At the end of September 2013 I was asked to give a presentation on the literary character of the biblical books as part of a “conversation among scholars about the Bible,” sponsored by Biblica and Christianity Today. My eyes widened as I read the names of the other invited participants and their topics. The event would be held in Chicago on January 2–3, 2014. I described the opportunity to Priscilla and she was very excited for me to go. I’d been away for a couple of days once or twice since her symptoms started, and she’d always managed just fine and even enjoyed herself. “It’s my ‘cat’s away’ time,” she told me confidentially when I returned from one trip. So I eagerly accepted the invitation.
Within a month, however, she reached the point where it became difficult for her to get up from a chair without assistance. We’d thought we’d only need someone to be on call to help Priscilla if anything unexpected came up. Now we realized we’d need to find someone to stay with her the whole 48 hours I’d be away, to help her get up and use her walker, or she wouldn’t be able to move around the house at all.
Where would we ever find such a person? One evening we went online to look into home health aides and visiting nurses, but Priscilla shuddered at the thought of different strangers coming in and out on 8-hour shifts the whole time I was gone. “Well,” I said, “who would you want to come and help you, if you could have anyone in the whole wide world?” She named someone immediately.
This was a woman who’d attended our church while doing a doctorate in nursing at Michigan State. She’d become a dear friend during those years. Now she was a professor of nursing at a college within driving distance of us. “Then why don’t you start by asking her?” I suggested. We both expected that she might have too many teaching and research commitments to be able to get away, but it made sense to Priscilla to begin by asking the person she wanted the most. So she wrote her an email that night, explaining our situation and inquiring whether she might come help.
The next morning Priscilla went into her office to check email and immediately cried out, through tears of happiness, “She’s coming!” It turned out that this woman and her husband had been talking on and off throughout October, which was Pastoral Appreciation Month, about the different ways we’d helped them over the years and about what they might do to show their appreciation. The woman had been planning to email us about this and actually apologized that Priscilla had had to write to her first with a request!
Priscilla wrote right back, expressing her joy through a quotation from the Scriptures: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” This was unimaginably good news. She added, “I’ll feel so safe with you” and “I’m really looking forward to our little retreat in early January!”
Priscilla’s symptoms unfortunately worsened over the next two months. At the end of December, less than a week after the power outage, she was heading for bed, using her walker, when her legs started to collapse under her. Only the fact that she was already so close to the bed that she could rush onto it prevented a serious fall. She had hoped to be able to keep using the walker to get around the house, at least until I got back from Chicago. But these hopes had not been fulfilled. If our friend hadn’t been coming, I would have had to cancel the trip, as we couldn’t have counted on every visiting nurse or aide to have the specialized skills needed to help Priscilla with multiple transfers each day between the wheelchair and regular chairs, the bed, and the shower.
But our friend was coming. So on January 2 I got up early to get ready for my flight, and I also helped Priscilla get ready for her upcoming “retreat.” I was at the computer trying to confirm the flight when this friend arrived. I let her in, greeted her, and left her with Priscilla as I went back to the computer. By then the information had come up: The flight was cancelled, due to lake effect snow at O’Hare Airport. I realized that I still had just enough time to drive to Chicago and make it there by the start of the conference. So after a brief flurry of phone calls to explain these new arrangements, I showed our friend how I’d been helping Priscilla do transfers using the belt (she said she would “certify” us on the “skill”) and I drove off into lightly falling snow.
The story of the conference could easily fill an entire post of its own, beginning with how everybody got there. Hundreds of flights in and out of O’Hare were cancelled that day, but all the participants made it in the end. One speaker was the last stand-by passenger on the last flight to Chicago from the city where he lived. The presentations and conversations were amazing.
Heavy snow and severe cold were forecast for our region for the afternoon of the day after the conference, so that morning I got up at 5:30, even though things had lasted well into the evening the night before, and I drove right home so that our friend could get back to her city before the snow hit. That afternoon and overnight 15 inches of snow fell and the temperature dropped to -30º.
I’d made it to the conference and back, and Priscilla had had a wonderful, blessed time with our friend, but now we had a new problem. How would we ever clear so much snow from our driveway, in such temperatures? But God had us covered once again. The son of one of our neighbors had an excavating business. He brought over his “bobcat” and once he’d helped his parents, he removed all the snow for us as well. While he hadn’t spoken to us about it, he’d noticed Priscilla’s condition worsening, and he kindly wanted to help in this way.
We’d received many mercies in connection with the conference, and I was so grateful that I’d been able to participate. But it was clear that this would have to be my last time away “for the duration.” So in the months ahead I turned down several other possibilities I was contacted about that I would otherwise gladly have pursued, including more one-time ministry opportunities and several job openings. I tried not to let Priscilla find out about these because I didn’t want the thought even to enter into her head that I might wish things were otherwise. As I would tell her repeatedly over the next two years, in taking care of her at home, I was where I wanted to be, and I was doing what I wanted to do. More than anything else in the whole wide world.