Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Encouragement (among believers) (11/08/07)
TITLE: Background Music
By Jan Ackerson
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I glance across the table at my beautiful daughter, all grown up. Meggie is witty and intelligent; nevertheless, I’m beating her at Trivial Pursuit. She is considering her response to “What pasta dish’s name translates into English as ‘little turnips?’” when the phone rings. Feeling smug because I know the answer, I listen to Meggie with one ear while in the other, a stranger’s voice disassembles my world.
“Mrs. Anderson, this is Dr. Carlson’s office. The radiologist found some suspicious shadows on your mammogram. We’d like you to repeat it as soon as possible.”
I don’t want to worry Meggie—she is oblivious to the crashing and clanging in my brain. Forcing calm into my voice, I make the necessary arrangements and return to the game.
“Well, that stinks,” I say in a practiced understatement. I move my piece to a “History” space. “I have to reschedule a mammogram.”
We are a family not given to outward displays of emotion. “Everything okay, mom?” We make eye contact, quickly broken.
“Oh sure, just a problem with the film.” We finish the game without mentioning the phone call again. Meanwhile, fragments of my future rise up and float in the air, tantalizingly out of reach: Meggie’s upcoming wedding…grandchildren…Brad’s and my 30th anniversary.
Over the next week, I go to work, I prepare meals, I play with the cat. The background music for each of these activities is a constant hum: cancer cancer cancer. Normally a woman of words, I seem to have lost them all at every level but the most superficial. At the deepest level of my spirit, where prayer resides, only one word remains. Please…
I am driving home from work a few days after the second mammogram, with please filling the interior of the car. The radio is tuned to my usual Christian station, but I’m not listening—the pleases are too loud and distracting. But suddenly a voice breaks through.
“Here’s today’s word of encouragement. It’s Isaiah 41:10, going out on the airwaves to someone who needs it—‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ Now we’ve got Michael W. Smith…”
And that’s all it takes. The cries of please swirl one final time around the car, contract together, and whoosh back into my heart, which splashes over with praise. Father, whatever the outcome, I will praise You. Whatever. It’s really okay. I’ll be okay.
Every now and then, I let my mom win at Trivial Pursuit. It makes her ridiculously happy, and it’s easy enough to pretend not to know an answer or two.
When the phone rang during our most recent game, I could tell immediately that something was wrong. But Mom pretended it was nothing, so I played along.
Repeat mammograms happen all the time, right?
But my first thought was about the wedding—if Mom has cancer, who will help me with the wedding?
In my defense, I prayed hard for two weeks, while we waited for the results.
One afternoon, while I baked cookies, a voice from the radio touched me. It was that deep-voiced guy who starts off the afternoon show, and I’m pretty sure he was talking to me. The verse started out with ‘Do not fear, for I am with you…’
I took a deep breath. Our family would get through this.
At station WMLE, Doug Roberts sits at his console and looks over the afternoon’s playlist. In his earpiece, he can hear the last measures of a Third Day song, so he prepares to send a commercial for a supermarket over the airwaves. As his fingers play over the knobs, he spots his Bible, open to the chapter he read before going on-air. At a nudge of his spirit he opens his mic. Third Day fades and Doug speaks in his deepest radio voice.
“Here’s today’s word of encouragement. It’s Isaiah 41:10, going out on the airwaves to someone who needs it…”
The musical intro begins, and Doug turns down the volume to his earpiece and leans back in his chair. He has three minutes before the flurry of activity will begin again. “This is a weird kind of ministry,” he thinks. “I wonder if anybody was really encouraged by that. Guess I’ll never know…” He takes a gulp of coffee and locates the next song.
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