Our family story during a testing year!
This is an article that I, Edi, wrote for encouraging believers to have the right perspective
during their time of testing.
Isaiah 43:7 we read "Everyone who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made."
Isaiah 43:21 "The people whom I formed for myself will declare my praise."
There is an inner hidden expectation and desire inside us, as believers in the Lord Jesus, to have a peaceful life, with not much trouble; at the end of the day, who loves going through difficulties?
But the Bible teaches us that we as believers in Jesus don't live for ourselves, we ought to live for Christ and bring Him glory and we are on a journey, that is called the day of testing, toward the Resting Place with God.
As I am reading the book of Hebrews in the Bible, I am faced with the people of God in the Old Testament who left Egypt and, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, provoked God in the day of testing. As I looked more closely at the story, I came to understand that when they were in Egypt they had a difficult life, which over many centuries had become somehow "normal" and expected as a part of life. Then, when redemption came, they all rejoiced as they went through the Red Sea and joyfully celebrated this deliverance. Their expectation was that now they would finally have a life of rest and peace. The Bible calls it the "Day of Testing''. Their expectations and viewpoint of life were different from the reality that they were facing.
If we study a bit deeper their circumstances of life in the desert for 40 years, it was not easy; they had to go through many trials and difficulties: they needed bread, they were thirsty, lacked security, vulnerable to serpents, afraid for their children's future, etc. It was not an easy life. It was not what they expected. They were discouraged because their expectations were not met. And these expectations opened the door for the deceitfulness of sin to harden their hearts toward the Lord. They even questioned, "Is God any longer in our midst?"
Why does God say in Hebrews 3, "They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know my ways?” What was going wrong in this story, with the people complaining to the Lord and the Lord saying that they don't know His way?
Certainly, it was the way they saw life, the spectacles through which they saw reality, the expectations that they had vs. the way that the Lord had planned for them.
God brought that testing in their lives, so that they would get to know the Lord more through those difficulties and challenges and even change and transform them to become like Christ. That was God's purpose for those challenges and difficulties.
The people were focused on themselves and saw those challenges as burdens upon them, while God saw those challenges as a way to trust and get to know Him more.
The challenges in our lives provide for us a crossroad between two very different paths: one path is to focus on the Lord, to trust and see how He would lead. This path would spread the aroma of Christ's work in others around us, our families, friends, etc. Surely we have an influence on one another.
The second is the path of focusing on ourselves and seeing the burden of difficulty squishing us in all dimensions, producing self-pity and sadness. At the same time this path will spread the aroma of sadness toward life, and the hardening of our hearts toward the Lord will be expanded to others. They will come to comfort you with a fake comfort saying "you are not the first nor the last to go through these difficulties..." Where a dead person encourages another dead person. What a sad encouragement.
Challenges have and always will be present, sometimes they will be small and sometimes they will be great disasters. God is allowing those challenges in our lives so that we will get to know him on a deeper and greater level, walking with Him and allowing Him to transform us to become more Christlike.
The journey in the desert was not the resting day. Today (the time in the desert) is the day of testing; the day of rest is yet to come and that will be only in heaven when we see Christ face to face.
In light of this, I want to share with you in brief what the Lord has allowed us as a family to go through this year and how He provided for everything.
God allowing challenge #1: In July 2022 our family faced the challenge of Bona (my wife) losing all function of her one kidney that remained partially-functioning, and the desperate and quick need for a kidney transplant.
God allowing challenge #2: As Bona shared the desperate need with her family, another challenge came toward us, being forsaken by them whom we never thought would ever do so. Alongside the real need for finding a kidney to match her type, now another deep scar would accompany our journey, being left alone from loved ones. Psalms 27:10-14 was becoming a vivid reality with tears in Bona's eyes, and not hers only, were the expression of this deep hurt.
God's solution #1 : It was then that we were invited to a family reunion while we were in Ohio. The family is composed of Christian believers and one of the sons of that family offered to help Bona to be seen and admitted at Ohio State Hospital. Jesus said, "from the love that you have for one another the non-believers will recognize you." (I am paraphrasing.)
God allowing challenge #3: As Bona got tested at Ohio State Hospital, they discovered that she had a very complicated situation. She had very high levels of antibodies (99%) making it very rare to find a matching kidney donor for her; 1 in 100,000 was the chance. They confidentially called it "finding a needle in a haystack," almost impossible. As a family we fell on our knees before the Lord, basically saying, "You are the giver of life, let Your will be done."
God allowing challenge #4: The Ohio State Hospital also informed us that the cost of the transplant would be $270,000. It was impossible for our family to provide the amount.
God's solution #2. We received a call from another Christian family telling us that after praying they decided to cover all the costs of the transplant. Tears of joy were in our hearts thanking the Lord for providing so quickly. God was showing signs of light in our darkened path.
God's solution #3. As soon as our Christian friends from all over the USA, UK and Netherlands heard about Bona's complex situation, they literally "flooded" Ohio State Hospital to be tested to see if they were a match. A total of 54 people signed up to be tested. We were amazed by the love expressed in such a sacrificial way. And not only us, but our hospital coordinator said that this had never
God's solution #4. Among the 54 people who got tested, we found out the wife in the family who was offering to cover the costs, decided to be tested also as a prospective kidney donor. What an amazing sacrificial gift that was. Not only that but after a few weeks Ohio State Hospital noticed that she was a perfect match for Bona. They called her the "miracle lady" because she was 1 in 10, 000 people. Our hearts were filled with joy and very humbled by their love and commitment.
God allowing challenge #5: All the tests were fine for this wonderful sister to become the kidney donor for Bona until Ohio State Hospital did a final check on her; and they found out that she was not able to be a kidney donor for Bona because of a secondary health issue. The day that we received that news from our dear brother and sister in the Lord, we said, "Praise be the name of the Lord, He knows what He is doing," and we accepted this reality by praising His name.
God allowing challenge #6: For some unknown reason, we heard from both Bona's brothers that they had decided to be tested to see if they were a match for Bona. Soon the results showed that Bona's older brother was a PERFECT match. It was then that the situation got worse; her brothers decided to disconnect completely from communicating with Bona. It was a sad situation, not because he was not willing to help, but that he decided that he didn't want to have anything to do with Bona anymore. I, Edi, traveled to where he was living in Italy to assure him of our love for him no matter what his decision. But nothing changed.
God allowing challenge #7: Ohio State Hospital called us to let us know that they were giving up on Bona's case since they were not able to find a solution. It was a very desperate situation but our hearts were full of peace, a peace that passes understanding, a divine peace with no human explanation.
God's solution #5: We heard about a recent discovery in medicine, called desensitization, which practically speaking means lowering antibody levels so as to allow a kidney transplant—a very complicated process that only two hospitals could do in the USA: Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles and Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. By God's grace, Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles accepted Bona's case and they were willing to get all the information from Ohio State Hospital and consider it through their own standards based on the recently-developed method of desensitization.
God allowing challenge #8: As soon as Bona got accepted at Cedar Sinai Hospital we were happy, but there was a real challenge in that the amount that our family needed to pay for this procedure was $780,000. As I was on the phone with them and writing down the numbers, I couldn't believe the numbers that I was writing, they were so high. We again fell on our knees asking for God to lead us and keep our eyes on Him.
God allowing challenge #9: Bona’s kidney situation was getting worse and the pressure for a solution was becoming stronger. Bona needed to have dialysis, even while we traveled back home to renew our visa, which was not easy because dialysis services in Albania are scarce. We were in a race against time.
God allowing challenge # 10: We didn't know people near the Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, so we did not have a place to stay and a car to use during our time there.
God's solution #6: By faith we decided to purchase the tickets to fly to Los Angeles from Albania and we were praying that the Lord would lead us. We bought the tickets without knowing where we were going to stay, and without having transportation. One week before we were going to fly to Los Angeles, we received a call from a Christian family letting us know that they would give us their car during our entire time in Los Angeles to use. The same week, through the wonderful help of another brother in Christ from Ohio, after contacting a ministry that he had been supporting in Los Angeles, we were able to find a place to stay for one month in a mission house. We were so thankful and our hearts were blessing the Lord while we praised Him on our knees.
God allowing challenge # 11: Cedar Sinai Hospital required that we needed to have the full amount of $780,000 in order for the transplant to happen. We were again on our knees asking the Lord for a solution.
God's solution #7: Only one week before our time at the mission house was to end, the owner of the mission house heard about our story and took us to see different houses he owned, and we had to choose between them. We were reminded of God's faithfulness, and we were so thankful that God provided a wonderful place for us to stay for the entire time.
God's solution #8 and # 11: Within two months, through the sacrificial donations and involvement of many brothers and sisters from all over the world, the entire amount was provided. Our hearts were left in awe toward the Lord and so thankful for the family of believers. These brothers and sisters have become more than a family to us.
God's solution #9: It was a special evening when we received a life-changing call from our sister in Christ, Teresa Martin, saying that she was the kidney donor approved already by the Cedar Sinai Hospital. It is very interesting because Teresa and Andy are the parents of Abby, the brave young missionary girl who came to Albania to serve alongside us during the Covid time. We were speechless and thankful beyond words.
God's solution # 10: On December 12, 2023, at 5:15 am, we met with sister Teresa and her wonderful husband Andy, and Bona and Teresa went to surgery where this precious person sacrificially gave from her life for Bona to live. We are forever grateful to this precious family. Teresa gave life to Bona from her life. She took in her body pain because of love, she gave her kidney only because of Christ's love. Jesus said: "This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples— when they see the love you have for each other."
This has been an amazing God-lead journey, where we as a family have changed and come closer to Him, the evidence and action of the body of Christ has become so visible, even the non-believers got to testify the works of God (even if they continue to suppress the truth or neglect it), and the believers around us has been encouraged and are glorifying the Lord. We would never change a day of what has happened, even though it has been very difficult and heartbreaking, compared to the benefit to our souls as we got to know Him more deeply.
This story is not over yet, and I am not sharing it with you because so far it has had a happy ending, but to encourage you to know that the testing will come and to not get bitter and worried and focus on yourself. Do not even ask,, "why me Lord," or why a good God would allow such a bad thing in your life. There is no problem with these questions, but they just show that your heart is not in the right path of walking and getting to know the Lord. Instead, focus on the Lord and let Him be glorified because He has formed us for Himself and not for ourselves. And if it pleases Him and gives Him glory that through our challenges and difficulties He will be glorified, then let it be so.
The Almighty God has already written the history book of humankind. In that history book is your life, described in detail; how blessed are those that through their life journey, will glorify the Lord, no matter how difficult it may be.
In conclusion, I want to share with you a parable I love. William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy Romeo and Juliet, which many people already know. The personages of Romeo and Juliet had a sad ending. But just imagine for a moment. If Romeo and Juliet had the opportunity to come out of that book out of that reality to meet and know in person their Author, they would be narrow-minded and stay in their self-pitying, limited role.
The author still would get the glory, but how sad that the personages never got out of their reality and being too much self-centered, they missed the big picture because they focused on themselves.
We are your fellow family in the testing days of our desert journey who, together with you, are heading toward the restful eternal place with our Savior Christ Jesus. Until then let us encourage one another and be the aroma of Christ among those who don't know the Author of
Life personally yet.
Edi, Bona, Noel, Sion