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There are times in life when circumstances are so intense it’s hard to communicate the range and depth of emotion, even for a writer. The diagnosis of cancer for your three year old adopted daughter would qualify as such a time.

My wife and I are “managers” in the face of crisis. We bandage first, express shock later; mend broken bones first, feel upset later. So for two weeks since the diagnosis of Leukemia, we’ve done what we’ve had to do to care for Abby and get her on the road to recovery.

The lack of many tears (oh, there’s been some, yes) up until now is not callousness, it’s self control mixed with a little “natural personality”. It strength for each other, strength for our family and friends, strength for Abby. She’s scared enough (as are the other children and family). She, and they, don’t need to see us over-wrought with grief or sadness.

Over the past two weeks, concerning Abby:

  • We’ve watched the bruises and rashes appear.
  • We’ve wondered about her wanting to sleep all the time.
  • We were concerned about her getting sick easily.
  • We watched as two doctors entered the examining room and asked if the other children could go down the hall and play. No good news ever comes following that.
  • We heard the words “cancer” and “leukemia” for the first time, and “yes, we are sure”.
  • We’ve listened to the phrases“high risk”, “extremely aggressive” and “three years of chemo”.
  • We’ve watched a dozen needles buried in her back, hip and spine.
  • We’ve had to HOLD DOWN Abby screaming as they plunged two syringes deep into both thighs, at the same time. Remember, we’re talking about a three year old that doesn’t even understand what’s wrong.
  • We’ve had to restrain her while yet another adhesive bandage is torn off the same delicate, broken-down, inflamed skin, over and over.
  • We’ve watched her intensely throw up over and over.
  • She’s in the bathroom a dozen times a day.
  • She is weak and wonders why she can’t do what the other kids do.
  • We’ve watched her drop several pounds off her little 30lb frame.
  • We’re witnessing her hair falling out, and her lack of energy.

We listen to her pretend about far too many things that child her age should not know about:

  • “Daddy, I want to put an IV in your arm”
  • “Look Mommy, I’m putting new blood in my tube”
  • “I’m listening to babies heartbeat” (Landis, 2 year old brother)
  • “My blood is sick and I have to have medicine or I won’t grow up like Bubba” (16 year old brother)
  • “That little girl (in the hospital) has cancer too, like me”
  • “Momma, I don’t like him” (a scared response to seeing a child who is particularly sickly in appearance; what she means is ‘I’m scared of how they look, and I don’t want that to happen to me’)

Self-control or not, “management-of-crisis personality” or not, at some point things start getting to you emotionally. I don’t mean just needing a good cry. I’m talking about the erosion of your emotional reserve across the board.

Our day today (Friday, August 1st) would testify to that reality.

This morning, I got all impatient about some trash in the car. The trash was left over from our trips to the hospital. My poor wife had already unloaded stuff from the car several times (as we all had). But her JERK husband comes along and gets frustrated because he is “getting tired of finding straw wrappers, cups, toys and crumbs” in the car. Does a straw wrapper and a spilled drink in the car really mean ANYTHING in light of the reason why the stuff was in the car in the car in the first place? Geez… what was I thinking?

Let it be known that Brent Riggs
is a schmuck.

My wife, already on the edge of emotional strain, and very tired from whole ordeal, is instantly in a flood of tears even though she almost never cries over such things. To her credit, I was able to apologize, and of course she forgave me. She just asked me to hug her and love her. She’s a blessing. I was selfish.

How can something so inconsequential get elevated to tearful conflict? It’s not typical for us.

A couple of hours later, she had to leave with Samrawit (our 9 yr old from Ethiopia), to a long awaited reunion with the other orphans she lived with in Africa. It’s hard to explain how sad I was watching them drive away, and before their car was out of sight, I was genuinely overcome with missing both of them. This trip was a long time coming. There was no real reason to feel overly emotional. As I said, I think it’s ALL catching up to me (us) now. I’m happy for my wife to get a couple of days break… even more so given my ridiculous griping that morning.

The final straw tonight was insignificant on the surface, but very revealing nonetheless. I was watching a movie while the kids were napping. It was some cop/crime movie, nothing all that memorable. About halfway through, this cop and his family (wife, daughter, brother, niece) actually hold hands and say “grace” for dinner. It was two sentences:

  • “Heavenly Father, thank you for this food and the hands who prepared it. Thank you for all your many blessings, Amen”.

In the time it took to say those two sentences, tears were streaming down my face. Why? I think largely in part to the already overstrained emotions, and I’d like to think partly because I was genuinely touched that the pagans in Hollywood actually portrayed a NORMAL Christian activity with no implication of them being weird, perverts, backwards or hypocritical.

I ask God to help me control my tears. I pray that they may be shed only when it glorifies God, in whatever way, for genuinely righteous reasons, whether public or private. I do not like, nor want to be part of the overly-feminized, ‘self esteem’, emotionally weak culture that dominates the males in our society. Our families and wives need MEN, strong Godly men, not metro-sexual, cry-baby weaklings.

Don’t mistake “self control” (or more appropriately, ‘submission to the Holy Spirit’) for callousness, or a hard heart. No, sir. I cry at the drop of a hat over the hurt of others, tender moments between loved ones and genuine suffered loss. The closer the situation is to God’s heart, the more prone I am to tears:

  • A child’s earnest prayer
  • The rejection of God by a soul destined for hell
  • The persecution of other Christians
  • The suffering of the innocent
  • The joy of seeing God bless His children

I would like to think that comes from spiritual compassion and love for God that the Creator ALONE grants us through His unfathomable mercy and grace. WE cannot manufacture it… we are blessed with it by a loving God.

I thank God for these intensely emotional,
even heartbreaking times.

They remind us we are alive, that life is unpredictable, and that God is ALWAYS there to protect, love, comfort and keep us from being lonely. Is there anything warmer and more soothing than the arms of our dear Savior when life is at it’s worst?

As I type this sentence the tears are streaming down my face.

My wife will read this while being 10 hours away from me this weekend… sweetheart, I love you with all my heart. Thank you for forgiving me. I’m here for you. I can’t imagine life without you.

I’m going to go hug Abby.