I have another crazy vacation story for you. I hope you don’t mind. I just can’t help proclaiming the Father’s incredible kindness to me…and to celebrate His awesome power to orchestrate events all around this wobbly globe. My desire is, through the telling, that praise to Him will be multiplied and He will be recognized as the Glorious King, high and lifted up!
Matthew, grandson #2, was to be married Saturday evening, July 21st, in the unspoiled Ozark highlands of Arkansas. As a family, we were delighted to celebrate with him and welcome his beautiful bride, Abi, into our little clan. Spread out in several states from east to west, the opportunity for us to all be together is rare. As any mother and grandmother can imagine, I was very grateful the wedding would bring us to one place—even for just a few days. For weeks, my heart thumped with joy, excitement, and anticipation. I was going to be with everybody…and I was getting a precious new granddaughter too!
TJ, grandson #1, age 23, had earlier planned a backpacking expedition in Southeast Asia for this summer and was scheduled to arrive in Memphis, one of the closest airports to the wedding, Thursday evening the 19th—just in time to be a groomsman for his brother.
But TJ got sick, very sick.
He texted his mom, my daughter, Tracy, on the Monday before the big weekend, the day all of us were packing to leave or were already on our way to Arkansas. He was feverish, having breathing issues, and experiencing extreme chest pain. And he was all alone half-way around the world. A nurse, Tracy tried to gather information from TJ, assess the situation, and recommend treatment options. She also sent out the word for us to pray.
That night, in a dark and strange hostel, TJ struggled to breathe. Texts flew back and forth between Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the USA where two helpless parents anxiously prayed and tried to calm their distant and frightened son via text messages. In desperation, TJ, in excruciating pain and unable to get a deep breath, stumbled out to the street and hailed a cab. Gesturing to be understood, he was rushed to the nearest hospital.
There, with no way to communicate verbally, TJ tried to explain his difficulties and symptoms in a charade-like fashion. Immediately the staff gave him a breathing treatment and oxygen, also ordering appropriate tests and chest x-rays. In this 150 bed Vietnamese ER, overcrowded with weeping and moaning people, TJ felt a heavy sadness and isolation he had never experienced in his life. Those who loved him and knew him, those who could simply explain what was happening to him, assure him, comfort him…they were all thousands of miles away. But his Heavenly Father wasn’t. He was there.
Through that long night, a young boy arrived at the hospital and was settled into TJ’s bed with him for a while. There were no other beds available. Nearby, in another bed, a very sick man breathed his last. The busy ER was incredibly overwhelmed and understaffed. Despite his fears and uncertain condition, TJ’s heart filled with compassion over the human suffering he witnessed all around him. In that vulnerable place, God was opening TJ’s eyes to the plight of millions in the developing nations of the world.
His initial diagnosis was a partially collapsed lung. TJ would not be flying home anytime soon.
That call came from Tracy early Tuesday morning as Greg was packing my car so Angie, Asher, and Lorelei could take off with me on our Arkansas road trip. We listened gloomily on speaker phone then circled up in the driveway. Greg, choking up a bit, prayed. What hope began stirring in my heart! It mingled with the sadness, fear, and worry that were already attempting a dangerous coup. That hope brought verse after verse popping into my mind. Promises I knew to be true took captive my negative thoughts.
God has promised to ALWAYS be with His children (I knew TJ was His) no matter where they are—even in Southeast Asia. And I knew God is the author of TJ's story and that He is able to do exceedingly beyond anything I can image with his life and in his life. We had been specifically praying for that. I was reminded that He is the Great Physician, the God of all comfort, the Loving Father, the Good Shepherd, and the King of the world. In that instant, I rehearsed His Names and His Character in my mind.
Greg specifically prayed that communication would increase—for TJ to be able to understand and to be understood and for Tracy to be able to know his condition and what medically was being done—all beyond the language barrier that was causing confusion and frustration. Certainly TJ didn’t understand Vietnamese, but he also didn’t understand all the medical terminology and jargon. He had no idea what was happening to him.
So we rode and prayed. Lots of others prayed too.
Into the ER walked three medical students from the UK. What? They “happened” to stop in that particular hospital that particular morning. Right.
Within minutes, they calmed TJ with their English words (cool British accent and all) and with their presence. They checked his chart and helped TJ understand what was going on. He was able to relay this to his mom. Apparently, one of the students was a rather attractive young lady and Angie, via phone text as we barreled through Maryland and West Virginia, was helping TJ with “pick up” lines to use like, “You take my breath away!” It was such a blessing that T’s phone had such good cell service and power so he, throughout, could stay connected to and encouraged by all of us here who love him.
And God wasn’t finished.
My resourceful son-in-law, Tim, TJ’s dad, contacted his cousin who works for Wycliffe Associates. He had already had a disappointing and unproductive conversation with the US Embassy. Within a very short time, Shelly connected Tim with a pastor in Ho Chi Minh City who has an association with Wycliffe. Tim explained their situation and this pastor, though visiting in Akron, Ohio, contacted a doctor from his congregation back in Vietnam and asked her to check in on TJ. So she did. What a blessing she was to him and to us!
I am not sure of the exact timetable of all of this, but it seems this wonderful doctor (whose name I won’t mention for security purposes) wasted no time getting to TJ in the ER. Not being affiliated with that hospital, she had to creatively procure access to him and navigate their system. Since T is American and also in the military, I think the hospital staff was already a little wary of what to do with him. In spite of this, our doctor wasn’t deterred; she basically took over his care.
She had him moved to a respiratory unit. She communicated, in very good English, to Tracy and Tim about TJ’s condition, his treatment and his prognosis. She arranged for an AMERICAN pulmonary doctor, who “happened” to be at another hospital just then, to see and evaluate TJ. Afraid that T would contract something worse in his already weakened condition from the hospital, she eventually arranged for his release into her care, signing an affidavit that she would be legally responsible for him. She took him to her home and fed him fried chicken, cheese burgers and coke so he would have something comforting and familiar.
The hospital was a cash-only facility; our doctor friend offered and then paid his bill in full until Tim could get the money to her. After hours of concern over the expense of this ordeal (a hospital stay, an ER visit, multiple X-rays, a CT scan, nebulizer treatments, a lung scope, medicines, etc.), the total amount due was about $350. Can you believe it?
TJ was also served some very delicious cookies while a guest in the doctor’s home. When he remarked at how good they tasted, she told him she had just purchased them at Costco in IDAHO (where TJ lives) on a recent vacation to visit friends. Unbelievable.
By this time, most of my family was processing this ordeal together in a lovely AirBnB in the Ozarks. As I described for you all the amazing events that were unfolding, I forgot to tell you that it was discovered that TJ’s lung was NOT collapsed as initially thought, a dangerous condition that would have precluded air travel for days, even weeks. He was diagnosed with a strange kind of emphysema. Air was being trapped in his chest and abdominal cavities causing extreme pain and cutting off his airway. Steroids, inhalers, antibiotics, and rest were required. So thankful he had enough presence of mind to go to the ER that lonely night. That, too, was God’s prompting.
With each email, in the ebb and flow of messages from the doctor and TJ, the news seemed increasingly more positive and eased our minds a little more. Matt and Abi, though sad, had come to terms graciously about T’s missing their big day. Following their lead, we all kept mechanically preparing for the rehearsal dinner and our other little parts in the wedding. We didn’t want anything to over-shadow their joy. And in the back of all our minds, we all entertained, however slightly, the wild hope that somehow TJ would be well enough to fly and make it to the wedding. Although it seemed a bit selfish, I asked God for His favor once more. He had done so much for us already.
In the very wee hours of Saturday morning, with hours to spare, TJ, pale and weak, was wrapped eagerly in the waiting arms of his whole tearful and grateful family. Together at last! My mother’s heart wanted to sing but I was crying too hard. We corporately offered our thanks to the powerful One who did it all. And we took a big picture of a smiling TJ surrounded by all of us to send to the doctor who so graciously took care of him in Vietnam.
God is kind.
So Matthew and Abi’s wedding went off without a hitch. It was perfect. She was a stunning bride. There was not a trace of sadness or worry to be seen anywhere. I am so excited to see how God is going to use them as missionary pilots in the future.
Tim didn’t have to mortgage his home to pay medical bills.
We got pictures taken with ALL of us in them…no one missing. I can’t wait to see them.
We discovered where to go when we have major medical issues—Vietnam!
We all made a new friend in Ho Chi Minh City. I hope to one day thank her personally (in Idaho) for her sacrificial and lavish love and care for my grandson. How like Jesus! She made a lasting impression on all of us.
We were humbled by the amazing response and love of the tight-knit Christian community around the world. Tim had also contacted a college day’s friend associated with Cadence International, a missionary organization located on military bases around the world. A very kind nurse with their ministry paid TJ a visit to the hospital and followed up with an email. Amazing.
But this is only the beginning of the story for TJ. In all the confusion, loneliness, and fear, it seems God has captured TJ’s attention…and his heart. He has given my boy a new focus and purpose. This past week, TJ has spent hours checking into an EMT class and investigating graduate programs and speaking to advisors. Though it is only in the early stages of development, his new plan is to get some sort of medical degree. He wants to help the sick, weak, helpless, and under-served people like the ones he was surrounded by a few weeks back.
Maybe in an overcrowded ER in Ho Chi Minh City.
Thank you, Father. You are kind.
And, this is a warning. When I get my hands on those wedding pictures, you just might want to avoid this grandmother!