For nearly a year at the end of her life, my mother-in-law spent her days in a hospital bed. After spinal surgery exactly one year before her death, she began a rapid decline that left her progressively disabled. At first, she could transfer from her bed to a wheelchair by standing briefly. By last Thanksgiving, though, all the family’s activity encircled her hospital bed; we moved her hospital bed from into the living room so she could be in the center of the action. During her few waking hours each day, she joined family conversations and meals, adjusting her bed to sit up for as long as she could tolerate it.

A five hour drive limited our involvement in my mother-in-law’s care. My father-in-law, on the other hand, cared for her daily, assisted by his daughter and hospice workers.

My father-in-law’s loving patience in caring for all of mom’s needs reminded me of the example of Robertson McQuilken, a leader who showed amazing perseverance in his marriage.

McQuilken resigned from his position as the president of Columbia Bible College and Graduate School (Now Columbia International University) in 1990 to care for his wife, Muriel, who had Alzheimer’s disease. For twenty-five years he bathed her, fed her, and changed her: in his own words, he was living by the vows he made to her on their wedding day. Through sixty-five years of marriage, his commitment never wavered, even when she could no longer recognize him.

About caring for her, he said:

How do you get a person to eat or take a bath when she steadfastly refuses? It is not like meeting a $10 million budget or designing a program to grasp some emerging global opportunity, to be sure. And it is not as public or exhilarating. But it demands greater resources than I could have imagined, and thus highlights more clearly than ever my own inadequacies.

Where do individuals find the strength to persevere through difficult circumstances?

Thinking of my father in law, and remembering the powerful story of Robertson McQuilken, I see that perseverance develops step by step, day by day. We may not realize the extent of our perseverance — or the quality of our endurance — until we look back at our actions over time. If we keep moving, we are persevering. If we keep doing what is needed, we are persevering.

Day by day, step by step.

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.