Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wife Rule #107: The Shoulders I Cry On

Easter is a celebration of life, with the resurrection of Jesus Christ as its centerpiece. However, the joy of that morning is so much more meaningful when considered in contrast to the days immediately preceding it, which were surely the darkest this world has ever seen. Those are the days I found myself contemplating at Easter time this year.

I think that's okay, too. While the Savior certainly doesn't want us to spend our lives despairing--that's why He suffered for us and broke the bands of death, after all--He is also the one who wept with Mary and Martha when their brother died, knowing full well that mere minutes later he would be reuniting them with a very living Lazarus.

Jesus was always genuine in His feelings, the ultimate example of "mourning with those who mourn." His perfect example in such times of distress is helping me realize how to cope, in a healthy way, with the unwanted "preemptive grief" for the inevitable, unmentionable end of my father's cancer.

A few days before Easter my wife and I had just finished a rather discouraging phone call with my parents. We were in the thick of the Bad News stage of cancer diagnosis, the one where every conversation with medical professionals seemed to bring to light new things to be depressed about. My parents were very down, and that always tends to trigger my sympathetic emotions too.

We hung up the phones, and I wandered over to the sink to do the dishes while my wife sat down at the computer. I was barely three dishes into my task when I suddenly realized I had an opportunity to have it out with some of the pent-up grief that had been boiling just below the spillover point for a few weeks now.

The speed and intensity with which the wave of emotion overcame me almost caused me to drop the dish in my hands. My eyes were a flood of sorrow and my face was consumed with a burning heat. I felt an involuntary, painful weight welling up in my chest, an emotional response that had been foreign to me most of my adult life, save for a few occasions that involved similarly difficult circumstances. I knew I wouldn't last on my feet; the heaviness seemed so great.

I half stumbled to the couch and barely managed to blurt out "I need you right now!" before collapsing in a heap on my astute wife's shoulder, which had been placed in position a second before.

Then the sobs came. Wave after wave of anguish welled up inside and spilled out of me. There were sobs for the pain in my parents' voices. There were selfish sobs for future days I wouldn't have with my father. There were sobs for my children whose days of having a Papa were now numbered so small. There were sobs for my wife, who having lost her own dad a few years ago, was now losing her second father. There were sobs for my mother, who was now facing an uncertain future. There were sobs for my dad, facing painful treatments and the eventual end of his mortality.

Regrettably, there were also sobs for apparent unfairness of it all; sobs for every ornery, careless old man who lived deep into his twilight years, when my father, a literal saint who had been diligently health-conscious his whole life and was in much better shape than me, was cruelly having his days cut short. The irony and injustice seemed like too much to bear.

Wives are made for such times. Mine knew not to speak to me--her own intense experiences of crying into my shirts have provided her with powerful empathy in these moments. She simply stroked my hair between shudders and offered herself as a human hankie to help assuage my grief as it came tumbling out. I can hardly describe the comfort she provided for her very fragile, needy husband.

When I could sense that the stragglers in the pack of sobs were settling down, I ventured to opened my eyes. It just so happened that in the position we were sitting, I could see over her shoulder to the opposite wall where we have hung a picture of the Savior kneeling in Gethsemane. I found my thoughts turned to another place and time, where Another "began to be sorrowful and very heavy."

"Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

"And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Matthew 26:37-39, Luke 22:44)

I found my eyes wet with new tears. O Lord, I cried, it's so heavy. How did you do it? How did you suffer so? The pains I feel now seem like they could crush me. How did you suffer these, plus the pains of billions more like me, with much worse problems than mine? It would take so much more than a man; it would truly take a God. O Jesus, Son of God, how did you do this for me and my father?

Please, if Thou be willing, take this burden from us. Please. But nevertheless...

Yes, nevertheless. If Christ could willingly endure His mighty load, surely I could endure my small one. If He could heal a whole world full of sinners, then surely He could heal my single broken heart. He can see my family through this. If He wills my father to suffer for reasons unknown and not understood, then I can trust Him in this thing. After all, He has the wisdom of a God. He is a God.

I have relied on Christ's atonement to find peace in my soul so many times that I have lost count; unfortunately, I am an experienced repenter. But that night, crying on the shoulder of my wife, I feel like I got a more personal glimpse into the tremendous load He carried. Perhaps it's because I wasn't mourning for my own foolishness that night, but mourning (mostly) for the sake of others. Perhaps my heart was positioned to better understand how His heart felt on that dark, cruel, unfair, unjust, night in Gethsemane: the night the one perfect Man to grace this globe shouldered the burdens of all of us, the guilty world, making them His own.

In such a worshipful state of mind, the great relationship triangle between myself, my wife, and my Lord seemed so apparent, so obvious, and so necessary. I need my wife; I need her desperately. She needs me just as desperately. But we would be unable to help each other to even the small extent that we can, without the grace of Christ. When I bury myself in her shoulders, or she in mine, we are in fact both being carried on His shoulders.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.... But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Jesus Christ makes all things possible, including the eventual healing dawn that follows all nights of heavy darkness. That is what we celebrate on Easter.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wife Rule #106: Love is Forever

My dad has cancer again.

We only got the definitive results from the biopsy a few days ago, though the radiologist's report more or less confirmed this fact to us two weeks ago.

Yes, it's bad. It will take a miracle--and I mean an undeniable, unexplainable, statistic-defying miracle--to have more than about a year with him.

We are hoping for that miracle, but in reality we are left not knowing for sure what the future holds. That's the tricky thing about life-and-death situations; you never know for sure what's going to happen, and if you spend all your energy guessing and second-guessing what to do now based on what might happen, or even weighing what you did against what ended up happening, you eventually go crazy.

I learned this during the two weeks my father-in-law was in a coma after his accident. I fretted about how much of my work leave to use, how to manage our young children's lives, and how to support all the members of my family simultaneously, especially my wife and children. It seemed like I was continuously driving back and forth between my work, my parents' home where our children were, and the hospital, which was four hours away in another state.

In the end, based on an optimistic long-term projection for the future we had chosen to hope for, I convinced my wife to leave the hospital waiting room--where she had more or less lived with her mom and siblings since the day of the accident--and brought her home. The goal was to be a complete, normal family again with our children while we waited for Dad to recover. My wife never saw her father alive again; he passed away the day after we left.

Despite the way that series of events turned out, my wife and I have no regrets in deciding to come home when we did. In situations like that one and our current one, you eventually realize that you really have no choice but to keep living your life as normally as possible.

But that's almost impossible to do.

For one thing, the spectre of death casts a long shadow over everything, and I mean everything. During the brief but frequent mental moments where work, chores, children's requests, and the many other persistent stimuli of "normal life" temporarily quiet down, thoughts of Dad's cancer are always there.

These haunting thoughts seem to especially worm their way into the foreground at night or in the early morning. Or during lunch. Or in the middle of a work meeting. Or while driving home. Or while doing dishes. Or whenever one happy thought happens to trigger another, which triggers another, which all of a sudden turns into a cancer thought.

Cancer, that dreadful word that describes an out-of-control process that has been set loose to wreak havoc on a body, can also eventually destroy the heart and soul, if such thoughts are left unchecked.

Truthfully, I had no idea how heavy this shadow had grown on my shoulders until my wife and I got a babysitter and headed out for our normal Friday date. It was the first thing that felt "normal" all week long. My first reaction after hearing the news was to want to be with my parents all the time. I'm not sure I could help anything, and we had talked on the phone with them most nights that week, but I just wanted to be with them.

My wife, who had been the epitome of an empathetic angel all week long, perhaps recognizing in me the first signs of the emotional torture she knew all too well, gently suggested that perhaps we shouldn't go see my parents.

I didn't have any alternate ideas. It was raining. It had been dreary and drizzling all week. My wife suggested checking out the new aquarium. I heeded her counsel and agreed that my parents could probably survive one night without us, and we went to the aquarium.

It was a delightful escape into a world of brook trout and brine shrimp and coral reefs and spotted sharks and freaky little petting zoo shrimp that like to help you exfoliate around your cuticles when you immerse your hand into their tank. I had five on my hand at once, all plucking away. My wife thought it was creepy, and there isn't much that raises my spirits more than creeping out my wife.

After the aquarium we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. She agreed to let us eat Italian nachos, an appetizer, for the main course. They were smothered in cheese and chicken and olives. She looked so pretty sitting across the table from me. Our eyes made a lot of contact; hers creased and shone in a way they hadn't for over a week. Our mouths smiled as they spoke again of normal things, of our kids and landscaping and what we like and dislike. Her hand was warm as I held it while waiting for dessert. It was late when we finished. The kids were in bed when we got home.

And it was then that I realized that a 100-pound brick had been lifted off my back--one that I didn't even realize was there. My concern and sympathy and worries and prayers are still firmly with my parents, but the dread, the terrible weight was temporarily taken away.

I wish every man could have such a wife.

Thankfully, my father does, and together they are going to make it. I don't know exactly what "make it" means in the near term, but I know that they will in the long run. They are eternally bound by cords of love and trust and commitment and covenant.

Though death will eventually separate us all, its inevitable shadow doesn't need to spoil the time we have together now. After all, it is death that is temporary; love is forever--and with such immortality, love casts a light brighter and more penetrating than any fleeting shadow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wife Rule #105: I'm In Love

I'm in love. With a girl. And I'm not talking about my wife.

She's an awful lot like my wife, however. For starters, she has my wife's clear, blue eyes, shaped and set nearly identically in their faces. The same look of complete innocence shines through them, a kind of invisible light that emanates from the purity of the soul behind those eyes.

She has my wife's nose and mouth--undoubtedly--and I have tried kissing both. Quite frankly, I find it difficult to stop once I get going.

She has my wife's hair, almost a perfect color match of golden brown. She wears it in ways that drive me crazy, just like my wife.

She's got perfect, dainty hands that accentuate her femininity. They are soft and smooth to hold, and warm in my palm, just like my wife's. Her feet are shaped the same, with extra high arches; her toes are adorable, just like my wife's.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that she's about twenty-five inches tall. My wife is taller.

Yes, my little Charity, who turned one year old today, is a spittin' image (literally) of my wife. Especially when she's happy. Especially when her eyes crease with laughter and her little nose scrunches up into a wide, toothless grin. She melts me, just like my wife.

It's no wonder I'm in love.