Finding God's Blessings When Your Spouse is Ill

Laura Story and family
Courtesy Laura Story

Worship leader and Christian recording artist Laura Story sings about finding God and His blessings in the broken places of life. And broken places are something with which Laura is all too familiar.

Laura met her husband, Martin, just before her junior year in high school, and they continued their relationship throughout college, marrying in 2004. A year later Laura had taken a staff position at Perimeter Church in Atlanta. As the newlyweds were settling, Martin was experiencing some unusual symptoms. At first they were uncertain whether Martin was dealing with something physical, emotional or psychiatric, but many months and many tests later Martin faced a life-changing diagnosis. It was February 2006 when doctors confirmed that Martin had a brain tumor that needed to be removed. Life as Laura and Martin had known it — or dreamed it would be — was over.

That was more than a decade ago. Laura now talks openly about Martin’s condition and the fact that surgery removed the tumor but there would be no cure for Martin’s short-term memory loss, his failing eyesight and other complications that have since defined his world. She shares honestly about her broken dreams for a fairy-tale marriage and family, her struggles with wanting God to fix her husband, and how she’s ultimately found the Lord’s blessings amid the questions and disappointments of life.

Laura writes poignantly in her book When God Doesn’t Fix It about God’s love and grace in her world even as she lives day to day with a spouse struggling with chronic illness. The following excerpts from that book share a bit of Laura’s story.

Taking one step at a time

I think there comes a time in every marriage when the fairy-tale wedding and honeymoon are over. Now two selfish and sinful people are living together in a home — and disappointment can set in. On those days, marriage feels like a climb out of an emotional hole. Those days remind me of another climb out of another deep hole that Martin and I made together.

Martin and I love to hike, and we took our first postsurgical hike when he’d only been home from the hospital a few months. In the years since then, we continued hiking, carefully working ourselves up to longer trails.

One weekend, we decided to take a camping trip to a waterfall friends told us about. Our plan was to do the three-and-a-half mile hike, camp for the night and return by the same route the following day. This hike, though, would be strenuous because we would be carrying camping equipment and supplies on our backs. But it was still quite doable for the two of us, and I wasn’t worried.

When we set out, the path had a slight incline with a few hilly ups and downs. For the most part, it was an unremarkable, flat hike. About a mile and half in, we took a left turn, and I could see that the path went down into a gorge — two miles nearly straight down!

We started off carefully, shifting our packs so they wouldn’t pitch us forward. It was slowgoing and exhausting, but by late afternoon we finally reached the bottom. We found a flat space, set up our camp and built a fire. I watched as Martin relaxed and took in the sights and smells.

I wanted to do the same.

I’d been busy at Perimeter, so I looked forward to spending the weekend with my husband. I wanted to enjoy all the setting offered — but I didn’t.

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, I was completely distracted by the thought of the climb we would have to make the next morning. I scanned the horizon for other paths. There’s got to be another way out!

The next morning, as we loaded everything into our packs and hoisted them on our backs, they seemed twice as heavy as they did the day before. On the way down, the backpacks seemed to push us along, but as we struggled up the incline they felt like restraints slowly pulling us backward.

It’s not like we could call a helicopter, or even a cab, to come get us. We had to walk out of there regardless of whether we thought we could. So we did the only thing we could do. We put one foot in front of the other and then we did it again. And again. One step at a time. Each step an upward climb. Our only option was two miles of one foot in front of the other, resting when we needed to rest, no matter how long it took to get out of the valley. It was a grueling hike to the top, but eventually we made it out.

That hike became a metaphor for me when I thought about our trials.

When friends said, “We’re so proud of how well you and Martin are doing,” all I could think was, What choice do we have? We could stay stuck in our brokenness, but what good would that do? Instead we did the only thing in life that we could do, the same thing we did to get out of the gorge. We took one step and then another. One surgery, followed by another. Eating mush, to eating with a fork. Wheelchair to walker.

Pretty soon people were congratulating us on “making it through.” But that’s when the metaphor broke down. After a long struggle that weekend against the elements and our own fatigue, Martin and I made it out of the gorge. But in real life, we were still wandering around in the valley of the brain tumor’s secondary medical effects. I wanted to tell them, “We’re not through. We’ll never be through. We’ll always be doing a two-mile uphill climb with baggage on our backs and none of the stamina we used to have.”

But what was the point? Unless someone had dealt with a disability firsthand, they really didn’t understand. Our choices were to give up or keep moving. We chose to keep moving.

Re-evaluating our marital expectations

Now we were facing a similar climb with our marriage. Only this time, I wasn’t sure how to get out of the disappointing marriage gorge. Would it be like our medical trials? Would we be destined to wander around endlessly, or was there another path out?

For us that meant trying to understand our frustration and disappointment with each other, and I was pretty sure that had something to do with our expectations of each other. So I started examining mine.

How much of my disappointment in Martin was rooted in my unrealistic expectations for him? Though I didn’t say it out loud, one of my unspoken beliefs was that he would love me perfectly. But was it fair to think he would love me perfectly even though I was not perfect?

To make it [marriage] work, we both have to lower our expectations. I can’t hold Martin to standards he can’t achieve, and he can’t hold me to standards that aren’t fair. We have to get our expectations in sync and then find ways to help our spouse succeed.

Despite our innate selfishness, we can choose to be loving and giving in any given moment. And when our spouse is hurting, we can do it for days or weeks at a time. But like the uphill hike, it doesn’t just happen. Martin and I never would have gotten out of the gorge on our hike unless we’d taken deliberate steps. And we wouldn’t get out of our marriage struggles unless we were intentional about finding solutions.

Finding the blessings in the pain

I thought about how it all began. Martin and I had prayed for blessings, healing and protection. All of the things people usually prayed for in situations like ours. But, thankfully, God didn’t give us what we asked for. Instead He’d given me something even more valuable — a deep intimacy with Him and with Martin. There’s nothing wrong with praying for safety for your family, for healing and protection or any of those kinds of things, but what if there are blessings that God offers that are greater than just a pain-free life?

What if it wasn’t about my husband getting better? What if that’s not the blessing? What if the blessing is about learning to do life while loving God and loving others — even in the middle of our disabilities?

While thinking about these things, words seemed to flow and a tune came to mind. And I wrote:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace;

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep.

We pray for healing, for prosperity;

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering.

And all the while, You hear each spoken need,

Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.

 

’Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?

What if Your healing comes through tears?

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know

You’re near?

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

I don't know what the broken thing in your life is. That thing that you want God to fix. The thing He hasn't done, or that thing that has disappointed you so much. Maybe, one day, He will fix it. Maybe He won't.

Pain, sickness and betrayal are brutal consequences of the Fall. We still feel the results of sin, and things won't be made right until Jesus comes back.

Our hope comes in Jesus, even when He doesn't do what we want Him to do. Even when He doesn't fix what's broken in our life.

When Jesus is with us, He's our anchor in the rough waters of a troubled life. If we want to survive the storm we need to cling to Him like the salvation He is.

Laura Story is a Bible teacher, worship leader, singer and songwriter. She is best known for her song "Blessings" that inspired her book, When God Doesn't Fix It.

If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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