Anniversary of Hard Blessings

by Matthew Raley

Five years ago this morning I awoke to a new reality. I had slept at my parents’ home, with my then 5-year-old son Dylan in a trundle bed below, and my infant son Malcolm across the hall. My 35-year-old wife Bridget was in ICU unable to see, walk, or even sit up. She was on morphine to control pain that had left her hyperventilating the night before.

I learned that afternoon what we had suspected the previous day: Bridget had had a stroke. It had occurred in her brain-stem, which technicians had not bothered to scan at first. I was told that someone who has a stroke there usually isn’t alive to need a scan.

So, five years ago today, I was wondering what sort of a life God had blessed us with. Maybe the dreams Bridget and I had treasured for life and ministry would not be realized. Maybe the scale of life would shrink radically.

My immediate concern was for Dylan. He had seen his mom collapse while getting him ready for school, and had watched her crawl to the telephone. I couldn’t give him any assurance that she would get better.

Lacking any other approach, I simply told Dylan what her condition was and asked him what specific thing we should ask the Lord to do first. Dylan asked for her sight. The next morning, Bridget could see. Then Dylan asked for her relief from pain. The next day, she was given relief and the morphine dosage was lowered, soon to be eliminated entirely. Then Dylan prayed that she could walk.

The next day, she got up with the aid of walker and took new steps. I was there. It was one of the toughest moments for me, because it was clear progress in a brutal reality. So much had to improve for her to take those steps at all. But Bridget’s command of her legs had been broken. She was holding herself with her arms to walk like a ninety-year-old.

I can’t say whether any of these answers to prayer were miracles, or just God’s normal providence through bodies he designed to heal, and the skill with which he has endowed human beings. I can say that all of these blessings were hard.

Over the next weeks, we were confronted with enormous bills that inadequate insurance had dropped in our laps, all of which were paid by the Enloe Foundation. During Bridget’s hospitalization and physical therapy, many people came forward to help care for Malcolm while I was at work. We received meals, help cleaning the house, and ongoing aid while Bridget regained her balance and strength at home.

Bridget and I in Penang, Malaysia last July

All of this blessing came little by little, one day after another. Now, after years of difficulty, Bridget is free from medications, though not totally free from stroke-related pain. She has all of her abilities, but not all of her old energy. Dylan has a tremendous faith, which he is building on from these experiences. Both boys have their mother.

I call these things to mind today because the difficulties of ministry are crushing. Though we are crushed, we are not destroyed. Though the blessings are hard, our hope is greater. And this hope in Jesus Christ does not leave me disappointed.

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7 thoughts on “Anniversary of Hard Blessings

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  1. I just read this. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow, Pastor Raley.
    I recently went through some of the same experience with my wife, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer several years ago and went through a brutal surgery. Our God walks us through the valleys, doesn’t He? He doesn’t detour us around them (pace Joel Osteen), but walks with us through them. Thank God.

  2. Good theology helps. What helped me as we walked thourgh this was discovering Luther’s “theology of the Cross,” vs. the “theology of glory.” J.S. Bach’s cantatas are full of this theology of the Cross from the Apostle Paul. Our culture is one which is full of the glory story, unfortunately.

  3. I had not been aware of any of this. What an amazing and difficult journey you have had. I’m so thankful God has spared your wife. What a gift!

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