SWM 118 – In sickness and in health

The traditional wedding vows go something like “I take you to be my wife/husband, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband/wife in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”

Unfortunately, I don’t remember my wedding vows. I remember picking some. I remember memorizing them. I remember reciting them, from memory, during the wedding, despite having the flu and a fever. But nearly 23 years later, I don’t remember what they were.

I’m sure they contained something like “in sickness and in health,” though.

This past month, we got to test those vows. For those who are on our mailing list, you know I’ve been dealing with a pinched nerve in my back, which has left my one leg nearly useless and in a lot of pain. It’s been about a month now, and I am, just today, starting to walk sometimes without a limp, and I just started driving again. I still can’t walk far – my leg gets sore and tired after only a couple of minutes of being on it, but the pain is down to achy instead of “I want to cut my leg off.” So, I’m making progress.

But the last month has been challenging. 

For myself, well, it’s been painful – my nerves are short-circuited, so it hurts in varying degrees randomly, the muscles cramp randomly, and part of my leg is numb.  

It’s also been exhausting because lying down makes my leg ache. I had a lot of sleepless nights. Some nights, I couldn’t stand to lie down anymore by about 3 am, and I had to get up.

And it’s boring. The meds at the beginning were so strong I couldn’t even read a book or listen to one – I couldn’t pay attention enough to gain anything from it. Even movies were hard to follow. Also, having to constantly shift, roll, etc., to try to find a comfortable position makes it hard to watch anything with substance. I did watch a lot of YouTube videos. I watched almost everything Viva La Dirt League put out. If you like video games, their videos are hilarious although some have some crude language.

I like to do things for myself, and for the last four weeks or so, I haven’t been able to do much of anything for myself. I can’t cook – I can’t even make a sandwich. I can’t help with any household chores except sorting laundry – if someone brings me the basket and puts the folded clothes away for me. I certainly can’t move hay bales – I haven’t even seen our barn or animals in a month now because I can’t walk that far.

For someone who likes to be self-sufficient – that’s hard. Christina sometimes gets frustrated because I don’t often ask for help. It’s not that I don’t want to – I don’t even think to. Well, I’ve had to in the last four weeks, and that’s been challenging, to be honest. My first instinct is to do it myself – and then I get scolded, and rightly so, for not resting like I should be.

And it’s been hard on Christina, too.  

She’s had to watch me be in pain, knowing that there’s nothing that can be done about it – we just have to wait it out.

She’s had to do all the driving – the normal amount, plus whatever I would usually drive, plus all the extra ER, Chiropractor, Massage Therapy and Physiotherapy appointments, which, at first, was a lot.

She’s had to do all my farm chores as well as her own – the kids are still helping, of course, and they have been stepping up more, but still, it’s a lot. Every morning, she spends an hour out there. This week, that’s been even more challenging as we just got dumped on with snow and a polar vortex is causing -40 temperatures – so she’s had to do all the scrambling around making sure the animals are warm enough and have extra food to survive. I tend to handle infrastructure stuff, so that’s a lot of extra work for her, especially with cold weather, which brings new challenges.  

She’s also been making me food. The kids cook most of the dinners, but she’s had to make me breakfast and lunch most days and bring them to me.

Oh, and our dog is having puppies in the next couple of weeks, which is a first experience for us, too, so she’s been dealing with that.

So, she’s also exhausted and overwhelmed, not to mention frustrated that this destroyed our Christmas vacation time. We didn’t have any big plans that were ruined, but she certainly didn’t plan to sit for hours in the ER.

And I’m very grateful I have a wife who didn’t take that frustration out on me. She never once made me feel like she was mad at me, that I was inconveniencing her, or that I was too much of a burden.

She vowed to love me in sickness and in health – and she does.

And when we say those vows, we usually have no idea what we’re promising. We got the concept, but you only understand the reality once you’ve experienced it.

We married within a couple of months of each of us turning 20. We had never dealt with severe injuries or illnesses, certainly not debilitating ones. We didn’t fear it happening – because when you’re 20, the long-term risk assessment parts of your brain aren’t even done growing.  

And really, this hasn’t been that bad. Yes, it’s been pain and extra work, but it’s temporary, and I’m still able to dress myself, go to the bathroom by myself, feed myself (as long as someone else gets me food), and so on. But it’s enough to test that vow.

And it’s a test for both sides. The spouse who’s well gets to practice being kind, compassionate, caring and selfless. The spouse who’s not well gets to practice humility and accepting love. 

I prefer the caring to the being cared for. I’m pretty stubborn and particular in how I like things sometimes. And I’ve had opportunities to practice the other side as well. Last year, Christina fell off her horse and fractured a vertebrae in her spine. She was actually stuck in bed for a while, so she had to rely on help far more than I did. While trying and managing everything was hard (and I didn’t do as good a job as she did), I enjoyed caring for her. It sucked to see her in pain, but the serving – I don’t mind that at all.

This is what marriage should be – seeking to serve each other daily, regardless of what that looks like. If you both have the attitude that whatever comes up, I’m here for you, then whatever happens, you’ll be alright.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not perfect at it by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m very grateful I have a wife who acts out her love, and I try to do the same.

Because the alternative is some sort of “I’m with you so long as you benefit me” mentality. Our society likes to justify that arrangement as an investment. The idea that “I’ll help you now, but I expect you to help me later,” but what happens when it becomes uneven? What if one gets chronically sick? What if they get cancer with a long recovery process?

I know a guy who, while they were engaged, his fiancee suffered a spinal injury that left her unable to use her legs and with partial use of her arms. He decided to marry her anyway, knowing that her need for care would likely always outweigh his. He may be one of the few people I know who understood that part of the vow when he made it, at least in some measure.

The point is that we generally make our vows blindly, as we should! We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re not looking for an even arrangement or score. We don’t fear what will happen, but we promise that whatever happens, we’re there for each other. 

Some may call that naive, short-sighted, childish even. I think it’s an act of faith. To declare that, with God’s help, we will endure whatever life throws at us because it’s a Christ-like attitude that gets you through it all.

Whether you’re a believer or not, these Christ-like qualities still determine whether your marriage will be solid—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t care what your religion is – who can argue with a list like that and what it will do for a marriage?

For those of you who are newly married – don’t worry about the future. Just purpose to be there for each other whatever may come. For those who have been through the struggles – I want to know about them. I’d love it if you’d share your stories in the comments. It can be anonymous. Just leave the name and email blank if you’re worried (though no one but me ever sees the email address anyway).

In sickness and in health

I would like to hear more testimonies from people who have survived and thrived despite the struggles so we can teach the younger generations – that this is how you do marriage.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.

Titus 2:2-6

I don’t know if the church ever did this well, but I don’t feel it’s done well today. Our supporters’ forum does this – we have a mix of older and younger marriages – we even had a couple join just before they got married to start with a community of support. I love it when someone asks a question because they’ve hit a new situation, and many people chime in to offer their perspectives and experiences. We had just such a thread start this week that I have no experience with, but many others jumped in to help.

If you want to be a part of something like that, to help us grow, whether you’re newly married, young in your marriage, in the thick of it, or enjoying the fruits of your decades of labour – I would love to have you.

But regardless, I’d love to hear your stories below if you’re willing to share them.  Thanks in advance for helping those just starting out or heading into their own struggles.

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