Even if Nothing Ever Changes
In her 30’s, Merry had the best years ahead. She was married to her best friend and was the mother of two toddler-aged children. Her husband, Dave, had just begun a new position as children’s pastor. The future was bright. Until 2000.
In June, Dave had to leave the pastorate because of memory loss, dizziness, fatigue, joint pain and chemical sensitivities. The cause was unknown. Four months later, he was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease, a disease transmitted by deer ticks. His condition went undiagnosed for 15 years until symptoms intensified resulting in permanent disability.
By October 2000, Dave was unable to attend church, engage in conversation, or make decisions. Dave sometimes got lost in familiar places and often slept 16 hours a day. Merry felt like a single mom and a widow with a husband who needed more care than her young children. Her bright future became a dense fog.
JBU: Has there been a defining moment for you?
MM: One day Dave’s memory had reverted to our dating days. I had to keep telling him where we lived, that we’re married and have two children. I went to bed exhausted. “God,” I cried, “What are your intentions toward Dave?”
I prayed as always, “Take him home to you or bring him home to me, but don’t let him continue this way.”
That night, it was as if God asked, “Merry, what are your intentions toward Dave? What will you do if nothing changes?”
“I will love him,” I replied.
And then reality hit: Dave might remain like this. I became frantic. "God, how can we live this way?” Everything in me cried, “I can’t face this!” My emotions became my worst enemy, even more than the circumstances.
Several weeks later, I read Psalm 18:18-19: “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.” These verses led me back to the anchor of my faith—God’s character—His sovereignty, goodness, and love. Would I believe my emotions or my God? I chose God.
JBU: How is Dave now?
MM: Lyme is treated with antibiotics, but it can take years. Because Dave’s disease was discovered in its late-stage, the prognosis is uncertain. Each time we tried a new antibiotic or doctor, my hope swelled and then sank.
For example, in 2003 we switched antibiotics again and seemed to be moving toward remission. He could read for 20 minutes at a time, and when I saw his passion rekindled for God’s Word, my heart rejoiced. Though in pain, he taught the adult Sunday school class for nine months, and had a renewed excitement for life.
But the improvements slowly melted away, and by Spring 2004, all improvements were gone.
JBU: How did you deal with that?
MM: To have Dave then lose him again was more painful than the first time I lost him. Over the next three years, I slipped into depression. By 2007, I began once again to hope in God rather than in cures, and to remember that circumstances don’t define God’s love.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I stopped expecting God to do what I wanted and began to submit myself to Him unconditionally. Who am I to demand a smoother life, or to think that a more public ministry is a higher calling?
I don’t know how God will use this experience, but I do know He will be glorified. I often pray, “Lord, change me. Make me willing and able to bear up under this strain, and to walk with you.”
JBU: What have you learned about marital love?
MM: Naturally, I long for my best friend and the joy of intimacy, but that’s not what agape-love is about. I’ve learned to honor and respect my husband regardless if the love is reciprocated. I don’t value Dave for what he can give to me, rather for the value God has given him. This love is extremely fulfilling.
JBU: How do you keep your marriage alive as a caregiver to a disabled husband?
MM: A good sense of humor! The best comedians have learned the secret of finding humor in hard times.
Another way I keep the marriage tight is to pray for God’s protection. It’s important to never let our guard down, or believe that a ministry couple is beyond the grip of sin.
God has given the secret of a good marriage in 1Cor.13:4-7. I have prayed one verse at a time for an entire month.
JBU: How did God prepare you for this challenge?
MM: God began the preparation when I was eight years old. Three times a week for 4-and-a-half years prior, I had watched my dad hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine. I heard his screams of pain and watched him die. Through one of dad’s favorite hymns—In the Garden—God impressed on me the reality of His presence, one of the secrets to weathering this current storm.
JBU: How would you encourage someone in a difficult situation?
MM: God’s character is not determined by our circumstances: God isn’t good when He blesses us, or bad when He doesn’t. Instead, look at His character—love, mercy, justice, trustworthiness, faithfulness, omnipotence—from Scripture and your life. We cannot take a snapshot in time and expect it to tell us who God is. Knowing who God is, really knowing Him, is key to surviving trials.
Contact Merry at : www.hopeismyanchor.com for more details of her story as well as resources on Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses.