April 25, 2011

"If I can do anything..."

You know that 'nice' thing everyone says to someone they know who is dealing with a difficulty in life... those words that have such a caring sound?  "If you need something, let me know"  or maybe, "If there is anything I can do, call me."  We say it easily...sometimes with a heartfelt hug or squeeze of the hand.  But here in the North East... too often we don't really mean it.  Or maybe we DO mean it, but we are fairly certain the person hearing the words from us will not call or ask....even if there is a real need. 
Oh to be sure - there are exceptions.  Our sister or brother might really call and ask us for some help sometime - though in our family that would truly be a shock!  Or maybe a close friend will ask if we can spare a few minutes to do some small thing.  Generally though... the sentiment is expressed without any real anticipation of follow through being required.
Recently I have seen that casual phrase make a real difference when it is put into action.

About 3-4 years ago our relationship with our neighbors across the street began to change.  The older man (Putt to his friends) who had always been friendly and 'over-the-fence' chatty, began to seek us out when he saw us outside.  He would wander over when Steve was raking, or if we were outside in the yard and we would chat a while.  He had a grown son, Mark, who lived with him and a toddler grandson had become a permanent fixture as Mark had gained custody of his young son from a less-than-ideal situation. 
J & B began to play with the little boy when the weather was nice and after J had taken the baby-sitting class... Mark began to ask us to look after the little boy once in a while.  They were nice guys...all of them. 
As time went on, I would send over a loaf of bread or some cookies once in a while.  We would stop and say hello if we were out walking and saw one of them in the yard.
Mark began to chat with us if he saw us out walking the dog.  He had a moving company and gave us a cat condo from a client who couldn't take it to his new place.  He got a puppy for his son and we sent over a dog crate that Piper had outgrown. 
Putt would bring me cut flowers from his yard during the summer months - he said he liked to see me smile when he'd show up with a handful of peonies.
We were becoming friends and it was nice, really nice.

A bit more than 2 years ago Mark was diagnosed with colon cancer.  He had radical surgery, and they found it had spread to his liver.  Mark was up and around in a few months and seemed determined to beat this awful disease - he began chemotherapy & radiation treatments.   I would bring them dinner now and then and continued to bake for them.
Putt went for scans and they found he too had colon cancer as well as some suspicious spot in his lungs.
We prayed for them.

Our church did a special event to invite people to come to church.  We got brave and invited them to come.  They did, and they came back more than once. 
Mark's radiation and chemo continued but didn't seem to be helping.  Putt's radiation & chemo were taking a dreadful toll on the older man's health, so I cooked & baked more trying to tempt them both to eat and keep up their weight to help battle the effects of the chemo. 
One of Putt's daughters would catch me outside and thank me for looking after her dad & brother and I brushed it off as nothing much really.  Just being neighborly.  And then I prayed that God would make me really useful somehow. 

Mark's health started to decline, the traditional treatments were not making any strides against his cancer.  But for Putt, the chemo & radiation seemed to work and the scans showed no further signs of colon cancer, however the spot remained on his lung scans.  Mark began an experimental cancer treatment and Putt scheduled surgery for the lung spot.
Surgery for Putt was during the winter months.  Recovery seemed long for him.  I would sometimes make soup and bread to take across the street on cold winter evenings.  B would go shovel snow off their walkway in the mornings after a snowstorm.  Mark was growing weaker but he wouldn't admit that to us very often, though sometimes he'd call and ask if his little guy could come over here for the afternoon so the men could rest.  We were always glad to be able to say yes.  It was awesome to know God could use us to help in a small way.  One day we even made home-made pizza with him and it was such fun!
As spring struggled to arrive, we saw Mark out less and less and Putt finally told us he was getting much worse and the doctor had ordered oxygen at the house for him.  I could see the toll it was taking on Putt... and knew he was struggling with the 'why' of his cancer being gone and yet stealing life away from his son at just 40 years old. 
I prayed harder and desperately... asking for a miracle if possible - yet only what God willed to be right and that our family be allowed to shine Christ's love in whatever outcome.
Last week, Putt called me on Monday morning and asked if the little boy could come for a while - he didn't want to be a bother, hated to ask... but could I help?  Mark was in a bad way.  God had cleared our schedule and I was able to welcome the little boy with open arms and a kid-friendly lunch.  J & B played with him all afternoon.  I baked chocolate cake and cooked dinner. 
When we took dinner across later on, we learned that hospice was coming in to help provide care for Mark and they didn't expect him to be with us much longer.  On Thursday morning Putt called me early to tell me that Mark had passed away late in the day on Wednesday.  I felt it hard to breath and don't even know what I said to him on the phone.  When we hung up, I told the kids and we all cried and prayed together ... thanking God for Mark's life, our friendship and asking for comfort and peace for the family. 
In the past few days we've been back and forth a lot.  Me with baked things or hugs or just listening; the kids to play or help with the dog or carry boxes and such.  Today I was able to hem the little one's dress pants so he will be all spiffy for the calling hours & funeral in the next day or so. 
My heart aches.  I want desperately to do something helpful, and keep feeling like it's so little I offer.  Yet it has slowly been made clear that God can use my little.  My loaf of bread offered... He can use... and I am blessed.  My heart swells with being able to hem a pair of pants...because I'm willing, God can use me.  I say YES!
It takes only a few minutes or maybe sometimes a few hours.  Time ...that thing it seems we all lack... aren't PEOPLE more important than my 'to do' list of laundry & chores?  Weren't people what Jesus focused on when he walked here?
How do I live?  Do I walk the talk?  I want desperately to be 'real' in my faith and life.  To live what I believe with no apology and not doing any of it perfectly - but trying daily to follow the path God has laid for my life.  I fail... all. the. time.
And even with that... God still lets me offer a little fish or a loaf of bread... or a piece of chocolate cake and a hug for an old man...and He can use what little I can do to bless someone.
But really... it is me being blessed.  God is so real when I'm allowed to help... because it isn't about me at all.

Rest in peace Mark.  You will be missed.