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A Prayer for Sight

 

Great God of creation and father of mine,

I humbly beseech Thee to answer my cry.

Thou who ever hast holden all things in They hand,

And rules oer all the workings of man.

 

Give seeing I pray to these eyes that are blind,

By Thy grace bring light from the darkness of night.

For Thou knowest my frame, my Creator and King,

From dust Thou dids’t shape me Thy glory to bring.

 

Made in Thy image Thy likeness displayed,

To show forth Thy greatness and marvelous grace.

A sinner redeemed by the blood of Thy son,

The apple of Thine eye, Thy dear precious one.

 

Yet bruised and afflicted and tossed to and fro,

The tempests and storms oerwhelming my soul.

In weakness and sin I don’t see beyond me,

To the God in whose arms I always shall be.

 

I fail to look past these troubles and trials,

To see Thy great faithfulness all of the while.

I see only now, with the hurt and the pain,

The storm clouds, the lightning, the thundering rain.

 

And yet of all those who walk through this shadowy vale,

It is I that have reason to rejoice midst the gale.

For Thou dost preserve me and hold me in grace,

To fight the good fight and run swift the race.

 

Help me, oh God, to look beyond all this sorrow,

To see Thy great goodness today and tomorrow.

To rejoice and be glad and to show forth Thy praise,

By the hope that is in me through all of my days.

 

Thy glory I seek, of Thy power I’ll sing,

And sound forth Thy wisdom in all of these things.

In weakness made strong and in strength made to see,

That this strength is not mine but Thine within me.

 

Amen

The ringing of the telephone jolted the old man back to reality. He had been browsing through some material that Pastor Kielman had given him that morning when they had met for breakfast and made it to the phone only a second or two before the answering machine would have picked it up.

Grumbling to himself for not having taken the phone with him when he sat down he reached out and picked it up. “Hello,” he said slightly winded.

“Hello Mr. Michealson, this is Janet from next door. I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said sensing that he was a bit out of breath.

“Oh no my dear,” he chuckled. “I was in the chair reading and these old bones just don’t move like they used to. Forgetful as I am I didn’t take the phone with me when I sat down.”

“Well, that is a relief.” Janet paused very briefly and then continued on with the reason for her call. “I was wondering if it would be possible for you to come over and sit with Ruth for a few minutes? She is feeling pretty lousy from the Chemo and doesn’t want to be alone but I just realized that I have to get her prescription filled soon; otherwise I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”

“Boy, my appointment book is pretty full, Janet, but I suppose I could squeeze you in,” the old man said sarcastically, glad for an opportunity to help even if it were something simple like this.

“Are you sure?” asked Janet half laughing. “I would hate to disrupt your busy schedule!”

Both of them laughed then and the old man answered as he feigned looking in an imaginary planner, “It looks like I can fit you in between reading and taking a nap. If that doesn’t work maybe I can work you in between a nap and reading.” Knowing how bored the old man could get sometimes they laughed once again, both thinking how good it felt.

“I really appreciate it Mr. Michealson,” said Janet, still attempting to stifle her giggles.

“It really is no problem,” he said as he began looking for his shoes and coat. “I will be over in a few minutes.” Hanging up the phone he set it back in the charger and went about putting on his shoes and coat. As he walked towards the door he stopped and looked towards the pamphlets he had been reading through. Should he take them? Well, if Ruth wasn’t feeling well it would probably be a good time to continue looking at them.

Upon arriving at the VanVleets, Janet had given him the run down of the day thus far and after checking on Ruth, who was sleeping in her bedroom, had been on her way.

Settling into a chair at the kitchen table he began to page through one of the pamphlets. As he did so he couldn’t help but feel a bit strange to be here. That would not have been the case had the family been there but for some reason it just didn’t feel normal, alone except for Ruth sleeping in her room. He supposed it was because he had only been in their house a few times and never really saw much more than the kitchen and the family room. Having set the pamphlets down on the table he decided to explore just a bit.

The first thing that struck him as he walked down the hallway and peeked into the various rooms was how neat and clean everything was. It was by no means an extravagant or overly large house but the way it was decorated gave it a very warm and comfortable feel.

In the hallway were a number of family pictures arrayed on the wall, each telling a small part of a larger story. As he looked at this collection of photographs he heard a faint call from upstairs.

As quickly as his old legs would carry him he made his way up the stairs to the doorway of Ruth’s room.

“Mom?” she said softly as she lifted her head slightly off her pillow and looked in his direction.

“No my dear,” he said as he made his way into the room. “It’s Mr. Michealson from next door. Your mother had to go to the store for a minute and asked me to sit with you while she was gone.”

“Oh yeah,” she said as she lay her head back onto her pillow. “I remember now.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked as he sat down on the chair that her mother had positioned next to her bed.

“I…I just don’t feel very well,” she said wishing that her mother were here.

Unsure of exactly what to do he simply sat next to the bed in silence as Ruth closed her eyes again. After a few minutes, as if in answer to Ruth’s unspoken wish, the sound of the back door opening announced the arrival of her mother home from the store. Not seeing the old man downstairs she immediately headed upstairs to Ruth’s room.

Looking up as she entered the room the look of concern on the face of the old man was all the explanation Janet needed.

“It’s the chemo,” she said softly as she sat down in the chair that the old man had vacated and now offered her. “The doctor said she was probably going to feel sick for a while.” Reaching over she placed a hand on Ruth’s forehead. “She’ll be alright in a while.”

“Well, ok then, I guess I will get going,” he said feeling a bit out of place. “Is there anything I can do for you before I go?” he asked as he moved towards the door.

Janet looked at him and smiled slightly. “No, I think we are all set. Thank you so much for coming over and sitting with her while I was gone.”

“No problem at all Janet,” he said as he returned her smile. “Anytime there is anything I can do please let me know.”

“We will,” she said as she bowed her head to him in a gesture of thanks.

At a bit of a slower pace than he had ascended the steps he now made his way back down. Having reached the bottom of the stairs he headed to the kitchen only to be stopped as his attention was once again captured by the collage of pictures that hung in the hallway. There was something that just didn’t seem right about them but he couldn’t immediately put his finger on what it might be. They were the typical pictures that adorned the walls of so many homes; parents, grandparents, and the children. And then he realized what it was. There, set in a frame off to one side was a picture of a much younger Jack and Janet holding a newborn baby. Next to the picture was a poem.

Oh how we prayed the Father,
That He would give a child.
And in His boundless love He did,
If only for a while.

We prayed that He would give you health,
And asked for mercy too.
That He would grant our one request,
And bless our lives with you.

And yet His will is not as ours,
Far deeper than the sea.
He took you home to be with Him,
A precious jewel to be.

You were with us for so short a time,
And yet our love for you is great.
In hope we gave you back to God,
And fell upon His grace.

Although we miss you greatly,
And an emptiness remains.
God’s love has bound our broken hearts,
And grace from day to day.

Now in patient expectation,
We wait for that great day.
That Christ will reunite us all,
The name of God to praise.

And in the years to come,
We’ll never lose our love.
Because the love we love you with,
Is ours from God above.

So rest in Jesus’s arms,
Our precious little one.
And until we meet again someday,
His will be always done.

The room, though a bit smaller, was not much different than most every other hospital room. Neutral colors adorned the walls and floor giving the room a false sense of warmth, at least as far as the patient was concerned. She was cold.

Ruth lay in the bed with the blankets pulled up to her chin, slightly elevated so that she could watch the television in the corner if she so chose. Her mother Janet sat in a chair to her left reading a book. They had played cards for a while but the lack of sleep the night before had caught up with her and she had decided to try to rest.

She had been quite successful at putting the thoughts of today aside in her mind the previous day as she had been busy with homework, supper, and chores. But once she had finally lain down in bed and closed her eyes she couldn’t stop thinking about it. At her appointment three days before with the specialist to whom their family doctor had referred them it had all seemed so abstract and detached, but now, knowing that her treatments would begin the next day and the effects those treatments would have on her body brought her fears to the fore once again.

It wasn’t even so much the possibility that she could die from the disease that bothered her. That was partly because this didn’t seem to be the immediate concern of the doctor and partly because that was a reality that she just had not attempted to wrap her mind around yet. Sure, she knew it was a possibility but in her mind that was something to be dealt with down the road. There were other more immediate concerns that occupied her mind at present.

First there were the treatments and how they would affect her. When would her hair begin to fall out? How would it grow back? How would her friends at school react? How much school would she miss?

Then there was the surgery that would follow a couple of weeks later and what the outcome of that would be. Would she lose her leg? Would they be able to save it? How much therapy would she need? Would she be able to play softball in the spring? Would she be able to walk down the aisle at her wedding someday?

Each time she closed her eyes all of these thoughts seemed to rush at her out of the dark and assail her mind one after another. She tossed and turned for some time until she finally got up and made her way downstairs to see if her parents were still up.

She found them sitting on the couch in the family room watching the news. This in itself surprised her somewhat because very seldom were they ever up this late. Apparently she was not the only one having trouble sleeping.

Her father noticed her shadow and turned to face her. He was not at all surprised and in fact looked almost as if he had expected her.

“Can’t sleep, huh?” he asked as he slid over and patted the couch in between him and Janet. “Have a seat.”

Walking past her father Ruth sat down on the couch, sat back, and sighed. Looking down at her hands folded on her lap she said, “I’ve been tossing and turning ever since I went to bed…but I just can’t sleep. All these thoughts keep going through my mind and I can’t make them stop.”

Her father put his arm around her and her mother took one of her hands in her own. “Well, it isn’t like you have anything on your mind, right?” her father said with a smile. “Cancer, chemotherapy, surgery, school; I can’t imagine why you would have trouble falling asleep.”

“Boy, when you put it that way it all sounds so petty, doesn’t it?” Ruth giggled as she playfully slapped her father’s leg. “Last time I come to you for sympathy,” she said smiling the smile that said just the opposite.

Laughing along with her husband and daughter, Janet had to put in her two cents worth. “So, now you know what I have to put up with every day!”

“Oh, come on you two,” Jack said in mock dismay. “No fair to gang up on me! If you keep it up I am going to go upstairs and get the boys out of bed so I have someone on my side.”

“Jack VanVleet, you most certainly will not!” Janet said sternly. “As riled up as you had them earlier I didn’t think they would ever fall asleep!”

They all laughed then remembering the wrestling match that had taken center stage in the family room only a couple of hours before.

After a moment of silence Ruth stood up, turned, and sat on the floor in front of her parents. “It’s not that I am really scared,” she said as she picked at the carpeting. “But there are just so many unknowns. There are so many questions that I don’t have the answers to. It’s so hard to wait.”

“Oh honey, I know it is,” said Janet as she sat down next to Ruth and hugged her. “You know, Mr. Michealson said something to me the day that your dad and I went to see the doctor and it has stuck in my mind.” Janet moved over to the couch next to where Jack sat and snuggled up against his legs so that she could face Ruth. “He told me that what the doctor had to say at the appointment was a bridge that would have to be crossed. That made me wonder just how many bridges lay out there that we would have to cross but it also put things into perspective for me. The fact is that there are a lot of bridges that we will come to. Some of them will be in good condition and will be easy to cross; others will hardly be bridges at all and will take a gigantic leap of faith to walk over.” Looking into the questioning face of her daughter she continued. “I guess I realized that all those bridges that we can’t see yet aren’t worth worrying about. We will take them one at a time and by God’s grace we will cross them together.”

“I know mom,” said Ruth looking from her mother to her father, a bit of irritation in her voice. “I know that God will give me and all of us the grace we need when we need it. But knowing that doesn’t take away the unanswered questions. They are always there ready to pounce when I let my guard down.” Laying back on the floor of the family room she stretched out and let out a long sigh. “I just wish that everything could go back to the way it was.”

Not knowing it, Ruth had just put into words the thoughts that each of them had been thinking. If only everything could go back to the way it was. If only life could go merrily on. If only there was another way to cross this river, another bridge they could walk across.

Now, laying in the bed and watching as the IV slowly dripped, she knew that would be impossible. For the first time she realized with great clarity that her life would never be the same again. Closing her eyes she prayed silently that God would give her the grace to be content in the way he was leading her and the grace also to face each bridge she came to with faith and the assurance that God was in control. And then she fell asleep.

His wife had attended this church for many years and yet he had never once stepped foot inside. There was a time in his life when he wore that fact as a badge of honor but now as he looked through the car window at the large, and admittedly beautiful, building he couldn’t help but feel only shame. What had he done? What pain he had subjected his beloved wife to he was only now beginning to understand.

Slowly and somewhat reluctantly he walked up the walk that led to the front doors of the church, taking in the landscaping and the building itself. Reaching out he grasped the handle of the door in his hand, fully expecting it to be locked, but to his surprise it opened easily. Hesitantly he moved through the doorway and into the narthex. There was a faint scent of cleaner in the air but what really caught his attention was the music. Piano music seemed to flow throughout the building and at first he thought it was coming from some type of speaker system. Only after he stood there for a minute did he realize that it was coming from the sanctuary.

Making his way through the narthex he quietly opened one of the doors that led into the sanctuary and peeked in. Off to the left side in the front of the church was a beautiful grand piano upon which a younger woman played, seemingly lost in the music. So intent was she that she didn’t notice him ease through the doorway and sit down in the back row of pews.

He didn’t recognize any of the songs she played but the music itself had a very calming and reassuring effect on him. It wasn’t long before he too became caught up in the music. Sitting back he closed his eyes and just enjoyed it.

The hand that gently came to rest on his shoulder brought him immediately back to reality. In fact, it scared him quite badly. With a start he turned to see the pastor of the church standing next to him.

“I am so sorry,” whispered the pastor. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Bill.”

“That’s…that’s okay,” replied the old man as he stood up and regained at least some of his composure. “How in the world did you know I was here?” he asked with a bit of a puzzled look on his face.

Instead of answering the question, Pastor Kielman gestured for the old man to follow him back out into the narthex so that they would not disturb the young woman who continued to play the piano.

Near the doorway that led into the sanctuary were a couch and chair to which the pastor directed the old man. “Whenever Cindy or one of the other pianists or organists is here practicing,” he said as he sat down in the chair and the old man sat down on the couch, “my wife and I try to keep an eye from the parsonage on who comes and goes. You just never know these days.”

The old man nodded his head in understanding. “I see,” he said. “I suppose that makes good sense.”

As the piano music continued to flow from the sanctuary the two men sat opposite each other, both struck with the same irony of the situation. Here were two whose lives had been completely different. The pastor was a man who had dedicated his life to serving the Lord. The old man had spent his life serving himself.

Although quite a bit younger than the old man, pastor Kielman had been in the ministry for more than twenty years, the last eight of which had been in this particular congregation. He and his wife Beverly had been blessed with four children who now ranged in ages from twenty-three down to ten. Both he and his wife had been close to Jenny and in the last weeks of her life they had visited her often.

This was the first time in his ministry that he had encountered a situation in which one spouse was a devoted member of the church while the other spouse would have nothing to do with it. It was a situation with which he had struggled for all of the eight years he had been in this congregation. The last months however had been particularly difficult for him.

He and his wife had watched Jenny slowly die and had shared her joy in her salvation and rejoiced in the faith that God had given her. Both had also watched with a feeling of utter helplessness as the old man watched with a despair that could be seen on his face and in his actions and heard in his voice as his beloved wife of many years slowly faded away. Many nights he would lay awake in bed wondering and praying that God would work in the heart of the old man. On one particular night he had broken down from the sheer frustration of the situation and his inability to do anything to rectify it. His wife Beverly had awoken to his sobs and had wept along with him as both of their hearts felt the same anguish and pain.

A couple of days before the Lord took Jenny home they had visited her at the hospital, and this experienced pastor and his wife had been ministered to by the one to whom they had originally intended to minister to themselves.

Jenny had been asleep when they had entered her room but her eyelids fluttered open as they came up beside the bed almost as if she had sensed them enter the room. The normal pleasantries had been voiced and they had talked for some time about some of the recent goings on in the church. Before he read scripture with her and prayed he felt compelled to ask her how William was handling everything.

“Not so well I am afraid,” she had replied quietly. A tear began to form in the corner of her eye and then made its way down her cheek. “Oh, he hurts so deeply but he won’t admit it.” She raised her hand carefully so as not to detach any of the tubes that were attached to it and attempted to wipe away the tears from her face. “He is a stubborn old man.”

Pastor Kielman smiled slightly along with Jenny and Beverly for they knew all too well how true this was. Reaching out he took her hand and held it firmly in his own.

“Jenny, I only wish that I could break through that stubbornness.” He let out his breath and shook his head slowly in resignation, looking down at the floor as he did so. “There is a wall there that I just can’t seem to get past.”

The room had remained quiet except for the nearly imperceptible hum of the IV machine. All three of them silent in their thoughts, wanting the same thing but only one of them knowing, at least at that moment, how best to answer the questions that swirled through all of their minds.

Jenny finally broke the silence. “You know, it has been such a burden for me over the years. Not being able to share the joy of my salvation with William, not being able to talk with him about spiritual things, not being able to explain the hope that is in me in a way that he will understand.” She paused briefly to catch her breath and then continued. “But I don’t carry that burden anymore.” As she said this she looked up into the faces of pastor Kielman and his wife and smiled.

Neither of them had quite understood what she had meant at first, as was evident by the looks on their faces.

“God has made me realize in the last few weeks that His ways are not our ways. If it is his will that William not be saved, all my fretting and worrying aren’t going to change that. And you know what?” she asked, again with a slight smile on her face. “God’s will is good. For me in what he has laid upon me, and for William, whatever that may be.”

She reached out then with her other hand to grasp Beverly’s hand and looked from one to the other, a fire in her eyes. “I believe with all my heart that God is able to turn William toward him. He can! I don’t know how but I know he is able. We just have to have faith and leave it in the hands of God.”

What a testimony! Here lay a woman near to death and yet the Lord had given her such strength even to instruct her pastor and remind him and his wife of the Lord’s unfailing mercies and his power to overcome even the most stubborn of men.

Looking into the old man’s eyes now as they sat in the narthex of the church he smiled, remembering the grace that God had shown him and his wife through Jenny and silently thanking him once again for it.

They had spent the remainder of the afternoon talking in the narthex of the church. This was not a great and deep doctrinal discussion. They actually didn’t talk about doctrine at all. Nor was it a counseling session in which the pastor arduously calls the sinner to repentance. It was in fact a mostly one-sided conversation.

The Lord had laid it upon the heart of this old man to talk, and the pastor, having counseled many saints in his years in the ministry, knew by the grace of God that the very best thing he could do was listen. There were burdens on the heart of this man, grief that weighed heavily on his soul, and more than anything he needed to bare that heart and soul to another.

As he listened the pastor felt an incredible awe and a deep sense of humility as he witnessed with his own eyes the grace of God at work in this old man. He could almost perceive his hardened heart slowly softening with each word the man spoke.

As the daylight had begun to fade they had parted ways with a firm and genuine handshake as well as an agreement to meet the following morning for breakfast at a local restaurant. Having parted outside the doors of the church, each going their own way, both men brought a hand to their face to wipe away the tears that had begun to form in each of their eyes.

The time had come. For a couple of days now he had struggled with the news of Ruth’s cancer and had been unable to completely come to terms with the situation. Particularly he had much difficulty grasping how God fit into this. For what seemed like the millionth time he wished that Jenny were here. She would certainly have known the answers to the multitude of questions swarming around in his mind.

He had even briefly thought to himself that he would have to ask Jenny…only to realize immediately that she was no longer there. How often, he wondered, would that happen in the years to come? She would never be there again. Never again would she come to him.

And so, he had decided that the time had come for him to go to her.

With an anxious spirit he went outside and picked some of the nicest looking flowers from the Autumn Glories that Jenny had so tenderly planted a few years prior and after retrieving his keys, his coat, and a hat he made his way to the garage. Halfway through the doorway he realized that there was one other thing he needed.

His heart beat rapidly as he shut the car door and turned toward his destination. He was certainly anxious. There were also the feelings of apprehension. More than anything however there was the feeling of deep and profound sadness. A feeling that had begun to envelop him on Saturday and now had completely closed around him.

There was yet no stone in place, just a simple marker with her name on it along with the date of her birth and the date of her death. The outline of the sod that had been removed could still be seen in the grass.

Standing there in front of her grave he gazed down at this marker for a long time without really even seeing it. Memory after memory passed before his mind. Some of them, as they had when he had shared them with the young man not so long ago, made him smile while others brought the tears to his eyes once again. In a way he had felt silly coming here because he knew she was not really here. He knew that she would not be able to talk to him. He knew that she would not be able to hear him. And yet, even knowing these things, standing here next to her grave he felt at least the beginnings of a sense of calm that he had not felt since she had died. In a way he felt near her again. The same way he had felt when he held her Bible to his chest. The same as when he smelled the scent of her perfume as it remained on some of her clothes in the closet.

He looked around then half expecting and half hoping that that young man would be standing watching him. But there was no one that he could see. He was struck then at how different everything looked. How everything had changed in the short time since he had last been here. The leaves that had been ablaze in glorious color only a few weeks before now lay scattered over the grass and the tomb stones; the trees that once held them were now bare and stark against a cold, gray, and cloudy sky. There were no birds that he could see nor were there squirrels running playfully up and down and around the trees.

With a sigh he sat down on the recently replaced sod and gently laid the Autumn Glories he had picked at home next to the marker bearing her name. Out of nowhere came the overwhelming and seemingly unbearable need to hold her one last time. To take her in his arms for but a moment, to feel her warmth, her embrace. And under the gray autumn sky that mirrored his soul at the moment, he cried. It was not the uncontrolled and mournful wailing as at times before but it was the simple weeping of a soul filled with profound sorrow.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been there but in time, when the tears seemed to have eased and the sorrow abated, he retrieved his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away what tears remained. Suddenly he realized that he felt better. Oh, the sorrow still remained but he felt as if his soul had been unburdened, even if only a little. And so he took the old tattered Bible that he had set on the ground and opened it to that same passage he had read a number of days ago, Romans 8:24-39, and read it aloud, though in a soft voice. He read it again and again until he could almost recite it from memory.

And then he began to tell Jenny all that had happened in his life since she had gone. He told her about all the cards he had gotten in the mail and about the calls from so many friends, mostly of hers, expressing their sorrow and desire to help if they could. He told her of the VanVleets and how they had been so helpful and of the difficulty they now faced. He told her of the things he had done around the house and how beautiful all her flowers looked. He talked for what seemed a long time and even though he knew very well he was simply talking to himself, he felt much better.

“Oh Jenny,” he finally said. “Oh, I wish you could be here to help me understand. I think I believe in God but I just don’t know.” He bowed his head then and shook it slowly from side to side. “I just wish you were here to help me.”

Overcome by his feeling of helplessness and not knowing what else to do, he slowly rose up to his knees, folded his hands, and prayed.

“Oh God, I don’t know what to do. Please help me. Help me to understand. Help me to know what I believe. Help me to see the way that I must go. And if it is possible, heal this hurt I feel in my soul. Amen.”

As the day wore on he finally picked himself up and grudgingly walked back to his car. Before he reached for the door handle he turned to look one last time to where his beloved lay. Then, as the sadness of leaving her touched his heart he wondered for the first time, at least that he could remember, what she was experiencing right at that moment. It was his sincere hope that she was happy. And yet, even though that was his hope, the thought of her being happy while he himself was in such turmoil and grief was almost too much to bear.

“And yet, life goes on,” he said softly to himself as he opened the door to the car and carefully got in. “Like it or not, life goes on.”

He drove through town and though his original intention had been to go home, without really realizing it he found himself parked along the road in front of the church that his wife had attended for so many years. It was really the last place he wanted to go or had even considered as a destination and yet here he was.

In the previous installment of “The Gift” the old man had busied himself with baking goodies for the VanVleets, intending to bring them the next day as a celebration for what he supposed had been good news from the doctor regarding Ruth’s diagnosis. Though miss-understanding the situation, this thoughtful act would do more for the VanVleets than the cookies or bars ever could.

If it were the case that the old man was on the peak of a mountain the previous day then it was a valley into which he found himself descending today. As he sat in a chair at the kitchen table he stared at the mug of coffee that his hands were wrapped around and just shook his head, watching the steam as it rose into the air and then was gone. Still, only hours after he had discovered that Ruth had been diagnosed with cancer he struggled to comprehend it. It just didn’t seem real, as if it couldn’t really be happening. All the joy and peace he had felt the previous evening was gone, only to be replaced with a melancholy that seemed to envelop him. In addition to this were the questions that his immature faith now grappled with.

He grunted softly as the irony of the steam rising from his coffee cup hit him. Life was so short. Even his life which by all accounts had thus far been quite long and full seemed now as he looked back to have flown by in mere moments. And now Ruth could quite possibly be facing the end of her very young life, a life only ten or so years on. It was so difficult to believe. It was so difficult to understand.

He recalled then in his mind the events of the morning. Oh, if only he had looked at the signs he would have realized something wasn’t right. So caught up was he in what he was doing that he didn’t see anything else. For one thing, none of the children were outside playing or working in the yard. For that matter, Jack was also nowhere to be seen which was very strange indeed for a Saturday. Normally he was out in the yard or in the garage working on something. And then there was the car in the driveway. He actually had not given it a second thought. He wished now that he had.

Or just maybe God had been using him in a way he could never have thought possible to bring some joy to this family in a time in which they desperately needed it.

Having risen early and eaten a good breakfast he had decided to bring the goodies he had baked the evening before over to the VanVleets. Because it was Saturday he waited a little while to make sure they would be awake, gathered all the goodies he had baked the night before, and made his way next door.

Barely managing to hang on to all the goodies he nudged the doorbell with his elbow and stepped back to wait for the door to open. Janet had seen him coming across the yard and now opened the door and asked him to come in.

“Good morning Mr. Michealson!” she said as she held open the door in order for him to come through. “Here, let me help you with that.” Carefully she took one of the packages from him not knowing for sure what it was but all of a sudden smelling the aroma of fresh baked goods. “Are those chocolate chip cookies on that plate?” she asked as her eyes fell on the plate he carried in his other hand.

“Yes they are, my girl,” he said as he set the plate down on the counter along with the bag he had been carrying in the other hand.

“What is all this?” asked Jack as he walked into the kitchen to see what had brought Mr. Michealson to their home. Seeing the plate of cookies on the counter he pulled up a part of the plastic wrap in order to get a better look. “It smells like a bakery in here.”

“Well, I know you folks have been going through some tough times lately,” said Mr. Michealson as he leaned up against the counter seeing through the doorway that Janet’s parents sat in the family room. “You did so much for us before Jenny died and you have been so good to me…. I just wanted to do something for you, something to help you celebrate.” He had paused in mid-sentence in order to compose himself. He hated to cry in front of other people. Not to mention he did not want that on a day that should be filled with joy for this family.

Both Jack and Janet looked at each other then acknowledging what each was thinking. He doesn’t know.

Taking his direction from the look on Janet’s face, Jack put his hand on Mr. Michealson’s shoulder. “Bill, we talked to the doctor yesterday.” He slowly stepped back and leaned on the island in the center of the kitchen and prepared to tell the story he had told what seemed like a hundred times already.

By the look on Jack’s face Mr. Michealson could tell that he had been wrong. The news could not have been good. Immediately he wished he could turn and leave, to get away before he caused any more damage.

In his mind he was suddenly brought back to that cool autumn day not so long past when that young man had walked up on him as he sat staring at the casket that held the body of his beloved. He imagined the look on his own face right now probably matched the look that had crossed the face of that young man; disbelief and embarrassment for having intruded on this family at such a time as this.

“I am so sorry Jack and Janet,” he said as the look on his face turned from disbelief to anguish. He stepped forward and took both of them in his arms and hugged them tightly. “I thanked God last night before bed that you had gotten good news and now….” Tears streamed down his face and for a few moments he could say nothing more. As he relaxed his grip Jack and Janet stepped back with tears in their own eyes.

Although each of them cried, they did so for far different reasons.

The old man cried because his heart went out to these two people to whom he had grown quite close over these last months. He cried because his own recent wounds now seemed to ache once again.

Jack and Janet cried for a number of reasons. First there was the old man’s kindness to them in their time of need. Then there was the fact that they felt terrible for the confusion they may have had a part in creating. But more than these they cried because for the first time they saw solid evidence of a softening in this old man’s hard heart. Only a few months ago he would never have shown such emotion. Only a few months ago the only reason he would have talked of God at all would be to voice his doubt that such a being could exist.

And now here he was, telling them that he had prayed. He prayed! Oh how that filled both of them with inexplicable happiness! In an instant they both forgot the seriousness of their own situation and basked in this new joy that the Lord had given them.

“Don’t be sorry,” Janet said as she took the old man’s hands in her own. “There was no way for you to have known.” Letting go of one of his hands she reached around him and pulled some tissues from the box that sat on the counter, and divided them up between the old man, Jack, and herself.

While everyone wiped the tears that streaked their faces Jack went on to tell Mr. Michealson about their visit with the doctor and the difficult night they had spent coming to terms with the situation that God had now placed them in. He also told him that the prognosis seemed positive and that they were confident that everything would be alright. In fact, they knew it would because Ruth, along with the whole family, was in the loving hands of Father.

“But Mr. Michealson,” Janet said as she took his hand in hers once again and looked him in the eye. “God answered the prayer we made last night. You see, we asked for him to lift our burdened hearts and to give us joy, even in this difficulty he has placed in Ruth’s life and in our life as a family.”

Uncertain of exactly what she had meant and unsure how to respond or even if it had been expected, he simply stood there, his gaze slowly dropping to the floor. After a few silent moments he said he must be going and began to move towards the door. As he opened it he turned back around to face the two of them.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” he said softly with a questioning look on his face. “How do you know God answered you?”

Janet had also begun to leave the room and turning she said with a smile on her face and tears brimming in her eyes, “You prayed.”

Nodding his head slowly in understanding the old man had looked from one to the other and as he reached for the door to leave many questions echoed in his mind. Had God heard him when he had prayed? How could a loving God place a family such as this into such a difficult situation?

Confused and bewildered the old man made his way back home. He would need some time for this news to sink in.

In the kitchen that the old man had just left Jack and Janet hugged each other once again and hurried into the family room to share this good news with Ruth and the rest of the family.

“It is enough!” The mighty prophet of God now sits alone in the shade of a juniper tree a day’s journey into the wilderness of Beer-sheba, far from the danger that wicked Jezebel posed, and proclaims to his God that he is finished. He is no longer able to battle on and makes an ardent plea that the Lord now take away his life. In effect, he requests that his battle be ended. He is able to fight on no more.

Yes, this mighty prophet is none other than Elijah himself. The man called of God to prophesy to his people Israel and through whom God would turn them back to himself. This was the man who boldly proclaimed to wicked king Ahab that the land would see neither dew nor rain until he spoke thus. This was the man who experienced first hand the providential care of his heavenly Father when the Lord fed him by the ravens and later when he miraculously caused the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil to remain. This was the man who earnestly entreated the Lord to restore to life again the son of the widow and who witnessed the amazing power of God in his raising the lad from the dead. This was the man who through the grace of God challenged Ahab and all those who worshipped Baal to see once and for all whether Baal was god or whether Jehovah was God.

This great man now lies at the foot of this small tree, probably in the only bit of shade he could find, and asks that the Lord declare his battle to be ended. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (I Kings 19:4).

How often have you and I felt this same way? How often have we not so desired that the battle in which we find ourselves be finished? If only we could lay down those weapons of war, remove the heavy armor bloodied from our many wounds, collapse to the ground, and be done. Finally, to be able to rest in that perfectly complete rest that the gospel promises will be ours one day.

Many are the occasions in our lives when we feel this way. As children of God our way through this life is plagued with hardships and difficulties. It is, after all, a vale of tears. The young people of the church face many troublesome temptations. Often the difficulties of the transition from child to adult bring much confusion and distress.

Sometimes it seems that one trouble after another afflicts us, a loved one, or fellow member in the church. One need only read through the bulletins of the churches to see this. And these are only the published needs. So many others there are that we are unaware of. And then, of course, there is our sin. This to be sure is the real and fundamental warfare we fight. What battles we wage against our old man of sin! How often it seems that our defeat is sure.

It has been my own experience that no other time brings the fury of our struggle to the front more than when we find ourselves standing at the grave of a loved one. Here, as in no other place we find that the battle rages. In fact, in I Corinthians 15:26 the apostle Paul refers to death as “the last enemy.” Here we are physically able to stand on the very brink and stare into that dark chasm that is the grave. Not one of us is able to do so in and of ourselves without fear. From an earthly point of view we can see only defeat. Certainly Satan is here too. Most assuredly he stands at our side and whispers in our ear that the battle is too difficult, the road too long, the pain too much to bear. Give up. There can be no great victory here for you.

When we are assailed, whether it is at the grave of a loved one or in some other hardship or adversity that the Lord calls us to walk through, oh how we long to be loosed from these earthly bonds, from this body of sin! To be where all tears will be wiped away, where death will be abolished, where sorrow and pain no longer afflict! (Rev. 21:4)

In this we are no different from Elijah, the great prophet of God. He, as we often are, was no longer able to continue the fight. No longer, that is, in his own strength. You see, Elijah had lost sight of the fact that these things he had done and been a part of were not his to claim. He had not withheld the rain. He had not commanded the ravens to bring him food. He had not by his own power raised from the dead the widow’s son. He had not successfully proven that Jehovah was God rather than Baal. He had simply been an instrument used by God. He had done nothing of himself. And this is indeed that which brings him to the valley in which he now finds himself; unable and unwilling to persevere but wanting simply to give up. Once again God must remind Elijah that he is in control.

This too is the case with us, is it not? No sooner has God shown us his mighty power through some occasion in our lives than we are once again off on our way, seemingly in our own strength, having so soon forgotten God’s mercy toward us. This, as we always find, invariably ends in God, in his great love for us, reminding us that our strength is not our own. Without his grace and mercy we are utterly helpless and unable to exist, much less carry on in the battle.

So the Lord sends his angel to Elijah. He sends that angel to provide physical sustenance for Elijah to be sure. Once again God extraordinarily provides for Elijah’s physical needs as he had done so many times in the past.

God sent the angel in order to show Elijah that he will provide for him and never leave him. As he has strengthened him in the past and given him the grace he needed then, so now in the present distress in which he finds himself as well as in the future he would continue to be the all sufficient God. He will continue to hold Elijah in the hollow of his hand.

The Lord also intends to show Elijah in the sending of the angel that indeed he is not able to go on in his own strength. “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee” (I Kings 19:7). Clearly there is a battle yet to be fought and the battle that remains his to fight is too great for him, yes, even this great man of God. Without the preserving grace of God the battle for Elijah would be lost.

And finally, the Lord calls Elijah back into the battle once again. Elijah is tired, bruised, and wounded. His only desire is for the Lord to take him home and declare an end to his earthly fight. And yet his battle is not over.

God makes this clear to Elijah in the fact that he does not grant his wish to end his life. Although the Lord does not need Elijah to fulfill his purpose, he is nevertheless pleased to continue to use him to carry out his will. God also makes this clear in his command to Elijah through his angel that he rise up and eat the food provided for him. Why? Because the battle is not over! Exhausted though he be, the fighting rages on. The Lord has work for him to do yet. He must yet pronounce God’s judgment on Ahab.

That call, as it came to Elijah so many years ago, comes to you and me today and every day that the Lord is pleased to give us life. Weak and weary sinner, by God’s grace, fight on! The battle is not over for you as it is for your loved one or for the many soldiers who have gone before you and have fought the good fight, have finished their course, and have kept the faith (II Timothy 4:7).

And just as it was the case with Elijah so long ago, we cannot do so in ourselves. Only by the grace of God are we able to once again don our heavy armor, lift our battle scarred shield, and grasp our bloodied sword in order to enter the fray once more. Only in the strength that the Lord gives are we able to do this.

But as we fight on we must hold on to this wonderful truth. No matter how we stumble, no matter how often we are wounded, no matter how hopeless it may seem to us, our victory is sure. It has already been won by the Captain of our salvation. Though engulfed in the raging battle that surrounds us we are already victorious! Our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished this in his death and resurrection and in it has assured our salvation. This indeed is our eternal hope and sure confidence. This it is that strengthens us and enables us to persevere.

And so believer, young or old, fight on in the assurance of I Corinthians 15: 53–57: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let the battle cry be heard; Onward Christian Soldiers!

In the last installment of “The Gift” the oldest daughter of the old man’s neighbors was diagnosed with cancer in her leg. Although all had known this was a possibility this type of news is never easy and left the VanVleets leaning on their God, something they would be much more conscious of from now on.

The old man watched as Jack and Janet drove into their driveway. Truth be told he had been waiting and watching for the last half an hour. He knew they would not run over to tell him the news and he most certainly would not go over there, at least not any more today, but he thought he would probably be able to tell simply by their body language whether it had been negative or positive. So he sat in his chair by the front window and watched.

Once the car came to a stop they sat there for just a minute, got out and walked hand in hand into the house, both smiling. Well, he thought, that was that. It must have been good news after all and he was happy about that. They were such a wonderful family, to think of them having to go through something like that, well, it just didn’t seem fair.

He was struck by that thought as it crossed before his consciousness. Fair. What really was fair? Was it fair that the love of his life had been taken away from him? Oh, of course, they had many good years together but they could have had so many more. Was it fair that they had never had children? This was something on which he had never dwelt much before his wife had passed away but now it seemed to be on his mind almost constantly. The loneliness he felt was just so heavy. Sometimes it seemed that it would simply crush him. And what of grandchildren? He hadn’t held a baby in his arms since, well, he couldn’t actually say whether he had ever held a baby in his arms. Oh how he ached to do that. He couldn’t explain why but the desire was suddenly almost overwhelming.

With a large sigh he got out of the chair and went into the kitchen to make some supper. Over the years he had become quite a cook and had always enjoyed making meals. Even though it had only been for the two of them he had amassed quite a collection of recipes, and had even come up with many of his own, whether new or variations on others. He also enjoyed baking, although not quite as much. That’s what he would do tonight, he thought. He would make a huge batch of his chocolate chip cookies and bring them over to the neighbors tomorrow.

The sudden wave of melancholy that had swept over him was now gone just as quickly as it had come. He went about preparing supper humming softly to himself, his thoughts now filled with what ingredients he would need and whether cookies would be enough? Maybe he should also make some bars because now would be a perfect time to make pumpkin bars.

The night for Jack, Janet, and their children would be a bit different. For although the old man had made the assumption that all was well and was planning a minicelebration, this family now faced what probably for them was the greatest challenge they had ever faced.

They had first sat down with Ruth and given her the news. Jack had actually spoken while Janet sat next to Ruth.

“So, from the looks on your faces I am guessing that it’s more than just a bruise,” Ruth said matter of factly, trying to smile and succeeding, at least somewhat.

“Ruth,” Jack began, “We talked to the doc and you’re right, he thinks there is more to it than that.” He reached out and put his hands on her knees and looked her in the eyes. “He isn’t positive but he thinks it is cancer.”

For a minute Ruth sat and took in what her father had just told her. Actually, she had already been quite sure that it was cancer and had been reading up on the different possibilities so it was not a big shock for her to hear this news. But, just as the reality of the situation had been somewhat disconcerting for her parents so it was for her. For some reason hearing someone else, her father no less, say that word was a bit upsetting. She had not thought that she would be as afraid as she now felt. And yet, even with that, there was also some comfort in knowing what the problem was. Knowing what they now faced and moving ahead with, well, probably with some type of treatment.

Janet put her arm around Ruth and hugged her tight. “Are you ok?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“I…I think so,” Ruth said as her mother loosened her embrace somewhat and looked at her. “I guess I’m a little afraid but I already kind of thought it might be more than just a bruise.”

A small tear ran down Ruth’s cheek then and as if it were their queue, both Janet and Jack wrapped their arms around their little girl and each other. The helplessness they both felt was almost overwhelming. Here was their daughter, cancer possibly attacking her body and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. They now felt as though they had been taken from the summit they had seemed to be on when they had arrived home after talking and praying together and plunged into a dark and foreboding valley once again. They were on what many would call a roller coaster ride; one on which they would continue to ride for some time to come. Unknowingly Jack and Janet shared the same question at that moment. How can this be for our good? How can this be for Ruth’s good?

After they had comforted one another and talked for a bit they decided that it was time to tell the rest of the children. But before they did Jack led them in a short prayer as they all held one another’s hands. Unbelievably his voice never wavered nor was there any hesitation brought on by emotion. On the outside he appeared to be a rock once again and would continue to be so. On the inside however he was broken and battered already and what scared him, what frightened him more than anything, was that he knew this was only the beginning. Only the beginning of what he was sure would be a very difficult journey, at the end of which, no matter how good the treatments, no matter how skilled the doctors, they might still lose their little girl. It didn’t seem fair. She was such a good girl.

The remainder of the evening was somewhat subdued around the VanVleet household. After giving the news to the rest of the children they had abandoned the thought of a normal supper and settled on sandwiches and cereal for any who were hungry. Once the younger children were in bed their pastor came by for a while to comfort and build them up by bringing the word of God to them. Tomorrow they would have to tell both sets of grandparents and neither Jack nor Janet looked forward to that. As that thought crossed Janet’s mind she remembered Mr. Michealson telling her earlier that afternoon that the doctor’s appointment was a bridge she would have to cross later. That, she thought, was probably something she was going to have to get used to doing. Crossing bridges one at a time. She was sure that a multitude of bridges awaited her and her family along this road on which the Lord was leading them.

As busy as he was in the kitchen with the baking, the old man didn’t see the neighbors’ pastor arrive nor did he notice him leave. So enthralled was he that he even missed the first five minutes of the news that he tried to watch before going to bed at night. For the first time in quite a while he was happy. For the first time in a long time he had enjoyed the evening. For the first time in a long time he felt a certain contentment as he busied himself with cleaning up the mess he had made. What a day. It seemed to have gone on forever and in a way he wished it would go on and on. But, he thought with a smile, he was just getting too old for that.

He was a bit afraid that he might have trouble getting to sleep because of the excitement he felt. Finally he had a chance to do something for the VanVleets. They had done so much for he and Jenny and especially for him now and it made him so happy that he could now repay them. Thankfully he was also quite tired from the day as well.

Of course he didn’t know the reality of the situation and wouldn’t find out until the next day when he brought the cookies and bars to them. For now, for tonight his heart felt a gladness that it had not felt in a long time. So happy was he that as he sat on the edge of his bed he folded his hands and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. No, it wasn’t an experienced prayer; in fact it was a simple thank-you for what he assumed had been good news for Ruth and her family. What he didn’t know, what he couldn’t know at that point was that it was the Lord leading him. It had been a long, long time since he had prayed by himself and though short and simple, it was fervent. Though never lost, he had strayed far away and the Lord was now beginning to call him home.

 

As far as doctors’ offices went this was nothing like she had ever seen. Well, actually it was because she had been here only a few days before but that had been the first time. The family doctor to whom they had gone their entire married life had recently moved his office to a brand new building that had been built only about five minutes from where they now lived. As far as convenience went it was nice but she certainly hoped that she would not become a regular customer.

Her first real thought after letting one of the office girls know they had arrived and after sitting down was that if she didn’t know better she would never have guessed this was a doctor’s office. From the outside the building appeared very modern but once through the entrance it felt as though she were on vacation to a retreat in the woods or perhaps a lodge deep in the mountains. Although the offices and examining rooms were decorated normally and equipped with the most up to date medical equipment the patient waiting room was designed to look and feel like the inside of a large log cabin right down to the log walls. There was even a large stone gas fireplace in the middle of the room that lent a warm and quiet ambiance to the whole room. In the far corner there was a small play area with a number of toys for the smaller children to play with and even a small sandbox. Opposite that corner and off to the side there were four televisions, two hooked up to Xboxes and two hooked up to PlayStation 2’s. Other than this modern technology the remainder of the room was very simple and yet very relaxing. The seating consisted strictly of log rocking chairs, regular chairs, and couches.

In her last visit here a few days ago Janet had asked the doctor about it and he said that in part it was simply that he loved log cabins and thought it would be fun to work in one. The more practical side of it, however, was that they hoped it had a calming effect on the people who came in for office visits. They wanted the atmosphere to be peaceful and relaxing and so far in the two months they had been in the new building they were seeing success. She had to admit that it seemed to work for her too.

She had, of course called Jack at work after the doctor had phoned and he had come home early in order to come to the appointment with her. Now he sat next to her on a couch that was positioned in such a way that they could watch the flames in the fireplace dance along the logs that lay in the hearth. She could tell that Jack was nervous and to be honest, so was she. It was clear that there was something wrong. Were that not the case they would have simply been told the results of the tests over the phone and that would have been that. That was the logical thought but she kept hoping that maybe this was just how they treated all of these types of cases.

When they had arrived and before they got out of the car Jack had said a short prayer in which he prayed for good news but especially for the grace to be content and accept God’s will, whatever it was. The request he had made that God make it so that no matter what his plan was that he be glorified went through her mind over and over. Not necessarily because she couldn’t forget it, but more accurately because she knew she may not forget it. That had been her testimony to Mr. Michealson that very morning. The words had come so easily, almost without thinking. Now, however, facing the reality of the situation seemed a completely different story. Suddenly the doubts and the fears became so real that even the calming atmosphere that surrounded her failed to ease them. Reaching over she took her husband’s hand in her own.

A few minutes later the doctor came into the waiting room and after seeing them, came to where they were sitting.

“Jack and Janet, thanks a lot for coming,” he said as they stood up and he shook each of their hands. “Why don’t we head back into one of the consulting rooms.”

They followed the doctor all the way down the hallway to a room at the end on the left. This room, though not decorated in the log style of the waiting room, was warm and personable. Along one wall there was a couch to which the doctor directed them. He moved one of the chairs in front of the couch and sat down in it after they had seated themselves.

“Well, first of all, I am really glad both of you were able to come. I am sure you have been a bit apprehensive so I am going to get right to the test results,” he said as he opened a small folder that he had carried with him.

“The X-ray that we did a couple of days ago showed what appears to be a tumor high up on Ruth’s left leg.” He took an X-ray film out of the folder and after standing up, slid the film into the receptacle on the wall. “You can see it right here,” he said as he pointed at and then circled the mass with his index finger.

He sat down again and after looking both in the eye he continued, “So, right now you’re probably asking yourselves if this could be true and whether I am sure about this. Well, I always consult in cases like this and unfortunately the doc that I talked to agreed with what I see.” He gave them a minute then to take in and attempt to comprehend what he had just told them.

Jack was the first one to speak.

“Janet and I talked about this and I thought we had a pretty good handle on it but I have to tell you, I am not so sure anymore,” he said, the last few words coming out with a slight flutter as his emotions took hold.

The doctor folded his hands and looked first at Jack and then at Janet with sympathy in his eyes.

“I know when you were here earlier this week I told you that it was possible this could be something serious and I am sure you have thought about it since then but I am sure too that this is still a bit of a shock. It is going to take a little time for this to sink in.” Scooting to the edge of his chair in order to get a little closer to them he went on, “But I want you to know that I think we have caught this thing in time and the odds of getting on top of it and getting rid of it are pretty good.”

Jack and Janet looked at each other then and tightened their grip on each other’s hands.

“But, this is still serious, right?” Janet said as she felt a tear forming in the corner of her eye. She had told herself that she wouldn’t cry, no matter what the news was but she just couldn’t quite hold it all back.

“Yes,” he said as he nodded his head slowly. Then, with a slight smile he said, “Serious but do-able.”

“So where to we go from here?” asked Jack.

“Well,” the doctor began, happy that they had taken it so well up to this point and eager to move on to some more positive information, “to begin with I would like her to see an orthopaedic specialist, actually he is the doc I consulted. His name is Dr. Kearny and he is one of the best in the state at what he does.”

They talked for a while longer about tests that Dr. Kearny would probably want to do and why, and a bit about what treatments he may order and then after a hug for both they said their good-byes.

As they walked out of the office they both felt as if they were in a daze, the world around them moving along as normal but for them everything suddenly slowing down to what seemed a crawl. After getting in the car without having said a word to each other since leaving the consulting room, they embraced and the tears they had both held back while in the office now flowed freely for both. Unbeknownst to them the doctor stood by a window that overlooked the parking lot and watched as they embraced, his own tears slowly running down his cheeks. He just never got used to things like this. He was happy however to see Jack and Janet now embracing and crying. They had both showed very little emotion and as they had left he was afraid that either they had not fully comprehended what he had said or were simply in denial.

He walked back to his office, closed the door behind him, and knelt beside his desk in the same spot that only a little while ago he had asked God for strength to bring the news. Now however he knelt to pray for strength for this family to which he had just given this life changing news and for Ruth too. You see, Ruth was not only his patient but she and her family were members of the same church he and his family attended. His youngest son was the same age as Ruth and both were in the same class in school, in the same catechism class at church. Before he began to pray he thought a moment how helpless he felt. Even with all his education and the great advancements in medicine, when it really came down to it, there was nothing he or anyone else could do. It was all in the hands of God. So, to the Great Physician he went.

A few days later the old man sat at the table in his kitchen having coffee with Janet. Having seen her outside earlier straightening a few things up in the yard he had noticed that although she was going through the motions something just didn’t seem right. Thinking that maybe she was distracted for some reason he had called out the back door to her to come over for a cup of coffee with the hope he could determine if there was anything wrong. Besides, he needed someone to talk to anyway.

“Oh this tastes wonderful Mr. Michealson,” Janet said as she wrapped her cold hands around the steaming mug of coffee. “I didn’t realize it was so cold outside but I wanted to get the hoses put away and the sandbox toys cleaned up before the weather gets bad.”

She slowly brought the mug up to her lips and took a small sip. “Mmmm, that hits the spot. I actually have some bulbs that I have to get planted too but I don’t know if I am going to get time today.” She paused then and distantly watched the steam from the coffee gently rise into the air and disappear.

The old man looked at her from across the table over his own cup of coffee and before she said anymore had the feeling that he would soon find out whatever it was that was bothering her. He decided not to say anything and simply waited for her to continue.

“I got a call from Ruth’s doctor a little while ago and he wants Jack and me to come into the office at 4:00 p.m.,” she said as she slowly traced the top of the mug with the index finger of her left hand.

For a couple of weeks Ruth, the oldest of their children at fourteen, had been complaining of soreness in the upper part of her left leg. They had not thought much of it until earlier in the week when it had begun to swell a bit. An appointment was made and although the doctor had not seemed overly concerned he had ordered some tests done and told them that he would be in touch with them when the results came back. Just before they left he had mentioned that there was a slight possibility that it could be something serious but more than likely it was simply the result of a muscle sprain or some other type of injury.

“He wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone. He said that he really wanted to talk to both of us in the office.” The concern for her daughter, now quite visible on her face, was suddenly replaced by concern for the old man as she looked across the table at him.

Upon hearing of the request of the doctor that Janet and her husband come into the office the old man was immediately taken back to that terrible day that he and Jenny had been informed of the cancer that would soon take her away from him. In an instant he relived that day as well as the many difficult days that had followed. He seemed to be caught in a memory that he couldn’t get out of.

“Is everything alright Mr. Michealson?” Janet asked as she reached across the table and touched his hand.

He glanced at her then and realizing that his mind had taken him far off once again. He smiled slightly and nodded his head.

“Sure, I’m fine. Little things bring back the memories and I got a bit caught up in one just now.” Although his face was calm and the hint of a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth his eyes told Janet everything she needed to know.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said rather sternly then, cutting off the “I’m sorry” before she could even say it. “I suppose in time those little things hopefully won’t bring it all back but right now they do and that is just the way it is,” he said with a nod of his head and a smile as if to add emphasis to what he had just said.

Realizing that he had purposely ended that subject she continued to tell him what was on her mind.

“Jack and I kind of talked this through already, knowing that it was possible that it could be serious but I guess I was hoping that we would just get a call letting us know that everything was alright.” Her eyes fell to her mug as she carefully raised it to her lips for another sip.

“Did the doctor give you any idea of what it could be when he said it could be serious?” he asked as he sat back in his chair.

Janet leaned forward and set her mug back on the table.

“No, he pretty much just left it there but I suppose the logical assumption is that it could be some type of cancer or something along those lines.”

“What about Ruth? Does she know anything about this?” he asked, concern now showing on his face.

“Yes, actually we talked to her about it for quite a while when we got home from the first appointment and she seemed pretty good with it.”

Janet stood up then and walked over to the counter where she placed her mug and turned to look at the old man.

“She doesn’t know about the appointment today though. I think Jack and I will tackle that first,” she said as she tried to smile but failed miserably.

“Well my dear,” the old man said with some vigor as he stood up and put his own mug on the counter, “that is a bridge you will have to cross this afternoon but for now we have bulbs to plant so help me find my coat and we’ll get started.”

She supposed that she probably shouldn’t have been surprised knowing what the old man was like but it caught her just a bit off guard. She couldn’t help but smile at his back as he moved past her in search of his coat.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon they talked almost non-stop as they planted the bulbs in various places throughout the yard. There were daffodils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, and a variety of other bulbs. The conversation revolved around the doctor appointment but strayed to many other subjects. For a few hours the loneliness of an old man didn’t seem quite so lonely and the worry of a young mother wasn’t quite so worrisome. They finished shortly before 2:00 p.m. and Janet hurried off to get the kids from school.

As he put his gardening gloves on the shelf in the garage he noticed the pail on the shelf beneath it that contained what had been some of his wife’s gardening utensils. He smiled as he watched in his mind’s eye as his wife scurried around the yard gently caring for all the plants and flowers. It had been one of her great joys and she had taken care to make sure they were all just so. Sometimes he would rearrange things a bit just to get a rise out of her and she would go about setting things back the way she had them grumbling about men not knowing what they were doing when it came to gardening. The smile on his face continued to grow and remained even as he made his way into the house.

Exhausted from the work of the morning he settled into his chair for a short nap. Shortly before dozing off he thought how beautiful it would be when all those bulbs that they had planted in the ground bloomed in the coming spring. That would certainly be something to see. Well, it was certainly something to look forward to. Amazing how something that seemed to have no life would lie dormant for so long and then spring to life once again. Amazing.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

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Judah: A Story of Redemption

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021.   The story of Judah is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. We often overlook this history because it is nestled in the middle of the story of Joseph. All the […]

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Author Interview: “Through Many Dangers”

M. Kuiper, Through Many Dangers (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2021)   Through Many Dangers is a work of Christian, historical fiction that has just been released this summer by the RFPA. The book is written especially for young people and details the story of a group of Dutch Reformed boys who serve in the […]

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