Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Once upon a Lifetime

Once upon a time there lived a charming tow-headed boy with bright blue eyes and an easy smile. He loved to swim in the lake, ride bikes, identify birds, play ball with his friends. He dreamed of changing the world through love. He wanted to be a missionary.

Once upon a time there lived a sweet chestnut-haired girl with eager brown eyes that caught everything. She had a sensitive spirit, loved learning, relished mission stories, and resolved in her heart that one day she would be a missionary.

She made a brief list regarding her future: 

1. I want to get marred but not to a doctor
2. I will live anywhere in the USA except California
3. I will be a missionary anywhere in the world, but not Africa

One day these two children grew up and attended Andrews University. There they met and fell in love. Together they worked toward their goal, praying a lot, and God answered their prayers. They moved to California where Jamie became a doctor.

While in residency, Jamie twice brought home stories of mothers of young children dying of cancer. Those stories pierced his wife’s heart, and she tearfully pleaded with God for those families!

Then they received a call to be medical missionaries to Malawi, Africa.

Shred that list! 

The first year in Malawi felt like doing the army crawl through a violent battlefield. They questioned if they were following God’s leading or stubbornly following their own wills… .


A few people indicated that they believed we were under Satanic attack that year. We felt isolated, wounded, searching for a safe place to hide and tend our wounds as we inched forward. Our family also shook with a serious blow before we crossed the ocean as missionaries. Tenaciously we said, “We Crounses are not quitters. We are here unless we receive a clear message to leave.” Nevertheless, I thought I hated my life.

I was desperate for our first annual leave. Two months before we left on annual leave, I fired our first gardener, a thief. Two weeks before annual leave, the seven men excavating our yard cautioned me to never let the ex-gardener return to my house because he would be coming to curse me with black magic. When that very day he showed up uninvited, the excavators melted into the wall. His visit was brief. After we silently watched  him walk down our long broken mud brick driveway, turn onto the street and disappear into the kaleidoscope of chitenges and baskets, I asked the workers if they were all Christian. “Yes, Madam.” I read to them from the Bible that God is Almighty, He has defeated Satan, therefore we do not fear. Bold for a woman who just survived a year of being afraid. “Yes, Madam.” It was dutifully spoken.

Finally, Atlanta!! It felt like Christmas when we landed! I begged Jamie not to make me go back to Malawi. Please, please let me stay here where I feel safe and don’t get electrical shocks when I cook. He just looked at me.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Clearly it was another attack of the enemy, a culmination of the year. We were laid low, moaning. I had thought I hated my life until threatened with the possibility of losing it. I told God that if He healed me, I would go back to Malawi. I wouldn’t complain any more. I was not bargaining with Him; it was a commitment. I believed that those excavator men would believe that I was sick because of black magic. I wanted to show them that God is indeed mightier than Satan, and that Satan could discourage people but he could not defeat God. We learned that my cancer was DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ, stage 0) Bad news and good news. Good news was they could remove it all. With a double mastectomy I would have a less than one percent chance of ever getting this type of cancer again. Healed! God wins! I could walk forward in life. We were going back to Malawi!

With that victory, the enemy seemed to retreat. Each year was better after that. Without realizing it, we found ourselves loving Malawi, the Malawian people, the missionary community, the expatriates near us, our life. During our first year I was so frustrated when people visited us any time they wanted! Soon I found myself loving it! I felt lonely if no one came by. I cherished being a member of the phenomenal Malamulo family. We were all there for one purpose—to see the hospital flourish, to improve the lives and health of the people around us, as quickly and thoroughly as possible. It was an awesome experience to be a part of a team united around a single goal. It truly was beautiful, even in its imperfections.

Every day since I held my firstborn son, my heart ached with gratitude for our life together, and my soul burned with sorrow when I heard stories of mothers dying while their children were little. I fervently prayed, “Thank you, God, for each precious day of life we get to share as a family.”  In the mission field, my children and I prayed daily, “Please make us a blessing in Malawi.” We thanked God for bringing us there. Jamie came home and said to me, “I love my job!” What a blessing God gave us!

We decided that since we had been gone so much from Malawi, we would not go home for annual leave in 2016. We would stay and work and take a smaller vacation in Africa.

One night I told Jamie, “I’ve had two years to think about this. I can no longer breastfeed a child, and the world seems so uncertain right now. I have decided that we are finished having children. We need to find a more permanent solution.” The next day I learned that I was pregnant. The next day.


Now follow with me.

I seriously considered having the baby in Malawi. Our second child was born naturally and it was an excellent experience, so I reasoned that the third one should be easier. Plus, we now had a wonderful obstetrician who is also my friend—an ideal arrangement!

While pregnant, one night I had terrible heartburn. Changing body position didn’t alleviate the pain. I went to the bathroom took Tums, walked back and forth, arched my back, doubled over, twisted and turned, took two more Tums. Diarrhea began, and then vomiting. An hour and a half and twelve Tums later, I awoke Jamie. He suspected a gallbladder attack and took me to the hospital. The surgeon, using the equipment available, thought he saw a gallstone. My gallbladder attacked a few more times until I removed all fat from my diet. In light of this development, my OB and I decided that it might be best to go to the USA to have this baby.

When I saw the OB in the USA, I asked, “Could I have an ultrasound of my gallbladder? I experienced some attacks while in Malawi and I would like to know if I will need to have it removed.” An incidental finding on the ultrasound was two masses in my liver. Another obstetrician in the group called me and made a ridiculously big deal about it. “I’m really concerned about these lesions. You need to see your breast surgeon ASAP. Call today.” Instead I made appointments with internal medicine and gastro-intestinal doctors who said that it was probably nothing. After all, by definition DCIS does not metastasize. I acted as if I believed them, but inside I trembled. Deep in my heart I knew the answer: the dark oppressive shadow of cancer. I felt that I was being torn from those who mean the world to me, the ones who need me most. It didn’t help that my husband was eight thousand miles away.  I stifled the emotions as much as possible for the time so that I wouldn’t worry my innocent little ones.

Because I was lactating, I made an appointment with my breast surgeon. When Caleb was six days old we sat in her office.

“It’s okay that you’re lactating. That’s no problem.” She headed for the door. “Oh wait, let me check this.” She shoved her hand in my armpit. “I feel something. Do you feel that? We’re going to get an ultrasound. Right now.”

At the ultrasound, the radiologist tried to reassure me. “You had DCIS? You live in Africa? It’s probably nothing serious. DCIS doesn’t metastasize.”

The surgeon said, “I’m going to biopsy that. Right now.” My legs started clapping. The nurse asked me if I was okay, and the surgeon replied, “She’s freaking out.” What are you supposed to do when your worst fears are coming true one minute at a time?

The next day the nurse called and told us that it was invasive ductal carcinoma (Breast Cancer). A liver biopsy also revealed ductal carcinoma. There was no primary tumor.

Fiercely the battle roared into full onslaught.

Do you see what happened?

If I hadn’t become pregnant, my gallbladder wouldn’t have attacked.

As a result of my gallbladder attack, I had an ultrasound.

If the surgeon in Malawi hadn’t seen a stone, we might have stayed in Malawi and not come to the USA.

Because the doctors around me recommended that I have my gallbladder removed, I asked for an ultrasound from my US obstetrician.

If they hadn’t done an ultrasound in the USA, there would have been no incidental finding of liver lesions.

Being pregnant caused my breasts to lactate, so I made an appointment to see my breast surgeon. 

Because the other OB called me at home about the liver lesions, I rescheduled for an earlier appointment with the breast surgeon.

If I hadn’t gone to see the breast surgeon, we might not have discovered that I had stage IV breast cancer until it was more life-threatening situation.

Attacked, but not defeated. Wounded, but not abandoned.

What’s my point?

Often we experience things that we don’t understand, and certainly aren’t our plans. Sometimes that involves pain. God sees the end from the beginning, and has promised that He is going to take care of you and me. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

I’m also realizing more about Jesus coming as a beautiful baby boy to save our lives, because God has saved my life through the birth of our precious, perfect baby boy. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." 1 Cor. 1:25

And once upon a lifetime you might realize that everything that means the world to you now was once on your unwanted list. Then your heart will break…

… with gratitude.


~ Love abundantly. See how God has led you. Look for Life.~

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9


  1. Beautiful story! God's leading is so apparent! Praying for healing for you and peace for your family.

    1. Thank you, Becky. God keeps His promises!