Someone asked me the other day to summarize some of the challenges of this past year. It’s hard to put that in a blog post. It’s hard to even verbalize, and just the task of writing those things down feels a little daunting, but if I can, I think it might be helpful for others who are walking a similar road to know they are not alone in their painful journey.
And putting things in bullet points might actually help me to see how small these challenges are in light of God’s immensity. As I describe these challenges, I’m not complaining, I’m just giving you a partial picture of our daily life.
The Biggest Challenges of This Past Year:
1. I miss my man.
LeRoy is still here, he’s still with me, and I’m incredibly grateful for every day that he has life. But in so many ways, he’s gone. I miss holding hands as we walk side by side (he has to tightly grip the handles of his forearm crutches as he slowly navigates terrain that, in the past, he could easily run across). I miss him reaching over for me in the night, and drawing me close to his side—as things are now, it would cause him excruciating pain if I even accidentally rubbed up against his “bad” leg.
I miss watching him run and play with our little ones, carrying them on his shoulders, or dancing with them in circles. I miss watching him preach in the way I’ve heard him deliver the Word for decades. I miss doing ministry with him, counseling couples, speaking as a team in conferences, and traveling together. I miss having spontaneous moments of fun, playing games with friends, or jumping in the car to take an unexpected mountain drive together.
I miss having just a normal day with him. I miss my man. I miss him as my protector, my hiking buddy, and my lover. I miss him.
2. The most difficult challenge in all of this is watching LeRoy writhe in pain, seeing him suffer every day.
He said to me this morning, “I would not have thought it possible to endure this much pain for this long of a period of time.” He’s a tough guy. I’ve seen him take some hard physical hits and never flinch (my 1,200 lb mare pressed him against the horse trailer and cracked his rib once, and he didn’t let it slow him down a bit). But this pain has pushed him beyond his limits, he’s had to give in and use pain meds, which he’s never done in his life. The loss of mobility is not as hard for him to deal with as the excruciating muscle spasms, the intense burning, and the searing stabbing pain in his leg and abdomen area. Seeing him suffer, and being helpless to alleviate his pain, is crushing me.
3. Resisting the roller coaster’s pull.
The odd thing in all of this is how encouraging his doctors have been throughout this journey. Encouraging, even though we’ve seen no significant improvement. Sometimes I wonder if they are just trying to keep the patient from going off the deep end of utter hopelessness, or if they are really sincere when they paint a rosy future. There are days when I believe them and think recovery will happen, and there are days that seem this will never end.
There are times that I picture us traveling across the country to see our little ones . . . and then the present reality hits. There have been times (not recently), in my first waking moments, when I almost forgot that we’re pretty much home-bound and LeRoy can barely function. There are significant ups and downs through this process, but we’ve worked hard at resisting the emotional roller coaster. We both know, and remind ourselves, that our eyes must be fixed on who Christ is, His character, and what we know of Him . . . rather than the ups and downs that come with long term illness.
Our hope is not dependent on, nor tied to the things of this world: health, prosperity, even relationships—though they be precious. Our hope is the steadfast anchor of the soul—the God who came to earth to rescue us from our fallen condition and the coming judgment we deserve.
4. Learning a new rhythm and bearing a heavier load.
LeRoy has always taken good care of me. Not only did he take care of every bit of vehicle maintenance, keeping the tank full and oil changed, but he did the special little things that speak love. He always opened my car door for me like a gentleman (every single time), and usually added a kiss or loving touch to my back as I got in the car. And I always knew when I came home from the grocery store that he’d be on the porch waiting for me, so he could jump into action unloading groceries. At home, he helped with things like the laundry, he’s never been a cook—but he’d unload the dishwasher or hang out with me in the kitchen and talk. Every single thing about our daily life has changed. And it’s hard.
The bone-dead exhaustion reminds me of when I was a nursing mom of an infant that wouldn’t stop crying for six months. People regularly tell me that I look tired and need to get some rest. I’d love to get some rest—but there are the relentless waves of duties, that keep crashing in each day, duties that can’t be delegated to others and seem to stretch far beyond the horizon. I’m in the kitchen more than I’ve been in years, done more paperwork and complicated financial transactions, than I thought possible, I’ve become a regular pharmacist it seems, as I fill large pill boxes and keep up with when prescriptions need to be refilled, I’m a nurse and sometimes a doctor. The level of manual labor and care-giving keeps me in a state of mental and physical exhaustion—and LeRoy feels so badly about that—he wants to carry the load, but he just can’t. I can’t even ask him to carry out the trash. He’s quite limited by his physical disability. And just typing the word “disability” in reference to my strong man still seems so strange, so unbelievable.
5. Battling financial fears.
When I first opened the envelope that held his astronomical hospital bill, it took my breath away. I immediately fell to my knees in prayer, crying out to the Lord for help. LeRoy was too ill for me to even tell him about it, but I asked a small group to pray for our needs. God has been faithful, and many of you have come alongside to help in this season of need, and we are eternally grateful. There are still medical bills, and weekly prescription costs, but the recurring financial fear is primarily related to our future and LeRoy’s ability to provide. It’s a fear I have to battle, and preach to myself the truth that God will not abandon us. We may have to make some sacrificial choices, but He will be faithful to provide for our needs.
6. Planning is impossible.
I’m a planner (which adds to the temptation with financial fears). It helps me to look down the road and organize myself according to what I see coming. I like to be prepared. I like to anticipate and face future events or responsibilities with a smile. But, when every day holds unexpected dangers (a fall, a series of excruciating muscle spasms, a vehicle that I can’t repair myself, a phone call from a medical clinic that requires time and attention, a new infection, another appliance breakdown, a reaction to a new medication) it is impossible to look ahead and set a regular schedule. No day looks the same because the day is always interrupted by unexpected or urgent needs.
The repercussions and life complications multiply quickly when a husband has a serious illness. It is impossible to have a solid plan for the day. And when I don’t have a plan, I tend to get a little overwhelmed. I’m learning to live with a completely open hand, to remember that God’s got this, and He has a plan, I just need to rely on His agenda rather than making my own.
7. Missing time and ministry with our church body.
I have a long post in my head about our church family that I hope to put in print at some point. Our church is incredible. I wish you could meet them. I’ve never heard of another church who stands like this through a difficult season with (really without) their pastor, who continues to support and love deeply—when the shepherd is only on the receiving end, and can give nothing in return. We miss them. We try to make it to most Sunday morning services, but there have been many weeks we’ve missed. And pretty much all of our ministry to them has been laid aside. LeRoy sends out text messages with devotional thoughts or Scriptures when he can, we intercede together for our body, we do what little ministry behind the scenes that God allows (and provides grace and strength to accomplish), but it is a far cry from what we desire to do for our church.
8. Losing out on family time.
He weeps when he sees pictures of our little ones growing up so quickly, very aware of how time is passing by without the opportunity to laugh with them, listen to their stories and little songs, love on them, and invest in them. This is the hardest challenge of all, for both of us. We have brief visits with those who live close, and we’re thankful for that. But we haven’t been with those who live across the country since Christmas. We FaceTime, write letters, and send packages . . . but that isn’t the same. The ache and longing to be with them is almost unbearable.
Those are the challenges, but I could write a much longer post about the good provisions God has showered on us. I keep hoping to write a gratitude series, listing all of the providential blessings through these past ten months.
When Suffering is Good
I’m encouraged that the doctors still seem hopeful for LeRoy to experience recovery, maybe not full recovery, but to be more mobile than he is now. And truly, this season, though horribly hard, is necessary in our lives. God is stripping much that needed to be removed, pushing us toward growth, and allowing us to see Him be faithful to His character. And all of those things are good.
We’re both weary, tired of it, and I so miss walking beside my husband and being able to hold hands (or for him to support me if I’m stumbling), to just have a “normal” day, but those things are not worth trading for the necessary work God is graciously doing through the pain and suffering.
And perhaps that will be a future post . . . what God is teaching us, and the necessary work He is doing. Until then, thank you for your prayers. As we move beyond infusion number four, we want you to know that, truly, God is good, He alone is God, and He is worthy of all our worship!