Walking on water

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

It was an ordinary Friday in February 1986.

Danny had just returned to the swing shift at the quarry where he headed the maintenance crew, winter repair finished for another year. He had already left for work that afternoon when my brother called.

"No one is answering the phone at Mom and Dad's," he said, "and no one answered yesterday either."

This was not good. Mom had been battling a recurrence of her breast cancer since October and we were doing our best to keep close tabs on her from a distance of 1,200 miles.

The four eldest of the 5 D's lived in the Denver metropolitan area and Danett, the youngest, was living in Houston, so we relied heavily on Dad and on Mom's mother to keep us up-to-date.

Since Grandma had moved in with Mom and Dad to take care of Mom while Dad was at work, it was very troubling that no one was home to take our calls.

The detective work began immediately and within a couple of hours, I was on the phone with Mom's primary care physician. The news wasn't good.

I called Danny. Since I never called him at work unless it was an emergency, I could easily detect the trepidation in his initial "hello," after he was summoned to the phone.

I filled him in. He asked, "What do you want to do?"

"I have to get down there," I said.

"OK. Get packed, I'll see you at home as quick as I can get there," he said.

By the time he arrived, he had already arranged my flight to Houston to meet up with Danett and gotten his niece Stacy to come and stay with the kids while he was at work. (And all this before cell phones were commonplace.)

I met Danett and her family in the middle of the night and we began the 375 mile trek to McAllen. We delivered Danett's three children to their paternal grandparents home at mid-day Saturday and went directly to the hospital. We wouldn't leave again until midnight Monday, after Mom's passing.

Daddy was in the same hospital, one floor up from Mom. He'd been hospitalized two days before Mom with a nosebleed that wouldn't stop. He was heavily sedated with his nostrils packed with cotton to stop the hemorrhage.

Mom's condition was decidedly worse. A lung infection was raging through her system and she had no resources with which to fight it off. We hadn't been there long when the doctor appeared. He explained where we were and where we could expect to be. Since Dad was incapacitated, he looked at me, as the eldest child present, to take the lead. There were important decisions that needed to be made and they needed to be made right away.

Danett and I were overwhelmed. She turned to me and exclaimed, "What are we going to do?" I opened my mouth to answer her, and having no idea what I was going to say, stated, "First, we pray."

And so we did, locating the quiet, cool hospital chapel, taking temporary refuge there.

From there Danett and I entered the most grueling 60 hours of our lives. I was barely 30, she was two months shy of her 24th birthday. Nothing had prepared us for this particular journey.

We were eventually joined by our siblings who drove the 1,200 miles from Denver straight through, arriving Sunday, and by Mom's sister, our Aunt Charlene, who came down from Marshalltown, Iowa.

Decisions were made. Round-the-clock attendance at Mom's side began immediately. Each of us were called to minister to her in unique ways.

I, who had forever been afraid of the sound of my own voice, especially around doctors and nurses, challenged the staff when they wheeled in a portable X-ray machine that on sight obviously terrified Mom. Dave (or was it Dean?) stood in for Dad in Mom's final hours. (Dad had been released Monday morning and was home, alone, sleeping. He would sleep alone for the rest of his life.)

Occasionally, while riding the elevator between the two floors of the hospital where both parents lay, one recovering, the other dying, I would wonder how I could still be standing, thinking, functioning at all. Then the doors would open, the next task would present itself and the thought would be gone.

When Jesus learned that his cousin and forerunner, John, had been put to death by Herod, cruelly murdered after having been imprisoned for daring to preach the message of repentance to Herod, he immediately sought to withdraw, by boat, to a quiet place. But the crowds heard of his destination and met him on the shore. Compassion personified, he ministered to them, healing the sick, both in body and soul, by his touch and his words.

And on this day, when all he wanted to do was find some quiet place to mourn his loss, he was further compelled by the crowd's needs and the remote location, to feed this crowd of 5,000 (not including women and children). And so he does, using the resources available, just five loaves and two fishes.

Finally, this long day ends. The people are healed, their hunger sated, and Jesus sends them on their way. He sends his disciples to the boat to wait for him, and, weary and worn, he makes his way up the mountainside to pray. I can only imagine what happened on that mountainside, when Jesus was finally able to drop to his knees, his grief and heartache laid bare before God.

I do not have imagine what happened next. After hours of prayer, in the fourth watch of that long night, the disciples, aboard "the boat already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it," next see Jesus, "walking on the lake." (Matthew 14:1-32)

This is the power of prayer. I couldn't know it back then, during the long grueling hours of grief denied, but I know it now. The same resource that Jesus sought after John's murder was mine, all through those sleepless days and nights. As I walked those long corridors of that small town hospital, as I reached out my hands to perform tasks I had never imagined, as I found words of comfort I had never before uttered, as I watched my beloved mother die, I was, in fact, walking on water.

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." Romans 8:26, 27 (NIV)

Things you won't see in heaven:

death beds

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