Once upon a time, a fair young maiden caught the eye of a godly young lad in the village of “Bowl of Cherries.” The young lad asked the fair maiden if she’d accompany him to a jousting tournament and a courtship began that continued to blossom over the next two years. Once the fair maiden completed her classical studies, the young lad asked for her hand in marriage and she enthusiastically said yes! A grand wedding ceremony and marriage celebration followed and life became a “bowl full of cherries!”
Actually, that “fair maiden” is me, and I have been married 30 years to my “young lad.” We were blessed with two children, a 24 year-old daughter who married her own godly young lad, and a 21 year-old son who is entering graduate school. Thirty years of marriage and two grown children progressing successfully in life. . .so far, so good, right? Well, frankly, it is good, and I hope to share with you both the joys and struggles of two imperfect people in marriage, and how we have remained “one flesh” through God’s grace and faithfulness.
All members of our family live with chronic, sometimes debilitating, disease.
When you live with a chronic disease, you can look lively and healthy on the outside, but be struggling on the inside. The chronic nature of a disease can also be “wearing” over time and can cause the person suffering with the disease to become self-centered, uninterested in sharing the interests of his/her spouse, and unable to serve them.
Now multiply that by four people in a family, two people in a marriage, and you can see where maintaining a healthy Christian marriage can seem impossible. Yet several times in the Bible, Jesus states, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) Throughout our 29 years, God has been faithful in meeting all of our physical, mental, and emotional needs, allowing all of us to live active lives.
My husband and I became born-again Christians later in life, around age 40, through God’s intervention in many ways, and through the prayers of many believers. Once we accepted Christ as our personal Savior, life became a bowl full of cherries, right? Not quite.
As we grew in our faith, we also began to realize that what our family was being taught at church was not consistent with what we were learning in the Bible. After what seemed like an eternity, God gave both my husband and I a clear signal that it was time to move on, which brought us both such peace, but our children were upset and shocked, and could only think about the friends who they would no longer see. It was a period of anger, confusion, and what seemed like an endless search for a new church that we could call our home.
[pullquote]Those few months of our marriage were one of the most difficult periods up to that point.[/pullquote] At the same time, my husband and our son were undergoing many tests, procedures, and treatments to identify and bring their diseases into remission. Those few months of our marriage were one of the most difficult periods up to that point. In visiting churches, there was apprehension, tension, and butterflies. We were also dealing with various treatments for our son’s Crohn’s disease and my husband’s “strange ailment.” But God was faithful and, in His own time, confirmed and unified us in selecting the specific church that would be our home.
The bowl of cherries seems full again, right?
As our children grew, we invested a lot of our time and energy into their lives, which was wonderful and we don’t regret a minute of it. We were having fun with the kids, with our kids’ friends, and with our own friends. Even though my husband and I were spending time together and having fun together, we were not investing emotionally in each other. This occurred in spite of being active in the Marriage Encounter ministry and teaching Sunday School classes on family and marriage issues.
Yet life was good. . . the bowl of cherries seemed full–almost overflowing.
And then I “blinked” and our beautiful daughter was off to college in Virginia, seven hours away. She loved college from day one, a blessing from the Lord, but the loss to me was like a death in the family. In addition, my mother-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly a few months before that from a stroke, and my mother, who had been ill, died one month after our daughter left for college. The three most important women in my life were gone.
My bowl of cherries was not completely empty, but there certainly was not enough to make a pie.
The outgoing, organized, always-together wife, mother, sister, friend, and worker “disappeared” and a clinically depressed and anxious shell of a person replaced her. In addition, our son entered tenth grade and the most rebellious year of his life. A woman that usually went toe-to-toe with her son now could barely put one toe in front of the other.
It was a very dark period of my life, a time of complete helplessness with no human ability to “fix” it. I lost all ability to concentrate, to sleep, and to have any emotion about anything. I was anxious all the time and couldn’t organize myself to get showered, to pick out clothes, or to get dressed.
Years before, the Lord had given me a life verse: “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). . . yet I felt shaken to the core. What kind of testimony was my life now?
In my fog, this verse somehow came to mind, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12). God knew what to do: He drew together a small group of women who interceded for me, who provided meals for us, who took turns calling me each day to see if I was moving forward, who encouraged me to seek counseling and medication.
Eventually, I began to be restored, the cherries began to blossom on the tree again!
Not only was God faithful, but my husband was too, even though he was stretched way beyond his comfort zone and experienced intense periods of sadness, anger, exasperation, confusion, and loneliness. He modeled Jesus’ servanthood to me. . . and still does.
I look back now and call that period of my life a “treasure of darkness,” because there are things God taught my family during that time that could not have been learned in any other way. I saw unconditional and sacrificial love in action daily, and I could return neither. Neither my husband, children, or friends knew when, or if, I would “return.”
Since my “return,” my husband and I have been able to reach out to others where a spouse is suffering from depression and have been able not only to offer our testimony, but our ears, our hands, and our feet in very tangible ways. God does not waste anything.
[pullquote]A huge piece of my restoration came through my husband and I participating in Christian counseling…[/pullquote] A huge piece of my restoration came through my husband and I participating in Christian counseling with a wise and godly man, who had founded a Christian counseling ministry. My husband had often resisted the idea of counseling, but the issues underlying my depression affected our marriage, and we needed to bring them to light. So, through the counseling, the Lord helped us resolve them in our hearts and minds. Again, my husband chose to serve me by attending the counseling.
We counseled for about a year and a half and the counselor helped me to see lies that I believed about the priority of my relationship with my daughter and my husband, and then gave us tools to find the truth. Counseling is hard work; although we felt weak when we began, through Christ’s strength, and the perseverance of both the counselor and us, we came out much stronger as individuals and as a couple grounded in Christ.
Once again, God was faithful. . .
. . . . this time in providing a godly counselor with whom we both connected and who helped reconnect us with Christ and His plan for our lives.
I wish I could say I feel spectacular now, our marriage is consistently joyous, and everyday is an awesome experience, but I would be lying. We still struggle with ongoing health issues, resulting in fatigue and sometimes poor communication. I still sometimes struggle with how I ended up where I am in life, and the passion and friendship of our marriage still waxes and wanes.
So you might say the bowl of cherries is only half full.
Yet, I look beyond the man with the hair graying at his temples, the man with the hair growing on his back and in his ears, the man who daily struggles physically and mentally, and I see the man who calls me his “bride.” I see the man who loves me unconditionally and who is the “Jesus with skin on” in my life. And I praise God for the consistent sacrificial love he has shown and given to me for many of those 29 years.
I know that the bowl of cherries overflows! God continues to be faithful.
So, what is the key to keeping and replenishing that bowl full of cherries for your marriage? Unconditional and sacrificial love to meet the needs of our spouse, modeled by Jesus Christ in so many ways.
In Romans 12:3, Paul reminds us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” This is the key, whether you’re married to a Christian or non-Christian, modeling service and sacrificial love to others.
What does this unconditional and sacrificial love look like daily? Making dinner when you don’t feel like it; turning off your favorite TV show to talk with your spouse or to take a walk; perhaps watching a ball game on TV with him (or HGTV with her), even though you have no interest in it; being sexually intimate with him when you don’t feel like it as an act of sacrificial love; going out to where he tinkers with cars or with wood (you know, the place which has literally taken over your garage or basement); and just watching him work and keeping him company, even when your energy level is low or nonexistent. Ask God. He will give you the strength you need to fulfill this calling.
This is sacrificial love in action, and it will change your marriage! It’s not natural, it’s not something we’re inclined to do, and it’s not something we’re encouraged to do in our society. It will only occur through obedience to those little nudges and promptings of the Holy Spirit within you. Your spouse will notice, your kids will notice, and your girlfriends or family may tell you you’re nuts! But, most importantly, God will notice, and as you are faithful in unconditionally and sacrificially loving your spouse, He will bless and transform you, your marriage and your life!
Jackie Confalone lives in Pennsylvania with her “groom” of 30 years, Gary, and they have two children-a daughter who is married and living in Virginia, and a son who is in graduate school at U. of Tennessee in Knoxville. Jackie “lives” with three invisible illnesses, Ulcerative Colitis, Endometriosis, and Late Stage Lyme Disease.
Each of her family members has at least one invisible illness. Although they have walked through many years of pain, struggle, and uncertainty, she believes and lives by her life verse: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8). She loves God, Jesus, her family, ministering and teaching with her husband, teaching fitness classes, sleeping, technology, writing, and cherry pie-in that order. These are her first published articles and she feels blessed that God has used her experiences to help others with invisible illnesses. She has started posting some writings at http://jackieconfalone.wordpress.com.