A Different Kind of Fruitful: Living the Unexpected Journey

The loud clatter of forks, lunch trays, and multiple conversations in the cafeteria faded away as our group’s discussion grew in intensity and passion. The conversation was kindled by testimonies of lives transformed by the gospel, new life upending the old, altars filled with weeping sinners and saints, and the power of God at work in ways we’d never seen before—and it became a fire that held us long after the lunch hour passed.

I walked out of our college cafeteria hand-in-hand with LeRoy, my fiancé, and as we headed to our next class, we dreamed big. We imagined fruitful years together in ministry. Our hearts were ablaze, and I knew what I wanted more than anything in life—to glorify God together with this man.

The Light of Hope

That was 1980, and though we’re eons from those dream days, the memories of our gospel-focused conversations still light fire and hope within me. In those early years, I adopted Colossians 1:28–29 as my passage for ministry. Are you familiar with it? It’s where Paul describes his personal toil and struggle—relying on the power and energy that Christ supplies—for the purpose of bringing others to maturity in Him. That same desire was my primary motive in ministry.

As our golden years began to loom large on the horizon, I added Psalm 92:12–15 to our “ministry goals” and applied it in prayer for our final season of life:

The righteous thrive like a palm tree 
and grow like a cedar tree in Lebanon. 
Planted in the house of the LORD
they thrive in the courts of our God. 
They will still bear fruit in old age, 
healthy and green, 
to declare, “The LORD is just; 
he is my rock, 
and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

Being “healthy and green” to “bear fruit in old age” was my assumption. When I walked the wedding aisle, I never considered the vow of commitment in “sickness or in health” to be anything more than taking care of my husband when he had the flu or a bad cold. A young bride doesn’t often look that far down the road—at least I didn’t. 

I assumed our final years would be filled to the brim with ministry as we’d no longer have the responsibility of children at home. I figured that life would take on a less complicated schedule by that time. Now I shake my head at my naïveté. 

Living the Dream Life

As LeRoy and I entered our third decade of marriage, it seemed we were living out the fruit-bearing-vision from Psalm 92. We were serving a church family we loved, speaking at marriage conferences and large ministry events, locally and across the globe. Moody Publishers reached out, asking if I was interested in writing a book for wives (Fierce Women), which was followed four years later with a request for LeRoy and I to team up to cowrite a book for husbands (Men Who Love Fierce Women). 

We were living the dream life beyond what I’d envisioned when we sat in that cafeteria as college kids—until August 2017.

We were at a conference in Prince Edward Isle, Canada, when LeRoy fell in the hotel lobby and could barely make it back to our room. For the previous two years, we’d been riding a medical merry-go-round trying to discover what was causing his intense leg pain and strange symptoms. We changed our flights to get LeRoy off the island quickly and to a medical facility in the states. We made it to Dallas with LeRoy in a wheelchair. He was alive, but very ill. 

LeRoy was immediately admitted to a world-renowned medical facility. For almost three weeks, the medical team put him through extensive testing with multiple specialists. While there, he endured seven plasma exchange treatments to remove hostile antibodies that were in full attack mode on his spinal cord. 

Those were the early days of a long and very unexpected journey. 

Although we left Dallas with high hopes for complete recovery, instead we’ve experienced more than six years of medical tests and treatments, the diagnosis of two rare, potentially life-threatening diseases, and surgery to remove scar tissue compressing the nerves in LeRoy’s left leg. Unless there is a miraculous intervention, areas of his body will remain paralyzed or crippled from extensive nerve damage. LeRoy’s daily prescription routine includes drugs to suppress his immune system, lowering the danger of radical antibody activity. Because of that, we’ve remained fairly isolated—especially since the pandemic of 2020.

A Different Kind of Fruitfulness

Through it all, LeRoy has experienced intense pain and muscle spasms. He’s lost much: the ability to walk normally and without pain, the ability to work, the loss of pastoring and public ministry, the loss of fellowship with friends and most family gatherings, the loss of financial stability, and many more private and personal losses. We both miss hiking together and normal stuff that’s easy to take for granted when you’re healthy. 

But I can testify to the fact that through it all, LeRoy’s heart and devotion to Christ has never wavered. I’ve had a front row seat to observe him give God glory, worship, intercede in prayer for others, and serve me daily as my shepherd and spiritual leader. In all of those ways, he bears fruit for God’s glory.

When people ask how LeRoy hasn’t experienced anger or bitterness toward God as they try to reconcile a good God with suffering, I attempt an answer: LeRoy’s response to God is one of love based on the value of the One he loves—not based on his circumstances. 

No other being is worthy of this kind of love, no other has shown us the love that Christ did when He died on the cross. The value of Jesus’ love is inestimable, and that love is what LeRoy responds to in his daily suffering and pain.

It has been my privilege to serve this man as his caregiver. 

Treasure from the Darkness

The past year has brought additional challenges, as I took on the caregiving role for my aging stepfather in his final months of life. Serving my “second dad,” a highly respected, godly, retired pastor, was an honor. But in these years of caregiving, I’ve had to broaden my perspective on “fruitfulness.” 

Our “flourishing and fruit bearing” has been nothing like I expected, and certainly nothing I would’ve wanted. It has been hard. It’s been lonely and isolating. “Fruitfulness” in a season of so much loss isn’t the life I planned. 

But along with the losses, there are opportunities for fruitfulness—it’s just different than we expected. You might call the years we’ve been hidden from public view a season of darkness (Isa. 45:3). But in the darkness I’ve found precious treasure (fruitfulness): lessons of deep surrender and the joy that comes from it.

LeRoy and I cherished the years of traveling the globe and doing ministry together, especially teaching and meeting with couples at marriage conferences. But God, in His wisdom and for His purposes, took us on an unexpected journey. And I thank Him for that.

This year, LeRoy’s health and mobility have actually improved, and his need for me to serve as a hands-on caregiver has decreased, which has freed me to return to writing. (I’m currently working on a book for caregivers.) LeRoy and I did an interview for a marriage podcast recently, and for the first time since 2017, I spoke at a small women’s conference. With each message I gave, I was well aware that it might be my last opportunity to share from a platform. I don’t take that kind of ministry for granted. 

Joy in Walking the Father’s Path

What the Lord has for our future is unknown. He could open more opportunities for public ministry, or He may not. Either way, what He chooses is best. Whether I’m on a platform or caring for an ill loved one through a dark night, my hope is to glorify God wherever He has me. LeRoy and I still strive to bear fruit—even if our ministry is quiet and simple. 

You may be in a season of darkness today, having experienced much greater losses than we have. You may have endured deeper sorrows, lost hope for your future, and feel you can no longer be used by God or experience joy. I’ve been where you are—I remember the day I asked God whether I would ever be able to laugh again. But dear reader, I want you to know that I’ve found Him trustworthy and faithful to His character through the darkness, and He can bring laughter! He has a good purpose in what He is doing—even in dark seasons.

There is joy in walking the path the Father has planned—no matter how unexpected the journey might be. May you draw close to Jesus by surrendering and saying “Yes, Lord!” no matter where He leads. That is where fullness of joy is found. And that is where we thrive and flourish—bearing fruit in the presence of God—even in our “old age” (Psalm 92:12–15).

If you want to learn more about being fruitful in every season of life, be sure to tune in to the Revive Our Hearts podcast this week. Nancy is in the middle of a brand-new series on Psalm 92 titled “Thriving in Every Season.” Listen here at ReviveOurHearts.com or wherever you get your podcasts. 

About the Author

Kimberly Wagner

Kimberly Wagner

Kimberly Wagner is the author of Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior and is a frequent guest on Revive Our Hearts radio program, as well as a regular contributor to the blog. Kimberly's passion is Christ and she … read more …

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