One of the hardest parts about chronic illness for me (longer-duration illness, not permanent, hopefully!) is the change in my relationships. I’ve written previously about the loss of casual friendships, the ones based upon common interests or gathering places. Today I’m talking about the one between a husband and wife.
Steve and I have been married almost 6 years. I call him my “intended beloved” since I believe the Lord has blessed me with an amazing man of God as my life partner. We came together in our late 40’s, having learned much about life, people, and the Lord’s enduring grace in the years before we met. We’d both lost our youngest sibling and the last of our grandparents within the past 10 years, shared both similar and completely opposite interests, had to relocate due to divorce, seen plenty of changes in the world around us, and came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ as adults. Still when we got together we needed to work on a few things as a couple. I believe these things have become our strengths and bonded us together for life. Yes!
Steve and I share the “love language” of caring touch. (For more on the 5 love languages, see the work of Gary Chapman.) Therein the challenge of late lies. The most noxious symptom of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome for me is seizure-like episodes, 3-4 times per day. Most any sensory stimuli can make a seizure attack worse or even trigger one if it is intense enough. An episode can become worse after it starts if Steve or anyone touches me. So imagine a loving spouse attempting to comfort his or her beloved at a time of severe illness, reaching out and discovering that the gesture actually makes the person worse! And if this happens over an over again, despite the caution, precautions taken to be gentle or vary the type of comfort, the spouse can become discouraged. In our marriage, we have decided to work with the symptomatology and find a firm touch or closeness by proximity that sort of worked for me. Thankfully, Steve did not stop trying altogether. I understand that could have happened.
After all, the worst seizure attacks and convulsions happen late at night. Steve often needs to go to bed to get up for work or another commitment the next morning so he simply cannot stay up with me night after night. Our physical intimacy suffers. Oh and if the attack isn’t so bad and we attempt marital relations, it’s a crap shoot whether or not the noxious symptoms start again. Can you imagine turning something intended to be precious into something so ugly? We often don’t even “go there” if I’m feeling sick or I’m in “pre-tic mode.” The heartache of frustrating my spouse isn’t worth the Russian roulette we must play to see if things are going to work out o.k. Stopping a tender moment also wrecks my thought process; it wrecks “the mood” for me. Steve just says, unbelievably, that he doesn’t mind or that we had a time of closeness anyways. Where do they make guys like him anyways? Certainly I had not seen any in my past . . .
And this is where I must trust the Lord to sustain me, to sustain Steve-and-me through this season of our relationship. I am incredibly blessed to be married to a man who loves me truly, “in sickness and in health.” I did not experience this when I was married before as a young woman. The Lord allowed certain health issues at that time to challenge us, test us, deepen our faith and we both failed to lean on His leading to overcome the trials. In the end, my former spouse turned to another woman for solace and physical intimacy. She was an unlikely comfort: wealthy, mother of 6 children, and spouse of a man about to be imprisoned for embezzlement. Craig left anyways. And what that left me was a fear of relational intimacy or at least of trusting another man to endure the inevitable trials of life.
In the time that followed as a single woman, I turned to my Heavenly Husband for comfort, protection, provision. He was my constant companion and much healing occurred. It wasn’t until a time of serious illness struck 2 years ago and 4 years into my marriage to Steve that I realized a little more recovery was needed. Steve’s steadfastness strengthened by his true relationship with the Lord has never waivered. Never! I am humbled and grateful. I often see in Steve: “Jesus with skin on.” Steve has been wounded by his past and an ex-wife who disrespected him terribly. Regardless, he has rarely brought any vulnerability from that experience to our marriage. He, too, has allowed the Lord to “restore the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25), rising up to become the spiritual leader God intended. So glad he’s tall too. I love looking up to my Stevers.
When the time is right, when we have submitted ourselves to the refining fire that can be the trials of life, when we are faithful to the calling the Lord lays before us, we too may be rewarded with blessings beyond belief. Those blessings may not be what many think of as gifts or rewards. For me and my beloved, those good things are the ability to overcome the wretched things of life in a way that actually deepens our love relationship together as well as our walk with the Lord. My hope in writing this is that you are also seeking the One who knows your pain and loves you just as you are: the person of Jesus Christ. (Psalm 41:1-3) He may indeed bring you an angel to minister to your needs, a “Jesus with skin on.” He may bring you to the foot of His throne of grace a few times in desperation, alone. I know that He will not frustrate you beyond what you can handle, however, and will fill your heart with unspeakable joy someday. (Romans 5:3-5)
I am grateful to see the latter despite wretched illness. I pray that you too, Gentle Reader, will be able to see all this and more when the time in your life is right. (Ecclesiastes 3) The sorrow will not be wasted, of that I am sure if we but keep our eyes fixed on the face of Christ. We may even get a sweet snuggle with someone special too!
Addendum: A new medication is bringing new hope. I’m down to about 1 attack per day and they are less intense. We are holding onto hope as this journey of illness appears to be changing. Praise the Lord!!!!