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Tell Me Your Story—A Modern-Day Job

DSC_3703_2Dear Readers,

Guest writer Tom Nash works as a caregiver for Larry Browning who has multiple sclerosis. This is a courageous story of endurance, of hope, of deep trust. I came away from it deeply grateful for all the blessings God has given me. We certainly take far too much for granted. You will be inspired to persevere regardless of what you’re facing.

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Do you have a dramatic or unique story that would encourage others in their walk with the Lord? Send an email to Ruth with subject line “query” and include a paragraph summarizing your story to ruthywood@gmail.com.

openYou’ve packed a lot of experiences into your 61 years, Larry. What are the key events of your life that have molded you into the man you are today?

My mother and father were deeply committed to the Lord. My experiences in Vietnam and the years when I really got off track helped me when I got into prison ministry, because I was able to relate to the inmates. I realized, as the old saying goes, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” I certainly did things during the decade following the Vietnam War that could have landed me in prison. My seminary years and a lot of different experiences helped mold me into the man I am today.

When you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, how did you initially respond?

Well, my initial response was, “No big deal,” because I didn’t know very much about it. I was more or less just going to take it as it came.

Was that the approach you’ve taken throughout the whole process of your disease? Take it as it comes?

Pretty much. It’s gotten to the point now to where there’s not a whole lot left to give up.  I’m still able to talk and carry on a meaningful conversation.

Before we go on, could you briefly explain what multiple sclerosis is and what form you have?

Multiple sclerosis takes on two different forms. One produces lesions on the brain that affect signals to the nerves, which usually affects your thinking process. The other form destroys the myelin sheath on your spinal cord, which is kind of like a rubber coating on a wire. It also affects your optic nerves.

You seldom talk about the painful details of your MS. Do you mind describing how severe your disability is?

I’ve lost all use of my legs and arms. I’m almost totally blind. I’m still able to swallow, think and reason. My bowels and bladder work fairly well.

What type of physical pain do you experience from MS?

Well, I have nerve pain, occasionally. I’ve been able to control it through the use of medication, but before that I would have this heat sensation that would start in my foot and go up my leg and go into my back. Montel Williams described it like putting a branding iron in your foot. I don’t know if it’s that bad, but it really hurts. I’ve started having deep aches in my arm. I’ve been pretty fortunate that I don’t have a lot of pain. When I get the pain in my arm, I take a Vicodin and it pretty much kills that.

You were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder in 2008. This stemmed from your combat experiences in the Vietnam war. Why did it take so long for symptoms of PTSD to emerge?

When I came down with multiple sclerosis and eventually wound up in this wheelchair, I had a lot more time to think about the war. I think about it almost daily. It’s really strange. It’s something that happened forty years ago, but you just can’t get it out of your mind.

When you became blind in 2009, you began experiencing hallucinations. Why do you get them, what are they like, and do they add to your suffering?

Well, they’re not painful, just annoying. You see things that you know aren’t there. This morning, when you were wheeling me into the living room, it looked like you were taking me through a wall. And sometimes I’ll ask, “Where am I?” and you’ll tell me where I am and the things around me don’t look anything like that. Sometimes I have hallucinations with people. Most of the hallucinations begin in the morning and sometimes they’re all day long. When you take me into the bedroom, it doesn’t seem like I’m in the right spot, but I know I must be, because you can see and I can’t. When I’m awake, they’re constant — and nothing is as it appears.

How does MS affect you emotionally and psychologically?

There’s just times when I feel so alone. I get up in the morning and you come and bathe me, take me to the kitchen for breakfast, put me in the standing frame and bring me out here to the living room where I usually sit in this chair. And I’m usually there all day long — and that’s day in and day out. I just get weary of this and want the Lord to heal me or take me home. It seems like a very, very mundane experience. And it gets me down. I try not to voice my feelings very much, except with my wife, Ann. I know she struggles with some of the same things I do — the aloneness.

Is loneliness your biggest struggle?

I think my biggest struggle is just not being able to do anything. I often ask the Lord, “Lord, just restore my sight.” I could deal with the other better if I could see. It’s just the effect it has on my relationships with my family, not being able to take off and see my son Ryan and his wife Rebecca, or go down to California and see Paige, or go for a drive with Ann and go hiking somewhere. All those things are not possible anymore.

What else do you struggle with as a result of your disability?

The inability to relate normally to my wife and my children, to be active in my church. I was always a people person, but now I am getting to where I just don’t even want to be around a lot of people. I was very active. I loved to fish, loved to play softball. I liked to shoot baskets with my daughter. Basically, it’s taken all those physical things away from me, not to mention my relationship with my family.

How has your disability affected your marriage and your wife, Ann?

It’s turned my marriage from husband and wife to care receiver and caregiver. I think one of the biggest things that Ann says is that she just feels so alone and she gets so tired of having to do everything. Anything that has to do with the house or lawn, we either have to hire, or she has to do it herself. And there’s the physical aspect. I can’t even hold hands with my wife unless she takes my hand, and then I can’t grip. I can’t put my arms around her. Going on a trip together is pretty much out of the question, because it would just mean Ann would have to take care of me more. It affects every aspect of our relationship. People talk about, “Well, we’re going to do this or that,” and Ann realizes it’s not a reality for us to do those things. I think it’s hard for her to see me have gotten as bad as I am. She often says she feels so lonely, and I understand because I do too.

Do you consider yourself a modern-day Job?

In some aspects, but I don’t think I’m like Job in every detail. I lost my dad when I was young. I lost my first wife when she was young. I came down with this disease. So I’m waiting for the Lord to restore me a hundred fold, like he did Job. Fortunately, I don’t have friends like Job’s, who’d tell me if I wasn’t such a terrible sinner, this wouldn’t be happening. And I don’t have a wife nagging at me to curse God and die.

Do you ever get angry at God?

No. I get discouraged, but I look back on my life, and I see all that God has done for me. I’m just thankful he was faithful when I was faithless. I know that he knows who I am and what I’m going through, but for whatever reason he has chosen not to change it around yet. But I don’t get mad at him. He’s blessed me so much. I think of that passage in Isaiah 55:8 where it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” I think about the vastness of God and I know that God sees the beginning from the end. I try to be more thankful than upset. I don’t get mad at God, I get mad at Satan, because if it hadn’t been for Satan, disease never would have happened.

How do you stay faithful to an all-powerful God who chooses not to heal you?

I stay faithful because I’m reminded of his faithfulness. All the years that I was walking in the world, God never forsook me. He had plans for my life and never gave up on me even though I was in open rebellion against him. Knowing that he’s all powerful and all knowing, that he’s promised he’s going to destroy all these things and that one day I’m going to made whole — I think it’s pretty easy for me to recognize the faithfulness of God.

I’ve noticed when people talk at length to you about their own legitimate problems, you will start mentioning how God has blessed you. Is this a conscious tactic on your part?

I don’t think it’s conscious. I try to be positive. When I think about what God has done, I’m overwhelmed. It just comes out because when I think about it, I am totally amazed at all that God has done for me. So, I encourage others. God is always faithful.

How do you find strength in the midst of suffering?

Mostly in God’s word, fellowshipping with God’s people on Sunday, hearing the word preached and the songs. The Israelites were headed to the promised land and it took them forty years to get there. God reminds me that this ain’t the promised land, and one day I’ll be there and it’ll be forever. So, I think God’s word gives me the most strength. And then people often tell me that I’m a blessing to them because of my steadfast faith in God in spite of all that I’m going through. God is still using me to touch people.

What do you look forward to the most?

In this life, I look forward to going to church on Sunday. I look forward to talking to my kids. I look forward to spending time with my wife. I guess the thing I look forward to most is seeing God and spending eternity in his presence on a new earth and a new heaven. I can’t even imagine what that’s going to be like. Like the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” So that’s where my hope lies and the fact that Jesus has conquered sin on the cross and death and the grave.

What advice do you have for those who are suffering?

Well, my greatest advice is if you’re suffering and you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you need to pray that Jesus Christ would come into your life and give you hope. Because, for people like me, facing difficult circumstances, if I didn’t have hope, I probably would have checked out a long time ago. I can see where people, who have no hope, opt out for assisted suicide. But it was God who brought me in the world, and at his appointed time he’ll bring me home. I say it’s only through that kind of hope that you can endure circumstances like this.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the people who will be reading this interview?

Well, again I would just like to tell people that there’s no easy solution to what they’re going through, but if they have faith and trust in God and Jesus Christ, they have something to look forward to. Again, to trust that God knows far better than we do. I think one of my favorite passages is in Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.” So, I think that’s a pretty good philosophy of life, and I think that’s what I’d leave with people, to put all your trust in God.

©Tom Nash. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Tom Nash cares for Larry four mornings per week. He also owns Ironwood Nursery in Leaburg, Oregon. In the evenings, Tom writes Larry’s biography, which is about 70% complete.