A note from John:
It’s my pleasure to share with you the story of my friend, Madhu Gammon. Madhu and her husband Keith attend Stone Hill Church in Princeton, NJ, where I served as a pastor for eight years. Madhu and Keith’s story centers around how God stretched their faith and joy in the midst of the difficulties of their son Ajit’s medical issues.
In God’s providence, Angel and I are, right now, in the home state of Madhu and Keith: Tamil Nadu, India.
I pray that you are as blessed by Madhu’s humble faith and irrepressible joy as I have been.
Unexpected turn of Events
We had come on holiday to the USA in 2001 to see Priya. With less than a month left to return to India, a consultation for Ajit gave him a new anti-seizure medication in addition to his regular medication. This juncture is where everything turned topsy-turvy with a severe drug reaction. He was too weak to get out of bed, grew weaker, unable to tolerate food, and subsequently compelling us to change our return date to India. The scene had changed. It was staggering! And at this time, Keith’s mother had just breathed her last in Chennai and he had to return immediately.
When we come to the crossroads, we can often miss seeing the Cross. The words drawing us to “see, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down, did ‘er such love or sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown.” Oh were it not for the Cross, we would not know that God understands the pain of suffering. Yet to now try and understand the Sovereignty of God and see Him articulate His Grace to us was to expect a miracle, a gesture of forgiveness and freedom.
As a schoolgirl in a convent school, I had a serious ambition to be a nun because I really admired them. I loved that they could sing and pray. The medical mission sisters sang with such joy using various Indian musical instruments, at lease so I thought, “It is a long road to freedom winding steep and high, but when you walk in love with the wind on your wings and cover the earth with the songs you song, the miles fly by!” But that was not the path chosen for me. I did not follow through too seriously, as I was moved at that very impressionable age to a protestant school. The call seemed reasonable to live and love so well that the miles would not hinder progress.
Yet, what would we have done, if we could not sing our songs or communicate? How could we sing songs of our Lord in a foreign land (Psalm 137:4)? Phone calls were not possible then as they are now. How did we survive in a far away strange country without getting onto Facebook? How did you do it, Abraham? How did Moses cross the Red Sea? How did the big fish nurture Jonah for three days in its belly?
Relocation to USA and Legal Complications
There were more long periods of waiting, letting go of our simple lifestyle in India. To relocate in the USA was messy. We were unsure if we should describe ourselves as being bold or decisive – everything seemed so incomprehensible.
Our first move was to change and relocate professionally, take new certifying exams and get a job in order to be able to feed ourselves and to allow Ajit to get into a local public Special School. A new season had begun. Ajit was picked up daily at 7am by Mr. Teddy his favorite school person, who drove the special transportation bus. Now that seemed like a luxury. The daily comments in his school notebook carried a record of the number of seizures per day, how long he slept in the class, along with every detail of his whereabouts. One observation that frustrated the teacher was that he sang a lot, a lot of “Jesus songs.” “Please could we get him to do less of that?” Hallelujah! They had just met the first evangelist from India.
Everything else came to a standstill. It is now fourteen years since Ajit completed that short two-year period of school at the age of 21 and was presented with a Diploma. Case Managers were not consistent and the Transitional Services were not made available as well as respite helpers and programs, which were necessary for Ajit. He was and is required to be a Permanent Resident Card Holder…. His application is still in line, but his status is in limbo in what seems to be an impossible dream, in the ocean of legal immigrants waiting to be heard.
Ajit has suffered additional setbacks because of shunt malfunctions, and was subjected to repeated surgeries to replace the shunt. So his post-operative periods have been difficult, and recovery slower because of a visual impairment as well. We trust that God, who is Chief in the healing business, will heal his vision.
We thank God for health to be his caregivers, and are thankful for a few faithful friends who come alongside us. Seventy-year old Mr. Bill is one special friend. He is strong and greatly committed to Ajit. Knowing that he enjoys walking weather it is ice, snow, rain, or sun, he finds a safe venue for them to walk at least half a mile regularly every week – in the church, shopping complex, or soccer field. Bill has been doing this for Ajit for the last five years. When Ajit is really happy he skips along as they sing and walk.
If we were totally dependent on the system, our days could be utmost frustration – waiting helplessly for benefits, programmes, and assistance for sharpening skills or improving his abilities. We are committed as long as we can to address the issue and continue to strive for change in the system. To be a voice for the defenseless is what we hope with our appeals.
At times we are truly homesick for the satisfying and wholesome togetherness of an intentional community spirit (Psalm 133), which was the hallmark of the Vineyard Center at Aminjikarai, Chennai India. There, Ajit felt so at home. The community blessed him with their love and attention. The motto of these young leaders was “small things done with great love.” They reached out to Ajit and included him in a special event that included both small and big details so that Keith and I could have a special evening in 2000 to celebrate our anniversary. Mercy was falling like a sweet rain. Hey-ho I receive your mercy, Hey-ho I receive your grace!” Thankfully we still recognized each other. Hallelujah! Cheers for the Contagious Community that spreads contagious joy in the Lord as the Kids’ Praise chorus says, “It is bubbling, its bubbling, its bubbling in my soul, there’s singing and laughing since Jesus made me whole.”
Interruptions and pauses, retreats and reflections have been our substance here. We like sheep are following the Shepherd. We stop, wait, and feed. “Where He leads me, still I would follow.” Ajit’s abilities shine through the struggles, despite the labels that spell D-I-S-Ability. It has been his own motivation to show what he wants to do or say that gives us the incentives to stay focused in toeing the line, and toughening our hides and an inescapable sense to sip frequently at the Fountain of Life. It is at our weakest and most fragile moments that we have found strength and a match for this equation. The joy of the Lord is our strength. In quietness and confidence is our strength. “Those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
It is in the most unexpected places that Ajit finds it easy to sing out loud despite our attempts at (sh…hh) silencing him: in the foyer of churches when everyone is hushed in the sanctuary, in big hallways, or open soccer field. “Why indeed do caged birds with clipped wings sing?” Is it indeed different from a free bird that flies over mountains and forests and trees? As a matter of fact how do birds sing, to whom do they sing? I believe they sing because they’re happy. “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” A few years ago we were blessed with an absolutely wonderful privilege. One of our dear friends, Marie, who I met at the Aglow Women’s International meeting, was given permission to visit her relative in a Senior Citizen facility. So Ajit and I also tagged along. On entering the home, Ajit began singing. This aroused the sleepy-elderly-folk, with several difficult challenges of aging. He startled them. Some of them were wide-eyed with curiosity because they had not heard “What a friend we have in Jesus.” This soon became a favorite for them.
From the tiniest effort to the largest, we are deeply conscious of how much we need our Savior’s help. An ounce of joy for every grade of pain, which only He can give me, draws me up on my toes or on my knees. This happened for me at the time of our attending the Vineyard Center at Chennai with John and Carol Christian, when in the beauty of the moment, I believe I danced in worship. It was real dance. Not only in my heart, do not be surprised, you too may do the same as the love of Christ touches you to a new awakening. “The heart of God loves a persevering worshipper, who thought overwhelmed by many troubles is overwhelmed even more by the beauty of God’ (Matt Redman).
Scary Times and Terrible Trials
Through this unexpected gift and blessing, God has blessing us with abilities we never knew we ever possessed. We went through a severe and terrible stormy situation with Ajit collapsing in the middle of our sitting room on a cold blizzard morning seven years ago. While he was on the respirator for three weeks, I remember one of my friends asking me “now what?” I said, “I just want Ajit to be back home well.” I was sure the word for me that morning as I heard the Word being preached was, “your sons and daughters shall live and not die” (Ps 118).
We received an abundance of prayer support from family worldwide during his hospital stay. The greatest moment was when the tubes were removed and the very first words from Ajit were, “I love you Lord” several times over! The nurses and doctors who were around were speechless and rejoiced with us.
At the end of the day, if we have forgotten God’s amazing Grace, He somehow woos us back to seek His face. Every day it seems like a testing of my patience, my virtue and my spirit. Undoubtedly being human it is possible that we could very likely err, we are fearful and doubtful. The anguish and problems become acutely stressful, and together with the psalmist we ask, “Why so long Lord? Why downcast oh my soul?” Until finally we get to the point of being able to understand what we so easily misunderstand, until we ourselves wallow in the place with persons like Ajit and feel their experience right there with them.
I have friends who have children young and old who share stories of their own disabled defenseless relatives being neglected and mistreated by so called professionals of certain agencies who are trained to give respite care. They are heart-breaking moments for the family who finally resort to give up all care for their children.
For ourselves, it is humbling that we can even get some tasks accomplished and also have time for gardening, knitting, singing, watching birds and kids at play, prayer fellowship and exercise.
Last year, I took a short trip in the desert, and watched the dancing sand dunes. Truly this is an inexplicable work of art. The changing colors from bronze to brown, burgundy and gold, that change with each toss of the wind and new unimagined swirls and patterns emerge. Is this the outcome of our struggles?
To care for a person with disability, there needs to be a transitioning of the mind that comes from the heart. The priority is joy. Jesus said, “all these things done to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:45). What is the point if done with a sour face or were not generous to them? Proverbs chapter 15 echoes Christ’s words, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful,” “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart,” “the cheerful heart has a continuous feast.”
The King of glory watches us. When days are hard, we remind ourselves to receive this gift of love and share this blessing. “We need a Savior, His eyes of mercy, His words are grace, we need a Savior to light our way.”
There is a Savior who lights the way with a divine alluring, a symphony of love and praise. “Therefore I am now going to allure her, I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14).