Saturday, March 15, 2008

"In Sickness and In Health"

Earlier in the week, I came across an article via Carolyn McCulley's blog. In her post, Carolyn referred to an article about a married couple that appeared in Washington Post Magazine, and similar to her, I was encouraged by how the magazine presented this particular story without glossing over the foundational reasons why the Kendall's have remained steadfast and committed to one another for over 35 years of marriage. The Kendall's have been faced with the painful reality of Diana Kendall's struggle with Huntington's disease, and the Post highlighted Dave Kendall's commitment, sacrifice and love even as this disease increasingly robs his wife of any ability to express her love in return. When the Ephesians 5 passage came up in this interview, Dave's response was encouraging for any believer, and mind-boggling to those for whom the hope of the Gospel, the love of Christ, is not where their strength is founded. As Carolyn so eloquently mentions in her review of this article, titled "The Vow" in the magazine, this a "grace-laced portrait" of a marriage tested by illness.

I read Carolyn's blog and this article on Monday, and little did I know that this week would be marked by a deep, inner struggle with some issues this article brought to light. My husband and I have had open conversations about the reality of my medical condition, and we entered into the lifelong covenant of marriage knowing that we have some potentially painful questions and decisions to face. I will never forget the moment in our wedding ceremony, that glorious afternoon on January 5, when we promised to love and keep one another in sickness and in health. What I thought would be somewhat remedied as a personal struggle upon entering marriage has proven more difficult than I was expecting or that I have admitted until now. It was not until this past week that I was able to honestly admit to myself and to my husband that I compare myself to others in a very specific manner. At first, I claimed that it was due to the fact that I am a newly-married woman in seminary who has to work full-time, and that I am torn between career and home life as a minister's wife. But honestly, the problem is something much deeper and painful than merely struggling between career and tending to my home.

Every morning, I go through the same routine to start my day. I wake up before the sun comes up, tending to the coffeepot first, and then leaving the last step of the morning process to applying my makeup. And every morning this past week, I observed and reminded myself that the issues with my skin are never going to be cleared. They may actually worsen as I age and as the manifestations of Tuberous Sclerosis continue to take effect, as they already have to some degree. Rather than just dealing with and complaining about the common breakouts that other women face, my issues with my own skin are compounded by something I cannot control. The difficulty I had with looking in the mirror this week then drove me to remembering the much more painful reality I am faced with, and one that directly affects my husband. Aside from not even knowing if we will be able to have children in regard to issues of infertility, I am faced with knowing that my condition is going to affect any child I may ever carry. If we ever do choose to try and have children biologically, our child will have an incredibly high chance of inheriting Tuberous Sclerosis. The chances of my offspring having a less severe case similar to mine is extremely slim, and therefore, we have to decide whether or not I am going to attempt carrying a child at all. We discussed all of this at length prior to marriage, but I guess I was not expecting for it to bother me more following our wedding day. Rather than trusting that my husband loves me regardless of what we decide in regard to family planning, I am quickly prone to doubt. I applied my makeup every morning this week, looking at my reflection, wondering how in the world he could love someone such as me. My husband married me, a woman who has a condition no one we know has ever heard of previously or been given themselves, and with that has come the temptation to fall into despair.

I broke down on Thursday night, admitting to him how difficult the week had been and how alone I feel in my struggles. I also admitted that I sometimes feel bad for him as he has married someone who has issues uncommon to everyone we have ever known. I was always the weird one in my family growing up because of all of this (and before my condition was officially diagnosed), and because of that, family members either avoided the issue or tried to make light of whatever this is that the Lord has afforded me. This is something I thought would go away as I entered into marriage, but in some ways my struggles worsened. My husband sat down on the bed with me, first giving me the space to vent and cry. He then graciously told me the very things I needed to hear, the TRUTH about all the things with which I battle. He reminded me of the reasons he wanted to marry me, things much deeper and beautiful than mere skin problems. His decision to marry me was also not contingent upon my ability or inability to have biological children, and then he reminded me of the most important aspect of all: the Lord created me and has called me His own. For reasons unknown and greater than we can imagine, He saw fit that my life be marked by this condition. Ordaining such things does not mean that He loves me less, and does not mean that He sees me as I see myself in that mirror each day. "...a thorn was given me in the flesh...Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content..." (2 Corin. 12:7-10) Regardless of what the "thorn" was in Paul's life, he came to point wherein he was able to acknowledge that it was given to him by the Lord, and for no one's sake but Christ was he able to accept it and be content. I take great encouragement and hope from this knowing that I cannot despair over something the Lord Himself has given. As my husband so graciously pointed out, this is my daily thorn given by the Lord, and neither of us knows why exactly He has chosen me to receive such a confusing, uncertain condition. That is not for us know. I do know the Lord has given me Tuberous Sclerosis in order that I may depend on and trust in Him rather than man. Rather than comparing myself to others, especially other Christian women who seem to have their lives in order, I am called to receive this thorn and be content because His ways are higher than I could ever hope or imagine.

This also serves as a reminder of how easy it is for us to compare ourselves to others. We spend so much time making lists and trying to live up to the ideal we have in our head that we often fail to acknowledge the fact that the person to whom we are comparing ourselves also has his or her own shortcomings and "thorns." How quickly we can lose the right perspective on who we are, unique individuals created with different bents toward particular sins. Because we differ in circumstances, whether external or internal, the context in which His redemption takes place is going to be different. Trusting in His provision and grace is not some abstract concept, but something manifested in our everyday lives including the most mundane of tasks. In Philippians 4, Paul states that he learned to be content. Even Paul had to learn trust and contentment. May I neither think I have ever arrived nor think that I have been left out of the great and wonderful plan He has for His beloved, but rather may my life be a testament of His grace lavished upon one of His own in whatever unique way He deems is best.


Ruth said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. You are so right--and the reminder so timely. I was just reading Elyse Fitzpatrick's "A Steadfast Heart" and she was reminding us that God appoints each person a different measure of suffering--yet His desire for us in sanctification is the same. You are prayed for tonight.

Panda-Mom said...

You know my heart is close to this issue. I'll call you, sweet pea. ; )

anna said...

hey Jennifer! it's refreshing reading your thoughts because it's clear that the Lord is gaining in you through this "thorn"! though we hate trails, we know this is what we ALL need! I love the fact that you shared this on your blog...i always apperciate honesty and love talking about heart issues! we ALL have them and often it seems easier to avoid talking about our "thorns" yet in truth, when we share and expose them...we know that's evidence of grace in our life!! i LOVE that the Lord is using this in your life for your very good b/c He has SET His LOVE on you and will continue to conform you into His image! thanks for sharing your heart!! i love you and praying for you, friend! You are NOT Alone in the fight against unbelief...we have a "cloud of witnesses" that have gone before us and we have the body to walk with, above all we have our High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses! Praise the Lord for His Faithfulness and Love He has set on us in this everlasting covenant that He established!

"it was good for me that i was afflicted, that i might learn your statutes." Psalm. 119:71