Next to last

I watched “What Dreams My Come” just now because I needed to.

It was especially difficult to watch this visually dazzling movie about soulmates, loss, depression, death, suicide, the afterlife and love because it stars the late and truly great Robin Williams.

But it is the next-to-last movie on my list of movies I have had to wait to watch since losing Angi three years ago.

Only “Shadowlands” remains.

Still not ready to watch that one.

I read somewhere long ago – I think when trying to lead a Single Again Class for divorced and widowed people in Abilene – an author who recommended a year of healthy grief for every five years you got to spend with the one you’ve loved and lost.

That seems about right to me.

Next year, “Shadowlands.”

A Blessing for the Journey

May the wind be at your back
But not only at your back

May the wind be ever before you
To clear the path ahead

May the wind be always at your side
At either side and both, a friend

May it support you from beneath
And keep you grounded as the earth

May it blow above that clouds may part
And show you stars above

May the wind surround you like a warm cloak
Protecting you from threats and harms

And may it inspire you from within
God’s very breath, His Spirit yours

Today, tomorrow and forever.

Amen.

Easter – and Maybe My Shortest Message Ever

My little church family and I gathered at our old parsonage in Sylva this gloomy, grey Easter morning. We prayed. We sang. We dined together at the Lord’s table and remembered Him. Then John led us in “It Is Well With My Soul.”

It was time for me to speak. I gathered myself as best I could. And I said (to the best of my recollection):

“As many of you know, it was many, many months after Angi passed away before I could sing ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ again. Many of you prayed with me for the miracle that would save her life. And God’s answer was ‘no.’

“And that’s as good a segue into my message this morning as I know. We’ll be going out-of-sequence in our study of prayer in scripture” — last Sunday we left off with the prayers of prophets — “to talk about Jesus’ last prayers and what happens when God says ‘no.'”

Then we read Matthew 26:36-46. I asked: “What happens when God doesn’t answer prayer the way we would like?”

Suzanne and Brenda suggested that perhaps it’s because He has a better plan in mind.

Then I asked: “What would have happened if God had not said ‘no’ to His Son’s prayers?”

The answers cascaded: “We wouldn’t be celebrating Good Friday or Easter” … “We wouldn’t have celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning” … “We wouldn’t even be here.”

So I paused a moment, and tried to phrase my next question carefully. “Forgive me; I have a colossal headache this morning and I’m not at my best. Let me ask this: Could God have saved us and still said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ prayers … ‘Yes, this cup can pass from You’?”

There was general assent the He could, indeed. “He can do anything He wants to,” Suzanne volunteered.

“I can’t argue with that,” I replied, “… and I believe it’s true. But if He had, what would have happened to Isaiah 53? And so many of the other prophecies about Jesus?”

There was a moment of silence. John, sitting an empty seat away, touched me on the shoulder. “Key point,” he said.

“It is, isn’t it?” I said. “I’ve thought about this for a number of years. And I’ve had to come to the conclusion that the only acceptable reason for God to have said ‘no’ to the pleas of His own Son for His life would have to be that there was no other way. God put put Himself in this box of prophecy, knowing the impact that this final blood sacrifice would have on hearts for centuries yet to come. Two thousand years down the road, this Story still gets us … right … here.”

And I felt my fist pounding against my chest.

And I felt my composure slipping away as I spoke.

“Nothing touches us like the Story of God’s Son giving Himself up. Nothing else could do. If it had only been a story of a man dying cruelly, it would have been only one of thousands of cruel deaths. But it was God’s Son. If God’s Son had only died cruelly — evil would have been shown for what it is, all right — but it would have been no kind of Story that tells us of God’s power; that proves only God … can … give … life … back.”

By this time I was nearly undone. I needed a tissue, but I had none. So my face got wet.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008“And that is why I have to believe that when God says ‘no,’ even when it hurts; even when you lose someone dearest to you, that God does indeed have a better idea; a better plan.

“This Story tells me that I can fall on my face and pour out my heart and trust God and say, ‘Your will be done,’ and that He will make the most painful of times turn out for a best that we can’t even imagine,” I finished.

“And it will be well with our souls.”

Confession

My eyes are dry.
My faith is old.
My heart is hard.
My prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be:
Alive to You and dead to me.

Keith Green phrases it well.

My prayer life is not what it used to be. My spiritual life is not what it used to be.

I say the words. I mean them. I believe in the One to whom they are addressed. I believe He hears.

But I am not sure about what He does with those words after that.

I have friends who have lost their faith. I have a friend who went from missionary to atheist in a matter of months. I have another who went from preaching to doubting in a matter of months.

I have other friends who have out-wrestled Jacob AND Job to keep their faith … having lost those dearest to them, yet remaining in the ministry. Some have remarried; brought new children into their hearts and families through these marriages.

And I am not my friends.

God and I are not exactly on speaking terms.

That is, I talk to Him and He does the listening. He doesn’t seem to say much of anything back anymore.

Not like He used to.

Except – and He’s funny about this; He’s a divine comedian, in fact – except on Sunday morning.

I teach at a tiny church in the slightly bigger town next to where I live. I don’t preach, because I’m smart enough to know I’m not gifted at preaching. And there’s no need for preaching. Preaching is for people who haven’t heard the gospel. There are, on a good Sunday, ten of us at my tiny church and we’ve all long since heard the gospel. So I teach. We try to dive deep into the word. We discuss. We argue sometimes. I try to keep it loving, or failing that, civil. We midrash. I teach.

And I am the worst. As far as the teaching paradigms go, I am the worst teacher ever. It doesn’t work to set out a course of study weeks or months in advance and nibble on each Sunday’s preplanned message a little each day and slave over it in prayer and meditation and practice standing behind a lectern because I teach sitting down from a chair and because God isn’t talking to me that way anymore.

He used to. I’d study and stew and pray and read over something pestering my soul for hours and be able to sit down at the keyboard with a pretty good idea where things were going to go because I felt deep inside that it had been made clear to me, bit-by-bit and bite-by-bite and byte-by-byte.

Now He is silent.

So this blog has been pretty much silent, too.

However, on Sunday mornings, things are a little different.

My little church family has requested a study of prayer. So we are studying prayer from its first instances with Abraham and Isaac’s chief servant through the Old Testament and on to the New … exactly the way we studied the Holy Spirit for more than a year. They are gluttons for punishment. They knew I was going to do this.

On Sunday mornings now, I select four readings. They’re not from a book. They are not necessarily in scriptural order, but I try to keep them in chronological order to the best of my ability. I read them over breakfast. I seek any clarity that’s desperately needed from my books or — cautiously — online. I pray that God will help me be honest.

And once I thought He was trying to communicate to me that was all He was asking for.

Then I go to the little parsonage where we meet and I teach.  I try to tell the truth.

When I don’t know, I say, “I don’t know.”

When I have a theory, I say, “That’s just my thoughts on it.”

When I think a doctrine we’ve all heard before is out of whack, I say so and I give my reasons why and I say, “But that’s my line of  thinking on it. Yours may be different. I don’t think God is going to judge you based on what I believe, but on what you believe.”

I don’t care where the best insight of the morning comes from or who puts it into words.

I’m just there to sing, pray, worship, break bread, drink a sip from a cup, remember Jesus and live out His love for others while keeping a discussion about Him on track. (It’s always about Him. Even in the Old Testament where we are studying now. It points forward to Him. The gospels point to Him. The Acts of the Apostles  and the epistles point back at Him. The Revelation points forward to Him once again.)

And then I go home.

During the week, I pray for my friends and my family. I meet with my church family again on Wednesday evenings, and except for the remembrance at the Table, we worship and do some more midrashing.

Sometimes I poke about in the word because something is distressing my soul. Sometimes I pray about me. Sometimes I pray the rest of Keith Green’s lyrics.

What can be done
for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up
with oil and wine.
The oil is You, your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
in the wine of Your blood.

But I don’t hear the same response that I used to hear … the wording of verses from scripture that were uncomfortably poignant or illuminating or uplifting. Simply silence. Just His silence.

So I thought I’d confess that I’m a bad teacher. That I am struggling with a God who only seems to speak when He feels like it. That our relationship is strained.

Thought I’d try my hand at this blog again and see if I would know in advance how it would come out.

Nope. I didn’t.

And I sure didn’t expect that I’d be this honest.

On Grief

It’s that time of year again when I remember the day my dad passed away in the bitter cold of winter twenty-three years ago, with some measure of warning (he had a cardiopulmonary episode weeks before) but more importantly, with the warm hope of someone who knows Whom he has believed and has lived out that faith to the very last.

When someone you love dearly leaves your life, you mourn. You grieve. You put your life down where theirs ended. And for a while, it feels like yours has, too.

You keep doing what you have been doing, but it cannot really be called “living.” Colors lose a measure of their splendor. Flavors and fragrances seem less sweet. Humor falls flat. Comfort does not connect. People say things, and you hear them, and you know they have meaning but you are at something of a loss to perceive what that meaning might be.

Time trudges.

Then, little by little, you begin to pick up your life where you left it.

Memories begin to comfort and soothe rather than haunt and taunt.

You begin to feel the love that others have for you, and you begin to feel that love for them again, too.

You can smile without forcing it. Then you can smile without poignancy. At some point, you remember how to genuinely laugh.

And you begin to realize that life can go on; that you have survived this death with the help of others who love you; that you could do it again if you had to. You can live again.

And you do.

And you will.

But every once in a while, you will look back in a wistful moment, and remember how good and perhaps how bad it sometimes was with the one you cherish and miss; wonder how good and how bad it could be were they still here with you; and you wish.

And you accept.

And you go on living.


 

Norman William Brenton
September 24, 1926 – February 25, 1993
Brazil, Indiana and Indianapolis

From his three children, read at his funeral:

In the two and a half weeks since Dad’s heart attack, we have often found  ourselves commenting on his fine qualities: his kindness, dry sense of humor, love of children and people in general, his efficiency and thoroughness–meticulous and logical in all areas; his gentle spirit. In fact, the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-24 and the admonition of II Peter 1:5-8 to “add to your faith, virtue, etc.” were reflected in his life. Perhaps most often in our thoughts and conversations, the Beatitudes  of Matthew 5 came to mind, especially verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Certainly our Dad is a son of God.

–Linda

Sometimes when things just don’t seem right and we see no good in them, we need to stop and remember that God works all things together for the good. In our lives we experience what the Bible calls trials and sufferings, but when we are children of God, we are to consider them great joy. My father loved people like no one else I knew, except for God himself. He will continue to live through those of us who knew him and those of us who learned from his faithfulness to God our Father, and from his patience toward everyone. I pray we all will be worthy, as he was, to see Jesus Christ. He suffers no pain and no sorrow. He’s with our Father in heaven and that makes me joyful.

–Christy

My father gave me life, of course; but you may not know that on at least two occasions, he also saved my life.

One time, when I was about two years old, I had gotten hold of some hard candy, and had managed to get a piece of it stuck in my throat. Upon hearing me choke, Dad hauled me up by my feet and slapped my back until the candy was dislodged and I could breathe again.

Another time – when I was eight or nine, and we were on one of our vacation trips together – we parked on a lot overlooking Royal Gorge. The lot was marked off by big wooden posts threaded together by a chain. I hopped right over the chain, heading for a slope where some gorgeous quartz crystals had been dumped like fill dirt. The slope was about 45 degrees, and it ended in about thirty feet with a vertical drop of about a thousand feet to the Arkansas River below. The quartz crystals began to give
way underneath me as I struggled back to the top. Dad started to vault the chain, too; but I yelled back “Don’t! The rocks won’t hold you.”

So, holding the chain in one hand, he stretched himself as far as he could and reached out to me with the other hand. I had to take the next couple of steps myself, but then I felt his hand grasp mine and he pulled me to safety.

Maybe Dad didn’t do anything that any father wouldn’t have done. But he taught me a powerful lesson through those two episodes. He taught me that God saves people in two ways.

One way is when you feel like you’ve been picked up and turned upside down and life is hitting you from behind. That’s God telling you there’s something stuck in your craw called sin and you’ve got to turn loose of it or it will kill you.

The other way God saves us is when he vaults the chain in the person of His Son and, holding firmly on with His hand of Justice, He stretches Himself as far as He can and reaches out to us with His hand of Compassion. We have to take the first few steps on our own; then we feel His hand grasp ours and pull us to safety.

— Keith

Moving On and Moving

I’ve had a chance to notify many friends, most family and some colleagues that daughter Laura and I are beginning to make our plans to move back to Little Rock.

This week I hope to contact a repair person to take care of some home inspection obstacles, and soon after I hope to contact our realtor to put the house here in Webster, North Carolina on the market.

Laura is no longer engaged, and has been on board for this move. She’s very interested in attending a small college in Little Rock, and I could not be happier about that. I would like to be able to say she’s the reason for the move, but I know it’s just as much for me as it is for her.

We need to be a lot closer to her brother Matt and her Gran, Harriette — a lot closer than 650 miles. We need to be closer to friends we left behind more than 3-1/2 years ago now.

And I need to be around the place where I still had Angi in my life, rather than the places where I lost her. In that place — when I visit, even her grave — I have fond memories for which I’ll always be grateful. In these places here, I just see and hear the might-have-beens and the gone-too-soons.

Maybe that’s silly, but it’s the way I see things — and I think I have seen it that way for a long time without even realizing it.

This is a change of plans for me. I thought I’d be working here at WCU for another 3-5 years and then retiring to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. But that plan is on hold for now.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing professionally when I return to Little Rock, but when I approached my supervisor and his boss about working as a long-distance remote employee, doing news web work as I did for the Abilene Reporter-News 15 years ago, they seemed to be considering it as a possibility. (At least they didn’t reject it out-of-hand!) Still, it’s a bit of a leap of faith.

Speaking of faith ….

It was painfully difficult to tell my church family at Sylva Church of Christ that I would be moving on. I have taught there for more than two years now in lieu of a full-time minister. But they are family. And, God love them all the more for it, they understand.

The process will doubtless take weeks to months. I’ll need to sell here before I can buy there.

So I earnestly covet your good wishes and prayers in the interim — that everything will go smoothly, and that doors will be opened and closed as they should be.

I just really think I need to be moving so that I can be moving on.

Thanks, and love to you all.

On Her Own Terms

This will be a very, very long post.

On June 30 of last year, I found a secret diary that my late wife Angi kept 13-1/2 years ago (2002) when she was seeking diagnosis and treatment for a difficult, painful and widespread skin condition. She feared it was cancer. Though I knew of her condition, I never knew of her fear.

The diary revealed that one doctor’s diagnosis was that the condition might be melanoma, and of a rare type that often proves fatal. Another doctor disagreed. I didn’t know this, either.

Angela BrentonShe took light treatments for many years, and the condition improved but never really resolved. We would pray about it together, but she didn’t share the contradictory diagnoses.

All this while our children were 9 and 6 years old, and her career was really taking off.

In the diary, she poured out her heart: her fears, concerns, love for friends and family.

This is what she wrote:

7/15/02

Today marks the fifth week of living with the possibility I may have a rare form of skin cancer — cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. On June 13 I went to my dermatologist, giving one last shot that someone could give me a cream or lotion that could rid me of the unsightly red blotches that had increasingly appeared on my legs over the past 4 years. I thought my worst problem was appearing in public in shorts or a swimsuit. I came away wondering if I will live to raise my children, Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6.

My doctor and I decided that we would wait for the biopsies until I returned from the vacation that started three days after my appointment. He told me not to alarm myself by reading all the stuff on the internet. It’s sobering when you consider yourself a youngish healthy 49-year old to have a disease with a limited life expectancy. If they catch it early, the prognosis is good — 32 years. But stage 2 drops to 12 years — barely enough to see Laura through high school. And if you’re at stage 3 or 4 the numbers drop to 2 or 3 years — scary stuff. It’s amazing how the new knowledge plays with your mind. Only yesterday I felt young and invincible. Now with this new knowledge, I touch a lymph node in my neck. Swelling in lymph nodes is a sign of stage 2 or 3. Is it slightly enlarged? Is that recurring abdominal pain a sign of something? Are there lymph nodes in the abdomen?

Yet with all the uncertainty for five weeks now, I’m amazed how God has responded to my prayers by bringing me a tremendous peace. I don’t know what lies ahead for me, but I’m confident that God will be beside me, and that he will resolve the situation for the best. He can heal me if he chooses to, no matter what stage the disease. There may be some reason I can’t understand now — perhaps knowing they have a shorter time with me will give my children more openness to my influence, or maybe it was never God’s plan for me to take them all the way to adulthood. Maybe that is someone else’s role.

What I fear the most is not the pain of chemotherapy, radiation or bone marrow transplants — all possibilities if the condition is advanced. I fear leaving my family. I love them so much. They are the best part of my life. I fear for Laura. She’s already lost her birthmother through adoption and at some subconscious level that affects her so deeply. Can she recover if she loses another mother? Her little emotional identity is so fragile now. She follows me like my shadow. I am her security, however flawed I am at times. She’s my heart. How can I leave her?

Then there’s Matthew. I’m so proud of the person he’s growing to be. I never thought I could love anyone the way I love him — have from the first moment I saw him when he was 4 weeks old. He is everything I’ve ever wanted.

And Keith — my soul mate & love. We took too long to find one another but have had such a joyous 12 years together. Keith is so strong & so good. I know he would do better than most as a single parent. But he would feel incomplete without me as I would without him. Could he make it without my income? I’ve checked on taking out  additional life insurance, but if I get a negative diagnosis it may be too late.

All these imaginations haunt me during the darker hours. Most of the time, however, I’m just leaning on God’s strong arms. He’s prepared me to trust him through so many times in my life when I was helpless — from my divorce to infertility to adoption. God has led me to the point where I know I can just put my life in his hands & lay all my burdens at the cross. After all, Jesus knew the agony of anticipation & uncertainty, praying at Gethsemane for the cup to pass, yet submitting himself to God’s will. I’m trying to do the same.

There have been so many life lessons I’ve drawn over the past weeks of waiting. One is that going in one day from feeling healthy to a painful realization that health may only be an illusion is so much the same reaction as truly confronting our own sinful nature as we stand before the cross. One day we can feel complacent as good-self-sufficient people but confronted with the image of the cross we must acknowledge the disease of our sin and our utter dependence on God.

I thin I’ll fast & pray tomorrow. It’s about time to get the biopsy results back. I need the special peace & reliance on God that I feel when fasting to receive the news — whatever it turns out to be.

Funny, I’m having knee surgery day after tomorrow. I would have been dreading the pain & effort of recovery. It seems like a minor interruption now.

__________

7/20/02

Well, it’s several days later and I’m still waiting. I had knee surgery Wednesday and the Lord has blessed me with a good recovery. Still no word from the biopsy. I called last Tuesday, but the advanced tests required for t-cell lymphoma just take longer. There was a time when I would have gone nuts waiting six weeks for such news. I know the peach I’ve experienced has to come from God. Only this morning when preparing to teach 1st grade class, I was led to Matt 6 and the passage on worry. It was a comforting reminder. I cannot control if I have lymphoma or what stage it may be. I can only wait, pray & trust.

I had another startling discovery this week when I found a small lump on my left shin. Could it be a tumor connected with lymphoma? There are so many questions & so few answers right now.

While I wait for the results from my biopsy my doctor has prescribed UVA light therapy. I stand in a big metal light box 3 times a week. It is a recommended treatment for an inflammatory skin condition whether I have lymphoma or not. The first few treatments burned me badly — funny how you have to get worse to get better at times. My skin looked so much worse after the first few treatments it was hard not to become discouraged. Reminds me of our spiritual walk & how we must often be forced to confront how bad our sin is before we seek the healing power of Christ’s blood.

It’s frustrating to me now that my dermatologist in Abilene recommended light treatments 3 years ago. He didn’t say anything about the potential seriousness of the condition & wanted me to come in every day. It didn’t seem as important as the work I’d have to miss. How I wish I had followed through then.

After 3 weeks, I can see the light treatments are helping. I just hope they can help enough.

There’s so much I’m unsure of now. But the important things I know. Christ has won the final battle over death & Satan. God is strong enough to give me & my family the courage to face whatever is ahead. He will never leave me. He can use this challenge for his glory. That is enough.

___________

7-28-02

The results of the biopsy finally came last Thursday. I was sitting in interviews in Benton on the Saline County water study. It was Dr. B——– and the results were positive for CTCL — cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. I had wondered how I would react if the news was bad. I just felt mainly relief to finally have an answer, to finally have a some direction, something to do. I dread what lies ahead, but it feels good to be out of limbo. Dr. B——– suggested I might contact drs. in Houston at M.D. Anderson or drs. at Yale in Connecticut. This is such a rare condition that it’s hard to find drs. with expertise. We decided that I would first see the head of dermatology at UAMS, the local academic medical center & go from there. I was fortunate to get an appt. w/ Dr. T– H— on Monday. We’ll have discussions on follow-up & treatments after that.

God continues to be faithful. I feel hopeful & strong. I am so grateful that somehow I had the urge to see another dermatologist. It was also really providential that I ended up seeing the doctor I did. I was scheduled to see another dr. that specialized in skin allergies, but he wasn’t on my insurance list. I almost didn’t see Dr. B——– — more insurance issues, but he decided to make an exception for me. Going to someone who made me aware of the CTCL possibility may have saved my life.

It is a sobering time, and I know there are hard times ahead. I still feel fortunate. One young man at church is battling terminal cancer. My best friend C—- lost a baby to a chromosomal abnormality. I’m sure either would have chosen to be in my shoes instead. My friend C—- is a physician & has been so encouraging to me. Of course Keith is a rock — so loving, so dependable & so unflappable. I am blessed to have him by my side. God is good.

______________

7/30

Yesterday I met with the head of dermatology at UAMS, the state medical school complex to get a second opinion. It was frustrating that none of my medical records or the slides of my biopsies had been sent to him. In many ways he was in the dark, yet on a brief physical exam and my account of the biopsy results, he indicates a real doubt about the diagnosis of CTCL. He is also cautiously critical of my doctor’s decision to do UVA therapy. It means that we can do no further diagnosis because my skin has been treated. He is going to get the biopsy slides, do an independent analysis & let me know what he thinks late next week. My emotions are on a roller coaster again. On one hand, it would be a great relief to learn I do not have a potentially fatal disease. On the other hand, I would be back to uncertainty about my condition. The doctor was encouraging in his assessment that if I have CTCL, it would be extremely early & no aggressive treatment would be indicated. Overall I came away impressed by the knowledge & currency of information of this doctor.

I will make a shift to using him as my dermatologist or “the quarterback directing the game plan,” as he phrased it.

I got really annoyed today reading a column in the newspaper. One of the columnists is getting married this fall & was agonizing ad nauseam because the post office had discontinued the love stamp, leaving her without an appropriate choice to send her wedding invitations. I had the strongest urge to write her & say, “I’ve been wondering for most of the summer whether I’ll live to raise my children. You need to stop wasting time & energy on things so utterly unimportant. Focus on the joy of your wedding and on building your relationship with your future husband.”

I wonder how often God wants to send the same message to me about my anxieties & how I’ve ordered my priorities. If nothing else, I hope this experience produces in me a permanent shift in valuing what matters & treasuring each moment with those I love.

I wonder about how I’ll look back at this summer. Will I be thinking, “That was the summer I thought I was dying” or will I look back at it as the turning point when my perception of myself turned from strength & invincibility to frailty?

I had a moment in Indiana this summer that was so poignant. Keith, the kids and I had gone to Nashville, IN with Keith’s sister and brother-in-law. They decided to ride a “train” that gave a brief tour of the tourist town. I opted out both because I wanted to avoid the sun & I could spend a few moments in artist shops without kids. I stood waving on the sidewalk as the train started off with Keith & the kids accompanied by Aunt Linda and Uncle Dick. A part of me wondered whether I were seeing the future — Keith alone with the kids, supported by his sweet family. It was all I could do to hold back the tears.

Maybe the book hasn’t closed yet. I’m continuing to hope & to trust God.
_____________

8/5

I stayed with Mom most of last week as she had a procedure to remove basal cell carcinoma from her nose. It was of special concern because she had the same procedure three years ago in Dallas. If this was a recurrence of her previous cancer this was very bad news. Mom told me about her diagnosis just as we were returning from vacation. At the time it felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just didn’t know how much more stress & uncertainty I could stand. In a way hearing about her condition was worse than worrying about my own health. Mom is 84, and i know I won’t have her too many more years. But I love her so much & she has been such a source of strength & inspiration to me, it’s hard to think about. We’ve both really been dreading her surgery for the past month.

Again, God was so good. He gave us both the strength to get through it & the results were good. There were only a few cancer cells — in a spot different from her previous surgery. Because it was such a small spot, the plastic surgeons was able to do a skin graft rather than the more extensive reconstructive surgery we were told to expect. She came through the surgery great & has suffered little pain as she recovers.

It’s amazing how my spirit has lightened this week. I feel like I’m emerging from a long, dark tunnel. There has been so much to dread & fear. As I’m passing each marker, God has shown mercy & has provided strength & courage to meet each challenge. Each challenge has confirmed that as I trust my Father, I have nothing to fear. God will not remove all challenges, but he will give me strength sufficient for each day.

The diary ends there.

To address the obvious question: I do not know if she sought, or received, a final diagnosis on the skin condition from Anderson or Yale or anywhere else. All I know is what you’ve read. I doubt that she did; I certainly wasn’t aware of any travel.

If I were her, I’m not sure I would have asked for one. Without knowing how limited your future is, you are free to live your life as you wish. You don’t have to tell your spouse because you don’t know. You don’t have to face the temptation to lie. You don’t have to endure the looks of pity and the awkward silences from others. You can live, knowing that — just like everyone else — someday you will die, because only God can cheat death, and He only does so on the rarest of occasions. The cost of not knowing is that you live the life of Schroedinger’s cat. You’re alive but you aren’t. But at least in not knowing, you can have a kind of peace.

That’s just the way I feel. I think that’s the way she felt. And I think I know her heart.

Angi continued to take UVA light treatments for many more years. Sometimes the skin condition would flare up a little; most of the time it seemed no more than a slight discoloration.

And so she lived — really lived — for another ten years, until a few months after moving to North Carolina to serve as provost for Western Carolina University, when another kind of cancer reared up within her cells, stage IV pancreatic cancer, which usually snuffs out life using a very short fuse. I suppose it’s possible that the second cancer could have metastasized from the first, but that process usually moves faster than 10 years as I understand it. I’m no doctor.

She passed from this life on May 8, 2013 — our daughter Laura’s 17th birthday.

Today would have been Angi’s birthday. But she still had a few things to share with us and tell us, a gift left behind for us.

This brief diary is something that our children and I can cherish so that we can know how much she loved us.

It also has answered a big big question I’ve had these two-plus years since Angi passed away: How did she face the threat of stage IV pancreatic cancer with such utter calm, grace, and resolve? How did she keep working, decide on the degree of treatment aggression, manage to have so many things prepared ahead of time in case she passed away?

Because she had already faced death and decided on the terms of engagement a decade before.

She left us this final gift, discovered among the work papers and documents that I waited a couple of years longer to examine and sort: her thoughts, her feelings, her decisions about how to face the worst and be stronger in faith even when physical, intellectual and emotional strength can fail.

I am still learning so much from her.

____________

Read Angi’sDiary in her own handwriting.