By the time Doug and Patty Daily faced their most difficult trial, their marriage had come a long way from the days when they prayed one of them would die.
For over a month, 12-year-old Daniel Daily complained of hearing a funny sound in his head. But his parents, Doug and Patty, didn’t take him seriously—after all, he was the type of child who seemed to notice everything—he could hear the sound of a florescent light bulb. Yes, he was suffering from headaches, but his doctor said they were just migraines.
Finally on a Saturday morning in April of 1997, while they were preparing to play in a soccer game, Daniel turned to his sister, Laura, and said, “See if you can hear this.” She put her ear up to his ear and said, “I can hear something.” And so, finally, could Doug and Patty—it sounded like water running intermittently through a crimp in a hose.
They called a doctor, who suggested that Daniel should sit out his soccer game. He said it sounded like an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), a tangled web of blood vessels that can cause hemorrhages or seizures.
This news, and the subsequent five-day wait for Daniel to have an MRI (magnetic resonance image), plunged Patty into a deep state of anxiety. She read up on AVMs, and wondered if Daniel might even have a brain tumor. In a way, she was already grieving the loss of her son.
She and Doug prayed together one night that week, and she felt like she was like Abraham in the Old Testament, giving her son over to God. “If Daniel has a tumor, and he has to go to chemotherapy, I’ll trust you, Lord,” she prayed. “If he dies and You take him home, I’ll trust you.”
Then Doug prayed, and to Patty his words sounded so indifferent: “God, please help us through this time. Give the doctors wisdom as they look at Daniel … ” When his prayer was finished he turned to her and said, “I don’t think we should get so worked up about this. We don’t even know if there’s anything to worry about yet. It might be nothing.”
Patty was livid. Was her husband actually telling her that she shouldn’t be emotional—when their son might be fighting for his life? Wasn’t this problem—the inability to share intimately with each other, to express their emotions—the very thing that nearly drove them apart early in their marriage?
She looked at him and said, “Doug, I am going through the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. I have never been so scared. Clearly, I cannot trust you with my pain. I have friends who will let me feel it, express it, and even feel it with me. I’ll walk through this with them and with God … but not with you.”
That moment remains seared in the memories of Doug and Patty Daily. It was one of those turning points in a marriage, when a husband and wife make choices that will lead them toward isolation or toward unity. But God had worked in their lives for many years to prepare them for those choices … and for the two extraordinary weeks that lay before them.
“The black hole of affection”
They met in 1975 at a Christian camp in Mississippi called King’s Arrow Ranch. Doug was camp director, and Patty was women’s director. “I fell in love with Doug immediately,” Patty recalls. “He was a strong, decisive leader.” Doug didn’t return her interest, however, until they served at the camp again the following summer. By this time he had joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and she was in the process of doing the same. They shared the same commitment to helping reach the world with the gospel of Christ.
When they married on April 9, 1977, at Kings Arrow Ranch, they were convinced they had a lot in common. But as they began their ministry together—one more summer at the camp and then four years with the campus ministry at the University of Minnesota—they soon learned how different they actually were.
“I think the things that attracted Patty to me were the very things that began to annoy her,” Doug says. Yes, he was a decisive leader, but the flip side to this positive trait was that he often rolled over people in his eagerness to reach his objective. He didn’t listen well, and he didn’t care about her feelings.
Patty had always dreamed of a marriage in which she enjoyed a deep spiritual and emotional intimacy with her husband. And during engagement, Doug was all she desired—affectionate, thoughtful, focused totally on pleasing her.
Now, he would return home from a day on campus and turn on the television, or spend his evenings fixing up the home they had purchased. He wouldn’t talk with her the way he once did. She felt increasingly disappointed, lonely, and hopeless.
For his part, Doug couldn’t understand why Patty wanted so much attention and affection. Early in their marriage they took a test that measured how much affection you wanted and how much you want to give. They discovered they were exact opposites.
“That’s when I coined the phrase, ‘Patty is the black hole of affection,'” Doug recalls. I felt like a fly caught in the spider’s web after the spider has sucked out all its juice. After she and I talked, I felt like I was just a shell of my former self. She seemed compulsively driven to connect emotionally. I wondered how many of these intimate conversations she wanted to have.”
They enjoyed a fruitful ministry on campus. But as the months and years passed, a deep sense of disappointment settled into their home. They didn’t understand each other—didn’t even understand themselves—and had no idea how to connect with each other. “I know there’s a person in there that I love,” Patty would say, “but I can’t get to him. He’s hidden behind this huge wall, and it’s driving me crazy.”
“God, take one of us home”
In 1980 they moved to Dallas, where Doug began studying at Dallas Theological Seminary. They also decided something had to be done about their relationship, so through the seminary they found a solid Christian counselor. “I remember thinking that if Christianity works, it had better work in marriage,” Doug says. “But I couldn’t take it any further than that.”
Doug jokes that the counselor took one look at him and thought, “This one is going to take some time.” So he started meeting first with Patty. As she began to open up about her past and about her struggles in marriage, Patty began to understand that one of her deep-rooted habits was to stuff her emotions deep inside.
“In counseling, for the first time I began to feel it was a safe place to begin to let myself feel things, and the most significant was the hurt about not being loved the way I wanted to be loved,” she says. “It was the first time I let myself feel that much pain.”
For a time the sadness was too much to bear, and Patty allowed her pain to turn to anger toward Doug and toward God. “It was a crisis of faith for me. I remember saying, ‘If there is a God, how could He allow anyone to hurt this much?'”
She felt trapped. Doug was studying to become a pastor, and she felt like a hypocrite, like her marriage was a sham. “I just felt this sense of hopelessness, that the rest of my life was going to be miserable.”
Perhaps, she thought, it would be best if one of us could just die.
Doug, meanwhile, was entertaining the same thoughts. Patty’s seething anger toward him was unmistakable. To him, divorce was not an option. “I prayed, ‘God, take one of us home,’ so that the other could have relief.”
The Bungee Jump
When Doug began his own counseling, he and the counselor spent a few sessions talking about how Doug had repressed his own pain and anger in much the same way his wife had. Among other things, he feared being emotionally vulnerable to another person.
“Intimacy for me is like a bungee jump. It’s like I’m leaving this platform of stability, and I’m going to leap off and open myself up to somebody who has the potential of hurting me deeply.” Slowly Doug learned that the bungee cord is “attached to the hand of God, and He will not let me plunge to my death. Even today when there’s something I’m feeling that I need to tell Patty, it still feels like a bungee jump, even though I’ve now jumped off the platform hundreds of times. I have to consciously decide to take the leap.”
In a similar way, Patty learned to trust God in the midst of her despair. Even today she has trouble fully expressing the choice she made, because she doesn’t understand it. “At some point, I just decided there is a God, and that God is good, even though it sometimes doesn’t look that way. I had to accept that by faith.”
She also realized only God could completely satisfy her longings for affection, intimacy, and love. “The reality of living here on earth in this fallen world is there is going to be disappointment and longing for more. She says that Doug’s love is like an appetizer to whet her appetite for the real meal in heaven. Understanding this concept enabled her to accept her husband as God’s gift to her. (“So all I am,” Doug jokes, “is an appetizer to Patty!”)
To the Dailys, counseling helped them feel secure in verbalizing their emotions to each other—and that very process produced the oneness that God desired in their relationship. “Your feelings are who you are,” Patty says. “If we were to become intimate and get to know each other, we had to be honest about our feelings.”
They learned to name the emotions they were feeling in different conflicts, and they learned how to apologize and express forgiveness. “I can remember one time when Patty did something to hurt my feelings,” Doug says. “When I talked about it with her, she quickly said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ I said, “You’re apologizing too quickly. You’re not letting me tell you how I felt, and you’re not feeling the impact of what you did.”
The changes have come slowly, but Doug and Patty can look back now and see how their marriage is being transformed. “If I ever have doubts about whether God really works in people’s lives,” Patty says, “all I have to do is think about Doug today and the Doug of the past. He is like a different person. He is an excellent listener. Of all the people I know, he is the quickest to admit when he is wrong. The things that I used to long for to change in him, many have changed.”
Between the Paws of Aslan By 1997, Doug and Patty were living in Little Rock, Ark., where Doug was a pastor at Grace Church. When they discovered something was wrong with Daniel, and while they waited for his MRI, God’s Spirit began to move in both of their hearts. Patty realized that, no matter how differently they reacted, no matter how dangerous it felt to let Doug see her pain, she and Doug had to walk through this together. At the same time Doug realized he needed to let Patty work through her emotions with him; he needed to listen, draw her out, and acknowledge her pain.
By the time the day of Daniel’s MRI arrived, Patty had rehearsed the experience over and over in her mind. After the procedure, she predicted, they would wait for awhile in the neurologist’s office. Finally the doctor would come in and walk over to Daniel, avoiding eye contact with Doug and Patty. He would ruffle Daniel’s hair and say something like, “Are you doing okay, buddy?” Then he’d turn to them and say, “Can I talk with you alone?”
And that’s exactly how it happened. The doctor said the MRI had detected an egg-sized tumor in Daniel’s brain.
Doug felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. All the emotion he had contained for days came rushing out. He was so overcome that, when they went in to tell Daniel what was wrong, he couldn’t speak.
The neurologist didn’t know if the tumor was malignant or not. He didn’t know if it had invaded the brain stem; if so, Daniel probably wouldn’t live more than six more months. He could die from the surgery. And even if Daniel lived, he might face some sort of disability—in speech, balance, swallowing, or many other areas.
They had 11 days to wait for the operation. For all they knew, these might be their last days to spend with the son they knew.
Doug and Patty decided to heed the advice of their oldest son, Josh, and use those 11 days to do special things as a family. They went on picnics, played games, rode go-karts, and spent time reading the Bible and praying. “We delighted in Daniel as we never had before,” Doug says.
Daniel loved the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, and he asked Patty to read him the final book, The Last Battle. In the book Lewis paints a beautiful picture of heaven as he describes the “true Narnia,” where the book’s characters would spend an eternity with Aslan (the Christ figure in the series).
“At one point in the book three characters, Lucy and Edmund and King Tirian, were preparing for a battle in which they knew they would probably die,” Patty says. “King Tirian says to Jill, “Courage child, we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.’ When he heard that Daniel said, ‘Mom, that’s where I am.'”
Daniel was supported by the prayers of thousands around the country. On the day of surgery, Doug and Patty were surrounded by friends as they waited and started receiving periodic reports:
“They’ve opened the brain … ”
“The tumor doesn’t look malignant … ”
“We think we were able to get most of it, but we had to cut away a bit of his brain as well … ”
“He still may die in the next 24 hours.”
“There will probably be physical deficits.”
After surgery they went to see him. Doug had learned that a good sign would be if Daniel could stick out his tongue; that would indicate he could swallow and may not have suffered much neurological damage. But when he asked the nurse, “Have you gotten Daniel to stick out his tongue?” she didn’t know what he was talking about. Then Doug happened to look over at Daniel, whose eyes were open. With an impish look on his face, Daniel stuck out his tongue, and Doug started weeping.
Daniel was home within 36 hours. He has shown no after effects from the surgery, and follow-up MRIs have shown no sign of a new tumor. “We tasted the kindness of God in giving Daniel back to us,” Doug says.
“We tasted it in our relationship, in supporting each other and holding each other.”
And they tasted God’s kindness in not answering one of their prayers from the early days of their marriage. When their relationship was so hopeless that all they could think to pray was for God to take one of them home, He instead chose to show them His power. He brought their marriage back from the edge of destruction.