It’s been 5 days since we heard the dreadful news, and we are just beginning to come up for air.

In that first conversation with a doctor, in just a few excruciating minutes, Nate and I found ourselves tangled up in a snarl of horrifying words we did not expect: pancreatic cancer, inoperable, metastasized, stage 4, terminal.

“Stunned” does not explain our response. “Crushed” is better. “Devastated” is accurate.

The doctor was backed by six others in the room, all eyes fixed on us. When he paused to let us respond, I spoke first. Trying to will the words away, to banish them from the room, I said, “But we only came for surgery on his back! He doesn’t have any other symptoms! We don’t know anything about any of this!” As my voice got louder and began to crack, Nate reached for my hand.

We had known about his back pain and the stenosis, bulging disks, arthritis and spurs causing it. Having made the rounds to several doctors, we’d settled on “the best in the country” and signed up for spine surgery to take place on September 28… which is tomorrow. In Nate’s routine pre-op physical, multiple red flags popped up. Two short weeks after that, we were sitting in a hospital conference room surrounded by learned doctors, being assaulted with unwanted words.

Encouraging friends have responded. “Remember, this was not a surprise to God.”

And my heart has screamed, “BUT IT WAS TO US!”

Today, five days later, we are still reeling but are no longer screaming inside, at least not on this day. Our family is gathering. We all agree on how we want to spend our time. Love and support is pouring in from all directions, some quite unexpected and all exceedingly helpful and precious to us.

I plan to use this blog space to keep interested parties informed of Nate’s situation while the clock ticks and the days pass. As we begin putting one foot in front of the other to plod into this foreign land, we’ll let you know how things are going. Feel free to comment. And thank you so much for your kindnesses to us already. We’ve seen that our un-surprised God has traveled ahead of us and now stretches out his hand to say, “Over here now. Follow me. It’s all going to utterly amaze you, and I can’t wait to show you.” And so with tears streaming down our faces making it hard to see, we follow.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

The “Keepers” file

Tucked into the “K” section of our file cabinet is a manila folder marked “Keepers”. It’s bulging with over 100 notes, cards and letters written by our children. The run-of-the-mill thank you notes or greeting cards that came with just a signature are not included. The Keepers file is reserved for words that are too cute, too powerful, too moving to part with.

Keepers file 2

Some are written in the labored printing of a first grader:

“I like you and your fammlee. I like whiut you duw for me. I like my klos I wier. I like my fowd. I like you.”

Others contain the scrawl of a teenage son: “I tried to write a poem, but it wasn’t going well. So I decided I would just tell you how much you have helped me through the years. I could never repay you, but I’ll still try!”

Then there is the swirly script of a middle school daughter: “Is there any possible way I could sleep in today? Please?!?! I didn’t get to lay down in my bed until exactly 1:25 and 30 seconds! My stomach hurts and I have a headache and I can’t see strait because everything wobbles and my eyes are watering.”

In a store-bought Mother’s Day card, one high school son simply wrote: “Thank you for having me.” And a fifth grade daughter, struggling with creativity, wrote: “Mom and Papa, you bring us love. Two wonderful parents sent from above. We’ll never push, we’ll never shove. We’ll give you are hearts which are happiness full of.”

Another note contains a song entitled “Mom” complete with hand-written score and large piano notes, composed by an eleven year old. Several cards are accompanied by short stories and two by full-blown picture books. One offered a coupon for free babysitting of a little sister.

From a 14 year old son we read: “I have some bad news. An almost full 32 oz bottle of water hit your car trunk and dented it. I will pay.”

Several letters included heart-felt apologies, this one from a nine year old: “I can live without a Barbi, and I can wait a few years to learn the flute. I’m sorry I complain alot. Please forgive me for it. I love you! XOXO.”

As the kids grew older, their letters contained more serious messages. From a new college grad we heard, “I used to be really focused on creating a fun life for myself. I believed in God, but I used to think if I gave everything over to him, my life wouldn’t be as good, like I needed to hang onto some areas or I wouldn’t get what I wanted. The funny part is, letting go is the only way you ever feel peaceful.”

One of our twenty-somethings wrote: “You’ve demonstrated what it means to weather the storm and consistently live by the principles you believe. That’s uncommon today. Thanks for being role models and commitment-keepers. Everyone notices.”

And a thirty-something wrote: “Thanks for all the support you give all your children. It must be hard doing all the prayer work and seeing fruit only some of the time. We may not always say so, but thank you.”

Why do we keep these? It’s because they’re a written record of family love, each one a treasure. And if the house was burning down, it’s the Keepers file I’d grab.

Is there a history buff in the crowd?

Our realtor called again. “Let’s brainstorm for a way to set your house apart from the others that are for sale. Can you think of anything?”

“Well,” I hesitated, wondering if what I was going to say was positive or negative, “it’s almost 100 years old.”

“Ok then,” she said. “I know a man at the newspaper who might publish a story about that. It’ll be free publicity. Could you write it?”

Many years previously, an elderly gentleman, hunched over with osteoporosis, rang our doorbell and introduced himself as “the little boy who helped build this house.” (He was in his 90s at the time.) I welcomed him inside, and as he paced through the rooms, he dictated the history of our (his) home. I knew I could write a good story for the paper. A shortened version appears below.


In the year 2009, this house will celebrate its 100th birthday. Built in 1909 by a local farmer, 103 Creek Court had a rural address and fronted on a narrow dirt road that eventually became today’s eight-lane Palatine Road. The farmer owned one square mile of land and operated a dairy farm, milking 100 cows by hand twice a day.

The original farmhouse had a living room, kitchen and bedroom on the main floor with three bedrooms upstairs. These were closed off by a door and left unheated during the winter. With several additions, the house grew to six bedrooms, three baths and five other rooms.

Back in the early 1900’s, the kitchen had a dry sink without even a hand pump for water. Before the first well was dug, the family got its water from the nearby creek, for which today’s Creek Court is named. Food was cooked on a swing-hook in the fireplace.

The main dairy barn sat just across the current driveway. During the 1930’s, economic tragedy struck this farm when the herd shared grass under a fence with a neighbor’s cows, who had hoof and mouth disease.

All of the cows became infected, making their milk unusable, which sealed their fate and that of the farm. The farmer dug a massive hole next to the milking barn, herded them into it and shot them all. Interestingly, when builders began digging for the foundation of our next door neighbor’s house in 1979, they ran into this grave of cow bones and halted excavation until the mystery was solved.

Recent gardeners at 103 Creek Court have dug up square-head nails, iron wagon wheels and the remains of old farming equipment buried in the concrete of the front steps. An antique hay rake, once pulled by a team of horses, was also on the property.

Used as an office by the developer of the current neighborhood, the old farm house was slated for demolition in 1980. However, once the other half-acre lots were sold and built, the developer decided to renovate 103 Creek Court and let it be the house on the rise that had been standing longer than all the others… nearly 100 years.


The realtor and I hoped to find a buyer interested in history, but only time would tell.