When I was in seminary I became friends with a man named Neil. Years before I met him Neil was an ultra-successful businessman who made more money than he knew what to do with, and who enjoyed all the spoils of his success. It was nothing for him to take off for a few days to go sun himself in the Caribbean or to go to Colorado to go skiing for the weekend. By the way, you've heard the next part of this story before. In all of his success he forgot about his family and his wife left him.
After losing his wife, God got his attention, he came back to Christ and experienced the great forgiveness of Christ. When I met him he was no longer living the high life, but seeking to follow Christ and taking some classes at seminary was a part of that. I was especially thrilled for Neil later when he met a young widow who had lost her first husband to cancer. They fell in love and got married.
I lost touch with Neil a bit but then ran into him one time at the seminary. He had recently found out he had colon cancer and the outlook was grim. Further, his new wife decided that she couldn't watch another husband die of cancer so she left him. Neil later died. I saw him one time before he died and his faith was strong and he was not bitter at all. Still, this was one of the most horrible stories I had ever heard and I could never think about Neil without a feeling of sadness.
I read recently that stories like Neil's are not that uncommon. I read one statistic that said that 20% of cancer patient's spouses leave them. It's usually the men who leave, but sometimes it's the wife.
This was the only colon cancer story I was familiar with until I found out that I had colon cancer with a similar prognosis to Neil's. So obviously when I think about myself I sometimes think about Neil.
I have never doubted my wife's love for me and commitment to me. I have never feared that she would leave me as Neil's wife did. Still, I can't help but wonder what kind of toll my cancer will take on her. I know she won't leave me but I have wondered if she will get sick of having to carry the load and if she will get to a point where she is just going through the motions and hoping I would die already so she can get on with her life.
Far from that grim prognosis, she has risen to the occasion. As I have declined she has excelled in all areas of love and sacrifice. Things aren't all bad mind you, I can still function in many ways and I'm not totally helpless - but I'm also not very helpful. She has to carry most of the load. While my affection for her is stronger than ever my ability to love her actively has diminished greatly.
While I sleep till 10 or 11 every day she gets up early gets the kids to school, runs errands and does the regular housework. She ferries them where they need to go and ferries me to and from doctors and hospitals, is constantly running to pick up a prescription or go get something I need.
I had an aha moment a couple of weeks ago. It was around 7 or 8 one evening and we had gone out to eat and were looking forward to relaxing at home watching TV and just being together. Suddenly, a son of ours burst through the front door with four friends in tow and asked if those four friends could spend the night. Of course this would involve going downstairs and taking over the TV for movies and games. And needless to say this meant the end of our quiet evening together.
I fully expected her to say "are you nuts, barging in here at the last minute and taking over the house." But before I could say anything she said "sure," then went downstairs and started cleaning up for the boys.
She has always been kind and loving but in that moment I realized just how selfless she has become. This trial that she has endured has not made her angry or bitter nor full of self pity. To be sure she has times of depression and great sadness. But none of that stops her from loving me and her family. In that moment with the son I saw that more clearly than ever. If anyone deserved a break and a quiet evening with her husband she did, yet when called on to sacrifice for the joy of her son she did so willingly and gladly. In fact, I think she even felt guilty about the whole thing because she didn't have the ingredients to make the boys pancakes for breakfast. As far as I was concerned they could have rocks for breakfast.
On Valentine's Day I did a message on Christian love in which I contrasted "Love Christian Style" with "Love American Style." Love American style is built on feelings - whatever love means to most of us, when we say we love someone we are talking about feeling a certain way about that. Love American style is driven by passion and romance and intensity of feeling.
Love Christian style is not without feeling but it is far more than that. Love Christian style is about laying down one's life for the beloved. It is living in self-denying, cross carrying love for the other, preferring their good to one's own. It doesn't ask how the beloved makes it feel, it asks how it may lay down one's life for the beloved.
After I did that sermon on Valentine's Day I found an article by Andrew Trees called "Romeo and Juliet Has Led Us Astray," wherein he shows how the Western ideals of romantic love have led us hopelessly astray. Those who marry when most "in love" at least in the Western romantic sense are also most likely to divorce.
I am happy to say that my affection for my wife continues to grow and that romance is not absent from our lives.
But romantic love can't carry you when one party has cancer and has almost nothing to contribute to the relationship. I suppose we could flip to the other side and talk about a stoic "committed love," but that may enable two people to exist together in the midst of something like cancer, but it can't provide any real joy or beauty in such a life.
Christian, cross based love is the answer. When the romance dwindles, when one party is too weak and sick to be passionate, or to meet the "needs" of the other, Christian cross based love can carry the day in such a way that the two can not only co-exist but live together with joy in the midst of trouble and even depression.
There's a lot I can't do but I am glad that I can at least still type. Though she pretty much has to do all the giving these days and I do all the receiving I am glad that I can at least type out a story of my gratitude for my wife's example of Christian, cross driven love, of which I am the chief beneficiary.
Many of you have been very kind in encouraging me to keep writing and I hope that I can do so and be a blessing. But I just want to go on record as saying that if you see that I am still standing, it's because I am being propped up by Lynette Wayne.