Today was an 8.

If a good day is 0 and a bad day is 10, today was an 8. En route to the hospital in Chicago, Nate called the doctor, wanting to set up a meeting after today’s radiation treatment (#10). In the last two days, new negative symptoms have popped up: dry heaving, dizziness and feelings of panic as breathing tightens.

Two doctors and a nurse kindly accommodated and gave us a full hour, despite our not being scheduled. When they asked Nate to rate his pain from 1 to 10, 10 being the most severe, he thought and frowned but couldn’t pick a number. The description beneath face #8 said it well: “Hurts a whole lot.” The medical team designed a new treatment plan to ease his symptoms and suggested we meet with the hospital counselor specializing in cancer cases.

The doctor described what he saw as the cause of Nate’s panic attacks, the conflict of being forced to choose between two bad choices. With the end of our radiation treatments in sight, chemotherapy was coming into view. “Chemo might help you, but it also will drain your energy,” the doctor was saying. Basically the question in front of us was, “Would you like to undergo chemo treatments that may not help you, or would you like to forego chemo and risk losing the help it may have given you?”

We’d already decided against the research study to see how using a new combination of chemo drugs in pancreatic cancer patients might help. But traditional chemo was still on the table for us. What would our choice be?

During the discussion, Nate was battling extreme emotional pain, maybe even a 10. It was written in the agony on his face. His dry mouth was causing his lips to stick to his teeth, and he was complaining of a severe stomach ache. Dr. Abrams prescribed something to relax him, agreeing that he needed relief and calming. He wisely suggested we opt out of our scheduled radiation treatment today after observing Nate’s overall stress and exhaustion, so we skipped it.

After our appointment, my brother Tom met us in the radiation waiting room to talk about their legal clients as he and Nate had done before. But today Nate couldn’t concentrate and was agitated in both body and mind. Tom called a halt to the meeting, having a sensitive barometer for his brother-in-law’s well being, and we headed home by way of two pharmacies. Arguments over insurance permission, pill prices and inadequate supplies left us both longing to end the day.

Finally, armed with a small supply of a new drug to ease Nate’s anxiety, we looked forward to a calm, symptom-free evening. But the pill overdid its task and knocked him out completely. He went to sleep in his clothes, a sleep so solid I wondered if he’d wake up in the morning. Tears, tears and more tears came as I watched him sleep next to me, his mouth open and his eyes only half closed.

When Jesus walked the earth, one of his statements summed up the way we would have to have to look at life from here on: “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

People often say, “Tomorrow will be a better day.” I have a hunch that won’t be true for us. Although we never lose hope, probabilities are powerful influencers.

Showers of blessing

As Nate and I came down the stairs this morning in tandem as we always do (me first to cushion any falls), a fire was already burning in the fireplace. We’d had our first freeze last night, and the upstairs held a chill, so the fire was especially warming. A bin full of split wood was at the ready. The coffee was brewed and waiting for us.

When I went into the bathroom, yesterday’s wet, used towels had been replaced with clean ones. Folded laundry was piled high in a living room chair. Last night’s dishes, left to dry in the sink drainer (no dishwasher), had been put away. Our circle of chairs in the living room, one for each family member, was ready for today’s meals. Pastries from the bakery sat on the kitchen counter.

Today’s newspapers, Nate’s great pleasure, were waiting next to his lazy-boy chair, and the dog had already been walked. Our car had been filled with gas and was ready for our next trip into Chicago.

All of this is the work of our grown children. These days, even before we mention what is needed, they’ve spotted it and provided. Their behavior reminds me of the Scripture verse that says even before we ask, God knows what we need. (Matthew 6:8)

In recent days our kids have changed the oil in the car, run endless errands including all the grocery shopping for a crowd, and organized prayer times together. They’ve made sure all the plants that might freeze were brought into the house, washing the pots first. They’ve put together (and cleaned up) countless meals. They are solicitous of our welfare to the smallest detail, and are trouble-shooting in every category. They are showering us with blessing.

As Nate has become needy and I right along with him, we’ve flip-flopped roles with our kids. They are now the givers, and we are the receivers. Both of us are bowled over by their consistent efforts to help without taking any credit. I believe they are allowing themselves to be used as part of God’s gracious provision for us and also for each other during these days of raw emotion and painful reality. Each one has set aside a busy life as if that wasn’t stress enough, to come and hang out with us. They’ve made themselves available to work, talk, sit in silence or just be under the same roof. And all of this is taking place while they are hurting, too.

During the last 19 days, each of us has been wrenched from a familiar routine and flung into the foreign land of terminal cancer. We entered this new world kicking and screaming but have been surprised by the unnumbered blessings that have come along with us.

When in recent years have all of us been together without an agenda? There has always been a program to follow: Christmas dinners and traditions, birthday celebrations and gifts, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, the 4thof July picnic, you name it. Every family gathering follows a prescribed script from beginning to end. This time, there is no script. There are definitely gifts, but no one has had to shop or pay for them. They are words, deeds, time spent, prayers prayed.

We are living under a shower of blessing. It’s a strange time, seemingly unreal. It’s almost as if this drama is happening to some other family. In moments of the day we forget, ever so briefly, that our father/husband has been given a death sentence. And then it comes rushing back to us, bringing nausea, weakness and sadness. Yet none of us can deny that each day has its plus signs.

Today, for example, our niece Julia, her husband Drew, and their three children arrived on our door step with the intention of praying over Nate and for all of us. We didn’t serve coffee or eat cookies. We simply sat in a circle, holding hands, and prayed (and cried). The children were casually sprawled on the floor inside our circle, part of the whole event. God Almighty was in the circle, too, powerfully doing his unmistakable work inside each of us. Had Nate not been seriously ill, this extraordinary get-together would not have occurred. We were under a shower of blessing.

As the old hymn says:

There shall be showers of blessing: 22

This is the promise of love;

There shall be seasons refreshing,

Sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing,

Showers of blessing we need:

Mercy drops round us are falling,

But for the showers we plead.

A rocky road

oct092My sister Mary and I love rocks. Beach stones, to be specific, from the shores of Lake Michigan, our childhood hang-out. There is no end to the variety of stones that appear on the sand day after day. Each is striking in its beauty, and no two are alike. In our opinion, a pendant made of a beach stone ranks right up there with a “real” jewel.

Mary and I are in our sixties, but we still get that same childhood thrill when we find pretty stones. Handling them is a stress-reducer for sure, and we look for excuses to do so. We’ve glued them on picture frames, mirror frames, candle bases, centerpiece runners, bird houses, flower pots and clocks. We’ve backed them with magnets for the fridge and have filled crystal bowls with them.

Last week Mary found a new way to use our stones. The morning after we learned of Nate’s pancreatic cancer, I was standing at the kitchen sink, a million miles away in my mind, when I spotted a pink beach stone on the counter. It was the size of a fifty-cent piece and had writing on it: Isaiah 26:3-4.

I knew immediately it must have been Mary’s doing. Here’s what the reference said:

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee. Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”

With my mind in a whirl that day, those verses slowed me down and gave me something constructive to do: attach my thoughts to Lord Jehovah.

Two days later, a yellow “butterscotch” stone appeared, this one on the bathroom sink. Psalm 16:7-8:

I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

A few days after that, I found a third stone next to our computer. Psalm 9:9-10:

“The Lord will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” 

This afternoon I found a fourth gift from the beach, a stunning piece of beach glass, rare because of its large size and aqua color. Beach glass is difficult to find anymore, since so many bottles are now made of plastic. But on this beautiful piece was written another Bible reference, Psalm 40:1-3:

I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”

With her Scripture rocks, Mary has found a way to link earth and heaven, thus helping us sort out the dilemma of having one foot in each place. The stones and beach glass help to pry our attention away from pancreatic cancer and attach it to the one who has the keys to life… and death… the foundational Rock, Jesus Christ.scriptue rocks