Friday, December 12, 2014

Miracles Still

I was asked by a very dear friend to share a little bit of Larry and my testimony with the women at a marriage conference the second week of November. I really struggled to write it. Not because I didn't know what to say, but because there was so much more that I wanted to share than there was time for. I condensed down our very complicated and involved story as much as I could and shared some of the lessons I learned. 

Before we left for the lodge, I asked God to use my broken attempts and my broken life to bless others. 

I was overwhelmed by the response. I am a little teary thinking about it. God used our heartbreaks and joys to touch people and give some rough marriages hope. 

One couple there sat down and talked to us after reading a copy I had printed off. Turns out that he administrates a ministry website that publishes people's testimonies. He wants us to expand our story for the website (including contributions from Sweet Geek) and told us we should write a book.

A book. 

What a daunting thought. 

So I have decided to share our story one small piece at a time on this blog, and hopefully include some guest posts from Sweet Geeks as we progress. And perhaps, with the content mostly complete, we can take the blog posts and edit them into a decent book. I am open to what God has for us. This is a really difficult journey. It is painful to revisit those dark places. But I will begin the baring of my soul to all of you.

But to begin, here is my testimony that I shared that weekend. It was written with women in mind.

The point of all of this is that God is still in the business of miracles! Even on broken hearts and broken marriages. 

Here we go:

One day, something inside me broke. My heart had been through so much. He had yelled at me for something small -again- and the love for him in my heart just sputtered and died. I became very indifferent, and make no mistake, indifference is the opposite of love, not hate. When you hate, you still care. When you are indifferent, you don't even care any longer. And that is where I was. I didn't even care. Come, go, stay, leave, live or die -I had zero preference.
Some of you may think that I was calloused and you would be partly right. I was. But I felt as if the man I married had been replaced with a bubbling cauldron of anger -spewing venomous words at myself or my precious children. And to make matters worse, during that time we had also lost every single thing that we owned: our cars, our home, our jobs. I felt so alone and wondered why God had abandoned me. Abandoned me with a man who seemed so bent on shredding my heart and injuring my kids.
Let me give you a little background:
I met Larry in July 2000 at the factory where we worked. He was a complete geek: goofy clothes (with almost no sense of style),shaggy hair, very smart and able to fix anything. He would come repair machinery on the industrial line I was working on, and stand there and visit with me while he made sure it was working correctly. I saw his work ethic and how he reacted under pressure and had the utmost respect for him.
 We never ran out of things to talk about. He is one of the most interesting and well-informed men you could even imagine. He gave me a ride when my ramshackle car broke down, and then helped me fix it. He was always there, willing to offer a hand up, always unconditionally, always selfless, never pressuring me, just loving me and being there. I was still reeling from my breakup, so I was not interested in a romantic relationship. We became closer and closer, until I realized , by his actions, that he loved me. But I just couldnt move forward. I was so afraid of getting my heart broken again, that I could not bear to move more than painfully slow.
 In June 2001 I went to Nebraska for my sister's wedding and it was a HORRIBLE trip! I got stuck at my second-shift job the night before, and had to leave by 3am for the airport. I got home from work just in time to throw the rest of my clothes in a bag and dash out the door. Larry had helped me make my arrangements online and gave me a calling card (back before everyone had a cell phones!) to let him know when I got to the hotel safely. When I landed in Omaha, I went to get my rental car and found that they wouldn't give it to me because I was a few months under my 25th birthday. Then I couldn't get a speedy refund to go elsewhere and had to call my mom -3 hours away- to drop the wedding plans and come pick me up. All this time I hadn't slept at all, and began getting really sick. By the time I arrived at the hotel and called Larry I had a full-blown cold. I cried on the phone and told him that all my family was out having a wonderful time while I was stuck in the hotel blowing my nose. He just encouraged me.
On Saturday night he called the hotel and told me he had a package coming the next day and I needed to head to the hotel around noon. I thought he was sending me flowers or something to encourage me, and I thought it was sweet. My heart had begun to soften to the idea of moving forward, but I was still conflicted about going too quickly, and so I was keeping those breaks locked down. Imagine my surprise when I arrived the hotel after church and found that he did have flowers for me -and delivered them himself! He had gotten in his car after work Saturday and drove 15 hours through the night to surprise me on Sunday. He was waiting in the lobby for me with a beautiful bouquet in his hands.
My family loved him and were really impressed with the man he is. All reservations were gone. I had no more doubts about his absolute seriousness of his commitment, and we were married that December.
We enjoyed years of wedded bliss. To be quite honest, the vast majority of any problems we had were cause by me! He was a patient and loving daddy, a tender and selfless husband, and a tenacious provider. I was so blessed!
All that changed in September 2007. Larry was removing a diseased tree in our back yard and fell on his head. On pavement.
That one event changed our entire lives. He fractured his C7 vertebra, had three skull fractures in the shape of a triangle on his occipital bone (that is the little bone that sticks out a bit on the back of your head), and had two major concussions. One was the size of a peach (think your fist) and the other was the size of a plum, and he was bleeding into his brain behind the left eyebrow. The frontal cortex controls personality and impulse control. My husband fell one man, and got up entirely another.
The change in him was drastic. It felt as if the tender, charming man I married had just died on the pavement that day and replaced him with this sullen, suicidal, perpetually angry man who had absolutely no filter and burst venomous words at anyone and everyone. You heard me say suicidal. One of the things they didn't tell me was that He would suffer from severe depression. In fact, they usually sent head injury patients home with an anti-depressant, but not Larry. I don't know why they didn't. Even in the hospital he was so nasty and rude that I didn't even WANT to help him do all the things he absolutely needed help with. He was on a downward spiral into a black hole and just kept going down and down. 
Things kept getting worse. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse it would. We had episodes of smashing dishes, throwing furniture, screaming fits, hurling food items against the wall. My three kids were terrified. More than once I had to take the kids and get out of the house. I am ashamed to say that I contributed. I was working and couldn't keep up, but also, working out of the home turned my heart away from my husband and family. He was unable to keep up with his work and was laid off from his job. That just made things worse.
I really need to take a moment to explain that, what I didn't understand, didn't WANT to understand in all this, was that as much as I was grieving the stranger sleeping next to me, Larry was grieving even more.  He lost a large part of himself and felt completely turned upside down. Up was down, down was up, and he literally didn't know left from right.  Due to the injury, he also lacked the verbal skills to explain it to me. And with the loss of his job, we lost the home he had poured hours of work and thousands of dollars into, we lost our cars, all our emergency funds were depleted, and he felt like a different man. A man that was failing, and failing, and failing. He felt as if the rug was pulled out from under him, and just when he would stand again, it would be yanked out from under him again. He felt as if this process was happening over and over.
 But I didn't understand, and I was part of this process.  I felt as if he was just being a jerk and couldn't understand why he wouldn't just pull it together.  I had zero compassion for his situation. Granted, I didn't really understand, but isn't that the point? We show compassion even when we don't feel like it. Not because they are worthy of compassion, but because as children of God, that is what we are called to do. My husband was just as valuable to God after his accident as before. We choose to be on our husband's side and stand by him, right? In sickness and in health? Richer and poorer?
 I was not doing what was right. I was using Larry's bad behavior as an excuse to have a rotten attitude, and tell people how "bad" he was -under the guise of asking for advice. And granted, it was a terribly difficult situation. Maybe one in 100,000 people have to deal with this kind of thing! But no one, NO ONE, had any idea what to do! Even people who were staunch supporters of sticking with a marriage were telling me to take the kids and leave. Even my mom (whom I have heard say more than once "Divorce, never. Murder, maybe, but divorce? Never.") came to visit with the birth of child number four, and told me "Dawn, you told me things were really bad, but I had no idea things were this bad. Things are much, much worse than I thought."
As I look back, I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit just wouldn't allow me to end our marriage out of my selfishness. Somehow I just couldn't do it. Even after the day my love for him shriveled and died, I prayed about it and just decided that a lack of feeling was not a good reason to divorce. I decided (clearly by the hand of God alone) that I would continue to fight for my marriage. That doing the right thing was more important than how I felt. But I will say, that lack of feeling is what made it possible for me to do the right thing. I no longer cared if he liked me. It no longer hurt when he yelled, and I didn't get emotional and yell back. I was no longer hanging my emotional health on what Larry thought of me.
But I did have to leave for a time. He needed to get help for his crushing depression and suicidal thoughts and he refused. As I packed a few things I got on my knees and asked God for a miracle.  But I never intended to end the marriage. And me being gone opened the door for some honest dialogue that needed to happen. I affirmed to him that I wasn't ever going to divorce him, but that he needed help. And he reached out for help at that time. The struggle was far from over, but for the first time I had hope for my poor husband.
But that miracle I asked God for, I expected Him to do a work in my husband, imagine my surprise when I found that the work He wanted to do was in ME! To make a very long story incredibly condensed, God worked on my heart; He squished it and chastised me and got a hold of my heart. God taught me lessons I should have learned long before:
First of all, God never intended for Larry to be all that I need. He never intended him to be the perfect husband for me. No man on earth can meet the needs of our heart. NO MAN. Only God. As long as we look to our husbands to meet our emotional needs we will feel slighted and wronged. When we put our self-worth in God's hands alone, we are able to weather the failures and mistakes that our husbands make. And they will make mistakes. And we must have understanding for the failures they will make and continue to DO RIGHT in spite of them. We need to keep being respectful, and kind and display the fruits of the spirit. Larry didn't get hurt and go through all this to hurt me. Truthfully, he was hurting so much more than I could even imagine, but I was too self-absorbed to see it.
Secondly, I realized that men have incredibly fragile egos. Oh, they posture, and try to put on a strong front, but the truth is they often feel as if they are failing, and they need to hear from us that we are proud of them and think that they are great guys. Even in the midst of the extreme experience that we had, I had to go back to my memories of better days and recount those happy memories and how much I appreciated the different qualities that he had, and why I fell in love with him. Though his impulse control was gone for a time, He still had the same marvelous spirit he had before. This is where Philippians 4:8 is such a powerful tool, and a commandment, for married women.
 "Finally, Brethren, Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
 You need to fill your minds with the positive things about your husband and banish the negative thoughts. So often, we women are so filled with thoughts of all that our husbands do wrong that we fail to be the helpmeet that God intended for us to be. We replay their mistakes over and over in our minds that we don't love and support our husbands the way we should. Make no mistake, ladies, this is sin. They desperately need us to build them up and edify them. Doing so is obedience to God. Choose to actively build him up every day.
Thirdly, in Ephesians 5:33b it says "...and the wife see that she respects her husband." Ladies, I am going to address you in a very direct manner, you need to make a hard and firm rule that you will never, ever speak to your husband in a disrespectful manner. Sometimes he will be wrong.  Sometimes he will snap at you. He will fail, he will sin. That does NOT make it permissible for you to speak to him in a condescending, snide or disrespectful manner. A woman can even confront her husband over something he is doing that is not right and be completely respectful about it -never tearing him down, but building him up. Completely respectful. That means not badmouthing him to your family or dishing his faults to your girlfriends. If you have a real issue you need to find a godly older woman, and in great discretion, ask her advice. Or seek a godly couple to counsel you. But make sure that you are respectful in what you say about him and to him. And if he continues to do the thing you cannot agree with (aside from harm to yourself or your kids), you pray about it and leave it to God. You also must respect what God is doing in his life and the speed -or lack thereof- that God deals with him. It is God's job to grow him. Not yours. So respect that as well.
Fourthly, Ladies, you need to be willing to submit to God by submitting to your husband. I grew up in the Independent Baptist Church movement, and they were mostly marvelous people, but occasionally we would come across an IFB church that was different. And even as kids we could tell that something was off. My amazing Dad would comment on the way the women were browbeaten, dressed in a dumpy and unkempt manner and so clearly very, very sad. So at an early age we could observe these families where submission was used as a club to fit women into a box, and impose on them things that they were against and leave them unprotected. Women who were never permitted to have an opinion, and were not permitted to ever confront their husbands in wrongdoing or make any decisions in the home, and that is abuse. That is NOT what I am talking about here.
What I am talking about is that a marriage is is two flawed people with our own bents and selfish plans, and someone has to have the final say and take responsibility before God for what happens in the family. God appointed men to be the head for that reason. It isn't because God values women any less. We have an amazing influence over our husbands and in our family and communities. Women are valuable to God. It is because of that value that God lets the responsibility rest on the husband. I helps us avoid a union of two people of equal power fighting over and over and never resolving, no one ever throwing up the white flag, a marriage of constant and unrelenting conflict. And every one of us have seen marriages like that. You may even have lived through or may be living in that kind of marriage now. Whether you like it or not, your husband has to answer to God for your family. That means that he has GOT to sign off on the big decisions, because he has to answer to God for it. I can't tell you how many, many times God revealed His will by our agreeing, but when we don't, I have to step back and allow God to work.
 I lost a very dear cousin last October. The previous July we were scheduled to go to a family reunion and, among other things, spend some real time with my cousin. I planned, and prayed to go, and close to the time it looked like we would have the financial means to make the trip, but Larry's second in command was in a horrific car accident and Larry couldn't get away from work. I begged and begged to take the kids and go, but he just did not feel comfortable. I cried to myself and begged God, but calmly told Larry that I would abide by whatever He decided. He decided "no." I was terribly upset. But he just told me that if something happened and the car broke down (which had happened before) that he would not be ok with me and our kids being at the mercy of whoever came along. We didn't currently have any trouble with our van, so I felt he was being overly cautious. Do you know what? That van stranded me 3 times that week. God knew, and He worked through my husband to protect our family. Though his loss months later made our absence more painful, I just have to trust that God has a reason for the way things happened.  Ladies, sometimes things will work out the way we desire, but sometimes they won't. But what it all comes down to is whether or not we trust God.

Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it withersoever He will.

 Ladies, God holds the heart of the king in His hands, can't he effect the hearts of our husbands? Our God is so very, very much bigger than we give Him credit for. How truly small do we think God is that He cannot work in the hearts of our husbands for our protection and mutual benefit? My dear ladies, God is so much bigger than that.

 1Peter 3:1-63
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:
6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Sarah trusted in God. Abraham pulled all kinds of nonsense, but God always had her back, didn't He? We can trust God too. It will not be painless, it won't be easy. But God will never leave you alone in any situation. We also can trust God in every situation.
 Let me tell you, God is faithful. He will not fail you -even if the situation seems so dire. God will not fail you. I have lived through this. I have seen God be faithful even when there was no earthly way it could all come together. I worked through my pregnancy with my fourth child. I was an insurance agent, and very good at what I did, but with everything going on with Larry I could see that my family was falling apart. One morning, as I got ready for work, I was crying out to God, and the Holy Spirit spoke so clearly to my heart "You need to quit your job!" And I said, "Lord, we need the money so badly that I just dont think I can make a case for quitting to Larry. He will never agree. When the baby comes, I will have an excuse to get out." The Lord said, "You need to quit NOW!" I told Him, "OK, Lord, if you can make Larry agree, I am willing. But if that is what you want from me, then I am going to hold You to your promises that you care for your children!" Just a few days later I fell and bruised my pelvic bone and was put on bed-rest. Once I came off bed-rest I began having early contractions and was put right back on bed-rest. I never worked another day. Just having me there was a huge improvement for my sweet little girls. They had been fending for themselves and lacked clear direction. But God kept His promises too! We were living in GR at the time and there were three shootings in view of our home in a 6 month period of time, we opted NOT to renew our lease. But that left us homeless again, and we landed in a little shoebox home of a friend -just around the corner from a church. We didn't have transportation for the whole family, so when a neighbor stopped and offered to pick up some of our kids so we could all go to church, we were really grateful. So around the corner to church we went, and found a very welcoming environment.  The second Sunday we attended,we were down to our last $50 and two weeks to go before another dime was available and an empty pantry and fridge. I saw a pile of food for a pantry drive in the foyer, and I though "Boy, would it ever be nice to have some of that food! Lord, you are a promise keeper. Please provide us with some food. I know You won't let us go hungry!" The next day, the lovely couple who had invited to church us stopped by and said, "We don't want to pry, but it occurred to us, that maybe you could use some food. Do you guys need any food?" I just began to cry and told them that I had been praying for food, and so that evening two deacons stopped by and brought boxes of some of the very food I had seen, and a check for enough money to get by. Over the next few months this happened a hundred times, "Lord, we desperately need toilet paper!" and a couple hours later someone would drop by with some groceries and toilet paper. I ran completely out of makeup, shampoo and facial cleanser. I suffer from cystic acne and so I am self-conscious about my skin and I have a very narrow margin of skin care and makeup I can use. I am sorry, $60 skin care is NOT in the budget! So I prayed about it, and we came home one evening and there was a box by our door FULL of Amway products: shampoo, organic cleaners, the entire skin care line and makeup. Christmas was not a financial possibility for us at all, but God laid it on the hearts of three different people to treat my kids for Christmas. We woke to a pile of presents and food on our doorstep. We were given THREE Christmas turkeys! I prayed for a coat for my oldest and God provided four. As a result, we were able to bless teo other friends with daughters her age with desperately needed coats as well. We were given a van large enough for the whole family! God didn't just provide, our cup ran over with both provisions, and with love.
 The very best part of the church God led us to is that they understood what having a head injury meant. Seven years prior to the time we began attending a member had been in a really terrible car accident and had suffered from a serious head injury. The church and pastor had walked through the healing process with her and had an understanding and empathy that we had not gotten anywhere else. The deacons and elders just surrounded me and my family and those men led and protected my family while Larry could not. The wise counsel meant so very, very much to me. I not longer felt like a single mom. I had strong leaders that were just amazing to me and our family. They passed no judgement. They were just there, loving, guiding, helping. God poured out his provision and love. But I had to get out of the way.
It is the same way with submission, Ladies. By submitting to our husbands and God we are effectively stepping out of the way to let God work. He is unable to fail us.
The last thing, and most important, is to pray constantly for our husbands. Pray for God to bless him at work, for God to steer him towards the place he should be. Pray that he would be pure and passionate towards us as wives, pray he would love his children deeply. Pray for God to give him strength courage and wisdom, pray for God to show him God's will for your family. Pray for anything and everything.
I have an interesting story to share about prayer. A few months ago my three Bible Study friends and I committed to pray for our husbands at work the following two weeks. When we met again we were amazed by God's swift answer to prayer. Of the four husbands, three had gotten a raise and one husband had been injured at work, but his superiors were determined not to have him out on disability (with a 33% pay cut!) and gave him a desk job while recuperating. It was an answer to prayer. Pray for your husband. He desperately needs it.
The charming and intelligent man you have met here is my excellent husband. Our church helped with meds to aid his healing, but when it came down to it, I begged God to heal him without a lifetime of meds. And God did. I was prepared live the rest of my life -if God called me to that- in a very cold marriage. But God chose to give him back to me. And God worked a miracle in my heart too. God woke the flame of love in my heart and restored the passion I thought could never be healed. God is still in the business of miracles, and He is still in the business of healing marriages. Our love is a testament to the love of God and what He can really do to a heart that is willing. 

What do you think? What trials have you gone through that you thought would break you. Did you find God used it to make you stronger? I would love to hear your miracle stories.

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