I believe in miracles, the amazing kinds that push the boundaries of believability and totally dumbfound scientists. I believe in extraordinary events that manifest Divine intervention in human affairs. (Merriam-Webster) But, I don’t see a lot of those. What I do see are times when life is desperate – and then God Shows Up to direct me down a different escape route, to encourage me to call my Mom, to remind me to pack tire chains and a shovel, to introduce me to a stranger who happens to have a set of jumper cables, or to simply fill my mind with a peaceful melody. This is a story of those times.
Paul and Sue were desperate, praying unceasingly for a miracle that would give Paul a new liver, one that would replace the cirrhosis and cancer-filled one that was now attacking him from inside his abdomen.
“You’re healthy enough to be a good candidate for a new liver,” Paul’s doctors said. But no liver came. The wait was ugly, yet the prayers continued. Each one etched with hope.
A couple weeks before Christmas they saw an ad for Aspen Meadows Christmas Lights and decided to go. “For a few moments of happiness,” Sue says.
Aspen Meadows is an amazing place of joy and encouragement. The dream of owner Bill, Aspen Meadows adds thousands more colored Christmas lights to the “million or so” that already fill the night sky around their home in Colton, Oregon.
Visit Aspen Meadows in August, and you’ll be treated to the finest old-car and music festival in Oregon. But, visit in December, and you’ll be immersed in lights and Christmas music - and free cookies, coffee, cider and chocolate. When the Aspen Meadows Band pulls out the keyboards, guitars, flutes, banjos, and drums it’s better than Nashville! Add the stunning voices of Bill’s family and friends and you know this is too rich for your budget.
But, then God shows up and you discover it’s all free! Even the “offering baskets” are full of free cookies that roam up and down the seats during the concert. Free gifts from Aspen meadows supporters who love making this the best Christmas of your life!
There are special lights for kids, special lights for people who love model railroads, special lights for people searching for peace, and an extra-special spot for people needing prayers.
That’s right, prayers.
Lightless Christmas trees wait beside tables covered with blank paper, pens, and eager ornament hangers. “Write your prayer. Hang it on a tree. We’ll pray it with you,” offer the folks at Aspen Meadows.
While Paul walked on down the brightly-lit trail to the bandstand, Sue stopped at the trees, read about the prayers, and then took up a pen. Her prayer was short and simple. Something like, “Please, a liver for my husband Paul. We want him to live.” It was not a request for a “miracle,” just a plea for God to show up.
Sue hung the liver prayer on a waiting tree and then walked back toward the cookies and coffee at the reception center. Rebecca, behind the table dispensing free cookies, noticed Sue’s tears and asked if she could help.
“I just pinned a prayer on one of your trees,” Sue answered. “For my husband to get a new liver.” Then the tears took over.
No, then God showed up and Rebecca took over. She abandoned the cookies and threw her arms around Sue. Many sobs and prayers later, the two women were best friends, each eager for God to answer the liver prayer.
Shortly after hanging the prayer on the Aspen Meadows tree, Paul and Sue received a call from the hospital.
“Get down here right away so we can do the prep. You’re going to get a new liver!”
Sue called and told Rebecca, refocused the prayers, and Paul drove them into Salem toward a new life.
You’ve experienced the joy of answered prayer, haven’t you? It’s better than anything you can dream. For Paul and Sue, it was even better. Over the top awesome. Like God showing up with a smile!
The prep went well, the match was perfect, and they took Paul into the operating room. There, his body open and receptive, Paul’s strong heart gave out.
“I died,” Paul will tell you. “Right there on the table with surgeons and nurses and others all around me. I died. Coded. My body just quit.”
The medical team instantly changed gears from “liver replacement” to “Resuscitate! Quickly!”
With the new liver waiting, they brought Paul back to life, and then finished placing and connecting the new liver. When all seemed stable, they wheeled Paul to the recovery room and breathed deep sighs of success.
Until Paul coded again. In the recovery room.
“Code Blue.” “Patient’s heart has stopped.”
That brought all the best people running to Paul’s room to bring him back to life. Again.
The team performed another modern miracle. Paul’s heart began beating, and his smile slowly returned.
Then it happened again! Once more, before Paul finally stabilized and was able to go home. Exhausted. With a new liver, and a recharged heart.
“To call all these events miracles is an understatement,” says Sue. “I lost my husband three times, and got him back each time, healthier than before!”
Paul and Sue had settled into a church home with the Inside Out Seventh-day Adventist congregation beside the river in Salem. Inside Out’s mission is to provide a safe home for the homeless, the hurting, the desperate of Salem. That worked for Paul and Sue, and they were glad to be part of the caring family, quickly developing a prayer network.
When Paul and Sue received the call from the hospital for them to come in so Paul could receive his new liver, they immediately called Pastor Dale and Simona, turning the congregation’s prayers from “Please provide…” to “Please make this all go well.”
Paul asked Milton Bliss, a new church friend, if he would serve as “Advocate” for the surgery. Milton, ever ready to help someone in need, agreed.
“If I had that choice to make again now, knowing all of the trauma and trials we’ve gone through,” Milton says, “I’d make the same decision.”
Milton became God’s hand and voice for Paul. He spent half a lifetime beside Paul during the surgery and recovery. Hours in the hospital, at medical offices, traveling back and forth, and helping with exercises.
“I work at home,” Milton explains, “so instead of a regular work schedule I have contracts that require intense work on my computers and phones. Though I was worried about how I could fit Paul’s needs into that schedule, God took care of everything. If Paul needed me, the contract scheduled for that time cancelled or was moved to another time of the day. This didn’t happen just occasionally, it happened every time Paul needed me through his surgery and recovery. And, I didn’t lose any work. God just showed up and took over my calendar!”
When Paul and Sue needed a place to stay, Milton and his wife Melissa opened their home to their friends. “Until we bought an old school bus and transformed it into our living quarters,” Paul says, “Milton’s place was home. And all along they’ve treated us like beloved family!”
Have I told you about Paul’s emotional support poodle, Emma? Now there’s a case. It’s like she understands everything Paul or Sue says and knows exactly what to do about it.
Here’s an Emma story from Sue.
“The hospital wouldn’t let Emma come into the recovery room or ICU, so it was a few days ‘til she got to see Paul again. When she finally was allowed in his room, Paul picked her up and she immediately leaned down and looked at the place the surgeons had cut to place the new liver. She looked, sniffed, and then looked at the doctor as if to say, ‘New liver?’ Emma knew.”
Paul and Sue and Emma are back enjoying the Aspen Meadows Christmas Lights. Milton and Melissa, and Pastor Dale and Simona have come along.
“This is the place. This is the tree. This is Rebecca and there’s Bill. In a few minutes we’ll be enjoying the Aspen Meadows Band once again. New liver, healthy heart, happy family. God standing nearby and smiling.”
The old bus, now a motor home undergoing constant remodeling, will soon be parked in downtown Salem near a homeless camp where Paul and Sue are ministering. They’re just up the street from the Inside Out church. Busy praying with those who need a special kind of love. At home. Happy.
It’s Christmas, and all is well.