The task of writing before me is challenging, almost intimidating. It’s not that I lack inspiration. Alicia means more than life to me. It’s just that I know that most of you who read this already love and appreciate her yourself. Much that I could say would be no revelation to you. As much as anyone I’ve ever known, she embodies what is called “friend”. She collects friends like some of us collect junk. Her friendship is sincere, pleasant, can take perhaps more than most, and will last as long as you want it. But hey, you knew that. See what I mean.
As she stated in her last blog, we were friends from the beginning. That we could be more occurred to her before it did to me only because I never thought that such an incredible young lady would actually like me. Before you start thinking this false humility, I’m convinced several of her friends thought the same thing. How it worked out I’ll never know, but it did. As she said, we adjusted as time rolled along and it was good times. The ministry came along and changed my life—I had her and then I had a greater purpose, a call that every morning gives a direction for my days in the thrilling service of the One Whom she and I both love. Growing up in a pastor’s home and later working for Mike Fox at Temple Baptist Church, she had insight that has proven invaluable to me. Since she was such a collector of friends, it seemed collecting children came easy too. I was counting the other day—I think we have a half dozen or so.
Had you asked me about our marriage, I would have told you we had a good one. Or as I once heard it said, she had a good marriage, and I had a great one. Though we were 2 imperfect people, I would have meant what I said. Some opinions, of course, are but speculation until they are tested.
So enter Alicia’s paralysis—a jolt out of the blue. That isn’t exactly true as she was having weird problems before the life-rearranging day of March 12, 2009. That was just unnerving before, with questions of what’s going on. On that day after her being sick and sleeping for around 24 hours, I cautiously went to wake her. The next few hours will always be a hazy bad dream. It all seemed so unreal. The part I remember vividly is helping her to the end of the bed as we thought she should walk in the living room and sit up a while. I lifted her up and her legs just buckled. Finally she said that she couldn’t even feel her legs. Looking back now, we acted so bizarre. She and I are the type to thoroughly talk though things, despite out notorious record of forgetting to tell each other phone messages or who we saw at Wal-Mart, but this day our speech was subdued. We said far less than you would think at such a time. Rebecca Able was visiting to help around the house and I quietly got Alicia to her chair in the living room without Rebecca noticing from the kitchen. I don’t remember how I did, but I must have carried her. That ever-present wheelchair that was soon to take up residence in our home was needed, but not yet here.
The first day we didn’t even tell anyone. The kids thought their Momma was sick, but didn’t know her legs no longer worked. We strangely left so many things unsaid. I think we were both guessing, of course, as neither of us had ever thought to read the book “What To Do When You Wake Up Paralyzed” before. This was the day our marriage changed. For the record, our individual lives forever changed that day.
Adjustments. That was the name of the game as the days progressed. I’ll confess now what Alicia and I never really have confessed before. We prayed. We know others did and it touched our hearts. But one day we shared with each other what we both came to know independently—she would never walk again. It wasn’t defeatism. You should have seen how Alicia threw herself so wholeheartedly into therapy to regain every little thing she could. I just think that the Lord was graciously preparing us for the road ahead. Many want to question: what about faith? I assure you our faith in God is all we had in those days. I mean real faith—that our Lord will lovingly lead us along the best path for us. I hear people talk about that faith that always forces the Lord to give us what we want, though I’ve never read of it in the Bible. Perhaps the folks who believe that way could sit the Lord down and explain it to Him and see if He would incorporate it into His plan. In the meanwhile, perhaps we should slow down saying He already has!
The adjustments to be made in the beginning were overwhelming and numerous. I felt sorry for her. And as pathetic as it is, I felt sorry for myself. I would watch her roll on the bed to the point of exhaustion just to get dressed. At the very beginning, she couldn’t even get undressed to use the restroom. One day, though I had done a good job hiding how I really felt, I was ready to kick a hole through the wall of our bathroom. I bumped the wall and the toilet of our little bathroom with her rented wheelchair. I bumped her leg 2 or 3 times on the sink or wall, and though she couldn’t feel it, it wasn’t a good thing. I bumbled holding her up and undressing her and about dropped her. With raised voice I said, “I can’t do anything right.” (Don’t worry—my brave, independent sweetheart is now amazingly self-sufficient). At this point, crazy as it is, she had to reassure ME!
Looking back now, it’s amazing how the Lord prepares us. I had a role model for this. My parents, Gerald and Pat Reagan. My Mom had breast cancer years ago that required a mastectomy. My Daddy never missed a beat. He was such an example of steadfast love and care that I could never say that I didn’t know what to do. It was clear. Love never lets go. If it does, it was never love at all. Love can hurt, but love gives. Love may cost me much, but it has given me more. I was determined that I would be there, I would nurse her it every possible way. I would make myself do what I never thought I could. This I would do. My Daddy took me on one of our farm walks and never stopped talking until he got those words out of me. I did it gladly. It’s what we Reagan men do.
Still, there was a problem. I never got bitter toward the Lord, I never stopped serving, I never wanted to quit the ministry or leave church, but something wasn’t exactly right. It was a spiritual barrenness in my soul a little later after the paralysis had become a part of our lives. What had happened to Alicia wasn’t clear and the question of was it a disease that would get worse or kill her was still up in the air. As the Devil is known to do, he struck while I was down with the worst church trouble I had ever had as a pastor. My integrity was called into question, and quite frankly, I didn’t like it. I was not the man that I was portrayed to be. (I’ve since learned this just comes with the territory of being a man of God, but I was a naïve my first time through). Well, who pushed me out of this? You guessed it—Alicia. She probed and worked and said the twinkle in my eye was gone. I will always appreciate how she dealt with me at that time. Always remember, a disability in no way affects the most important work in life. Upon reflection later, my biggest unresolved problem was that I was supposed to be her protector to carry her through danger like the proverbial knight in shining armor. I could not. That was not something this husband didn’t like facing.
So how is married life now? The best it has ever been. In her blog she talked about cooking, cleaning and the romantic side of things. All is well. We eat fine. We’ve caught no germ-related diseases from our home. And she turns her husband’s head more than she ever has. She takes care of me, and I’ve learned new ways to please her. You’d be surprised how far a really good back rub can go for a person with chronic pain. Has a disability changed our marriage? Yes. But after some adjustments, though we are still 2 imperfect people needing the Lord’s continual molding, it is good. Most of the credit goes to her. Paralysis took some things from her; she would not allow it to take the more important things.
If I could give any piece of advice to folks facing a disability, or any couple in general, I would have a word to the men. It is an obvious truth that we have the greater struggle with selfishness. We like to be taken care of, and we are sure there is a Bible verse somewhere that says we get to run things and nothing much should be asked of us. Well, if you want a better marriage you are going to have to realize that it isn’t all about you, that she isn’t your personal slave, and that she is a wiser, stronger person than you think. Funny, learning to care about and anticipate her needs and approach them selflessly will not only help her, but the positives come rolling back your way.
I’m sure the big question about my sweetheart that you want answered is what was it really like for her? You know what you saw publically, what about in private? She was human. She shared her feelings no matter if they would be considered appropriate or not, but she was strong. I watched her work through it and it brought her to the Lord. She got there before I did. Her faith in God is real. It’s mature enough to need no other person to thrive—even me. It is no cheap cliché for me to say, she is my hero.
So what about this woman I love? I adore her. She is greatest blessing the Lord ever gave me besides my own salvation. The heights of what she means to me, the depths of how she has made me the man I am, a better man, are treasures locked too deeply in my heart to be let out. I love you Alicia Rue.