In 2007, West Nile Neurological Disease paralyzed my husband, Rick, in three limbs, and caused multiple complications, including encephalitis. The virus nearly stole him from me, but mercy sent us instead into a long exile at a rehab centre several hours from home. All along what has now become a multi-year journey, we have clung tightly to God.
We had practiced for this: my husband has been a Christian clergyman for over thirty years. I’ve been a Christ-follower since childhood. Faith is central to our lives. Part of that faith is our belief that though the world is rife with disaster and difficulty–to which we are not immune–we have a living, loving God who walks beside us, holds us up when we can’t stand, and pays attention to our prayers. During our journey down the Nile, we fed our faith in many ways. Here are a few:
Likely the most spiritually nourishing practice became our reading of scripture. Daily, as I sat by my husband’s bed, I read to him aloud from the Bible. He often told me how those ancient words from which he had preached for three decades, were the only thing that took his mind off his paralysis and constant, traumatizing pain.
We prayed together often–holding hands. Because Rick’s encephalitis and pain made this familiar habit difficult, I did most of the talking aloud to God. He told me he found that extremely healing.
We made time for regular enjoyment of nature. The rehab centre had a solarium to which I pushed Rick often, simply to sit and enjoy the changing seasons outside the tall windows. Chickadees, sparrows, even rabbits, entertained us early in the mornings. As he improved, I was able to wheel his chair outside where we “rolked” (rolled and walked, a term coined by another patient who had tragically lost her legs) down to a path that followed outline of a small lake.
Even when we didn’t feel like it on many Sundays, and even though the services weren’t the kind we were accustomed to, we took in the weekly chapel service the facility offered. Surrounded by others in wheelchairs, we experienced the “fellowship of the similarly afflicted”–a bond with other disabled people that endures to this day, even though Rick has graduated to a walker.
We made time for music that boosted us spiritually. Not always gospel songs, but especially gospel songs. Though the old hymns of the church sung as commonly these days, they kept creeping out through the fabric of our joint memory to encourage us. I often sat at the piano in the common area and played them by memory. Other patients and family members joined us sometimes. God, we know, did too, regularly.
I sang one of those hymns almost every morning. It emerged without waiting for an invitation, almost immediately after waking. The archaic words seemed both relevant and crucial for me: Oh, for a faith that will not shrink, though pressed by every foe; that will not tremble on the brink of any earthly woe. Lord, give me such a faith as this…!
I also spent hours reading–after getting into bed and before rising. From other people of faith, who had written on the subjects of pain, grief, and loss, I gained new perspectives, which I often shared with Rick. Those words have served us well all along the Nile.
If pirates have boarded your boat, I encourage you to board an even larger one – the stable boat of spiritual direction, comfort, and provision. Keep (or develop) an active faith in God. It will be your most effective weapon in battle.
You’ve just read article three in the E-Zine series: West Nile Neurological Disease–Fighting Life’s Pirates.Read the complete story of our West Nile journey in West Nile Diary, One Couple’s Triumph Over a Deadly Disease available on Amazon.
P.S. Wear repellent.
copyright 2010, by Kathleen Gibson. If you copy, copy right, and for non-profit use only. Please include author credit, and a link to my website, below.
Kathleen Gibson is a Canadian author and newspaper columnist whose work has been published in global print and online media. Through articles, interviews and her book, West Nile Diary–One Couple’s Triumph Over a Deadly Disease, she and her husband, Rick, have raised the level of West Nile Disease awareness across North America. Together, they point others to the beautiful strength that comes from cultivating a solid faith in God. Kathleen’s latest book is Practice by Practice, The Art of Everyday Faith. More info at http://www.kathleengibson.ca