When God Turns the Tables

Perhaps 15 years into our 42 year marriage, it became pretty clear that Nancy would outlive me. Women generally outlive men. She has always taken better care of herself than I have–better diet, more exercise, meditation, yoga, Sudoku. For me, this natural state of things was always premised on the virtual guarantee that I would, by predeceasing her, leave her to deal with the messy emotional and social fallout.   Similar, in many respects, to my point of view concerning the weddings of our daughters–they just seemed to happen on their own, and all I had to do was show up properly dressed with as few prepared remarks as possible.

Along with the diagnosis of late stage pancreatic cancer came this ridiculous possibility that I would outlive her. A scenario I had literally never considered. I recall having laughed out loud at my father, 14 years older than my mother and with his own cardiologist, who would occasionally wring his hands about what he was going to do when Mom was gone. His worries were, as expected, unfounded.  Mine, perhaps not.

[In fact, my concerns may be misplaced, just like my father’s were.  Nancy is doing remarkably well with chemo, her blood chemistry is all in the green, her weight has stayed up and she shows very little in the way of slowing down.  She doesn’t complain about her neuropathy the way she used to, especially during infusion week. My own health is “OK,” which is to say not perfect but not imminently dangerous.]

As an economist, I’m comfortable around statistics.  As a reformed gambler, I still figure the odds and go with what seems most likely. As (determined by StrengthFinders) someone who practices intellection, these statistics and odds and percentages bounce around in my brain.  I talk to Jesus about them in the Chapel. He reminds me we know not when nor where. I remind him of five year survival rates and the physical effects of long term exposure to chemotherapy.

Since Day One, Nancy has not wanted a prognosis attached to her condition, and has been more or less actively disinterested in her disease other than routine conversations with her oncologist. In this, her approach differs from mine, as I’ve always been more comfortable with a devil I know than one I don’t. But, as a spouse, I have recognized, out loud, that this is her journey, that I am beside her for care and support, that she will make these types of decisions–what and whether to talk about–and I will respect her choices.

old-couple in loveAnd so here is the point. The spouse with the serious illness gets to make these calls, all of them. How much to know and how much to leave unsaid. What to discuss and what not to discuss. The caregiver must willingly include these in the inventory of things about which you will want to talk less. If, as in my case, you find a need to discuss concerns you cannot comfortably share with your spouse, do what I do and talk to a counselor every now and again.

In the most recent ten years of our marriage, when we both worked, we had maybe 30 minutes in the evening to sit together and discuss the day’s events.  Now, we no longer have work, we have a few subjects that are off limits, and instead of 30 minutes we have more like 10 hours. Nancy has been more comfortable with these periods of sustained silence than have I, but I’m getting better. Spouses may want to prepare for these in advance, as they should not be misinterpreted as character flaws or a lack of bonhomie, as it were.

It has taken me awhile to understand God’s will in this radically-altered future of ours. This, what we are living, is God’s will. It is God’s will that Nancy carry on her lifelong interest in learning and teaching, and that she be allotted time to do so. It is God’s will that she can suffer in private and go out socially looking healthy and vibrant. It is God’s will that she have someone like me to hang around and take care of her. And it is God’s will that I have finally found a vocation, after decades of searching, that gives me a feeling of purpose and allows me to express my love language–acts of service–every day.

Life is not a bed of roses, and Christian marriage comes not without costs. But being married, at this stage in our lives, is a blessing beyond measure. If you are struggling in your marriage, it may help you appreciate each other by fast-forwarding the film 25 or 30 years, to an empty nest and a dread disease. For the sick spouse, you are unlikely to be able to purchase such loving care on the open market. For the caregiver, being in a position to uphold the marriage vows you made 40 years earlier is a great honor, likely held in high esteem by God. And no couples get there without weathering some serious storms along the way.cropped-lse-masthead6.jpg

Do You Need God in Your Marriage?

Posted by one of our favorite guest bloggers, Anne Johnson Slamkowski.  Visit her blog when you have a chance, please.

I was sitting at a meeting the other night and several of the women were talking about how they were doing this “Husband Project” with their husbands (the book is “The Husband Project: 21 Days of Loving Your Man–on Purpose and with a Plan” by Kathi Lipp).  It involved following steps and treating your husband with respect (at least that is what I heard them say).  I liked the idea.  It certainly sounded like it was working for the most part for each of them.  It made me think about my own marriage relationship.  I am not sure I need a book to do good things for my husband, but I am also not so sure that Pete wants me to follow a book.  I think the premise is wise, but it might just miss the point of keeping your marriage alive.  There are varying statistics on the divorce rate in the USA, but it is somewhere between 40-60% depending on the area that you live.  That is HUGE – 40-60%.  WOW!


Pete and I have spoken at marriage retreats (in fact we are due for a speaking engagement coming up at our own church).  We have looked at our marriage from different viewpoints to see how we can make it better (which by the way, you always can improve upon your marriage).  We recognize that we speak different Love Languages (“The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman).  We also admit readily that children thrown in with marriage complicate your relationship in good and bad ways.  In addition, let’s throw in your family of origin (the preconceived ideas that you bring with you into the marriage) and your communication skills, and let’s just say that marriage doesn’t seem to have much of a chance with all the baggage that we overload it with.  BUT overall Pete and I both would agree that our marriage has been strengthened tremendously in the last six years because God has become the center of it.  We finally realized that God must be part of our relationship in order for it to work.  Without God, our love for each other will be nothing but physical.  Mentally, we need God to make it all fall together.  We need God in our individual lives and our married lives in order for this to work.

No books, no steps, no love languages will ever equal what God does for your marriage. healthy habits happy homes Recognizing that God is part of the marriage will give you the mental and physical passion that is needed within the sacrament of marriage.

Colossians 3:12-19   So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.

If we are going to fight to keep our marriages together in this country, we must find a way to put God first in our own lives.  We must find a way to put God in the midst of our marriage.  No marriage can survive (at least with joy and happiness) without God as part of it.  The Colossians verse above says, in order to be holy and beloved we must put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  How can we do any of that without God as part of our life?  How on earth can we forgive our loved ones and not hold grudges if God is not part of our life?  It goes on to say, “let the word of Christ RICHLY dwell within you.”  Richly gives me the feeling of soil that is ready to farm.  Once we let Christ dwell within us and get us ready for the seed of Marriage, then we are ready to produce a beautiful family that will survive anything.  If we start with rocky or weedy soil, the marriage becomes a little more complicated.  We have to somehow find a way to fertilize our life with God after the fact.  When we complicate things with pre-marital sex, co-habitation and multiple partners, it is like starting with rocky soil.  I am not saying that if you have made these choices that your marriage won’t last.  What I am saying is it will be more difficult for your marriage unless you fertilize it with God in your life.

Throughout my book, “Revealing Faith: Learning to Place God First in Your Life,” I continually stress that my choices were not good ones in my twenties.  Pete and I started with rocky soil.  Although God was present in my life by the time we married, He wasn’t the main focus of my life.  It would take years for Pete and me to build and fertilize our soil so that it would withstand tough struggles that lay ahead.  We even added children into our marriage before we had fully fertilized our life with God.  It was a struggle.  Once we both refocused our life toward God (which we did after a wonderful marriage retreat at our church in Champaign, Illinois), we realized that we were missing a very important person in our marriage: God.  As our individual faith lives grew (over many years), our soil became more and more fertile.  When we finally gave birth to our third child, Katie, we were faced with a tremendous struggle.  Katie suffered from multiple medical problems at the age of one (she suffers from complex partial seizures).  Later we would find behavioral issues and anxiety laced with depression to be part of Katie’s life.  If Pete and I had not fertilized our life with God, I could see where this would have made our marriage very complicated and difficult (and trust me it still is a struggle), but with God in the center of our marriage it all seems doable.  We rely on His strength.  Our kids rely on His strength.  We thank God to this day that He entered our marriage and let us re-fertilize our family with his Wisdom.

My favorite part of the Colossians verse is that we admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  Well, Pete and I don’t go around singing to each other (thank goodness), but we do listen to praise and worship songs together, we sing psalms at church together, and we find ways to love each other by sacrificing our selfish desires in order to place God’s Will first.

happy young couple