When Your Health Tests Your Wedding Vows in a Way You Didn't Expect
At the very climax of the wedding ceremony a couple looks into one another’s eyes and vows their future to one another, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
Many of us can recite those lines from memory from the time we are very small.
But as we enter into the covenant of marriage, do we really anticipate that those vows will be tested?
I would venture to say that most brides and grooms do not. And the statistics on divorce in the context of sickness and disease seem to back up that estimation.
Do we really put weight to our vows? Or is our vision clouded with the dress, venue, menu, and glossy photographs with perfect smiles?
Most of us do not live in those perfect smiles, gorgeous dresses, and pristine tuxes very long. There is far more actuality in the words “for worse.”
Neither my husband, nor I, anticipated that before our six month anniversary we would no longer be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of dining together. That we would rack up three hospitalizations before our one year anniversary. Or that before we hit 18 months of marriage I would be reliant on a central line for my sustenance.
When we registered for gifts we certainly did not anticipate needing a mini fridge to hold medications and total parenteral nutrition (TPN). Or a set of drawers for central line supplies. Nor did we anticipate that we would be using our new ironing board as a clean surface for intravenous medication and TPN compounding every morning.
Recently a family friend was questioning me as to how my husband and I were enjoying marriage as we are still newlyweds. He asked, “Have you made it through any good fights to prove you can tough it, to prove your love is real?”
I smiled, probably too nostalgically, and said yes. In my mind thoughts of our “good fight” barreled through (flooded) my subconscious.
Our good fight is not over which way the toilet paper should roll. Or how the toothpaste should be squeezed. Or how I always make us late to events. No, our good fight is not typical in the newlywed period.
Instead, my husband and I fight daily to choose joy amidst unexpected circumstances. We fight together.
Many people have told me how strong and courageous I have been in the midst of health troubles. But on May 21, 2016 I left “me” at the alter and joined the best team imaginable. And my teammate is much of the muscle behind “us.” My husband is an absolute warrior.
My husband daily demonstrates what much of the world has lost sight of in the wedding vows. Those vows are a contract. But that contract does not exist to bind you to something that would be bad for you. That contract exists to help you commit to something difficult. Something altogether undesired when we look at first glance. But that something difficult holds the potential to transform us into something incredibly beautiful.
Every single human being is bound to experience difficulty. Whether that difficulty looks like disease, poverty, hate, loss, or the travesty of mundane circumstances. If we were to hope for a marriage that was stuck in the perfection of the wedding day we would be hoping for something that would be exactly that, stuck. Trapped in a meaningless tangle of purposeless existence.
Society seems to think that you get married for the individual. For what you can get out of the relationship. So when you are no longer feeling fed, or receiving gain from the relationship you point the finger at the other person and want out. But marriage is entirely the opposite of individual. Marriage is sacrificing the individual for the strength in union.
There are inevitably going to be annoyances when you spend enough time with someone. I will likely always be too fast and aggressive a driver, and a little too messy. And my sweet husband will likely always be a little too compulsively clean. I would argue that it is impossible to find a partner that lines up perfectly with how you think. And if there was, how boring would that be? Because every difference, every confrontation, and every trial gives us an opportunity to grow through differences and hardships. And that is what marriage is about. Marriage is the opportunity to look at someone who sees the world a little differently than you and say, I love you in word and deed, even still. And a love that chooses to persist through tough stuff is far more valuable than a love that sees only the perfection and beauty of the wedding day. Because “for worse” is far more real than perfection and beauty.
Difficulty is what makes relationships, and life, rich. Difficulty is what forges bonds that cannot be broken. Difficulty is what produces strength worthy of awe.
And difficulty is not without joy. Happiness may be reliant on circumstances, but joy flourishes in pain. But we must fight for it. We must choose the good fight, and break through the air of frustration over our circumstances. We can do as my husband does and pick up the walker in the corner of the hospital room and act out a funny aged scene. We can erupt into laughter as we determine exactly how far back a hospital lazy boy can possibly go. And we can footrace through the hospital hallways, IV pole in tow.
My health has tested our wedding vows in ways we did not expect and would not choose. But I feel more closely tied, and more wildly honored than ever to be one with a man who has looked in the face of difficulty and committed to fight together for joy.
When that family friend was asking me about our first good fight, he was demonstrating what we all know about difficulties but have a hard time translating. We know that conflict tests and proves character. But conflict also tests and proves love. Because love is not merely a feeling void of actions. Love is deeply seated in action. Love does.
My husband’s love has had to do more than I would have chosen to ask of it. But I stand grateful that I can think back on our good fight with extreme pride knowing that we have learned what many couples have to wait a while to understand.
And every evening we close with prayer and requests followed by the truth, “if not, You are still good,” I get to see a little more strength form in the bond of us. The bond that is deliberately chosen and refined daily. And because of that, not in spite of that, overwhelming feelings of love and joy flourish amidst bodies that are bound to perish and circumstances that are bound to break.
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