By Gregg Ratliff
Shortly after Nancy’s diagnosis of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” I read on the ALSA website that “ALS is not just the patients disease, it is a family’s disease.” My care-giving perspective has allowed me to truly understand and validate this statement. Our family’s life changed dramatically over the seven years of Nancy’s illness. It strengthened some things, like our love, our resolve, our faith and our attitude control toward things we faced in life. I personally spend less time worrying and focusing on things I had no control over (which are most things in life). This provided me more time to focus on important and often overlooked things around me. My perspective changed tremendously. Joyce Meyer once said, “Your problem is not your problem. Your problem is your attitude toward your problem.” Marcus Aurelius said it this way, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” So, anytime I began feeling sorry for myself I simply looked at my wife lying in the bed and said … “Gregg, you have no right to feel sorry for yourself. Be strong for her and yourself!” When I thought Nancy might be facing difficult times I would play music for her, read the Bible to her, pray for her, massage her feet and hands with lotion and remind her how much I loved and admired her.
We’re all faced with a lot of great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems. And on our own, they probably are unsolvable, but with the wisdom of God working through us that can change our perspective. What appears to have no human solution can provide a platform for God to do His greatest work.
When I was a professional trainer I used to do an exercise in my classrooms, to illustrate how we often just see things differently from others because of our differing perspectives. (You might want to try this.) I would ask everyone in the room to stand, raise their right arm, point their pointing finger toward the ceiling, and start making a clockwise circle with their arm. After 10-15 seconds I would ask them to keep making the clockwise circle but slowly start bending their elbow and lowering their arm to the point that they are now looking down on the circular motion. Now which direction is it going? Counter clockwise! Hum. Nothing changed except our perspective. I used that illustration to make the point that often when two people both had their feet dug in about something, both feeling equally sure that they were right, it was often just a matter of their different life perspectives. Opening up our perspective can be difficult but also healthy.
Perhaps you’ve read this daughter’s letter to her parents, it that really puts things in perspective.
Dear Mom and Dad,
It has now been three months since I left for college. I have been remiss in writing and I am very sorry for the thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up-to-date now, but before you read on, please sit down. You are not going to read any further unless you are sitting down. Okay?
Well, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival are pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital, and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day.
Fortunately, an attendant at the gas station near the dorm witnessed the fire in the dormitory and my jump, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance.
He also visited me in the hospital and since I had nowhere to live because of the burnt out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We haven’t set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.
Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child.
The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has some minor infection, which prevents us from passing the pre-marital blood test, and I carelessly caught it from him. This will clear up with the penicillin injections I am now taking daily. I know you will welcome him into the family with open arms. He is kind and although not well educated, he is ambitious.
Now that I have brought you up-to-date, folks, I want to tell you that there was NO dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or a skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, I do not have an infection, and there is no guy in my life. However, I am getting a “D” in history and an “F” in science, and I wanted you to see those marks in the proper perspective.
Your loving daughter
Don’t you know her parents were thinking “Thank God, it’s only a D in history and F in science”? Perspective changes things a lot, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it often seems to take a seismic shift in our lives to nudge our perspective out of its comfort zone. Our attitude has been formed over a lifetime and takes effort to change it. But as former Motivational Speaker Zig Ziglar used to say… “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude” (in life).
I hope you and yours never have to experience a “seismic shift” life experience like ours to gain a new, fresh, enjoyable, healthy perspective on life and after life. But, it truly is eye and heart opening.
Today’s blog post is part of a recurring monthly series from our good friend Gregg Ratliff. In 2009, Gregg’s wife Nancy was diagnosed with ALS, and he became her full-time caregiver for the next seven years. In his series, “Perspectives: It’s All in How You Look at it,” Gregg will share his insights on ALS and the impact it has on families.