We Passed the Test!

Last week we had the opportunity to put to the test one of the reasons we made the move to Florida a year ago. Most people, as they age, need some type of help or support. Those of us who live with disability in our families often need the help much earlier, and for a longer period in life. We did not want to wait to move until our post retirement years and be the needy newcomers. Our goal was to move while we still had time and energy to build friendships, be involved and give back in our community. Our hope was when the time came and we needed help it came based on our relationships.

kelly-sikkema-RmByg5kFfQg-unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Beside being the anniversary of when we purchased our home here, this past week was also the first time since moving that we both got sick at the same time. It didn’t start out that way, but I joined Jerry in being ill just a few days after him. A perfect time for an emergency test of our community building skills.

Do you know what happened? Neighbors and friends from church brought food. Many prayed for us – even coming to our front door to pray over us and the house. People offered to run grocery store or pharmacy errands for us. Someone helped create a temporary fix for a vehicle problem until we could get it repaired.

I get it. This does not sound like a world-shattering experience or revelation. At least it should not be. This is how healthy communities function. But I’ve been in both the disability world and church world long enough to have heard the stories from families affected by disability who feel so alone, it seems no one sees or hears them, or misses them when they are absent. That is heartbreaking, but it does not have to be fatal.

push for help

Please allow me a couple observations:

1) For families affected by disability, I know we may not have the time, energy or resources we perceive others do. First, perceptions are apples and oranges comparison, so let it go. But more importantly, how are you building into your community? It is unfair to expect everyone to see us and help with our needs if we don’t also make an effort to see them. It might start with a phone call just to ask someone else how they are doing. Or a quick email or FB post following up on something in their lives. Sometimes our community doesn’t know how to help, building a relationship will open understanding. We need to be willing to embrace others before we expect them to embrace us.

2) For the community person who is not affected by disability; Families affected by disability can’t always articulate our needs or be particularly grace filled when expressing them, some days it is just too much. Please don’t let us turn you off. We need you. If our name comes to mind, offer a prayer for us, drop a plate of cookies off, send off a thinking of you email, or call as you head to the grocery store to see if we need anything.

To our community and tribe, thank you! We love you and are so grateful for your love and care for us.family colorful group

To those wishing they had a community like ours, what is one thing you can do this week to build on a relationship in your circle?

Rumors

Once upon a time, though this is a true story, I facilitated an informal support group of wives married to men with disabilities. Most of the ladies were older than me, most had little exposure to disability prior to their husband’s accident or illness. None of them chose to marry someone with a disability. Each month I listened to their stories and concerns and realized my life with Jerry was easy compared to theirs.  I held back from sharing too deeply from my life because it seemed to pale in comparison to what these ladies shared. They needed a safe place to be able to vent and talk freely.

After a few months I decided enough trust had been built and it was time for me to takehands-2374246_1920 the plunge with them. Jerry and I had recently been through a rough period – nothing earth shattering, but still, unpleasant. At our next meeting I shared some of that with the ladies. They expressed relief to know I/we were like them. I felt like our group had bonded on a deeper level.

Later that week I got a phone call from one of the husbands. After sharing the initial pleasantries he expressed his sorrow  to hear about the difficulties Jerry and I were having. He never thought we’d be on the verge of divorce like this.

WHAT?  I had no idea what he was talking about.

Then he went on to say that his wife had told him about the conflict Jerry and I had and he just hoped we would not split up. After all we were the first couple living with disability in marriage they had ever met.

My first inclination was to say, “Do you have any idea the things your wife has said about you?” Thankfully God held my tongue on that one. Next I wanted to ask to speak with his wife to see if she understood confidentiality. But God said this was not the time.

Instead I assured him that we had weathered a little storm, like every marriage encounters. We were not planning to split, and had never entertained that thought. I thanked him for his prayers and welcomed him to continue to intercede for us.

I learned a few lessons from this experience:

  1.  Groups want and need their leaders to be real. Even if the leader’s life is different than that of the others, authenticity from the start matters. Leaders though, need to  balance being open while also learning with whom and what we are safe to share.
  2. Marriage is hard. Every marriage goes through difficult spots. Don’t be surprised or alarmed when someone you thought “has it all together” shares that they don’t. We are all broken people in need of a Savior.
  3. Unless it persists, there is no need to fight back against the rumors, let them die.  Love one another, take the matter to God, and pray for the other people involved.

family colorful groupWe all need people who will accept us as we are, share real life with one another and encourage honesty and growth in our marriages.  Where do you find that support in your marriage?  If you don’t have someone, pray about finding that support, whether as a couple or individuals.

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1 NIV

 

The Clash of Our Love Languages

We had had a couple of long months. Preparation for one of our largest ministry events of the year took much of my emotional strength. Jerry was representing the ministry at a significant conference in Washington DC that same weekend. At home, my mother was in her ninth year of living with us. She did not need physical care from me, but looked forward to us being home to talk with her and offer companionship. I wanted that too, but didn’t always have the bandwidth to offer.

And so it was, that we woke up early Sunday morning, the day after I spent all day ministering to a large group of ladies. Jerry got home late from DC that same day. Mom was leaving to travel with my sister. I saw Mom off and crawled back in bed. Almost immediately the tears began to flow. It did not take long for them to become full body sobs.

Jerry, still lying in bed, gently asked me what was going on, did I know? I don’t recall what I said right then, but he held me as I wept. The truth was, I was done. I had given all empty-glass-3299156_1920my social, emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual reserves and I was empty. I had no reserve to help myself or anyone else.

With a deep level of compassion, and probably a little fear and trepidation on his part, Jerry calmly said, “It will be ok sweetheart, we’ll get through this together.”

That was the final straw! The last tiny piece of my emotional dam broke loose and I cried, not in my most loving wife tone, “Sure it will – easy for you to say because you know I will eventually get up and get you dressed, but who is going to take care of me?”

While Jerry wanted to assure me he would, he knew this was not the right time to offer those words, so he remained quiet.  Later he told me he thought, “Oh crap, she’s right!”

This was not a failure to communicate, but, a classic love language clash.  Words of encouragement do not translate into acts of service.

A short time later I rose long enough to get Jerry up and dressed. He asked what I wanted for lunch. I made it clear that I did not care, he could figure it out. I rolled back over to cry and sleep some more.

Jerry put on his coat and went out the door to get in his van to forage for food.  Having just returned from DC the driver’s seat was still in the van, meaning he could not drive.  Because of their late arrival home Jerry told his friend who drove that he did not have to change the seat out because I could do that in the morning. This was that morning, and my loving husband was not about to come back in to ask me to do that.

He checked his wallet again, and did not have enough cash to order food in by delivery. Considering the options, Jerry started to roll up town to a Wawa, knowing he could get both cash and food there.  (If you are not familiar with Wawa, it would be worth your while to go on their website and plan a vacation to a state that is blessed to have them).

Being a wise, experienced husband, he filled the bags as full as he could carry with a variety of sandwiches, salty treats, sweet surprises and anything else he thought I might like. Then he rolled home, and cautiously entered our room. I was oblivious to how long he was gone; a good hour to hour and a half.

Almost as if he were approaching a den of lions (which I am sure is how he felt with the way I had reacted so far) he sort of tossed the bags of food to me and told me I should have any or all of it that I wanted. If there was anything left he would eat that or figure another plan.

snacks-2199659_1920I believe protein, salt and sweet have never tasted as good as they did that day.

Jerry tried his best to love me, by holding me and offering soothing words of comfort. That did not speak love to me as clearly as I needed to hear it then. The time and energy he put in to serving me by gathering food, spoke volumes to me of his love.

We now look back on that day and laugh, though at the time there was little to find humorous. In hindsight, I was burned out. I had given to the point of having nothing left to care for myself.  Jerry’s care for me was the start of healing.

We learned a lot that day. In the weeks that followed we made some changes. No longer would we leave the driver’s seat in the van, it needed to be always ready for Jerry to drive. We made sure he had the neighbor’s phone number in his cell phone so he could reach out for help. We established a certain level of cash we would always keep on hand in the house just in case we had a need for an emergency delivery. Finally, we became note-415143_1920more aware of my needs and the cues when I needed a break. Jerry will point out when he thinks I need to take a day or two to spend some time on me.

What was one of the hardest and lowest days of our marriage, became one of the best.

Do you know what your love language is? What about your spouse’s language?  You can learn more about love languages here.  http://www.5lovelanguages.com/gary-chapman/

How has knowing each of your love languages impacted your marriage?

What A Difference A Year Makes

Today has been a mostly ordinary day.  I helped Jerry get up.  I went to my part time job at the financial planners, and was able to confidently carry out my tasks with the knowledge I have gained there this year.  When my shift ended I attended a team meeting with my seeJesus Bethesda teammates in which we did some final planning for our upcoming fundraiser.  It is exciting to see the event and team come together.  Then I took a call from another seeJesus co-worker who shared a project that is just starting and asked if I would like to consider being involved with it.

As I pondered this request, as well as some other connections that came my way today I marveled at God’s goodness and grace.  You see, it was one year ago today, on this very rope-667319_1280date that Jerry and I got the first very clear information that life as we knew it was about to unravel.  We didn’t know the details, we didn’t know exactly how or when, but as the cliche says, the end was in sight.

To say November 2016 Started us on a tumultuous journey is an understatement.  But we’ve all been through our own kinds of floods, fires and trials.  You don’t need to hear the “down and dirty” from me.

What I do want you to hear is that our God is faithful!  Here we are at November 1, 2017 and we are growing in our new work and ministry roles, we have some exciting plans for our future, and we are stronger in our marriage than we’ve ever been.

Are we all the way through this rough spot?  Probably not – people tell us it will likely dance in and out of our lives for years to come.  But that’s ok – we are more snug in our cord of three, and that’s a knot I never want to undo!

Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.rope-970023_1280

Too Busy to Listen?

I have noticed a pattern developing when we stop for fast food that has a scary correlation in my life. When I place our order I am asked by the voice in the box if I want any additional sauces with my order.  Each time I say no.  Yet, when I get to the window where they hand the bag of food I find it loaded with packets of sauces.  Way more sauce than two of us could use even if I had said yes.

How wasteful I feel throwing away all those packets.  I tried saving them for a time, but then wondered what I was going to do with a stock of sauce packets I never wanted in the first place.  So out they go after all.

Then it struck me –  how often do I think I’ve been attentive to someone, perhaps even sculpture-2275202_1280asking a question of them, only to realize I don’t really know what they just said to me (I am sure no one else has experienced this).  Essentially I’ve just wasted their time and trust in me, something far more valuable than plastic pouches of sauce.  I allowed them to talk to me, but never engaged in listening.

It is bad enough that I have noticed I do this with my husband, family, co-workers and friends.  But even worse, I do this with God.  I spend time in His word each morning.  I ponder what I read and believe He is saying to me.  I pray for application to my life.  And then hours (or sometimes, sadly, minutes) later I think or respond in a way that shows I totally missed what God said to me. photo_10929_20090511Thankfully He (and my friends, family and associates) extend a great deal of grace and second chances to me.

question-mark-160071_1280So help me please dear friends and readers . . . . share with me your best tips for keeping focused and attentive to those around you when your mind is begging to float away to a myriad of other thoughts.