I’ve always loved romance. Even as a kid, the episodes of television I connected to the most had romantic elements. One of the first I can remember was an episode of the Incredible Hulk, where David’s wife passes away…sniffle. Remember when he carried her through the hurricane after a car accident, desperately trying to save her? Oh. My. Heart. I was nine and devastated. However, the episode made an impact on my mind that stuck with me: Love came with risk and sacrifice. It still does.
Thirty years ago, my goal for a marriage partner was someone who shared my faith, someone who would want to be married forever, who I could be around without make-up on and still feel comfortable, and (this was the biggie) someone whose underwear I would be willing to wash by hand. That last one? Yeah. No idea where that came from…but 25 years in, I think it’s a good check-off point. Although I have yet to do that, you never know where life might take you.
Or how soon it will take you there.
I didn’t plan to be disabled by chronic illness. No one does. But, to be frank, statistics say 50% of people are temporarily or permanently affected by a chronic condition in their life—so when you draw the line, either you or your spouse is at risk.
Marriage comes about via romance and love, but romance is just part of the roller coaster ride. Marriage, once you’re on board, becomes primarily about sacrifice and your willingness to lay down self—or not. When one of you is ill, the other ends up sacrificing their ideas, their personal goals, their dreams. And the one who is ill must do the same for the other. Being ill all the time can shift the focus to the illness’s needs. This is natural for a time until you find your new normal, but then it must stop. Because if it doesn’t, your marriage will become lopsided and your partner’s needs will be of secondary importance. Before you realize it, your marriage will be in trouble.
God created Biblical marriage to be the combining of two into one. Illness and other circumstances can claw away at you, trying to separate the whole into two distracted, broken individuals. But you can’t let it. No matter how tired or sick you are, it’s possible to think of that other person before yourself. When you do that, it gets the focus off the illness and back on your relationship.
My husband and I have been married for close to 25 years. In our relationship we’ve been in a boating accident, been hit by a semi, survived college, survived poverty, had surgery, and more surgery, had sick kids, lost loved ones, and shared eight address across four states. We’ve faced a lot of trials in our lives, but none more debilitating than chronic illness. And yet, we are stronger together now than we were before. Not to say we haven’t had rough moments or times we wished the burdens of illness could be completely removed from our lives. But when you face the hard trials and keep your eyes on the Lord, putting your dependence on Him rather than each other, you come out battered, bruised, but stronger than you were.
Chronic illness taught me that marriage is more about us than about me. It’s about giving up selfish desires and teaming together in daily battles. It’s about long conversations whenever and wherever we can grab them. It’s sharing our joys, laying down selfish desires, building each other up, having each other’s backs, and staying focused on the Lord and His plans for us. Because, even when life seems to be about illness, you have to do your best to still make it about the two of you. You have to be on the same side of the battle. It’s you both against the illness. It’s about our commitment to one another and God more than our commitment to our own happiness. It’s about giving the other grace and showing mercy.
It is sacrificial love for one another.
John 15:12,13 (Jesus said) This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Have you heard of the books titled All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Or learned from my dog, or from the Wizard of Oz, or from Star Trek (that’s my personal favorite). They list all the positive and negative things the author learned about life from those experiences. But I have a new take.
This past year, I’ve taken stock of a lot of things in my life, and I can honestly say I’m more whole now in this broken body than I was before I got much more seriously sick. Illness affected my life from birth. Little did my family or doctors know, but my body had a genetic break that kept me from making antibodies to colds or infections that, over time, got worse and worse.
This is me in the hospital, age 3. Raggedy Ann is peeking over my shoulder (I still have her) and that bear seems to be doing an excellent job of standing guard!
Here’s what no one tells you. Chronic illness doesn’t just change a few things in your life, it changes everything. Part of those changes extend to the very definition of what quality of life, happiness and joy mean–and their effects on every aspect of our lives. And although I’m riding on a hard road I wouldn’t wish on anyone at all, I’m thankful for it. I never thought I’d say that.
For the next several weeks, I’m going to be sharing about how everything I needed to know to live well, I learned from being chronically ill. I’ll make a helpful tab on my blog to chronicle them all in case you miss any. Here are some of the highlights I’ll be covering (the order may change as I go along):
- What marriage means
- What parenting means
- What suffering means
- What friendship means
- What loss of friendship means
- What living in the moment means
- What submission means
- What support groups mean
- What life goals mean
- What work means
- What helping others means
- What plans mean
- What hope means
- What dreams mean
- What acceptance means
- What boundaries mean
- What grief means
- What being tired means
- What giving up means
- What hanging on means
- What honesty means
- What commitment means
- What sacrifice means
- What trusting God means
I’ve learned a lot in the past 45 years from chronic illness. Especially in the past five years. Lots of hard things. Lots of good things. But those hard things, when I let them, helped shape me into a different form—into a person I like a whole lot more, and into a faith deeper and more intimate with Jesus than I could have ever imagined. I venture to say that any challenging experience you have can do that, if you let it.
So I hope you’ll join me as I blog, and take part in conversations along the way, sharing your heart with me, too.
Until next time,