The pain started in August, 2012. Jonathan skipped a dose of a medication accidentally. He experienced some chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath, but assumed it was related to his missed medication. We were newly engaged and I had recently moved to Cincinnati. The day turned into weeks, and again, we assumed it was the stress of work, transitions, and wedding planning that were taking a toll on his body. A family member joked to me, “I bet you’re stressing him out!” which I allowed to haunt my thoughts for the months to come.
The following months weren’t anything spectacular, aside from our worship-filled celebration of the covenant we made to one another and to God in December, 2012. We repeated our vows after the pastor, uttering “in sickness and in health” with such confidence. We were humbled and ecstatic to start our lives together. Jonathan’s pain had decreased significantly the weeks prior to our wedding, just in time for our honeymoon. However, toward the end of our honeymoon, he came down with a virus, was sleeping significantly, up to 14 hours a night. We returned to Ohio, and the sleeping continued, along with the return of a plethora of symptoms. Neither of us were too concerned.
By springtime, Jonathan had had close to a dozen appointments in Cincinnati, with no answers. His chest pain had returned and was increasing. Pain consumed most of his days, and he was fighting to stay positive and supportive as a new husband. It was always there, always on his mind, and becoming consuming to me too. I rehearsed the words I’d heard previously in my head and even made my own resolutions; “You’re stressing him out”, “Try to be low maintenance”. As hard as I tried to take care of things at home and stay upbeat about circumstances, I had a constant voice suggesting I could be doing more.
In late March, we decided to pursue care at Cleveland Clinic. We packed our bags for 2 weeks, knowing that if they could help us we’d be willing to stay there. In that next year, we took close to a dozen trips to Cleveland Clinic. We were impressed with the attentiveness of the doctors and the time they spent with us.
Many of the appointments blur together. The waiting, the driving, the Hampton Inn in Independence, Ohio where we frequently stayed. However, there’s one waiting room I won’t forget. The waiting room was filled with couples. In nearly every other seat was a healthy person, and in the alternating seats was a sick one. It didn’t take long to recognize that this was the waiting room for cancer. We both gave each other a look and read Scripture. He walked into the appointment and I left the waiting room. Once back to our hotel, we both cried together for a long time.
I tried to keep the mood light on our trips to Cleveland, knowing that it wasn’t worth traveling down every path of possibility. Additionally, people were very supportive. Friends waited with us in waiting rooms, our house church was encouraging, the Elders prayed for healing. However, it was hard to fight the thought, “What would I do without him?” Never had I felt God asking me to flesh out my faith so transparently. I didn’t tell my husband these thoughts and fought a lot of these feelings alone.
Eventually, I had to make a decision about attending a rigorous graduate school program in the fall. I had applied multiple times and was finally accepted. However, with my husband sick and insecurities about what was to come, I wondered if I should commit. I decided to attend. There were trips Jonathan had to make and tests he had to go through by himself. I fought off feeling like a “bad wife”. The emotions of our challenges sometimes spilled over into my coursework. I fought and gave into tears any time I had to watch a clinical case involving a husband and wife. I gained great empathy for patients I encountered, having been given a small glimpse of what it means to care for a spouse.
I don’t know when I answered the question, “What would I do without him?” It didn’t happen in a counseling session, or over a cup of coffee. It happened over sleepless nights, being distracted at work, and while cooking dinner. In my prayers and pleas, God met me. He wasn’t scared of my questions or daunted by my frustration. He didn’t promise me time with my husband. He promised me His presence through whatever was to come. And that was such a comfort to me. Through this revelation, I realized that time with my husband was a gift. It was not a promise. In treating it that way, I wasn’t receiving the gift graciously.
God gave me Jonathan. My goodness, what a gift he is! As his wife, I feel privileged to know him deeply and witness his heart and compassion for others. He makes daily sacrifices for me in small and big ways. However, Jonathan isn’t Jesus. He wasn’t meant to be my Savior through sacrifice. If I hold my husband in that position, I’m missing God’s purpose in this gift of marriage. Jonathan helps me see Christ’s love. He exemplifies a small reflection of the love that Christ has for me. Jonathan’s care and sacrifice are intended to point to Jesus, not to himself. Which means, even if Jonathan were to be taken from me, it wouldn’t decrease God’s love for me.
Jonathan found a good neurologist specializing in his rare condition. I recently graduated from my program to be a speech and language pathologist. I have had the opportunity to work with stroke survivors and their spouses.
I am thankful I went through this merely months into our marriage. Jonathan and I don’t know how long our days on earth will be. We don’t know what God will carry us through in our marriage, but there’s peace in trusting Him. Peace in knowing that even in great turmoil, pain, and tragedy, He will be with me to the end.
Author: Melissa Elchison