I haven’t been around cowboys much, but I do know this—every so often, one of the cowboys will be told to ride the fence. That means the cowboy will ride along the fence lines to make sure all of the fences are in good shape. Sometimes, fence poles rot. Sometimes, the weather will tear one down. Other times, a big bull will simply decide the fence is in his way and push it over.
For whatever reason, fences fail; if the cowboys aren’t careful, the first time they’ll know about it is when the cows get out. Then, it’s too late.
Guys, for the most part, are problem solvers. When we hear something buzz, beep, or make that “grinding noise” we know something needs to be fixed. But what sound does your marriage make when something’s broken in it?
There is no noise…just silence. And by the time you figure out something’s wrong, the cows have gotten out. That’s why smart cowboys and smart husbands ride the fence from time to time.
How do you do that in a marriage? You find a quiet place with your spouse, pour a cup of coffee and you gently ask questions. Questions such as: “How are you doing?” “Are you and the kids doing OK?” “How’s your job going?” “How are things with us?” “Have I made you mad lately?” “Have I inadvertently hurt your feelings?” “Did I miss something you were trying to tell me?” “Do we need to talk about anything?”
OK, so you don’t ask all of those questions at the same time, but you get my point. Ask. Pay attention. Ride the fence. Don’t just sit there and assume everything is OK because she hasn’t said anything. Who knows, she may be waiting for you to ask…and a smart husband will.
As most of you know, I had to move my mother to Nashville last year. She’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and assisted living was our only and best option. My mother hasn’t seen it this way. She’s accused me of stealing all of her stuff and sticking her in “prison.” She tells me she hates the food. She tells me she can live by herself, and she can drive—if I’ll just give her car back to her. After all, she says, she’s been driving since she was fifteen.
When we started on this journey, a physician friend of mine said, “Just remember, her best day is yesterday.” Although, I heard what he said, I was praying he would be wrong. He wasn’t. Mom has gotten worse. I hear the same stories several times in the same conversation. She gets details mixed up. She’ll put the wrong people in the story and confuse the time frame of events. More and more, she won’t remember the conversation we had the day before.
Unless you knew my mom before the illness, you really can’t understand how sad this really is. My mom was the strongest woman I’ve ever met. She wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. She was a fierce Mama Bear. There are stories I can tell you—like the one when I was little kid and an older kid pulled a knife on me. My mother blew through the kitchen door like a tornado. I think that kid is still running from my mom.
My mom was wise. She always knew what to do next. Now, to see her look at me and not know what to do breaks my heart.
My dad had a major heart attack in 1988. His doctors didn’t expect him to live another 5 years. He lived until 2012—mainly because of my mother’s strong-willed care. She literally cared for my dad around the clock for 24 years. The last 2 years I know she didn’t sleep. I know this because the times I went down there to help her, I didn’t sleep. Her love for my dad was nothing short of amazing. If for no other reason (and I have a lot more reasons), I would love her simply because of the way she loved my dad.
Now, she’s fading away. Story by story, I’m losing my mom. Sometimes, she’s still herself, and I live for these moments. She’s funny, witty, and surprisingly insightful in what she notices. But other times, she’s not so sure. Sadly, the times when she’s not my mom outnumber the times she is.
I see her almost every morning for coffee. Some friends say I shouldn’t go that often. Maybe they’re right. But honestly, there’s still too many times when she’s still my mom, and I don’t want to miss one of them. Where else can a grown man go and have someone ask him if he’s getting enough sleep? After all, she reminds me, you get grumpy if you don’t get enough sleep (and I do).
Jesus promised us that there would be days when we would walk through the valley of shadows. He also promised He wouldn’t leave us by ourselves on this journey. And in the moments when we couldn’t remember, He would remember for us. He would whisper to us deep within our souls—things we might have forgotten…like who we are and who He is…and how close we now are to home.
Photo: Matt Morris (Kairos Worship Leader), Mike, and Mike’s mom, Barbara