Below is a copy of my second speech for the women’s conference. The audio for this speech suffered both some technical and personal difficulties that have resulted in the decision to post only the written speech. This seems to be the preference of the vast majority, in any case.
Two and a half years ago I was out on my back porch playing with my granddaughters. My husband had come out to sit with us, and as I was talking to him i noticed that he had leaned back in the chair and looked to be sleeping. I was a little irritated, because we were in the middle of a conversation, so I asked him if he was going to sleep. He told me he had a headache and I noticed his speech was slurred. I went over to look at him and observed that the left side of his face was drooping. I took the girls inside the house and told them to stay put for a minute. As i looked out the door to where my husband was sitting I noticed that he was trying to get up out of the chair, but couldn’t. I went back out and told him that I believed he was having a stroke and that I was calling an ambulance. I called the paramedics, then our son-in-law, so that he could come get the girls. The paramedics arrived at the same time as my son-in-law, and they confirmed that he was indeed having a stroke. They transported him to Harris Methodist, downtown, because they are evidently the resident stroke experts. We were able to get him to the hospital in the window of time necessary for them to administer the clot buster drug, TPA. Later I would be told that this probably saved his life, because he had had a massive stroke. Thus began the roller coaster ride of being the wife of a stroke survivor.
Initially, Sherman was totally unaware of his left side. His brain was telling him that he was perfectly fine, because it had totally forgotten the side of the body effected by the stroke. This is why he was convinced in the emergency room that he could lean against the bed in a standing position to urinate, when in actuality, he slid right down to the floor. This is why he tried to get up and go to the bathroom in CCU, and ended up with a black eye. He had lost his ability to walk, he could not use his left arm, and he developed left peripheral blindness in both eyes. Not only was there blindness, but his brain was also convinced that there just wasn’t a world past a certain point somewhere slightly left of his nose. He did not lose his ability to speak, although there was a bit of slurring at the beginning.
As we started the grueling process of trying to regain as much of what he had lost as possible, I began to notice other things about him that were different. His ability to think clearly was definitely effected. He would stubbornly defend his right to do things that were not in his best interest. He was eating voraciously, his food and mine. He became overly concerned with his privacy, to the extent that I could not get him to remove his exercise shorts one night so that use of the urinal would be less complicated. He refused to let anyone help him but me. The most distressing concern at this point was his lack of motivation to get better. His only goal seemed to be to get ambulatory enough to be able to make it to the toilet, so as to eliminate the need for a bedside commode. He didn’t want to learn to dress himself, or become independent in other ways. He was unwilling for the therapist to teach him anything that had to do with personal care.
Toward the end of our in-patient therapy, Sherman was only able to walk one or two steps with the assistance of two therapists and a walker. I was taught how to help him transfer from the bed to the wheelchair, from the wheelchair to the car, from the car to the wheelchair, and from the chair to the bed. And then we were sent home.
Two to three times a week I would take him back to the hospital for out patient rehab. The process of getting him dressed, in the car, through the therapies and back home into the bed was totally draining for both of us. At night, he would need me to help him turn in the bed from his back to his side and then back again. Because he had so little control over his movements, he would often end up diagonal in the bed, leaving me a corner at the foot. He would also wake me to help him use the urinal. Needless to say, I was exhausted.
Towards the end of our outpatient rehab they did a battery of tests to assess Sherman’s neuro-psychological health. They told me when we came for the tests that it would take approximately 2 hours. He was unable to do more than about 45 minutes of the testing, but the results were very instructive. They showed that Sherman’s memory from before the stroke was basically intact. This meant that he remembered people and events that were a part of what they called his crystalized memory. However, his ability to process new information and make appropriate decisions was severely affected. This made him a strange combination of Sherman and not Sherman (or what I have come to affectionately refer to as Strokeman). Sherman had always been a rather private, modest man, Strokeman is so modest that he gets annoyed if I refer to his need to go to the bathroom in front of his own son (who he taught to pee off the back porch). Sherman didn’t like a lot of noise in the house, Strokeman can hear a pin drop in the opposite end of the house while watching TV in his own room. Strokeman was easily influenced by every commercial and newscast. He would call our financial planner son on a weekly basis wanting to buy gold and silver coins. If his back started to itch he would think he was getting shingles, and he became so petrified that we were all going to die of the West Nile Virus that we could barely open the door wide enough to pass through for fear of letting mosquitos in the house. He became suspicious and paraoid. I had to learn how to be submissive in spirit, while often having to overrule decisions he would have made for us that would have been financially disastrous. I became the one to comfort and calm him, instead of being able to rely on him to comfort and calm me. He could quote from memory large portions of scripture, but was unable to articulate how they applied to our lives. He was no longer my spiritual leader, he was no longer my comforter and protector, but he was still my husband. I struggled with being angry at him for not wanting to get better, for not being able to consider my needs. I not only lost my husband, he was replaced with a less mature, very fearful and needy version of himself.
It has been 2 and a half years, and each month has brought some kind of improvement. He is not as influenced by things he sees on TV, he is able to articulate crystalized knowledge. He is able to consider others needs to a certain extent, although often that is more a willing spirit/weak flesh proposition. He is still unmotivated to gain independence the way I would like. He is fearful about leaving the house. While i am hopeful that we will continue to see improvements, I don’t anticipate that Sherman will ever be completely the man he was before the stroke. And still, to this day I often have to fight the fear that I will go into the bedroom and find that he has passed away.
This was by every definition a catastrophic event in our lives. We were taken totally by surprise. I had thought that my husband was very healthy. He was on no medications, we followed a fairly healthy diet, and he was active. We played tennis three days before his stroke. From a worldly perspective, we were unprepared. That is the nature of catastrophes. They aren’t generally planned for. They come out of nowhere and smack us in the face – repeatedly. Until we are hit, we think they only happen to other people. While we can be proactive with our health, make sure we are careful drivers, build our storm shelters, and check the expiration dates on all our food, there is no guarantee that we won’t find ourselves face to face with our own personal crisis. In fact, chances are pretty good in this broken world that we will be faced with some sort of trauma before our lives are over.
While doing what we can to be prepared from a practical worldly perspective is something we ought to attempt, more important than that for believers is to do what we can to prepare ourselves spiritually. As we don’t have the ability to see the future (thank God!), we don’t know what form calamity will take in our lives. But spiritually, that doesn’t matter, because the preparation is the same. Of course, I have already given you some clues to this in my earlier talk, but I would like to expand on it a bit more now.
Hebrews 10: 24,25 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another and so much more as you see the day approaching”. One of the most fundamental actions we can take to prepare ourselves for difficulty is to regularly avail ourselves to the means of grace. We need to sit under sound teaching, listening and applying what we are taught. We need to be an active part of our congregations, fellowshipping, serving, worshiping, praying. These things are called means of grace, because they are the means by which God pours out His grace on us. The single most helpful thing to me in the midst of my darkest hours was the years of teaching I had received from my pastors on the proper way to view my life. The people who rallied around me and worked to make sure my needs were met were the people of this congregation. I was comforted to know that they were praying for us constantly. If the pastor happens to be preaching on something that doesn’t seem to apply to your life at this exact moment, you still need to listen and learn. Who knows if tomorrow things will change drastically, if not for you personally, then perhaps for someone with whom you have developed a close friendship? Our prayer needs to be that of Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we might incline our hearts unto wisdom.” We live in a country that affords us great freedoms. We have much to distract us from diligently tending to those things that would grow us in wisdom. We have opportunity for leisure activities, we have various and sundry media attractions. If we are not careful, we forget that our lives are like grass – here one day, gone the next. It is good to consider whether we are using our time in such a way to prepare us for what is down the road.
And we should encourage each other in the same way. I was so encouraged to visit with one of the younger women in our church and have her tell me that she had recently had a gathering at her house that included both church members and non church members. The comment was made to her how refreshing it was that the conversation so easily turned to discussion of spiritual matters. This should be the nature of our interaction with each other. We should be able to flow easily back and forth between the issues of daily life, and the scriptures that apply.
I recently read a book written by a man who had traveled to areas of the world where Christianity is oppressed by the government (The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken). At one point when he was interviewing men who had been imprisoned because of their faith, the statement was made that you can only grow in jail what you take to jail with you. This made reference to the fact that the when you are isolated from the usual means of learning about God, your only resources are what you have stored up in your memory. Now, praise be to God, I was not in a situation in which I was totally isolated from my church family. While there were weeks in which I was unable to attend church, there was never a day that I did not have access to my Bible, my pastors, and my friends. However, there were many times that what I had committed to memory would come to me in the midst of my despair to comfort me. If you have free time on your hands, use it to read doctrinally sound books. Use it to memorize scripture. If you are musically inclined, memorize songs that are packed full of doctrinal truth. As you teach your children catechism, teach it to yourself. As you drill them on scripture memory, drill yourself. If your pastors are teaching through a particular book in the Bible, try to read through that book every week in between Sundays. Develop a habit of praying without ceasing and thankfulness of spirit. These are far more vital in the preparation for disaster than doing fire drills, wearing your seatbelt, or learning the signs of a stroke.
I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned through this experience in terms of what it is that suffering produces in us.
1. First of all, we are reminded that this world is not our home. Romans 8:16-18 “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with HIm, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not see. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” What we have to look forward to, that inheritance we share with Christ, is far more glorious than anything we may have to endure now. My suffering is not only insignificant compared to what I have to look forward to, it is insignificant to what fellow believers are suffering worldwide in terms of spiritual oppression. If you want to gain perspective on your life, spend some time reading about believers in countries run by Muslim governments. Read about Christians in communist countries where abortions are forced, jobs withheld, and prison sentences are a part of life. There have been days when I would have despaired if I had thought that this world is all I had to hope for. I have taken great comfort in meditating on the life to come in which there will be no sickness or pain, where I will not be housed in this decaying vessel, where the old man will be no more. There is great comfort in the sweet bye and bye!
2. Second, our suffering develops in us the character of Christ, particularly His ability to comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Because I have been through these difficulties, I have a compassion for others who have times of difficulty. I desire to share with them all that God has taught me through these dark days, so that I might bring to them some hope in the midst of their despair. In my own understanding it started with a desire to help other people who had suffered a stroke either directly or indirectly. But I began to realize that if what I have to say is biblical, then I should be able to generalize it beyond my specific experience to encourage believers in any difficult situation. What I have lived through gives me a practical knowledge of how to best come along side those in need – what is helpful, and what is not helpful. As I have been comforted by Christ, i can comfort His people who cross my path.
3. Suffering crystalizes for us what is really important in life, and helps us to trust the Sovereign and good God to take care of us. It is one thing to believe in theory that everything that comes into our lives is from a kind and merciful God. We can read it in the scripture, hear if from the pulpit, and offer our agreement to it. But until we are in the midst of tragedy, we do not have opportunity to test our faith and see if we truly believe what is spoken there. In verse 5 of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul goes on to say, “Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” Paul was confident that both suffering and comfort would be used by God for the consolation and salvation of other believers. This brings to mind our recent opportunity to serve our brother, Harry at the end of his life. The fact that he suffered through his dying days with peace of mind and cheerfulness of spirit ministered not only to our church body, but also to the professionals who tended him. And the comfort that the church provided for him in the last days was also used to bring glory to God. We proclaimed the name of Christ through our love for one another. These opportunities confirm for us the truth that we profess. Before I was afflicted I became fretful about things over which I had no control. Through my affliction I have learned to give those things to God, and not take them back. Sufficient are the worries of this day. “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand”
4. Connected to that, suffering gives us a unique foundation from which to speak of the truths of God. If we have persevered through difficult times, and still hold fast to our faith, then we have proven that it is not a shallow lip service that lacks true regeneration. Trials act as a refining fire in our hearts. 1 Peter 1:6-8 “In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while if need be you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.” Another story in the book I mentioned earlier is about a meeting with a group of believers in China. As the author was going around the room meeting each person in attendance, there was one man in particular who was eager to set up an appointment with him in order to be interviewed. The author willingly set up the appointment , but his interpreter pulled him aside and said, “That man is going to be someone God can use in a powerful way someday. But you cannot trust what he says now; he hasn’t been to prison yet.” There was an understanding there that the refining fire was a necessary part of the maturing of believers. I can remember when I was a young, newly married woman having a conversation with a friend of the same age about how we wanted so much to be mentoring younger women and having positions of teaching. We knew a lot, we thought, and we had a lot to offer. But for the most part, what we knew (which wasn’t as much as we thought) had not been tested by the heat of life. The Lord chose not to provide that opportunity for me for many years to come. Interestingly enough, as I matured in the Lord, I found I did not have to seek out younger women to mentor. They started coming to me. Having gone through the difficulties I have in the past 2 years has taken that ability to help other women to another level.
I have had several discussions in the past year when I have said something about the goodness of the Lord and it left my companions staring at me somewhat speechless. How can I stand there with my brain damaged husband and say that the Lord is good? How can I say, “don’t feel sorry for me, I am blessed by God to be in this position”? How can I promise that by the grace of God what ever trial you are going through will be for your good and God’s glory? Well, to that I answer with Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am”. He has been so merciful to me to not allow me to stay a selfish and immature believer. I have certainly not arrived at perfection, and I trust that God will continue to complete in me what He began many years ago, but I have been tested, and I have found that the Lord has been strong when I was weak. I have found His grace to be sufficient. And because I have had the privilege of having entered into His suffering in this very small way, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that He is all that He says He is. It’s a bit like giving birth to a baby: when you anticipate the labor, you feel anxious and afraid; when you are in labor, you think it will never end and that it is hardest thing you’ve ever done. But when you see that beautiful, sweet baby all the anxiety and the pain seems worth it. So it is with us a we think about suffering. If our lives have thus far be comparatively easy, we might find it a bit uncomfortable to think about the possibility that God might call us to lose a child, or become a caregiver, become sick and needy ourselves, or perhaps suffer persecution for our faith. When we are in the midst of the deep waters where only our head is above the flood line, we may not be able to do more than beg for relief. But when we have come through the deepest part, and have tasted the goodness of the Lord, and as the waters begin to ebb for a time, we see His tender mercies and His faithfulness to sanctify us to the image of His Son, then we experience what it is to have a peace that passes all understanding.
So while I can hope that you are a quick study, and that God will not need to send you through the fire, I know that chances are good that you will at some point find yourself facing what seems to be insurmountable obstacles. If at that time you are reminded that I have been through the fire and came out with a deeper understanding of our kinship with Christ, by the loving grace of God; if you remember this and it helps you to take heart and persevere, then I will say without hesitation that it was a small price to pay.