I can’t see the future.

Nate’s pain woke him with the message that it was time for his meds. After he took the pills, we spent time chatting in bed, waiting for relief to come. We talked about when the kids were little, remembering funny things they’d said. Then suddenly he became introspective.

“Life’s interesting,” he said. “Its like you come up against a wall that’s ten feet tall but you can’t see over it. On the other side is your future. You want to see it, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t.”

I believe he’s beginning to absorb the truth of his pancreatic cancer, the raw statistic that of 37,000 people who had this disease last year in our country, 95% of them died within their year of diagnosis. Nate is a numbers man. He’s logical. He understands bad odds when he reads them.

“I want you to dig out my life insurance policy today so I can refresh my mind about its terms,” he said. “We also need to find my will and re-read it. And I want to be sure you have power of attorney. That’ll make everything easier when I’m not around.”

I wanted to sit bolt upright and yell, “Stop! What about the other 5%? Maybe that’ll be you!” But something inside my head said, “Don’t interrupt. Let him say what’s on his mind.” It was God I’m sure, making me bite my lip. When Nate finished talking, I agreed to find the files.

After a morning nap, he re-opened the subject. “Can you hunt for those documents now?” I found them, and then sat quietly with my Coke Zero, watching Nate study the life insurance policy. He knit his brow and then nodded slightly.

“I think you’ll be ok, even if you live into your nineties.”

“It’s awful to think of you not being here,” I said, fighting tears but trying to sound like we were having an everyday conversation. “Maybe we could take a trip in the near future, like to Greenfield Village or someplace.” But both of us knew my suggestion wasn’t compatible with the immediate future we could already see.

“Sure,” he said, wanting to make me happy. “Good idea.”

After he studied all the documents, he seemed to be satisfied. He rested his head back on the chair, folded his hands over his chest and closed his eyes.

“You know,” he said, “even if I could jump up and get a quick look over that wall into my future, by the time I really got there, it would have changed anyway.” And in that statement, there was a letting go of the pressure to control what he knows he cannot.

Twice in recent days Nelson has quoted this phenomenal Proverb:

“A man’s heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Nate has made his plans. They include insurance, a will, power of attorney and other things. But today he accepted the truth that he can’t control what actually happens. God will be the one to say when Nate’s earthly steps stop and his heavenly ones begin. But there is nothing to fear. Quite the contrary, its all good news:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

It’s good to be home.

We are astounded by the loving care lavished on us over the last ten days by family, friends, neighbors and even total strangers. The impact is profound when we hear of groups coming together to pray for us, or when another person says they’ve been praying every hour of the day. We just can’t get over it.

Our fridge and freezer are stocked with food I didn’t make. We are set for weeks to come! Our mailbox is full of encouraging words and nourishing Scriptures. Also in the mail are gifts: worship CDs, uplifting poems, gift cards. One envelope contained a large check directed toward the travel expenses of our children as they make their way home: $700 for seven children. We are speechless.

Today as we drove to Chicago from Michigan, we enjoyed the company of Nate’s brother, Ken, who is staying with us for a while. The two of them have a long, positive history, and Ken’s arrival yesterday gave us all a boost.

After several months of not seeing his only sibling, Ken wept as he hugged Nate, who comforted him in his mix of grief and love by saying, “It’s ok, Ken. Take all the time you need.” The dramatic physical change was excruciating for Ken to see.

Today was not easy for Nate. He was injected with a long tube of radioactive dye at 10:15, then underwent radiation #4 at 11:00, followed by a full body bone scan that was supposed to take place at 2:00 but didn’t kick off until 3:20. Not having expected such delay, we hadn’t packed his pain medication. It ran out when he was on the table under the massive scan camera, and his agony spanned the better part of that hour.

After it was over, the staff kindly found him two bags of ice for his back pain, and we hustled him into the wheelchair and off to the car for the long ride home in rush hour traffic. Although Ken and I were worn out, Nate was worn out times ten. Yet as we motored toward Michigan, he spent nearly 40 minutes in several business phone conversations, trying to put out fires and give legal counsel to those calling his cell phone who didn’t know of his cancer.

Arriving home, the intoxicating aroma of pot roast and potatoes welcomed us. Just as meaningful were the vacuum lines in the carpet and the scent of pumpkin spice candles. Nelson had built a fire on this cold, rainy evening, and the scene whispered, “You’re home now. All is well.”

Mary had been busy again. Clean, folded laundry was piled high. The dog was missing, which meant he was on a walk with her. Beds were made, and most impressive, 26 chocolate puddings sat on the counter (next to a warm apple pie).

The best was yet to come, however, when the front door opened and Linnea, Adam and Skylar walked in, all the way from Florida, chauffeured from the airport by Klaus. Mary and Bervin joined us for dinner, and we sat in a circle in the living room, centered around Nate in his lazy boy. (Straight chairs around the dining table are too painful now.)

After a yummy meal, Nate wanted to go right to bed. Once he was settled in, he and I read email and snail mail from far and near. And as he drifted off to sleep, the following email sentence hung in the air:

“We think we know what roads there are to travel, but God can lead us even when there are no paths.”

Today God led us along a path we didn’t want to follow, but the way was dotted with blessings: praying friends, a mailbox full of goodies, a brother pushing Nate’s wheelchair, two bags of ice for pain, a stocked freezer, a clean house, a crackling fire, our grandbaby and her parents, and a road that led back home.

“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

Singing in the bedroom

As Nate was getting dressed this morning, I was across the room organizing his closet, bringing the most comfy clothes to the middle and sliding the suits to the end. All of a sudden he began to sing, very softly and to himself. I stopped what I was doing and listened.

Nate is tone deaf and hasn’t sung in church for years, after one condemning experience. He was trying to sing on-key (without success) when the lady in front of him turned all the way around to look directly at him and make sure he saw her disapproval. He stopped mid-chorus and hasn’t sung in church since.

He knows the words to most of the songs in the hymn book (along with the words to all of the Elvis Presley tunes). He’s also aware of his tendency to sing off-key and knows this makes on-key singing difficult for those around him. But I’ve tried to convince him our worship singing arrives in heaven as melodious music, no matter what the ability of the songster. (I’m not sure about the Elvis songs.) Although we’ve all encouraged Nate to sing, nothing can convince him.

TODAY, however, he was singing. The tune was nothing I recognized, and maybe it was just miscellaneous notes strung together. But as I listened, it loosely resembled a chorus we sang often at Moody Church while I was growing up:

“Trusting as the moments fly,

Trusting as the days go by,

Trusting him whate’er befalls,

Trusting Jesus, that is all.”

Maybe our new slow-release pain pills were doing a fabulous job. I prefer to think it was the Lord reaching down with yet another gift. Against all logic, he blessed Nate with joy at his core, deep in his heart, despite the horrendous circumstances of his deteriorating physical life.

I got a gift this morning, too. Having awoken with tears trickling out even before I opened my eyes, I was lifted from that low place to a place of well-being, right at the start of another difficult day.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)