Looking out our front windows through a grid of icicle-bars, I saw three flashes of color dart past. Cross country skiers, right on the streets. With seven inches of fresh snow, they were taking advantage of winter on our unplowed roads. An hour later, as I was shoveling the drive, they glided by in the other direction. “Spectacular, isn’t it?” one of the women shouted as she passed me.
Once I got to the grocery store, employees chatted enthusiastically about the blessing of a good snowfall. “Please let me take your cart out for you,” the bagger said, grabbing his jacket. “I haven’t been outside for a while and want to get back in the weather.” This was a bagger-man in his sixties whose enthusiasm was impressive.
As a new Michigan resident, I was gaining insight into my fellow Michiganders, people who’ve dealt with the challenge of winter every year. Watching the bag-man wrestle my cart through deep drifts in the parking lot, I coaxed him to complain. “Will you have to do a lot of shoveling when you get home?”
“I love to shovel,” he said, with a dip of his chin. “What would life be without a challenge?”
The man had missed his calling. Instead of bagging groceries he should have been running a think tank. Of course he was right about life’s challenges, although most of us avoid them. That’s probably because taking up a challenge can end badly, not to mention the pain that can be involved. There is also a high probability of failure.
I love the biblical story of the warrior Goliath taunting the whole Israelite army. His specific challenge was for them to send one individual to “come and get him.” It was a double-or-nothing dare after which the loser’s army would become slaves to the winner’s army.
David couldn’t believe any Israelite would shrink back from Goliath’s challenge. After all, Almighty God was on their side! He didn’t even have to think about it but went after Goliath with fervor. The Bible says, “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him.” (1 Sam. 17:48)
Since he was just a “ruddy-faced boy” (v. 42), we could conclude he was motivated by the foolishness of youth and didn’t know any better. But David knew enough, that the God of Israel controlled everything, including a nine foot tall ogre.
We all know the happy end of this story, how David’s one smooth stone embedded itself in the evil giant’s forehead, knocking him flat and giving David time to rush in and kill him with his own sword. A giant-sized challenge was accepted and dominated, and for the rest of his life, David was a hero.
Although I never met David, I do know another hero I very much admire, my husband Nate. He was presented with a challenge few people on this earth are given: militant cancer along with a death sentence that would conquer his life in a few weeks. Most men would have run from this enemy like the Israelites ran from Goliath. Some might have exited the fight altogether by denying reality. Others might have railed against God for allowing the battle in the first place. Nate did none of these.
In my eyes he was a hero in that he squared off with the challenge presented to him. Although he responded to the appalling cancer news with shock and revulsion, before long he said yes to the challenge. Throughout his combat with disease, he was required to move in and out of acute pain physically, emotionally and mentally, as well as bear up under anguish of heart. Yet he didn’t shrink back or even ask why. Instead he asked, “Why not?”
One morning about half way through his 42 days of cancer, I asked him how he was feeling after a rocky night. Instead of answering me directly, he answered like a man in the midst of a battle. “Well,” he said, “we soldier onward.”
Some might say, “Yes, but he lost the fight. He died.”
To them I say, Nate won the ultimate prize, knocking death flat just as David knocked Goliath flat. He used death as a stepping stone into a joy-filled eternity, conquering his giant-cancer-challenge in the process. He won, and he is my hero.