One of Pastor Dale’s sermons on houses built on rocks versus sand made me think.  He posed the question, “What will reveal the foundation of the house?”  After a deliberate pause, Dale answered his own question, “Storms of life.”

What is the foundation of our house?  Can Joe and I overcome the storms of life instead of being swept away by their forces?

 So I reminded Joe of the sermon content as we headed to Canada Banff, a little getaway over the Labor Day weekend just for the two of us.

“Are we ready for the storms of life?  We used to have God, church and a strong support system. Now it’s just us.  How do we know that our house is going to stand after the storm?”  I wanted Joe to think about it as well.

Joe didn’t have to think.  He already had the answer.  “The truth is no house will stand if the force is greater than what it’s built to take.  As for us, we can increase our resistance by communicating, understanding each other and life as general …”

Our conversation didn’t go very far or deep as we were going through the various check points at the airport.  Little did we know that trials were awaiting us not far ahead.

Banff really lived up to its reputations.  The mountains stretched hundreds of miles and embraced us from all around.  The creamy green glacier lakes, creeks and waterfalls glittered under the bright sunlight.  The two-hundred-mile drive from Banff to Jasper was rated the most scenic mountain roadway by the National Geography.  It was so beautiful and tranquil as if someone just took up the brushes and painted the perfect pictures.  Joe admired the scenery with a sense of awe and was having a time of his life with his upgraded photography gears.  We were half way to Jasper when Joe came back to the car making an odd comment.

“It’s like the sun was so bright outside that everything appears blurry to me right now.”

I didn’t pay much attention to it.  He kept on moving his right index finger around his eyes.

“I can’t see my finger when it moves to the side.  When I look ahead, the picture is distorted.  It’s really strange.”  Joe was getting frustrated and I started to understand the seriousness of the situation.

His vision is impaired…  Brain tumor!  I gasped but didn’t say anything.

Our original plan was to take an excursion onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier via the Massive Brewster Ice Explorer.  But by the time we got there, Joe was in terrible shape.  His vision hadn’t restored plus now he had a splitting headache.

“I think we should just go to the hotel so that you can rest.  I’ll drive.”  I started to panic.

“No… I’ll drive … I’ll be okay.”  Joe put his head down on the steering wheel.

“No, you aren’t okay.  I AM driving!”

“Are you sure?”


We switched seats.  With my heart pounding and my hands tightly gripping the wheel, I got us out of the parking lot and onto the winding and narrow mountain road.  I could count with my one hand how many times I had driven on the highway in the past ten years.  I wasn’t a confident driver and didn’t like driving.  But this called for an exception.

Listening to Joe throwing up his gut into the plastic bag made the drive even harder.  I told myself to focus on the road but couldn’t help trying to figure out how to get us home if Joe became incapacitated.

“This must be altitude illness … my vision is getting better.”  Joe informed me between his forceful vomits.

I took a deep breath of relief.  Thank goodness it’s not brain tumor … and thank goodness for GPS!  Hour and an hour later we arrived at our hotel at Jasper.

The young lady behind the reception desk told me our room wouldn’t be available until 4 pm, which meant we had to wait another hour and a half.

I demanded a room.  “My husband is sick and he needs to lie down right now.”

“Okay, in that case I’ll switch you to a different room.”

So I checked us in and Joe went straight to bed.

When I put the steamy Roman cup in his hand, he looked at me lovingly. “Did you know that you saved my life today?  If would have died if you weren’t there.”

“No, you would have had made it.”

“I don’t know.  The headache almost killed me.”

“I thought it was brain tumor when you were experiencing vision problems, but I didn’t tell you.”

“What if it were brain tumor?”

“Hopefully, you wouldn’t die today.  I’ll have to try to get us home.”

Joe smiled again.  “You acted pretty calm through the whole thing.”

“But I panicked inside.”

In about an hour, Joe announced that he was well enough to explore Jasper.  The brief storm of life passed and both of us were still standing, but not for too long.

Jasper was as breathtaking as Banff.  Joe bounced back to his old energetic and enthusiastic self as if nothing had happened.  At Maligne Lake, while moving his tripod around on the deck to capture the picture-perfect scene, Joe stepped into a narrow rotten wood plank and got his foot stuck between the adjacent planks.  He couldn’t move.  Luckily an Indian couple was also on the deck taking pictures.  The guy lent a foot and after some maneuvering set Joe free.  Joe’s foot was bruised, swollen and he had to walk with a limp for the rest of the evening.  He needed ice but we didn’t know where to get it.  Being a resourceful guy, Joe dipped his foot in the ice-cold glacier lake.  The next day the limp went away and he was as good as new.

On the way to Jasper downtown after the foot incident, the GPS issued a warning ‘battery low’.  Joe realized that the rental car charger had stopped working.  Instead of having a good meal in a cozy restaurant, we spent the evening limping around searching for a mini cable so that the GPS could be charged in the hotel room.  The pharmacy didn’t have it, and neither did the video store nor the cell phone store.  Finally we found it at a camera store.  When we returned to the hotel that night I was glad the day was over.

It took us more than ten hours to drive back to Banff from Jasper.  Joe’s altitude illness didn’t come back.  We made so many stops to see the things we missed on the way to Jasper.  The glacier excursion was awesome.  We were standing on ice that was three hundred meters deep.  I was just happy that nobody was sick, injured and we weren’t caught off guard by something unexpected.  The gorgeous warmer weather and the stunning views made the ride even more pleasing.  I wished everyday could be as enjoyable and worry-free as this.

The next day after a delicious dim sum brunch in Chinatown, we headed to the airport.  I was expecting a trouble-free flight back home.  Joe presented our passports to the officer in the booth.  He asked us a couple of questions and then handed the passports back to us.  We were still by the booth putting things away when a young blond woman officer in a ponytail approached us.

“Follow me.  This way please.”  She gestured us to turn right.

Joe and I walked behind her, making faces at each other.

“What do you have in that gray hard case?”  She asked with a flat tone of voice.

“Oh, it’s my gears for taking pictures.”

We were led to a small and enclosed area with a long table in the middle.  The officer motioned for us to place everything on the table.

“Do you have any food with you?”

“Ooohh… yes yes … I’ve got some fruit with me that I’m going to eat on the airplane.”  Joe stuttered.

My heard dropped.  I had suggested to him to throw the rest of the fresh Longan away.

But Joe sounded one hundred percent positive when he replied, “This is still Canada.  They don’t care if you take food with you.  As long as I don’t have it when we land in the U.S., it’s not going to be a problem.”

I remembered we were asked to eat the bananas or throw them away when we were departing the airport in Hawaii.  So I brought it up again and Joe offered the same answer.

The custom officer disagreed with Joe.  “Do you know that you’re going to screw up our agriculture by doing this?”

“I was going to eat it on the airplane. I didn’t know we were going through custom on the Canadian side.  This is Canada, right?”  Joe chortled.

The blond officer wasn’t amused.  She pointed at the custom form Joe had filled out.  “You checked the ‘no’ box to the food category.  You should have checked ‘yes’ and be honest.”

Now that she had proved our guilt, she went through everything in our luggage and bombarded us with interrogational questions.

“How much money do you have with you?”

“A couple hundred dollars.”  I answered.

“I-I am not sure.”  Joe reached for his pocket.

“Just give me an estimate.  I don’t need you to count it.”  She gave Joe a stern look.

“Maybe five hundred?”

Seeing a white gift box with the red word ‘Canada’ on it, she opened it.  Inside there were a hand-painted pendant and a pair of matching earrings made of aluminum I bought at downtown Banff.

“How much gifts did you buy?”

I didn’t know how much Joe put down for gifts, and being fully aware that the blond was ready to pounce on us any minute, my survival instinct kicked in.  I decided to go low.

“Fifty dollars.”

In the end, she didn’t find anything else on us.

“Wait here and I’ll be back.  And you can pack up your suitcases now.”  She left with our passports.

Ten minutes later, the officer reappeared with our documents.

“Truly sorry about that…  I really didn’t mean to take the food to Chicago … I apologize… please don’t put us on the black list.”  Joe made a last ditch effort to salvage a bad situation.

The blond didn’t buy into any of it.  “We’re here to do a job.  I can’t tell you what I have or haven’t put into your record.”

“I’m really sorry.  Please understand …” Joe wasn’t going to give up.

“Let’s just go!”  I started walking with one of the suitcases.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, we were stopped again when our carry-ons were going through the conveyor belt.  The x-ray revealed something suspicious inside Joe’s backpack.  I was confident that we were clean since the officer had already looked through all our staff.  But surprise, surprise, they found a nifty sharp knife we bought in Calgary that I used to peel apples for Joe.

“You should have known not to put the knife in the carry-on bag.”  I groaned under my breath.  I handed him the knife the night before when we were packing.

“I thought I had put it in the check-in bag.  I’m almost sure I did …” Joe mumbled.

“But it’s not there.  It’s here.”  I no longer tried to hide my disappointment.

“We can UPS it to you if you want.  All you have to do is fill out the form over there.”  The security lady was much more friendly and understanding.

The knife cost $12.  “Just toss it.”  Joe waved his hand and smiled at the kind lady.

We got to the gate without any more problems.  I sat down, silent and stone-faced.

“So you are mad.”  Joe glanced at me.

“I told you to throw the fruit away.  What if she did make a note in the system?  Now they’ll go through our bags every time we come back from China.  What a pain! And why did you put the knife in the backpack?”  I complained.

“So it’s all my fault …”

I thought about it for a minute.  “Come to think of it, yeah, it’s your fault.”  I said calmly.

“Okay …  It’s my fault, I screwed up … If you like that knife so much, I’ll buy you another one … I’ll buy ten of them.”

“I DON’T want that knife.”  I stared into his eyes and then looked away.

Neither of us spoke another word for the rest of the trip.

“So we failed the test …” Joe broke the silence after we got home and settled in bed after midnight.

“I guess so.”

“I felt wronged by that custom officer.  I needed comfort and understanding at the time.  But you blamed me too.  It made me feel even worse… When I hurt my foot, you didn’t even care to take a look at it … I don’t know, I feel lonely and cold …”

I had the tendency to withdraw when things got too stressful and Joe interpreted that as uncaring.

But I was in no mood to explain or carry on a lengthy conversation because I checked my email after we got home and found out that I had to go to the office in the morning instead of working from home, which meant I had to get up in less than five hours.  However a profound shift took place that moment: Joe was actually sharing with me his deep internal feelings.  “I feel lonely and cold” didn’t sound like anything from Joe’s mouth.  I was used to him saying things like “I’m okay”, “Everything is fine” even when they weren’t.  My heart was softened instantly and a shot of warmth went up and down my spine.  “But it’s too late and we’ll have to hash this out tomorrow.”  I told myself.

We made up the sweet Joe-and-Linda style the next day and I woke up with a song in my heart. Joe started sending me text messages quoting Chinese idioms and poems proclaiming his love for me and subtly expressing a desire for a more intimate and harmonious relationship.

I texted him back, “U r so full of it but I love you all the same.”

I was even more shocked when Joe told me that he had spent the last few days searching for an experienced and credible counselor to help us improve our communication skills.  I suggested seeking counseling before when we were contemplating divorce but Joe took it as an insult.

“I’m fifty years old.  Why do I need counseling?  What can they tell me that I don’t already know?”  He grunted indignantly.

But now Joe himself had placed phone calls to Northwestern University and inquired about their counseling services and rates.  At the end Joe being the ‘quality, comfort and affordability’ guy, figured that traveling hour and half to Northwestern one way and paying an hourly rate of at least $180 ain’t worth it.  So he ordered more than a dozen of books on the subject.

“Let’s see what the bright minds have to say.”  Joe chuckled.  “Baby, I really want us to communicate better and I want us to stand together to face the storms of life.  Will you be on this journey with me?”

My heart rejoiced.  “Of course I’ll be on this journey with you!”

“So how about I read these three books and you read those, and we’ll discuss and learn and get better at this, right?”

The books he handed me were written by Dr. Phil.  I loved the titles “Family First” and “Relationship Rescue”

“Right! I’ll read them all.  And of course we’ll discuss and learn and improve.”

No, we didn’t pass the test with flying color.  And no, my dear Joe wasn’t as perfect as I thought he was and my flaws were even more obvious.  But if awareness was the first step to awakening and willingness to learn and change the catalyst for life-changing transformation, we were moving in the right direction and readying ourselves for whatever awaiting us in the near or far future.