The red glow of Judie’s digital clock beside her bed read 1:00 AM. Thoughts tumbled around in her brain like shells in a rough surf. Keith’s rhythmic breathing told her he had finally drifted off. Only a few hours had passed since her husband had come home and made his announcement. Now, it seemed an eternity.
“Honey, I lost my job today.” His voice had held a tremor that his protective hug couldn’t hide. “Guess last year’s financial crash finally caught up to us. They can’t use an old guy whose heart won’t beat without a pacemaker.”
God, how will we survive? We can’t make it on just my job, even though I put in ten-hour days. We’ll lose everything we’ve worked for since we moved to South Georgia. Everything! Just wish I lived closer to Mom and Pop, like I used to. They have always been my stability and now their health is failing. My brothers and sister aren’t near them either, but with no money how can Keith and I even think about helping them?
Crawling out of bed, she headed to her computer. The warmth of her dog, Corgy, pressed against her legs. Picking up the ball of fur, she carried him to her desk where he snuggled on her lap.
She slipped quietly back under the covers, but she wasn’t quiet enough. Keith was awake.
“You know, Keith.” She snuggled into his arms. “I’ve got an idea. If we can’t sell our house, why don’t we try to rent it to keep from losing it? The only reason we moved here was for your job. Now that that is gone this might be a good time to relocate. Closer to Mom and Pop.”
A job and an economical place to live near her parents had not come easy. Nobody wanted to rent their house and Judie’s prediction came true. They lost everything. Living on Keith’s unemployment check and her company’s promise of a transfer for part-time work, they prepared to move to North Georgia.
Cardboard boxes cluttered the kitchen floor. Keith reached for the glasses on the highest shelf before handing them to his wife.
“Can’t believe this is our last week in southern Georgia.” The grin on her face as she took the glass from her husband said it all. She wrapped the glass in newspaper and carefully placed it in a box. Her smile disappeared. “Mom and Pop seem to be going downhill fast and I’m not dealing too well with all these changes, Keith. I know I was smiling just now, but it’s hard to smile at work. It’s getting harder and harder, not knowing what the future holds and all.”
“God’s never let us down, Judie. We know He’ll see us through.”
“You’re right.” She closed the box and opened up another one. “New life, here we come!”
She continued to pack silently, talking only to God: Thank You, Father, for the many blessings You have given us these last few months. Every need has been met. I know this move is the right thing.
Keith’s unemployment ended the same week that Judie was given a full time position. Thank you, God. Thank you for giving me this chance, and Your timing is perfect!
Sugar smells of warm pecan pie permeated her mom’s roomy kitchen. The hum of familiar voices drifted from the living room. Pop, weak but seemingly well, told humorous stories to his adult grandchildren. Mom, instructed to rest awhile, smooched on her newest great-grandbaby. Judie’s daughter-in-law placed a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes on the serving counter.
Judie lifted a pan of savory dressing from the oven.
“This dressing sure brings back memories.”
Wes, her second oldest brother, glanced up from washing lettuce and smiled. “All those Thanksgivings in Arkansas. Right?”
“Yep. With grandma and grandpa. Sure miss those days. I miss Grandma’s candied sweet potatoes.”
“She could sure spread a feast.” He began cutting carrots into the salad.
“Now it’s us three making dinner.” Her daughter-in-law grinned and arched to relieve her back. “Or maybe I should say the four of us.” She rubbed her pregnant belly.
“Hey, sweetheart, in there!” Judie directed her voice in the belly’s direction. “Grow good for your grandma.”
Then she leaned over and gave Wes a snug, side hug. “I miss the food, but mainly I miss the people. Now we’re the grandparents! I love you, brother. Thanks for your help today. I love all my family. I wish today would last forever.”
It was dark by the time Judie got home from work, kicked off her shoes, and sank into the recliner. Her dog, Corgy, lay motionless on his bed near her feet.
What a day! A promotion is nice, but it means I can’t let up. Can’t anyway, with Keith not able to work. Gotta keep going. Can’t lose my job. Gotta call Mom at the hospital and see how Pop is. See if there’s anything they need me to help do.
As she reached for her phone, Corgy opened his eyes and gave his tail a weak thump.
“Hey, Sweetie Bear. Don’t feel good do you?” She picked him from his bed and settled him in her lap. Getting very old aren’t we? You’ve always been my baby and now you’re sick and there’s no extra money for a vet. So, we’ll just stay here at home together and I’ll nurse you, best I can.”
Her dog let out a long sigh as Judie dialed the hospital’s number.
“It’s a very hard evening tonight.” She later updated her Facebook friends. “My dad is suffering and not doing well, and I think God may call him home soon, but when that happens, I know he will no longer be in pain, and when he wakes again, he will be looking in the face of Jesus.”
Her next update read: “My canine best friend is very sick too. I don’t know how to help Corgy except to keep him comfortable. He has been with me almost thirteen years, from the minute he was born, I knew he was my dog. I’m trying hard not to cry……………”
The next day all she shared was: “My Corgy is gone.”
Time and energy were at a premium. Closing her computer, she grabbed her purse and followed Keith out the door to the car. The decision had been made to bring Pop home to die. They were on their way to help get him settled. Today she would miss work. Even though her oldest brother and his wife were there and had been helping with Mom and conferring with Pop, she longed to be with him, longed to do what she could. Anything.
They helped move the hospital bed. Watched pain meds being given. Said good-bye to the hospice aids. When Wes’ car pulled in, Judie met him in the drive.
“Oh, Wes! He’s going so fast!” She threw her arms around her brother’s neck. His close, wordless hug was the comfort she sought.
“So how’s it going?” His moist eyes met hers. After discussing the day’s events, they entered a quiet house of waiting.
Later that night, Pop was resting on clean sheets. There was nothing more to be done. She would have loved to stay the night, but she wasn’t needed. It was time to go home.
“Pop,” Judie bent over and placed a kiss on his beloved, craggy face. “We’re going home, but we’ll be back. I love you, Pop. I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” he rasped. “Take care now.”
Wes walked her to the door. “Sis, I’ll call you if anything happens.” His hug warmed her as she walked out into the cold December night.
The next day she opened her computer and typed: “My dad passed quietly in his sleep this morning. I was so lucky to have him as my father. Pop, you sure did fight a good fight. I am hurting because you are gone, but joyful that you are at peace. It won’t be long before we all are together again. I love you so much Pop. We will take care of Mom for you.”
“Mom, won’t ever live here again,” her oldest brother had informed her after the funeral. “She can’t live alone.”
Two days later, tears streamed down her face as she watched the car with its precious, petite, white-haired occupant disappear from sight.
It took time to get back to her Facebook friends, but when she did she wrote:
“I now know what true love is. It is letting go of someone you love very much for their sake.
How much my dad suffered hurt me worse than his death did. I am so glad he is now at peace.”
There came a day when the rush and surge of the past months’ trauma mounted until her dam of emotions finally burst. In the overflow, she once again shared with her friends: “I’m feeling the pain of losing Pop, my animals and Mom moving. On the other hand, I am also looking forward to a new grand baby, spring coming, and I’m happy at work. Next week Keith and I will be married 17 years. Every cloud has a silver lining.
“Whew, what a long day this has been.” Judie came through the door and slumped on a kitchen chair. “I don’t know what happened, but I am hurting so bad.”
“So sorry, honey.” Keith looked up from wiping the stove. “Maybe my home cooked meal will help you feel better.”
“Oh, Keith, what would I ever do without you? You spoil me.”
“Love spoiling you! You’ve just overdone it. Perhaps a good night’s rest will do the trick.”
It was noon the next day when she knew she was in serious trouble. Looking for inventory, down on her knees at work, she had to call for help to get up.
At home that evening she told Keith, “This feels like when I had that uterine mesh implanted years ago. I don’t know if I have the strength for this. Let’s pray for a miracle.”
“Yes, and then let’s get you to a doctor.”
After going from doctor to doctor, with little success, Judie decided she was not like fine wine, where older is better. “I am tired.” She told Keith. “I now know what it means to be ‘not as young as I used to be’ and I realize Pop was right. He always said, ‘Getting old is not for sissies.’”
Wes had spent the spring making repairs so their parent’s house could sell. Now it was fall. The house had not sold, and Judie was scheduled for surgery. One day after work, Keith met her at the door. “We’re moving!”
“Yes! Your Mom, your brothers and sister have offered us Mom and Pop’s house. It was their idea. We can live there free of charge except for doing the upkeep. It will save us money on rent. We won’t have to worry about a place to live. And my mom needs a place. We both know she does. The house is plenty big enough.”
“Keith, this is a wonderful idea! What an honor! Just to think, me the baby of my family, taking care of my parent’s home!”
“It’s comforting to be here,” Judie told her Facebook friends the first weekend in her new home. Her son and family had just left after bringing lunch over. “It’s comforting to be surrounded by memories of my parents and family, sharing love and joy. Thank you again, Mom and family, for allowing me to make this my home. Thank you, God, for my family and friends.”
Four days later they rushed Keith to the hospital for a pacemaker replacement. Finding work for him now was out of the question.
Another Thanksgiving was coming around. A Thanksgiving without her parents. It had been almost a year. Judie pondered what she would do.
I might go to the cemetery and talk to Pop, pour my heart out, actually. But I know he can’t hear me now, just like I know God can. And I’ve learned God has a very good Ear.
Lily of the Valley sweetened the air as Judie wandered through her mother’s flower garden. Iris spears were already pushing their healthy way skyward. Late daffodils tossed their heads in the light breeze. Tears sprang to her eyes.
I’m too emotional. Maybe it’s better not to think so much. Oh, how I miss Mom! I wish she were here, but I know she is better off where she is. She is 82. How many more times will I see her? Here I am, in her home, surrounded by her flowers and plants and all she loves, but I can’t reach out and hug her. I can hear her voice on the phone and see her on Skype, but it’s not the same. Besides, Keith’s mom needs us now, but sometimes I find that difficult. Sometimes I want to be selfish, but I can accept things as they are. I am thankful I have a home that can be shared. I have friends all over the South. I have a family who loves me. I have a wonderful job. As long as I don’t think about it, I’m okay. But the ache in my heart is always there.
Judie again sat at her computer and shared with her friends. “I did go to the doctor yesterday. He refused to treat me. Said I had already had surgery for that repair and he wasn’t going to touch it. I lost a day of work and paid a $45 copay for that information. I made another appointment closer to home. Hopefully I can get some answers. This next doctor is one I have gone to before, and I hope she can help. If not, I will have to go out of network, I’m afraid. But I’m sure God has a plan. I’m not worried.
“My spirit is sad for my body today.” She typed. “I know that sounds strange, but I don’t see me and my body as being the same thing at all. My body is totally dependent on me. And my body apparently isn’t doing too well.
I am praying I have made the right decision, because it’s finally hitting me what I have to do. If I have counted correctly, this will be surgery number 23. I’ll hit 25 before this year is over.
I’m not really scared, well, not of pain, not of what ifs, but some decisions you make in life you can never change. Since the deal with the mesh, I find it very difficult to accept medical help. However, in this case, I seem not to have a choice. My body has been in pain for a very long time. I have to do what I can to take care of her.
God has been kind in providing all my needs. I pray for His continued healing and support. I pray for your support as well.”
During Judi’s last surgery the doctors had inserted hardware in her back. Now it was infected with MRSA bacteria. She was back home with an open incision. Keith prepared to change the dressing.
“Now turn over. Get comfy. I’ll just take this dressing off and clean you up.” Keith’s hands gently removed the bandage. He inhaled sharply.
“What? What’s wrong?”
It’s just, I can see the hardware in your backbone, but lie still. Let me finish.”
“Oh, Keith!” Judie buried her face in her pillow while her tears flowed.
Judie lay on the couch. Keith methodically moved the vacuum across the carpet. Satisfied with his job, he reached for the plug and silenced the vacuum’s drone.
“Come sit beside me, Honey. I’ve been watching you work. It’s been so hard on you, me being sick and you taking care of your mom too.”
“At least I know I’m needed.” He placed a kiss on her forehead. “And you can do light chores.”
“I don’t know how I would have made it through these months without you. In my darkest moments you have cared for me, held me when I’ve cried, put up with me when I’ve been frustrated. I love you so much. So very much.”
“We’ve been through some hard times, sure enough.” Keith agreed. “But God has never left us.”
Judie laced her arms around his neck and drew him close for a lingering kiss. Then with his face close to hers she searched his eyes. “You know, with money the way it is, I can’t buy you a Christmas gift this year. Will my undying love and gratitude be enough?”
Judie was back in the hospital. “I had another surgery this morning on my back.” She updated her friends. “Apparently I had a screw loose. For those of you who know me, that is probably not a surprise. But I mean this literally. The MRSA had infected one of the screws in my fusion causing it to loosen. My doctor took out both screws on the left side, cleaned up all the infection, and sewed everything back together. I am praying all goes well this time. Thank you so much for all your prayers and support. Please continue to pray for me as I fight this battle.”
All did not go well. After still another surgery to completely remove the hardware in her back, Judie continues to fight her battle. When she shared the facts of this story with me for Penpoints of Light she wrote:
“For the last eight months I have been unable to work. Where would we be if God had not put us here in Mom and Pop’s home? Does God care about us? Absolutely. All our needs have been met, all our prayers answered. Yes, things have been difficult, but mine and hubby’s love has gotten stronger, as has our faith. I know I am surrounded by family and friends who lift me up and a God who holds me in the Palm of His Hand.
* * * * *
“God did not promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain,
but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.” — Unknown
We all have a choice.
To trust and praise God in the hard times
Or to turn our face away and curse him.
Whatever our choice, He has promised to never forsake us.
He will always walk with us.
It’s up to us to take His hand and experience His presence.
* * * * *
Have you ever wondered how a God of Love can let such hard things happen?
Take a bit of time and listen to “If God is so Good” by Herb Montgomery.
Story contributed by Judie Plumley and written by Merita Atherly Engen
Many thanks, Judie, for sharing the glimpse of God that you have gained in your hard times. Our prayers are with you and Keith and all of your family.