- Posted on Sep 5, 2017
Should I open it? Should I wait? Should I…?
I sat in my Nissan in the hospital parking lot, holding the envelope with my MRI results, frozen with indecision. My appointment with the neurologist wasn’t until the following afternoon. Should I wait for him to open the envelope? Then again, I’d been a nurse for more than 40 years. I didn’t exactly need a doctor to understand what the radiologist had found. And whether or not my worst fears had come true.
Since I was 15, I’d suffered from neurofibromatosis, a neurological condition that causes painful, but usually benign, tumors to grow on nerve endings. I’d had 34 surgeries in 50 years to remove tumors, everywhere from my face to my feet. The disease had been a life sentence of pain. Though things had been relatively quiet for the past few years. I’d retired from nursing and was loving life. I still lived with the tumors, some of which were inoperable, but at least I hadn’t had any inside my mouth, one of the most sensitive and painful spots.
"Thank You all. Every book, magazine, and letter means a lot to us when we are away from home. It gives us hope, confidence, happiness, strength and pride that someone is there for us." - Former Navy Sailor, Part of Operation Gratitude
Until three months earlier. That’s when the throbbing in my mouth and jaw started. I ignored it as long as I could. Then my speech became slurred. I could barely chew. I lost several teeth. My neurologist suspected there were tumors in the lining of my mouth that had spread from a growth on the side of my face. Hence the MRI.
I couldn’t bear it if his diagnosis was borne out by the test. But not knowing was killing me. I stared at the envelope, conjured up a positive attitude and said a little prayer. Then I tore it open.
The words on the page blurred. My eyes stung. It was the worst possible diagnosis I could get. There was a large mass in my tongue and another on the lining of my cheek. Memories of all the patients I’d cared for who’d had mouth tumors came flooding back. They’d ended up horribly disfigured and in pain. Unable to talk, unable to eat. Is that what God had in mind for me? Hadn’t I been put through enough in my life? The MRI in my hand made a mockery of my faith. The tumors were back, striking right where they’d do the most damage. God, do you even love me?
There was no answer. When I needed God most, he was silent. All I could do was drive home. The longest drive of my life. Things only got worse when I saw my neurologist. “Roberta, these tumors are unpredictable,” he said. “Let’s do some more tests and then talk about surgery and possibly radiation.”
After that news, my sister Rebekkah came over to my house to stay with me. “You’re going to need some cheering up,” she said. But nothing could cheer me up. If God had given up, why shouldn’t I?
“Do you know what you need, Roberta?” she said to me one evening, as I sat morosely at my computer. “A new sampler. Why don’t you look for one on eBay?”
A sampler? That was going to solve everything? I collected antique samplers—passionately—whose inspirational mottoes had been embroidered onto canvas or paper. Ones that had been hung over doorways during the Victorian era. I had a decent collection hanging in the hallway of my century-old log cabin. Ordinarily I loved the quotes on the samplers. A favorite read, “Simply to thy cross I cling.” Now whenever I saw it, I wanted to smash it through the wall. I’d been clinging to the cross all my life, but right now Jesus seemed so very far away.
But I did need something to distract me from researching the side effects of radiation. I pulled up eBay and scrolled through photos of 150-year-old paper samplers. Most were discolored and torn and had about as much charm as a print hanging in a wayside motel.
One, however, caught my eye. It was framed and featured a little brown house that for all the world could have been my own log cabin. God Bless Our Home, it said. On impulse, I posted the mandatory opening bid of $24.50, then forgot all about it.
A few days later, I got an email from eBay. I’d won the auction with my paltry offering! How was that possible? The sampler, with its walnut hand-carved frame and original antique bubbled glass, could easily be worth $200. I guess nothing made much sense anymore. I sent in the money for the sampler and once again put it out of my mind.
The package arrived a week later. I had to admit the sampler was pretty. The old frame was ornate, though its backing was very brittle and the glass needed to be cleaned. I didn’t want to damage the fragile sampler inside. So I drove to Milton, a town nearby, and dropped off the sampler with my friend Marty at her framing store. The next morning, Marty called me, excited. “Roberta, I need you to come to the store as soon as you can,” she said. “I have to show you something you absolutely won’t believe.”
I drove there, curious. Thankful for yet another distraction. “Look what I found under that old backing,” Marty said. She turned it over and I gasped. There was another sampler behind the backing of the frame! This one was stretched and mounted over a thin, well-sanded piece of walnut wood. It was in mint condition—it must’ve been hidden there for more than a century. But that wasn’t what caused me to nearly topple over. The sampler had a message embroidered on it. Three simple words.
Jesus loves me.
I drove home and hung both samplers in my hallway. Every time I saw that hidden sampler, I felt better. The pain in my mouth and tongue diminished, as if eased by the words. They held a power over me.
At my next appointment, the neurologist carefully felt around my mouth and jaw. “Roberta, this is remarkable,” he said, incredulous. “I don’t feel the tumors.”
He ordered another MRI. When the results came in, I tore open the envelope for a second time. The words blurred. My eyes stung. But this time, it was for a very different reason.
The tumors were gone.
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