Jennifer and Rusty Veary make a handsome newlywed couple. They share a deep commitment to God and to each other. If you ran into them, you wouldn't notice anything unusual.
But if you got to know them, you might wonder why they went through with their wedding in August. Rusty, an energetic 50-year-old, married a woman who has a deadly, incurable and infectious disease. Jennifer, 32, is HIV-positive.
On a purely pragmatic level, their marriage defies logic. Conventional wisdom says the wedded state should confer a long list of attractive benefits—a lifetime of companionship and emotional support, a partner to share activities and interests, someone with whom you can raise a family. However, for Rusty and Jennifer, many of these benefits will be shortlived—and some, such as child-bearing—will be nonexistent.
Clearly, something else is at work. Rusty says his wife's condition doesn't matter to him—that we're all one day closer to the end of our lives. His nonchalance about marrying Jennifer, knowing he has little chance of growing old with her, flies in the face of what we've been taught to value in marriage. Talk to him about all this, and he gets philosophical. He believes nothing in life is guaranteed, yet God's plans will not be thwarted.
"People ask me why I would want to marry someone with a death sentence," he says. "You have to look at the heart of a person, not the outside shell—although Jennifer has a beautiful outside shell."
Jennifer is not a "typical" HIV-infected person. She is a nurse, and she has never used illicit drugs. But before she became a Christian four years ago, she had sex with a man who unknowingly had AIDS. "I thought it could never happen to me," she says. "I know now that I was living outside the boundaries God had set for my life."
While the Vearys hope for many years of marital happiness with this now "chronic, manageable disease," Rusty is prepared should Jennifer's health deteriorate. His only brother died of AIDS in 1992, and he shared the caregiving in the final days. But he's taking nothing for granted. "What if I get ill and Jennifer has to take care of me?" he asks.
Rusty and Jennifer are on to something. God created marriage and he pronounced it—without qualification—to be a good thing. Likewise, Rusty's reasons for marrying an HIV-positive woman far transcend the fleeting joy and excitement of romantic love that most couples settle for. The Vearys are demonstrating a truth that too many of us miss. Marriage is not solely a pragmatic arrangement. Its purposes far exceed mere comfort and convenience.
My wife, Patty, and I are learning this lesson. We wed 19 years ago, when we were 20. We recited our vows for better for worse, in sickness and in health. While we never dreamed what the outcome might be when we said those words, the past nine months have tested us.
Patty suffers with an undiagnosed malady that has left her fatigued and weak. Visits to numerous physicians and myriad tests have uncovered no cause, and her debilitating illness has changed our lives dramatically. My wife can no longer sing on the church worship team; we can no longer play tennis together; she can't drive a car.
But our love—and marriage—endures. God can still work through her weakened body, for her soul is what is important. Indeed, as we face an unknown future, the Lord is reinforcing those qualities that marriage is all about: patience, trust, unconditional love. With Patty's illness, we are seeing some of our old dreams, once taken for granted, now taking on new meaning.
Most couples shortchange what God has ordained by defining marriage as a fulfilling, mutually beneficial arrangement, rather than seeing it as God's gift to us no matter how difficult the terms become. And no matter how shortlived the arrangement. If Patty and I have but one more year together, it will be a year that will surpass any other state we could be in.
In this world, nothing is guaranteed. But we know God brings one man and one woman together for life. The outcome is in his hands. For us, as for Rusty and Jennifer, the blessing is in being together.
John W. Kennedy is associate news editor of Christianity Today magazine. He and his wife, Patty, live in the Chicago area with their three sons.
Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.