What would it feel like to have a doctor say, “There’s nothing more we can do for you. Go home and get your affairs in order.”
Nate wasn’t told those exact words, but getting things in order is what he’s been doing during this last month since he learned he had terminal cancer. Most of us have categories in our lives that we set aside for later, things like redoing an address list or cleaning out old files. We procrastinate at balancing our checkbooks and washing out our refrigerators. If I were to die tomorrow, I’d be mortified to have other people rummaging through my dresser drawers and seeing the disarray there. My things aren’t in order.
Nate has been trying to square off with each procrastinated category in his life. It has been overwhelming, yet he’s done valiantly. One of the most difficult parts about setting his affairs in order has been discovering he couldn’t accomplish it alone. He’s had to humble himself enough to accept the help he’s been offered by those who love him, no easy task. We’d all rather be the helpers than the helped.
As he has acquiesced to the efforts of others, I’ve seen a fresh calm come into his life. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Maybe the rest Jesus meant was the relief that sets in when we let others help us.
Whatever the case, Nate has worked to set his affairs in order and to touch base with those who are important to him. Time is slipping away, and he is well aware of it. Today we drove two hours back to our old church so he could meet with Pastor Colin Smith. Linnea accompanied us, and although no one verbalized it, we all knew it would be Nate’s last visit there. His fatigue is escalating rapidly, and I’d prayed he would be alert and focused during the meeting, able to settle any lingering spiritual questions.
Linnea and I sat on a bench outside the room as they met, praying for clarity and the Holy Spirit’s power to move within both Nate and Pastor Colin. On the drive home, we tried to get him talking about what had gone on during the meeting, but Nate was exhausted and non-communicative. Later, however, during our bedtime conversation, some of his thoughts bubbled to the surface.
“Life has a precarious nature to it, but we don’t realize it on a daily basis. I’m realizing it now, because of the crisis I’m in.”
We talked a little more, and then I asked, “Are you afraid of anything?”
He thought for a minute, fingers-to-fingers as always, and said, “I’m not afraid, really. But I’m nervous.”
“About what?” I asked.
“Well, not about what’s going to happen after I die but before that.”
“You mean the cancer? You’re wondering what the cancer is going to do to you?”
We talked about the Hospice ladies and their assurance he won’t have to suffer any great pain. He nodded in approval, but didn’t seem convinced. Then he said something that gave a clue to his meeting with Pastor Colin.
“I guess eventually God takes everything away except faith. That’s the one thing that can’t be taken away.”
We looked up the verses about God shaking everything that can be shaken to show us the things that can’t be shaken. (Hebrews 12:26-28) I sensed a type of little-boy nervousness in Nate, completely understandable under the circumstances, and thought it would be good to quote that wonderful promise in Romans 8:28 for unshakable reassurance. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”
“That’s you,” I said. “This whole mess is going to work out for good… for you. You’re going to beat me to heaven, and heaven is about as good as it gets. You’re going to be freed of your constant back pain and every bit of this awful cancer while I struggle along probably into my 90’s, becoming a burden to everyone and wondering why I couldn’t get to heaven as fast as you did.”
He smiled and said, “Do you think you could squeeze into this little bed next to me?” (the hospital bed)
It was tantamount to a comedy routine, but it was worth the effort. He was asleep in a few quick moments. Moving my hand across his chest, I could feel the small tumors now erupting randomly on his skin like dime-sized boils. I’m nervous, just like Nate is, and my thought paralleled his: what is this cancer going to do to him before the end?
“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor powers, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (….and not cancer, either) (Romans 8:38)