I’ve always been a reader, ever since my two single aunts tired of the looks of disappointment from my brother and I when we opened their “useful” gifts of clothes. In frustration, they discovered John Blaine’s “Rick Brant SCIENCE Adventure” series. Yes, science was always capitalized and featured. In it, my aunts found a dependable, repeatable,  glee-inducing gift solution for their picky nephews and I discovered a fascination with science.

They were kind of like Nancy Drew mysteries for boys with science and far-flung adventure thrown in. There were laser beams, rockets, radar dishes, submarines, and airplanes. The series inspired the Johnny Quest cartoons and probably Indiana Jones. The books always involved Rick, the son of a top-secret scientist, Scotty, a young marine, and a problem that could always be solved by science and some hard thinking.

Always.

Now you know more about me than is comfortable. Tech stuff attracted me and I probably have those books to thank for a career as a recording engineer. Too bad they didn’t involve computers or I’d be a billionaire by now.

So, it was entirely predictable that I faced the possibility of my wife getting cancer with massive amounts of late night reading and research.  It started when Suzie’s mother and aunts were diagnosed and never stopped. No stone was left unturned. I was going to be prepared and brave and possibly armed with lasers.

But I spent the rest of that first night trying to recover, feeling like I’d fumbled the moment. In spite of my science-adventure preparations, things had not turned out like I’d imagined. I’d left for work only this morning married to my favorite person and I came home to find that I was married to an Amazon Warrior Queen. I’d never seen Suzie play basketball but I was certainly seeing her game face now.

My fantasy of being the strong, supportive husband had been left choking on her dust. She was in full-on battle mode. She cooked supper, did homework, wiped noses, gave baths and called me from my rescue recliner to tuck the kids in and read bedtime stories.

It was time to up my game, or get one.

While all of this was going on I had been trying to think back through my reading and come up with something supportive to say to my devastated wife. You see the problem. No devastation to be found.

Of all the things that swirled through my head, for some reason, the one that popped out was a new study on the undiscovered healing power of gratitude. It was the story a woman who was stressed out in her life and then diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of stressing her more, she chose to cherish each moment she had left with gratitude. The resulting peace triggered a boost in her immune system that led to total remission.

Remission. That’s what I wanted more than anything. It overshadowed all other thoughts.

So, when the children were soundly asleep, the Warrior Queen finally put down her sword and climbed into bed to snuggle in my arms. This was my chance to redeem myself. Rick Brant to the rescue. But I had nothing.

We talked for a while. We prayed together. The opportunity came for me to say something encouraging but all I could think about was that gratitude study. Lacking anything better, I went with it. It came out like this.

“Well,” I began, “No matter what else happens, we can say we’ve had a good life together . . .” I opened my mouth to finish the thought. Too late.

“What?” she said incredulously. I tried to explain, digging a hole.

“I mean, we’ve been very blessed to have the love that we’ve had and three wonderful children. Not everyone gets that. We should be grateful that . . .”

“It sounds like you’re talking as if I’m already gone,” she said accurately.

The tipping point was reached, the dam cracked. The pain she had so carefully held in check became a rising tide. My wife, who never cries, cried herself to sleep in an unchecked flood, heartbroken.

I tried to explain. Then to apologize. Then to repent. I prayed to become suddenly smarter and rescue myself from the idiot I was. Nothing worked.

I spent the night in a tear-soaked t-shirt staring at the ceiling in the dark, praying and kicking myself. I prayed for Suzie to be miraculously healed. I prayed for her to forgive me. I prayed for our children to be shielded from the pain. I prayed every prayer in my heart until there was nothing but silence. And the dark ceiling. And the creaking house.

I finally gave up, defeated, at about three o’clock in the morning. My brain was empty. I had nothing left. Whatever the future held, tonight I was just going to have to accept the truth. In my wife’s worst moment, cancer had not made her cry. I made her cry.

The weight of it pressed in on me in the silence.

“Lord, what do I do now?” I whispered. It was an afterthought. A comment to myself. A worthless moan.

Suddenly, in the quiet of that room, two words boomed forth inside me, though not a sound was heard.

“Encourage her.”

I can’t explain it. I can barely describe it. It was loud in the silence and a whisper at the same time. It was more like a thought, but one I knew I would never think. It interrupted my thoughts. The words glowed like a light inside.

How? I thought. I just failed completely. I don’t know what to do!

“Fight!” came the reply, and then silence again.

That’s all there was. That’s all there ever was. But somehow, in those three words, everything became clear. A course of action was set. A mission was begun. I didn’t know how to do it but I knew what to do. I knew where to begin.

I don’t expect you to believe me. It’s not my job to convince you. All I know is that, in that moment, everything changed. Ideas exploded. Purpose appeared. Perspective shifted and I understood.

I didn’t have to know how to encourage her. That had already been clearly settled. I had no idea. What I had to do was learn how to encourage her. That was a path that started right where I was. It was a process I’d already begun.

The first lesson? Admit my ignorance and start over.

The goal? In a war with invisible enemies, I needed to learn how to fight!

 

 

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