Paul Henderson and Sidney Crosby

I had no idea who Paul Henderson was. I think a lot of people under 30 or 40 didn’t unless you’re a hockey fan. And now most people have probably heard his name crop up a lot in the last 20 hours or so in comparison to Sidney Crosby and the now famous golden goal yesterday. Here’s the funny story about it all for me.

On Thursday night I had Bible Study but John couldn’t be there. In our study are a couple of hockey fans who were looking forward to a weekend of Olympic hockey. J and I were looking forward to the Weekend to Remember marriage conference. I mentioned it at the end of the study and S said, “I think Paul Henderson’s going to be there.” And K turns around, wide-eyed and said, “Wow, really?” And I said, “Who?” And they both stared at me, mouths gaping, “You don’t know who Paul Henderson is?” And a flurry of descriptions and gestures ensued (I’m pretty sure neither of them were born at the time of Henderson’s 1972 Goal of the Century) and all I caught was “hockey” “famous” “goal” “Russians”. It didn’t really mean much to me.

So Friday came and John and I arrived at the conference. I had by that point already forgotten the hockey player’s name. And the first speaker was Paul Henderson. And he immediately introduced himself and his lovely wife and explained who he was and why he was famous. He even had a recording of the commentary of that 1972 moment and played it over his mic. Then he proceeded to tear it all down as to why he hated that goal and why it wasn’t important. Paul became a Christian a number of years later and it completely changed his life. And we got to know a wonderfully funny and charming jock with a famous rep that he has turned into a witness and ministry.

Then on Saturday we learned from Paul himself that he is suffering from cancer. Paul was diagnosed in November with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He made the announcement publicly last week when he was asked to say a few motivational words to Alexandre Bilodeau on his historic gold medal. Paul doesn’t look like he’s got cancer. He looks great, is incredibly energetic and a heckuva speaker. He told us that he doesn’t hold any fear, angst or bitterness in him about it and that it is because of his faith in Jesus.

Then the golden game on Sunday afternoon. The conference was scheduled to have a session exactly when the third period started around 2pm. And since we’re at a marriage conference, most people there (mostly wives) really wanted their husbands to go to the session rather than the game. In life, what’s more important? And there are some people who simply don’t like hockey. So in all fairness to those people the session would begin at 2pm. What to do, what to do? The conference was awesome enough to arrange the game to be projected on to the big screen in the auditorium during the lunch break so we were able to watch the first two periods. Then, the screen would be turned off and the session would start. What to do, what to do?

Right before lunch, the women and men were in separate sessions  dealing with our roles as wives and mothers and husbands and dads. In Paul’s session with the men, he told them that he knew exactly how some of them were feeling: torn between pleasing their wives by going to the session and showing her that their marriage mattered more than hockey, and watching a very important, even historic, event. So he told the guys to approach their wives and say something like, “Honey, I love you and our marriage is more important than any hockey game. I am willing to miss it and go to the session with you because it’s important to you and us.” They were to give the wife the decision-making power. Paul knew that given that it was a marriage conference, those wives who were floored by their husband’s consideration of her feelings would be so touched that they would probably let their husbands go watch or even go with them. And of course, the speakers weren’t going to hold it against anyone for not returning for that session. So J came to me and presented me with his selfless gesture. And I said, “Wow, I appreciate it, but c’mon, this is history making here. We’ve got the book, we can go over the session material on our own.” And he happily agreed to watch the final period(s) with me in the restaurant lounge of the hotel. I will admit that I was actually surprised more couple didn’t play hooky and skip out but good for them.

We watched in anticipation and literally on the edge of our seats as the US tied it 2-2 in the last 30 seconds of regulation time. Then we screamed in victory when Sidney Crosby scored and made history. And we returned to the end of the final session and learned that when the speakers announced the Canadian win, Paul jumped up and down on stage and broke out into O Canada, with the rest of the crowd joining in. Unfortunately, two Americans got really offended and stormed out of the conference. (Really, if the US had won, they would have had their victory dance and we would have all graciously and politely let them and congratulated them.)

And without realizing it, we witnessed Paul’s historic goal and reputation be eclipsed by the younger Crosby’s golden goal, at least in younger minds who didn’t experience the Cold War. And it was a strange circle of a weekend, starting out with meeting a great guy and not knowing who he was, to realizing that he was a famous Canadian, to knowing that he was going to quite possible publicly struggle with cancer, to seeing him come into the limelight for a little while everyone does goal comparisons, to sensing that he will fade away again into a fuzzy legend. And I think he’s ok with that. He’s a classy guy with a classy wife and I’m sure he’s proud to have a guy like Crosby stand next to him in history.

And the conference itself? Awesome. I highly recommend it to any couple, whether you have a great marriage or you’re losing hope that you’re going to make it. We went it for a tune-up and came home with deeper appreciations for each other and our differences. We’ve gained a tool-box of knowledge and application to help us deepen out commitment to each other, strengthen out bond, and work out our issues. We’ve grown closer together and closer to God. What are you waiting for?

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