This Side of Heaven

Ever feel like a cosmic force has sucked you into space, spun you around, and then slammed you back hard against the earth? And then afterwards, if that wasn’t bad enough, it happens all over again!

This was the beginning of one of those moments. If you’ve ever been stretched to your limit, and then some, you’ll understand what I’m about to say.

It started simply enough: My husband, Alan, and I were snuggled up on pillows, reading in bed when I heard a voice. It said, “Be patient with your Aunt LoRayne.”

I lowered my book and looked at Alan. “Why did you say that?”

He peered over his magazine. “Say what?”

“You said I should be patient with LoRayne.”

“No I didn’t.”

Uh oh. The Voice was as clear as an announcement, and even though I’d never heard God speak, I knew it was Him. That, or I was developing multiple personalities.

Had I been raised in a different family, (see Something about Karyn) I probably would’ve ignored it. Must be my imagination working overtime I would surely have thought. And for good reason. For months, we had been making exhaustive, weekly trips to Atlanta for my mother, Naomi Cantees’, care, but this time was different. We were nearing the end.

You see, my 55 year old mother was dying of cancer. Intensifying the situation, my Aunt LoRayne believed she would be healed, regardless of the diagnosis. Having a cancer patient in the family or being a cancer patient, many of you know, is a roller coaster ride from hell. One day things seem okay, yet the next, Last Rites can be in order. One Charleston doctor had advised us, “Don’t drag your mother all over the country looking for a cure.”

But we had, finding a renowned physician at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta who had performed the difficult surgery for colon cancer the first doctor had advised against.

Then the Voice had said to be patient. And I knew why.

LoRayne’s positive slant on even the worst prognosis was making me fruit-loopy, even though she was steadfast to help. Still, that constant diet of highs and lows, of becoming excited about something positive she’d relay only to learn that reality was nearly the opposite, made me weary, and leery of anything she said.

However, after three long years we all knew the end was near. Well, eveyone except LoRayne.

She and I were taking 12 hour shifts staying with Mother at Emory Hospital, and I was due to relieve her. I phoned to see how things were going before I left, as we sometimes did.

LoRayne was upbeat. “There are complications,” she said, “but Naomi’s condition appears to be reversing!” What! This was Mother’s last chance, and I wanted desperately to believe. LoRayne’s words offered the only lifeline we had left and so I clung to the lilt in her voice and the magnificence of her words, though her past assertions had thumped me. Hanging up, I unleashed a bucket of tears, thinking: Could we possibly be planning a celebration instead of a funeral?

Almighty God, it seemed, had answered our prayers.

LoRayne drove from the hospital that day and I decided to walk. It was an early summer morning and the news had invigorated me.

When I arrived in the room, I smiled and threw my arms around Mother.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “I’m excited about your news,” I said.

Mother looked away. “What did LoRayne tell you?”

When I told her, Mother started to cry. “I’m so sorry, darling, but that’s not exactly what the doctor said.” She explained that an annoying itch she had complained about was the complication LoRayne mentioned. It had been diagnosed as skin cancer. Another cancer. Though it was likely treatable, the original sarcoma was still killing her.

I sat through my shift rather civilly, considering the lump in my throat was jump kicking between my feet and my head. I was restless and angry, but I hid it from Mother.

The acting ceased when I retired my shift early. I found LoRayne in her hotel room. Something outside of me took over. I screamed, “How could you do this? Skin cancer can’t possibly be a sign that everything is okay?” Over and over. I had been thumped from the foot of the grave to the heavens one time too many.

And then I heard, not the audible Voice as before, but an expression in my heart that was just as clear. “This is what I was talking about. Be patient with your Aunt LoRayne.” I stopped mid sentence.

LoRayne began to cry. She was older than my mother, and had been a sort of surrogate mother to her sister since the two of them were young. She was wearier than me and just as distraught. That night she cried a long while. Together, we decided that she should fly home. My brother Ric took her place.

A couple of months later, Mother died.

My Aunt LoRayne believed that If you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, miracles will happen, just like the Bible says. She had enough faith for all of us. And maybe if we all could have believed the way she did, my Mother would have been healed. I’ve heard it said that an uncommon problem requires uncommon faith. I think there’s much truth to that. God certainly heals people miraculously and I know He answers prayers. He heard my aunt’s prayer. And while He appreciated her hopeful heart, He knew there would be no miracle for my Mother this side of heaven.

The miracle was for me—the gift of His soft yet urgent Voice. He warned me, not just to save LoRayne from my tongue lashing, but as a powerful reminder that He was mightily present.

In life and in death.

In the middle of the pain, the suffering, and the tears.

Photos:  Above: On our way to Atlanta in our Cesna. One of numerous weekly trips. With my mother Naomi Cantees and my husband, Alan.

Pic left: Mother, center, with her sisters, Ilda, left, and LoRayne, right. Circa 1944 in Belfry, Ky.

Pic. right: Mother next to my brother, Rick, at Alan’s and my wedding in Charleston, WV.

IMAG0040Ilda Nyberg, Naomi Cantees, LoRayne Dinguess for blog