Her Story: Lori Rohlinger

Do you believe in fairytales? Growing up, I must have watched every Disney fairytale movie there was. I dreamed about meeting my handsome prince one day and living happily ever after. I met my prince charming, Greg, during my last year in college. He was on the basketball team, and I was a cheerleader. He was a new Christian with a lot of rough edges. I was warned to stay away from him, but his gregarious personality and love for the Lord were irresistible. 

We got married the next year and immediately went into youth ministry. We had a blast spending time with young students and pouring into their lives. It wasn’t long until we felt the Lord leading us to plant a church, and we were just crazy enough to do it! We had two little boys with our third son on the way, no money in our pockets, and a broken-down minivan that hauled all our church equipment everywhere. We started in a local movie theater but quickly outgrew that facility, moved into a high school gym, an auditorium, and then got our own building. We added a daughter as the cherry on top of our family and watched as God richly blessed us. 

Life wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty awesome.

My husband started having health issues about four years after our daughter was born. His motor skills began to fail him, as well as some other health concerns, so we went to our primary doctor, who sent us to another doctor, who sent us to another doctor until we were sitting in the office of the head doctor at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. 

After several tests, the doctor told us that Greg had Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) with Parkinsonism. “Don’t google it. It’s all bad,” and then he left our exam room. Greg and I sat there stunned, trying to absorb what “it’s all bad” meant. But Easter was the following weekend, so we busied ourselves to prepare for the upcoming weekend. It wasn’t until Sunday night of Easter that I started researching MSA and fully realized what we were up against. The doctors were right; it was all bad. There was no cure for this disease, and the time frame from diagnosis to death was generally two to nine years, and because my husband was young, it would likely move quickly. 

MSA is kissing cousins to ALS. Within a year and a half, my athletic, larger-than-life husband needed a walker. We opted to try brain surgery for him which he almost didn’t recover from, having developed severe pneumonia from aspiration because he was not swallowing correctly. He went into a wheelchair after the surgery and never achieved full command over his body again. I became his full-time caregiver, and eventually, even his voice failed him, so we had to leave pastoring. It was devastating watching him waste away. 

The kids and I had to help him with every task. The older boys would help bathe him, the younger ones would help him eat, and our young daughter would brush his teeth and help me administer his medication. I taught myself how to sleep lightly, so every sound he made during the night would wake me up if he needed help. 

My main prayers to God were of the “why me” variety, while my husband’s were more of the “show me how to honor You with this” kind of prayers. We always say we want to show people how to live for Christ, but my husband was a pristine example of how to die for Him. 

Greg often talked about how he felt like God gifted him with this disease for some reason, and though it wasn’t a gift he had asked for, he was going to steward it as best he could with the time God gave him. It was four and a half years from the diagnosis to his death. When he died, our children were at several stages of life: one in college, one in high school, one in middle school, and one in the fourth grade. 

I had several angry arguments with God, challenging Him on His decision to leave me as a single mom of four kids. Besides being a single parent, I had lost my ministry, job, and identity. I didn’t know who I was without Greg and without being a pastor’s wife. God reminded me of Jeremiah 29:11 in my brokenness. That verse says He still had a plan and purpose for my life. As King David wrote in Psalm 34:18, God was close to the brokenhearted. And just like Jesus was grieved unto death, His Father was there with Him in the garden as Jesus uttered those beautiful words, “Not my will, but Yours” (Luke 22:42). 

As God reminded me of these things, I began to trust Him. I was learning to trust that He sees the bigger picture of this life and that it’s not my job to control it or try and figure out His plan but to be obedient to His will for my life. And His promise to me in my obedience would be to provide a peace that surpasses understanding and a purpose for each new day. While it’s still so hard to watch my children grieve their father, I know their Heavenly Father loves them and is building in them character traits that will bless them and others around them. My life may not look like the fairytale I dreamed of, but the goodness of God and His faithfulness to me has brought joy and contentment to my life. Best of all, happily ever after will come for all who have put their faith and trust in Christ Jesus as Lord. 

Written by Lori Rohlinger, co-author of Surviving Widowhood and host of the Beautifully Broken Podcast