32: God Comes Calling

32: God Comes Calling

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

God Comes Calling

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

~Albert Einstein

We were sitting on the edge of our bed holding hands while Rick gathered his thoughts. It was early Saturday afternoon, but I couldn’t help noticing how tired and discouraged he looked. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s just too hard. There have been too many surgeries, too much chemo. I can’t try anymore and I want to give up,” he sighed.

“Give up? For how long?” I asked shakily.

Stupid question. He just smiled sadly, squeezed my hand, and walked out into the living room. He gazed out the picture window at the view of Twin Sisters Peak across the meadow and then lowered himself to the carpet with his arms cradling his head and closed his eyes.

“What can he be thinking about?” I wondered as I stood in the bedroom doorway, watching him. As a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado, he had hiked to the top of that mountain many times.

Things were very different for him now. Diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer at age thirty-seven, he had quickly turned away from being a “Why me?” victim and turned toward finding a positive path toward remission and even recovery in the face of terrible odds. Our sons were ages ten and twelve at the time of the diagnosis, so with great determination Rick decided not to listen to the first three oncologists, each of whom had told him to get his affairs in order and spend the six months he had left with his family.

After intensive research he decided on MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. The doctors there came up with a very aggressive regimen to treat his cancer. They would collaborate with an oncologist in nearby Boulder, Colorado.

Three years later, Rick had been through half a dozen surgeries and several rounds of chemo and radiation treatments. Throughout it all he remained positive and focused on living his life as a husband, father, and ranger instead of a cancer patient. He refused to use words like “victim,” “battling,” “overcoming,” and “fighting.” He believed that continuing to live his life rather than fight his death was the way to deal with his situation.

So you can imagine how disturbing his comments were that afternoon when he went to lie down in the warm, sunny area in front of the window. I silently recited the 23rd psalm, my “go to” whenever I am frightened: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Every so often I would return to the living room to see if he had changed his mind about “giving up.”

Late in the afternoon I heard a knock on the door. I was surprised because we live outside of town and most visitors call to make sure we are home before coming over. I opened the door to two young men holding religious literature. This was the first time we had been visited by missionaries in the four years we’d lived here.

“Hello, ma’am. Is there someone in your home filled with despair?” the first young man asked.

“Someone so discouraged he doesn’t know where to turn?” asked the second.

I stood there staring at them. How did they know? After a few seconds the first one cleared his throat.

“Oh,” I stammered. “Yes, yes, we do have someone here just like that!”

As their eyes lit up at the prospect of being invited in, I smiled and told them, “Thank you so much for coming by, but my husband isn’t feeling well enough to have company right now.”

Closing the door, I turned to Rick and said, “Get up! God has a great sense of humor, and he is telling you today is not the day for giving up!”

Over the next year and a half, Rick continued to find ways to keep cancer as small a part of our lives as possible. He attended Denver University and became certified in Alternative Dispute Resolution. He created his own position as an Ombudsman for Rocky Mountain National Park and volunteered as a mediator in the nearby town of Longmont. Then, one day, when the cancer had returned and the side effects of the chemo were getting hard to bear, it happened again.

“I can’t keep doing this. It’s too hard.”

“Alright,” I said. Rick turned, walked to the living room, and lay down in the sun to fall asleep.

As I let fear wash over me I turned again to the prayers that had sustained me. I was surprised when I heard a knock on the door and opened it to find two different young people on my doorstep holding religious literature.

“May we come in and give comfort to anyone in your home today who might need it?” the young woman asked.

“You already have,” I replied, a big smile on my face.

As I closed the door, I asked, “Did you hear that?”

“Yes,” Rick answered in a resigned tone as he got up to go about living again.

The next two years brought more cancer, more surgeries, and more chemo. Rick was missing work and began to feel that he shouldn’t accept anymore of the donated sick leave that had poured in from our National Park Service family. He decided to retire.

On his last day at work his fellow employees gathered to say goodbye. After the cake was served and the speeches were made, Rick went to his office to gather the last of his boxes and go home. Later he would tell me that after he got home he changed out of his uniform and gave in to despair and sadness once again. He sought out his favorite place of comfort in front of the picture window and fell asleep.

He was woken up by a knock on the door. You guessed it — two earnest young people wanting to share hope and prayer.

During the course of the next year Rick continued to inspire the community we live in. He was nominated to carry the Olympic Torch for the Winter Games being held in Utah. By this time the cancer had spread to his bones and his lungs, but he was determined to carry that torch and, five months before he passed away, he was able to walk and run his portion of the Olympic Torch route to the cheers of onlookers.

One day in late March, two months before he left us, he was lying in his favorite sun-soaked spot when he heard a very clear voice say, “Live!” Not sure if he was dreaming, he sat up and looked out the window at Twin Sisters Peak.

He heard the voice again, very clearly and lovingly say, “Live!” He knew God wasn’t telling him that he would live long, but that he should make sure to live his last few weeks. And so he did.

~Lynne Nichols

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