I REACHED OVER and stroked my wife’s hair at 4:10 this morning and said a silent prayer; the same prayer of gratitude I have voiced for over twenty years. That may not seem so unusual to you but then you weren’t where I was back then. On that day, so distant and yet so very near, I was standing in an Intensive Care Unit trying to figure out how I could tell me wife that she was going to die.
The only thing louder than the constant wheezing of the ventilator that pumped air in and out of her lungs was the muffled scream imprisoned deep in my throat. She was my teenage sweetheart and the mother of two fine sons still in elementary school. She was the pride of my life, the love of my heart, my constant companion, my best friend. And now, she was lying with her head shaved after nine hours of brain surgery.
The words of the Neuro-Surgeon ate at my insides like acid. “If she lives another year it will be a miracle. You’re the best person to tell her”.
“How could I be the best person to tell her something I couldn’t even voice to myself”?
Early in the day, during the surgery, a friend had secreted me away to a secluded stairwell far from the over one hundred friends and family who had gathered at the hospital to pray and wait. She understood I needed to be alone for a while. I had done all the socializing and listening to “all things work together for good” that I could handle.
Later, as the echoes of well-wishers were swallowed up in the void of my pain, I sat alone in an empty hospital room watching a dying sun drop below the horizon. The life I had shared with my best friend looked to be sinking with it.
All I could think to do was pray but words eluded me. For years I had given myself to helping others through crisis: presiding over dozens of funerals and wrapping my arms around an equal number of grieving parents and spouses as their loved one closed their eyes to this world. How many times had I spit out glib and trite words of pre-packaged comfort devoid of any real emotional or spiritual nourishment?
Time after time, for what must have been hours, I started to say something and choked on the first syllable. Finally I cried out the one word that has stymied mankind since Adam and Eve first found their son murdered in a field, the word missed by sleeping disciples in Gethsemane as the God-man faced the certain reason for His coming. Three letters, combined to create one monosyllabic whispered plea pushed their why past by lips – WHY?
A whispered question gave way to a tidal wave of “whys” that threatened to tear me from what little foundation I still felt under my feet. Finally, spent from the outburst of pent up emotion, I leaned against the window seal and watched the last pastels of twilight give way to first grays and then the darkest of blacks.
And then? Then the same sun that had set on my exhausted lament the night before rose in glory a few hours later. I gathered myself and found my way to the private room my wife had been moved to. It took most of the day before she was alert enough to ask me how it went. And, it took me even longer to find the right words to tell her. The why then gave way to “what now?” And that question offered no more reply than the first.
The next morning a friend of ours called. “I was praying,” she said, “and reading my Bible this morning and God gave me a verse that I know is for the two of you.” I sighed. Oh please dear Lord, I believe Romans 8:28 but I cannot bear to pretend I feel like I believe them. Know that I believe them, yes. Feel like it, no. Because I was beyond feeling. Just numb.
And then she read these words to me from Joshua 3:5; “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” I thanked her and wondered if it really meant anything at all. My prayer had been so weak, and my faith so small. What wonders could God do with me?
Soon we went home, chemo and radiation therapies already scheduled for the days to come. Buried and almost forgotten were those words, “tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” The phone rang throughout the day and into the night. People brought lunch and supper. And another night fell amidst the same echoes – WHY?
The phone rang yet again and I started not to answer but knew I must. The voice on the other end was that of our neurosurgeon calling from his car as he drove through a thunder storm almost a hundred miles away.
“Tim, I had to call you. We got some more tests that we sent off back and I just don’t understand it.”
“Don’t understand what?”
“The cells were atypical. Textbook, as in the only place I or the other doctors has ever seen them.”
“Now I don’t understand,” was all I could think to say in reply.
“The operation is all that she will need. She’s going to live a long full life. Your wife does not have cancer”.
The hours that followed were surreal. Our family physician and his wife showed up at our house giddy with excitement well after nine that night. After they left, those words finally came back to me, “Tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
And so, here I am all these years later. Has life been easy in the intervening years? Not at all! We have gone through many trials and failures. We have seen good times and bad. That “why” and so many since stand in line hopefully waiting for an answer that may or may not come in this life.
But there is one question that has been answered time and again. When that question is asked the answer comes rushing in a torrent of divine power. That question is “WHO?” Knowing that answer is enough.
My Christmas gift to my friends and readers is simple but invaluable – learn to ask the right question and you will always get the right answer.