This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.
Resuming where we left off last week…
At some point our family moved to Texas for the milder winters. The HD was beginning to affect Janet’s balance and northern winters had her house-bound for months at a time. We chose Texas because our son was living in the Waco area. We ended up south of Houston because that is where God made an opening for us.
As time progressed, Janet’s condition continued to grow worse. Her anger got more physically violent and bruises she had been giving me were replaced by cuts and scratches. Her irrational outbursts meant that she was increasingly incapable of holding a reasonable conversation. She also became very sensitive about personal space. If someone was within 3 or 4 feet of her, they were (in her view) right on top of her. For example, she would tell me to do something, but then would get angry and start yelling because I was too close to her.
The most hurtful thing, however, was that she started questioning that I really loved her. She began to say that the only reason I was still with her was because I was afraid to move out. The truth is that I had decided long before that I was going to keep my promises and remain committed to her, no matter what. In previous relationships, I probably would have cleared out when things started getting bad – in fact I did, twice. This time, though, I decided that for once I was going to keep my word – even if she didn’t understand it or recognize what I was doing. Besides, I really do love her and the only thing that I can think of that could be worse than having HD would be to have it alone.
For a long time, I was at a total loss for how to deal with this situation, so regretfully I defaulted to getting angry. Then to add insult to (physical) injury, social workers and others were constantly asking her if SHE felt safe at home. How about me? Didn’t I count? Don’t I get to feel “safe”? Why didn’t I even get asked the question?
And hanging over the whole mess was the way that I thought that the modern legal system works. If the woman is abused, the husband quite rightly goes to jail. But if the husband is abused, the husband still goes to jail – after all, he must have caused it right? She held it over my head that unless I got my life sorted out and stopped “making her” get angry she could and would get me arrested – and then I would lose my job and be, “…left living on the street.” Eventually, she did try reporting me once but, thankfully, the situation wasn’t as grim as I thought. The state investigator, after talking to her doctors, social workers and the pastor of our church, realized what was going on and closed the case.
Thank you Jesus.
During this time, I spent a lot of time thinking (and complaining) about safety, and what it means to be safe. In the end, I realized that God has a dramatically different view of safety than I do. To me, safety meant to be in an environment where I am not at risk of injury or death. To God, safety is to be doing what He wants you to be doing – which for me was to take care of Janet as best as I could every day. While, I still don’t get it 100% right, with God’s help I am getting better.
Eventually I discovered is that the fundamental issue with safety is that I wanted to be able to evaluate whatever situation that I found myself in and determine for myself what risks were involved. Naturally, I then desired the opportunity and right to choose to opt-out of scenarios that I deemed to be “unsafe”. What that choice really boiled down to, though, was a heart-felt desire for comfort and predictability.
For God, on the other hand, His primary concern for me is that I be the best me possible – which, interestingly, is something that is only attainable if your life isn’t comfortable and predictable. The motive force behind this drive is a facet of Divine Love that wants us to grow, expand and mature because He knows that this sort of development is good for us and, in the long-term, makes us the strongest and happiest. Just an important, though, is the fact that God has things for us to do, and we need to get ready.
Getting back to my case, why am I needing to go through everything that was, and is, happening? God has something in store for me that, through faith, I can only assume will be wonderful. Unfortunately, who I am right now is not adequate to the “hack the mission” – as we used to say in the Air Force. Consequently, some remedial training is in order. God has a vision of who, not just I but, all of us can be. Moreover, He is relentless in seeing that each one of us conforms to that vision. To see what I mean, do a survey of the Old Testament and you’ll see that it is filled with references to God’s advanced planning for us and our lives. But you’ll also find a very clear description of God’s end goal, “You shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” Note particularly the word “shall” – God’s training program is not an elective course.
But all this discussion begs the really big question: We know that God loves us and cares for us, but is God really safe? If your definition of safe includes the concepts of comfort and predictability, the answer is unfortunately, “No, God is far from being safe.” However, if your definition of safe allows for God to stretch you, bump you around and maybe bloody your nose a bit to help you grow, then “Yes – God is as safe as it gets.”
Now all of these words sound great if you are, like me, the caretaker. But if they are to be really true, they have to be true for all of God’s children and not just a chosen few. So do these words also apply to, for example, people dying of incurable diseases – like Janet? What do they get out of these fine words? I believe a great deal.
I believe that Janet would be the first one to agree with the proposition that for a lesson to be learned, there has to be a teacher. In bearing up under the debilitating advances of HD, Janet is doing her part to help birth something new that will help the world. Janet is teaching everyone with whom she interacts about strength, faith and hope, but in this class, her lesson plan isn’t written on an easel, blackboard or even a set of PowerPoint slides. This time, the lesson plan that she’s presenting is literally her own body.
She has twice spoken to classes of future doctors so they can, through her, see and experience the symptoms of this rare disease. She has signed up to be an organ donor, and if in the end that donation is not possible, she has a backup plan of donating her body to a local medical school – a situation that she has called her, “last teaching assignment”. She can do these things because, even in her present condition, she has the confidence that God has her back and that when He finally brings her home, He will redeem all that is being held captive, perfect all that is corrupt, restore all that is lost and mend all that is broken.
In Christ, Amen ☩
A prayer for when you don’t feel safe…
“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for all the ways that You protect us. But today I especially want to bless You for the times when You aren’t totally “safe”. Thank you for a love that desires to see me grow so much that it requires me to be, at times, far outside my comfort zone. When those times come up, and I don’t understand, please help me to remember that You always manage the risks to bless me and prepare me for the life that I have ahead. I earnestly desire to match the vision that You have for me. Amen”