April McGowan

Living Well: What Marriage Means–Sacrifice

IMG_7192_pChronic illness taught me what marriage means: sacrifice.

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. 

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All You Had To Do Was Stay

If you’re like me, the American dream was drilled into your head through television. That dream is slightly askew these days, but I think it’s still holding fast in our psyches. It goes something like this: I’m going to marry the person of my dreams. We’re going to live happily ever after (whatever happily means by your definition). We will be married forever and die at a ripe old age, painlessly, holding hands in our sleep. Marriage is all about love and romance and passion and having my needs met. Right?

It doesn’t include driving your spouse to the hospital at 2 AM because he can’t breathe, and then sleeping in the hospital parking lot in the car with your baby because you can’t trust yourself to drive home. It doesn’t include holding your spouse’s head while he or she vomits, or wiping up the floor because they’ve missed the toilet. It doesn’t include watching your spouse fade from the person they were because of chronic illness a good forty years ahead of schedule due to a genetic disease. It doesn’t include going into debt to pay for medications and specialists. Or watching them spend thirty plus hours of each week curled in a chair because their life-saving medication makes them feel awful.  Or surgery. Or accidents. Or any of those uncomfortable things that reminds us this life can be one trial after another.

But it should. I feel like petitioning every premarital counselor out there and asking them to change their quizzes. What will you do if you can’t take that trip you’ve always wanted to take? What will you do when your spouse becomes disabled (we all seem to at one point or another), or if your spouse gets cancer and loses a body part or goes bald? If they lose their minds to disease? What will you do if your loved one is suffering? When you need to bathe them or change them? Will you leave because you can’t bear to watch them suffer? Or because your needs aren’t being met and they’ve become a burden (whatever burden means by your definition)? I sure hope not.

This blog post honors those who stay.

The world says self, but God’s Word says sacrifice. God created marriage as a sacrificial covenant. It’s not just a safe place to have kids. It’s not just an expensive party where your friends and family come wish you well and and give you awesome presents (we got 12 clocks…is there a hidden meaning in that?). Or about tax write-offs (and thanks to the government, that’s about to end anyway!). Contrary to popular belief, it’s about loving that other person sacrificially. It’s about putting them and their needs before yours. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

So. If you have stayed when it was messy, painful, heartbreaking, perspective shifting, expensive, inconvenient, dream-killing, hard, sleepless, tiresome: thank you. You mean the world to your spouse who feels like a burden, who wishes they were different or circumstances were different. You are showing them and the world what it means to die to self. You are reflecting the sacrificial love of God to your spouse, your kids, your friends–even strangers. And in that, the sacrifice Jesus made for us all.

Thanks for staying.

 

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel

My heart is so saddened by the past few days. We’ve had shootings at our Clackamas mall, then our local pet store caught fire (nearly all the pets were lost), and now the shootings in Connecticut follow that up. I’m left feeling empty and sad. There are hundreds if not thousands in mourning this week—a week we’re supposed to be preparing for Christmas and enjoying family traditions.

Seeing the flags flying at half-mast in town was a dampening reminder today. And while I drove around with my family, doing some last minute shopping and buying a much needed pair of boots for my daughter, I was struck by how life still moves on despite the loss. However, the twinkling lights, merry music and usual hope of the season is contrasted by loss. Deep, heart wrenching loss. It brings us back to where we lay our hope. Is our hope here on this Earth, or does it lay in the hands of our Savior?

I’m struck by the stories of unselfish love emerging out of the tragedy. From the people in the mall who stayed with the injured, even as they lay dying, to the teachers who risked (and lost) their lives protecting their students. And while some shout, “Where was God?” or claim He turned a blind eye because the schools have quit teaching about Christianity, I say He was right there in the midst of it. Because, where there is sacrificial love, there is the Son, and where the Son is, there is the Father.

So when I drive around this year, looking at the Christmas lights, I’m going to be remembering the sacrifice and loss of many—but especially the sacrifice of the One, who came to cast light into the darkness, to draw us unto Himself in our grief, to save us from our iniquities. Emmanuel—God with us. He promises never to leave us nor forsake those who belong to Him, no matter what evil plays out here in this world.

John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

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