Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where I Learn about Beauty

  My mother-in-law, Dianne, is one of the most beautiful girls I have ever known.  I could say all kinds of things about her.  She's busy, patient, compassionate, and loving.  She's definitely a Proverbs 31 woman.  But to tell you all the beautiful things about her would make this post way too long, so right now I'm going to just let her tell you her own story.  
  Dianne recently spoke at a women's conference about the phase of life she is living right now, and the super-great guy she's living it with. It is rather lengthy, but take a bit and read it through.  I think you'll be blessed by it.   Here is what she shared:  

I am nervous up here in front of all of you, but my heart is warmed to hear the stories, with their struggles and triumphs, I’ve heard so far today.  Every woman has a beautiful story, and we are all on the same journey, so it helps to know that my own traveling is on a road that has been walked by amazing women who have gone before me.  I am blessed in the knowledge that my own story may encourage those women who have not yet reached this stretch of the road.  Our goal, in the end, is to hear our Savior say, “Well done,” and to spend eternity in worship and service to Him.  For now, though, in my nervousness, I’m clinging to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are doing,” and tell you that I need some encouragement to get through this! 

My husband, Don, and I have been married for 43 years.  We’ve been blessed to raise four sons.  Shannon lives in Lynchburg, works for Pepsi, and is married with two children.   Derrick is an associate pastor in North Carolina, is married with two children.  Chris and his wife are in Arkansas helping plant a church….guess how many children they have.  It’s a pattern…two children.  And our baby, Stephan, is single and lives right next door to us.  Oh, I have stories to tell about raising four boys, but those stories are not for this time, so I’ll just say that all four of them are believers, they are happy, they are healthy, and they and their families serve the Lord in their churches and in their lives.

 I also have many stories about how our three granddaughters and three grandsons serve the Lord.  They are musically and creatively gifted by God.  Our oldest grandson, Tanner, goes to Liberty University, has been on mission trips to Russia, and serves in music ministries for Christian camps.  The rest of our grandchildren (Aubrianah, Anna, Alisyn, Benjamin, and Daniel) are following along that same path, serving, doing, going, creating, all for the glory of our Lord.  I could stand here and tell you how practically perfect my grandchildren are all day long…but it’s not the time for that, either. 

  The early years of our marriage found us in church almost every service.  Don was a deacon, teacher, and soloist.  He sang in the church choir, helped with every event, and was a part of special groups.  We were a busy family, and we filled our time with raising our boys and serving the church and others.  Don and I would dream, talk, and plan about traveling across the country, taking our time and seeing all the sights and enjoying God’s creation.  We looked forward to our children being out on their own, traveling their own journeys.  We loved them and still do, of course, but we did dream about taking a little time to ourselves, a little time to enjoy God’s view.  You’ve heard of the ‘golden years’, no babies under foot, no diapers to change, no teenager to transport to games, no kids to hear begging to go somewhere or asking you to buy them expensive tennis shoes.  The golden years, I’ve heard, are supposed to be a special time with your mate, to see the country or maybe take a cruise. 

  For many, though, the golden years aren’t so shiny.  As we grow older there are aches and pains, falls and broken bones, hot flashes and sleepless nights, loneliness and empty nest syndrome, and sometimes, Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

  My husband started having some physical problems early on.  He received a medical discharge from Air Force in his late teens due to hip and back problems.  He’s been plagued with arthritis and allergies most of his life.  Then, in 1995, Don had a quintuple bypass.  Soon after that, the memory problems started.  We thought it was from the prescription drugs, but when he stopped taking them the problems continued.  One doctor said it may have come from being on the heart and breathing machines too long.  Whatever the cause, we have had to learn to live with it.  It is the lot in life God is allowing us to bear. 

When our boys grew up and moved away, it wasn’t long until Don was no longer going to church with me.  He just didn’t feel like it.  I had a pity party every time I traveled to church alone.  I cried many times in the car, and again in the service when we sang songs that I knew Don loved to sing.  We went from being a family who took up half a row in church, to just me…one seat. 

  In addition to the worsening memory problems, and possibly sometimes because of them, Don has had even more physical problems.  He fell and broke his hip about six years ago and had to be in a nursing home for rehab.  I took a leave of absence from work and stayed all day, every day with him.  He also hurt his shoulder when he fell.  After he was able to walk without a walker or cane, surgery was done.  He had so much damage that only a shoulder replacement would help.  The doctor advised against the replacement, fearing worse memory damage.  We decided to try to live with the pain.  He had a ‘tens unit’, but he couldn’t get used to it.  He kept adjusting it and it would shock him.  He finally said, “I can’t get any music on this thing so you may as well throw it away.  And my shoulder is really hurting.”  So, now we’re praying about whether or not we should just go ahead with the shoulder replacement.  If he has it, I will need to be with him 24 hours a day while he is in rehab.  If he doesn’t have it, he will be in continuous pain…and he’ll tell me about it 24 hours a day. 

  Don can no longer mow, trim trees, plant the garden, or help with the upkeep on the pool.  We had always enjoyed working on our home together, but now I work alone-painting the deck, washing the car, or whatever projects need to be done to keep up a home.  When I had to quit my job, I went from seeing seventy people five days a week to seeing only Don most days.  All the decisions are mine; I do everything inside and out.  Sometimes I even have to re-do things that he has undone!  Several months ago I came home from church to find water in the downstairs floor.  I asked Don about it, but of course he didn’t know.  I cleaned it up and continued on with my day.  A couple of months later I heard him call, “My socks are wet!”  This time was much worse.  I pulled towels and rugs into the mess and started soaking it up.  When I went downstairs for more towels I could hear water pouring from the ceiling.  I thought, “I’ll deal with that later, one thing at a time.”  We had recently re-done the downstairs bathroom, now everything was wet and the ceiling tiles stained.  Pastor Wegner came and re-painted them.  He painted them on the garage floor, Don came into the garage and walked on them.  Now we have white footprints on the garage floor and Pastor Wegner had to paint them again.  I thank the Lord for the helpers He has sent to us, and the sense of humor most of those helpers possess.  Sometimes all we can do is laugh, and laughter is good medicine. 

  My boys have grown up and have lives and families of their own, and I am happy for them.  My empty nest did not last long, though.  Don has become my little boy.  I have to bathe him, help him dress, and sometimes talk to him as I would talk to a child…giving him directions for simple tasks over and over or reminding him what to do in certain situations.  The other day he had on two different shoes and one was on the wrong foot.  Some nights he wakes up in the middle of the night and then asks me questions for four hours, “Are you alright?  Are you cold?  I love you.  My arm hurts.  How long have we been married?  I thank God for you.  Ouch!!   My shoulder hurts!”  I’m thinking to myself, “Just go back to sleep!!!”  But the Lord helps me hold my tongue and most of my replies are just grunts. 

  Recently, as I was helping him with his shower, he asked, “Are you my wife?”  I said, “You better hope so, I don’t get in the shower with just anybody!”  Don is sick to his stomach most mornings, sometimes he goes three or four days without eating regular food.  He asks for ice cream all day long.  I usually make him his favorite egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, he takes a couple bites and says he is sick and goes back to bed.  When he is still and in bed the pain in his shoulders and back is less.  He calls for me many times to just say, “I’m sick,” or “My shoulder hurts.”  Once he gets out of bed, he is constantly calling my name, constantly asking for ice cream.  Some days he eats ice cream four or five times.  He goes out the back door and into the front door and calls for me, sometimes he says, “Does anyone live here?” 

  Don loves to visit people and he loves to have people over to visit with us, even though he forgets who we are visiting or asks our grandchildren, “Which one is your daddy?”  I am encouraged by the patience and thoughtfulness of others, though.  Our grandchildren answer his questions over and over, and when our children are able to visit, which is not often,  they sit with him and help me with projects.  I am especially encouraged by one 85-year-old friend.  I take her to church and shopping, and she sits with Don at the front of the store sometimes while I shop.  She went through a similar time with her late husband, so she has firsthand knowledge of how to pray for us…and she does so fervently. 

  Well, I feel like I’ve spent a long time here telling you about my trial.  Maybe more than I meant to, because I know you want to hear the triumph.  I know at least one of my daughters-in-law looks at me and is scared to death that she is going to have to go through the same thing with one of Don’s and my sons.  She’s told me she doesn’t know how she’ll do it, if she has to.  She sees the trial, but the triumph is much more difficult to see.  .  We have to lay our trials at the feet of the One who can handle them. 

I took an oath to my husband, and he to me…in sickness and in health.  We made that vow before God and I do not take it lightly.  And I know, if the situation were reversed and I was the one asking Don for ice cream and forgetting where I live and tracking white footprints all over the house, he would not take the vow lightly either.  Even in Don’s dementia his sweet spirit reminds me that he loves me and would take care of me the way I take care of him.  He tells me several times a day how much he loves me, how beautiful I am, how he thanks God for me.  He talks about how God has blessed us and our children.  I know many women would love to have a husband who loves her so much and expresses those feelings.    I love Don and praise God for him, even with his disease.

  When Don and I were young, we sang in a quartet.  One song said, “Whatever it takes to be like you, Lord, that’s what I’d be willing to do.”  Don and I searched our hearts back then.  What would we be willing to give up?  Even a child?  We searched and decided that whatever it takes to be like Jesus, that’s what we are willing to do.  I guess dementia was part of that plan.  The doctor reminded me last month that Don has a terminal disease that will only get worse.  Only God knows our future and he is our rock and stay in times of trouble.  What have I given up to be more like Jesus?  Nothing my husband and I didn’t commit to Him in the first place.  Nothing we weren’t willing to give. 

  Sometimes I do get depressed and moody.  Sometimes I get angry.  Sometimes I compare my situation to people who don’t have these problems.  I get sad.  When I’m depressed, I ask for forgiveness and for God to help me get through the nights when Don is talking, talking, talking and I am grunting answers.  I get frustrated and offer short prayers of, “Help me, Jesus!”  When I get angry, I remind myself that there is no point in anger…Don can’t help it…and I remember Phil.4:5-6, “The Lord is near, be anxious for nothing.” And Ps 55:22 “Cast your burdens on the LORD and He shall sustain thee.  He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved…His mercies are new every morning.”  Great is thy faithfulness, Lord.  When I get lonely, I speak God’s Word to myself in Deut 31:6 “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid for the Lord your God…is the one who goes with you.  He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  I also get scared, because I’ve heard of dementia patients get violent and don’t know their families.  When I’m afraid I think of John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” 

God has a positive purpose when all we can see are the negative circumstances.  We cannot blame God for our trouble.  Sin brought trouble in to the world.  We have to accept the circumstances that God has allowed into our lives, and then use them to refine our walk with Him! I want my sons, my grandchildren, and my three daughters-in-law to see Jesus in me as I serve Don through these trying times!  Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

  And what of our ministry?  Don and I were so active in our church and other ministry.  But I want to encourage you, whatever stage of life we are in, we can still be a blessing of service.  I do my Bible reading in bed.  I cook meals for shut-ins while Don is sleeping, and he goes with me to visit them.  We have a pool, so we are able to invite church families over to use that and fellowship at the same time.  Don can no longer lead a Bible study group, but we can host them in our home and allow other men to lead.  Having families in our home is an encouragement to me, feeding people something other than ice cream helps me find fulfillment for my gift of hospitality.  The Lord has provided helpers for us when we’ve needed them, and many of them have come from these small groups we are still able to host.  Our ministry is different now, just as it was different from when our boys were little to when they became teenagers.  And it will certainly change again. 

  Don still has a ministry, too.  He has always loved music, so I keep a CD player or radio near him most of the time.  It blesses my heart to hear him singing along to a hymn or finishing a Bible verse a preacher has started.  That is his ministry to my heart, even though he doesn’t realize it.  He also has a ministry of prayer, I sometimes hear him praying aloud from the bedroom. 

I often remember what Corrie Ten Boom said, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out?  Of course not!  You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through…”  In other words, don’t panic.  Don’t jump out, don’t give up.  Be patient.  God knows best, He knows the future, He is in control, trust God, Praise Him in all things.  May Jesus Christ be praised, now and forevermore.

My ‘golden years’ may not look the way I thought they would look, but Job 23:10 says, “He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Don and I will claim this verse, we’ll trust God through the trials, and we’ll come out golden anyway!