The message: Part 2

“It could be ovarian cancer,” the doctor said to Glenda. “But we have to go in again to be sure. You’ll need another surgery.”

Glenda had five weeks off from work so her body could heal enough from the first surgery to tolerate the second one. For the first time in her life, she prayed directly to God. And although her new church family had only recently adopted her, they prayed like her life depended on it. Because it did.

During those precarious weeks for Glenda, we took in more kids in crisis through Safe Families for Children: five-month-old twins, another four-year-old boy, a two-year-old girl. Our house thrummed with activity, but Glenda’s place next door was quiet. Too quiet. I didn’t want the silence in her house to speak lies, so I urged her to come over whenever she wanted.

“You can stay too,” I told her. “The sheets on the guest bed are clean.”

We wrapped Glenda into the bustle of our lives, and while I focused on dinners and babies, she helped the girls with math homework and practicing piano.

Glenda’s second surgery came right before Thanksgiving. Concerned about her cat Eliot’s declining health, she asked me to pay special attention to his appetite while she was gone. I noticed he ate a little one day, but then nothing after that. I kept Glenda gently informed, hoping not to worry her.

Lynnea, our Zumba instructor and friend, carried the church family’s love to the hospital with her when she went to visit. And after a five-day hospitalization, Glenda was released to come home.

The Monday following Thanksgiving, I drove Glenda to her second oncology appointment to hear the results of her surgery. While we waited for the doctor, softness descended on the room. And Peace suffocated our worries.

The doctor entered the exam room, his tone light. But his words carried weight.

“You have stromal ovarian cancer. It’s very rare. But we were able to remove all the affected tissue—which is very rare too.”

He interpreted the lab work. Glenda asked a few questions.

“There’s something interesting here that we haven’t seen before,” the doctor said.

I leaned forward, my pen poised over the notebook. I sharpened my hearing, waiting for the bad news—anticipating a complicated future for my next door neighbor.

“We see your body is producing cancer cells,” he said. “But somehow they’re dying off right away. This is what we see in patients who have undergone chemo.”

But Glenda hadn’t had chemo.

“We’ll keep an eye on things. But you should know you’re cancer-free.”

Glenda joked about being a good subject for a medical journal, and the doctor agreed. As just the scribe of the event, I listened. But I knew the truth: I had been let in on a miracle that day—one that burned on the page, igniting my heart along with it.


Still marveling at what I had heard in the doctor’s office, I drove Glenda home from the appointment. Her burden had lightened, but now she worried about Eliot. He still wasn’t eating, and she feared he was dehydrated. She asked me for a ride to the vet. I waited in the car while she disappeared into her house, returning minutes later with the cat in his carrier. I sat in the second waiting room of the day. It didn’t take long for Eliot to get an IV.

The next day, I called to check on Glenda.

“Can you drive us back to the vet?” she said, her voice ragged. “Today’s the day.”

This time at the vet’s office, I stayed in the vehicle. The car had been my waiting room the day we let Dexter go too, and just like two years earlier, I watched the minutes tick by on the dashboard’s clock. Glenda returned—after the shortest appointment in the world—with the useless carrier and a teary face.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

We cradled the emptiness in the car for a minute before driving home again.


In early December, I picked up two little girls—a two-year-old and a six-month-old—who would stay with us for a while. During the car ride home, the baby wailed. I periodically glanced in the rearview mirror as I drove and chirped to her, hoping my funny sounds and songs would soothe her.

“Her hungry,” said Tabitha, the two-year-old sister.

“Okay, we’re almost there.”

I hoped Tabitha wouldn’t run off while I tried to get into the house with the crying baby. I phoned Glenda.

“Could you come over for a minute? Help me get these little ones settled?”

When I pulled up to the curb, Glenda was waiting for us. Inside, she entertained Tabitha in my living room while I made quick work of hauling in the girls’ luggage. Then she read her a book, and the little girl eagerly peered at the pictures. I mixed up a bottle and settled into a chair, nestling the baby in my arms while I fed her.

“Your girls will be excited to see these two when they get home from school,” Glenda said.

“I bet Dicka will want to hold this baby 24/7,” I said with a laugh.

The baby calmed in my arms. Tabitha flipped through the pages of the picture book.

Glenda looked at me, her face serious.

“You’ll take in anyone,” she said. “These kids… and me.”

Her words roused me, and the message from almost two years earlier came back. Suddenly, it made sense.

Give the house away.

We still lived in our 1919 stucco. Our names were on the deed, and we still paid the mortgage. But it didn’t belong to us anymore.

And maybe it never had.



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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.