What We Sign Up For

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Photo by Seatizen.co on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

This rainy Tuesday morning, I am sitting on my back porch at the crack of dawn. The sun is coming up behind the clouds, I’m sure, but you’d never know it from this vantage point. All I can see is grayness. Dampness. It began raining around 3 a.m., when my pain woke me up. They call it “painsomnia” – a more fitting term I cannot imagine – when you move in your sleep and the pain wakes you up. And keeps you up. It’s always a rude awakening, literally.

So I did what I normally do when I cannot sleep, which is not to do edifying things like read my Bible or work on getting back into seminary, but to scroll through my phone ad infinitum, which is Latin for “again and again in the same way; forever.” There are a lot of things that seem to be operating “ad infinitum” these days. Including a pandemic with no end in sight. Including chronic illness and pain.

While scrolling, I came across an article on “The Mighty” (a site I highly recommend for those battling invisible illness) titled ” “How My Husband Helps me Fight Chronic Illness.”

As you can imagine, it is a piece written by a chronically ill woman about all the ways her husband holds her up – emotionally, and sometimes physically. It’s a great piece. I wish I’d written it.

Earlier, I was reading the article while still in bed, laying next to my sleeping husband. I’m glad he is sleeping soundly. He has much on his plate these days. Too much. And part of that “too much” is that his wife is having a horrible pain flare, and I can’t fake otherwise, and I know he worries.

In the back of my mind, there is still a little joy-hijacking goblin that insists that THIS – a wife who is bedridden part of the time – is NOT what he “signed up for.” The goblin can be very convincing, what with telling me he deserves better. Because he really does – he deserves a wife who can easily travel and have adventures with. That was the PLAN, you see.

 The goblin carries a knapsack full of guilt, which it does not hesitate to unzip and unfurl the contents thereof when I have my guard down. When I am weak. Like now.

My husband has to do things like bring me water, when I’m too sore to walk to the kitchen and back. And that’s the very least of it. There is no task he shirks at helping me with, and he does it with remarkable patience. He is my best friend, and he knows when I hurt, no matter what I do to try to hide it.

But before he woke today, I got up and fed the cats and made some coffee to take out on the back porch, to watch the storm.

If there’s anything that we are all experiencing, it is the frying-pan-in-the-face that things do not go as planned. As we socially distance, this situation is either bringing out the very best in us, or the very worst. Much like chronic illness. And marriage.

I once remarked to my hubby that he “didn’t sign up for this.” To which he said, “I signed up for whatever being with you looks like.” Such a simple answer to a messy, muddled, mind-goblin riling situation. And I knew I could accept that – which is harder than you’d think – or continue the rest of our marriage mired in guilt because I’m sick. I’m trying hard to work on my insecurities. It’s a process.

But all during the process, God has shown so much grace – including the grace with which my better half has risen to for the crappiest of occasions … a life together that didn’t go as planned.

On bad days, it feels like a storm rolling in. You cannot see the sun for the dark clouds, as cliche as that analogy is. You’d never even know it was there. So the only thing to do is trust what you cannot see. Or change your vantage point, because perspective is everything. And tell the Guilt Goblin to put a sock in it already.

I’m so grateful for a mate who signed up for whatever being with me looks like. I certainly didn’t earn it. But that’s the thing about love … it doesn’t play by selfish rules. It refuses to leave. It digs in and stays in.

Ad infinitum. Again and again; the same way forever.