The Right Number
It was Monday, March 19, 2007.
I didn't know just how much time we had left, but I knew it wasn't much. The debilitating disease and toxic medicine had already badly crippled Sylvia's body. It broke my heart to see her suffering so. We had signed on with Hospice a few weeks earlier, and they were managing her pain with 150 Mcg/hr pain patches and morphine. But she still had pain, usually in her lower back and in her abdomen. But also her feet.
Would you like for me to massage your feet, honey?" I asked.
"Oh yes. Please."
I was sitting in her wheel chair. I rolled myself to the foot of her bed and began to gently massage her feet.
"How does that feel?"
"Feels better. Keep it up."
My mind went back to a dream I received on July 16, 1994. In that dream Sylvia had blood on the side of her head. In the dream I asked her what happened and she told me the "doctor" did it. She said he had slapped her with a metal object that had a rough edge. When I questioned the doctor about it, he said that Sylvia had the wrong number. The next morning I asked the Lord what the dream meant. I didn't hear a response, but I did have a thought that as Sylvia's protector, I need to prevent injury to her rather than wait and get involved after the fact.
Later the Lord told me that Sylvia had my number instead of her own, and said the "doctor" in the dream was Satan. Then He told me to see 1 Corinthians 11:3, which says, "...the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God."
Now I understood. God the Father is first, Jesus is second, man is third, and his wife is fourth. A wife who is not in submission to her husband usurps the third position. She is number 3 when she should be number 4. Sylvia had the wrong number. She had my number. So, apparently I had hers. I had the wrong number, too.
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. ...wives should submit to their husbands in everything." Both Sylvia and I could quote Ephesians 5:22-24, but we hadn't applied it to our marriage.
Concerning the dream where Sylvia is wounded, the Lord said that there is an open door which demonic forces are using to come against her. Sylvia's submission problem must be that open door, I thought. But if Sylvia has a submission problem, then I must have a leadership problem. I prayed, "Lord, I don't know what to do. Teach me to be the man you want me to be. Teach me to be Sylvia's head and show me how to provide leadership in our marriage."
God responded, "Massage Sylvia's feet."
Getting down on my knees with my face at Sylvia's feet seemed like a strange way to take charge, I thought. Then I remembered that Jesus -- my head -- showed me how it's done. He washed His disciples' feet. He became a servant. That's how you lead.
I went directly to Sylvia.
"Sylvia, let me massage your feet."
"No. Don't touch me."
"It will make you feel better."
"No. You'll hurt me."
"I'll be careful. Please -- let me massage your feet."
Reluctantly, she let me do it. She was really tense, but began to relax as I gently massaged her feet.
Then God said to me, "You are learning to love Sylvia like you love your own body. Sylvia is learning to trust you and submit her will to yours."
From time to time I shared what God was showing me with Sylvia. Both of us wanted God's will to be done in our lives. But changing attitudes and behavior that had been practiced for so many years would not be easy. Try as we did, we continued to have confrontations. During one of those confrontations, I thought, "Lord, Sylvia is not being submissive!"
And God whispered, "Yes, I know. She is treating you the way you treat me."
That got my attention. I thought perhaps Sylvia's treatment of me was generally, if not always, a reflection of how I was treating God. When Sylvia and I had a confrontation after that, I examined my own behavior to see how I might be mistreating God.
Now it is March 19, 2007. And I'm massaging Sylvia's feet again.
I asked, "Honey, do you remember years ago when God said that as I massage your feet, or serve you, you will learn to trust me and submit your will to mine?"
"Yes," she replied. "Do you think I have done that?"
"Yes, Honey. I believe you have." I continued massaging her feet and looked back over my shoulder to see her smiling.
"Don't you think so?" I asked.
"Yes, I believe I have."
I had put everything else on hold, including my ministry, to take care of Sylvia and serve her day and night for the past three years. She had learned to trust me. She was submissive. I had become number three and she had become number four. We both had the right numbers now.
Looking back, I realize that there had already been a test. Sylvia passed it. By the grace of God I passed it too. But I almost didn't, and the consequences would have been devastating to both of us.
It happened two weeks before Sylvia died.
She was able to eat or drink very little, and she was getting dehydrated and weaker from lack of nourishment. One of the sources of her pain was in the area of her gall bladder. She had a gall bladder infection before, but was never well enough for surgery. I knew the Wegener's Granulomatosis disease was taking her life, but I thought maybe the re-insertion of the gall bladder drainage tube would give her improved quallity of life. I also knew that Sylvia was not well enough to make the trip to the hospital in Asheville. So it didn't seem to be an option.
Then I discovered that a radiology surgeon came over from Asheville to our hospital in Brevard every Tuesday. But a couple of tests were required before he could insert the drainage tube. I asked Sylvia's doctor to schedule the tests. He was reluctant, and I was getting upset and kept calling his office. At the end of the day on Monday, March 12, his nurse called back and said the tests were scheduled in Radiology at 7:45 and 10:30 the next morning.
Sylvia's nurse told me that Sylvia would not be allowed food or liquid after midnight. I knew that Sylvia would have to lay on her back for the tests and that she had been unable to lay on her back for months because of the extreme pain it caused. I mentioned this to the nurse. She said she was sure that they would sedate her and control her pain, especially since she was a hospice patient. Past experience should have taught me otherwise, but that was what I wanted to hear. And I accepted it without further investigation.
That evening before I left the nursing home, I told Sylvia that they would be taking her to the hospital for tests the next morning. Sylvia has had plenty of tests during the past three years, and she didn't say anything, but I'm certain that she knew it would be an ordeal and very painful. Ordinarily, she would have said something, refused, or at least complained. But she never said a word. She only whimpered a little, and was quiet.
She trusted me. She was submissive.
That night before I went to bed, I was convicted! I did not have peace! I began to think about the trauma that I may have scheduled for Sylvia. I remembered that Sylvia's sister Trudy was flying up from Florida and would arrive around noon. By then Sylvia would not be able to visit. May not even be aware that Trudy is there. But Trudy would be here a couple of days. Sylvia would recover from the tests enough to visit on Wednesday. Surely.
Maybe it wasn't the Lord's will that I schedule these tests. Maybe I had been listening to evil spirits. After all, I had gotten upset at Sylvia's doctor. That was not how God would have wanted me to act. I started praying. And crying out to the Lord. And crying. Then bawling like a baby. Standing. Down on my knees. Walking around. And down on my knees again.
I pleaded with the Lord, "Don't let anything I have done hurt Sylvia! I only want what is best for her. If these tests are not according to your will; if they will hurt Sylvia, please Lord INTERVENE!"
After over an hour of praying like this, I went to bed. Around 5 a.m. I got up to go to the bathroom. I thought about Sylvia. They would be getting her up soon, and ready for the trip to the hospital. Then the Lord said, "Cancel the tests."
And I did. I called the nursing home and talked to Sylvia's nurse. I asked her to cancel the tests, and she said that she would call the hospital and do that. I went back to bed and rested. Now I had peace.
Debbie, Sylvia's Hospice nurse returned from vacation that morning. I called and told her what had happened. She said she would call someone she knew in Radiology for more information.
When I arrived at the nursing home, Sylvia thanked me for canceling the tests.
Debbie arrived a little later and told me privately that not only would Sylvia have been deprived of food and water, but also all medication, including the morphine she was getting for pain, and her pain patches would have been removed. Sylvia would have had to lay flat on her back for an hour and a half while they ran a dye through her gall bladder and took pictures from time to time. "Sylvia would never have made it!" Debbie said.
Suddenly, I knew that Sylvia would have died a horrible death! "Tormented to death!" is how I imagined it. And I would have been devastated! I would not have been able to forgive myself! Thankfully, the Lord got my attention, and I was submissive to Him just as Sylvia was submissive to me.
Sylvia was dressed up pretty and waiting in her wheel chair when I returned from the airport with Trudy a little before noon. They had a wonderful reunion and visit the rest of the day. The next day, however, Sylvia had gotten worse and was on so much medication that she was not as alert for the rest of Trudy's visit.
During the past three years there were times when Sylvia was so close to death and not expected to live. God would intervene and she would make an amazing recovery. Now it was obvious to me that the Lord was preparing me to let Sylvia go.
Sylvia was in so much pain. She was getting weaker and weaker. It seemed every part of her body was under attack by the disease that had already crippled her. Sylvia had a strong will and had been such a strong person. Her Hospice nurse would tell me later that anyone else would have given up long ago.
I thought about what a friend told me a few days earlier. She said that Sylvia assured her that if Jesus was ready to take her, she was ready to go, but she worried about what would happen to Bob. I had watched her suffer so long. On February 20th, I decided to give her permission to go.
I said, "Honey, do you think Jesus is ready to take you to be with Him?"
To my surprise she cried out, "No!!! No!!!"
Her head was down and I couldn't see her face, but it sounded like she might be crying. Anyway, I knew she was upset!
"Honey, it's okay! He's not going to take you before you're ready!" That's what she needed to hear. She relaxed.
I was taken by surprise because at the time I thought I heard fear in her response. Now I know that she wasn't afraid. There were just some things she wanted to do before she left.
For example, David, Vickie, Jonathan, and Robynne were coming for the weekend. Fred and Suzanne live here. We would take our final family photos on Saturday, February 24th. We would eat together in the private family dining room and then sing hymns. It would a special time for all of us.
Then on Monday, February 26th, my sisters Janie and Linda and her husband Wayne came for a couple of days.
On March 13th Sylvia's sister, Trudy, arrived for a couple of days, as mentioned earlier. And on Saturday, March 17, grandchildren Aaron, Allison, Fred, Kristie, and Josiah came, and Robynne came again.
On March 20th David returned with his son-in-law Sal and visited that evening and the next morning.
A few days earlier Sylvia had asked me to kiss her, which I gladly did. Then she said, "Thank you for taking such good care of me."
I said, "It is my pleasure, Honey." I think she was going to disagree, but then I added, "You have taken care of me for years. Thank you for that."
Suzanne told me a day or two later that during her visit the night before, Sylvia had asked, "Suzanne, is there anything I need to do?"
"What do you mean, Mom?"
"Oh, I don't know. I was just wondering if there is anything I need to do."
"If there is, you will think of it tomorrow," was Suzanne's reply.
I assumed that Sylvia knew she was dying, but I wasn't sure. She didn't want to talk about it, so we avoided the subject. Except one day I asked her to tell her Dad when she sees him that I am really looking forward to that hug that the Lord showed me in a dream that we're going to have.
It was a dream that I had the night of February 22, 1996. I was in a big house with lots of rooms. I had just changed my clothes when a woman, whom I did not know, came into the room. She took me into another room where I saw Sylvia's mother. Then I went into still another room and saw Sylvia's father. He was standing facing the other way so that I was looking at his back and left side. When he turned to face me, we embraced. We hugged for a long time. Both Mother and Dad Buteau had been dead for years. In my dream they were younger and healthy, and looked much the same as they did when I first met them in 1953.
I never hugged Sylvia's father when he was alive. I couldn't fully accept him. I guess I was afraid that God would be upset with me if I did. Why? Because Sylvia's father wasn't a member of my "One True Church." I'm ashamed of that now.
On May 1, 1996, I received the following interpretation from God: "Heaven. When you are changed, you will see that they are with Me. It will be an awesome time!"
This dream and interpretation is one of the ways that God was exposing my legalistic thinking as He was preparing me for the ministry He gave me the following year.
I really am looking forward to that hug, and I told Sylvia to tell her Dad. I know she heard me even though she had her head down and I couldn't see her face, but she didn't say anything.
Several days later, on Tuesday morning, March 20th, I arrived at Ivy Hill while the aides were collecting the breakfast trays from the rooms. As I walked down the hall and neared Sylvia's room, I heard someone yelling, "Somebody help me! Somebody help me!" I was surprised to find that it was Sylvia calling for help.
"Hi sweetheart. What's wrong?" I asked.
"Honey, I'm glad you're here. Will you tell someone that Johnny and Joe want some breakfast?"
"Johnny and Joe? You mean your brothers?"
"Yes. Will you tell someone that they want some breakfast?"
"Honey, Johnny and Joe are dead."
"I know that. But would you tell someone that they want some breakfast?"
"Okay, Honey. I'll tell someone." And I did. I went to the nurses' station and told Sylvia's nurse that she had see her dead brothers' spirits, or beings that appeared to be her brothers. And that they must have said something like, "I see you're eating breakfast. Where's mine?" or "I want some breakfast, too."
I had been told that when people are close to death, they may begin to see into the spirit world.
Later, I told Debbie, her Hospice nurse, about Sylvia seeing her dead brothers. "Is this a sign that Sylvia is getting close to death?" I asked.
"It is one of the signs," Debbie replied. "She hasn't actually entered the dying mode yet. Sometimes that process will take days. But when Sylvia's body starts shutting down, she will go fast."
On Friday morning, March 23rd, I had something to tell Sylvia that the Lord had brought to mind several times over the past two days. The time seemed to be right, so i said, "The Lord has given me a message for you. Do you want to hear it?"
She answered, "Yes."
"Honey," I said, "God told me that you have fought a good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith. He said that He has a crown of righteousness for you, and the time is at hand."
Then I added, "Don't be afraid." That was from me, not from God. At the time I was still thinking I might have heard fear in her voice back on February 20th when I first mentioned Jesus coming to take her.
"I'm not afraid," she assured me. And she wasn't.
Saturday morning, March 24th, I arrived to find that they had sat Sylvia on the side of her bed. She was making an effort to balance herself and keep from falling. An uneaten breakfast was on the tray in front of her. She was upset and asking for help. Her clothes were wet and she was shivering. "She spilled a glass of water, and the aides are busy with trays," her nurse announced to me on my way in.
I had tried to get everyone to understand that Sylvia could no longer feed herself. And she certainly didn't have the strength to hold a glass of water steady, much less lift it to her mouth. Sylvia was now just skin and bone with no strength or coordination.
"Honey, I'm glad you came early," she said as I removed her wet jacket and put a blanket around her.
Within a few minutes the Hospice aide arrived, gave her a sponge bath and got her dressed. Sylvia wanted to get in her wheel chair, but the aide talked her into going back to bed. "It will be better for the edema to have your legs and feet up," she said.
That seemed to satisfy Sylvia. And I was relieved.
I hadn't slept well the night before. I was very tired and sleepy, and I ached all over. Since it appeared that Sylvia would sleep for a while, I told her that I was going home to take a nap and I would be back later. She didn't respond, but I assumed she heard me.
I got as far as the parking lot outside, and then I realized that I had been there two hours and Sylvia had not had a drink of water, or any liquid, during that time. And she may not have had any during the night. I decided to go back in and see if I could get her to drink a little water.
As soon as I entered the room, Edith, Sylvia's roommate said, "She has been asking for you!"
Then Sylvia said, "Honey, are you here?"
"Yes, I'm here."
"Honey, don't leave! Stay with me!"
"Okay, Baby. I will."
I asked her if she wanted a drink of water. She was able to take a swallow or two, but not much.
I sat beside her and held her hand. I was glad that she had asked me to stay.
It was around 10:30 a.m. when I said, "Honey, you're the best wife in the whole wide world."
Her head was down as usual. She didn't open her eyes, but answered, "You bet!"
Then I said, "Honey, you're the best mother that God could have given our children."
Again she said (with eyes closed), "You bet!"
Next I said, "Honey, you have the best husband in the whole wide world."
I didn't get a "You bet!" on that one, but she responded with something much better. She raised her head, opened her eyes, looked at me and grinned from ear to ear with that that beautiful smile of hers. What I saw was better than words. I could tell that she was very proud of me.
A few minutes later the sound of congestion in her breathing increased significantly. The nurse came in and listened to her lungs. She came back within a few minutes and listened again. Then she met me in the hall a few minutes later and said that she had just called Hospice and the nurse was on the way there. She asked if there was anyone I wanted to call. I said I would call Suzanne, and tried to hold back the tears.
Suzanne arrived a few minutes after eleven. The Hospice nurse arrived soon after that. She examined Sylvia and then issued orders for increased medication as needed.
Around 3 p.m., Suzanne left. She said that she was going home and take a nap, and then come back and spend the night with Sylvia so I could go home and get some sleep.
An hour later an amazing thing took place. Sylvia appeared to be sleeping. Her back and neck were bent over in severe osteoporosis so that her head was facing her chest and abdomen. Suddenly Sylvia sat straight up, and as she did so, her body transformed. Her spine, rib cage, shoulders, neck and head moved to their original positions -- like they were before the disease crippled her body!
As this took place, Sylvia opened her eyes and seemed to be surprised by what she saw.
"What! Where am l??!" she exclaimed.
"You're in your room at Ivy Hill," I said.
"Where's Edith?" she asked. Edith was her roommate.
"She is here, too." I responded.
She continued to sit up straight in restored posture with strength she did not have minutes before and balancing herself without touching anything. I studied her face. She was staring in amazement at something at the foot of her bed. And I was staring in amazement at the physical change that had taken place in her.
I wish I had thought to ask her to describe what she saw, but that did not occur to me at the time. God would tell me a couple of days later what she saw. Angels were in the room, waiting to take her Home.
Sylvia continued to stare toward the foot of her bed for a few minutes, and I continued to stare at her. Then she said, "Oh. Okay." And her body was transformed back to the crippled form it had been a few minutes earlier and slumped forward.
A few minutes later she said her lower back was in pain. An aide changed her position so that Sylvia was laying on her side. It seemed to give her relief, and she went back to sleep. That was the last time I heard Sylvia say anything.
Suzanne returned around 7:30. She brought her CD player and some Christian music to play. I went home to get some sleep and planned to return in the morning.
At 4:20 a.m. my cell phone rang. I got out of bed and answered it. I heard Suzanne's voice. It sounded like she had been crying.
"Dad, she's gone."
She said that a few minutes earlier she leaned down and kissed her Mom on the forehead, told her that she loved her and asked her to give Jesus a hug for her. A few breaths later Sylvia was gone.
My life journey began on August 29, 1932, in Newbern, Tennessee. At age 14 I became a member of the non-instrumental Church of Christ.
I joined the Air Force in 1951. After basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio and Shepherd AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas, and additional training at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, I was transferred to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. Three months later my squadron was moved to the base at West Palm Beach, Florida, which turned out to be more of a blessing than I could have imagined.
Sylvia was born in Warwick, Rhode Island. Her family were members of the Roman Catholic Church.
It would seem very unlikely that a shy country boy who had grown up in a small southern town in west Tennessee and who was a member of the Church of Christ would ever meet and marry a Roman Catholic girl who lived in a big New England city up north.
However, when she was 12 years old, Sylvia moved with her parents to West Palm Beach. Nellie Hansen, who lived nearby became her best friend. Nellie invited Sylvia to attend the First Methodist Church with her. She did and soon became a member. And that's where I would eventually meet Sylvia.
After I settled at my new base in West Palm Beach, I had a desire to attend church, but I had no transportation. Some other airmen were going to church and one of them had a car. They invited me to come along. Over the next few weeks we visited various churches. At the First Methodist Church we found a youth group with others our own age who were enjoyable to be with. When we began to attend regularly, they asked me to be the worship chairman of the youth group. I accepted.
This period of time was one of my happiest. The best part is -- this is where God brought Sylvia Buteau into my life.
I had never kissed a girl and had few dates prior to this. I guess I was afraid of rejection. I was also afraid of girls. Anyway, Sylvia chased me until I caught her. One day I got up enough courage to kiss her. And she kissed me back. What a wonderful feeling!
We started dating in April and in June I heard someone who sounded just like me say, "Will you marry me?"
And I heard someone who sounded just like Sylvia say, "Yes!!!"
A few months later on December 1, 1953, we were married.
This was an exciting time in my life. We had rented a nice apartment. Sylvia worked in a department store. I loved my work in the Training Aids art department at the base, had made "Airman of the Month," and expected to be promoted to Staff Sergeant. Just married. A three-day pass. A honeymoon. Who could ask for more?
The next day we each went back to work and I received my orders to go to Korea. Alone.
What followed was one of the longest years of my life. While I was gone, Sylvia lived with her parents and our daughter Suzanne was born. When I returned to the states in January 1955, I was assigned to Altus AFB in Oklahoma to serve out the few months I had left of my enlistment.
In Altus we made a fresh start. I was away from familiar surroundings, and so was Sylvia. I had begun to feel guilty about not attending the Church of Christ, but I was too timid to explain my convictions to Sylvia. I suggested that we visit around and see which church we liked best, already knowing which one I preferred.
My "one true church" had a cry room where a mother could attend to a baby's needs. Sylvia's church across the street had a nursery, where you could leave your baby while you were in services. Sylvia preferred the one where she could leave Suzanne in the nursery and I was unable to convince her that God wanted her to go to "His one true church" with me. On Sunday mornings we went our separate ways for a few weeks.
When Sylvia turned to her pastor for encouragement, he assured her, "Those people have their minds made up. There is no use trying to reason with them."
I turned to my preacher for assistance. He gave me a tract to give to Sylvia. She read it and looked up the Bible references. When I came home from work the next afternoon, I was overjoyed to learn that she wanted to be baptized by immersion. Previously she had been sprinkled.
Little did we know at the time that the Lord had brought Sylvia and me together to accomplish His purposes for us, and that He was preparing us for a spiritual journey that would change our lives and for a ministry that would use my art studio at home to reach people around the world.
Theophilus and autobiographical characters Sketch and Honey Drawings relive that journey in Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness.