“One of my happy opportunities for discovering the goodness that is treasured up for us all lies in watching quietly, as the days and nights slip past, how in every moment of inmost need something, perhaps quite a little thing, occurs for my comfort.”
– Amy Carmichael, Rose From Brier
Now that Priscilla could barely use her right hand any more, we took the extra leaves out of our dining room table to make it a small circular shape. She reclined in her wheelchair parallel to one of the places, and I sat just off her right shoulder at the next place around the table. For a while she could still grasp a fork or a spoon, and this seating arrangement allowed me to help guide these up to her mouth, so she could do “as much as possible for as long as possible” to feed herself.
But the day came when she realized that she could no longer even hold onto a spoon or fork, and that I would simply have to feed her. She sat sadly and silently at the table, trying to process this reality. She was moving yet farther into helplessness and dependence. I could tell that it was a dignity issue for her.
But at that very moment, a pair of cardinals flew onto our back deck. As we watched through the glass doors, the male perched on the bird feeder, while the female stayed a short distance away on the deck rail. The male gathered seeds in his beak, hopped over to the female, and put them in her beak. “Well,” Priscilla said, “if Mrs. Cardinal can let her husband feed her, I can let my husband feed me.” The scene had enabled her to break through the barrier and find what Amy Carmichael calls “peace in acceptance” of her new situation.
It was a tradition for me to buy Priscilla annuals for her deck flower boxes as a Mother’s Day present. I didn’t do this in 2014 because, frankly, we both though she would die before the flowers did. But when she kept outliving estimates of her life expectancy (people eventually stopped offering these), she finally said, “Let’s just make the best of it,” meaning life with ALS. So for Mother’s Day 2015, I picked up some red, white, and coral geraniums and planted them in the flower boxes where Priscilla could enjoy them each day. The weather was unseasonably warm that fall, and by covering the flowers on the first few frosty nights, we were able to enjoy these well into November.
But that was still outside the window. I thought it would also be nice for Priscilla to have some flowers she could see and smell from up close. She loved her peonies, but as they were planted in the front gardens, she never got to see them any more. So I cut some and put them in a vase so she could enjoy their beautiful shape and color and their rich fragrance, which filled our house.
Unfortunately, this first bunch turned out to be the last one available from our gardens, as an unusually warm and wet June made the peonies bloom and fade much earlier than normal. But when this bouquet was just about past, a friend who knew nothing about any of this called and said she had something she’d like to bring over for Priscilla. It was large and beautiful arrangement of peonies, in various shades, from her own garden! We concluded that God wanted to help us “make the best of it,” too.
One evening in the summer of 2015, as I was looking ahead to the next day, I realized that I needed to make a new batch of muffins for our breakfasts. (Muffins from the store or bakery tended to be too high in fat and sugar, and they were also more sticky and could block Priscilla’s throat.) As by then I was fighting fatigue all the time, I asked myself, “Where will I ever find the strength to make those muffins?” But that same evening I got an email from some good friends in Ontario (the couple whose family had winterized our gardens in one weekend) saying that they’d be traveling right past our house the next morning, and that they’d made a batch of our favorite muffins that they’d like to drop off with us! They were able to visit with us for a few minutes and we had a grand time laughing and joking together—a great time of encouragement. God had sent us exactly what we needed, when we needed it, by the hands of good friends.
Priscilla had to state her name and date of birth, including the year, for identity verification every time health workers gave her medication. Visitors sometimes overheard this, so it became no secret that she was going to turn 60 in the summer of 2015. Our church made her a big birthday card, with everyone’s signatures and good wishes on the inside, and an original watercolor by her artist friend on the front. She also received cards, flowers, fruit, and balloons from many other well-wishers on this occasion.
A few days before her birthday, we had a special visitor. For the first and only time, a male rose-breasted grosbeak came to our bird feeder. This was just after we’d sat down to breakfast, so we could see him clearly right outside the glass door. This gorgeous large bird perched there contentedly for over an hour. Priscilla was transfixed with wonder and admiration, moved nearly to tears by the beauty of the creature.
A day or two before this, somewhat playfully, but also with a bit of curiosity, I’d asked God whether He’d thought about what He wanted to give Priscilla for her 60th birthday. Clearly He had.
“This is what are lives are like these days. There are touches of divine grace all along our path, which is also marked by struggles and tears, exhausting activities, setbacks and inconvenient necessary adjustments. So moment by moment we lean on God, who has promised to hold us in his righteous right hand and help us. Please pray that we would be patient and understanding as we face our respective individual challenges each day. And please pray that the eyes of our hearts would always be open to recognize God’s hand in meeting our every need.”
— From an email to our Dear Praying Friends, June 2015.