Christmas in March

by Valerie Rance (1986)

"Mother has taken a turn for the worse." The phone message from my father-in-law sent my family scrambling to return to the United States two days early. Little did we realize what a difference those days would make.We had planned to leave El Salvador and start our furlough in California on March 29, 1986. Our tickets had already been purchased when we received a called from my father-in-law in Springfield, Missouri. My husband DeLonn's mother had been undergoing chemotherapy as part of her two-year battle with cancer. Now she seemed to be losing the battle. DeLonn and I decided we must see her before settling in California. Since we had not been home for Christmas we would have "Christmas" with the family during this visit.
We began working on our exit visas to leave El Salvador. Normally this is an easy procedure, but we ran into a problem, which threatened to keep us in El Salvador for another 20 days. We prayed, and the Lord led us to a local believer. She accompanied us to the immigration office, praying all the way in a heavenly language. Ten minutes after she entered the office; she came out with exit visas.
The morning of March 27, we boarded the plane for New Orleans, only to have it delayed by maintenance problems. We arrived in New Orleans with only 45 minutes to clear customs, pick up our tickets for the next flight, and board the next plane. When we saw the long, slow customs lines, we gave up hope of making it to Springfield that day.  We were in the back of a line when a customs agent opened a new line. He pointed to us and said "You! Yes, you with the kids. Come here!" he looked at our passports, said, "You have cute kids. Have a good day!" and waved us out the door.
We ran to the ticket counter. Tickets for our next flight were to be waiting for us, but the agent knew nothing about them. Our plane would leave in five minutes. We had no tickets, no credit cards, and not enough cash to buy new tickets. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, the agent said, "I can't find the tickets, but I'll write you up a new set." He gave us the tickets, without asking for money, and said "Run! Your plane is ready to leave!"
We taxied to the runway only to face another delay. Air Force One was departing, and all other flights were put on hold. We weren't too worried because our next plane change was with the same carrier in Memphis. We assumed that the arrival and departure gates would be near each other. On arrival, we discovered that the Memphis airport is shaped like a horseshoe, and our departure gate was at the other end, a half-mile away. DeLonn picked up our three-year-old daughter LaDawn. "You take Jorel," he told me "I'll run ahead and try to stop the plane." He looked like O.J. Simpson as he ran through the crowded airport. When he arrived at the gate he asked if the plane had left. The agent said, "No, it is still on the runway." We ran onto the runway and into the plane. By God's grace we arrived in Springfield that evening.
When we got to the house, Mom Rance was eagerly waiting to see her grandbabies. She had spent 2 days using her precious strength to buy "Christmas" presents for LaDawn and Jorel. She had wrapped them in Christmas paper and tied them with beautiful red and green ribbons. The kids were excited to see Grandma and Grandpa and, of course, the presents. Even though Mom Rance was in pain, she watched her grandchildren with great joy. Christmas with the family had arrived. She had made it. That night the whole family gathered at her bedside; her husband, three sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. We reveled in one another's presence and in the presence of the Lord, grateful for his hand in our reunion. After falling asleep, Mom never fully regained consciousness. The next morning, March 28, 1986 she went to be with Jesus.
The holiday season will always be my favorite time of year. But in March, memories of Mom Rance and our last "Christmas" together brings joy to my heart as I think of the wonderful reunion we will celebrate when we all get home.