Now, I further saw, that betwixt them and the gate [of the Celestial City] was a river, but there was no bridge to go over: the river was very deep.
…The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said: No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.
They then addressed themselves to the water and, entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head, all his waves go over me!
Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good.
– Pilgrim’s Progress
“I see two Georges!”
It was Thursday night, I believe. Alice was watching Curious George. We’d been worried about her, as you know from my last writing, only seven short days ago. This statement may forever be burned in our memory as the words that cemented in our minds the inescapable fact that her tumor had indeed returned. We weren’t seeing things; her eyes weren’t able to keep aligned anymore, and she was seeing double.
Friday night after Alice fell asleep we had a little family meeting to tell the kids what we were seeing and what we were almost certain was happening. We couldn’t keep it from them, not that we’d want to, but we wanted to be the ones walking them through it, not waiting for them to figure it out on their own. Tough stuff.
Over the next four days, we saw daily changes, in all the wrong directions. It was basically a rapid return to where we were when this thing started. She’s now rather wobbly on her feet, and often wears an eye patch Shelly made to relieve some of the strain on her eyes. It’s incredible how much has changed in the last seven days. We didn’t know what all the changes meant as far as her long-term condition, or exactly what was happening, so we publicly kept silent simply because we didn’t know what to say. We had a pretty good guess of what was happening, but we wanted to know for sure before we spoke. Shelly stayed home with Alice on Sunday; church is Alice’s favorite, but she just wasn’t in a place to be out and about.
As we thought about the MRI taking place this morning, our expectations were for nothing but a really, really bad day.
I like to read the Psalms on bad days. They help, because the best songs come out of really bad days. And I’m reading through the Psalms anyway. But the 5 or 6 I read this morning all had the same theme: “Things are bad, I’m getting creamed, until God shows up and comes through and it’s all better.” Except I didn’t feel like this was gonna get better.
In the long run, of course. All tears will be wiped away. But I really want a win now. Sitting in her room during the MRI, waiting for her return, I skipped ahead in my reading to Psalm 44. That’s a good one for a day like this – no happy ending, just “God, we’re getting plastered, and we don’t feel like we deserve it, please show up because you love us.” (Joe Reed paraphrase) Somehow knowing someone else was in my shoes before was helpful. I got to preach that Psalm down at Bethany Bible Church last year, “When the Wheels Fall Off” or something like that. I think of that Psalm often, and it scarcely fails to bring some comfort.
After the MRI, Dr. Chris and Tammy came in our room, this time without the usual entourage of scribes, interns, and others, and said basically, “What you suspected is happening. There is progression.” No real shock there.
Here’s some options for you to consider… (I’ll keep those to myself for now, we’re still pondering them, but they change nothing really, just how it happens…)
“Doctor Chris, you’ve seen this more than we have, you sort of know how this goes, what can we expect?” The million dollar question.
“With the rapid decline in her motor skills and the growth of the tumor, and knowing all things are in God’s hands, you can probably expect a month to six more weeks.”
Four to six weeks? I was prepared for bad news; not that bad. Crap.
We cried. Tammy cried. When Alice’s favorite nurse came back in the room, she cried. We hugged each other, and Alice slept. And that’s good. She’s confused by Dad crying.
I titled this “Puddle Boots” because on the way home today I was thinking about that river crossing scene that Bunyan painted so vividly as he pictured death. For some, death was like crossing a raging, deep river. For others, it’s like wading across a shallow stream. Our task, so far as God helps us, is over these next few weeks to try to make it so she can cross in her puddle boots. I’m not even sure quite how to do that, but that’s my job now, and I’m going to do the best I can. And dear Jesus please, if she must cross, give her a “shallow” crossing.
Last week I had taken her on a whim to Walmart to get some snacks (and always a toy or two – I can’t resist making her day), and on the way back, with heavy thoughts on my mind, as she sat next to me on the front seat of the truck, I said to her, “Alice, did you know your Daddy loves you?” Yes! “Alice, do you know Jesus loves you?” Yes! “Alice, pretty soon Jesus is going to send some of his friends to get you so you can go visit him, ok? They’re really nice and you don’t have to be afraid.”
“Ok.” Then she looked up at me with a smile and a twinkle in her eye and said, “But you can’t come with!” Not yet. But soon enough.
I bought a trampoline for Alice that was delivered last week, just before the big snowstorm. While we were at the hospital today, the kids set it up. She loves it. Who knows how many days she’ll be able to use it, but today she’s able to at least bounce around, mostly on her knees.
Our plan right now is to be home as much as humanly possible. These are her days, so we will be arranging them accordingly. While we’d love to, as I wrote before, open the doors to any and all, the reality is that Alice is comfortable around precious few people. So we’re planning a lot of peace and quiet, and we’ll reach out to her favorite people to make sure she gets to see them.
Pray for us. These are hard days, as you can imagine. It’s not like we didn’t see them coming, and if anything, worked extra hard to keep ourselves cognizant of their impending arrival. But we didn’t know how numbered they were, so it still feels like a kick in the gut.
We often find ourselves echoing the opening chapters of Job’s complaint. I love that Job said “The Lord takes away,” and God’s commentary is Job didn’t blame God or sin with his lips. It seems like a delicate line to walk. I hope we can do the same.
Forgive us if we don’t answer calls, return text messages or Facebook things. We want to hear from you and receive your encouragement, but rarely have the energy to engage in a two-way conversation. So just know we appreciate it greatly, we love being loved, and what I’m writing now is about the best we can offer in return.
Feel free to send Alice cards or gifts as you like – she does love them. If you need an address, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And finally, before I leave off for now and go sit with Alice and watch “the funny guys” (her name for The Three Stooges), I sign off with the prayer my wife and I have prayed over and over:
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.