The alarm went off at 6:45 a.m. I looked over at my wife, Debbie, to see how she was doing. She had just started chemotherapy and was not tolerating it well. She found it difficult to sleep but seemed to be resting nicely as I climbed out of bed. So I grabbed some reading material and made my way to the bathroom for my morning "meditations."
One of my younger brothers, who needed a place to stay while sorting out marital issues, was sleeping downstairs. We called him our "basement troll." Understandably, my brother’s state of affairs was having a negative effect on his psyche. I had yelled at him the night before to snap out of it, but apparently yelling at the depressed is not particularly helpful.
Unbeknownst to my wife and me, he had gone days without sleeping and was on the verge of a manic episode. That morning he snapped and became delusional, engaging in a heated conversation with me in the kitchen. One problem — I wasn’t in the kitchen.
When Debbie awoke to the sound of my brother threatening to shoot me, she thought it unusual that I wasn’t talking back (since I am famous for having an opinion about almost everything). So she concluded that I must be frozen in fear, and she frantically called 911.
As Debbie huddled in our bed, clutching the phone, I walked out of the bathroom with a satisfied smile on my face.
"What are you doing here?" she whisper-yelled. (Yes, wives have this ability.)
"Umm … I live here," I replied.
"I thought you were in the kitchen with your brother. He was threatening to shoot you. The police are here, and they want us to come out with our hands up!"
As I stared at her in disbelief, I thought, Oh, no! She’s gone crazy from the chemo drugs.
An explosive situation?
By this time, my brother had gone back down to the basement, so when I entered the kitchen, he was nowhere to be seen. I truly thought my wife was losing it.
Then I stepped outside. Sure enough, there stood a couple of Green Bay’s finest, guns at the ready, motioning for us to run to safety. As we made our way toward an officer, my wife repeated what she had heard. Then the officer looked at me. Oh good grief, I thought, still sure my wife was imagining the entire kitchen conversation. I paused. I looked at my wife. I paused. I looked at the police officer. Then I gave what I thought was the correct explanation as to why we were in this ridiculous scenario:
"My wife is going through chemotherapy and taking all kinds of drugs, and she may be hallucinating."
You should have seen the look my wife gave. Strangely enough, this look was even louder than whisper-yelling. But what was I to do? I clearly had not had a conversation with my brother in the kitchen. My wife was on a lot of medication. What other explanation could there be?
Just then, several additional squad cars zoomed in, lining our quiet street. I watched in horror as officers surrounded our house. One yelled, "He says he has the house rigged with explosives and is going to blow it up!" Apparently, my wife was right. Our basement troll had completely lost it. Now he was calling emergency numbers, threatening everyone he could.
I looked at my wife just in time to witness her eyes piercing my soul. "I told you so," she growled. I was tempted to ponder all the possible ways my wife could kill me for telling the police she was a nut case, but instead I had another horrifying thought: What will the neighbors think? I could just imagine my elderly neighbor saying to his wife, "I knew that pastor fellow was unstable."
A police officer broke into my thoughts, asking with all sincerity, "Sir, that man is threatening to blow up the house. Do you have any explosives in there?"
"What? No!" I replied. "It’s just my brother in the basement. Clearly, he’s had a mental lapse. Just go get him!"
After storming my basement and apprehending my brother, the police put him in a squad car and took him off to the local mental-health facility. Relieved that my home no longer had the appearance of a crack house under siege, I went inside to be with my wife.
Seeing the lighter side
And what did Debbie and I do after it was all over? We laughed. We laughed really, really hard. Oh, I know, we should have had a degree of compassion for my poor brother — and we did. We should probably have been a little embarrassed by the display we’d put on — and we were. But first, we laughed.
Throughout our 40 years together, my wife and I have chosen to laugh at the craziness in our lives. We laughed when we learned we were on the wrong train in Europe, going the wrong direction. We laughed after we escaped our motor home that had burst into flames while going down the Indiana freeway. We laughed after we performed an emergency landing when one of the engines on our airplane quit over Lake Michigan. And we laughed after experiencing our own personal episode of "Law & Order."
Laughter is a great stress reducer. And if your marriage is anything like ours, it has its fair share of stress. Laughter helps us avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It helps release the frustration that can build up over time.
I could go into studies that show how people who laugh are healthier, happier and live longer. I could quote Bible verses that speak to the healing power of a merry heart. But I have learned, lo these many years, that laughter is not something that can be taught, either with statistics or even Scripture verses. Laughter is a choice.
Christian comedian Ken Davis once told me, "Laughter consists of three elements: truth, exaggeration and surprise." Well, if there is any institution on earth full of truth, exaggeration and surprise, it’s marriage. In marriage, if you choose to reflect on the absurdity of your circumstances, if you gain the discipline of looking at the lighter side of life, you can smile in the face of adversity and joyfully eradicate tension.
Want to be healthier? Want to live longer? Want to enjoy life? Want to have a fulfilling marriage? Choose to laugh.