By Cathy Leyland
God's Brave Women - Cathy's Story
It was New Year’s Eve 2005 when we got the diagnosis that my husband’s liver disease had progressed to the point of requiring a transplant. What would the New Year hold? The prospects felt scary and surreal. Once the numbness wore off, I remember praying, “Lord, I’m here. I’m yours. Show me my part and give me the strength to do it.” We had no idea of the waiting game we were about to play.
It went on for 17 months. Every quarter we would visit the transplant clinic to have doctors confirm his condition was worsening but he still wasn’t sick enough to qualify for the waiting list. Watching my hearty 6-foot, 180-pound Dutchman diminish before my eyes was gut-wrenching. It made no sense he should have to wither to a weakened, jaundiced state before being eligible to receive a life-saving organ. But that’s how the system worked and that’s the game we were playing.
The loving care and tangible support we received in that 17-month period were beyond what we could’ve imagined. With my family in the States and his in a far-off province, our church family was our frontline support. Having served in a variety of leadership roles for 15 years, we knew the joy of giving. In the months that ensued we learned the joy (and humility) of receiving. Cards, meals, errands, prayers, financial gifts and untold acts of service all served to encourage and fuel our hope. Even so, the underlying question that tugged at me daily was, “Will he get a liver in time or will I end up a widow and a single mom?”
Providentially, he got his liver and could’ve been a poster boy for organ transplant with a seamless recovery and zero bouts of rejection. We were ecstatic with his progress. A perpetual happy dance seemed fitting. One morning a month after the surgery, the Lord gently whispered to me, Well done, good and faithful servant. Who, me? It was a precious balm to my weary soul and I soaked in the unanticipated affirmation.
"I can count the times in my life where the Lord has clearly and undeniably spoken, planting a flag of certainty deep within my spirit. They are sweet assurances that I treasure. But I’ve come to realize I can misinterpret what the words actually mean."
I can count the times in my life where the Lord has clearly and undeniably spoken, planting a flag of certainty deep within my spirit. They are sweet assurances that I treasure. But I’ve come to realize I can misinterpret what the words actually mean. In this case I took it to mean, “All will be well and we can happily carry on with our lives.” Imagine my shock and confusion when six weeks later my husband coughed up a confession of an indiscretion he committed with another woman. Suddenly, my sense of carrying on with our lives was in jeopardy and my happy-ever-after future began to unravel. Together we sought counseling to navigate a new series of uncharted waters.
In summary, thousands of dollars spent on three different therapists over four crazy-making years, along with ongoing support (and confrontation) from our church and nuclear families, did not break the power of my husband’s deep need to “find and express his true self.” As much as I tried to understand his compulsion to unarrest his arrested development, I could not abide the reckless behavior that went with it.
"Four years from the day of his transplant, we were divorced... Losing him on the operating table or because he didn’t get a liver in time seemed easier to accept than his blatant rejection of our union."
Four years from the day of his transplant, we were divorced. Never before had I considered that reality. We had known a rich life together and I fought tooth and nail to keep it. Losing him on the operating table or because he didn’t get a liver in time seemed easier to accept than his blatant rejection of our union. Through the years I’ve struggled to understand his decision and to this day I’m left with more questions than answers.
But I’ve learned something about understanding. As human beings we naturally grasp for it. Understanding provides a level of comfort and a level of control, but it’s limited and it’s dangerous to base our lives on it. Proverbs 3:5-6 implores us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NAS) At the end of the day I had to let go of what I could not control and lay myself at the Lord’s feet. As I admitted my utter dependency and trusted Him with my future, God forged my faith.
"At the end of the day I had to let go of what I could not control and lay myself at the Lord’s feet. As I admitted my utter dependency and trusted Him with my future, God forged my faith."
As I reflect on the darkest hours of those crazy years, I recall the times I lay curled on my bed in a fetal position, crying out to God, begging Him to accomplish His purposes through this gut-wrenching ordeal as it hurt far too much for even one drop of the pain to be wasted. God was faithful to answer that prayer. He didn’t change my husband’s mind or save our marriage but He did direct my path. At 53, I made the brave choice to go back to school to study spiritual formation and became a spiritual director. I count it a privilege to hold sacred space for individuals and listen with them for God’s voice and movement in their life.
"As I develop the art of deep listening, I resist the urge to understand or get it right but simply seek to be with my Creator."
As I develop the art of deep listening, I resist the urge to understand or get it right but simply seek to be with my Creator. Likewise, I encourage my directees to sit with the Lord, in that space of deep listening, and trust in His guidance and perfect timing. This is a sweet charism I’ve come to treasure.
Brave Woman Manifesto
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Cathy is a retired career coach, a budding writer and a seasoned spiritual director. She helps others listen for God’s voice and appreciate their uniqueness in Christ. Cathy is working on her first book, a 52-week devotional/journal on Re-words (redeem, restore, relax, rely). This work is born out of living through the brokenness that accompanies divorce, discovering firsthand that God’s mercies are new every morning. Though a native of New Orleans, Cathy has lived in Canada for 32 years. She lives in Vancouver, on the ocean’s edge with John, her husband of five years. Between them they have five adult children and three grandchildren. She worships the God of second chances and new beginnings.
Follow her website, Reflections on the Water, at cathyfortleyland.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.