Abi Report

This includes the latest updates about Abi and her recovery from necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating disease she contracted in October 2008.  This and more of her story including her latest entry can be found on the hospital sponsored site to track her story:

 http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/abimelson

May 2014

Abi is nearing the end of her reconstructive journey.  The first week of June she is scheduled for the last of her Orthodontic appointments. They will remove her braces and get molds of her teeth to fit her for retainers.  A few days later she will go in to get the retainers and then she should be done!  Praise the Lord!  Abi is anxious to get this part of her reconstruction over with.  With her decreased mouth size, scar tissue inside her mouth, and spots of thin skin she has had to deal with almost constant cancer sores from the braces.  Lord willing the retainers will be much more "friendly" to her mouth!  Thank you SO much for all your prayers for her!

 

 

Abi Writes

Written Aug 3, 2012 3:11pm

So, here I sit recovering from my most recent reconstructive surgery I had two days ago on July 31, 2012.  I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of the greatness of God.  He gave me life in first place and new life more times than I can count. The most powerful of these new lives was my salvation through Christ, but perhaps the most noted and remembered was when He chose to spare my life three and a half years ago in October, 2008.  But God has spared me so many more times than that. I have never been involved in a plane crash, though I have ridden in many, many planes.  I have never been in a serious car crash, and though I have come close with crazy Papua New Guinea drivers; God has spared me car crashes.  I have had many surgeries – some life-saving some reconstructive – and I have come through every single one and healed so well and quickly I astounded my surgeon.  My family and I have never been harmed when there was tribal fighting in our area.  And, while we have been robbed, we have never had guns in our faces or people beating on us as they stole.  I have never been near starvation or wondered where my next meal would come from or if I would even get a next meal. And, while I have experienced droughts, I have never had to drink unclean, unsafe water to survive or even have to worry about such thirst.  I have always had good water.  Not every slip or fall I’ve had in my life has landed me in the hospital.  I don’t wake up every morning fighting illness.

I think we as people forget that every day we wake up is one more day God chose to spare our lives.  If you’re reading this, God chose to let you live today, and He has a reason for it.  And, while some of us who do wake up to physical ailments – even life-threatening ones – we all wake up to a spiritually deadly disease. Our own sin natures coax and convince us into getting up on the wrong side of the bed, into believing that we deserve to savor our bad moods because of whatever it is we’re going through.  Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?  There’s no problem you, I, that person next door, that person you work with, that person you go to school with has that God can’t fix.   Not one.  God can heal any wound and pick up all the pieces, no matter how many or how small they are.  But He’s put the ball in our court.  We have to choose to get it moving, and once we do He’ll help us keep it moving along.  Does this mean we won’t get stuck?  No.  Does this mean every day will be a “good” day?  Nope.  Does this mean every morning and every circumstance the first words out of our mouths will be “Praise God!”?  Absolutely not.  But this is what life with God should be like, right?  It should be easy and happy and fun, right?

Let me propose something, if you will.  We often pray for God to give us a “good day”, but what does that really mean?  Our brains generally translate a “good day” to mean an easy day or a fun day. But to God, a “good day” might be one filled with difficulties and stressers and challenges that encourage us to turn to Him for help. A good day in God’s mind very well could be a miserable day in ours.  So, what’s all this to say?  What’s the big picture?  What lesson am I trying to teach that is now going to be neatly summarized into a sentence or two one can easily remember? Good question.  The answer?  Whatever you get out of it.  Yep.  That’s it.  And, if you aren’t sure what to get out of it, I doubt reading through the thoughts of this seventeen-year-old girl once more could hurt.




Surgery Report

Written Aug 1, 2012 4:48pm

Dear Abi-Supporters!

Abi's surgery went well!  It was about an hour long, but including the drive both ways, pre-operative preparation, recovery, it was over 11 hours by the time we got home.  We are tired today for some reason...

Kellis and I were talking while waiting "It is such a miracle we get to bring her home..."  God is so good, but He is good whether the surgery went well or not.  Right after the surgery Abi was a little nauseous, but that passed quickly. She is doing well, but will have to take it easy a bit, but with little restriction on what foods she eats.  Along with the great results from her surgery Dr. Hopper told us her mouth may be around 20% larger once she has healed.  This will be a big functional improvement!

Thanks for caring, for praying, please continue praying for her healing that it will be magnificant and without infection.  Abi will probably add more later, but she went grocery shopping with Mom.


Please Pray for Surgery Tomorrow

Written Jul 30, 2012 5:26pm

Hey friends,

"Going in for surgery tomorrow ... Almost feel like I'm going home."

That is what Abi entered on her facebook page.  We just wanted to let you know we are in the States and Abi is having surgery TOMORROW, we would appreciate your prayers. 

We have had a lot going on, multiple trips to doctors, trying to do school, normal adjustments to living in another country, getting used to having sunlight past 6:00, her sister Lydia had corrective jaw surgery recently.

So how is Abi doing?  She is glad to be having another corrective surgery, follow up to the Necrotizing Fasciitis she had in 2008, which took most of her lower lip and almost her life, but not her spunky spirit.  When Dr. Hopper met with Abi he was pleased with how she was doing and asked her if she was looking forward to another surgery.  She gave a quick reply of "Yes."

We left Papua New Guinea for this surgery and are asking God to make Himself known through this latest hospital trip. Pray this surgery will be a big "YES" in Abi's life as the Dr. is planning on increasing her mouth function, and improving the corner and symmetry of her lips.  For now, another surgery, another recovery, for Abi it is "Almost going home..."

 


Written May 13, 2010 1:52pm

(Note:  This was written while in the Scranton, PA airport waiting for a flight home...)

Surgery is scheduled for 3:00 tomorrow, Friday the 14th of May.  It will be Abi’s eighth, and Lord willing, her last before we return to Papua New Guinea this summer.  Doctor Hopper is planning to re-form the corner of her mouth to make it more symmetrical, and to touch up the external scar on her chin.  The surgery will take about an hour and fifteen minutes, with recovery taking another couple of hours.  Knowing Abi, she will awaken with little consequence.  I can say that, I’m not the one going through it.  But then again, she amazes me how she bounces back, how she matter-of-factly, nonchalantly, faces each new appointment, therapy, adjustment, pain, and surgery.  With a wisdom that convicts she says things like “What else can I do but trust?”  Or “What alternative is there to having a good attitude?  A bad attitude, and is that right?”  Or “God has done so much for me and He didn’t have to, and there are others who are worse off than me…”  I marvel and rejoice in her faith, and I too choose to believe.  After all, God is so good to us, and what alternative do we have?

We choose to keep going in life, don’t we?  We desire to grow, to advance, to keep improving our lives and the lives of those around us, to point others to our gracious God, to carry burdens well and learn from them, but never be conquered by them because “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” Psalm 46:1.  We go on with no regrets, but the journey sometimes is difficult, and not the path we would choose for ourselves.  I don’t know the way Lord, it is not clear, I am scared.  We have all had those thoughts at times, but this is not one of those days. 

We wrote last time that there was a short term orthodontist in Papua New Guinea who would be able to continue with Abigail’s treatment, and that was a great answer to prayer.  We were so excited, not just for Abi, but also for her sister Lydia who needs braces before having corrective jaw surgery in about a year.  But the latest news is that the orthodontist broke his wrist due to a degenerative bone disease, and won’t be able to help us.  So…what will we do?  How will we figure this out?  Those are the wrong responses; rather we should be thinking “What AWESOME thing is GOD going to do to solve this?”  We don’t know, but we know Him, isn’t that enough?  Maybe it will involve monthly trips to Australia, maybe an orthodontist can come visit us, maybe New Tribes Mission or Wycliffe Bible Translators will get a volunteer to come for they have many needs and both missions desire to recruit an orthodontist.  Who knows?  Surely I do not, but God does!

Abi is smiling as she plays a game with her sisters, joking, without a care in the world. 

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010   1:47 AM, EDT

Abi has been waiting, we all have been for a combined appointment with Dr. Hopper and Abi's new pediatric orthodontist, Dr. Sheller.  They will plan a new strategy for Abi's continued therapy and healing, one that involves braces now her mouth is large enough to endure them.

Prior to contracting necrotizing fasciitis, she was near the end of her prior orthodontist treatment, with a wonderful mission dentist in Papua New Guinea, Dr. Dane.  He said an American dentist could easily finish her treatment after we returned to America during the summer of 2008.  Before that could happen, Abi's braces were removed during one of her first surgeries.  That was a year and a half ago, and her teeth need correcting.

While she did not have a lower lip for a while, she naturally used her tongue to close her mouth so she would not drool, and so she could breathe better, use a straw, and such.  The continual pushing of her tongue and her unfinished treatment resulted in chewing and biting problems.  Her teeth have shifted, don't meet in the front, and she can only chew in the back on one side. 

Her treatment plan includes another round of braces, and new x-rays and dental impressions were taken.  That was interesting watching the technicians grind down the dental trays to make them smaller so they would fit in her smaller mouth.  Dr. Sheller is planning the specifics of her treatment now, and we are waiting for the next step.

What is the next step for your life and mine, the next event around the corner?  Will it be a burden or a blessing? Will we grow, make progress, improve?  Will we be up to it?  We have no certainties but this, God will help us.  He will not abandon us to destruction, and though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil!  He promised to help us, has helped us, and will help us.  Can a Father forget his child?  Not this Father.  He knows what the next step is and goes for us, before us, and with us.

Abi's next step involves about 2 years of braces, but is there an orthodontist in PNG that could continue her treatments?  The only ones there were missionaries, we knew of only one, and he was stateside.  Missionary dentists are rarer than missionary doctors, orthodontists, even rarer.  It wasn't good news, and after a couple of weeks of checking...we discovered there was an orthodontist even closerto where we live in PNG.  Praise God!  A big provision for the next step, allowing us to return to PNG when planned! 

The USA and PNG orthodontists are emailing and planning treatment, consulting, and we are excited!  Abi's surgeon has also planned a minor corrective surgery for June, and he was pleased with her progress.  Please pray it will go well. 

And Abi?  She is working on school, healing, massaging her scars, traveling reporting on our work in PNG, speaking some in churches, getting on facebook, doing normal teenager stuff.  She is doing her mouth exercises, sucking crazy straws and blowing up balloons (see new pictures).  She is rounding a corner, trusting God for the next step in her life.  Are you?

Friday, November 27, 2009 1:03 AM, PST

The hour is about to change. With one small movement of the hands Thanksgiving Day will pass, and my mind races. The struggles of our forefathers, the first pilgrims, obviously come to mind, for nearly half did not survive their first winter. They persevered, for want of a better life, for want of religious freedom, overcoming hardships not by overpowering them but by outlasting them. Despite the great cost and struggles, a time of thanksgiving was held to celebrate the harvest and life itself. Survival is sweet after so bitter and meager a beginning. They endured.

And so have others since the 1620’s, venturing across the seas to a place so good it was the “new world.” Opportunities awaited the brave, the determined, those willing to try again or to die while trying again. War followed, for freedom from tyranny, and a fledgling democracy was born, and hope with it. Though wars foreign and civil challenged our fathers, they endured. And we stand taller, more blessed, with more freedom and finances because we stand on their shoulders, strengthened by their achievements, taught by their example, indebted to their legacy, and we should be grateful for their sacrifice. Try reading Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation and not feel awed, humbled, and chastised by the lives and stories…of our fathers. Are we improving, building on their legacy, the values that made America great?

For all this I thank my heavenly Father I was born in the USA, still the greatest country on earth (though I am partial to Papua New Guinea). Its freedoms and prosperity have touched the world’s multitudes with humanitarian aid, sent missionaries (like us) around the globe, provided opportunities for my parents, so that their children could have a better life. And despite debates about healthcare, America still has some of the best care in the world, and I thank God…because American doctors saved Abi’s life. Her main doctor, a good man, Dr. Hopper, is actually a Canadian, but he is working here and he saved Abi’s life. Can’t I be grateful? Can’t I be grateful for you and all the prayers offered, the love and encouragement you have been to our family?

A wonderful day of togetherness, turkey, trimmings, tv football for many, family laughter and joys all around, and once in the year when many take a true holiday, a mini vacation before the storms of life threaten. Abi does not seem too threatened, despite the ordeals she has experienced, like nearly dying, losing a lip, scars on her face, pain, months of therapy, and now, healing from a reconstructive surgery. Dr. Hopper said she is “an amazing healer,” and she is, but even clearer to Abi is that God is good, and she, and all of us have a lot to be thankful for. 1) She has two lips again, and the stretching is going well, though she wears a steri strip to prevent excessive stretching on the scars. 2) The doctors are planning a new “device of torture” (Abi says) for her physical therapy, and we should get it within a couple of weeks. 3) A recent trip provided Abi with an opportunity to swim, something she loves to do, but has not been able to do for over a year, because she had no lower lip. But now, though difficult, she can close her mouth, and actually swim! Hooray! It was fun, and when I asked how it felt, how her new lip worked, she said smiling, “It is somewhere in the mid-nineties.” Thanks God!

Pretty good for someone who was near dead a year ago, wouldn’t you say?

Oh boy am I grateful!

Sunday, October 11, 2009 11:06 PM, PDT

Dear all, friends and family, far and near, (Check out the new pictures!)

We are so grateful for your prayers, and we are sorry we have not updated more. It has been our intention, but the surgery pushed us back a couple of days with school and some other projects related to Papua New Guinea, and Abi is getting better every day.

(I sent some of this to some new friends and it sounded good so I included it here...)

Basically, the surgery involved several procedures:

1) Doctor Hopper opened up all the scar tissue outside her face, and also made incisions inside her mouth. He DID NOT have to cut all the way through her cheek for the reconstruction, which he said was a possibility. With the flesh loosened, he pulled the cheek part towards her mouth more and then pulled the chin flesh up to stitch it together in a tighter, better position. This should result in better mouth function, also improving and minimizing her scarring. How marvelous Dr. Hopper knows how to do this!

2) He took a bit of flesh out from her neck at the end of the old scar, and moved it to her right chin just under her right lower lip, to build up missing tissue there. This rebuilt her right receptacle, the part that forms a wall and holds saliva in the mouth. It also should give her mouth a more level appearance once it heals.

3) Dr. Hopper gave Abi a new lower lip! Her partial (about 1/2) lower lip was pulled to the right side of her mouth, and now, for the first time in a year, she has lips all the way around her mouth! While her mouth is small, puckered, drawn together to match her partial lower lip, it will start stretching and will get bigger. It already has! The doc said she will never have the full size she had before, but she can close her mouth again, AND she has a new lower lip! Did I say that already?

She is healing well, the swelling has gone down a lot, and she is only taking Tylenol as needed. Those first couple of days she laid around and watched cartoons, hardly did anything but nap and eat a little bit.

The third day she poked me, as we sat on the couch, and her eyes were smiling, but not her mouth. But since, she is noticeably improving every day. She is back to doing school, but has been sick some, could it be the school? Friday she had her stitches removed, and things are looking good! She seems to tire easily, but not too much to eat a piece of pumpkin pie!

She is on a soft food diet for two weeks, and that is hard. Well, soft actually, but it is difficult to do. But it got me thinking...and that is also difficult to do... It made me think of how she is forced to a childish and infantile diet, one with smoothies, soups, protein drinks, soft fruit, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and yogurt, and other such tasteless wonders. I'm getting tired of having to eat these horrible things with her!

Actually I was thinking about the whole idea of growth and maturity, how weird and awkward it would be if adults went to restaraunts to order baby food, and then all sat around slurping and eating as a child. It would be disturbing, creepy, obvious things are not as they should be. Grown people are not supposed to eat baby food! They have advanced and moved on, yet spiritually, some have not matured and gone on to heavier issues. They are adult by appearances, but by their practice they are living a life of soft food, and they do not have the strength needed to maturely face the issues of the day.

Could it be we are just soft people living soft lives in little soft worlds we have created...and life is passing us by, things that really matter are passing us by? An infant on soft food does not need to concern itself with such things, nor is it even aware, but we are not infants! We are grown! Am I, are you, are you really?

The Apostle Paul said the Corinthians (1 Cor 3) were immature, unspiritual, carnal, still on milk, when they should be on meat or a more fitting substantial diet. They were grown but acted like adults still on baby food! He knew this because they still were squabblers, still petty, STILL petty like children with envy, striving, and divisions, incapable of dealing with weightier issues. Later he told this same group (1 Cor 13) that love is the highest way, belonging to those who are matured by faith and hope and who as grown men have put away childish things.

Are we on soft food still? Do we still struggle with pettiness? Do we allow others to have their way, or do we desire the place of victory? Do we purposely separate from others? Do we live by faith, joyous with hope? Do we live by love, not the soft love of belief only, but the costly love of 1 Cor 13 that acts, and does, and patiently and kindly bears with others? Maybe I am "softer" than I think I am. I know Abi desires to be eating hard food again, she knows it is her place, and it is coming, but her mouth is tender still, so she trusts God and continues waiting. But what about us? What are we waiting for? God is waiting for us to put childish things behind us, to become the men and women He created us to be, to be bearers and heralds of His love, so push away from the table of soft food, go for something more substantial and generous and live your life on purpose!

Come join us!

Love Pat, Kellis, Lydia and Abi

Friday, October 2, 2009 8:05 PM, PDT

At 10:00 am Abi was released from the hospital, having proved she could take liquids and soft food on her own. She actually had 2 small milks before they came in at 8:00 with her first round of hospital food, and the nurse was surprised. Have you ever tried keeping food away from a teenager? It's hard to do. We made it home from Children's Hospital Seattle around 11:30. It was an uneventful drive, Abi, Lydia, and Kellis all napped, traffic cooperated even despite intermittent showers. Home! Oh to be going home!

Understandably, Abi has had some pain and discomfort, but she does not complain. Oh if we all could learn that lesson! For now she is content with her circumstances, pain, discomfort, and simple pleasures are enough. Like a Costco pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream smoothie. It's about all she can fit in her mouth, and she is on a limited soft food diet, kind of difficult circumstances for a teenager. But think about it, she gets to drink a Costco pumpkin pie and vanilla smoothie! Now that is a good thing is it not? As I see and hear the slurping noises, even now, I can almost taste it, Oh I love the fall and pumpkin pie!

I am sorry, I realize it is too late for most to go get a pumpkin pie and ice cream and make a smoothie, but it sure would be nice to do that, wouldn't it? And so are many of the blessings we have, a family, a good dinner, a job, electricity, a car, the freedoms we experience in America, a sun break on a cloudy day, that call from a friend. Our contentment relates to attitude, not circumstance, it is a choice. So look around! Even a small blessing can remind us of God's grace to us, and give us hope and peace. Abi is doing that one slurp at a time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009 7:13 PM, PDT

Abi sleeps, peacefully on her side with a teddy bear tucked into her arm. The teddy bear, "Bear" is his name, knows this routine well. He is a necrotizing fasciitis survivor as well, having gone through Abi's illness a year ago. He was there in the hospital through all of it,comforting her, though she did not know it. And he was there when she woke again and saw light for the first time in a couple of weeks. Bear also sleeps peacefully, with Abi tucked on his arm. A comfortable relationship, beneficial to both, as is our relationship. We feel a little battered sometimes, but having your prayers and encouragement is like being pampered and comforted, tucked into the arms of Jesus, and though battered we are at peace, like Abi.

It is about 7:30, and Abi has been out of surgery for almost an hour. Dr. Hopper said the surgery went well and he was able to do everything he wanted to do. (Hallelu-Hallelu-Hallelu-Hallelujah! Praise ye the Lord!) Abi now has a complete lip, all the way around her mouth, a cute little button of a mouth that will stretch out with time, a mouth so tender, one Abi has dedicated to the Lord. The doctor also moved some of the tissue in her mouth, cutting near the old scar and reattaching it in a way that should result in a more symmetrical mouth. He also opened up the scar on her chin in order to gain some flesh he could use to build up the lower receptacle on the right side, where her new lip is attached. All together she should have a fairly even mouth, though her muscle control is clearly different between the two sides. It could take two years for her mouth to fully heal, and then we will know what kind of feeling and muscle control she will have. But those concerns will have to wait, it is not time for them yet and we can't worry about it anyway. God has been and is too good for us to worry.

When they were bringing her into her room, Abi waved, and she has talked, and given smart looks enough that we know she is doing well. We are so excited! We have such good news, as good as we hoped and prayed for. I feel like singing a Chris Tomlin song at the top of my lungs! Like jumping up on the table or running down the hallway singing:

How great is our God,
Sing with me How great is our God,
And all the world will see How great,
How great is our God!

But for now I refrain, because Abi is sleeping and that is praise enough.

Thursday, October 1, 2009 2:58 PM, PDT

Hey all, They called us in early, it's about 3:00 pm and they just took Abi back for laughing gas, anasthesia, and surgery... She is doing well, and we had a nice chat with Dr. Hopper and he said he expects surgery to be about 2 hours. Thanks for praying!

Thursday, October 1, 2009 7:36 AM, PDT

It's 7:30 am, and today is the day. Abi sits on the couch, still in her jammies, eating her last meal before surgery. She jokes and laughs, everything is normal but in just a few hours, she will turn a corner, saying goodbye to her scarred face.

Through the skills of a great doctor, Dr Richard Hopper, and his team, through natural healing, and through the miraculous grace of the Great Physician, the "new" Abi will begin a new journey. The road to restoration. It has been marked by months of physical therapy, nearly a year's worth, from her last of six surgeries last October. It is marked with the goodness of God, who has helped us and His precious Abi to trust Him, and in all of this, to trust Him more. Today is the day, but is just another day of trust.

At 4:15 pm at Children's Hospital in Seattle, the 2 1/2 hour reconstruction will begin, attaching her partial lower lip to the right side of her mouth. Since her lower lip is short and thin, this will leave her mouth puckered, and over the following months her reattached lip will stretch and lengthen, hopefully giving her a more "normal" mouth in both looks and function. Part of the surgery will also include cleaning up some of the scar tissue, which as a tight band of flesh limits her mouth's elasticity and mobility. There will likely be some grafting inside her mouth to restore and smoothen her inner cheek, but we don't know.

Only the future will tell what kind of muscle control and function she will have, but the prospects are hopeful, as bright as the promises of God. Today is the day to hope and trust. God can restore what was lost, He wants to give more, and we are holding our hands out asking our Father for more...

Pray with us today, for miraculous skill given to the doctors, for Abi's peace, and ours, for safety in traveling and good news on all sides, as God wills. By 7:00 pm the surgery should be over, and Abi will be in recovery, and by 8:00 or 9:00 we should be talking with her, today is the day, the day to begin again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009 11:26 PM, PDT

Hooray!
Hal-le-lu-jah!
(Insert Hallelujah Chorus here)
Happy Happy Happy!

Abi finished school! And Lydia did too! When they read this they will both be trying to get out of school, so let me clarify. They did just finish their last school year, just this last week. That's right, they had no summer break, they were both just trying to get caught up after missing more than 2 months of school because of Abi's illness. Sometimes they had double classes, more than 8 hours a day trying to get caught up, to finish the marathon. It was a significant milestone, and a busy time for our whole family, this was the big goal we worked for all summer...

(Insert Hallelujah Chorus here)

We killed the fatted calf, put on rings and our good robes, hooted and hollered, and danced for joy, for the summer that was dead was raised to life again, at least for a day or two of sunshine, the hint of freedom, but still a display of God's faithfulness. He allowed Abi's illness and He gave strength enough to bear up under it, even if it meant a summer with no break. God is good, and His faithfulness endures forever!

(Insert Hallelujah Chorus here)

So this week, guess what? Lydia and Abi started school again! Please pray for them. We are so proud of them! They are good kids, smart, mature, wonderful, but it is hard to jump right back into school. And then on OCT 1 Abi is scheduled for reconstructive surgery.

(Insert Hallelujah Chorus here)

We are all excited and know your prayers will be with Abi and us, for it is one step closer to returning home to Papua New Guinea. God has blessed us so much through this process, and we are reminded He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, that He makes all things work for good to those who love him, that God meant this for good.

(Insert Hallelujah Chorus here)

 

Thursday, July 23, 2009 11:29 PM, PDT

(PS, check out the new pictures!)

We waited, curious, uncertain how God would answer. We expected good things, after all, that is what God does. But we are human, weak and uncertain. Weak enough to expect good, but strong enough to believe God would give a great answer? Please God, let the news be great, great like You are! 15 minutes went by, then 30, then 31, then 32, 33, 34, 35, 36...well, you get the picture, 45, 46...and then an hour, then more. Kel and I, Abi, Lydia and Naomi joked about mundane things, dozed, moved twice to better seats, closer to the door and the news we waited for. Finally we were called inside to the examining room. During the last months we had appointments with physical therapists, the social worker, and dentist, but it had been almost six months since we saw the doctor. How was Abi healing after months of waiting, recovery, scar relaxation, mouth stretching and rehab? Is Abi still on target for reconstructive surgery in September?

Dr. Hopper and an associate came in, and after greetings all around he began examining Abi. Studiously poking, prodding, testing the scars and flesh of her face he said "You’re a good healer Abi." Yes! Thank you Lord! More please, give us more good news! He examined the inside of her mouth and said she was doing great, "If I could do the surgery tomorrow, I would." Did he just say that? Did he- "Unfortunately my schedule is booked through September so we are looking at a surgery date in October..." Did he just say that? Did he just say October? MORE waiting? He did, he did say October, and that he was sorry we would have to wait but he would put her on priority scheduling, in case anything earlier was available. The large scar band inside her mouth has softened some, but he will cut out the hard parts and bring more pliable parts of her cheek together for a better result. He will attach her partial lower left lip to the right side of her mouth and to the top of her right chin, and hopefully it will stretch nicely into a fuller lip she will be able to close and control. He will also open the scar on her front chin and remove some of the excess skin. "There is more good news," he said, "she has healed so well I won’t need to see her again until the day of surgery." That is good news, but more was coming, "She is doing so good there is a possibility I may not have to do any follow up surgeries." Did he just say that? Did he just say maybe no more surgeries? He did! We were excited, I was giddy, Abi smiling, as Dr. Hopper explained he still needed to evaluate her after the reconstructive surgery healed, but we should still be able to return to Papua New Guinea in July 2010. We could call the office in a couple of weeks for a surgery date.

Praise the Lord for a great report!

Two weeks later, July 21st, Abi’s 14th birthday, it was time to call. I feel uncertain, not afraid of when the surgery would be, or worried, but awe struck of God that I do not belong here in this place of blessing. For not so long ago Abi almost died, and we were uncertain if she would see another birthday. Yet here she is, smiling, laughing, beaming... Some one joked that she is happy because she had a latte from Starbucks, they were giving away free pastries with a paid drink, in honor of her birthday I'm sure. Maybe the caffeine and sugar made her happy. Or maybe she was excited because it was her birthday. While having Starbucks and pastries on your birthday can be therapuetic, I think Abi is just being Abi, who was once as dead but has been made alive, happy to be alive and able to celebrate another birthday! She is beaming because that is what she does, after all, aren’t all Christians supposed to beam their light before all men? She is beaming Christ, shining, so shining and I rejoice in the warmth! I do not deserve such blessings, I have much to be grateful for, for I am here, I live, and Abi lives!

How can I understand such wonders? I am like a nervous awestruck child, scurrying around in my Father’s house, hiding in the shadows, afraid. Someone will find me and throw me out, saying "Get out! You don’t belong here!" Yet Christ comes and takes my hand in his, speaking comfort, He declares to all: "I have given him eternal life, and he shall never perish; no one can snatch him out of my hand. My Father, who has given him to me is greater than all; no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand." These verses used to conjure up God’s impressively large and capable hands, as in the song "He’s got the whole world, in His hands; He’s got the whole wide world, in His hands..." While true it has always seemed impersonal, distant, so unlike this passage which speaks of a caring and attentive shepherd. I like this, I need this version, and though undeserving, still will I say "I do belong here! And if you disagree, look here, Christ is holding my hand, and He’s not letting go. And on my other side is my heavenly Father, and He is holding my other hand, and He will not let go either, so I’m staying!" Thus I have such encouraging and strong companions, whether at the bedside of a child dying in an ICU, or in a dark and distant village of Papua New Guinea. I am struck down by the far reaches of such grace!

Oh yes, the appointment! Abi is scheduled for surgery October 1st, almost a year from her illness. Pray with us for an earlier date! We’ll call and remind them we can come earlier if something opens up. It would be nice for Abi to not have to wait if she is ready for the surgery now. Now back to another cool thing God did. As missionaries normally living overseas, and having 2 daughters in college, it is hard to get everybody together. Abi’s birthday was a big day, but Rachel’s summer job at a nearby camp allowed her only Wednesday nights and weekends off, and Abi’s birthday was on a Tuesday. If Rachel could not get time off, it may be a very long time before we could spend an Abi birthday together. Before, before we could call to try and arrange some time off, Rachel’s supervisor said things were not as busy as usual and some of the counselors could get some unexpected time off. Sweet! It would be a surprise, I would go pick up Rachel on a birthday-ice cream run, in time for lunch, and early present opening. Beaming, Abi ran outside to greet Rachel before lunch. At prayer time Kellis said, pausing a few times, that this day and lunch "...was special, not just because it was Abi’s birthday, but because Abi is still here." It took a while to get through the prayer, and the presents, and the day. What a glorious day! And then the night.

My tears come in the night, when the house is quiet and I alone am awake. I count the blessing of my new life in Christ. I count Kellis my wife, asleep beside me. I count my five daughters, Beka and my son-in-law Adam, Rachel, Naomi, Lydia, Abi. I count my Mom, Kel’s parents, Bruce and Sue, my brother and my two sisters. I count my coworkers and brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea and our Temple Baptist church family, I count the people and churches who have strengthened us with their prayers. I think of Dr. Hopper, the many nurses, and all the others who cared for my daughter. And my thoughts go to Abi, who trusts her heavenly Father and says with confidence, "Look here, Christ is holding my hand, and He’s not letting go. And on my other side is my heavenly Father, and He is holding my other hand, and He will not let go either." And tears of peace flow, of hope and gratitude, for God does not have to be so kind, so kind as all of this.

May 5, 2009

Abi's dad here, trying to keep you informed of God's greatness and goodness.  His mercies are new every morning!  Abi continues to improve, preparing for reconstructive surgery in the fall.  Pray for her (us) as she is doing physical therapy, working hard with her sister Lydia trying to make up 2 months of school.  We hope we'll be able to fit in some vacation time before school starts again, but first they have to finish!  Abi wrote the following, most of which she shared at a recent Mother-Daughter Brunch:

ABI WRITES:

Have you ever heard someone say God will never give you more than you can handle? Well, God must trust me way less than He trusts my family and friends.

"What does she mean?" you might ask. "Aren't you the one with the scarred face?" Yes, I am the one with the scarred face, but that is all it is. I was the one who got that weird somewhat unknown disease, Nectrotizing Fasciitis. Sure, I was addicted to Morphine and Ativan.  I was the one with the migraines because my head was still healing from its wounds.  Dude, it felt like it was falling apart or exploding!  Yes, I was the one who they cheered for when I stumbled out of bed and dropped immediately into a chair.  Sure, I was the one who got a lot of the gifts and attention.  Mm-hm, I was the one that got to sleep all day and stay up all night.  That wasn't my fault.  I had become a bat, awake at night and asleep all day. This may have been due to a particularly noisy neighbor who shared the other half of my hospital room.  We were separated by only a curtain.  Yeah, I was the one who Dr. Hopper asked for all the answers to his questions about how I was doing.  Yep, I was the one who made my adopted uncle, Mark Steckiel, cry just by calling him and saying a few hardly coherent, groggy words, "Hi, Uncle Mark. I'm wearing the shirt you sent me."  Of course, I was the one who got to ride around in the wheelchair because I could not walk without stumbling into every wall or randomly falling asleep.  Yup, I was that kid who had double-vision from the Hyperbaric Chamber and figured if I saw two identical hallways, it was best to go between them.  All this is true.  I would not lie, especially not about this.  The truth is so much better than any tall tale or lie I could ever create.

Anyway, back to my first point.  All the things I mentioned were hard, but they've come and gone.  I was the one with the easy way out.  I got to sleep through all the hard stuff.  I never had to hear the "She may die" or the "We're doing all we can and it doesn't seem to be enough."  I must not have been as strong as my family and friends.  I like attention.  I'll do almost anything to get it sometimes. Ok, quite often.  To get short hair (I've wanted short hair for years) and a few rather prominent scars was more a gift than a curse.  It just gave me another way to stand out and be noticed.  It's like, "Ha ha ha!  There's no way people can ignore me now!"  This all just gave me more of what I wanted.  My friends and family had the real challenge.  They had to hear all the hard things.  They had to see me suffer, slowly fall from their grasp, and very nearly die.  I never felt the pain they did, hearing that I had to go to surgery after surgery after surgery.  They are the ones who really suffered.  They are the ones who really learned what it means to "be in constant prayer."  They knew all that could happen.  They heard all the negative news.  They were the ones who were told to bring the family together so they could say their "goodbyes" while I was still alive.  They knew I could die, perhaps some of them thought I would.  I don't blame them; it was not a hard thing to think.  I would not have been strong enough to have heard, "Lydia is dying. This may be her last day."

The other theory I have considered is that somehow I could handle the scars better than anyone else and that is why it was me.  Maybe both ideas are correct in their own ways.  I do not know; perhaps I never will.

I am also sure that I was given scars on my face for a reason. Maybe my choices were scars or death.  The scars are the preferable offer for both me and my family.  Had my options been a scared face or loss of limb, I would have wanted scars.  I rather like my limbs.  You might say that I am quite attached to them.  They are very much a part of me.  It would be really hard for me to just drop them . . . I could keep on with the Abi humor, but I won't.

Maybe this isn't just about how miraculous my sparing was, but how great our God truly is.  He gave me – a completely, fully, entirely unworthy person – a second chance.  I was spared.  Should I have been?  I did not deserve it, but if God's will was to let me die – would I be here?  All I know is that "I am great sinner and God is a great Savior."  Do you not agree?

Abigail Rose Melson

 Monday, March 23, 2009

Abi smiles, eating a bowl of ice cream, and she makes me guess her topping. "Cookies?" "No." "Berries?" She shakes her head no, her smile broadening. "Chocolate?" "Yes," she taunts, after all she is the one with the ice cream. She still uses a small spoon, but makes quick work of the bowl, the size of the spoon is not as important as the determined hand that guides it.

And Abi is determined in other ways. Though behind in school, she is trying to get caught up. It is tough going, for both her and Lydia. They missed 8 weeks of school and need your prayers that they can get caught up. Abi is working hard, and it is hard work.

Though she did not ask for her illness, she is determined to use it for God's glory. She has shared her testimony in a variety of settings, and is prepared to do that more, as God enables. Difficult for a 13 year old, considering how many adults are "scared to death" of public speaking. Which means if asked to give a eulogy, some would rather be in the casket than speaking behind it. But knowing God has allowed this in her life, has strengthened her resolve to share it. As we have challenged churches with the ministry in Papua New Guinea, so Abi's story has challenged people. She said "If one person gets saved, or even one person gets right with God, it would have been worth it all."

Abi is also determined to continue her physical therapy (as in the picture), to be prepared for her next surgery. After consulting with the surgeon, and considering her healing and physical needs, her surgery will probably be during the first part of September. Her scar tissue needs to soften, and her wounded cheek and mouth need to soften, stretch, and become as "normal" as they can. This will give the doctor a baseline measure of her muscle and nerve control, so he can determine just what repairs she needs to restore the function of her mouth. The surgery will include 3 parts: 1) Attaching her partial lower lip to the right side of her mouth; 2) Some grafting inside her mouth to smoothen her scarred internal mouth tissues; and 3) Improving the condition of the external scar going down her chin. This surgery will leave her with a small puckered mouth, and the need for a lot of healing and months (again) of physical therapy. Her lower lip will have to stretch out, and other surgeries will follow, trying to restore her function and appearance. We still don't know how much feeling or muscle control will return, we have to watch and continue praying for complete healing. Probably the following surgery will take place in the spring of 2010. Lord willing we can return to Papua New Guinea in July of 2010, with the need to return to the States for some minor surgeries.

For now, it is a marathon of physical therapy, followed by a significant and painful surgery, and even MORE physical therapy. Daily stuff, trudging along, one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it is three steps forward and two back, sometimes it seems one step forward and two back, especially the last week when we all were sick. But we have a secret. We remember some things. God did HIS normal miraculous and helped us, when noone else could, when our hope failed, He became our hope, and we believed Him. We had to trust God, because it was too big for us to carry, everything was so far beyond our control.

But now, the secret is we can choose everyday to walk with Him, even as we did in the shadow of death and the vale of tears. Abi lives, and we live, though wounded and weakened. But we live, daily and hourly in what we may call "HIS miraculous normal," the everyday, routine, and often obscure ordinary. It's miraculous that we can walk with Him, so close, even as in our time of need. But the secret is, the little things, the daily and hourly, the obscure and ordinary are just as much our time of need, and God is miracuously interested and, amazingly, wants to help. We just need to ask, but we "have not because we ask not." We don't think we need God for the little things, for the next step, so we exclude Him. We can handle it.

With nobody to cheer him on, in lowly obscurity, David fought a lion and another time, a bear. And he fulfilled other lonely, mundane, daily duties as a shepherd which strengthened His walk with God. THAT prepared him for Goliath. It wasn't that God became stronger, but David had to learn God was trustworthy in the little things so he could trust Him for the bigger things. Only the practical experiences of daily events, well-lived, enabled a boy shepherd to become a giant-slayer. And so we, and Abi, must choose daily and determinedly to place our hand in HIS, in simple trust for the miraculous normal, the obscure ordinary. We must look to our Father, who gave us Christ, "won't he also give us every thing else?" (Rom 8:32) We must press on, gazing at God our Father...merely glancing at the giants who would undo us.

We have a NEW address (yes, again): Melsons, 560A Clark St SW, Tumwater, WA 98512