Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Abrielle Braxton ~ Joy Comes in the Morning

Abrielle Braxton, my dear friend and teammate crossed over to the other side of eternity on December 6th. I met Abrielle about this time last year at our MAG Christmas party. She and her husband Joel came into town for the festive occasion. They had been poised and ready to launch onto the field to be MAG missionaries in Rus Rus, Honduras nearly three years ago when Abrielle was diagnosed with cancer. Since that time she and her amazing husband Joel had been fighting against the cancer with chemo, radiation and, most recently, a bone marrow transplant. They moved to Burlington, NC last February as they had been given positive results that the cancer was gone and they had been put on a maintenance schedule to have regular check ups. We were thrilled to receive them and have them on staff with us. 

                                          

Abrielle and I worked closely together to decorate and make signs for our MAG Open House/Dedication event in April that we lovingly dubbed Magapalooza. Abrielle had many gifts and talents, one of them was creative hand-lettering.  She took the lead in casting an artistic vision and I gladly followed providing support to that vision. We shopped together gathering supplies from various local thrift and consignment shops as our budget was very thin. It was during this time that I first really got to know Abrielle and hear bits of her story. She wasn't one to really talk much about herself but I am a persistent questioner and I was able to glean pieces and parts of her story

                                          
                                                

One thing that really made an impact on me was her way of talking about things. She was very careful in not allowing herself to speak disparagingly of anyone in her life. She very naturally spoke about things in a Psalm-like manner. What I mean by Psalm-like is that she was real in sharing challenges but never focused on the challenge alone but focused instead on God and how He would have her flesh out her faith in whatever difficulty she encountered whether it be in circumstances or in relationships with others. I don't know that I have ever encountered someone who so beautifully embodied such grace, not in glossing over tough things but in accepting that God is in control and by genuinely wanting to be found faithful in how she chose to respond to those tough things. 

                                                      
                                                           
"The countdown begins! Transplant Day is Day 0 on August 17th. Days leading up to it are called Day minus 10, day minus 9... Days afterward are Day plus 1, day plus 2.... the first 100 days of recovery are the hardest.  Right now I'm feeling warm and tired, but otherwise good. It was a busy day, so I'm trying to work up the energy for studying the Bible. I'm going through the psalms of the ascent (120-134) and am now on 126. It is so refreshing to remember who God is and that He is on my side. He is good not only because of what he has done for me, but simply because of who he is. Cancer doesn't win if I die; it wins if I fail to cherish Yahweh with my whole heart. When you pray, please pray that I will cherish the Lord above all else." ~Abrielle Braxton, August 7, 2017 (I bolded the words)


                                    
                                                                        
(Giving)


(Receiving)

                                                             
(Transplant is complete!)


"Day 0 has arrived! Transplant will happen at about 11:15! It's just one small bag (a little anticlimactic), but oh so significant. They will monitor me very closely for a while, taking my vitals every 15 minutes.  I am praying that our Great and Wonderful Mighty Glorious God Yahweh heals me and protects me from the harmful effects of everything I've been through. Regardless of what happens, I will sing His praises forevermore because He is good because of who He is, and whatever it takes my greatest prayer is that He is glorified. I am weak, but He is strong. His strength is shown in my weakness, and His plans are so much greater than anything I could ever imagine. He comforts me always, he guides my path, gives me purpose and joy unending. He has redeemed me, and I am glad! I certainly am not afraid to die, but I greatly hope He has more work for me to do here on earth for a long long time. Where he leads I will follow. My joy is in Him, and He is on my side ready to defend and protect me. They say the next 100 days are the hardest, so I will be heavily depending on God, Joel, my medical team, and the rest of friends and family. I ❤️ you all. Thank you for your love, generous gifts 🎁, donations 💲, words of wisdom, words of encouragement, and most significantly thank you for your prayers 🙏. Please join with us today and every day in praising God Yahweh for hearing our prayers, providing for our needs in common and miraculous ways, for giving us comfort, joy, and peace through all things, and for having a supreme plan. Most of all please continue praising Him even if we don't get what we want. He is so good to me; I love Him so much. 😘" ~Abrielle Braxton, August 17, 2017 (I bolded the words)

The above quotes illustrate Abrielle's hope and faith in Yahweh regardless of the circumstances surrounding her. 

Steve and I got to spend some time with Joel and Abrielle in late October. We spoke about the bone marrow transplant and how amazing it was that within three days of receiving her father's donated bone marrow the blood flowing through her veins were no longer carrying her DNA but her father's  DNA. She joked she could commit a crime and if any blood was left at the scene it would have her father's DNA and he would have to pay the price of the crime! 

What a wondrous real-life example of how Christ died for us and His blood covers us. As believers we are no longer recognised by our sins, we are recognised as sons and daughters of the Most-High God. Jesus's DNA is left at all our crime scenes, he pays the full price for us. And just as it took three days to transform Abrielle's blood DNA from her's to her father's, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave three days later on that miraculous Easter morning. His work was completed in three days. Another amazing thing is that before Abrielle received her dad's bone marrow she had chemo and radiation to basically zero-out her immune system so that it would be less likely to attack the new blood cells being made. Basically it's like a blood system-wide reboot happened within Abrielle's body. Her blood DNA died out to be reborn with her father's blood DNA. Another example of dying to the old self and being reborn as a new creation in Christ!

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
~ John 3:3

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
~ 2 Corinthians 5:17 

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
~ 1 John 5:4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
~ 1 Peter 1:3

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
~ John 3:6

In the short time that I got to live life with Abrielle and Joel I was deeply encouraged by their commitment to God. They, together, lived a life of full surrender to the Sovereignty of God. It was remarkable to see them weather the storms of life with such poise and grace; digging deeply into obedience and faith.  Joel exemplified a Godly model of a husband. Joel loved Abrielle in sickness and in health. He and Abrielle were one. They were a team. You couldn't be around them for long before understanding that they were truly remarkably unified in love for God, others and each other. Please pray for Joel as he grieves the loss of his best friend and beloved bride.


                                               
                                                    

Abrielle was intentional and kind. I am inspired by her beautiful example. I hope to live a life more deeply surrendered to God. I want to praise Him more and complain to Him less. I hope to learn calligraphy and make artful hand-lettering an expression of how beautiful words can be, both audibly and visually; lifting the spirit and mind. May my words be like Abrielle's - creatively crafted to be elegant, winsome and life-giving. 


                                                      
                                          
                                          





Monday, October 16, 2017

Member Care

Healthy, Resilient, & Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry by Laura Mae Gardner is the latest book I've been reading, highlighting, and bookmarking. This book calls itself, "a comprehensive member care plan." As I am the Member Care Coordinator for MAG, Missionary Air Group, it makes sense I am carefully engaged within the pages.

What is member care? I'm so glad you asked! I will quote the sample job description from Gardner's book, "to prepare, equip, strengthen and empower our staff for effective life and service within our organization... and beyond!" Sometimes I've described member care as the soft skills required for effect international workers. In MAG's case we specialise in aviation that primarily supports medical missions in Guatemala, Honduras and Gabon.

The technical skills of the job are obvious, you must know how to fly a plane and maintain it. As an international worker you likely will need to learn another language and culture. Those hard skills are
clearly necessary to succeed in being a pilot deployed to a field program with MAG. However it's the soft skills side of the job I am most heavily involved with developing for our organization.

Soft skill sets are vital for effective international workers. Those soft skills are mostly encompassed within an individual's spiritual, physical, emotional and relational health. In order to be on mission with God one must maintain spiritual health, often far from heart-language church services and discipleship. This requires a dependency upon the Holy Spirit and a deep understanding one's identity in Christ.

Some of the emotional and relational health markers are hardiness, resiliency, life-long learning, self-awareness and getting along well with others. Such things don't come so easily to us human beings especially under the cumulative weight of living cross-culturally.

As member care coordinator I am building avenues through which our members can develop, maintain and grow along the way. That means I am heavy on networking with like-minded organizations. MAG is a fairly young organization so we are thrilled to get to join in and share resources with others. I have had the honor to join JAARS staff in their Intercultural Communication Course, ICC, which is a four plus week intensive training course for new international workers. Our MAG members are able to get excellent training through this program.

As I continue to develop member care for MAG I am continually researching how other mission sending organizations equip and train their staff. It is a big job but one I am passionate about. There are many other aspects of my job I am still in development of such as screening of new members, resourcing counseling, debriefing and writing policies and procedures to ensure consistent care standards.

Please pray for me as I do not have a strong gift of administration. Writing of policies and procedures is slow going for me. The things that have taken up most of my time in this first year has been directly connecting and caring for our missionaries.

All this to say my job has stretched me greatly. I am on a high learning curve and at times feel very out of my depths. When those times happen I push into God and reach out to other more experienced professionals. I am greatly blessed to work with a wonderful headquarter staff here in North Carolina. I have been on field visits to Guatemala and Honduras to get to know and connect with our international staff. As we move forward pray we stay in step with Christ and boldly push into hard places with great love and compassion.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Traveling Chucks

 A few weeks ago I was able to join some dear friends to pause life a bit and linger together. We talked about all kinds of things but what truly anchors us is not our classic canvas chucks but our shared striving after a Spirit-led life. 


Leanne's Prius carried us miles stretched across smooth ribbons of road. In the air conditioned hybrid we found our conversation drawn to the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5-7 The Message (MSG)

You’re Blessed
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.


These words both trouble and comfort. 

The Traveling Chucks has been a gift. These remarkable women I get to adventure with have inspired and encouraged me on a soul-level. From our first trip days after I took our two oldest children to boarding school a country away on a foreign continent in 2010, to this last trip in 2017 God has shown up. He spoils us by showing us the wonder of this planet and the joy of traveling together. We've been on land and sea, near and far. We've seen elephants, hippos, and african grey parrots in the wild. We've even rescued a sea turtle much to the chagrin of a Gabonese fisherman. God is the author of adventure and friendship. He knits us together in this great big life. A life fraught with heartache and loss as well as love and purpose. 



The Sermon on the Mount is a clear call us to live out His Kingdom culture. His Kingdom culture is vastly different from the cultures of this planet. It's a tall order and one that can not be fleshed out in my strength alone. I need His Spirit and fellow adventures to inspire and encourage me along the way. Honestly everyday I have to fight against the culture of this world that values self and comfort and puzzles over such sentiments of being less in order to be filled more with God. I can be so easily swayed by HGtv and entertain thoughts that pop-corn ceilings are evil and granite counter tops are the answer to the all that ails. 

Thank you fellow Traveling Chucks:

Leanne Barnard
Hannah Trosen
Lisa Marie Mangang
Stephanie Meckley (Bean)
Quinn McGarvey
Renee Valach
Robin Roark Frey
Wendy Coons
Megan Straw 
Barbara Staudenmaier
Olivia Blase

And thank you to the many, too numerous to count, that have sojourned with me in this life. Our feet are not just shod with classic canvas converse shoes but vastly more importantly, "with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15).
























Monday, April 25, 2016

Not so easy or breezy but definitely beautiful!

I thought this year was supposed to be like the CoverGirl commercial back in the day, "Easy, breezy, beautiful." We were given a wonderful opportunity to come back to Cameroon to live and work with SIL Aviation and be with Sam for his senior year of high school. Win, win, win! What could go wrong?!

I took the scary, exhilarating, brave step to go back to school after a 20 year absence by taking classes online. Steve dove into his assignment with the aviation department with gusto. Sam rejoined his classmates at RFIS after a year long absence. We joined into the community excited to connect with friends and UBAC kiddos. We reunited with old friends and made new ones.

Things were going along swimmingly. I started jogging and ran my first 5k after many years of not having a regular exercise regime. Megan came to visit during Christmas time and we had wonderful time together reconnecting as a family and exploring beautiful new parts of Cameroon.

LIFE INTERRUPTED 

Then Sunday evening, March 13th, Sam came home from the second day of a weekend long soccer tournament at the American School of Yaounde. He had complained of a headache the evening before and we had him drink lots of water thinking he was dehydrated. He spiked a fever Sunday night and was greatly fatigued. We kept him home from school on Monday thinking he needed some rest to recover and regain his health after a very active weekend in the hot sun.

Monday he felt better and didn't have a fever until he was getting ready to go to bed that night. Tuesday morning he woke up feeling rotten so we tested him for malaria with a home test kit. It quickly showed a positive result and we immediately began treatment with Coartem. Coatem is a three day treatment for malaria that generally kicks in almost immediately.  However, Sam didn't feel better at all.

By Wednesday the 16th we went to the Jordan Clinic- a local clinic, here in Yaounde, to seek treatment for dehydration and his continued symptoms. The Jordan clinic gave Sam the first of three IV med treatments for malaria, but refused to give him IV liquids to rehydrate him even though their lab tested his blood and it came back showing he was dehydrated- why? ...we didn't understand.

So, we went home and had two amazing missionary nurses, under the direction of missionary doctor Dennis Palmer from Mbingo Hospital, set us up with saline IV fluids to rehydrate Sam throughout the night (thank you Wilma and Heidi Huizenga!!!). He woke up feeling a bit better and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Nurse Heidi H. came and administered the last two IV med treatments the next day.

RECOVERING?

By this time Sam had missed four days of school and was feeling better but still weak and miserable. On Friday the 18th, the last day of RFIS before spring break Sam and I went to have lunch there so he could say hi to friends and visit a bit before some left for break. He was thin and pale but seemed a bit better.  I thought we were on our way to complete health at this point.

For about four days Sam was weak but seemed better. He hung out with some friends and even had a sleepover. By Thursday the 24th he was back to laying around miserable. On Friday he woke up with significant spleen pain and was feeling lightheaded after just walking from the couch to the bathroom.

During this whole time we had nurse Heidi making house calls and checking in with us as well as regular phone consultations with our long-distance doctor Palmer. Saturday we went back to a local lab (Jordan) and had an ultra sound to check out the spleen pain and had some blood work done. By that evening we knew that Sam's spleen was enlarged and his hemoglobin number was 7.8. I really had no idea what hemoglobin was but quickly found out it is the red blood cell count in the blood. Malaria attacks red blood cells and they literally explode in the blood and disappear. Sam's count of 7.8 out of the normal range of 14 - 16 was very low. The doctor said if Sam's hemoglobin count went below 7 he would need blood transfusions. That is a scary prospect here in Yoaunde.
SIL Aviation pilot Brandon with the trusty Cessna 206- "Tango Mike"

MEDEVAC TIME

By Sunday the 27th Sam's fevers had returned and he was weak and miserable. We thought about flying to Mbingo on Monday but gave it another day. Monday night we decided to fly to Mbingo the next day. I am so thankful for the SIL aviation department and the ability to take a medevac on a moments notice.

Tuesday morning early Sam and I flew to Mbingo. We got there and started with meeting Dr. Palmer and getting some bloodwork done. Sam was pale and thin and very weak at this point. By mid morning we knew that Sam's hemoglobin count was at 3.8 which is DANGEROUSLY low. We checked him into the hospital and I got tested to see if Sam and I were the same blood type. I found out pretty quickly that I was and I gave the first unit of blood to Sam. He ended up needing four units of blood transfused. Three missionary doctors donated the remaining three units Sam needed.
Sam- too weak to walk

TRANSFUSION

We needed to watch for any reactions that might indicate that Sam's body was rejecting the donated blood. Thank the Lord that he had no reactions and began to regain some color by the next day. He had a fever the first night and felt miserable. It was a scary time for me. Sam was very calm through out and though he was feeling pretty badly he didn't complain much and rested fairly well.

We happened to know a family visiting the area on their vacation and they came to our room and visited with us. It was a HUGE blessing to have familiar people there with us praying for us in person. They also brought us food and water twice that day. Again a huge encouragement since otherwise I would have had to leave the room and hunt down food and water, leaving Sam alone and I really didn't want to have to do that then.
Kato Family- blessing us!

Sam began his fourth treatment of malaria meds that first day there at Mbingo. I'm not an expert on malaria but I have learned a lot about it since this event. There are five different types of malaria ranging from mild to severe and there are three different forms of malaria, R1, R2, and R3. R1 is easily treated, R2 is more difficult to treat and R3 is completely resistant to treatment. We were all hoping and praying Sam did not have R3 malaria. Clearly he didn't have R1 malaria as after three treatments he still had it. Dr. Palmer said we wanted to see Sam's hemoglobin numbers rise and to see the fevers go away and not come back. Those were the signs we were looking for to see Sam begin to heal.

Thank the Lord that Sam's last fever was that first night in the hospital. He never rejected the donated blood and by Saturday morning, April the 2nd, Sam's hemoglobin number was at 8.7! Dr. Palmer allowed us to fly home that day.
The Mbingo Hospital team that cared for Sam

DEBRIEFING

What a scary, exhausting experience. By the time my emotions caught up with me I was physically sick. I think the stress of watching Sam fight malaria for three weeks took its toll on me as well. Steve and I recently made an appointment with the missionary counselor here to help process this challenging event. My emotions sat just below the surface and threatened to spill over at the slightest remembrance.

She allowed me to tell my story and as I told it, all the feelings of helplessness and fear rose up again and my voice grew thick with emotion and before I knew it was was crying just remembering all that had occurred. She very kindly and gently told me about "Immanuel Healing, God With Us." It's a "practice of interacting with Immanuel (God with us) in a way that resolves painful life experiences" authored by E. James Wilder and Chris M. Coursey. She emailed me the information to help me to "sanctify" the thorny painful memories of Sam's illness. Sanctify is my word.

TRADING MY SORROWS
The amazing Doc PALMER!

It's really a simple exercise and truly remarkable in helping one to process well painful memories by sort of sitting with God and allowing his peace to permeate the memories. How we choose to look at life and memories has a great influence on allowing God's peace to envelope us or not. We can choose to be angry and alone and bitter that certain painful events happened or we can choose to look for God in those scary, hard moments. He is with us. He loves us. He wants to give us His peace. However we must choose to seek him in the midst or even after the fact. Sometimes it's really hard to see him in the midst of the storm. When we go back in our memories we can search and find Him there.

When I did this a miraculous thing happened. I saw God everywhere. He was there when nurse Heidi Huizenga and nurse Wilma helped us to rehydrate Sam with IV fluids. He was there when we got to fly to Mbingo in a plane. He was there when we arrived and met Dr. Palmer. He was there when we got the scary results in that Dr. Palmer immediately found blood donors and began treating Sam. He was there when I gave blood and didn't faint and found my way across the hospital to Sam's private room (I have a terrible sense of direction in the best of times) He was there when the family from Yoaunde arrived and brought us water, food and friendship (thank you Kato's!!!). He was there when the donated blood wasn't rejected. He was there when so many were praying for Sam during the SIL conference in Yaounde. He was there when so many even an ocean away were praying. He was there when the last and final malaria treatment began to work and beat back the malaria. He was there when Steve got to drive up with a missionary in a private vehicle rather than riding in a crowded bus with his legs crushed up against the metal back of the bench in front of him. He was there all along. My feelings of being alone and afraid melted away in light of seeing God there with me- Immanuel.


Captain Brandon- Returning to take us back home!
SANCTIFIED MEMORIES

Is this a magic trick or playing make-believe? I don't think so. It's just another way of allowing God to transform my thoughts and feelings. It's another way to allow God to heal. Not only did God heal Sam through the medicine but he is healing my emotions and my fears; those thorny memories that could cut me again and again as I remember the unsanctified version of events. Instead, I can see God and He is so good to me. It replaces fear with peace. It grows my faith and brings great comfort in knowing God loves me and is not distant or unaware of my hurts. And when I retell this story of Sam's nearly dying of malaria, it highlights God's presence and goodness and encourages the listener to experience the same for themselves. Win, win, win.

So this year has not been easy or breezy but it has indeed been beautiful! I have experienced God's profound love and peace in a new way. It has grown my faith and I know I am truly His beloved. I hope this story has encouraged you as well. May you experience the presence and peace of the Lord in the midst of thorny memories!