Trish is working hard to do simple things now; things like keeping her head up straight. She has to really focus on this because if we leave her alone for very long, her head leans over to the right until it almost touches her shoulder. Her neck then gets stiff. She seems frozen in place and it is difficult to straighten her up.
I stay with her most of the time now. The time that her doctors, nurses and therapists can be with her, though extremely valuable, is limited. So I help her carry through with what she learns during the various therapy sessions. Today, every few minutes, I have been telling her, "Trish you have to hold your head up. You are leaning to the right. You must retrain your brain." Or, "Trish, you have to take care of your left side. Your left hand is a part of your body too. Use it. You must retrain your brain."
Nearly everything I said to her to her today, I would add the words, "you must retrain your brain!"
Right before lunch, I pushed her in her wheelchair to the outside. We parked the wheelchair beside the small lawn and some flowers. While we were sitting there, I just started talking about this and that. Somewhere in the middle of a lot of nothing, I said, "Trish, you have to get well. You have to come home. Look, I have been washing my own shorts! I am getting desperate."
She was quiet for a long time. Then she slowly whispered, "Why don't you retrain your brain to wash your own shorts?!"
Hmmm. What if therapy works too well?
I stayed with her last night. The nurses gave me a cot and allowed me to sleep in Trish's room, right beside her bed. Several times in the night, her hand searched in the dark for me. When I was aware of it, I touched her hand. Each time I told her that I was still there. She would then go back to sleep.
I grieve watching my intelligent and independent wife struggle with the most basic issues of her personal care. I suffer watching her ponder so long before she can do the simplest things. I will be glad when she completes her therapy and returns to some semblance of her normal life. In a hundred ways, this ordeal has been a nightmare. But in one way, it has been a honeymoon. For when she looks into my eyes, she finds a way to express her love for me; the deepest love I have ever felt from a human being. Underneath all her confusion and difficulty, she finds a way to prove St. Paul's assertion; "love never fails."
I would not have wanted to live my life without knowing that this famous statement is more than a cliché.
We live in such cynical times. Many people really believe that love is just "a second hand emotion." Millions really believe that we express love to get people into our beds or to otherwise meet our needs. When gifted people make movies and write novels about love, we pay to see their movies and to read their books because we dare hope that such love really exists. We dare hope that we might even experience such love one day for ourselves. Nonetheless, many of us live with at least a shadow of the cynicism of our times, fearing that "love" is really just a myth and a longing impossible to actually fulfill.
Trish and I fought a long, hard battle learning how to experience love. Because of a number of factors, we struggled with our romantic connection from the very beginning of our marriage. On the second night of our honeymoon, I began a two week revival service for a little church in Eastern Virginia. From that moment onward and for many years afterward, I preached somewhere nearly every day. Time past. Both of us, for different reasons, found it difficult to connect to each other in any way other than as "ministry partners" and as parents.
The human part of our love was sad and empty. We had so spiritualized everything in our lives for so long that normal human love had become nearly non existent for us. Several years ago though, we went to marriage therapy. Once we began, we went at it full steam -- week after week, year after year, trying to learn how to be human adults, capable of experiencing adult love for one another.
We had rarely vacationed.
We had rarely gone on dates.
We didn't speak of much to one another except about "the work of God."
Ours was a false spirituality. It was even idolatrous. And it nearly destroyed our marriage and our family.
The reason I say "false spirituality" is this: a spirituality that rejects common sense and material life has an appearance of godliness but it is really soulish and devilish.
Aquinas wrote that God made only three creatures -- spiritual creatures (angels), material creatures (animals), and incarnational creatures, that is to say creatures that are both material and spiritual ( humans). He said that this state of incarnational life is our appointed realm. The enemy of our souls, he said, is continually trying to deceive us into either denying our spirituality (to become animals) or into denying our materiality (to become angels). Of the two deceptions, he claimed, trying to become angels, that is to say trying to be wholly spiritual, is the most dangerous assault upon our souls. For when we try to become angels, we are rebelling against our God -appointed realm, trying to rise above the station in which He created us and placed us. When we try to become wholly spiritual, we get into territory that is really over our heads, into places in which we can get easily deceived -- even become mad!
Human love, human intimacy, and human sexuality are all blessed parts of our "God-appointed realm." Trying to become so spiritual that we finally "rise above" our need for deep connections with our loved ones is really not spirituality at all. It is a cruel Satanic deception. Trish and I spent untold hours of many weeks for many years exposing this deception in our lives. We came to realize that this same deception has a hold upon many of God's children. There is much needless devastation and untold pain in Christian marriages because of it. For some time we have been talking about how to address this.
Last night in the dark, when her hand touched mine, even surrounded by hospital noises and the surreal weirdness of our situation, I knew what love is. Human, romantic love is not a "second hand emotion." It is not a base thing to be surpassed by some super spiritual experience. The love I felt for my wife last night is, to the extent human beings are capable of experiencing it, the same quality that is the very essence of God. In that sacramental moment, when our souls touched through the material medium of our interlocked hands, we experienced as much of God as we have ever experienced in any church. For there was a third hand upon ours last night. The One who in holy matrimony made us man and wife, smiled as we touched and He said "it is good."
"Many waters cannot quench love," for "love is stronger than death." "He that loveth, knoweth God for God is love."
I know I speak for both Trish and I when I say to all of you, Don't settle for a cold and lifeless marriage. Don't tell yourself that this is just the way things really are. Don't give up your dream for a meaningful and loving marriage. Fight for it. Dare risk stability in search of it. We are living testimonies that married love doesn't just happened, that it must be fought for.
Whatever our present circumstances, I rejoice in God. I thank Him for freeing Trish and I to love one another. Even brain trauma has not conquered what He has worked in our lives these past few years. I will not die without knowing what married love is.
If God was able to do all of this, helping us to "retrain our brains" so we could experience some degree of normalcy in our love and our marriage, then learning to walk again should not be all that difficult for Trish.
And for me?
Well, I may even be able to learn to do my own shorts.
Miracles do happen! They already have.