The Lazarus Project

Resurrecting hope for Christian victims and survivors of family violence.

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Rebekah’s Angel

 

    My pastor’s latest series of teachings is on asking, seeking, and knocking. The theme verse is Jesus telling us to be persistent in prayer as we ask Father God to meet our needs.

     Persistence is a lesson we humans seem to need to repeat often.  Why, I do not know: you’d think that after we’ve learned it, we’d move on to bigger and better things—the next thing that God has to teach us.  But perhaps it’s a little like a parent, constantly reminding a small child the basics of being polite.  Even parents of toddlers begin such lessons early: “say ‘thank you’,” a mother commands a pre-verbal toddler who can’t even form the words yet. It seems the repetition is the key that drives the point home.

     Perhaps that is why seem to be destined to repeat the same lessons in life—because we, as God’s children, need that same repetition from the ultimate parent to remind us that we are utterly, and completely, hopeless without Him.  All our effort is wasted on trying to perform that which only He can orchestrate.

     I was reminded of this lesson—about persisting in prayer— again today.  This is one I’ve learned the hard way. And this afternoon, it occurred to me that our Heavenly Father was teaching that same lesson to another one of His children, whom I will call “Rebekah.”

     Rebekah and I have been friends for several years now.  As a result of a divine appointment with my daughter, I came to know about Rebekah, and she was ushered into the classroom of the Lord as He prepared her for the lesson of her life.

     Rebekah is a survivor of domestic violence, as I was. She is also a survivor of rape, child abuse, and incest—also like me. We both lived in foster homes and group homes as adolescents. And we both share a love of our Lord Jesus Christ. We two have much in common. We were like sisters from the start.

     But Rebekah’s childhood made mine look like an episode of Ozzie & Harriet. Her mother did hideous things to her, and her mind still reverts to these memories, over 40 years later.  And, when Rebekah married, her choice of a mate was an unhealthy one (also like mine).  His violence toward her was torturous and sadistic.  The longer we are friends, the more she shares the details with me of the horrors of her existence with the man she chose to love. 

     His abuse caused her to lose most of her teeth.  When I met her, she only had 10 teeth in her mouth (most of us have 26).  She had lost her molars from the various blows from his fists and from when he pistol-whipped her.  I remember my surprise watching her during our first meal together, as she chewed her waffle with only her front teeth.  We met for breakfast after she had learned that I was an advocate for abuse victims. As we sipped our coffee, she shared with me that she had been trying, for over a decade, to get the treatment for her missing teeth.  Rebekah’s only income is from disability, and dental care through Medi-Cal was hard to come by.  During that breakfast meeting, I completed her application in an attempt to get her dental care taken care of through the “Give Back A Smile” program offered by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). 

     Though the program was meant to replace missing teeth in the front of the mouth that have been damaged due to abuse, I apparently made a compelling case to the program managers, because Rebekah’s case was accepted.  We were overjoyed and waited for the referral for the “Give Back A Smile” dentist who would be providing her care.  We waited for over 7 months, and were finally given the contact information of a local dentist specializing in cosmetic repairs.  We both enthusiastically told him the story of how Rebekah had lost her molars.  He took photos, x-rays, and copious notes.  He gave us a treatment plan that was in the thousands of dollars.  We looked at each other quizzically.  He knew that we had no such funds for her care: that was why we had attempted to get care through the NCADV program.  Neither of us were surprised, though, when we later got a letter from them saying that he would no longer be providing the care he’d assured us of while we were in his swanky office. 

     We tried unsuccessfully to find a local dentist who would accept Medi-Cal.  Rebekah had told me that six years before, she’d had to go all the way to Vallejo to find one.  We scoured Silicon Valley with no results.  We went to the student clinic at the University of the Pacific, and were turned away.  After two years’ unsuccessful efforts, finally, Rebekah’s case was accepted at UCSF’s Student Dental Clinic.  We were thrilled.  In numerous visits, we got the cavities in her remaining teeth filled, only to be told a few months later that they should all be removed.

      Because of her medically fragile state, we had to get clearances from her physicians before we could get the extractions done.  The top teeth were removed first, in April 2009.  The bottom teeth were not removed until December of that same year.  Although it took us a year to get the extractions done, we both felt a sense of accomplishment for having gotten all these procedures done.  Rebekah had been trying to get dental care for 14 years at this point!

    While at her post-op check-up in the Spring, we anticipated getting the go-ahead to begin the process for the dentures.  But then we found out the awful news: we would have to come up with $1,000 cash for her dental care.  Prior to the recession, dentures were a covered benefit under Medi-Cal.  But in the time between her extractions, the state of California had slashed all dental care for Medi-Cal recipients.  We began a Christmas fundraising campaign to try to help Rebekah obtain the funds for her care.

    Donations came in, but we had raised only about half of the cost—which, as it turned out, was what was necessary to get started.  At a subsequent visit to the UCSF Student Dental Clinic, the new dental student we were assigned was excited about getting started, but the visiting professor who was overseeing his work was afraid that Rebekah’s medical picture was too complicated to be done there.  We were back to square one.  Rebekah cried in the dental chair.  We had come so far, only to now be told that the work couldn’t be done?  We were referred downstairs to the postdoctoral clinic.  At another appointment, we were told that yes, Rebekah could obtain dentures through this clinic, but the cost was now going to be $3,000.  It might as well have been a million.

     I was confident that somehow, God was going to come through for her.  Rebekah was not so sure.  Everyone else she’d ever relied on had let her down, and she expected God too, as well.  I reminded her that God is faithful; that He provides for His children—and yet, she still subsisted on a daily diet of applesauce, jello, pudding, and protein shakes.  It’s hard to get proper nutrition when you have no teeth.  I took her with me to church, and had the pastors pray over her—and they prayed for everything except getting her teeth.

     Every month at our Board meetings, we’d cry out to God in prayer that we would somehow find someone who was willing to fund the cost of her care.  Even our official minutes record "Dear God, we need a miracle for our client who has no teeth!" After many months with no answer, Rebekah (and many of our Board members) got discouraged.  Rebekah decided that she was going to have to live the rest of her life without teeth.  But I refused to believe that.  I prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more.  At every Bible study I attended or any gathering that offered prayer requests, I asked others to pray for her teeth.  Months and months of intercession went by.  Sometimes God says “yes” right away.  Sometimes the answer is “no.” But it seems that most often, the answer is “wait.”

    Then, finally, Rebekah got a call from the San Jose Mercury News.  They wanted to feature Rebekah in their Wishbook holiday edition, to benefit Able People Foundation, a local nonprofit for people with disabilities. Able People Foundation had given Rebekah a walker, and then a transfer bench so she could get safely into and out of the bathtub.  Rebekah asked me to sit in on the interview.  I greeted the journalist at the door, and asked if we could at least mention Rebekah’s need for teeth.  We explained our long history of frustrated attempts to get her care.  Rebekah took her fingers and pulled back her lips to show her toothless smile.  The journalist promised that she’d mention it to her editor, and the three of us kept our fingers crossed.

     A few weeks later, I spoke to the editor, answered some questions, and we still were unsure (but were hopeful) whether the article would mention the teeth.  Rebekah also wanted me to be there when the photographer came, and we made sure to get lots of pictures of her empty mouth.  We kept praying.  It seemed that now the answer was finally within reach.  I prayed that someone—or maybe several someones—would read the article and be moved with compassion, and donate the funds for her dentures.

     Dec. 8, 2010 was always a dreaded day for Rebekah. It was the anniversary of the day she’d tried to end her life, eight years before.  But rather than being grateful for still being alive, it triggered many memories and was, for her, the darkest day of the year.  I’d been planning to go over to see her that afternoon.  I prayed for her that morning, and asked the Lord to do something that day to turn it around, so that it would not be a torturous memory, but instead, a glorious one.

    That very day the article came out, in the online version, and I got a call.  The editor told me that a reader had called and had pledged to cover the entire amount for Rebekah’s dentures!  When I saw Rebekah that day, I told her I had some news for her, but that she should probably sit down for it.  She got nervous and expected the worst, but when I told her the good news, we both burst out in tears!

    “Now, when you remember this date, it will no longer be a painful memory,” I told her. “From now on, remember Dec. 8th as the day that God answered your prayers.”  She nodded, through her sobs, and promised she would. We hugged, and I made my way out the door. 

     “Aren’t you surprised?” she asked.  I turned back around, shaking my head.

     “No.  I’m not surprised at all.  I’ve been expecting this. I’m just surprised it took this long.”  We’ve walked this path together, trying to get her teeth, for four years now.

     “I can’t believe it,” she murmured.

     “Remember how I told you that God takes care of His kids?  You’re one of His.  He’s looking out for you.  He has been, all along.”

 

    Today, I picked up the check for the UCSF Dental Clinic, and tomorrow I’ll be driving Rebekah to her first appointment to begin the process for her dentures.  As I stood in the lobby of the San Jose Mercury News, I shook the hand of the editor and gave her a silver box for the unnamed donor.

     “Rebekah has an affinity for angels,” I explained.  I told her that inside this box was a carved wooden angel, with a big heart.  This can be a reminder to this donor, as it sits on their desk, that this act of generosity was an answer to our many, many prayers.  That person is “Rebekah’s Angel” –and this is what how we will refer to this generous unknown reader, in gratitude for their compassion and willingness to help a toothless stranger.

     Scripture says, “Ask, and you shall receive.  Seek, and you shall find.  Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.”  Keep asking.  Don’t stop seeking.  Knock until your knuckles bleed, and then knock some more.  Stay persistent in prayer, for our Heavenly Father will most definitely answer.

     And now, Rebekah has learned the lesson of persistence—a lesson she’ll not soon forget.

 

Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 02/01
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