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Muriel and Robertson: A Real Love Story!

The signs were sporadic, like an occasional wave that trickled further inland than the others, but eventually the erosion of Muriel's mind was too obvious to ignore. She repeated the same story to the same people, forgot to serve dessert when she hosted a dinner, jumbled the lines of the script on her radio show, and stumbled over Bible passages she once knew by heart. Still, her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's shocked her husband, Robertson McQuilkin, who was in his fifties and president of Columbia Bible College.

Robertson knew that Muriel's deteriorating condition would eventually require round-the-clock care. Should he retire from his flourishing ministry to provide that care, or should he put Muriel in a nursing home and carry on with God's business? Trusted friends urged the latter, reminding him that we must "hate" our wives for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom (Luke 14:26). Besides, Muriel would adjust to her new environment, and her slipping mind would soon enough not even know what she was missing.

Robertson wouldn't have it. Forty-two years ago he had vowed to stand by his wife, "in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part," and he wasn't about to back out now. Muriel had given him the best years of her life, and he was honored to return the favor. "There are others who can lead the Bible college," he said, "but I am the only one who can care for Muriel." And care for her he did. It's hard to imagine a more powerful love than the devotion Robertson and Muriel shared in the last decade of her life.

Initially Robertson hired a companion to stay with Muriel while he went to work, but soon Muriel would become alarmed and follow him. Sometimes at night, when he helped her undress for bed, he would find her feet bloodied from miles of speed walking trips to the college. Robertson was overwhelmed by her desire to be with him, and realized, "With me, she was content; without me, she was distressed, sometimes terror stricken."

Robertson decided to resign to focus his attention on Muriel, even though he knew he could never fully calm her dimming mind. He received less of her now, even as he gave more. He bathed her, fed her for two hours at a time, and learned to change diapers. All the while she lost more of her faculties—her speech, her legs, and finally her arms went limp.

Well-meaning friends encouraged Robertson to pay someone else to do this job and get back to serving God. One wrote, "Muriel doesn't know you anymore, doesn't know anything, really, so it's time to put her in a nursing home and get on with life." Robertson replied, "That day may come—when, because of a change in my health or hers, she could be better cared for by others—but for now, she needs me, and I need her."

The last phrase to leave Muriel's vocabulary was "I love you." She said it often to Robertson, until even that was swept away by the pounding surf of her disease. Valentine's Day was particularly poignant, because that was the day Robertson proposed to Muriel in 1948. Now, nearly a half century later, he kissed Muriel good night on Valentine's Eve and whispered a prayer: "Dear Jesus, you love sweet Muriel more than I, so please keep my beloved through the night; may she hear the angel choirs."

The next morning he was peddling his exercise bike at the foot of their bed when Muriel awoke, smiled, and spoke for the first time in months, "Love . . . love . . . love." Robertson ran to her side and wrapped his arms around her. "Honey, you really do love me, don't you?" Muriel held him with her eyes and said, "I'm nice," which was her way of saying yes. Those were the last words she ever spoke. He squeezed Muriel's hand and prayed, "It is you who are whispering to my spirit, 'I likes it, tha's good.' I may be on the bench, but if you like it and say it's good, that's all that counts."
From the excellent book Despite Doubt by Michael Wittmer. I was very touched by this story because of its many aspects. Two particularly stand out for me. First, it is a love story that inspires me as a married man. Here is a godly man who endured in loving his wife to the end. It reminds of the Lord Christ Jesus whom Saint John said "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end". I pray that my love is an enduring love like Robertson!

The second thing is that it challenged my shallow conceptions of "Christian ministry". Too often I tend to think of Christian calling as something that occurs in far away lands or within the walls of the church. And here we see that God too often calls us to serve him by faithfully being Jesus to those immediately around us through selfless devotion.  In a way it is harder being this sacrificial than giving money to the poor! More importantly we "wait" for a big calling to some grandiose project but we ignore what God is asking right where we are! I pray that my service is in there here and now like Robertson! 

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