It is What You Think

I have failed.

I failed to find the right amount of encouragement, grit and determination to propel Strokeman into complete recovery. I failed to even get him to be independent enough to stay home. I failed to find the right combination of supplements and exercises to bring back his mental capacity to a point of being able to come to proper conclusions about decisions that were being made on his behalf. I failed to explain to him adequately why he had to be moved to the one place he never, ever ever wanted to go. (And actually, I failed to get him placed in a nursing home – my daughter had to take that over for me). I have had to finally and completely give up on the dream that somehow I would be enough to make him better – that somehow I would be strong and savvy enough to be able to keep him home with me, and that he would be grateful and love me for it.

I am not enough.

My counselor gave me this analogy to describe where I find myself these days: Some women whose husbands have a catastrophic event are given what seems like a boulder to push, but they are at the top of a hill, and with just a little pushing, the boulder gains momentum and begins to roll down the other side. Some women are given that boulder at the bottom of the hill, and with a tremendous amount of pushing they are able to make progress in very small increments until they reach a summit of sorts. And some women (me) are given a brick wall at the bottom of the hill. And no matter how hard they push against it, it isn’t going to budge. These women have to find a way around the wall, or a door through the wall. According to her, placing my husband in the nursing home is my door.

This analogy was helpful to me, but to be honest, there are still days that I feel like I opened that door in the wall and found another wall. Every time he calls me to beg me to come help him because no-one is answering his call light. Every time he tells me that I have abandoned him. Every time I hear someone say things like, “Don’t ever put me in a place like that” or “I’m glad my mom didn’t do that to my dad”  it hits me in the face again – rough, hard bricks scratching and bruising and never budging.

And the guilt. The guilt of being able to be involved with our children when he is not. The guilt of being able to get in the car and drive to visit friends I haven’t seen in years, and family that I have not been able to spend time with. The guilt of spending like there is no tomorrow so that I can qualify for much needed help from government agencies. The guilt of relishing a bed to myself and a full night’s sleep. Why do I get to have the new car and the new furniture and the freedom to do what I want, while Strokeman is lying in a bed in a place that he never wanted to be, feeling neglected and abandoned? And while I’m at it, I may as well tell you: I don’t go see him every day. I just can’t.

If I let myself think about this too much, I find myself falling into despair.

And so. I set my sight on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy…” Here is my meditation. (Philippians 4:8,9).

True: In accordance with fact or reality (New Oxford American Dictionary).

The reality is that I am not able to continue to care for Strokeman at home. The fact is that while the nursing home does not care for him the way I would choose, he is fed and bathed and cared for in an adequate way. The reality is that Strokeman’s brain is permanently damaged, so his ability to see things in a rational manner is impossible. I need to stop expecting, or even hoping for him to understand why I have made the decisions I have made. I need to stop expecting or even hoping that he will realize that I still love him and have always been faithful.
But all this is small potatoes in terms of truth. What is true according to the Scriptures is that I am not required to be successful in this life. I am not designed to be enough on my own. But God. Yes, this is the reality. This is the fact that keeps me from despairing:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of HIs great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in HIs kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

This is a comfort to me, not only in terms of my own life, but also in terms of my dear beloved Strokeman. The reality is that I don’t often see much in terms of sanctification in him. Once in a while, the window opens and I see his spirit being nourished by the Word, but the effect is usually short lived. Regardless of this, I am confident that He who began a good work in Strokeman will be faithful to complete it. The fact is that Strokeman is as safe in the arms of his Savior as he has ever been. Just as my standing in Christ is not dependent on my ability to live up to the expectations of myself, my husband, and the world at large, so my husband’s standing in Christ is not dependent on his ability to think rationally about life. This is true.

Noble: Honorable: proper motives, manners, and morals (William Hendriksen).

I have always strived to be noble, albeit in a fairly pharisaical way. I want others to see my good works and amazing wisdom and praise me. Well right now, the person on this earth whose opinion I value most thinks I am unfaithful and negligent. Who knows what the rest of the world thinks? Again I am driven back to the truth of scripture.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 4:4

Daily I must put to death that need in me to worry about what people think about the way I conduct my life. I have to do battle with myself every time I go to visit Strokeman and he reminds me of my many failures. I am not here to be a man-pleaser. I must do what is right to the best of my ability, and let people think what they will. If the truth be known, most people don’t take the time to think anything about my situation. But even if they do find time to pass judgement on me, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it is good, it doesn’t matter if it is bad. God’s opinion of me is the only one that counts, and His opinion of me is one of no condemnation because of the blood of His Son.

Just: behaving according to what is morally right and fair (New Oxford American Dictionary)

I have been taught well by my pastors about what are my just desserts. I know that apart from Christ, I would deserve eternal separation from God. My sin has condemned me, and it is Christ who has paid the price. So I don’t often allow myself the “It’s not fair!” statement. But there are times when I see others who have been given the gift of 60 years of “real” marriage, or when I hear of someone coming back from the doors of death and disability to live a normal life, that I hear that little voice in my head. It’s not fair! Why my husband? Why my family? In earthly terms, it isn’t fair. OK. So what am I going to do about that?

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

While life isn’t fair, I can be morally right and fair in the way I conduct myself. Because I needed Medicaid to help me pay for Strokeman’s nursing home, I have submitted myself to this government bureaucracy. They have provisions for a “spouse in the community”, and for that I am grateful. But what I am left to live on is significantly less than what I am accustomed to. It’s a bit shocking to go from spending down assets in a matter of months, to living on less than half of your original income. I have to admit to spending way too much mental energy trying to find a way around the system. It’s amazing how deceptive my heart can be as I justify my courses of action by couching them in acts of benevolence and service. “I want to keep my big house so I can practice hospitality”, “I want a home with a guest house so I can rent to seminary students.” All the while what I want is a way to supplement my paltry income and keep my things.

This world is not my home. These things do not belong to me. So I am prying my hand open to let go of them. I know that whatever I am left with when this transition is over is what God would have me use for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom. I lay it all down at His feet and pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done”.

Pure: wholesome and untainted by immorality (New Oxford American Dictionary).

In the writing of this blog, this is where I walked away for two weeks. This word has to do with being chaste. I have been chaste. I want to say that, and just leave it lying there and move on to what is lovely. But I have been accused of just about every immorality there is to be accused of. And somewhere along the way I began to carry around the guilt of these accusations, even though I know they are not true. I know that no matter how pure I have been in the eyes of man, I still come back to the inadequacy of my own righteousness. I keep trying to defend myself on my own merit, and I know that before God I have none. Oh, wait. Yes I do.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8: 1,2.

I must continue to come back to the One who has breathed life into my once dead heart. He is my righteousness. Had I done everything I have been accused of, it would have been washed away in His blood. I must not allow the accusations of man or the Great Deceiver to distract me from the Truth of my salvation. I have been bought with a price, and I am free.

Lovely: exquisitely beautiful.(New Oxford American Dictionary)

You know what’s lovely? (In no particular order)

Waking up after a good night’s sleep and having a cup of tea in bed.
Opening the blinds in the bedroom.
Making my bed (I never thought that was lovely until I went five years without being able to).
Spending time with my children and grandchildren
Line dancing and yoga classes.
Chorus and Ensemble practices.
Parties with friends.
Spending time with my siblings and parents.
New furniture.
New car.
Playing loud music in the house.
Being able to go to church and stay the whole day.
My pastors who have learned more about me than they ever wanted to know and are still the most tender, loving shepherds this little sheep could ever need.
Essential Oils and Ningxia Red.
Friends who love me patiently and fiercely.
A glass of wine and a piece of chocolate and a conversation about deep theological issues with friends.
The sweet and gentle love of the Great Shepherd who calls me by name and carries me when I can’t walk another step.

This is not a complete list. There have been so many lovely things in the last few months I sometimes think I am living someone else’s life. I want to meditate on these things. I want to savor them. I want to mull them over and inhale deeply the sweet aroma of them. I want to revel in them.

Good Report: A report that is good (my own interpretation – brilliant, right?)

When our kids were young, and we left them with a babysitter, I can still hear my husband’s voice telling them we wanted to hear a good report about them when we got back. So let me take this opportunity to give a good report about my children.

I marvel at the way they have come alongside me in this journey. They have done their best to respect my privacy and my right to make decisions for myself and my husband, while gently urging me to take care of myself. When things finally reached a breaking point, and I sought the help of my pastors, and I was encouraged to tell my children the gory details of what I was dealing with, they received it calmly and spoke their love and support of me. Many times they have positioned themselves between me and my husband and willingly taken the brunt of his words. They love me. They love me well.

I worked hard at being a mom. Strokeman was a good dad. But I gotta tell you. We failed a lot. I look at my kids and I cannot believe how very blessed I am. I can’t take credit for the way they have turned out. I know I am not capable of such greatness. God has been incredibly gracious to me to turn such feeble efforts into such beautiful results.

And then there is the good report that we call the Gospel.

How grateful I am for the goodness of God that He saw fit to save me from the depths of sin and hell and bring me into His family through the blood of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate virtue and praise. All the rest of the things in this life are peripheral to my relationship as a child of the King. My failures are not noteworthy in the light of His success. My sorrows are nothing compared to the joy that is in Christ Jesus. This world is not my home. It is a place of preparation. So I strive to have a heart like Mary who said, “Let it be to me according to Your word.”

And so to Him I leave it all.

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22 Responses to It is What You Think

  1. This was beautiful. This was beautiful cause you take everything and run to the gospel. Only there can you have strength and peace. This was so encouraging because God is our all. I love you. Thank you for once more sharing your soul, for the benefit of the rest of us. Love you!

  2. photogal938 says:

    This was beautiful – so painful to write I’m sure but beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I cared for my husband for 6 1/2 years mostly at home – he died eventually of brain cancer. I don’t think I could have articulated so well the struggles.

    • It was painful to write. Thank you for your kind words. I imagine you know much of what I am experiencing as you have walked a similar road. It’s a hard life, and I am glad this is not all there is. I hope you have found yourself again now that your role has changed.

  3. herbncowgirl says:

    Honest words from a sister in Christ who is stronger than she realizes. It makes me even more thankful that today Gene returned to work after major foot surgery that will help keep him mobile. I grieve for you that your husband doesn’t recognize the length you have gone to care for him. I pray that you will continue to look to our Savior for strength and comfort.

  4. Jo Wallace says:

    So good to hear your honesty. Deanna, I don’t know what has been said to you or by whom. Strokeman has suffered a brain injury, so while his words cut to your core as they would any woman tending to her love, I can’t place them in what I am about to say. Those words, can only be covered with the blood of Christ so that the story in whole works for the increase in the kingdom of Heaven and for glory to God. It is a very complex simplicity in which He works. But what I would ask of you (as if anyone should ask any more of you), don’t give up on people. Not even those who judge you, hurt you or reject you. Particularly those who are in the body. See, I am convinced, God doesn’t waste anything. Not one thing. Nope, not even that thing that just ran through your head.

    Shawn and I recently began volunteering on Sundays at a facility near our church. It is both a rehab and nursing care facility. In the beginning, I thought of you and Strokeman almost every time we entered the doors. There, we see so much of the ails and sufferings of the body, mind and spirit. But also the toll on the families. This place you so openly expressed, this place of not being enough, of guilt, frustration, sadness, loneliness it requires so much more of survivors than anyone has to give.

    We have children so we can train them to go out into the world and live lives pleasing to the Lord. We marry with plans to grow old together. No one plans their lives around caring for another 24/7. Children who have left home are no longer prone to thinking about or caring for their parents on a daily basis. Parents who have raised their children and sent them off don’t plan to care for them again. The early stages of motherhood are the only years we are equipped with this mindset. And even then, children are growing less and less dependent on us by the day.

    This place of which you speak is one of the most difficult physically, financially, mentally, and emotionally. It requires sacrifice so complete, that one has no life of their own. And, yes, we can do that well for a time. And we can do that satisfactorily for a time. And we can do that for a time. We want to believe if we just had enough support or the right kind of support we could do so much better. But support is a very tricky thing. Not enough and as you said, you run out of steam completely. Too much support and your focus becomes more about managing the support than caring for injured. The wrong support is just taxing.

    And somewhere, someone is going to say the wrong thing. The best that can happen, is that they only say the wrong thing and don’t compound it by the other “you just did whats”. . .wrong words, wrong timing and/or wrong actions to conclude a moment that is just WRONG!!

    One of my favorite such moments is when well meaning and very loving (genuinely) brothers and sisters say to one in this place, “God never gives us more than we can bear.” Every single time I hear it, I know what is about to happen and I do this invisible reaction to reach out and catch the words before they leave my mouth, on occasion, I actually manage to catch them, but most times, not so much.

    Poppycock.

    See, people say this to others who are suffering for a lot of reasons, perhaps, they have suffered a lot in their lives and made it through without too much trouble and so they don’t see a need for words of comfort. Or they are suffering now, and they need to believe these very words. Maybe they are immature in the faith, or not even believers at all. Maybe, they are so afraid of the situation that they don’t want to say anything that will lead to their involvement any more deeply than it is, so they throw this out there to shield, guard or break away. Truth is, if we never go to the places of “more than I can bear” then, we don’t ever get to that place of utter dependance on God. Better He should keep us in a place of more than I can bear than, to never take us there in the first place. I think this is what Paul meant when He said, count it all joy.

    Ministering in a nursing facility is the greatest blessing I have ever known. The first week we walked in I remember the thought running through my mind, what am I doing here, I don’t have any thing more to give out to people. I am burned out. But we walked in defeated and left revived. I remember asking the Lord as we were driving home that day, should I feel guilty for being so happy? We don’t do much, we help gather folks and get them to the main room for service and we encourage the preacher and sing some songs and then take everyone to their rooms or organize for bingo. It really is not much. But week after week, they would look so forward to our being there that it did not take long before we were loving on our people and their families. And I love my little people (what I call them because most of them are in wheelchairs) dearly.

    But see, there is a message for them too. God is not finished with them. They still have work to do, their time in that place is no less ordained than yours or mine. Their purpose may not be as feasible or clear to them, and they may loose sight of it due to infirmities and medications but I promise you Deanna, God does not waste anything. God does not waste anyone. God is busily at work for furtherance of the Kingdom and for His glory.

    I would venture to say, that those that have hurt you, when given time to process and to mature will come to a place of brokenness over their actions. Don’t give up on them. Not recommending you hang out with them or make them your best friend, although it could happen (all things are possible with God). But leave the door open for reconciliation and your mind open to new possibilities and your heart open for God to pour out more, in you and through you. People are basically not worthy of love, give it anyway. And I know you well enough to know, that this is the very reason you are hurt, is because you do love people and you love God.

    You keep keeping the faith and let God worry about how, where and who he has placed in the body as it has pleases him. He has you. He has Strokeman. And He has a plan.

    Love you my friend. . .

    • Thank you, Jo, for taking the time to write this lengthy comment. I want to assure you that what I referenced in my post as things that people have said have all been things heard indirectly or said by people who never meant to cause me any harm. I think there is a fear of ending up in an institutional setting that is based on many different things. None of us wants to end up that way, but I have often prayed that God would give me the grace to accept whatever He might believe to be best for me. I want my children to have my permission now, while I am able to think clearly, to choose whatever seems best for all involved when I begin to need more care. I want to be like a friend I knew who spent her last days in a nursing home with a heart of gratefulness. But maybe God will choose for me to lose my mental capacities before losing my life, and I won’t be able to do that.
      I have by no means given up on the people around me. I know we speak out of what we know, which is limited by what we have seen and learned.
      Yes, and amen to the fact that God regularly gives us more than we can handle, but not more that He can handle. I am thankful that He has seen fit to strip me of my own abilities so that I am forced to fly to Him for refuge.
      I am also grateful for people like you who are willing to go to difficult places and love on people who have been reduced to depending on strangers for their every need. It is a ministry to their families who may be exhausted in their efforts to show the love and the patience needed.
      Where else could I go but to the Lord?

  5. Vanesa Hyde says:

    Everybody has an opinion on what you should do and how you should live. Those who think before they speak, hold their tongues. The best advice I was given was to not to listen to advice from anyone who does not have to live with the consequences. I can’t begin to know what you have had to deal with or what you should do, but I know you to be a woman who seeks God and I trust Him to hold you and give you the strength and guidance you need. I am just going to send you my love and lift you up to our loving Father.

  6. Wanda Jones says:

    This is very encouraging to me. I have gotten only a glimpse of the struggles you have gone through but I know they have been very tough. I hope I never have to walk in your shoes but I also know it could be a real possibility and I hope and pray that I can keep my eyes on Christ as you have come to do during this journey through the tough times of life. Very beautifully written. Thank you.

  7. Jana Hidalgo says:

    My dear friend, thank you for sharing so openly, honestly and elocuently. I truly believe that God, who knows our hearts, will take our less-than-perfect efforts and bless them. I also believe that Strokeman–on that Day–will understand completely all that you have done for him: “Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.” (1 Corinthians 13:12b, the Living Bible) May each day bring you a stronger sense of the Love that envelopes you and of the future that awaits you.

  8. Day Cross says:

    You have reminded me what is important in our life-and it isn’t our life. Blessings…

  9. Gail Wooster says:

    Beautifully worded blog!! Thank you for being so transparent!

  10. christina says:

    I’m sorry for all the sleepless nights and heartache you’ve been through. Thank you for sharing such a good personal example of the mental fight we all wage to preach the gospel to ourselves and fill our hearts with truth instead of the garbage thoughts the world, the flesh, and the devil would gladly substitute. May the Lord continue to provide all your needs in this new season. Hugs to you!

  11. Debra says:

    I put reading this blog off for a few days…and there was a reason. I couldn’t concentrate. I was not fairing well being a parent of a young adult who will never be able to appreciate what we do for him and will never ever say thank you. When he blamed me once again for his “miserable life” I was guilty once again of trying to show him the truth of the matter, when I know he does not, and has not ever really heard what we are saying. His personality disorder gets in the way. I have let myself become so tired of his narcissistic, unrealistic ways caused by his mental illness, that I find myself not even liking him and worrying that maybe I don’t really love him, and beating myself for being too self-serving to be a parent of any value! I was loosing hope for any real future joy because I know he will be in my care ( and my husband’s) for as long as we have the strength and mental ability to care for him. I feel terribly guilty for not being able to do more for him and that so much of his care ends up in the lap of my husband who is already filling in for me in other ways because of my health issues. I see how exhausted and discouraged my husband gets at times. I know I’m the cause of that. I hate it! I have let the fear of facing my son’s on-going mental illness challenges and my chronic pain overwhelm the truth I already know: the truth that you stated here, in just the way I needed to hear it. I’m printing this off, to keep by my bed, and when the guilt or anger or the ‘feeling so sorry for myself I could puke’ overtakes me, I can be reminded of what God has to say, in your words, because that was how I needed to hear them this time. I’m crying ugly tears right now so I’m glad I’m alone for a bit. But I’m crying because His truth does set me free again and again from my “please just let me give up” deep longing! I just need to remember it and hear it in a new way. God said to my heart just today, “When your life really does suck (ok, my vernacular not His) when you can’t find relief from the pain, when it really would feel better to not be in your world right now, find beauty and let yourself be absorbed in it; Spend time with something beautiful, It will feed you and bring my love back into perspective.” Today that something beautiful on which I meditated was your words. Thank you Deanna for doing what God wants you to do, to minister his Word with your words into hurting lives. For me these last few months It was as if His grace was no longer sufficient in my life. I have let the pressures of my world leave cracks in my inner most being where the working of His grace just seem to seep out and go away. Today, these words, your words, God’s words began cementing up those cracks so that His grace could fill me and keep me satiated. Asante Sana! I love you!

    • Oh Debra, I know! I know! It is so exhausting and so discouraging and no matter how many times you remind yourself that the other person is not capable of rational thought, you still find yourself trying to convince them. I will say this about love: I have to constantly remind myself that love is not a feeling, it’s a decision and an action. I can’t always muster up feelings of affection for my man. But I can do good to him and I can do right by him, and that is love. It isn’t as fun as affection, but we are not commanded to feel a certain way about people. We are only commanded to act a certain way. I often pray for you, because I know your road is hard, and like mine, there is no end in sight. It makes me happy to think that God was able to use me to encourage you.

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