Thursday, October 12, 2006

At the Dawn of Day 4

There are few things more sobering than watching a sunrise from a hospital room. Once again, this has been my privilege for the few couple of days. When a mild nasal infection flared and spread into a major staff infection, I was rushed to Emergency on Thanksgiving morning. Sleeping the next 48 hours away as my body fought off the infection, I was rarely aware of night and day. Yesterday morning dawned, however, and I was feeling so much better. Still, as I sat by the window of my room, looking out on the rainy morning dawn, I felt nothing. I knew that I was going to be here a while longer while my body fights off the last remnants of the staff infection and the oncologists struggle to get my immune system recovered to levels that allow me to join society again.

My main link to the land of the living has been my wife of 23 years, Denita. She is an anchor in my life. The last few years, however, have been hard for her since I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and the last two months, in particular. I have hospitalized for almost half of the last six weeks and when at home, I have been suffering the effects of chemotherapy.
As I sat looking at the rain, my room phone rang. On the other end I could hear Denita crying. I had briefly wondered a few minutes earlier where she was, as I knew that she was coming to see me before heading off to work. She told me that she was in Emergency. My heart stopped. She was hurt, having fallen down a flight of concrete stairs in the hospital parking lot. Thankfully, a woman who was coming to work at the ER was following close after and helped her in.

Like the trooper she is, Denita refused to believe that she was seriously hurt and allowed the doctor to only give her some ice for her arm and face on both of which she had fallen. When she arrived at my room, it soon became obvious to me that something was far more serious than the bruises and scrapes to her legs. Her arm grew increasingly more painful and so I insisted that she return to the ER. Reluctantly, the caregiver became the care receiver and complied. Two hours later, Denita returned in a sling with a diagnosis that her right elbow had been cracked in two places.

And so I sit here now, on day four of my latest hospital stay, looking at the sun rise on anther day and I feel helpless. Yesterday, as she came to my room after having fallen, I saw the look of despair on my wife's face. She can't take anymore. She needs me and I am stuck here in isolation, cut off from the world. There is so little that I can do for her right now; virtually nothing. I am praying, yes, and I do not want to minimize that. But I am her husband and I need to be at her side but I can't be. I can urge my children to step up and take more responsibility around the home. But that's hard to ask of two busy college juniors and a high school senior; all of whom have jobs of their own. I can't call on family, since both of our families are out in Alberta, thousands of miles away, with health issues of their own. My mother is caring for her elderly parents as my grandfather recently suffered a severe stroke. Denita's father is recuperating from a brain tumor and so Denita's mom can't come out either. But we need help!

Can I look to the local church that we started attending in January? Not likely. I won't go into why. Thankfully, Denita has some other friends who will likely help out some with some of the meals and the like, but I do feel that we are pretty much alone out here. Yes, I am grateful for the help that the staff and Board here at the mission provide (their love and support has been a bright light to us), but they have already been so generous and there are so few of them that we cannot ask or expect more.

So what to do?

I have realized recently that too much burden for the care of the chronically ill falls upon the family nowadays. The North American church needs to wake up to the rising cancer levels in their midst and recognize that families affected are often tattered under the strain and need a helping hand more than they need cards, gifts, or flowers (as thoughtful as these are). Things like helping with housecleaning, cooking, transportation; ordinary everyday things that often, unexpectedly and at the last minute, get put on hold as appointments, treatments, and setbacks chew away at precious hours of every day and week. Denita has become so exhausted in recent weeks, I not really surprised that she got injured. But she is also spiritually and emotionally exhausted. And these wounds only her husband sees and wishes that he could heal with a touch, a kiss, a hug or a kind word. But these wounds take time to heal too, just like cracked elbows.
It's daylight now on the fourth day as I type this and I still feel helpless; as a father, as a husband, as a director as VOMC. Remembering Job, I cry out to God, "Why did you allow Satan to touch my wife? Hasn't she gone through enough already? Nevertheless, I will continue to trust you."

That doesn't make me much better at the dawn of Day 4. But then again, that is not the purpose of faith.


Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn...I want you to know that the Lord laid you on my heart this morning and so I came to read your blog (which I now have permanently linked on my blog) and now I know why.

Dealing with cancer is a trial that those who have never endured really have no clue about....and being the caregiver is also something that few ever really talk about . I'm sorry your wife is injured, and of course you both will remain in my prayers and thoughts.

When my mother had cancer 5 years ago, and died 4 years ago in November, I was her primary caregiver - and I lived almost an hour away. I was in grad school at the time and it was extremely tough....and for reasons hard to explain, the church wasn't very helpful.

But I had a professor tell me something I never forgot and really that is what kept me going through the whole time. He told me to step back and simply watch what God was doing in the life of my mother, and also the lives of those around me. He said, you can't solve the problem, and God is up to something great - so just watch and pray.

It was extremely difficult to do that, but I did and to this day I am amazed at the things the Lord revealed to me during that time. And after 20 years of praying for my unsaved mother, she finally came to faith in Christ.

So I want to encourage you with those words. You never know what your life or your wifes life is doing to those who are serving you in the hospital, or in other areas you're not aware of. I think this is part of the mystery of God.

And if I could, I would come and visit and give you guys a big hug and just sit with you....and so since I can't, I will pray God sends Himself through someone else...and never be afraid to remember His ministering angels - they are there. :)

Love ya in the Lord, and I'll check in tomorrow to see how ya are.

Stacy L. Harp

Glenn Penner said...

Thank you, Stacy! Even though we have never met and have only ever talked on the phone & skype, I consider you a good friend

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog accidentally when I was searching for your email hoping to ask you a question regarding the last mennonite martyr that you know of. I am doing a presentation on Mennonite history in our local school and would like to add a note from the last 25 or so years. I know of the Mennonite Six and will be talking of them briefly but I was wondering if you know of any recent martyrs?
I am so sorry to hear of your illness since you are doing a mighty work for VOMC. I get your newsletter and it encourages my heart everytime. It is getting difficult to stand for the truth, even in our own country. Most North American Christians are totally clueless when it comes to the persecuted church and what our brothers and sisters struggle with on a daily basis. We pray that the Lord will give you healing you for our sake and that of your wife and children.
Just a note added to this blog somewhere would be helpful pointing me in the right direction.

Glenn Penner said...

I am sorry, but I do not know the answer to your question. That might be impossible to answer, of course, since most Mennonites today live in the developing world (for many year now, there have been more African Mennonites than European-background ones). Christians of various denominations are being martyred daily, and it is not always possible to know what exact denomination they belong to. Sorry

Anonymous said...

No problem. I was not thinking just of Dutch/Swiss Mennonites. I was exactly trying to find an example in Vietnam or Africa or even China. I know an image would have an impact on the grade 11's that I'm teaching.

I do wish you the very best. I prayed for you and your wife last night. may God bless you.

Glenn Penner said...

That's bit of the problem. Christians in these other countries do not always use the term Mennonite anymore and so unless I am familiar with their theology, it's hard to know what background the martyr comes from.

Kim T said...

Dear Glenn,

I will be praying for you, your wife and your family. I will ask others to pray, too. I only live an hour away in Woodstock, ON, so I am near enough to help. Please email me. I am assuming you can see my email address with my posting, even though the readers cannot. I know that you and Denita both know that HE has HIS purposes and they are for HIS glory and your good. Be encouraged in HIM. Love in Christ, A sister in the LORD, Kim

oh no... I just realized my email address is not required to post. Let me know how to email you or Denita.