This is my column in today’s Greenville News.

Sickness can show the depth of a couple’s love

When I met my wife at a college Halloween Party, we were 19 years old. She was a black-haired, blue eyed beuaty dressed as a mime. I was dressed as a doctor. (I was a big pre-med nerd.). After the party, our group of friends spent all of our free-time together, in and around our dorm at Marshall University.

Several months later, after a day when the school was closed by snow and we went sledding, a fire began to flicker between us. Soon we went on our first date. We were poor, skinny college kids who loved to laugh and eat cheap pizza. We went to free movies on campus and met one another between classes. I still see her, bouncing across the grass, a red hat and cape on a cold day, walking on legs that could make a guy weep, coming to meet me for lunch. She was beautiful…and remains so to me years after our first date.

Time passes as it does for every couple. We met at age 19, and this week we celebrate…an anniversary of her 19th birthday. But this week we are not dancing or going to movies. We are not running around the campus or even leaving the children for our weekly date-night. We are, however, learning the enormous depth of our relationship.

Jan is almost finished with a course of treatment for cancer. Although she was diagnosed only three months ago, it has been an intense time of surgery, discomfort and fear. But also of love, hope and delight.

We have learned, as never before, what the vows mean by ‘in sickness and in health.’ We have discovered that intimacy and passion merely change form during times like this. Holding hands during fever and weakness is strangely romantic, and praying out loud for the one you love sounds more passionate than the most contrived sonnet. This is a lesson difficult to convey; sadly, it is often learned only by traveling through the ‘valley of the shadow of death.’

As Jan’s birthday arrives, I wish that I could take her away for a romantic weekend; perhaps finding her favorite food for dinner. For now, she cannot taste much of anything and she still fights nausea every day. I can only help her with medications and nutrition, make her laugh and try to keep her comfortable as we ’round third-base for home.’

And one more thing. I can be her archivist. What I mean is that in this time, I can hold onto our memories and our dreams. You see, I know her for what she was before her illness and I see her for what she will be again. Perhaps that’s the great lesson for every marriage; or the great lesson that marriage is trying to teach us. When we are married, when we truly love that spouse, we perpetually see them as unique and wonderful. Scars and wrinkles and sickness are things that may appear tragic or transformative to outsiders. But to us, to the ones who know the stories of the scars, who knew our loves well and whole, before and after, well those things are mere superficialities, that have little consequence to our deeper connection. And things which certainly do not change the essence of the person who is our other half.

I suspect that’s why the church is referred to as ‘the Bride of Christ’ in scripture. Our post-modern world may easily mistake that reference, and believe it simply means possession or subservience, or (most dreaded of all) submission. In varying degrees, to true believers, it means all of that. But it also means ‘in sickness and in health.’ It means that we are loved regardless of our condition, our situation, our appearance. It means that we, ‘the bride,’ cannot be unloved by God, no matter how hard it gets, or how long it takes. It means we will never appear undesireable to the One who made us, held (and holds) us in our brokenness and looks forward to our complete healing, sometimes temporal, always eternal.

Sickness is misery. Cancer is horrifying. But in every difficulty lies a gift. And if this one bonds our marriage more tightly than ever, then it was not empty suffering. And if it reminds us that we are loved by our maker, our redeemer, in the same powerful, changeless, unmitigated way, then perhaps it was a blessing after all.

(Thank you for your continued faithful prayers.)

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