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.