In Retrospect

In January, I went on cruise with my best friend from 9th grade. Turns out she’s still best friend material. We had a great time. Her husband says I have ruined her, because she now wants to go on a cruise every year. Well, I am ruined too. If it wasn’t for my husband, children, and grandchildren, I think I would try to figure out a way to be one of those retirees who just go from cruise to cruise year round.


Cheesy cruise picture holding parrots.

January also brought a really bad bout of flu.

In February, during my second bout of really bad flu, I found out that my sister had been diagnosed with a rare cancer – peritoneal cancer. By the time I dragged myself through to the other side of that illness, I had reached a breaking point as a caregiver. The balance had finally tipped so that putting my husband in a nursing home, knowing that he would never forgive me and would choose to be unhappy for the rest of his life, was the better option. This caused me to be overwhelmed with grief.

Somewhere around this time I became a part of a small musical ensemble which came to be known as the Tequila Mockingbirds. We began to practice singing together every Monday night. We started out as acquaintances that barely knew each other, but have become fast friends. This group has been one of the greatest highlights of 2016.


The Tequila Mockingbirds making their debut performance, “Someone to Watch Over Me”

In early March I managed to get things arranged to transfer Strokeman to a nursing home near me. I had the support of my children and my pastors, and was ready to make the move, when the nursing home decided to back out. This added overwhelming depression to my overwhelming grief. I was not able to do anything other than the bare minimum – providing for Strokeman’s needs. I could not face the prospect of trying again. I could not talk about it. I stopped communicating with anyone, because all the energy I had was needed to just function minimally.

In April my daughter asked if she could take over the pursuit of nursing home placement, and I said yes. On the 19th my children, pastor, and I met with my husband around the dining table to inform him that we were placing him in a nursing home. My oldest son led the meeting, and I just sat there silently watching it all unfold. We transported him that day to a facility in a neighboring town. The rest of that month (and the subsequent months) was spent applying for Medicaid to cover the nursing home, which entailed a paper trail that would circuit the globe, spending down half our assets, and basically rendering us wards of the state. As predicted, Strokeman was angry. He still is.
As soon as I had Strokeman settled in his new room, I made a trip to New Braunfels to see my sister. This would be the first of many trips over the rest of the year to help with the care of my parents and sister.

In May, I started going to a woman counselor, to help me process some of the more personal and difficult aspects of my role as a caregiver. I continue to this day, although not as often or as desperately. I also began going to every possible church meeting and activity. This has been a joy beyond expression after years of sporadic attendance. I saw my youngest son married to his high school sweetheart. It was a beautiful way to end the month.


Family picture at the wedding.

In June, my oldest son and daughter-in-law finalized the adoption of their two children, who had been a part of our family for a year and a half. I flew to Athens, GA to help celebrate this event a few weeks later.

In June I also started going to the local recreation center for exercise classes. I tried several, and determined that yoga was the class the seemed most helpful (and also the only one in which I did not want to punch the instructor by the time class was over). I began soon after to make pithy Facebook statements about my yoga experience. Apparently, they are a big hit. I came into yoga class one day unable to control my tears, and consequently met two women who have become good friends. We see each other at yoga, line dancing at the senior center, and Thursday nights at the winery for supper. They have been such a bonus to my life that I am now recommending crying in public to make friends.

I spent 4th of July in New Braunfels with my brother and nephews from Mexico. I went down again a few weeks later, and was able to be there for my sister’s birthday. It was this month that saw my sister’s tumor marker numbers begin to not respond well to the chemo.

In August my sister, mom and dad came up to my house for what would prove to be my dad’s last road trip. We met some other missionary friends and “kids” at an Indian restaurant in Arlington for a long visit. We also stopped by the hospital on the way home to see another missionary friend and family who had been deterred by some health issues from being able to come to the get together. Also in August, we learned that dad qualified for Hospice, due to his degenerative illness. This service added some much needed support in the home.

September brought more trips to New Braunfels. This was also the first month we took advantage of the respite program through Hospice, putting dad in a local nursing facility for three days in order to give mom and Cindy some rest. Have I mentioned how much we love Hospice? This was also the month I started helping in the 2&3-year-old Sunday School class. What can I say? It’s hilarious, exhausting, endearing, invigorating, and hilarious.

October brought more trips to New Braunfels. This was also the month of our Chorus performance called “Joe’s Place”. We dressed up in 1920’s costumes and sang songs from that era. Huge amount of work and fun.

Right before that performance I flew to a class reunion in Minneola, Florida. It was a great time catching up with friends. I spent time with a friend who had just come through a pretty rough several years, and I learned these things from visiting with him:
1.Googling someone basically gives you gossip, not real information. Even police reports and court reports do not tell the whole story. It’s always a good idea to listen to a friend’s own account of their story before drawing conclusions.
2. Even in worst case outcomes God is still sovereign. He is able to use us for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom in the most difficult of circumstances. When your life is virtually dismantled by the maliciousness of other people, you can survive, your marriage can survive, and there will be people who will continue to be your friends with much love and grace (I can’t claim to have been one of those friends in his life, but I witnessed others who were, and they put me to shame for not taking the time to be more of a friend).


RVA class of ’80: we haven’t changed a bit!

In November I had a long talk with my dad about the fact that his body was failing him and his care was quickly becoming more than mom and my sister could reasonably manage at home. I told him how hard it is on a caregiver to finally admit they couldn’t do it anymore, and how my mom and sister would feel guilt and sorrow over having to put him in a nursing home when the time came. I asked him to lay down his life for my mom. He had what was one of his last moments of clarity, in which he told me he knew he was not long for this world, and was not afraid. He also said he would be ok if we needed to put him in a nursing home. He agreed to sign papers, or do whatever needed to be done to prepare for that time.

November brought Thanksgiving, and 4 of my five kids came with their families to my house. We brought Strokeman home for several hours to eat turkey and visit. It was a good time, considering all the various emotions that were being faced on this first family holiday post nursing home placement.

In December we put dad in respite care for a few days, and realized he was not going to be able to come home. He had become very disoriented and was falling several times a day due to forgetting he couldn’t walk. We had hoped to keep him home until after the holidays, but this was not to be. He forgot all he had said about it being ok to be in the nursing home. It was heartbreaking.


One of the last pictures taken with my dad.

Christmas was hard. It was so hard I felt like I had become a Facebook status cliche’ about how holidays can be so hard for some people. We survived.

So now we are in 2017 and already many things have come to pass. My father died in January. I took a trip to New York with my daughters. Right now I am visiting my mom (who is doing great, by the way) while my sister and her husband visit the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Phoenix, Arizona. We’re hoping for good things to come out of that visit, but worry about the financial toll unconventional treatments can take on a family. On Thursday I will fly to Memphis, TN where I will be privileged to speak at a women’s retreat on trusting and treasuring Christ. I look forward to also visiting with long time friends while I am there.

My hope for 2017 is that I will begin to get some sort of a rhythm to my life. Medicaid makes it complicated for me to be actually gainfully employed at the moment, but I want my employment to be gainful in the sense that I want to be doing things that benefit me as a person as opposed to being lazy or aimless. I hope this means writing more consistently, working to rebuild relationships within my church family, practicing hospitality. I will need to sell my house (I know, I just bought it, but this was always the plan), and move into something smaller and more financially manageable. I have opportunity to try my hand at editing some sermons notes for one of my pastors in order to put them in book form. I have goals to exercise more in an effort to prepare for a possible mountain climb in 2018. Chorus practice has started back up, and so the Mockingbirds are making the transition from playing together to working together (which is really a lot like playing together). I am also looking forward to welcoming my army son home after 6 years away. And always, I will continue to work at tending to my husband’s needs as he lives out his worst nightmare in the nursing home.

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The Magic of Music



Photo: CD01,

He was born to a family with sparse resources, the eldest (and only son) of six children. His earliest memory is of riding atop the burlap sack his mom would fill with cotton during picking season. He didn’t own a pair of shoes.  Both his parents were limited on education, but had an ample supply of grit. They were simple in means, but grand in hospitality. For a time they lived in an abandoned gas station. People sometimes stopped by looking for gas or shelter from a hurricane, and found a cup of coffee and a place to wait out the storm.

I don’t know what his ambitions were as a young child. In his experience higher education meant making it to 9th grade. The only world he knew was hard work for enough pay to put food on the table. He traveled on a train once – to get from the panhandle to east Texas. Did this give him a sense of adventure? A sense of distant lands? I don’t really know.

What I do know is that his family loved music. And when his parents saw the Light and became faithful members of the local Baptist church, they learned the harmonies of the gospel songs and hymns. The family sang all the parts with all their hearts. So it only stands to reason that this country boy would take advantage of the school music program. He learned to play a second-hand tuba provided by the school. He joined the choir. He became the tenor in a male quartet. And that is where the magic happened.  

Somewhere back in 1910, 30 years or so before our story, University of Texas started their University Interscholastic League: a program to “provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests” ( So our boy found himself at a UIL competition in which his quartet was asked to sing while the judges tallied scores. After they performed, he and his buddies were pulled aside and offered a full scholarship to Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Tx. There was a small problem though. All the other boys were seniors, and he was only a junior. So this boy who had never spent one second of his life thinking past a high school education enrolled in summer school, graduated early, and made his way to Abilene.


That snazzy dresser on the left is my dad.

This scholarship: It wasn’t just a means for a college education. It was a portal to a life he had never dreamed of. It was at Hardin Simmons that he met his beautiful bride, a girl from New Mexico who had a call to foreign missions. They married young and were soon expecting their first child. So the young woman dropped out of college to care for the child. She put her sewing skills to good use making doll clothes to sell, and she cleaned houses. He worked in the county health lab cleaning test tubes until he was called to be a youth leader and music minister at a local church. 

Once he got his degree, they moved to Fort Worth where he started graduate work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He worked at a nearby dairy cleaning equipment. He had to wait until the dairy had shut down for the day before he started. He often worked till the wee hours of the morning, only to go home and study Greek before going to class. Two more children were born.

Once he graduated from seminary he served in home missions in both Arkansas and West Virginia. And a fourth child was born. It was in West Virginia that his bride finally saw her calling coming to reality. They applied and were accepted to the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board to serve in Tanzania, East Africa (where a few years later the fifth child was born).After almost 15 years overseas, they returned to Texas and helped plant Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels.

This man is my father. In these latter days of his life, he and I have both marveled at his story. How could this young country boy ever know what possibilities would be opened up by a clear voice and a strong musical ear? How could he have foreseen the path on which he was set for the rest of his life? While he always sang, his preaching and teaching became the priority. He remains one of my favorite preachers.

Daddy has been fighting a battle against Parkinson’s for over 20 years now. In the past few years this affliction has taken much of his voice. He can’t preach or teach. He can still sing, but not with the clarity that caused his voice to be heard above the Sunday congregation. On the particularly hard days, he laments that his life has been stolen by the malady that wracks his body. But I don’t see it that way.

This gift of voice, this love of music, he hasn’t lost it. It hasn’t been stolen. He has given it away – to his children and his grand children and his great grand children. He has passed on to his descendants the ear to hear both melody and harmony. We sing, we play instruments, we dance. We have appreciation for a broad spectrum of musical styles from various and sundry countries around the world. We value the beauty of a good chord. And we will keep the magic going for generations to come.

I can’t imagine the sadness I would feel if I began to lose my own vocal capacities. I know it must be very hard to see these things slipping away. Parkinson’s is not a kind companion with whom to travel the road to the River Jordan. But one day that river will be crossed, and my daddy will be given a new body. I love to think his of clear tenor ringing out above the heavenly congregation. I imagine when that happens, all that has been lost on this earth will seem quite insignificant. After all, the most beautiful voice this world has to offer is like an old, out of tune spinet when compared to what is to come.

“When this poor lisping, stammering tongue

  Lies silent in the grave,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

  I’ll sing Thy power to save:

  I’ll sing Thy power to save,

  I’ll sing Thy power to save;

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

  I’ll sing Thy power to save.”

                                                                       (William Cowper)

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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.

Posted in The Story | 24 Comments

I Will Be Here


Sorry, our wedding pictures are still in a box somewhere. This was at our daughter, Hannah’s wedding.


November 18 marks my 25th wedding anniversary. Wedding anniversaries are by nature a thing two people share. I know I should say our anniversary, but for the life of me I can’t. I have been married to the same man for 25 years, but I have not been married to the same man for 25 years. Anyone who has been married that long knows that none of us are really married to the same person we married however many years ago. We change. Life takes its toll and we change. I am not the same person I was 25 years ago. I would wager that I have changed almost as drastically as Strokeman has in the past four and a half years.

Part of surviving for me has been to detach myself a bit from my relationship with my husband. But however painful it is to grieve the loss of what was I don’t want to forget it. I want to remember who it was I fell in love with, so that I can continue to care for this man I am still married to with compassion and tenderness. I have to work at this every day – this balance between keeping enough distance to make it possible for me to exist in the role of caregiver to a man whose brain just doesn’t have the capacity to really see me, and staying engaged enough in who he was to remember why I am doing this. And so. For my benefit more than yours, I am going to remember those first days.

I was 28 and single. I was working as a medical social worker in Rowlett, Texas. I lived in Dallas, but had begun attending a church in south Fort Worth for reasons that started with a Sunday school class on Romans back in 1982. I know it isn’t fashionable these days, but all I really wanted was to be married and have kids.

There was this man at my church. I had heard about him for a few months on the prayer list – a divorce, custody issues, etc. Then I began to notice him sitting there on Sunday mornings with his daughter and son. What I noticed was how gentle he was as he spoke to his children. He seemed so tenderhearted with them especially his daughter. It won my heart. I mentioned him to my best friend, Jann, then dismissed it out of hand – he probably didn’t know I exist, and what would possess me to want to deal with an ex-wife and stepchildren? But secretly I dreamed of being the one to bring healing to broken hearts.

One Sunday he came to church holding hands with a pretty little blond woman attended by two sons. I heard through the grapevine that they were engaged. “So much for that,” I thought. I went back to working my career and pining away for the life I wanted. “I would be happy for the rest of my life if I could just get married and have children!”

A few months later I received a letter in the mail from Lillian, Texas. I thought it might be an informal wedding invitation. Instead, it was a letter from this man. “I have observed your ministry in the church among the children and the young people and have been greatly blessed by your singing…” Thus began an old fashioned correspondence between us. (Apparently things hadn’t worked out with the pretty blonde.) During this time we saw very little of each other at church. We each had obligations that kept us away.IMG_1907

Finally, after several letters had been exchanged, Strokeman wrote, “Would you like to have dinner with me?” My response was a snarky, “Don’t you think we ought to actually talk to each other on the phone or something?” That phone call! It was my first introduction to the fact that Strokeman doesn’t communicate well over the phone. We have laughed over the years about how we might never have made it to the altar if we had started with that phone call.

We continued to write, but added a weekly dinner date. Very soon, Strokeman began to make noises about marriage. I tried to be the voice of reason. We hardly knew each other! We needed to take our time. I managed to hold him off 9 days short of 8 months from the first letter. 6 months from the first date.

It didn’t take long to learn that getting married and having kids was not going to be the thing to keep me happy forever. It was a hard first year. I was selfish and set in my ways. He was wounded and insecure. But we made it. We made it, and we grew to love and appreciate each other. We built a beautiful, traditional marriage. He went to work and I stayed home and raised our children. We didn’t have a perfect marriage, but we did have a good one. I can remember more than one day thinking to myself what a blessing it was to be married to THIS man. I was thankful for all the good in him and in the way we worked through the problems and became best friends. He taught me to be loving and kind. I taught him how to appreciate a good pun (well, tolerate anyway) and how to come up with a song for any subject. He taught me to appreciate creation science, I taught him to enjoy layers of texture in food. He gave me his love for trees. I gave him my love for a good cup of tea with milk and sugar.

So here we are, 25 years later, and I still love him as much as I ever did. It hurts more now, but I still love him. His anniversary gift will come in the mail today. “The Midnight Special” – 11 DVD’s of music from the ‘70’s. It’s one of many things he sees advertised on TV that he thinks he must buy.

My little brother sang “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman  at our wedding. I didn’t realize at the time how this would all play out in our lives, but now, when Strokeman accuses me of never loving him and having been unhappy our entire married life, I just say to him, “Tommorrow morning when you wake up, I will be here.”

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Bringing Strokeman home from the skilled nursing facility was not a smooth process. The week had been filled with ice and snow. I feared getting stranded between there and home with him in the car. By the afternoon of his discharge day, things had melted off enough for us to make our way home. Strokeman is not an easy patient. He had alienated his caregivers in the nursing home, and they were not sad to see him leave. We were both happy to have gotten through the difficult month and were ready for the old normal.

But things did not go back to the old normal. While Strokeman had regained much of his strength, there were still issues to be dealt with that had not been part of the package prior to his sickness. He had been catheterized in the hospital, and while they had removed the catheter a week before discharge from the nursing home, there was still a bit of bladder training to do. He was much less stable on his feet, and fell several times over the next few weeks. One day I gave him a pill to swallow in the bed and he choked on it. I sat him up to help him cough it up, but he passed out and fell out of the bed, hitting his head on the bedside table on the way to the floor (picture me standing over him letting out repeated bursts of scream).

The worst of it, though, was the changes I saw in his personality. He was angry with me for having sent him to the skilled nursing facility, and fearful that I would send him back. His anger fed his tendency to be suspicious and wildly accusatory of me. He exhibited other behaviors that were uncharacteristic. I won’t go into details of all the difficulties that came. Suffice it to say that these things would have never been a part of his personality prior to the stroke. I was shocked, hurt, and confused as to how to reason with this person who was living in an alternate reality. I was quickly losing anything I had gained in terms of rest, as he would often wake me up at night to voice his grievances.

As I have many times before, I sought the aid of my pastor and his wife. While Larry visited with Strokeman to call him back to his senses, I poured my heart out to Cindy, confessing things about the past few years that I had not expressed to anyone else. How grateful I am for their love and support through this time! My pastor does his best to walk the line between being understanding of Strokeman’s limitations and not letting him excuse sin. He helps me see more clearly how I need to respond to the problems as they come. He does the hard job of saying things that need to be said. He is able, where I am not, to help Strokeman reign in the vain imaginings and enter the world of reality. Through Larry’s faithful ministry, Strokeman has come to be more subdued and manageable. Through Cindy’s faithful friendship, I have worked through much of the guilt and heartache and have gained the courage to keep moving forward.

At the suggestion of my pastor, I began to explore Strokeman’s medications to see if any of them might be causing the changes I was seeing. I asked pharmacists, read side effect lists, scoured online patient forums, and consulted with the social worker at the nursing home. There was no evidence that his medications were related to the behaviors that I was seeing. Instead, the evidence was pointing towards the area of the brain that was destroyed by the stroke. As I considered this, I realized that these behaviors had been in play on some level since the very beginning. It was as if putting him in the nursing home broke the last hold and all that had been festering beneath the surface came pouring out.

The social worker told me that it is not uncommon for things to get progressively worse. She encouraged me to start looking at the long term and begin planning for an inevitable nursing home placement. I knew she was right, but my heart still rebelled at the thought.

Meanwhile, my pastor encouraged me to meet with my children and give them a thorough understanding of all that was happening with their father. How I hated the idea of telling these things to my kids! I did not want to add to the pain that had already come to them through the events of the past 4 years. It was a difficult conversation. It confirmed for my children all they had been concerned about in January. They, too, encouraged me to begin working toward an inevitable nursing home placement.

I have to say that the realization of what I had to do was more devastating than the day-to-day trials of caring for Strokeman. It felt like ever so much failure. It felt like the opposite of “in sickness and in health”. The battle with depression was overwhelming. As I worked to get the house ready to sell, I grieved. Going through Strokeman’s closet was the hardest. I wept as I put his tractor overalls and work trousers in a box to discard. Every time I think there is no crying left to be done, another layer of grief rises to the surface.

My friend, and social worker, and chorus director, Lynda, gave me the name of a Medicaid advisor who would educate me on the laws surrounding spousal protection in the course of nursing home placement. I made an appointment to meet with him.  My oldest son, Caleb, flew into town to go to this appointment with me. Through this meeting, subsequent email communication and hours on the phone with my financial advisor, I have been able to come up with a plan to work within the laws to provide for Strokeman’s needs without becoming financially devastated in the process.

As with the idea of selling my home, this added burden of making financial decisions and working toward a plan that would only solidify Strokeman’s suspicions of me was overwhelming. But in each case, as the days unfolded, God’s grace was poured out in unbelievable ways. As I cried out to God with a million “how will I ever…?” prayers, He cleared the way for the next step. Things that seemed absolutely impossible have been accomplished with relative ease. Things are falling into place.

It can be done.

It can be done.

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While You Were Sleeping (and I was mostly not).

Wow! Time flies. I looked back to see when my last post about “us” happened, and it was 2014. So let me try to catch you up.

In January, all my children came for the great occasion of my army man-child marrying his German sweetheart.


Family photo at the celebration.

After celebrating this great occasion, my children took me out to dinner and had what my friend, Lauri, calls a “come to Jesus” meeting with me. They were concerned about my health. (I am sure it had nothing to do with the horribly ugly skin rash I had over most of my upper torso and face.) We talked a bit about what might help me and I conceded a few days of respite somewhere away from home would be nice. Since the stroke, 4 ½ years ago, I have not been away from Strokeman more than two nights and three days at one time. I admitted needing a break, and they encouraged me to do what it would take to make that happen. It took me a few days to even think about what would be a reasonable plan, but I did, and I began to work towards a trip to see my sister in California. She was lining up massages and counseling and walks on the beach. I was counting the days, and hanging on for dear life.

Then, Strokeman got a case of the flu that hit him so hard he could not think well enough to make his legs work. He became so impaired, so quickly, that I thought he’d had another stroke. The EMT’s that came at my request assured me that he was just really sick with something. I made the mistake of letting Strokeman control his own destiny at this point, and sent the paramedics on their way.

Just a few hours later I found myself in the bathroom where Strokeman was unable to control his body enough to get the two feet from the wheelchair to the toilet. In my efforts to help him, I moved the wheelchair out of the way to be close enough to … I don’t know – pick his legs up and move them? … I found myself in the ridiculous situation of standing next to a man twice my size, who was leaning his head on the bathroom wall, while resting an increasing amount of weight on my shoulder and saying to me, “I wish you would stop panicking. Can you just stop panicking?”

I could not. I also could not continue to hold him up. Fearing he was going to fall and cause us, both, bodily harm, I worked at lowering him to the floor. As I put a pillow under his head, he said, “What did THAT accomplish?”

I did not stop to explain. I simply called the paramedics back and had him transported to the hospital. After several hours in the Emergency room, they admitted him for observation. (Apparently, being hammered with the flu is not an adequate diagnosis for a true admission to the hospital.) I realized could not take him home. He needed way more than I could offer him.

They managed to keep him a few days while running various tests, and I made preparations to have him transferred to a Skilled Nursing Facility for some physical therapy. This was the fulfillment of his worst nightmare. From the very beginning of our stroke adventure, he has feared being “dumped” in a nursing home. When we left the hospital he was still in such weakened condition that he didn’t really argue with me about the plan. It didn’t take him many days before each visit started with him begging me to take him home.

During his one-month stay at the skilled nursing facility I managed to get some much needed rest (on nights he didn’t call me to tell me he was not being taken care of). The facility was close enough to home that I could visit daily. I did what I could to keep him from feeling abandoned, while maintaining that he must regain his strength before I could bring him home. He stopped begging to leave and made valiant efforts to do as the physical therapist instructed – for the most part.

While I couldn’t bear to leave him for long, I did take this opportunity to make an overnight trip to OKC to see some dear friends from Africa. It was good to visit with “aunt” Jeanine and “uncle” Glenn Boyd who had been surrogate parents for me when the borders between Kenya and Tanzania were closed, making it difficult for me to get home from boarding school. We spent the evening remembering stories from another lifetime. Their oldest daughter, Becky, is a dear friend, and she managed to take a break from her family to come spend the night at her parents’ house. There is something so comforting about drifting off to sleep in the middle of late night conversations in the dark with an old friend. Another friend, Rilda, came over for supper and stayed to visit for a while. This was a trip I have wanted to make for years. So many of my aunts and uncles from Africa are growing older and frailer, I felt as if I was racing against time to see them.

As the time grew near for Strokeman to be brought home, I decided to make a quick trip to see my parents. I got my youngest son, David to come with me to do the driving. On the way back, we stopped in Waco at our favorite local restaurant, Lula Jane’s. As we sat there enjoying a bite to eat, David broached the subject of selling the house. I told him all the reasons I had given up that dream, and he proceeded to do away with all my excuses. I agreed to at least try to start down that path again. I dreaded it. Not because I didn’t want to leave this house, but because the road seemed full of insurmountable obstacles. I just didn’t think I could do everything I needed to do to make it possible. But I knew I had to try, if for no other reason than to come to an arrangement where David felt comfortable leaving me to get on with his own life.

Once I got home and got Strokeman home, I began interviewing realtors. I fully expected they would tell me what I was endeavoring to do was impossible – and one did. But there was one who made it all seem doable. He promised to help make a long complicated process as easy as possible. Thus, the new leg of the journey began.

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Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

The months of April through July were full of packing, renovating, staging and cleaning. I collected a stack of business cards from various painters, handymen, plumbers, etc, as I tried to take care of all the things in the house that had gone unattended for years. I learned the difference between propane fixtures and natural gas fixtures by trial and error. I learned that you have to have a plumber to install a propane cooktop, but that they won’t know anything about how they are supposed to work. David learned how to replace the grout in the bathroom tile (although, after doing two showers, he probably would just as soon forget it).

“Only paint the rooms that need to be painted – maybe just one accent wall,” the realtor said. But the truth is that my whole house needed to be painted. I started with the worst wall, but each completed wall just made the one next to it look so much worse! David was doing the painting for me. I noticed that when he would finish a room he would try to avoid me, because he knew I would have decided one more wall needed to be done. I threw things away, boxed things up and put them in storage, re-arranged furniture and staged rooms. By the time I finally decided I had done all I was willing to do, all I could see were the flaws.

There were still plenty of flaws left. The laundry room was not painted. I had found a really easy fix for that hole in the closet door on Youtube and decided to give it a try (David was gone on a rock-climbing trip, or he would have stopped me). It looked worse than ever when I got done. The master bedroom had received no facelift other than the removal of some furniture to make it look bigger. I cleaned the carpets, but they were stained and loose. The photographer came to take pictures of the house for the listing. The house in the photos was beautiful. I started worrying that people would come in and think, “Oh! This doesn’t look anything like the pictures!”



On July 27, the house went on the market. On July 28th we showed it 4 times. In all we showed it about 400 20 times. We had indicated on the listing that we would not be able to leave the house for showings. Each time people came to the door I welcome them with these words, “If you will please start upstairs, that will give me time to get my husband up from the bed to a chair for you to tour the master bedroom.” People were more than willing to accommodate. They were patient with my husband’s need to tell them all sorts of details they may, or may not need to know. The feedback was mostly positive, but we had no offers.

The last week in August a young couple came to tour the house. I can’t explain why, but I just really liked them. The young wife seemed to be asking all the right questions. They seemed to appreciate all the things I love about this property and house. When they left, I told Strokeman, “I want them to buy the house!”

Two days later, we had not heard anything, and I decided to ask our realtor if we needed to think about lowering the price. Before I called him, he called me. The young couple had made a full offer on the house, asking that we pay closing costs and buy a one-year home warranty. I didn’t even think about it. I just said yes! They set the closing date for October 9, in order to give us plenty of time to find and modify a place to move.

The next day David, his girlfriend, Eden, and I went to look at houses with my realtor. We looked at 6 houses. Only one of them was close enough to what I wanted to consider doing a “wheelchair run”. We agreed to meet back the next day so that I could bring Strokeman to take a look. Hours before our appointment my realtor called to say he had a house I needed to look at before making a decision. He thought it would need less in the way of modifications. I headed out the door to take a look.

The new house was designed in a way that was so much more conducive to our lives! There are double doors into the master bedroom. It is large enough for a sitting area, which will sport a lovely daybed for those nights when a sitter will need to stay close (or I just need my own space). The shower has a built-in seat. The builders had already offered to pour ramps at the doors for the wheelchair. The other bedrooms are on the opposite side of the house. The upstairs sports a bedroom, bath, and sitting area that will be perfect for my daughter. The formal dining area off of the foyer will make a lovely private sitting area for me.

I asked the community manager what it would cost to exchange the carpet in the master for tile, and she said they could “throw that in”. What about bars in the shower and toilet area? Yes. A refrigerator? We could have that at builder’s cost. Only thing left was the wheelchair run. This also went well. Unbelievably, three days after signing a contract to sell, I signed a contract to buy.

The next big hurdle was the home inspection. I had heard horror stories of inspectors who nick-picked through peoples’ houses in ways that made buyers back out. It was a discipline to stay calm and not fret. The inspection took hours. The inspector was friendly, and asked few questions. Once he was done he told me he had found nothing major. I let out a sigh of relief.

The next day we heard from the buyers. They sent a list of 4 things to be fixed prior to the closing, all of which were reasonable, only one being pricey. I set about getting these things done. Now all that is left is getting the modifications completed on the new house, setting the official closing dates, and getting moved.

As I look back on this year I am amazed at how many seemingly insurmountable hurdles have been overcome. God has provided the right people at the right time. He has provided not just what I need, but also a number of things that I want, like that Red Oak in my new front yard. I will rest easier when all the papers are signed and I am setting up house in my new home. But for the moment, I am raising Ebenezers.


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