What stories could possibly make cancer worth it?
Stories that represent a miracle—a lifetime of miracles. Stories that changed the writer as she wrote them and stories that will touch the heart of the reader, one by one by one. Stories that are not just stories.
They started out as words of encouragement to a dying woman. They turned into a collection of sparkling and intimate moments, pulled from the past to finally be understood and shared with new meaning.
Story by story, letter by letter, Margaret Terry uncovered powerful pictures in her own life of the one truth that could help carry her friend Deb from this life to the next: God is at work.
Together, Deb and Margaret found renewed hope in all the ways God shows up right to the very end. Which is where they found the miracle they'd been praying for all along. In each other.
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
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dear debA WOMAN WITH CANCER, A FRIEND WITH SECRETS, AND THE LETTERS THAT BECAME THEIR MIRACLE
By MARGARET TERRY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Margaret Terry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReal Family
"Is your dad a real dad, Mom?" Patrick stood beside me in front of the sink in the thimble-sized bathroom. He leaned over the counter and pressed his nose against the mirror.
"Yes, he's a real dad." I smiled at him in the mirror, batting my eyelashes to check if my mascara had set. I had applied waterproof just in case tears ambushed me when I saw him. "He's my dad, honey." My sons knew my sisters and my mom, who had visited us in Minnesota over the years, but they had never met my father.
That fall, Dad had decided it was time to meet his grandsons. Michael and Patrick were eleven and eight and didn't know much about him other than his name was Donald, his high school friends called him Ducky, and he lived in Ohio. There had been promises to visit over the years, but we never made it happen. The letters and cards I sent with school pictures and family photos were as close as my dad wanted to be to me. Beyond updating my address book, I didn't do much to nurture a relationship with him either. He was my real dad, but we hadn't had a real relationship since I left home in my early twenties. When I announced his visit, Michael and Patrick acted like Christmas was on its way instead of my dad. They had a grandfather! They loved the mystery of the stranger who fathered me suddenly appearing at our doorstep.
Dad had aged well. He was more handsome than in the seventies, when people mistook him for Sonny Bono. His hair was peppered with white, but thick and lush as a rich carpet. He wore a soft, cream, V-neck sweater with a pink collared shirt underneath and gray flannel pants. No wonder his friends called him Dapper Don.
The boys had been playing Capture the Flag in the yard, waiting for his arrival. By the time they tumbled into the kitchen, Patrick's new khaki pants were covered in grass stains and Michael's pale blue button-down shirt was flecked with prickly pine needles. Their eyes gleamed as they stood in front of us with their eager smiles. I wanted to throw my arms around them and exclaim, "Look, Daddy! Look what I made! Aren't they beautiful?"
But I stopped myself. I wasn't going to let Dad see how much I cared about him being proud of me. After a twenty-year absence in my life, I was surprised I cared at all.
I stood in between Michael and Patrick and draped an arm over each of their shoulders. "Dad, this is Michael, and this is Patrick."
Michael stretched his arm out to shake my father's hand. "Hi, Grandpa. I'm Michael," he chirped. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest like a cartoon rocket.
"Oh my gosh ... oh my ..." Dad shook Michael's hand and stepped back. He cleared his throat, coughed, and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "He looks ... he looks like ... he looks like me ... He could have been my twin ..." Dad held his palm against his heart and sat at the kitchen table. He couldn't stop staring at Michael. "It's uncanny," he said, shaking his head back and forth. "I just can't believe the resemblance."
Michael sat facing him. "You looked like me when you were eleven, Grandpa?"
"I sure did, pal! I'm gonna send you a picture of me in grade school so you can see for yourself." Dad leaned back and placed his hands flat on the table.
Michael imitated him, peering over his own hands to see if their hands looked alike too. I felt a curtain lift as I remembered moments of my childhood. Dad's strong, masculine hands, always immaculate, nails trimmed evenly. Hands that swung me in circles playing airplane, hands that showed me how to catch a ball, hands that clapped the loudest when I bowed at the curtain calls of my high school plays.
I felt a powerful urge to rush over and stand between my son and father at the table. My desire to grab both their hands and hang on made me feel like I was being carried by a current strong enough to launch me over a waterfall. I yearned to know what it would feel like to touch them both at the same time, to be connected and to feel what other families felt, families who celebrated holidays together, families who learned forgiveness and who were unafraid of their pasts.
But I didn't move. A nerve twitched under my eye. I held my finger on the pulse until it stopped.
Patrick joined them at the table. "I'm glad you're here, Grandpa." He pulled on his wrists like he was playing tug of war with his arms.
"Hey, Grandpa?" Michael asked. "I've got a question for you!"
"OK, kiddo," Dad answered. He leaned forward. "Shoot."
"How come you took so long to meet us? I'm eleven now, you know." He picked a pine needle off his sleeve and flicked it on the floor.
"We-e-e-ell, now. I guess that's the million-dollar question, Michael!" Dad heaved a great sigh and leaned back. "It's a very good question, Michael ... very good." He exhaled a whistle with no tune and looked at me for help.
I shrugged my shoulders. What could I say to help him when I didn't know why he wasn't in my life? I had asked him many times to come to Minnesota to meet my sons, but it had been his choice to stay away.
"Grandpa?" Michael tapped Dad's hand with his forefinger. "Why didn't you come here before?"
"The truth is ..." Dad cleared his throat. "The truth is ... I don't have an answer to that, Michael. I really don't know why it has taken me so long to come here and meet you." He hung his head low and stared at his lap.
Patrick and Michael studied him, the father of my childhood who was once a boy who looked like them.
Dad peered up at them, his eyes misted. "But now that I'm here, I'm hoping I can be a part of your family." He grinned a boyish grin. "Starting right now, right here if you'll let me."
Michael stood up and beamed. "You are our family, Grandpa. Jeez ... you're my mom's dad!"
"Yeah," Patrick echoed. "You're our mom's dad! You're family already."
They threw themselves on him and hugged him shamelessly.
They loved him because he was family.
And they loved him because he was there.
* * *
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." —Matthew 6:21
I was ten years old the first time I felt rich. I found a five-dollar bill on a neighbor's lawn on my way to school. The familiar blue [Canadian] note lay flat as wallpaper against the lush, dew-covered grass. April showers had prevented us from exploring our new neighborhood, but with the sun shining its glory that morning, the whole street sang with more shades of green than the Amazon. I stood over that little blue rectangle that glowed brighter than a pot of gold, and Queen Elizabeth stared up at me. I couldn't believe my luck—I was rich.
The bill was so wet I was tempted to wring it out like a sopping facecloth, but I didn't want to risk tearing it. Five dollars was a king's ransom in 1962; I'd never had a whole five dollars to myself. With great care I peeled it off the lawn, folded it in half, and slid it into my pocket where it would be safe. When I reached the end of my block, I panicked. What if it dries folded and I can't unstick it? I whipped it out and tried to dry it. I blew on it until I started feeling faint. Then I dabbed it over my heavy woolen kilt, hoping the wool would blot away the dampness. That didn't work, so I raised my arm high above my head and let it wave like a race car pennant. It flapped and flapped as I ran, but when I reached my school, it still felt damp as an old kitchen sponge that refuses to dry.
Just before I entered my classroom, I had a brilliant idea. I could protect it and dry it at the same time if I tucked it inside the waistband of my skirt. I slid it between my fingers first to iron out any creases before I pressed it flat against my tummy. It felt cool and clammy against my skin. I wondered if this was what rich felt like.
Miss Anderson rattled on about a new concept for a science fair while I fantasized about all the ways I could spend my newfound wealth. I had wanted a Barbie doll FOREVER, but Mom said they were too expensive and with three younger sisters to play with, I didn't need a doll. A real Barbie cost $3.99. Even my sister, who was Barbie's namesake, didn't have a real Barbie doll. She pretended her cheaper imitation was a real Barbie, and we'd let her think she was, even though we all knew the difference. With my five dollars, I had enough money to take the bus downtown to Woolworth's, get my favorite Barbie wearing the striped bathing suit, plus buy a bag of cheese popcorn I could eat all by myself on the bus ride home.
As I dreamed about Barbie and licking cheesy popcorn powder off my fingers, I started feeling all sweaty. I swiped a few salty drops that trickled down the back of my neck and dried my hand on my skirt. I wondered what Mom would do with five extra dollars. Would she buy food? Or would she slip it in the envelope on the top of the fridge, that was for emergencies? I didn't know how much an emergency cost, but one time I dragged a kitchen chair close to the fridge so I could reach high enough to peek inside the envelope, and there was forty-three cents. I hoped this time she would use it for food. We had just moved again because she had to choose between paying the rent and buying food. It always happened when Dad stopped living with us. Mom would cry every time she had to cook us porridge for dinner. I kept telling her I loved porridge and didn't care if we had it for breakfast and supper, but it didn't stop her tears. No matter how often we ate porridge or how many stamps we saved and licked into those little books, there was just never enough for both groceries and for us to stay long in one place when Dad wasn't there.
The five dollars was beginning to feel hot as a heating pad against my skin. I pulled it out of my waistband and slipped it into the middle of my math textbook where it would dry clean and flat like the red maple leaves I loved to collect in the fall. After the bell rang, I grabbed my math book and pencils. I had carried that book home a dozen times, but that day the weight of it slowed me down so much I was late getting home to help Mom with dinner. When I entered our dim hallway, I did what I always did when we first moved to a new house. I looked for my dad's shoes. When I didn't see them, I felt that familiar pinch in my throat that reminded me I had to act happy even though I was sad. I passed the living room, where the theme song for I Love Lucy blasted from the TV. I slipped the five dollars out of my math book, looked at the queen's softened face as she eyed me once more, and I knew what I had to do.
"Mom," I called. "Guess what I found today ..."
* * *
Whether well fed or hungry, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. —Philippians 4:12–13
A Tip of the Hat
Michael was three weeks old when I bundled him up in his fuzzy polar fleece snowsuit and swaddled him with blankets to walk to our local food market. It was early December, our first winter in Detroit, and it was bitter cold. Winter had announced its arrival with forty-eight hours of icy sleet that shot across Michigan like an arctic jet stream. I worried the few blocks to the market might be more than a new baby could handle, but I couldn't handle another day alone in the house.
The switch from a career selling marketing concepts to changing diapers full-time was harder than I had imagined. When I left Canada for my husband's career, it was a choice I made for love, but with his constant travel, it seemed as if the love had been left behind with my relatives and former life. I was isolated in a Detroit suburb without friends or family. Even though I was thrilled to have a beautiful baby, I felt like the working half of something broken. Walking had been my therapy before giving birth; I counted on it to help me again.
I parked the stroller beside a few grocery carts in the entry way and peeled the heavy blankets away from Michael. He was sound asleep, his forehead damp, cheeks flushed from being overbundled. I untied his creamy knit hat with the little lamb ears that poked out the top, and when I looked at his tiny face, I felt a powerful jolt as my heart slammed against my ribs. It had been happening a few times a day. Sometimes when I was nursing him, sometimes when I pictured the innocence of his tiny face before I fell asleep. It would sneak up on me like a Chinook, those warm, dry winds in the Rockies that could melt the frostiest winter day. I knew I loved my baby, but I felt my heart loved him even more.
There was a line at the butcher counter in back of the store, so I grabbed a number to wait. The homey market smelled like ginger cookies and fresh-cut pine. Jars of homemade jams and chutneys lined the top of the counter, each one hand labeled with a flowery script: Blueberries from My Yard Jam, Aunt Elsie's Peach Chutney. Against the side wall, a basket filled with bundles of white pine boughs held a cheery sign: From our tree to your hearth, $8 per bunch. Michael slept in the baby carrier attached to the top of the grocery cart. I lay my hand on his lap while I waited. The butcher called "Number 39!" I looked at my number, 42, and yawned.
"Excuse me, madam. How old is that baby?" A tall, elderly man approached me and tipped his hat, a black fedora. His hair was snowy white, combed with a crisp side part. He held a polished wooden cane and wore a knee-length black dress coat with a pearl-gray silk scarf folded at his neck.
"He's three weeks old. This is his first outing." I smiled and slipped off Michael's hat so the kind man could appreciate my son's wispy curls.
"Well, how about that!" he said. "Three whole weeks ... twenty-one days of breathing, twenty-one days of his little self in this great big world." The man's lips quivered with a smile that lit up his rosy complexion. "I am ninety-two years old, and your boy is the most beautiful thing I have seen today."
His eyes were clear but a muddy gray color, and I wondered if they had twinkled blue at one time.
"Can I touch his face?" He leaned his cane against my cart. "Would you mind?" I watched him struggle to remove his leather gloves and agreed, but kept my hand resting on Michael's lap. He reached toward Michael's face and paused with his arm midair like an artist considering where to place his next brush stroke. Then ever so slowly, he caressed Michael's cheek with a crooked finger. "Perfect." He sighed. Tears streamed from his gray eyes and trailed past his hollow cheeks to dot his silk scarf. "Look at how perfect God made him!" He faced me and, with the same crooked finger, pointed at my chest. "And to think ... he made him just for you." He tipped his hat once again before he bowed and thanked me for the introduction to my son. My heart did it again ... Jolt.
* * *
And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. —Mark 10:16
Asking for Change
I knew he was going to ask me for money before I reached the door of the coffee shop, and I was ready. I had rehearsed for this very moment. No, I'm sorry. I don't have any change, but I can buy you breakfast. What do you take in your coffee? I smiled and looked into his face. His lips were cracked and peeling, his matted hair like boiled wool. The deep furrows under his eyes were blackened with grime, but when he squinted to look up at me I noticed eyes bluer than the Mediterranean Sea. At 6:30 in the morning, the air was sticky from another humid night, and I wondered how this homeless man managed summer on the streets with record high temperatures. I complained every time I left the cool of my air-conditioned home to walk twenty feet to my air-conditioned car.
"Thank you so much, ma'am. I appreciate the offer, but I'm not allowed to eat fast food." He smiled with pointy copper teeth stained dark as the tips of his fingers. "You see, ma'am, there are rules for people like me."
He was so articulate, those blue eyes so clear, I believed him, and I started to get all indignant, wanting to champion this poor guy until he said, "They won't let me eat Tim Horton's or McDonald's, just like they won't let me wear socks in summer." He pointed to his muddied swollen feet stuffed into toeless canvas sneakers. "And they won't allow me to wear gloves in winter, either." He laid his hands on his lap and looked back and forth from hand to hand, examining them with the intensity of a palm reader. I wanted to ask him who "they" were but realized the conversation was over when he didn't look up from his hands. He kept flipping them over and over. Palms up, palms down, palms up, palms down. He stared as though seeing them for the first time.
"Gee, I didn't know they wouldn't let you eat fast food," I said. "I'm so sorry." I felt embarrassed standing there watching while he did the hand-flip thing. I decided to forget my own coffee and hurried back to my car. I didn't give him money or breakfast.
What was wrong with him? I thought. Why wouldn't he take a coffee and bagel when I offered? I comforted myself with the fact that at least I'd tried to buy him breakfast. It wasn't my fault the guy was too weird to take it.
Excerpted from dear deb by MARGARET TERRY Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Terry. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Few Things About Margaret....................222