Maralyn's Updates

Friday, November 30, 2007

Soul Food

I’ve made a delicious discovery! Whatever I feed my soul just before I go to sleep is what it chews on all night long.

For instance, if I’m concerned about how to accomplish all I need to the next day, I end up planning the whole thing during my sleep. I used this technique when I was writing my thesis over ten years ago. If I had an unresolved piece of research, I could reread all sides of the issue just before going to sleep, and by morning I would have resolution.

Fast forward to now.

If I go to bed with a tiny worry about this spasm, or that feeling of frustration at not being able to get my tongue to be more articulate, the thing grows to monstrous proportions and I wake up in despair.


If I go to bed meditating on God’s Word and His goodness, I wake up optimistic and victorious with a song of praise darting through my mind.

I’ve been experimenting with this for several weeks, and I can tell you that it works!

Last week there was an incident where I tried to walk too far, and the harder I tried to get there, the slower my legs would go. It was very frustrating! That night I read through Psalm 23 several times and felt deeply comforted. The next morning? A song I haven’t heard since the 70’s was running around in my head: “Because the Lord is my shepherd I have everything that I need. He lets me walk in ‘la-la-la’ (can’t think of all the words! ☺), he leads me beside the quiet stream. He keeps on giving life to me and helps me to do what honors him the most. Even when walking through the dark valley, valley of death. I will never be afraid, for he is close beside me. Guarding, guiding all the way, he spreads a feast before me. In the presence of my enemies, he welcomes me as his special guest. With goodness overflowing, ‘la-la-la’ and unfailing kindness, he will be with me all of my days, and afterward I will live with him, forever…forever…in his home.” Remember Dick and Carolyn? We sang it as a quartet sometime in the days before we had kids. We had to practice it dozens of times because…well, just because…and through all of those practices God was embedding it into my heart for a feast some 35 years later. What a God!

I’m realizing that even as I choose to feed my physical body healthy food, so also I must choose to be disciplined about what I feed my soul.

Cute example: Last night I was talking to my brother Ron and his wife Donna on the phone and when I mentioned that I was just about ready to write a new blog, they asked me the theme. We discussed this idea of “soul food” and they concurred. A few minutes later I went to bed. When I awakened this morning, the words of an old Dallas Holm song were whirling through my brain: “Set your hearts on things above…set your hearts on things above…Yeh…you’ll soon discover more than you’ve been dreamin’ of…Think about the father’s love…Think about the father’s love…And you will feel it when you set your mind on things above.” Reminds me of the verse in Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is steadfast.” Wow!

My next doctor’s appointment is December 13. I am looking forward to seeing how he perceives my condition. I think he’s going to be pleasantly surprised at how slowly this disease is progressing. Both of our kids’ families are coming to our house to celebrate the weekend before Christmas. We’ve moved in now, but the house isn’t finished. There’s still a lot to do, but each day it’s fun to see the progress. Many friends have helped us in dozens of ways. Bottom line? God is taking good care of us.

H-m-m! Let’s see, it’s morning now, but I’m already planning what I’m going to feed my soul tonight. I think I’ll munch again on Psalm 103! That’s one of my favorite soul snacks.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Years ago I heard one of our colleagues describe the missionary itineration as “THE MOST WONDERFUL--AWFUL THING HE HAD EVER DONE.” We were newly appointed, so his statement entertained my imagination for weeks. How could it be both? I wondered. Then we set out to hold services in churches to raise our own support, and I could see that he was right. The process was awful because we had to sleep in dozens of different beds, eat at all the wrong times, sit in a car for endless hours, and bear the weight of the formidable budget. But we also found that the whole process was wonderful, because God provided for us in remarkable ways. New relationships, astonishing miracles, and financial surprises filled the path with wonder. To date we have done four one-year-long itinerations, and I can truthfully say that I HATE THEM--BUT I LOVE THEM!

Now I’ve lived long enough to see that life is full of paradoxes. For instance, right now even though THE DOCTOR SAYS I'M DYING, I'VE NEVER FELT MORE ALIVE.

As you know, in June my neurologist told me that I have bulbar ALS, the kind which has begun not in my hands and feet, like it does for 80% of ALS patients, but in my tongue, throat and mouth. He said that the normal life expectancy for this type of ALS is 12-18 months. That was five months ago. If someone had told me ahead of time that this was going to happen, I’m sure I would have despaired, but I COULD NEVER HAVE IMAGINED THE DARK PATH WOULD HAVE SO MANY GLIMMERS OF LIGHT.

Here’s the paradox. DURING THIS PROCESS SOMETIMES I HAVE FELT LIKE I WAS IN A TIGHT BOX --BUT I HAVE ALSO FELT LIBERATED. At the moment of the diagnosis, everything changed. Suddenly I knew what was important in my life. I let go of things that didn’t matter, and I reached out to embrace things I had previously taken for granted.

For example:

Our marriage has never been more fresh or exciting.

Our relationships with all four of our children have taken on sweet new dimensions.

I find myself fixating on adorable things that our grandkids do (okay that hasn’t changed THAT much ☺)

Certainly, friendships have become more meaningful.

Even nature seems more vibrant.

My senses are just keener these days!

Yesterday while doing some errands, I went through a drive-through to get food. I was going to try to eat it while driving, then I thought, “Life’s too short!” ☺ So, I pulled off the road and sat facing the river in our small local park. Before our missions work, we lived in this community for 17 years, and now we’re back to the same town, so I’ve driven by that portion of the Wisconsin River thousands of times; but this was the first time that I took time to soak in its beauty. As I ate my sandwich, the barren trees and rippling chilly water told me that they were enjoying the freedom of the moment, knowing that soon they were going to be heavily laden with snow. ☺

I am just feeling totally excited about life! My mind is dancing with ideas for the holidays. I’m like a kid at Christmas—literally! ☺ Which cookies should I bake? Which gifts? And Thanksgiving? With plans to entertain 34 people in my half –finished house? That would have certainly stressed me out before. But not now. I know that everything will be fine, even if it isn’t perfect. This attitude of abandonment makes everything more fun. Isn’t it ironic? JUST LIKE IT SAYS IN SCRIPTURE, I HAD TO LOSE MY LIFE TO FIND IT.

I feel fortunate to feel so well! My symptoms haven’t changed a lot over the last two months. Some days I have lots of muscle spasms in my hands, throat, legs, and abdomen—other days I have almost none. Some days my tongue is painfully slow, causing strangers to strain to understand me—other times my speech is quite clear. Some days it takes a couple of swallows to get the food to go down—other days I can eat the driest bread with no problem. Some days I have to battle massive amounts of mucus in my throat--other days I have almost none. Some days my feet feel like I’m walking through mud—other days I have a spring in my step. It’s like a pendulum that swings back and forth. ON THOSE HARD DAYS WHEN I FEEL SO WEAK, I'M GLAD THAT GOD IS STRONG, because it's then that I realize how much I need him.

One thing I know for sure, if God allows me to live beyond the doctor’s predictions, I will be a different person. From now on I will know that spending time with a friend over coffee is more important than getting one more thing crossed off my list! Too often, I have let the urgent things crowd out the important ones. I don’t know how many moments I have left on earth, but I do know that I don’t want to miss any of them.

We purchased the home that Jim built for his parents in 1979, and my handy husband has been working hard to remodel it for us to live in. The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom are almost done, so we’ll be moving into it this coming week. He will do the rest of the work while we’re living there. IT IS LOTS OF WORK, BUT IT'S FUN TO SEE IT DEVELOP. There's that paradox thing again.



Monday, November 05, 2007

God's Hugs

Tonight I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I wrapped up in a couple of blankets and came to sit in the big arm chair. My fingers turned to Romans 8, and as I read I felt God loving me.

“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express…(26).”

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (28).”

“…if God is for us who can be against us (31)?”

“…Jesus Christ, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (34).”

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (35)?”

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (37).”

“For I am convinced that neither death or life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (38).”

Maybe God gave us families so that we could understand the intensity of love that he has for us. Look at our faces in these photos and imagine God looking at you like this! Wow!

It seems that every time I get into our car and turn on Christian radio, this song is just beginning. Sung by a mother for her child, it’s called “In My Arms.” (by Plumb)

Clouds will rage and
Storms will race in
But you will be safe in my arms
Rains will pour down
Waves will crash around
But you will be safe in my arms

Can you see God’s eyes admiring you? Can you feel him cradling you?

If not, it doesn’t change a thing.

He IS holding you.
He IS interceding for you.
He IS loving you.

“There is nothing you can do to make God love you more.
There is nothing you can do to make God love you less.”
--Philip Yancey--

I wouldn't trade these last few months for anything. They have been awful, but wonderful, as God has shown me how much he cares.


Saturday, November 03, 2007


In our 21 years as missionaries, one of the scripture passages that I have repeatedly come back to is this one:

Isaiah 43:1-2
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass THROUGH the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass THROUGH the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk THROUGH the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”


Looking back over these past four months I can see that subconsciously I fought hard to avoid accepting this illness. Thyroid, some other neurological problem, anything! I just didn’t want to have ALS!

Now, I can see that I was in major denial, one of the beginning stages of grief.

Someone has said, “The only way out of grief is THROUGH.” And now I know it’s true. I must go THROUGH.


I didn’t want to, but a couple of really hard days physically, the unstoppable tears, and the guidance of a loving brother made me realize that I was already well into the tunnel of grief.

What’s amazing is that through the years, I’ve taught many young people about the grief process. I’ve told them that grief is a God-given process to help us adjust to the big changes in our lives. I have encouraged them to experience every stage of grief, but not to get stuck in any of them. Isn’t it ironic that I didn’t recognize my own grieving process? ☺

Two weeks ago, while traveling alone, I finally had to acknowledge that I felt restless, sad, unfocused, confused, and emotionally exhausted. I was on my way to Pennsylvania to see my new grandbaby, and I was excited to see her and her 22-month-old sister, but in my own situation I felt overwhelmed.

It was my brother Daniel who would be picking me up at the airport, so I called him during my layover. “I’m warning you that when I land I’m going to unload on you. Is that okay?” “Sure!” he said. Daniel and I are almost like twins in our thoughts and feelings so I knew that I could pour everything out to him and he would help me sort it out.

We were barely in the car when I started:

“I’ve always been so happily involved in our ministry; but now, my plans, dreams and goals have all vanished. Daily I just cook meals, do errands, and rest. I don’t have the energy to do anything else. I feel useless, like I no longer have a purpose.”

“I wish so much I could spare Jim the pain of this whole thing. Every time we talk I can hear it in his voice. If this disease develops, he’s going to have the load of caring for me. I hate the thought of being a burden on him.”

“How does God choose who he heals, and who he doesn’t, anyway?”

“It’s so frustrating that my tongue is slow. It’s difficult to talk clearly. Sometimes I see strangers straining to understand me. I hate sounding like an idiot.”

“I feel like my body is in a slow downward spiral and I can’t stop it. I’ve had more muscle spasms than ever, a slower tongue, waves of profound fatigue, a feeling of tiredness in my torso, and even some difficulty walking.”

“I feel so draggy. I don’t want to do anything.”

“I wish I had never started that blog. Up until now I’ve felt so victorious, and now I feel anything but victorious. What am I going to say next time I write?”

My wise brother just waited and let me pour it all out, then he gently helped me see that I was well into my grieving process. He assured me that it was okay to cry, doubt, question, and feel self-pity. He reminded me that God has a plan for both me and Jim. He also said, “You DO have a purpose. God has called you to suffer. That’s a high calling and God evidently knew he could trust you with such an assignment. People need to see how a godly person suffers.” He urged me to continue to be totally authentic in my blog. He listened, he cared, and he helped me tremendously.

At the end of the hour-long ride, I already felt better; but in the two weeks that followed, a deep emotional healing began. I began to feel like myself again. Those two precious little girls were more than a lift for my spirits. In fact, during the heaviness of this month, significant help has come from my favorite little people. I now have five grandchildren under the age of five. They don’t even know it, but they are helping me THROUGH.

Elliana (22 mo.) and Jolene (2 weeks)

Micah (almost 5 months)

Levi (3) and Reuben (4 1/2)

One more thing: Within days of my June diagnosis, we received a CD from our friends Don and Evie. They encouraged us to listen to the song “THROUGH.” Here are the very fitting words:

(Words and Music by Gloria Gaither, William J. Gaither & Michael Sykes)

When I saw what lay before me
“Lord,” I cried. “What will you do?”
I thought He would just remove it
But he gently led me through
Without fire, there’s no refining
Without pain, no relief
Without flood, there’s no rescue
Without testing, no belief
Through the fire, through the flood
Through the water, through the blood
Through the dry and barren places
Through life’s dense and maddening mazes
Through the pain and through the glory
Through will always tell the story
Of a God whose power and mercy
Will not fail to take us through.

Would you like to hear the song? My friend Janet sent this link. You can hear the Gaither Vocal Band sing the song if you cut and paste this link into your browser:

Here's the bottom line:
WITH GOD'S HELP, and only with his help, WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS!