I have to go. I have a meeting." My husband, Dave, shuffled across the floor to pack his dust-covered briefcase.
"Dave," I called softly, "you don't have a meeting. You're on medical leave, remember?"
This was our weekly conversation Dave's first year of being disabled by chronic Lyme Disease. Dave was my best friend; he was the first to know my thoughts. And even though we have different interests, we were always able to communicate on a deep level. But slowly that all changed.
Dave's Lyme went undiagnosed for 15 years. It began in college when he had a four-month-long "flu-like illness," which sometimes marks the beginning of this tick-borne disease. Tiny deer ticks, which transmit Lyme Disease, can be found in the woods, in grassy areas, on park benches, and sometimes in backyards.
Over the years, Dave began to have headaches, dizziness, chemical sensitivities, joint pain, fatigue, depression, memory problems, and confusion. While physicians thought his symptoms were strange, no one discovered the cause until the symptoms progressed. Finally, Dave's illness forced him to leave his position as children's pastor at our church. That was four years ago.
One day when we were driving back from the doctor, Dave asked me what I was thinking. I told him how I was learning to rely on God and not my circumstances, though I desperately wanted circumstances I could rely on. Then I asked what he was thinking.
"The grass is green. It's a nice green."
Then he added, "I don't have deep thoughts anymore." These weren't the words of someone who didn't want to be intimate. He did—yet he comprehended his loss.
A wave of intense isolation came over me. God, why is this happening? I prayed.
The world felt upside down, as though something was missing.
What was happening?
"It was good of you to come," Dave told me one night. "Where are you staying?" His memory had reverted back to our dating days. I spent the next hour telling him where we live, that we're married and have two beautiful children.
His response: "When did you get glasses?"
I finally went to bed exhausted, praying he'd be okay if he was awake without me.
"God," I cried, "What are your intentions toward Dave?" I prayed as I always did, "Take him home to you or bring him home to me—but don't let him continue this way."
That night, God distinctly asked me, "Merry, what are your intentions toward Dave? What will you do if nothing changes?"
"I will love him," I told God.
And then reality struck: Dave might remain as he was indefinitely.
I became frantic. God, how can we live this way? Everything in me cried, I can't face this!
What were my options? Separation. Divorce. Death. Complete emotional shut-down. But every option would only compound the suffering for Dave and our children. I was trapped, suffocating. Everywhere I turned there was only pain. My emotions, even more than our circumstances, became my worst enemy.
Several weeks later, I read the words of the psalmist: "They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me" (Psalm 18:18-19).
God set me free that day. He helped me realize I don't have to obey what I feel; I obey God. That thought transformed me, and God gave me the strength to go on.
My love is a gift to Dave. What we had before was reciprocal love, what the Greeks called "phileo" love. It had never been tested—we never had to "agape" love each other. Agape love is loving no matter what the return. It's the kind of love God gives us; it draws us to him. If my dear Dave comes out of this, our love will be forever changed.
God actually gives us a great gift in suffering, because that's the closest we can come to agape-loving God, loving God without receiving the blessing we long for (although I'd still say God has blessed us in many ways).
Loving my husband has become extremely gratifying to me. I've learned about truly honoring and respecting another person. I don't value Dave for what he can do for me, but because God has placed value on him. God bought Dave with the blood of Christ, and has placed his Holy Spirit in him.
Lyme Disease, when treated early, is curable. At the later stages doctors hope to put it into remission. While Dave hasn't achieved that yet, he's slowly improving. We now have short conversations most days. Although we want more, we enjoy the gift of reclaiming our marriage.
I long for my best friend, for the joy of intimacy we once shared. But that's not really what love is about. It's an added blessing to be cherished, but love is really about living 1 Corinthians 13. We take joy in our love for our spouse, not merely because of what he or she does for us, but because to love is an incredible gift and joy from God.
Merry Marinello, a freelance author, lives in Illinois. Visit Merry at www.hopeismyanchor.com
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.