Guest Post: Marriage, in sickness and in health (Part 1)
HC – My friend Amy shares weekly for ‘Transparency Tuesday’ about her chronic illness and how it affects her. Recently, I was completely inspired by her thoughts on marriage and I think you will be also. So here, in her own words, is Amy:
I was asked by several of friends to share, “How has your marriage survived the suffering of your illness and disability?”
Here is the first part of my answer. Next week I will share with you the second half.
First of all, I think one of the most crucial parts of our success is that Aaron and I have always had a fiercely strong commitment to each other.
Our promise to each other started with a discussion in the summer of 1993. Aaron and I had started “going out” (that’s what you call it when you’re 14) in the fall of the previous year. So, we had known each other for about 8 months. One beautiful summer afternoon, when I was 15 and he was 16, he proposed.
There was no ring and we told no one. You see, we had grown close over those 8 months. And yes, we were in crazy, teenage, romantic love. But there was so much more to it than that. We had talked about our life dreams and goals, our commitment to Christ and His church, our desire to work together to bless other people in some kind of dedicated ministry or service. That afternoon Aaron called me and asked me to take one of our lovely downtown walks. Along the way we stopped and sat on a little bench in Riverside Plaza. He explained that he had something he wanted to ask me that was important – “It’s big,” he said. I was just a little afraid that he was about to dump me.
Instead, he went on to say that he had a proposition regarding our relationship. I’ll summarize what he said, “I am convinced that our relationship is from God. I feel like we have the opportunity to commit to each other, right now, for life. Fully. Forever trusting that God has something planned for us. I don’t want to do this halfway. I want to give you my heart trusting that what God has shown us: that we are meant to be together in a relationship that reflects His love with others.” He went on to say, “Amy, I’ve been completely sure of only one other thing in my life – that I love Jesus Christ and I want to serve Him in the ministry that He chooses for my life. I think that he has brought us together to do that ministry together. And I love you.”
I knew he was right. I knew that people would think we were ridiculous children making a far too grow-up decision. I also knew that this was a decision that would change my life forever. Please understand, it wasn’t just a pragmatic decision. There were still butterflies in my stomach every time I saw him. We were both completely head-over-heels in love. But he asked me for more. He asked me to commit to him fully. Completely. To agree that we would either do this 100% or not at all. And I took him up on it. And we have never looked back.
Second, we have done and continue to do the hard work of learning how to love another person. Remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally” – when they finally realize that they are meant for each-other? Harry says, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” That was us. We were breathlessly in love but we knew that wouldn’t get us all the way to the finish line. Butterflies eventually settle and you can’t do a lot of laundry with your head over your heels. Life takes work, and we knew that it was going to take a lot of intention to make sure that we were successful. But since we couldn’t start living as man and wife right away we decided to make the most of the time before.
So, at 15 and 16 we decided that we were not only going to be together, we were going to be the very “best together” that was possible.
First, we talked to our pastor and his wife and asked them to mentor us. We started watching and studying and spending time around others who had successful marriages. We picked up books about loving and read them over and over. We talked about everything – long mountain walks that lasted for hours. We talked about what we thought about conflict and parenting and chores and vacations and houses and colleges and family and faith and sex. We made lists of things we thought would be fun to do when we “grew-up.” Things we wanted to accomplish together and as individuals.
Of course it wasn’t just heady stuff though, we spent hours and hours playing and laughing, making out on the living room couch (don’t tell our parents) and dancing and staring into each other’s eyes. Treating each other with kindness. Speaking well of each other. Trusting each other’s motives when we did cause hurt. We took time, and still do, to do the hard work of bumping up against each other’s hard edges. To become softer. To become better, together.
Third, we ignored the skeptics. The critics that found out (when we finally told) that we wanted to get married were harsh. Some were even mean. They told us we were foolish children. That we could never make that kind of commitment at that age. That we just didn’t know anything about love at such a stage in life. I still remember their hurtful words and actions that made me feel so small.
But I knew in my heart, I just knew, that THEY were wrong. We had made a promise. We were becoming a team. We were going to do every bit of work it took to make this thing beautiful. And so we took each other’s hands, we made big promises and we got married. That was the beginning.
And here we stand, 22 years later. Married 17. Fighting this illness that has invaded our lives. But, really, it isn’t the only invader. There have been others over the years: stress and school and a screaming baby. Divorce of friends, depression, death of loved-ones, death of dreams. Addiction and infractions. Big fights and small grievances.
And this new invader, this diseased body; the taking away of my ability to contribute to our lives in many ways, the very least of which is financial. And the painful way that we learn daily that we cannot choose everything that enters our lives.
And there is the kind of invader that is hard to describe: the insinuations that Aaron or I settled. That we could have been or done so much more if we hadn’t been tied down for all these years. That maybe I’m faking this to get attention or to not have to work. That this illness has saddled Aaron with a lifetime of pain and burden. That I will no longer have meaningful work to do.
But when any one of those invaders appear, Aaron and I lock arms in solidarity and remember that we have chosen each other. That, even as very young people, we knew that God himself had planned for us to be together. To do work for Him in this world. That He has a mighty plan and we can see only a very small portion of it. That sickness doesn’t equal weakness and that I am not a burden but a blessing.
That we have not only committed to each other but that we have worked damn hard to make this a beautiful marriage. A fun and full-of-life relationship that ebbs and flows and grows even still. We don’t know how many days we have or what hills we have yet to climb, but God does. And He is delighting in our love as much as we are. He will give us the grace to face whatever may come.
I don’t know if he will give us 60 more years together or just a few more days. That is not within my control. But I know that with each passing moment we are enjoying this relationship. We are loving every day together resting fully in each other’s love.
And we tell the critics, the naysayers, the doubters, and the invaders to stand down.
That is the foundation for how we have not just survived but thrived during not only this but other sufferings. Next week I will talk about the more practical day-to-day side of thriving in marriage while suffering.
Love you, each and every one of you.