John was there, watching our wedding, just a few months after his dear wife had passed. She lived with cancer for too many years, and for each day in each year, John was her lover and her caregiver. He knew what we were getting into that day. He knew the costs. I looked at him sitting on the old, wooden benches, without her next to him. The two little wooden birds that he whittled sat on our cake, on top of his love inscription. And his spoken words after meant so much, reminding me that love like this is unable to produce regret.
Unlike John, and many couples, we didnʼt face sickness when we were grandparents. We started there. And it was severe.
The Heart of Man
Ian and I had planned to get married as soon as we graduated from college in December of 2006. But instead, everything was halted with his brain injury, which he received on September 30 of that year in a car accident. And so instead of getting married when we were young and healthy and naive, we waited four years and got married when he was sick and disabled and we were still grieving.
The decision to get married was one of the hardest but simplest decisions weʼll face. Iʼve heard that choosing marriage for anyone can raise doubts and fears. I think a disability takes those normal fears, and multiplies them.
Marrying Ian meant that I was signing on to things that I donʼt think I ever wouldʼve chosen for myself — working my whole life, having a husband who canʼt be left alone, managing his caregivers, remembering to get the oil changed, advocating for medical care, balancing checkbooks, and on. The practical costs felt huge, and those didnʼt even touch on the emotional and spiritual battles that I would face.
But in light of all the practicals, and emotionals, it was so very simple: we love each other. And we love God. And we believe He is a sovereign and loving God who rules all things.
Our pastor who married us, Mark Altrogge, was with us on the day that our marriage was approved by a local judge. Because of Ian’s condition, the courts had to decide that it was in his best interest to be married. Mark said that he’ll never forget the words of the judge who approved our marriage license: “You two exemplify what love is all about. I believe that marriage will not only benefit you both but our community, and hope that everyone in this city could see your love for one another.”
We don’t know if that judge loved Jesus, but I think that he saw Jesus’ love that day in us. It was a glimpse to us of the glory that God would bring forth in our marriage. Along with us, Mark’s confidence in our marriage was faith in the One who promised to never leave us or forsake us.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I still donʼt think that Ian would have ever left me if the role had been reversed. And walking away from my best friend was never truly an option.
Because of that, a warm, summer evening on 8/28 found us married under my parentsʼ trees in the mountains.
Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing
And even though we chose marriage, we chose it sadly. Sorrow has been a permanent resident in our 20s. It feels like the rest of the world uses these years for really fun things. But in our 20s, we have watched our future crash with him in that white station wagon and we now live with two versions of Ian. Weʼve watched all of our friends get married and have health. Iʼve watched as my girlfriends and sisters found husbands who could dance with them at their weddings and drive them to church on Sunday morning. Weʼve watched our dad fight and be taken by brain cancer, only to see life keep marching on.
Fortunately, our hope is that weʼve also watched all of these alongside Jesus, who is our own man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). So we have not walked it alone.
A Beautiful Covenant
“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3).
We know that we have made a covenant to each other, just as Christ made to the church. The church that He made that covenant with is so imperfect, and sorrowful, and disabled. Just like our marriage. This church, and this marriage, are hemmed in by Jesus and eagerly long for heaven. He is their author and sustainer.