Like the rainbow that appears after a rainstorm, there is a beautiful side to this tale. God spoke to me one night in the midst of my despair, words of hope that sustained me in the darkest days.
As the cancer began its destructive march through Randy’s body, his rages began to reappear. There had been a wonderful span of years when the anti-depressants gave him the ability to handle situations with greater patience and to form meaningful relationships with people. It also strengthened our marriage, helping us become partners in life. We served together in ministry at the church, teaching junior high Sunday School and later leading the single adult ministry. We each had individual ministries, with Randy being one of the pastor’s prayer partners and me directing the women’s ministries. We each attended a number of conferences and retreats, such as Promise Keepers and Women of Faith.
They were days of wonderful spiritual growth for both of us, so when the angry eruptions began again, I felt blind-sided. How could this be happening? I didn’t know how to smooth things over, and my attempts to calm him down when he lit into other people only turned his anger on me. I became very good at weighing my words carefully before speaking them, tiptoeing through a minefield of eggshells.
By this time in our lives, Randy wasn’t working because of his back injury. I understand better now the emotional havoc that can wreak on a man, not being able to contribute to the support of his family. It takes an emotional and psychological toll on him. But back then, I just knew we were trying to survive as best we could. I was a teacher and I worked hard during the week, continuing in the evenings with grading papers, and on the weekends with preparing for the next week. There wasn’t a lot of time for such mundane things as housework, but I did my best.
One Saturday in particular, Randy and I chatted over breakfast about some of the house projects we wanted to get done. I had mentally set aside the day for getting caught up on some much-needed housework, so my mind wasn’t really focused on future things. However, he wanted to spend time daydreaming out loud of things to come. We essentially toured the house and yard, jotting down ideas, sharing our thoughts with each other, planning. I took notes, and in the back of my mind, I saw my plans for the day sifting through my fingers like sand. It was actually a very pleasant day for the two of us, but the housework never got done.
That evening, Randy looked around the house and exploded into a rage over its condition. I wanted to say that I had planned on cleaning that day but we had spent the day hanging out together instead. All I could do was stand there looking at him, mouth open in shock. He stormed off to the bedroom to go to bed, and I stayed up most of the night cleaning. As I wept my way through dusting and vacuuming, I cried out in despair to God, telling Him that my marriage was in the ash heap.
And immediately, His voice spoke to my spirit: I make beauty from ashes. I felt comforted, knowing I wasn’t alone, that God was with me every step of the way.
I woke early the next morning and went to my Bible to find the passage with the words God had spoken to me. I found them in Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
The passage is speaking of the Messiah who was still to come. Yes, it was a promise for the people of Israel, but God also gave it to me personally that heartbreaking evening.
Not knowing what was causing the changes in my husband, I began praying through my house every morning, praying that the Lord would fill each room with His presence, commanding the devil to leave in the name of Jesus, and that God would place a hedge of protection around it. I even walked the perimeter of the yard, asking for the Lord to surround our home. When I cleaned the house on Saturdays, I was able to spend even more time in prayer in each room.
As far as I could tell from my limited perspective, my prayers were having very little effect. One fall Sunday, I was getting ready for church when Randy essentially gave me an ultimatum, letting me know that I could keep my ministry with the women at the church, or I could keep my marriage, but I couldn’t keep both. My heart breaking, I knew I had to resign from ministry, but I was in charge of a critical retreat in just a few months. It would be the last event, and then I would officially step down.
The weekend for the retreat came, and I felt compelled to meet with the speaker to share with her my heartache over what was happening in my marriage. Without me revealing to her God’s promise to me from Isaiah 61, she gave me the same passage of scripture. My heart sang, realizing this was confirmation of what God had spoken to me those many weeks before. She encouraged my efforts to pray through my home, and she gave me an additional suggestion. She took me to a passage in 2 Kings 2:
19 The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” 20 “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” 22 And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
The retreat speaker told me that when I prayed through my house, to begin dropping salt into all of the drains, cautioning me that it wasn’t anything magic, but merely symbolic, a reminder to me. In my prayer, she encouraged me to ask the Lord to make the bitter waters of my marriage sweet. She reached into her purse and gave me a twenty dollar bill, telling me to buy a new bowl. She said to use it to remind me to serve my husband in a new way.
As I continued to pray over the next few months, it did seem that things were a little smoother for Randy and me. We took a trip to Cambria to celebrate our anniversary, staying in our favorite hotel on Moonstone Beach, It was a wonderful weekend, and as we wandered in and out of shops in that quaint seaside town, I saw a bowl, the perfect bowl. It was handmade with glazed shades of blue giving the impression of water. I told Randy I wanted that bowl,. He looked at me with a quizzical grin, wanting to know why. “I just need it,” I said. I used the twenty dollar bill that had been tucked in my wallet since the retreat, waiting for the moment I would find just the right bowl.
Then in May of that year, things came to an ugly head. We had been fighting every Sunday for the past few weeks. I was still going to church, and Randy flatly refused to attend and was angry at me for continuing to go. He maintained a growing mental list of church people he was angry with. That particular bright spring morning as I got dressed, he laid into me about “those people”, and in resignation I threw up my hands and said, “Fine. I won’t go.”
I called those last few years of his life my “Exile Years”. Even though I was not attending church, I did not let go of spiritual things. I dug even more faithfully into God’s Word, seeking His face more regularly. He was my Lifeline. I felt strongly that though my ministry at the church was over, I was to spend these years ministering to my husband. I prayed for him faithfully, and as time went on, the focus of my prayers went from how the state of our marriage affected me to just asking God to give me the kind of love for Randy that he needed. And my love for him began to grow. As that retreat speaker had impressed upon me, I was now serving my husband in a new way, serving him in love.
And he began to change toward me, becoming more loving, more patient, considerate, and helpful. He began getting up with me in the mornings to make my lunch. The gourmet-quality salads he assembled were the envy of my co-workers. Whenever we had a potluck, people would ask me to get Randy to make a large version of the ones he made for my lunch, which he would always gladly do.
When I got home at the end of the day, he would have already started making dinner and I would step in to help, enjoying our teamwork. Our camaraderie was solace at the end of a stressful day.
On weekends, we took long walks with the dogs, enjoying their exuberant play. I had recently bought a good quality digital camera, and we would take it along, capturing memories. Randy encouraged my efforts at learning photography, and as I began to explore digital scrapbooking, he helped me with ideas for layouts.
One of my most cherished memories of our last year was one day when I sat in the recliner with my feet up, bemoaning my sadly neglected pedicure. It was the start of sandal season and I really needed to get them done. Unfortunately, we were trying not to spend money unnecessarily. Randy disappeared down the hallway and came back with some supplies. He knelt down at my feet, washed them, trimmed my toenails, and then painted them a bright pink color. It was the most humbling thing he had ever done for me, and I was overwhelmed with love for him.
I realized at one point that year, before “cancer” entered our vocabulary, that I would rather come home to my husband than go anywhere else on earth. We had finally, after 23 years of marriage, become best friends. God had kept His promise to me, to make beauty from our ash heap. And even as the days marched toward that dark day of discovering my husband was dying, we grew closer, more content in our little world.