Please welcome Heather Anderson Renshaw to the blog as she shares her experiences on what marriage looks like in sickness and in health.
My goodness – those two shining people in the wedding photograph – the sheer joy that radiates from their faces as they prepare to embark on a new life together is almost palpable, even close to 13 years later. Given the opportunity to say something to them today, what would I tell those crazy kids?
Hang on! It’s about to get pretty bumpy! Don’t worry – none of it is going to actually kill you (yet), and you will be stronger!
Six days after delivering our first daughter, I yearned for sleep in that desperate, not-so-graceful way that only a new Mom can, and welcomed the opportunity to rest for just a moment as my mother and husband tended to the baby in the next room. But it was not to be. Moments after closing my eyes, I felt a stabbing pain in my right calf that simultaneously awoke and frightened me. As I limped to the bathroom, I noticed a single streak of bright red blood trickling down my leg, and realized that I had soaked through my postpartum pad in less than an hour’s time. “Um, help!!” I cried. What began as an opportunity to rest ended as a panicked trip to the hospital complete with medication to address a blood clot and an emergency procedure to remove residual pieces of my placenta. My husband was there when I was put under and when I awoke, with concern, compassion, and relief in his eyes.
Fast-forward several years …
For the fourth time in as many days, we drove back to the hospital with excruciating pain coaxing tears down both my cheeks. The kidney stone that had lodged itself within me just didn’t want to come out peaceably. As my husband dropped me off of at the ER yet again (he had to take care of our three young children who would have surely ransacked the waiting room), I was convinced he wondered what had happened to the healthy wife of our early marriage. And yet, my husband looked at me with love that transcended the unique pain of that present moment.
No one ever plans to be sick. I have yet to meet a single person who proclaims, “When I am 32, I will develop a condition that requires multiple hospital visits and two procedures, and a ton of excruciating pain for good measure.” Or this: “Next Tuesday, I am going to cultivate a debilitating case of depression spurred on by the loss of my job.” Or even this: “When we’re on our way to church tomorrow, I am going to admit to my spouse that I am an addict.”
And yet God calls us to Himself through the marriage covenant when we are physically ill, spiritually dry, and emotionally spent just as much as (if not more than) when we can happily hike through the rain forests of Maui and spend all day schlepping through the zoo in the hot summer sun.
Such is reality. Such is life. Such is the path to holiness, our vocation. In sickness and in health.
I don’t remember when I realized – really truly understood – that real love, unconditional love, is a decision, not a feeling. Maybe it was after the second kid that day puked on me and I hugged her anyway, or perhaps it was when I made the appointment to meet with the priest for marriage counseling despite being terribly, horribly hurt by my spouse because I knew I wasn’t called to quit. At some point, my heart finally understood that if I was going to love like Christ, I was going to have to choose to take up my Cross – my vocation – and follow Him.
In our culture of instant gratification, there is constant temptation to upgrade, replace, and throw away. Sticking things out in sickness and in health in our marriage sacrament is completely counter-cultural. There are no “product returns” in the Sacrament of Marriage. If a part of me or my spouse is broken in any way, we cannot send one another back to the manufacturer to be repaired or replaced. Our covenant – our vows – are so much deeper and worth so much more than that! As we like to tell our five young children, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” There is a certain comfort in knowing that we vowed, in that beautiful Nuptial Mass thirteen autumns ago, to hang tough come what may: in sickness and in health.
It is so, so very tempting – when the kids are squabbling over the Legos for the eleventeenth time and I’m fighting a head cold and my husband comes home from work begging to rest because a migraine is coming on – to think and voice the words: “Wait … I didn’t sign up for this!!!” But you know what? That is a big, fat lie. When I stood on the altar before God, family, and friends, I did sign up for exactly this. In sickness and in health.
“I’ll go first, and then meet you out here,” I told my husband as I walked into the church to stand in line for Confession. We had begun to tag-team the Sacrament, one of us caring for our two small daughters on the parish school playground while the other confessed. Post absolution, I walked outside into the bright spring day, and the lightness of spirit I usually felt after laying my sins at the foot of the Cross was quickly overshadowed by the look of angst on my husband’s face as he cradled our shrieking toddler: “She was following her sister up the ladder,” he said, “and just fell backward. I think it’s her leg.” As I scooped my daughter into my arms, we looked at each other with serious concern tinged with a strong and knowing love: in sickness and in health.
I know what I would say to those two people, glowing with the radiance of newly-wedded bliss. I would say:
Whatever happens, in sickness and in health, cling to these words: Jesus, I Trust in You! And always remember: Love wins.
Heather Anderson Renshaw is currently not drinking enough
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