp. Her reply was this….. “Nana, they were saying that how you act at home is how you really are, and that SCARES me! I am praying for God to work on my character and help me be more respectful.”
I am extremely thankful for the relationship with God that Angela and Bekure have. They continue to be an inspiration. Nobody could ever say that Angela was previously shy about sharing her faith, but she is even bolder now. She doesn’t hesitate to tell anyone who will listen about what God has brought her through.
I am forever thankful to God for the Body of Christ that stays consistent no matter where I go. Not only have they been there for my family and for me, but I have been blessed to see how they have been here for us during all the devastation from the tornadoes in Oklahoma this year. The Oklahoma City ICOC was blessed to have many wonderful brothers and sisters in our midst for several weeks this summer, as they volunteered to help the tornado victims. The kindness and sacrifice of our brothers and sisters will never be forgotten.
A lot of people would agree that giving selflessly in a third world country will have an impact on you, and I guess that was really my only initial hope in going to India. I hesitantly joined a group of my closest friends on a trip to India in May of 2012. What I did not expect, and the most important outcome of my first time there, were the ways in which my faith would be rocked to its most basic foundation and how connected and in love I would become with some of God’s most beautiful creations. Now if that sounds too “mushy” and “heartsy” for you, I would have probably thought the same thing a year and half ago. Actually, before I was a disciple, I swore India would be the last place I would ever want to travel to. Ironically, it is the FIRST place I have ever gone to outside the United States and now I cannot picture myself living anywhere else. But enough about me, I am absolutely the least interesting part of my stories of India, only a mirror reflecting the light of God’s love, patience, and sacrifice for me in order to bring 38 beautifully sick children out of the darkness and give them a voice.
The orphanage is a home for women and children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. They are located in a small, remote, underdeveloped village in Southern India, about 2 hours south of Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu. Only a few people in the village have running water, only very basic electricity, and almost everyone just sleeps on the dirt floors every night (they do, however, have cell phones!) The simplicity that life there offers is so attractive. No one killing themselves working 80-hour weeks to be able to afford an over-sized mortgage and three luxury car payments and still be saving enough for retirement. They live in the present. Doing enough to provide for their families today, not worrying about the future. I feel like a completely different person there, walking around barefoot, bathing in wells, dodging snakes that cross my path. I feel complete there, closer to God than anywhere else, more dependent on him for my basic needs, more aware of my own weaknesses and able to witness how God turns them into strengths.
There are so many directions I could go with this post; so many lessons I have (sometimes very) painfully learned. But perhaps the most life changing one is on surrender. Not just surrendering your own junk, past hurts, insecurities and such, but surrendering the pain you see others experiencing, pain that seems so unfair, uncalled for, and cruel. The pain of innocent children losing parents, siblings, and loved ones to a disease that is also coursing through their own veins. Pain on the faces of young women who realize that because of their disease, they will never be able to marry the young man they love. HIV/AIDS is a big, cruel monster. It destroys lives, weakens bodies, and slowly steals people. Too many times I have had conversations with God in which I was so angry with Him for allowing this to happen to innocent children. But through many hours of Bible study and surrendered prayer, I was offered peace. Peace that surpasses ALL understanding; peace I did not know I longed for.
Jesus teaches In John 9 a lesson that is easy to overlook. Like other instances in the Bible, Jesus’s disciples are asking him questions, he is teaching them a lesson, someone is healed… et cetera. But so simply and plainly, Jesus provides the one answer for every question pertaining to the modern doubt of “why do bad things happen to good people?” I encourage you to read this account of John and see for yourself what I will explain. Jesus’ disciples ask him who sinned that a man should be born blind? Was it his parents or the man himself? Jesus answers and in one sentence changed my entire perspective. Jesus said that it was not a matter of anyone sinning that the man was given the disability; instead, it was a matter of God’s work being revealed through the disabled man. Jesus then makes mud, rubs it on the man’s eyes, tells him to go wash, and the man is healed, thus literally revealing God’s work through the (previously) disabled man.
My biggest dream in life is first for all of the kids to become effective disciples who are in love with God, and second, for their lives, no matter how long, to mean something. I am confidant that God loves these children even more than I ever could. In fact, I am basically just delivering a watered-down version of God’s love to them. The real stuff is much more concentrated and rich! I believe God when he says he has plans for them, to prosper them and not to harm them (Jeremiah 29:11). I believe Him who says that one day he will wipe every tear from their eyes… and they will suffer no more pain (Revelation 21:4). While on Earth these promises may not be realized, the ultimate promise of Heaven acts as our security in trials. That hope is an anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19). One day, I will be able to see all of my kids perfectly healthy, restored, glowing, and risen. The pain of this life may not be lifted until Heaven, but that hope alone is enough to pull me through the toughest of days, days in which I console a crying teenager fiercely battling thoughts of suicide, days in which I weep with a young girl who has just lost her father to the same disease passed on to her. Days when everything seems perfectly unfair, I am reminded of the hope we are given through Jesus’s selfless act, that one day we will be united with our creator and sorrow, mourning, death, and pain will be no more. If that does not inspire you to push forward in your hardest of days, then I am not sure what will. As Jesus tells his disciples in John 9, disabilities, accidents, trials, even diseases, are given to those whom God will use to reveal his miraculous works. This one healing by Jesus further reminds me that where medicine sometimes will fail us, God is waiting to perform a miracle. I pray earnestly and wait for the day when those miracles will be revealed.