The year of 1996 began with great expectations in the Oliver home. On Thanksgiving my mom and dad had moved from their Southern California home of 36 years to Denver to be close to our family. Mom had experienced several strokes two years earlier but was still able to get around and was substantially aware of her environment and her family. We had enjoyed a wonderful family Christmas and were looking forward to the new year.
During the second week of January, at about 5 a.m., our phone rang. The panicked voice of my sister told me that mom had fallen down and couldn’t talk. She was rushed to hospital and after two weeks she regained consciousness but was still in serious condition. By February the doctors told us that she was stable enough for me to attend the Promise Keepers pastors conference in Atlanta. While I was gone I called and talked to her every day.
On Friday my wife Carrie phoned to tell me that her grandmother had been killed in a car accident. I immediately flew home from Atlanta, met Carrie and the boys and drove straight to Wood River, Nebraska. Carrie’s Grandma Dorothy was a warm, loving and gracious woman and her death was a shock and a tremendous loss.
After officiating at Grandma Dorothy’s memorial service I went back to Carrie’s parents home for a short rest. As I sat down to relax something inside of me told me to call my mom. I had planned on calling her later that day but there was a powerful internal urging “do it now.” My dad and my sister gave me an update on mom’s condition and then I spent several minutes talking with her. She wanted to know how I was doing and was especially interested in what God was doing at the Promise Keepers conference. She had a hard time speaking and after a few minutes I could tell she was too exhausted to say much more. I told her that I loved her and that I would see her tomorrow. Instead of her simply saying the usual “I love you too” and goodbye my Mom paused, and in a voice that was suddenly very clear she said, “Gary, never ever forget that I love you and I will always love you.” And then we said goodbye.
Approximately one hour later I received a call from my sister. She was in tears as she told me that our mom “just entered the presence of the Lord.” I couldn’t believe it. I had just spoken to her. Her condition was serious she had been stable but there was absolutely no indication that she was close to death. Though my tears I remembered the sudden clarity with which she made a point to express her love for me. Our family immediately drove to Denver to make arrangements for the funeral that was held several days later in Great Falls, Montana.
In the following weeks we were physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. We were hoping for some “time out” for some healing, refreshment and restoration. Within a month one of Carrie’s sisters was diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and began a very difficult chemotherapy treatment. Two months later I was told that, once again, I had cancer and would immediately need surgery. The cancer was on my tongue and the surgeon told me it was possible that I might not be able to speak. The surgery was successful and after two months of healing I was able to talk in a way that was semi-understandable.
That year was not easy for me, for my marriage or for our family. Many days, success consisted of getting out of bed, getting dressed and trusting God to help me take the next step. There were times when Carrie and I miscommunicated, were out of sync with each other, and times when we didn’t even like each other. But even when God seemed distant and uninvolved we were sure of where we were with the Lord and with each other. We knew that what we were experiencing was a normal result of the life experiences we were going through. At the deepest part of our being we knew that eventually there would be some light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t just another oncoming train.
If you are at all like us you’ve discovered that a crisis can produce significant stress on a marriage. When times are tough it becomes easier to be negative and critical. Stress and pressure bring our weaknesses to the surface and can make them appear larger than life. But we’ve also discovered that crisis can give couples an opportunity to pull together, to join hands, to share hearts, to pray and praise together and in the process experience a deeper love and trust than they might have ever imagined.
Through these crises our family was reminded of the power of prayer and God’s promises recorded in the Bible. We saw the reality of Romans 8:28 in a new light, gained a new understanding of I Corinthians 10:13 and Philippians 4:19, learned more about emotions and the unique ways in which they operate in a marriage, we learned about the unbelievable power of prayer and learned proven and practical ways to not just get through but to grow through crisis.