What Could Happen if you Risk Loving Someone Who Likes your Shoes

It was early afternoon in the unusually quiet cancer center. I was thumbing through a magazine in the waiting room while Dad was getting his blood drawn before his doctor's appointment. Gray clouds filtered light through glass-paned walls. It was cold out. I was wearing my wool-lined boots with the silver studs and the square heels. The only other person in the room commented on them, “I like your boots.” 

“Thanks,” I smiled acknowledging her compliment. I’m never sure who’s up for chatting in the cancer center. I try to make eye contact with people as I practice one of my core values, to acknowledge others rather than treating them like they are invisible. The temptation is to keep my head down, to avoid seeing pain. After four and half years of going with Dad to his appointments, I’ve had a lot of practice at choosing to live my conviction or to turn away. 

The stranger sitting across the room beat me to the punch that gray afternoon. We chatted about my boots before Daddy, his arm wrapped in tape to hold pressure, came out ready to head upstairs to see the doctor. 

Dad and I settled into recliners in front of a big screen tv to wait. No one else sat in the large waiting room. It is usually full to overflowing. A few minutes later, the woman I’d chatted with signed in at the desk and sat down in an armchair against the wall behind us.

I left my seat to let Dad catch up on the news and continued the conversation with my new acquaintance.

Her name was Karen. When asked about her diagnosis, she confirmed that she was suffering from the same dreadful cancer Dad has. She filled me in on the details of how she had come to sit with us in what is, undeniably, the best place in the world to receive treatment for multiple myeloma. I was concerned so I asked, “Why are you alone?”

Karen had no one who could come with her to her appointments. There were too many and her people had to work. I was concerned because I knew what the protocol would require of her in the weeks and months ahead. We talked about the challenges and we looked for rays of hope. We found them. Karen was looking at alternative treatments and reaching for miracles. The thing I noticed most about my new friend was the way her eyes smiled, how her countenance radiated joy. 

The nurse called Dad’s name. I fumbled in my purse and ripped off the back of an envelope so Karen could write down her number. “I want to check on you,” I said. She scribbled it on the paper and handed it back with a smile.

We texted a few times over the weeks and months after that encounter. Karen received my encouragement and shared her appreciation for my prayers. Sometimes she would update me where she was in her treatment regimen. One day, while Dad was having a full day of tests, I had a lot of time to fill. I texted Karen to see how she was doing. 

“I’m in the hospital on the 7th floor but don’t feel you have to come see me.” 

I wanted to see her so I asked her if she felt like company. She did. Karen had been hospitalized for three months, taking chemo in order to have a stem cell transplant. It had been an uphill battle and she was tired. Despite setbacks, my new friend still had the same radiant countenance she had when we first met. As we talked, she related how her extended stay in the hospital was giving her opportunity after opportunity to minister the love of God to others. I listened amazed at her stories of how God was using her to minister to the people who were caring for her. He was leading and she was following. I was on holy ground. I'd come to encourage her, but it was an upside down encounter—one I hadn’t expected and will never forget.

I heard nothing from Karen for weeks. There were a few times when I texted when she didn’t reply. I tried not to think about why that might be. The transplant would take her to the end of herself. Several months went by and I was sitting in the chair beside Dad eating lunch. I’d gone out to get his favorite tenders from the chicken restaurant down the way. A text came in on my phone, “Dea, are you in Infusion 4, I thought I saw you?”

It was Karen. She had seen me coming and going. I found her sitting alone looking beautiful with her radiant smile, but I could tell she was troubled. She updated me and I encouraged her. I say I encouraged her, but it was one of those conversations where I was praying while I was talking. I needed help and I was getting it. Though she avoided pessimism, I sensed she was losing her battle. I wanted to acknowledge what she was saying, but at the same time enter the Big Story with her, the one with that ends with rejoicing. Only the Lord could take us there. 

I grabbed her hands so we could pray.

I will not lie and say it wasn’t uncomfortable. Our relationship was narrow by any standard. We barely knew each other. We were in an area of the Infusion clinic where other people could hear and see us. Chemo bags dripped into people in every direction. We sought the Lord as if no one else was in the room. I looked into her eyes. Karen was not invisible. She was written on my heart.

Back in February, a text dinged in: “Just saying I love you and praying your Dad is good and you all are having a good day.” It was Karen.

I updated her about Dad and encouraged her again. The Lord was going before her and behind her. She was surrounded by his care. She responded by saying she loved me. I felt the same way.

I texted her a few weeks later as I waited again for Dad while he got a PET scan. She didn’t reply.

Dad had another bone marrow aspiration on the schedule last week. I opened my computer after a long day of sitting and waiting, of walking the halls at the hospital, and looking into the eyes of the hurting. I typed Karen’s name in the search bar and the word obituary. I needed to know. 

My friend is heaven. She has been with the Lord since the first week of April.

Our lives cross paths with so many people who need someone to sit beside them if only for what seems like a moment. We can be those who sit and are blessed if we are willing. 

Lord, make us willing.


I'm finding when we go into the world with the intention to love, we experience love given is often returned. Yes, my friend, I'm grieving but I wouldn't change a thing. Love never ends.


Popular Posts