Take heart.

As we readied for a short church service in our living room circle this morning, I thought of the thousands of families readying for church all over the country. We’ve not been to a “real” church since we got the shocking news of Nate’s pancreatic cancer less than a month ago. He’s not been up to going, and we all want to stay with him. I wondered how long it would be before we… or I… went back.

As we cleared our cluttered kitchen counter to set out eggs and toast, we found another Scripture rock tucked next to the microwave: Psalm 27:5.  We get to eat in our church, so we gobbled down breakfast while our daughter-in-law Katy opened the worship service by reading the rock-verse. For in the day of trouble, He will conceal me in His tabernacle. In the secret place of His tent He will hide me. He will lift me up on a rock.” These days are an earthquake of trouble, to be sure. How good to know God can and will lift us onto solid ground. After praying, we listened to one of Pastor Colin Smith’s sermon CDs. The subject was love.

Later in the afternoon, I needed some time alone, a rare commodity for any of us in our crowded cottage. I’ve not wanted to leave Nate’s side since the diagnosis, especially lately when he’s kept careful track of whether or not I’m in the room. But while he dozed comfortably in his chair, I found a leash and walked Jack to the beach.

As we paced along the shoreline, a tremendous sadness settled over me like one of those lead aprons the dentist lays on people before taking an x-ray. It felt too heavy to get out from under. Although I’m resigned to Nate’s cancer and the devastation it’s causing in his body, today the whole dilemma seemed extra sad. I wasn’t mad at God. He’s been loving and gentle with us every single day. But the thought of losing our favorite husband, father and grandpa overwhelmed me.

I hadn’t planned on picking up stones today, yet as Jack and I shuffled along, the strangest thing occurred. My eye, following the line of rocks along the edge of the waves, fell on a rock that was shaped like a heart, first one and then another… and another.  I put each one into my coat pocket, commenting to Jack at how unusual such finds were.

The more hearts I found, the more my spirit lifted. We walked half a mile or so until my pockets were bulging, dictating it was time to turn for home. Spreading out the bounty, I was astounded to find a heart-rock for each member of the family, including our three unborn babies, and especially including Nate. It was as if God was telling me, “I’m not going to let you ‘lose’ Nate. You’ll always know exactly where he is: with Me. In the mean time, remember how much I love you and yours… times 16!”

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What is man, that You should magnify him and that You should set your heart upon him?” (Job 7:17)

Sweet, not bitter

Today was an old-fashioned work day, the kind most families have on fall Saturdays: taking down the screens, washing windows, putting up the storms, cleaning house, doing laundry and running errands. Several of the guys also installed a hand-held shower nozzle for Nate, since climbing in and out of the tub is no longer possible, and we did a thorough vacuuming (Mary did), since Jack the dog was pronounced flea-ridden. Despite the “normal” nature of a chore-oriented day, for us it was super sweet, because all 13 of us (plus 3 in utero) were together on task. Nate was in the middle of all of it, keeping up with the ceaseless activity from the comfort of his lazy-boy.

He seemed better today than he’s been in a week. The doctor believes his radiation treatments finally began benefiting him last Wednesday. Not that this is a reprieve from what’s still coming, but it’s a mini-interlude of better energy and, Nate thinks, better breathing. It’s very possible the radiation has shrunk the tumor in his lung enough to increase air flow, which has made him more comfortable, less panicky.

The best part of today was when we gathered around Nate, the star of our family show, for a group photo. As we set up the picture with our two sweet grandbabies in the line-up, I thought of the three new babies who won’t be with us until 2010, and ached to think Nate may not be in that picture. Nevertheless, we grinned and giggled for the cameras during this bittersweet moment. What good would it do to dwell on the “bitter”? Thinking about the “sweet” was what we all wanted to do.

During the afternoon as we worked, the cranberry chicken in our oven smelled better and better, promising a delicious evening meal. It had been prepared ahead of time and brought to our door by others, which made it twice as tasty.

Each evening we have a “small group” meeting during dinner. Since sitting in hard-backed chairs is too difficult for Nate’s aching back, we gather around his chair in the living room with plates of food on our laps. During the last three weeks, many glasses of milk and cups of coffee have gone overboard on the forty year old carpeting, not to mention blobs of lasagna and wayward peas. We pick up the chunks and ignore the rest, focusing instead on each other.

Now that all of us are together, our “small group” has become large, with a meandering circle of easy chairs, dining room chairs, folding chairs, stools and one very important lazy-boy. Before we eat, Nate enjoys looking around the group and choosing someone to say a prayer over the meal, once in a while choosing himself. The Spirit leads those prayers, and the words hold power.

Come to think of it, there is much more powerful praying going on around our house than ever before. Recently, while up during the night helping Nate to the bathroom, I glanced into the next room and saw Louisa bent over her Bible with her journal underneath it, pen in hand, studying, thinking, praying. It was 3:15 a.m. To see this was a sweet blessing.

When my phone ding-dongs with a new text, sometimes it’s the kids sending what they just prayed for us. Other times it’s a Scripture verse that lifts and encourages. Bibles are open throughout the house as we search for this or that promise, and our Scripture rocks sit on the window sill above the kitchen sink. God is near, and it is sweet.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Give and Take

My dad was a conservative Swede. Wanting to minimize risk, he decided to wait a while before marrying. When a firecracker of a young woman came into his life and proposed, he fell to cupid’s arrow and married her. He was 42, and his bride was 13 years his junior with the energy of a young kid. Even as an old lady, Mom’s incredible pace was a marvel. Dad would shake his head and say, “You should have seen her when she was young!”

When Dad grew older, he shared his thoughts on getting married in middle-age. One of his comments has always stuck with me: “Since I got such a late start, I never expected to live long enough to see my children graduate from high school.”

But God took care of that, and Dad saw his three kids graduate from high school, college, get married and bring 15 of 17 grandchildren to him. His greatest joy was studying each one and alerting their parents (us) to special character qualities he saw in them. He reminded us of the importance of new life and was a model of exercising patience with children.

“Before you judge them, look at it from their point of view,” he’d say. He relished his role as a grandpa.

Fifteen months ago, Nate and I had the spectacular joy of becoming cousinsgrandparents, too. Skylar Grace came to our Linnea and Adam through remarkable circumstances. (See Linnea’s “bio” page on her blog: www.KissYourMiracle.com ) Five months later, Nicholas Carl arrived through Hans and Katy and is now a nine month old citizen of both the UK and the US.

Eight months after that, Linnea and Adam surprised us with the news that Skylar would have a baby brother in February! And now, during this stressful month of cancer discovery and daily sadness, God has surprised us again (and also Hans and Katy) with news of twins arriving in April! And the frosting on this family cake is that Linnea’s baby is due on her sister-in-law Katy’s birthday, and Katy’s babies are due on her sister-in-law Louisa’s birthday. God’s creativity and gift-giving leaves us speechless!

As Scripture says, the Lord does take away but he also gives. (Job 1:21) To think of three new babies arriving into our family during this time, a season of adversity and mourning, is nothing but God’s lavish outpouring of blessing.

“For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” (Psalm 100:5)

“Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10b)

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