January was a difficult month as the doctors changed chemotherapy drugs to kill all the cancer cells in Stephanie's body. One afternoon Libby found her especially sick. Stephanie's eyes were half open as if in a daze.
"Stephanie, it's me, Libby."
Without focusing Stephanie replied, "They have me on a new chemotherapy. I threw up my breakfast and lunch. Now I can't even drink water. My throat is so dry."
"I'll get you some water. Do you want ice?"
Stephanie shook her head. "No! I feel like I'm going to die."
Libby brought a glass to Stephanie's lips and poured it slowly. Stephanie seemed thirsty for more. Libby poured more and stopped to see if Stephanie could swallow it. The water lingered in Stephanie's mouth. Then she spewed the water across the bed. Her lungs drew deeply for her next breath.
Libby called the nurse over the intercom. "Hurry! Stephanie can't breathe!"
Each breath was labored and deep as Stephanie's lungs fought for air. The nurse rushed in and quickly administered oxygen while paging a doctor. "The patient is having an allergic reaction to the chemotherapy."
The doctor ordered the chemotherapy stopped and new medications to be administered through the IV. Other nurses rushed to the room and injected the medications. Empty medicine bottles littered the floor as doctors and nurses fought to stabilize Stephanie's condition. Still she struggled to breathe.
Libby stood over her. "You can make it, Stephanie! Hang in there!" Libby's face was drenched with tears. Stephanie looked into it intently and passed out.
Libby fell to her knees beside the bed and prayed. God, please don't let Stephanie die. Please….
Stephanie hovered above her own body, looking down, as Libby prayed below. She watched the frantic nurses. She saw herself struggling to breathe. She heard Libby's pleas to God and saw her tears. Then the scene faded to darkness.
Now she saw herself at another time, struggling with doctors and nurses on an abortion table. She saw the horror on her own face and heard her own screams. The heart monitor showed a weakened heartbeat, and then no beat at all. Still with no heartbeat, she put up a struggle until Dr. Bill covered her face with a gas mask. It was the dream that had haunted her some fifteen years ago. Stephanie tried to make sense of it, but the darkness returned.
Medications began to take effect. Stephanie's breathing slowly stabilized, but her oxygen-starved brain was in a deep sleep….
Brother Anderson hurried to Stephanie's room when told of the crisis. "Please let me spend the night," Libby requested.
"OK. I'll be by at five in the morning." Brother Anderson prayed for both Libby and Stephanie before leaving Libby alone with Stephanie for the night.
That night Stephanie dreamed she was alone and gasping for air. She called for help, but no one answered. Sweat broke out on her face as she tossed in bed. Suddenly Stephanie awoke. The room was dimly lit. The clock by her bed read 2:00 a.m. She turned from the clock to see two big eyes watching. Libby rose from her chair and took her hand. "The doctors said you're going to be OK. They changed your chemotherapy."
Libby held her hand for a while and then returned to her chair. Stephanie was too weak to speak. She could only think, I love you, Libby.
Stephanie slept peacefully until sunrise, when she had a recurrent nightmare—one that she attributed to living alone. In her dream she awoke at home and struggled with an intruder in her bedroom. Fighting back gave her some control and was much less terrifying than running or doing nothing. The room was dark as Stephanie groped for the kitchen knife she kept at her bedside table. She found a ballpoint pen instead and stabbed her foe repeatedly, but the pen made no penetration.
"Ahh," cried a woman's voice, "don't ever do that again!"
The intruder had changed from a burly man to a powerful and determined woman. Stephanie's fear turned to anger. The woman had violated the sanctity of her home. Stephanie reached again and found the knife. This time she stabbed the woman in the chest.
"No!" the woman gasped. "Not that!" Her voice was not one of anger but a gentle voice.
As the nightmare continued, Stephanie drove the knife in until it stopped at the handle. Stephanie fled as the woman fell to the floor. But before leaving the room, Stephanie was overcome by morbid curiosity to see her vanquished foe. She flipped on the light switch and found the woman lying on her back. She was not as big as Stephanie remembered. Stephanie viewed the top of her tousled head, which was raised slightly from the floor as the woman looked at the knife handle in her chest. It was very evident the six-inch blade was in her heart. Understanding her mortal wound, a young face looked to Stephanie and extended her hand for help; perhaps she was seeking the comfort of one last human touch before she died. Her face was a blur at first but then came into sharp focus.
Stephanie bolted up in her bed from her own scream: "LIBBY!"
She was alone in her hospital room. "LIBBY! LIBBY! LIBBY!" Stephanie screamed.
A nurse ran to her side. "It's OK. You just had a bad dream."
Dr. Ward came in behind the nurse on his early morning rounds. "What's wrong?"
"Where's Libby?" Stephanie cried in panic, while shaking like a leaf.
"Libby's father took her home half an hour ago," Dr. Ward explained. "She wanted to stay, but her father said she had to go to school."
Stephanie stared out the doorway. If only she hadn't grabbed the knife. If only she hadn't driven it all the way to the handle. She could still see Libby's face as she looked up from her mortal wound for help.
Dr. Ward looked up at the nurses, who then left the room. "Tell me what happened."
"It was too horrible," Stephanie began. "I was fighting an intruder in my bedroom. The intruder kept changing. Then I stabbed her with a knife and drove it in all the way. When I turned on the light, it was Libby. The knife was in her heart, and she looked to me for help. Her little finger strained to reach me. I froze; there was nothing I could do."
Stephanie glanced at Dr. Ward. "Why would I dream such a thing?"
Dr. Ward took Stephanie's hand and said in his slow, reassuring voice, "Calm down, Stephanie. You're having a panic attack. Remember, it was just a dream."
"But it hurts me that I could stab her, even in a dream."
"Dreams are our mind's way of solving problems and sorting life out," Dr. Ward reasoned. "I don't have a degree as a psychiatrist, but I've had years of practice. Would you like my opinion on your dream?"
"Libby is the Stephanie you were fifteen years ago—a happy, loving, and open young lady. When you and Sonny had your falling out, you closed up in a crusty old shell. The fact that your baby was carried by the second Stephanie and not the first Stephanie was a great tragedy."
Dr. Ward paused to make sure Stephanie understood. Then he carefully continued, "In your dream, Libby was your daughter."
Stephanie frowned. "I know that Libby and I are closely related, but I'm pretty sure she's Allison's daughter. I promised Libby I'd help find her biological mother. All I need is a little DNA from Allison's drinking cup to find out if Libby is her daughter."
The doctor's face grew stern. "You don't need to worry about Allison's daughters—they're fine. You should worry about your own daughter."
"But I don't have a daughter….at least any more." For the first time, Stephanie felt a little sick at what she'd done. Back then, abortion had seemed like the answer to all of her problems. She had never stopped to consider that the "fetus" was a real, live person who could grow up and experience life.
"You do have a daughter," the doctor asserted. "She may have died in our clinic, but God resurrected her. Someday you will face your daughter and say those healing words, 'I'm sorry.' And then you will face your daughter's father and say the same."
"I could never do that."
"You can do that, and you must do that. We prescribe Paxil every day to people who won't. There's a much more powerful drug—those few words, 'I'm sorry.' There are two sisters living down the road from here in nice homes, just across the street from each other. Yet they haven't spoken in twenty years, all for the lack of those healing words."
Stephanie could see the hurt the doctor felt for them.
Dr. Ward seemed to choose his words carefully again. "Libby has cracked through your hard shell. That shell is fighting for its life, yes, even if it has to plunge a knife through Libby's heart."
"I would never do that!" Stephanie protested. "I would die for Libby!"
"Yes, I believe you would," Dr. Ward agreed. "That's the Stephanie I knew fifteen years ago. Your crusty old shell is crumbling. Someday it will shatter to dust so that the gentlest breeze will blow it away."
"I need some protection."
"But not that hard shell of yours," Dr. Ward declared. "Last night your mind was sorting things out. It asked the question, 'Where does Libby fit in?' Then it did the unthinkable, and this morning you know how much she means to you. She is the daughter you stabbed, reaching out to love her mother."
"Please stop!" Stephanie pleaded.
"Sometimes in medicine, we have to break a bone so that it will mend correctly. In your case, we use toxic drugs to save your life. But if we save a Stephanie who cannot say, 'I'm sorry,' what have we accomplished?"
"Please don't tell Libby about my dream."
"Your dream is safe with me."
That evening Stephanie asked Libby to forgive her. Libby looked confused, but Stephanie insisted she needed forgiveness. Libby forgave her of everything and anything.
Taken from "A Scent of Jasmine" by David Dockery (OakTara, www.oaktara.com). The entire novel is available from amazon.com, christianbook.com or barnesandnoble.com. Used by permission of the author and publisher. David Dockery is a Mississippi geologist and member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson. To read the first chapter of Baptist Press' serialization of "A Scent of Jasmine" by David Dockery, go to http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=34444. For subsequent chapters, go to BP's "Search Stories" tab and search by date.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net