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My mother-in-law, Josefina (Madre) with her husband and my daughters
celebrating Mexican Independence Day last year.


A month ago, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Her name is Josefina. I call her Madre. She hadn’t been able to keep any food down for awhile and went to a few doctors seeking help, both traditional and non traditional. She lives in Mitla, Mexico, which has a largely
indigenous Zapoteco population. Many of the people in this town first
seek traditional remedies to cure their ailments, and when that does not
take care of the problem, they go to see what we would call a regular
medical doctor. Madre tried both to no avail for a couple weeks. Finally she went to a doctor who told her she needed an endoscopy. This
procedure revealed a large tumor in her stomach.

Naturally this was bad news for her and for the entire family, especially
her mom, her husband, two sons, her daughter ( my wife), and me. A
variety of tests followed to diagnose the severity of the cancer. Initially it seemed the cancer was confined to the tumor and surgery was scheduled on a Sunday. She was admitted to the hospital the day before.

Medicine and doctors and hospitals are an interesting thing in Mexico. At least interesting to me, having spent most of my life in the United States. I haven’t got it all figured out, but it seems to me that there are three levels of health care in this country; one level for people who have some money and can afford private care. Another level for people who have money taken out of their wages to pay for health insurance and are treated by public doctors and nurses in public hospitals which is free. The last level is for poor people who don’t pay for health insurance. If they have a medical need they go to the local public health clinic and are usually treated for free for basic simple health problems, but if it is serious they have to go to a public hospital and pay cash or they don’t receive treatment. Public medical services are not terrible. I have two daughters who were born in a public hospital with public doctors and nurses, with no ill effects, and it was all free, because my Mexican wife has money taken out of her wages to pay for health insurance.
A couple of problems with public health care here are long waits to see a health care professional and most of the doctors and nurses are fresh out of medical school and don’t have a lot of hands on experience. Also, in public hospitals you have to share a room with two or three other patients, and family members can’t stay with the patient for the whole time, which is important in Mexico. Family comes first in Mexico, and if one family member has to go to the hospital, at least one other member of the family moves in with them, at private hospitals that is. If it is public hospital, family members stay and sleep in the waiting room or outside the hospital.

Madre stayed at a private hospital, even though the family is poor. We thank God for GoFundMe and all the people who generously donated money and allowed Madre to receive wonderful care at a beautiful little hospital in Oaxaca. All the rooms had a large couch for family members to sit on during the day and sleep on at night. My wife slept on one during her mom’s hospital stay which was six days. Sometimes Madre’s mother, husband, son and family friends were all there at once! It wasn’t as bad as it may seem because this was the most unique hospital I have ever seen. It only had eight rooms and used to be like a convent or little monestary operated by a Catholic organizations about a 100 years ago. Then it went into the hands of St. Vincent DePaul Society run by a guy named Vasconcelos, and now it is Vasconcelos hospital. It has a chapel called Sacred Heart which is open to the public on special occasions. In the middle of this hospital is a courtyard with potted bougainvilleas and patio furniture all around for family and friends to take advantage of.

The first couple weeks after the surgery was difficult, because of physical and emotional reasons. Physically she vomited what little food she was able to swallow and became dehydrated and had to go to the emergency room. Emotionally it was a difficult time because the tumor and samples of her stomach tissue that was taken out of her went to a lab and it was discovered that the cancer had spread. She found out she has stage three cancer and the prognosis isn’t that great. Chemotherapy is in her near future.
Now she is doing much better, both physically and emotionally and spiritually. She is eating a lot more and keeps it all down. Emotionally she is happier. Spiritually she has always been strong. She doesn’t understand why she has had to go through all this, none of us do. But she fully trusts in the Lord who has given her the peace that surpasses all understanding that Paul writes about in Philippians 4:7.
I have been thinking about Psalm 23 a lot lately, especially the “valley of the shadow of death” part. I think we all love the opening verses that speak of green pastures, quiet waters and refreshing souls. The “shadow of death”, not so much. But I have come to realize that for the sheep to enjoy those rich, green pastures and cool, quiet waters, they sometimes have to travel through the valley of the shadow of death. The Good Shepherd knows best. He knows where the nutritious food and refreshing drink is, and his sheep know his voice and confidently follow him into and through the scary, dark valley, to green pastures and still waters. They trust him because he is wise and strong. They have no fear because He is with them, and he wields a stout rod and sturdy staff.
That’s the faith of Madre. As she journeys through the dark valley, she fears no evil but trusts in her good, good Shepherd; her good, good Father. No one knows what she will encounter on the other side of the valley. Maybe many happy, healthy years on planet earth, or maybe eternity in heaven with the Lord. Whatever happens it’s all good. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but she knows WHO holds the future.


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Today is Ash Wednesday. The one day of the year when many Christians all over the world will have ashes put on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. This marks the beginning of Lent, a time of waiting in expectation of Easter- Resurrection Sunday. A time of contemplation and inner examination. A time of anticipation and adoration. A time of waiting.

When we wait, we choose. Sometimes we choose to grumble and complain. Sometimes we choose to get frustrated or worried. At times we choose to rejoice and give thanks. Many times our choice depends on what we are waiting for. More often than not, it depends on the kind of person we are. Ultimately we wait patiently or impatiently. It all depends on what’s inside us.

I have read an article and a book recently that have greatly impacted my perspective on patience and what it means to be a patient person. The article is called Silence, Patience and Presence. It is from Fuller Studio. The book is called Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren. Below are some quotes from both that I hope will impact you as much as they did me.

From Silence, Patience, and Presence – Fuller Studio

Being patient means waiting for a God whose patience outdistances and outlasts our own – we only have a brief span of life to wait; God has eternity. Peter Blum

Christians believe that through cross and resurrection we have been given the time to be patient in a world of impatience I am often in a hurry and busy, but this is not the same thing as impatience. Patience does not mean “doing nothing.” Rather patience is sticking to what you’re doing because you believe that is is worthy and worthwhile. Stanley Haurwas citing John Howard Yoder

Learning to weep, learning to keep vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human. Henri Nouwen

Ones willingness to be wronged, to absorb evil patiently without retaliating, helps to break the cycle of vengeance and opens up the possibility for healing and peace. Hence though forgiveness is a constitutive practice of peace, forgiveness is unimaginable apart from patience. Philip Kenneson.

Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life. Simone Weil

From Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren

When we practice the Sabbath, we not only look back to God’s rest after his work of creation but we look forward to the rest ahead, to the Sabbath to come when God will finish his work of re-creation. We recall together that we are waiting for the end of the story, for all things to be made new.

In the liturgical year there is never celebration without preparation. First we wait, we mourn, we ache, we repent. We aren’t ready to celebrate until we acknowledge, over time through ritual and worship, that we and this world are not yet right and whole. Before Easter, we have Lent. Before Christmas, we have Advent. We fast. Then we feast. We prepare. We practice waiting.

We want happiness now. Fulfillment and gratification now. I get angry when I have to wait because it reminds me that time is not at my bidding.

Our problem with time is a spiritual problem, one that runs right to the core of who we are as human beings…. Indeed, these distortions drive us into the arms of a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. (Dorothy Bass)

Time is a gift from God, a means of worship. Time revolves around God – what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do.

We live in a waiting world, a world where time itself, along with all of creation, groans in childbirth, waiting for something to be born. We are waiting and hoping. Our present reality is fundamentally oriented toward what is to come.

Waiting is an act of faith that is oriented toward the future. Yet our assurance of hope is rooted in the past, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and in his promises and resurrection. In this way, waiting, like time itself, centers on Christ-the fulcrum of time.

Scripture tells us that when we “Hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:25). We live each ordinary day in the light of a future reality. Our best life is still yet to come.

I have a friend who has struggled with cancer for a long time. She said to me one day,”I always felt like I was waiting for the gift. But I have come to see that the waiting is the gift.” There is more happening while we wait than just waiting. God is at work in us and through us as we wait. Our waiting is active and purposeful.

The church father Tertullian wrote –

The singular mark of patience is not endurance or fortitude, but hope. To be impatient is to live without hope. Patience is grounded in the Resurrection. It is life oriented toward a future that is God’s doing , and its sign is longing, not so much to be released from the ills of the present, but in anticipation of the good to come.

Even now as we wait, God is bringing the kingdom that will one day be fully known. We can be patient because we know there are gifts promised by a Giver who can be trusted.

May your Lent be filled with peace, the presence of God, and patience.

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