Isaiah 66:1 tells of God giving “peace like a river.” I like that. I can easily picture splashing at the shallow edge of a stream, easing in for a swim, and wading through the rocks around the bend. But the peaceful, quiet part of the river is at its deepest, when the strong undercurrent guides vast volumes of rushing river, yet that power is barely discernible on the placid surface.
God’s eternal will, I believe, is the current that rules the mighty river of our lives. When it’s too deep and fast for you to swim, you must float, trusting the water to carry you along. That’s when you have no choice but to trust God.
My husband, Elbert, lived for 70 years. That, after all, is a good long life, and few people have even that. But he was unrecognizable at the end. I watched death steal upon him with a tighter grasp each passing day. He fell into unconsciousness on April 1, but his body didn’t give up for five more days. When he no longer responded to our voices or woke to complain of pain, I knew he was gone. His nurse, Jean, told me to keep talking to him. She said that he could hear me even if he didn’t respond. And so I did. I kept talking. I read Bible verses to him. But I knew he was gone and could no longer hear earthly voices.
I opened his eyes and looked into them. It was a wrong thing to do, a violation of something beyond my understanding. Because when I did that, I stared into his death. That was how I knew he was gone, how I knew nothing on this earth could draw his interest evermore.
I waited till the death I saw in his eyes prevailed against his stubborn beating heart and labored breaths. His emaciated body struggled desperately to live. There was the ghastly yellowing of the skin as the organs failed, and the Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern that Jean explained was part of the process and meant the end was closer.
And it was. In that little room, where hours on end I had stared out the window at the ethereal beauty of the Sedona desert, my husband’s breathing finally stopped. It was sunset, early evening. People rarely die there, I am told, during the day. It almost always happens at night.
Jean spoke softly to me about this being “for the best.” She thought I was grieving, but I was not. The grieving was over. The weeping, wailing kind of grief for the loss of my husband of 50 years to Parkinson’s disease had occurred years before. All that grief had wrung out every tear in my heart long before that evening on April 6. I called our sons. They too had passed beyond mourning to relief at his end.
Romans 8:28 tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I believe that. I find, however, that it is much easier to believe that verse when things are going well. Not that I ever doubted my favorite verse. I just couldn’t reconcile the words on the page with my heart.
We got married at the Little Church of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 28, 1964. He had just turned 20. I was 18. The sun was still shining when we paraded from the chapel followed by teasing, joyful family members.
I remember a handsome boy from a small town in Nevada who swept a shallow city girl off her feet. I remember taking our precious baby boy and leaving the vast empty desert of Nevada for Seattle for a better job. We bore the incessant gloom of Seattle’s rainy months as a tiny family unit of three, then four, moving on to Eastern Oregon where our third son was born.
We struggled, we fought, we grew up. We built up our family and our lives. Along the way, we ran into such hard times that we were forced to abandon the loose, easy ways of Las Vegas to cling to something that was real. That was about the time we found out that God was not just another name for luck. The lights came on.
When Elbert was 59, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He changed almost immediately . . . maybe it was the neurological effects of the disease itself, as the doctors said, or perhaps the medications. Something unseen so profoundly affected his movement, facial expression, and moods that soon he faded away and was gone. Where, I never knew. He was there in front of me every day, moving ever deeper into confusion, dementia, and fury. Utterly helpless, he thought that if I would only find the right medication for him, that would be the answer. He lost everything of himself, as is common, I am told, with degenerative disease.
I can still find my husband of 50 years in the fragrance of the wheat fields of Eastern Oregon waving in the gentle breeze, awaiting harvest. In the memories of sitting together on our little wooden porch to listen to the wail of the wild geese echoing through the dusk. In the memories of our three sons sitting down to dinner with their father and me, laughing, accusing, teasing each other, always voraciously hungry for food and for life, testing limits and rules, growing up.
If all things really do work for the good of those who love God and have have been called according to his purpose, then this is what I can hold on to: memories of that day in 1964 when we walked out of that chapel into the bursting sunshine, that long journey from the desert to the rest of our lives, the times we laughed and cried and struggled and came to understand the truth of Jesus Christ.
Because in God’s providence, these times in our lives led as surely to that little room in Sedona at sunset as those little baby boys led to upright Christian men with loving families.
I can understand that it was the current that brought me to the hard bend, through the deepest part of the river. For God’s eternal purpose. And I am content with that.
In the words of Ecclesiastes: “Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other” (7:13-14).