Excerpt from An online Course: Where God puts two hearts in a home.
The LORD is good, indeed, he is a fortress in time of distress; and he protects those who seek refuge in him. —Nahum 1:7
I will sing continually about the LORD‘s faithful deeds, to future generations I will proclaim your faithfulness. —Psalm 89:1
Suffering has been a part of my life from my earliest memories. When I was unable to walk at the normal time, the doctors told my mother that I was missing my complete left hip joint. For fourteen years after that, every year my mother took me to the hospital and I had a new operation. The doctors were never able to fully fix my hip or to make my two legs the same length. But I was able to walk – a great blessing!
But an even greater blessing happened when our neighbors invited us to a wonderful church. A Sunday school teacher showed me how to invite Jesus Christ in my young life. The next year, when I was eight, I had another operation and spent three months trapped in a body cast from my chest to toes. But for the first time, I had something new that I never had before. Even though I was all alone, I had my friend Jesus. Unlike other times in the hospital far away from my family, I wasn’t frightened! Jesus changed me from a shy, scared child into a friendly girl who cared about how others were doing and feeling. I didn’t know then, but God was preparing me to be a special help meet to a special man.
In 1964, God gave me Michael, a kind, loving husband. Soon we had two children…a girl and a boy. We both taught school, and he taught the Bible in our church. Our life together seemed almost perfect. But one night, I woke up suddenly. My husband was violently shaking and twisting with a massive seizure. At first, the doctors couldn’t find what was wrong. Then they discovered a tumor in Michael‘s brain. He had an operation the next day. In our country, the law says that the doctor must tell you all the things that might go wrong during surgery. I listened carefully, then sobbed all the way home because I knew our happy lives were changed forever.
The doctors removed the tumor. But it was very difficult to see Michael in the intensive care room in the hospital. He looked dead. I told my mother that I couldn’t stand to visit him again. My mother reminded me of other difficult things that the Lord had strengthened me to do. She said, Yes, you can and you will! I discovered that I could draw on God‘s strength to encourage Michael, even when it was hard.
Little by little, I realized many ways that God had been preparing us for this difficult time. For instance, several months before this happened, our children had won scholarships to go to a week at a Bible camp the week after Michael‘s surgery. Although he had bandages on his head after surgery, he could talk to them. He even got out of bed and walked with them to the door of his hospital room. They were at peace and went to camp happily. I could stay with Michael in the hospital without concern for them. I memorized a new verse about God‘s mercy, Jeremiah 29:11… ‘For I know what I have planned for you, ’says the LORD. I have plans to prosper you not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope’. This verse became my support for the hard years to come.
During the next fifteen years, we all suffered from Michael‘s three cancerous brain tumors, one after the other. The first two were removed by surgeries, and he received radiation treatment. Through this hard time, Michael continued teaching the Bible. The men so admired his determination, prayer life, and consistent testimony to God‘s love and grace. If he heard of someone who had a brain tumor, he would write a letter encouraging that person to trust God.
Even though the radiation treatments helped slow the cancer, it scarred his brain so that he began having more strokes. He had problems walking, speaking, swallowing, and writing. Sometimes, he choked on his food. Our son learned to stand behind Michael and hug him around the chest hard to make the air in his lungs dislodge the food, so I could reach into his throat and pull the food out so that Michael would not choke to death. I had to draw on the Lord for strength each time.
Michael had always taken care of our family well. He had managed our finances and material resources carefully and wisely. Spiritually, he had been a good leader. He had met with the children each night before bedtime and taught them Bible stories, verses, and prayed with them. His calm and gentle spirit had caused me to love him at the beginning of our relationship and made it easy to keep admiring him. But gradually those things that I admired slipped away.
But as he lost the ability to take care of us, the strokes also changed his personality. Instead of being kind, he became sarcastic. He eventually lost the ability to work. I had to keep teaching school to provide support for our family and medical treatment for Michael, but I was very tired. Our children were no longer peaceful. Our daughter was critical of her brother. Our son was often embarrassed by his father. Michael could no longer speak clearly, so I couldn’t always understand what he said. When he lost the ability to chew and swallow food, the doctor inserted a feeding tube directly into his stomach. Soon our whole world revolved around keeping him alive. Because our daughter was so emotionally vulnerable, a young pastor befriended her, but then sexually abused her. Where had our nearly perfect life gone?
But God blessed us in new ways. Our daughter moved to go to Bible school and met a good man. They married and had our grandson, which gave us all joy. Then, I met a Slavic family who started a mission to Eastern Europe. They invited me to go to Siberia for a few weeks to help a church with its choir. I didn’t know if I should leave my husband‘s side. But the Slavic brothers came and prayed over him. Michael said that he had never been prayed for with such power in his whole life! I believe God gave him another year of life because of those prayers. Michael agreed that I should take a trip to help them. So, God added something new to my life, even while I was caring for Michael.
Michael died in the hospital at age fifty-six. I was not with him when he died, but arrived a few minutes after. When I saw his face, it was so calm and peaceful; it did not fill me with dread as when I had thought he looked dead after his first surgery. As my sister and I cleaned up the hospital room, his body was there, but it wasn’t upsetting at all.
A good husband is like the hub of the wheel of responsibility and stability in a home. So when he dies, all of the relationships and responsibilities in the family must change. Being a widow is not easy. I had to figure out all that was needed to manage our home and possessions. And I quickly realized that I did not have enough energy to work as an elementary teacher any more. But I saw that God does all things well. Because of my husband‘s provision for our savings and life insurance, I only have to work part time. I work both for the Slavic mission and another mission organization, which I enjoy so much.
My husband can no longer help me with all of the problems and responsibilities of my life as parent, grandparent, and daughter to an eighty-six-year-old mother. These roles sometimes feel lonely. So I walk by faith and I pray. Being in the Word constantly brings light into my life and healing into my heart. The last nine years as a widow, I learned to know God more intimately as my Father and as my husband. Even though Michael can no longer care for us, God is still good to us.
I miss Michael, but the Lord gives me comfort in a very personal way. Sometimes when I go to bed at night, I just tell the Father …I need a hug. He answers by enveloping me in peace and I go right to sleep. I cannot thank God enough for the life that He has given me, and I will praise Him as long as I live.