Faithful Provider

Nate has always been a good provider. By that I mean every dollar he’s earned, he’s shared. He’s forfeited fancy cars, custom suits and exotic vacations to give to others. I’ve been blessed to be a stay-at-home mom since Nelson was born in 1973, which necessitated receiving money from Nate in the form of a household allowance each week. The amounts have varied over the years with family changes and inflation, but the system has worked well.

I’ve heard of husbands who’ve made their non-working wives plead and beg for each ten dollar bill. “Why do you need it? What are you planning to buy? I don’t think you have to have any of that. You can wait.” Nate has been the opposite, giving and giving again.

When I’ve commented on his shirt pockets being ink stained, encouraging him to buy a few new ones, he’s always turned it back on me saying, “You take the money. I’m sure you need something more than I need new shirts.”

Since he’s been sick, he hasn’t been able to follow our usual routine in money matters, although again and again during these last weeks he’s asked me, “Have you got enough money?”

Little by little Nate has lost track of where we stand on our bills, what the due dates are and how much is in which bank account. Even as he’s been losing interest in the things of this world, something deep inside of him still wants to take care of me.

Since he’s been sick, part of getting him ready for the day has always been handing him a folded wad of bills to slip into his pocket. He’s never been a wallet man. Since several important things have ended up in the trash or even the toilet recently, I’ve “stacked” his wad of bills with singles, except for one twenty wrapped on the outside. While folded, it looks like quite a fortune.

Yesterday afternoon Nate motioned for me to come into a corner of his tiny room. He was trying to count out his bills, putting them into denominational categories, but of course there were no fives or tens. “I can’t figure this out,” he whispered, fumbling with the money. “I guess I can’t give you as much as I thought.”

He handed me the twenty and folded the singles to go back into his pocket, shaking his head. Immediately I ran to my purse and took out the four twenties there, bringing them back to him and feeling guilty for my deception scheme.

“These are actually yours,” I said, handing him the bills.

“Ok,” he said, taking them and then handing them right back to me. “Here. This isn’t much, but you’ll have to make do.”

“It’s plenty,” I said. “You’re a wonderful provider for all of us, and you always have been. Thank you.”

“I feel bad that I can’t do more,” he said, patting me on the back.

Today there are new signs that we are coming close to the end. Nate desperately wanted to get out of bed and walk yet could no longer support his own weight and refused the wheelchair. The only answer was for the boys to pair up on either side and support his weight 100%. After he was standing on his noodle-legs, two of the boys holding strong, we all gathered in a semi-circle in front of him.

He pointed to me and said, in an almost unintelligible whisper, “Forty years. Forty years.” Then he puckered up and leaned toward me, hoping I’d lean in for a kiss, which I did. He followed that with, “Forty-one years. Forty-one years.” I’m not sure if it was longing or sadness or just the sting of impossibility, but it ended well with another pucker and another kiss.

When a man feels his greatest responsibility is to provide for his wife and all he can give her is “this isn’t much” and “I can’t be here for forty-one,” his emotional pain must be nearly too great to bear. Never have I been more thankful for his faithful provision for me than I am now.

As the Scriptures say, ‘A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:31-33)

Sweet Sleep

Today in our little cottage we had a wild ride. Nate’s pain has been escalating steadily over the last ten days or so, frequently requiring the break-through pain medication to override it. So the head nurse spent an hour sorting through his current meds, rearranging doses, subtracting some items and adding others. After she’d gone, Nate’s pain gradually rose to new heights as his body began the adjustment away from the pills he can no longer swallow easily and toward two pain patches.

He stuck close to me all day and wanted, at one point, to nap on a double bed on the other side of the living room from his hospital bed. It was a tender time to whisper things to each other, but suddenly he said, “Don’t lean on me. Don’t press on me. Don’t cover me. It hurts too much.”

These words were whispered in high, raspy tones, the only voice he’s got left, and I had to ask for three repetitions of some of the words to understand. Assuring him I wouldn’t touch anyplace he was hurting, I asked him to tell me where it hurt the worst. He palmed back and forth on his abdomen, the first time he hadn’t answered that question by reaching around to touch his back.

When the nurse visited before, she’d measured his mid-section, just like a pregnant woman’s belly is measured for baby growth. When I’d asked what she was doing, she said, “His abdomen is beginning to fill with fluid now, as the organs fail to function right, because of the cancer.” All I could think of was the pain that would most likely accompany the pressure of that extra fluid.

“How do we solve that problem?” I’d asked. She said the team would be sure he didn’t have to suffer but that draining the fluid, a surgical procedure, was hurtful, invasive, and something to be avoided if possible.

Today, as his body continues to shrink with his bones becoming more and more visible, his belly has grown to resemble a woman seven or eight months pregnant. It is hard to the touch, with nodules or bulges that must be tumors. As I lay next to him on the bed holding his hand but not touching anything else, he whispered, “I’m afraid. I’m afraid.”

“Of dying?” I asked.

“No. Of the pain. Afraid of the pain,” he said.

It probably hurt so much at that moment, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to endure it, if it increased.

“I feel trapped,” he said. “And I’m so sick of all this.”

I felt the same way. Nate has been hurting badly since January, without respite. That’s when his life began to be dominated by chronic pain from stenosis of the spine and related back problems . I can’t imagine how wearisome such long-term pain must be. Nate is a champion at endurance.

Today I was determined to find some relief for this new, increased pain, and phoned the nurse. Two phone calls later, we’d settled on morphine drops under the tongue and a sedative/anti-anxiety pill. Within forty five minutes Nate had drifted into a restful sleep. Watching him breathe deeply and sleep soundly was nourishment for my heart and I’m sure also for his.

He’d been agitated and awake most of the last 24 hours. Because of the pain, he’d eaten nothing. It was serious relief to know that as I watched him sleep, he was not in pain. I’d always insisted to every medical person along our journey that we wanted to keep him alert and communicating with the minimum of medicine. Today, with his overpowering pain and the fear that came with it, I pulled away from that thinking. As a matter of fact, it sounded selfish.

Nate may be sleepy from here on out. If that’s what it takes to curb the awful pain he felt this afternoon, then that’s what it will be.

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors, for He gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.(Psalm 127:2)

Out of sight

Last night had me battling worry over our immediate future. Each day seems to bring a new problem for which I don’t have the answer. For example, today Nate’s hand began having blips of weakness when it would go limp for an instant and then recoup. Because of this, he spilled (onto himself) one glass of water, a whole cup of coffee (lukewarm) and his dinner plate. Hospice is wonderful in their knowledge, experience and willingness to teach me what to do, and our kids are eager to help. But during the night, as I lie alone in bed, the heavy-handed truth is that I’m the one running the show.

In the daylight I don’t doubt God will point to answers for every new issue that arises and that this will continue unendingly. During the night, however, I worry, hanging onto this truth by my fingernails.

This afternoon I needed something special from God, because tears seemed to continually wiggle just behind my eyes. Walking Jack the five blocks to the beach would help, I was sure, since getting a look at that wide horizon and meandering along the wave line has always been calming. I checked to be sure the boys would watch over Nate while I was gone, then leashed the dog and headed out.

All summer we walked to the beach in flip-flops, kicking them off at the base of a small dune on the way to the water. Today it was socks and shoes. I missed the feel of sand between my toes, and as I climbed the dune, shoes on, I thought of my favorite sandals, a gift from a good friend. They came from J. Crew, a place I never shopped, and were navy blue with “straps” of white and blue seersucker. The part between the toes was hot pink, and they were oh-so-comfy.

In a lifetime of coming to this same beach, I’d never lost a sandal. But last summer I’d returned to the base of the dune one day on my way home, and my beloved J. Crew sandals had been missing. I looked everywhere that day, but they weren’t to be found. It was a disappointment, and I credited some creative middle school kid with tossing them into the woods or the nearby creek as a prank.

Today, as I battled worry about what was ahead, my eye caught something bright in the sand. It was a dot of pink, not a natural color at the beach. I bent over to get a better look and got a shock. Peeking out from under the sand was the between-the-toe piece of a flip-flop. Could it be?

J.Crew flip-flop pink

I dug around it and lifted out a navy sandal from J. Crew with seersucker straps, twisted and bent, but definitely mine. Those wiggly tears spilled over, and I talked out loud to God, stunned by this unusual token of his kindness. “You did it, God! I can hardly believe it! Thank you, thank you!” God had given me a “good gift from above” (a really unusual one) on the exact day I needed it.

Digging in that same area with the hope of finding the other flip-flop, I bumped into it several feet away under eight inches of sand. My favorite sandals had come back to me after being lost for nine weeks. There was no explainable reason except that God saw my need and decided to do something special to take care of it. It was as if he said, “Quit worrying, and quit hanging on by your fingernails, because I’m hanging on to you.”

On my frequent trips to the beach during the last nine weeks, I’d unknowingly been stepping over my flip-flops again and again, buried in the sand beneath my footsteps. They’d been there all along; I just didn’t know it, because I couldn’t see them.J.Crew flip-flop pair

God had used an object lesson to make a point with me, just like Jesus often used objects to teach those following him. When I’d been feeling alone and burdened with worry during the night, he’d been hidden from sight (just like the sandals). But in reality, he was telling me, “I’ve been there all along.”

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places so that you may know that it is I. I am the Lord, and there is no other. Besides Me there is no God, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity. I am the Lord who does all these. I will go before you and make the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 45:3,5,7,2)