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.
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.