It was 1994. June 11th to be exact. As we stood before those who love us and whom we also love, we made a commitment to stay together til death do us part. In sickness and in health. We truly had no idea the rosy future we dreamed of for many months would some day look a little bit bleak like a rainy day that refuses to clear. We dreamed of happiness, laughter, little ones running around behaving perfectly. We dreamed of plenty of money and no worries of paying bills. We dreamed of amazing vacations and the perfect four bedroom, two-story home. And for a bit, for a couple of months, we had our perfect life. And then the wave of uncertainty and pain hit. The wave of sickness crashed over my mom as she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and my parents marriage began to crumble. The wave of divorce hit hard upon our family as the devastation of a family torn apart settled over my identity. The wave of a life lost enveloped us when our first baby died just 24 hours after telling all our family we were expecting. The wave of anger swallowed me when my mom was admitted to a nursing home at the young age of 50 as MS ravaged her body, and I had to go to court to become her guardian. The wave of sorrow swirled around me when my sweet mom, one of my very best friends, struggled for breath drowning in wet lungs that suffocated her. The wave of shear grief was present as my sisters and I watched her die in that nursing home 3 1/2 years after she was admitted. The wave of confusion took residence in my heart as I tried to justify the unfairness of not having my mom to teach me how to raise my little growing family. And yet our marriage survives.
Through the waves, through the tears, through the painful days, our marriage took hits from time to time. But we pressed on, never giving up. We were blessed with four littles in five and a half years as our home grew in laughter, sticky fingers and messy spaces. He loved his career in law enforcement working odd hours but enjoying every minute at home with our young family. I was blessed beyond measure to stay home with our babies. The days turned into years then the next crashing wave hit. The wave of special needs. The wave of deep sorrow and painful, hot tears. Those were exhausting years of changing diagnoses. Intractable epilepsy, developmental delays, autism, genetic testing x2 with no answers, therapies, head banging and helmets, stress and more stress and even more stress, sleepless nights with a raging child, medication after medication, travel out-of-state for answers that never came, a feeding tube, special ed and IEPs, nine months driving to Omaha every day for three hours of severe behaviors therapy, tears and depression and financial ruin. And then, in the midst of the stress of raising a child with special needs, we endured the biggest devastating event an officer could withstand short of losing his life. And yet our marriage survives.
Then came the brain surgeries for constant seizures – three in eight days – and the right frontal lobectomy. Then the fourth brain surgery 14 months later. And the stomach problems. Diagnoses and procedures like gastroparesis and ileus and neurogenic bowel and cecostomy and total parenteral nutrition. And yet our marriage survives.
So here we are. Almost 23 years in the books. We still laugh. We hold hands. We smile and kiss. We take trips to get away. We fight for resolution when the disagreements happen because they do come. We do not give up. I rub his feet, and I hate feet. He brushes my hair because it relaxes me. We irritate each other and stomp out of the room sometimes. We cry together. The hard times roll in. Those crashing waves almost drown us. We say we want to give up. But we do not. And yet our marriage survives.
That day in 1994. That sunny, beautiful day when we said “I do”. That day when my grandpa stood before us and gave us Proverbs 3:5-6 as our marriage verse. At the time I thought, why that one? Everyone knows that one. I wanted something special. I wanted a verse that would awe me. After all these years, through the trying times and the tears, that verse is powerful for us. That verse is promise. That verse is the cornerstone of why we continue to survive. That verse says this:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your paths.
We just did not get it at the time. We did not understand the impact those 27 words would have on our marriage. We were deaf to the significance of the command to trust and acknowledge the Lord. Yet that is exactly what saw us through the hard times when the waves threatened to drown us. That verse is exactly what kept us going. We did what it said. We trusted. We did not put our faith and reasoning in what we saw before us. We did not try to justify and alter His plan for us. Today we continue to walk by faith even when it is so hard. And yet our marriage survives.
One night when Travis was patrolling the streets of Lincoln, I laid in bed sobbing. Ryan was 16 months old, and we were having a terrible time with him. I cried and screamed at God. I called Him awful names and told Him to go to hell. I told Him He sucked, and that I hated Him. I let God have it. And then in my silence when words failed me and breathless sorrow encompassed my soul, I heard Him say these eight words that changed my world: He is as I intended him to be. My precious Ryan. And I simply knew it was true. Something changed that tearful night. Something in my spirit found renewed hope. Life did not get easier, but it became bearable. Ryan did not get better, but he became more valued. Finances did not get easier, but the bills were somehow always paid. Marriage did not require less work, but the little successes meant so much more. And yet our marriage survives.
Here we are nearly 23 years in. Here we are 13 years surviving the tumbles and tears of raising a child with disabilities who continues to weaken and decline. Here we are facing another big surgery in four days because another body system is failing our sweet boy. Here we are facing the grief of another loss, another care, another responsibility. And yet our marriage survives.
Statistics say couples with special needs children have an 80% divorce rate. While proven to be quite an exaggeration, it is true families with special needs children are closer to a 10% higher divorce rate than couples with typical children which is not much. We simply refuse to give up. We keep working hard to give selfless love. We share a love that has survived many tears and much heartache. And more will come. The difficulties and painful days are not behind us. We know that. We will face it together like we have done in the past. And yet our marriage survives.