On our wedding day in 1972, I spoke words of everlasting promise to my wife in front of family and friends. They sounded so profound and so spiritual. Honestly, I was so in love with this woman I would have said anything! I promised her the world! Marry me and you’ll go places!
Twenty-seven years later we are still married. Still loving each other. The promises of commitment to one woman “till death us do part” have weathered storms with gale force winds and a few bombing raids by enemy aircraft. I have developed a healthy respect for those promises made when it seemed nothing could go wrong. On a chilling December night, I stood in a hospital room not unlike I have done many times in my pastoral career. But this was different. This night, this room, this hospital was about to find a permanent place in my gallery of remembrances. Cindy, the receiver of my reckless promise of enduring commitment, lay in that hospital bed. The admissions clerk had extended us the privilege of the hospital’s VIP Suite at no extra charge. A private suite of two rooms royally appointed it was reserved for presidents, governors, mayors, and a child of the King. This was a small consolation for the seven months of unexplained numbness, pain and increasing discomfort. A dozen guesses at the cause, vials of blood for evaluation, electrodes and pin pricks for tests, physical therapy to manage the pain — all added up to nothing. The doctors were confused.
We were pleased to know what it wasn’t, but frustrated because Cindy was not well. We prayed. We anointed. We persevered.
The months before Cindy’s hospitalization had gradually changed our home, our lifestyle, and our relationships. She was losing the ability to independently function in her daily life.
Our two daughters (ages 13 and 9 at the time) patiently and lovingly assumed more household duties. However, I found it difficult to add more duties to an already crowded calendar. The daily and weekly functions that Cindy administered and executed with such expertise had been taken for granted. The necessity of crutches for walking, the swelling of her legs when she would sit-up, the inability to remain at our family table for the complete meal, the restless nights of interrupted sleep, were all draining energy from our family.
I felt so weak when she would look to me for help. What more could I do? You see, like many men, I approach problems with a “fix it” mentality. Often I was able to correct and repair whatever troubled my wife. But what could I do about this? I prayed. I drove her to doctor’s appointments and the numerous diagnostic procedures. I held her when she cried tears of pain, anger and frustration. It didn’t seem to be enough.
None of this seemed fair. There was much to do for God. People to see. Sermons to preach. Seminars to lead. Books to read. Articles to write. But, I remembered my promise — “in sickness and in health.” Our love was being tested. My promise to love was getting an Olympic workout.
The VIP Suite of the Portsmouth Hospital had not been on the itinerary when I said she would go places with me. Yet, here we were. It seemed the last possible diagnostic test had been done. And now we awaited the doctor’s report. A brain tumor? Or would he once again say he had found nothing?
The MRI scan revealed telling spots on Cindy’s brain. Through a process of elimination the doctor arrived at his judgment. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – a neurological disease, the cause of which is as yet undetermined. It attacks the coating or insulation around the message-carrying nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord causing varying interruptions of the nervous system.
“Thank you, God, for an answer. Not knowing has been awful. Thank you that it is not immediately life-threatening. But why MS? Why us?” “Why” questions are tough. They are monsters. There are no easy answers.
Over the years I have come to understand that the indispensable basis for an enduring, unwavering and joyful commitment to a strong marriage is an implicit faith in God’s goodness. I stake my life on the certain truth that God would never ask us, his children, to go through anything that does not have our well being in view. God has marked out for us a path that is leading to unparalleled joy for us and glory for Him.
I don’t mean to convey that it has been easy. Life is not unlike reading highly technical books on theology or science or philosophy. There are some pages of information that are hard to comprehend. The only thing you can do is put a marker there and go on reading. Perhaps, later it will make some sense.
Cindy and I have put a marker on this page in our lives and are moving on in our marriage of love and promises. It has been almost ten years since that night we found out about MS. God has blessed us with a growing love in the midst of challenging days. There are limitations, but we are learning to adjust and thrive in God’s grace.
Often Cindy is holding on to my arm as we walk along – a means of maintaining balance and safety. I remember how she was on my arm walking down that church aisle after we were pronounced husband and wife. It was then that we began a wonderful journey of trusting each other for steadiness and safety in whatever we faced – “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”
William Batson is Director of Vision New England’s Family Builders Ministries. Copyright © 1998 William Batson. Used with Permission.