Last June, my wife and I marked our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I can’t really say celebrated, because still being in the middle of chemotherapy treatments, I wasn’t really up to much of a celebration. Hopefully we’ll get some special time together in the coming months, as I gradually return to full strength.
This ordeal has given me both the time and the inclination for some deeper spiritual reflection on the many blessings God has bestowed on me — beginning, ironically, with the very medical crisis that has led me to such reflection. I’ve thought a lot about people who are far worse off than I am — who are undergoing far more debilitating and painful treatments, without the positive prognosis that doctors had given me from the start. I’ve thought about the seemingly endless numbers of friends, colleagues and associates that we have been blessed with, whose prayers and good wishes have been such a vital support to my family and me. I’ve thought of course of the blessing of faith, given me primarily by my parents, that has over the years developed into a personal relationship with God that has allowed me to put total trust in Him as I have faced this crisis.
Most especially, though, I’ve reflected on the blessing that has been my marriage.
Good marriages are never as idyllic as we tend to envision them during the passion of young love. Being a little older, in our early thirties, when we married, Eileen and I were perhaps a bit more mature and realistic in understanding that the anticipated happiness of our life together would surely be intertwined with serious challenges; still, we were less than prepared for some of the difficulties we have subsequently encountered.
But — as this personal health crisis has brought home to me most powerfully — confronting such difficulties together has made all the difference.
I cannot imagine having to go through this alone; and I am so grateful to God that, because of my marriage, I have not had to. Eileen has been with me every step of the way, even as my weakened
condition has added to the already overwhelming daily home and family responsibilities that — even when I’m healthy — have always fallen most heavily on her. And it reminds me of how many times over the years — whether the challenges involved our children, our finances, difficult career decisions, or the sickness and/or death of extended family members or close friends — we have been there to support each other, to lean on each other, and to work through things together, with a shared faith in God’s love and guidance.
While the responsibilities of fatherhood — knowing I have children who depend on me — has made this bout with cancer even more frightening, my love for our children — and theirs for me — has been a vital source of inspiration in my determination to get through this ordeal, recover fully, and recommit to a healthy lifestyle. And that has made me reflect on how God turns the challenges of parenthood into opportunities — opportunities for Christ-like self-sacrifice inspired by our love for our children. Our responsibilities to our children are daunting; but if we accept them “lovingly from God,” as we promise in marriage, they will make us better persons, and gift us with our children’s loving care in return.
And finally, our marriage has blessed us both with the boundless love and support of each other’s extended families. They have been there for us, and for our children, not only through this latest crisis, but throughout our married lives; and I am so grateful to God — and to Eileen’s parents and mine — for the gift of so many loving siblings, and the opportunity for our own children to experience the love, friendship and mutual support of so many aunts, uncles and cousins.
In short, my family — the fullness of family bestowed by marriage — has been my strength.
Last weekend, as Eileen and I attended the wedding of my beautiful goddaughter, I prayed that the love and joy she and her husband were experiencing on their wedding day will be present throughout every day of their lives together; and I prayed especially that whatever challenges confront them in the years to come, they too will be drawn even closer — to each other, to their family and to God — by the sustaining strength of their marriage.