When my husband first had his stroke, my prayer was that God would use this event to glorify His name and further His kingdom. As the days wore on, that prayer changed to something along the lines of, “Please don’t let me do anything to bring scorn to Your name.” And then it progressed to, “Please, God, help me through this day”, and then to, “Please, God!” and then to, “Goooooood!” and then to something like, “ghlghlghl” I don’t know how long I stayed at “ghlghlghl” it seemed like a long time, and worse than that, it seemed like it would be for the rest of my life. I relied heavily on the Great High Priest to make intercession for me (Hebrews 7:25). I relied heavily on the Holy Spirit to take my groanings and make them into intercession according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27). I relied heavily on the prayers of the body of Christ, both local and universal. The prevailing theme of every conversation at this time was, “I am just so tired!”
In an attempt to encourage me, a friend suggested that, as in Job’s life, God was saying at this moment, “Have you seen my servant Deanna?…” I replied, “OK, as long as that isn’t because he has lost track of me.” She said it was good that I still had my sense of humor. I let her think that’s what it was. It was dark, and it was hard, and yet there was nothing to do but go on. My friend, Kathy wrote the following about her adjustment to Africa. I have to say she is “strummin’ my pain”:
“Time, the evil genius, diced my days into endless little seconds, and simultaneously morphed them into a large unrecognizable blob. I no longer pled for escape; I just existed… Hour followed hour, day followed day. Time crept. It barely moved. But in the end -it did pass. Like a scalpel, slicing and scarring, but finally healing, the days turned into weeks, and Time slowly peeked into my shell and coaxed me out. Emerging bit by bit but still unaware, I was startled one day when I suddenly noticed the light. When had this happened? When did I stop crying? Suddenly, jokes were funny again, and boys were cute. An orange sun seeping across the great Rift Valley was stunning, and freshly-picked pineapples were ridiculously sweet. The pain wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t gutting me anymore either.”
Much like Kathy experienced, I have found that the passage of time has brought me to a place above that of mere survival. Life has a flow to it now. While I have not seen the kind of recovery I would have liked in Strokeman, there has been enough return to keep me from total exhaustion. Enough for me to be able to contemplate what has changed in me. So much, in fact, that when someone referred to my suffering the other day, I was kind of caught by surprise. Oh! am I suffering? Hmm, maybe not so much any more. Or maybe, I have just learned to put things in their proper place a little bit better.
You see, this is what has changed in me the most. This ability to evaluate circumstances with more objectivity. The presence of mind to decide what is mine to own and deal with, and what is not. For the first time in my life I am able to express what I am thinking without worrying about whether the other person will agree. I am able to listen without worrying about having to resolve every issue. I am comfortable with what I can do, but maybe more importantly I am comfortable with what I can’t do. Timothy Keller calls it the freedom of self forgetfulness: I don’t care what you think of me, I don’t care what I think of me, I only care what God thinks of me, and He sees me through the blood of the Lamb. “Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (from The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness).
In connection with this I have learned not to worry. My husband is still brain damaged. My son is still in the army. My daughter is still struggling with itchy skin and insomnia. Others of my family are angry with Strokeman’s lack of motivation. Some are struggling with large life issues. My dad still has Parkinson’s and continues to struggle with giving up his independence. None of this is mine to fix – so what good does worrying do? I pray for them. And then I relax. Because the truth is that God is not only sovereign over my life, He is sovereign over theirs as well. He loves them more than I love them. He is completing in them what He began. I am pretty sure He is more capable of dealing with their lives than I am. I have relaxed my grip and let go (after having my proverbial hand beaten repeatedly against lots of hard surfaces).
Do I do this perfectly? No. I still find myself getting that panicky, “how do I fix this???” feeling in my gut. Especially if I start looking too far forward. Sometimes I think about whether Strokeman will be able to walk his daughter down the aisle when she meets her “Mr- God’s-Will-For-My-Life.” Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get to go back to Africa, or even be gone from home for more that a couple of days. Sometimes when we have had a few really bad days I wonder if Strokeman is going to die, and folks, no matter how hard the past two years have been, I.do.not.want.him.to.die! Well, when I start down that path of things that don’t belong to me, I remember that God does not give us grace for the next 20 years. He gives us grace for today. And if the worst case scenario should happen? His grace is sufficient.
The good thing about going through difficulties is that then you have something to look back on. Because we went into the ER without insurance, I can look back on God’s provision for us even when we really didn’t deserve it. Because of the stroke I have had mercies poured out on me from friends, family, and strangers. If I had not gone through these dark days I would not have the memory of being gently carried by my Shepherd, of hiding in the cleft of the Rock where He covers me with His hand, of His everlasting arms yet underneath me.
Reading with Strokeman this morning from Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, I was reminded how important it is for me to remember this time and what I learned. I was reminded that difficulties are tools to help us understand Scripture. It’s kind of cyclical: We learn Scripture to help us deal with life, and dealing with life helps us learn Scripture. This is the path to knowing God. It is the path I want. These struggles have reminded me in very palpable ways that this is not my home. I am passing through this life on my way to a better land. That land with no tears, and no pain is more precious to me because I have been through this land of tears and pain.
So now my prayer is that God would use me to encourage others I meet along the difficult road to Glory. When I hear of health problems, I pray for healing, if it is the Lord’s will (and I am grateful for any who are led to pray for healing in Strokeman). But as I pray, I know that it is possible that God will not bring healing – at least not right away. He may choose once again to confound the “wise” with the weakness of His people. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Both possibilities bring a bit of anticipation to my heart. I see these potentially tragic situations in the lives of my believing friends, and wonder what amazing ways the character of God will be revealed in it and them. I want to say to them, “You are about to embark on the most exciting and terrifying ride of your life, but don’t be afraid, because the Comforter will be with you, and your High Priest has already prayed for you.”
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t wish on anyone the pain, uncertainty, disappointment and heartache that I have gone through in my life…unless…unless it means that they will be able to taste and see that the Lord is good the way I have. Unless it means that they will be made more like Him. Unless it brings them to that great freedom of self forgetfulness.
So that progression of prayer? It has made its way to not really being about me at all. I know who holds my tomorrows, and I know who holds my hand.