How to Deal with a Life-Changing Event
(For Me, Having a Medically Disabled Husband)
There are a few things in life that you never contemplate happening to you. Not being able to have children, losing your spouse at a young age, losing a child, losing your home or your job are just a few of the possibilities. I had never stopped to think about what I would do if any of these things happened to me. I also had never stopped to think about what life would be like if my husband became medically disabled. Yet, about two and a half years ago, the possibility of this happening to us became very probable.
Our family the winter before the furnace accident.
In October 2009 my husband came home from a weekend trip visiting potential missionaries and said he was unusually tired and just needed to go to bed early. Since he traveled often, he would usually try to take one of our children with him on small low-key trips. That particular weekend, it was our son Tyler’s turn. He was 6 years old and was thrilled to spend time with Daddy. So, when my husband came home exhausted I figured it was simply because the trip had been a little more intense than he had expected; however, after a couple of days he was not getting better. After a full week of him not being able to get out of bed, we decided to take him to our family doctor. We were hoping it was not a relapse of the mono struggles he had had before. When the doctor called she let us know that he indeed did have a relapse. The good news was that it looked like the mono had already been acute for a while this time and that in a couple of weeks he should be over it. Well, that wasn’t going to be too bad. A couple of weeks would be a little longer than we wanted (there was always so much to do) but it could be worse.
Those couple of weeks went by; then a couple more. It was actually seeming to get worse! He could barely get out of bed in the morning. Most mornings he would drag himself to the tub for a bath, then drag himself back to bed. Just trying to get ready for the day would completely exhaust him. Accomplishing something that day was now out of the question. Then, he began to have strange irregular jerking movements and chest pains.
To make a looooong story short, after 6 months of trying to figure out what was happening, weeks of hospital stays, many emergency runs, and testing for all kinds of exotic diseases – we finally decided to have our house tested just in-case there was a strange environmental reason. We were thinking mold. Nope, there was no mold, BUT….there was a carbon monoxide leak in our furnace. FINALLY we had found the cause. The people who found the leak kept on exclaiming, “You guys are lucky to be alive! You guys are lucky to be alive!” Well, we did not consider it luck – we knew God was in control the whole time.
While everyone in the house had symptoms, none were as severe as my husbands. We were turned on to a specialist at Johns Hopkins University whom we contacted right away. New blood work was done – yep, high levels of carbon monoxide in the blood stream. Our doctor put him on oxygen therapy. For about 2 months things seemed to be wonderful again. But then came a return of symptoms. Slowly things got worse again. After a few months our doctors began to gently let us know that the symptoms were caused by brain damage from the carbon monoxide and that this was likely permanent. Yep, they were trying to tell us that he was permanently disabled.
Fast forward to April 2011, my husband was approved for a pacemaker which has helped him tremendously. They also finally figured out the reason for some of the dizziness – Hypotension and prescribed medicine that helped some. Fast forward again to November 2011. We were approved for medical disability. Now it was “official”. Yes, he is medically disabled.
There are many lessons that I have learned through this whole process. I just wanted to encourage any who are struggling with a life-changing situation with a few concepts that have had the most impact on my life. When you go through life-changing situations, remember to….
1. Realize you cannot change things which are out of your control – accept them.
I’ll admit it, I had major control issues. I love to have things organized and in their place. I love to have things planned out. I am not the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person. I try to accomplish my tasks way before they are due. I am not one of those “does-well-under-pressure” people. Because of this, I was always looking and hopeful for some sort of fix. I tried to help make him so comfortable that just maybe he would begin to feel better. I also tried to think of just the right thing to ask the doctor so that it would cause some light bulb to come on that no one had thought of before. God had to change me.
Thankfully, He gave me plenty of time and helped me to change little by little. What joy there is in accepting exactly what God gives us, and not trying to make it “better” by coming up with a “solution” for every “problem.” Sometimes God just wants the “problem” to stay there, and doesn’t need our “solutions.” He gives us trials “….that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end” (Deut. 8:16). He does have our best interest in mind!
2. Keep your eyes on Christ.
Taking care of, and sometimes just being around someone who is not well most of the time can be wearing. And what do we often tend to do when we are tired? We think about how tired we are! Then we begin to think about all that we do, and all that we still have to do. We begin to feel overwhelmed and then sorry for ourselves. This is such a dangerous pattern to fall into. What is the best way to get out of it? Well, take a nap if you need to. Sometimes that is the greatest need!
The permanent fix though is to focus on Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:5 says, “For as the suffering of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” Think about Christ – what He went through for us – and pour your heart out before Him. “Whom have I in heaven but You? There is none upon the earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God. That I may declare all Your works” (Ps. 73: 25,26,28). Be in the Word! Read your Bible and find encouragement there.
3. Put yourself in the shoes of others.
How many times do we come to the wrong conclusions about someone (especially their motives) all because we truly did not understand their situation. Try putting yourself in their shoes for a while. Try to think about how something would best help them. Truly help them. Don’t do something to help you to feel like you’ve helped them. Our goal in ministering to someone should be to encourage them with what is best for them, not what we feel they should need. Listen, and be observant.
4. Do not expect more from yourself than God does.
Before David became ill, we were constantly on the move. We were on deputation traveling to churches to raise support. We had also begun a brand new church in our community – in the basement of our home to be exact. In the summers, we generally traveled for three weeks or more as David preached at camps. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. We loved it!
There is nothing better than knowing that God is using His word through you. People would many times ask us to be involved in other activities. I was the Women’s Ministries President at a larger church we were attending, etc. If anyone asked us to do something, the only way we would say “no” was if it was practically impossible for us to fit it in.
One more clarification. Neither am I saying that the busyness had anything to do with David becoming sick. I believe that God has a plan in all of this, and that his sickness would have come regardless. What I am saying is that many times we want to do what makes us feel useful to God (and others) and not just what God feels is useful to Him. In no way am I urging you to go quit all your ministries! It took us a little while to see that David’s sickness was a ministry. For us to simply stay encouraged and faithful while doing the best we could was just as important to the Lord as all those other ministries were. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
We know that we are exactly in the center of God’s will living here in Texas. We are not involved in a formal ministry nor are we incredibly busy just as we were in Ohio and nationwide through our travels. Yet, this is what God has for us. When you are pulled out of your usual ministries, by causes beyond your own, you may just need to realize that you are not indispensable. God doesn’t need you. He chooses to use you which is a huge privilege, but our list of ministries are really not a duty we must fulfill in order for God’s purposed to be accomplished.
So take time and evaluate, “Are all the things I am involved in how God wants to use me?” “Have I truly taken the time to ask Him, or is this what I or others expect of me?” I think that when we are honest with ourselves God will help us to know. There are just a few more things that I have learned…
5. Take one day at a time.
As I learn the concept that God doesn’t need us but instead He chooses to use us, it impacts even the little every-day decisions. Actually, when my husband first became sick, there was no evaluating. Just the constant doing only what I was physically capable of. I was homeschooling our 3 children at the time – Kindergarten, 1st grade and 4th grade. I attempted to keep the house clean and picked-up. I was making sure we were at every service at church and every home-school activity. I wanted to make sure that life didn’t change dramatically for the kids. I wanted it as normal as possible for them. Amongst all of this there were doctor’s appointments galore! Some people may not be thankful for Nintendo DS’s and those other handheld games, but I was very thankful. They were small and concise and could be easily grabbed at a moments notice. My kids played those quite a bit as they sat in waiting room after waiting room while David was seeing doctors. They were a lifesaver.
So, in all of those situations, taking one day at a time was overwhelming in and of itself. If we even began to contemplate about the future we would begin to worry or feel overwhelmed. “Today” was all we could handle. Matthew 6: 34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” One day at a time.
6. Be thankful.
Be thankful for what God is allowing today. There were many times, before the pace maker especially, when Dave was very grave. I would think, “Lord thank you that yesterday he was with it and was able to chat with the kids.” Or “thank you that he was finally strong enough to make it to church.” When the “problem” dominates your entire life, you begin to be very thankful for the little things. Every time I became sad and overwhelmed and told God that this change was unfair, I would try to think of something that God had allowed that was good. Play the Pollyanna game—be thankful!
7. Treasure each day.
When life is not “normal”, or is out of sync, we often start to notice things a little differently. We get so comfortable in our routines, that we begin to act without thinking, we just do. Sometimes it takes being jolted a little to really notice what is going on – to really see all the good that we had become calloused to. For us, the bad times helped us to see the good things all the more clearly when they came up again. When things did become manageable we appreciated them so much more.
Life is short – slow down so that you can see and enjoy the little things. Before the furnace leak was discoverd, doctors suspected that David had some pretty serious terminal diseases. It gave Dave (and me) a lot more reasons for taking the time to just sit and listen to the kids. To hold them a little longer. I learned to let the dishes sit in the sink for an opportunity to watch a movie together with the family. All because we didn’t know if this would be one of the last opportunities to all be together. Now that Dave is a lot more stable, the though of loosing him is no longer constantly flowing through our hearts and minds. What a relief! The lesson is learned though that life can change in an instant, treasure each day!
8. Do not be afraid to accept help.
Finally, God had to teach me to be able to accept help. This one is probably everyone’s most difficult area. We don’t like to ask for help. I think our busy society and our over-scheduled culture do not help. We know everyone is very busy, we mention it to each other all the time. We don’t want to be the cause of further stress on others. Because life was so busy and emotionally draining all the time it was very hard for me to ever think of anything that anyone could do for us. I was trying to keep life as “normal” as possible, and having anyone doing something (which would have been abnormal) seemed to just throw that all off. Having said that, it was very encouraging when someone would offer to help. I knew then that they were thinking and praying for us. It was even more encouraging when they would offer to do something specific. Then I didn’t have to come up with the idea, it was all thought through, and I could just accept or deny. Whew! one less decision to make.
There were many, many people who were very encouraging to us by physically helping us. Then there were also many people who were very encouraging through monetary gifts. You wouldn’t believe how expensive sickness can be! Not just the medical bills, but even grocery bills are higher. After all you are trying to keep life normal and are shopping even though you are extremely tired. You do not have time to make a meal plan. I mean, you don’t have the strength to think about what to eat tonight much less the rest of the week or month! Then there are those emergency visits to the hospital which means hospital cafeteria food, gas for the many extra trips… and the list goes on. God was so good to us in that he provided over and over for our financial needs through very giving people. We didn’t have to wonder where the finances were going to come from. He always provided.
All that said, help can come in many different ways. Don’t be afraid to accept it. Just think about how you love to help others in their time of need and put yourself in their shoes. Let them give. After all it is God “who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). God is the one giving and He is simply using others to give you the gift.
~ Melissa Whitcher
Thank you for letting me share my heart with you. I trust that my testimony will be an encouragement to those who are going through hard times and informational for others of you who are desiring to help ones you know who are being tested. GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!! p.s. In case you are wondering how Dave is doing now, he does seem to be stable. The doctors tell us that his pacemaker is pacing 85% of the time. So basically it is keeping him alive. He also has an oxygen machine that he uses a couple times a week for about 2 hours each time. Another blessing has been noise canceling headphones that help curb the noise that often exhausts him as his brain cannot seem to filter stimuli very well. The final item is a steroid that helps the hypotension so he is not dizzy and in a daze. We still have good and bad days….but the bad, with the help of all the above items, are not quite as bad anymore. :0)
Author: Melissa Whitcher’s husband, David, was the Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries with Baptist Church Planters from 2005 to 2011. Today the Whitchers live in Texas and serve as advisors for Hispanic Ministries with BCP. We count them as vital team members in Reaching Hispanics for Christ here in the United States. Melissa also has a blog at http://www/redflycreations.com.)