by J. Grant Swank
I packed our belongings into the rented moving van, ready to head back to the eastern part of the United States-thousands of miles from where I had closed the Bible atop the pulpit and resigned from my church.
My wife and I had decided that we had to move. Her health was not getting any better. The neurosurgeon who could treat her performed his operations in Boston and we had to go where he was. Into the truck we slid our boxes, while our dreams seemed to go "out the window."
December came, and so did Priscilla's brain surgery. Half of her hair was shaved off. The surgeon inserted a tube from her brain down behind her ear and then into her heart to re-route cerebrospinal fluid. There was not enough space between her brain and her skull for the fluid to drain properly because of scar tissue that had somehow formed during her childhood.
We "celebrated" Christmas and New Year's Day in the hospital l00 miles from our relatives and our little daughter.
When Priscilla was well enough to return home, life was not so bright as the doctors had predicted. While still experiencing much discomfort from the surgery, Priscilla also suffered a nervous collapse, and depression set in. I took a job as the executive for the Chamber of Commerce, and I would come into the house at the end of every workday to find her no better. "Darkness" fell long before nightfall most evenings.
On Sundays we went to church, but we sat near the aisle in case Priscilla became so overcome with depression that we would have to leave before the service was over. We would quietly slink out, sometimes only l5 minutes into the worship service. Then we would trudge home to a hollow house.
Days moved into weeks and weeks into months. I wondered: will I ever return to the pastorate? Will Priscilla ever recover fully? Will our marriage ever be completely restored? Will life ever return to what it once was? What effect is this having on our daughter?
Well-meaning friends would stop by the house to visit, but Priscilla could not handle much conversation. They would laugh, joke and have fun, but that did not mesh with our present circumstances. The buoyancy in their lives seemed to expose the desperation in our own.
Night after night I crawled into bed with numbness enveloping my heart. I worked on "automatic pilot" most of the time.
Of course, some people could not understand our struggles. Even Christians sought to comfort us with reminders that believers are always "on top of things." We were counseled to be happy, to pull ourselves out of the heaviness. These phrases were easy for healthy and comfortable friends to recite-they were not going through what we were.
One night, as I lay in bed unable to sleep, I reached my arms up into the air. I could not see my arms because of the darkness. Yet I wanted to reach out and touch God somehow. I did not understand why I felt so alone, so unable to make contact with heaven. I knew that the Bible is true, yet lately I had not felt any comfort when I read it. And it had been so hard to pray.
I persisted in reaching out in the night, touching nothing, feeling nothing; I had not cried in months. And now I could not shed a tear. I was beyond crying. I was not even able to weep before the Lord. "Where have You gone?" I asked softly, not wanting to appear disrespectful to the God of all things.
After a while I fell asleep. In the morning, life seemed just as flat as ever. But I realized that I did still trust God. So did Priscilla, though our feelings of religious fervor had ebbed, our commitment to God never did.
Gradually Priscilla's health returned. Her depression slowly faded, and little by little we resumed a normal life. Occasionally we suffered setbacks. When we look back, those two years do not seem all that long; but when we were going through them, they seemed like a millennium.
Then came the day when Priscilla told me that she was well enough to be a pastor's wife again. I candidated for another pastorate, and several months later we moved into a parsonage and resumed full-time ministry.
One Sunday night I lay in bed thinking back over our season of trial. And it came to me! When I had put that childlike question to my Father: "Where have You gone?" His answer had come just as simply: "I have been with you all the time." I knew that to be so, even in the darkest hour, even during those years when I did not feel His answer.
Now, when the shades are drawn to shut out the day, I remind myself to trust God's kind reply with even more assurance. Though I may not always feel that God is with me, I know that HE NEVER LEAVES ME!
You see, I believe in miracles-even slow ones over time.
J. Grant Swank, Jr. pastors New Hope Church in Windham, Maine.