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September 12, 2016
“For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live…” We’ve heard these words all too often, and some of us have said them before. When Josh and I were preparing to get married we thought about our future, our kids, finances, our home, and everything in between, or what we thought was everything. But nothing can prepare you for the trials and tests that come in marriage. Nothing can prepare you when your sweetheart and best friend that you’ve been married to for 30 plus years suddenly receives news that he or she is very sick. This is the story of my parents. When my mom was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor, our whole family was devastated, but dad was hurt the worst. If you know anything about my parents, you know that they were inseparable, best friends, partners in crime, the reason the other got up in the morning, and everything between. Their marriage set the example of what I wanted my marriage to look like, and ultimately inspired the heart and soul of my business, which is to encourage and uplift marriages! This blog post has been on the blog before, but it’s too important and too special not to share again. So here it is! My dad is sharing his story, and giving all of us some very valuable advice on how to withstand the tests of marriage.
I come from a family where commitment was everything, our defining trait. Every person in our household was committed to this notion called family. I could feel it as my father took me fishing, to Boy Scout meetings or as we played in the back yard. I could discern it as the three inseparable Jones kids all took ballet (that’s right…even the boy!), and bonded together to fight other neighborhood kids (if you messed with one, you had all of us to deal with). Commitment was obvious as my parents showed up at all our performances, games and student assemblies. I could discern it in how my parents dealt with each other. Make no mistake, like many other couples, they argued, disagreed and even called names. But no one could ever question their commitment to each other. Theirs was a marriage of the old-fashioned variety; one that took seriously the notion, “as long as we both shall live.” Through good times and bad, they offered us a sense of stability that comes in knowing that they would always be together.
In the 80’s, Mom began to experience weakness in her legs and arms. After a battery of tests she received a dreaded diagnosis… ALS or commonly called, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. We all prayed, cried, tried to rebuke this this thing, in Jesus’ name!!! Yet the diseased progressed, eventually taking away her mobility, ability to care for her own basic needs, and her ability to even talk. This beautiful, articulate strong and proud lady became dependent upon family to care for her every need. Daddy cared for her faithfully, painstakingly, every day; every moment of the day. A gruff old fellow, he may not have been the most gentle, did not know all of the tender words to say, but no one could question his total commitment. He approached her care as he had lived his entire life, with an indefatigable work ethic that took his tasks seriously. He communicated love for his wife in his lifts, as he fed her and as he sat at her bedside, paying absolute attention to detail. Too old school to cry, but with pain in his eyes, he was always there for her. This was his wife and he was going to take care of her as best he could until her last breath. And he did just that! He showed up for duty, body and soul, totally committed until she passed away.
My parents set the example and shaped my thoughts about marriage. It is a union of two people totally committed to each other for life; not until one or the other is upset…not until some hunk or sweet young thing comes along, but until one or the other departs this earthly existence.
Why has this sense of commitment become so seemingly absent from relationships? Why has marriage become something that we do until the next good thing comes along? The statistics are replete and redundant that more marriages tend to end in divorce than those that stand the tests of time. Could it be that we live in a day that everything is so instant and trendy, that that which endures seems almost evil? The call is for young couples to look beyond the bulging muscles and sculptured hips, to ask the question, can I truly be committed to this person in prosperity and in adversity, in laughter and in sorrow, in sickness and in health as long as we both are alive. You see, sometimes marriage is sweet, and sometimes it is not! Though one’s spouse looks great today, with age, bulges become bulk and that strong chin becomes a double chin. What makes a marriage is total and complete commitment despite the changes of time. Indeed, until a couple can make such a commitment, true marriage does not exist.
What is commitment? I have used this definition so long that I do not even know where it originated. “Commitment is words that speak of one’s intentions but it is also actions which speak louder than words. It is showing up on time, time after time. It is coming thru time after time. Commitment makes time when there is no time. It is the greatest testament of our integrity. Commitment makes it work.”
How is commitment born? Is it a function of nature or nurturing? It is certain that parents’ commitment to work, to church, to family and to each other writes an often indelible script in the character of children. We gain our values, our determination of right and wrong, by what we see in our families. Don Miguel Ruiz says that in our youth we are “domesticated” by our parental influences. But Ruiz also suggests that we reach a point of negotiating new “agreements” in our lives; rules by which we will live our adult lives. 1 We have to decide if commitment is a rule by which we desire to live.
My sense of commitment seems to have come from what I saw in family and among my parents. It is a character that says one does not quit. It calls to me faithfulness in relationships and fidelity to causes (Perhaps this reason that I have been a fan of my favorite team for so long, despite many years of losing disappointments…I’m committed). This I know, when it is a part of one’s character, it not drudgery or laborious. It is as breathing, essential to one’s sense of self.
That is how I entered into this marriage, both consciously and spiritually. In fact, when Carla and I were on our honeymoon we made an additional covenant, a restatement of our vows, which said no matter what, divorce is off of the table. We vowed to weather the storms together; disagreements, moments of lack and times when we ask the Lord, “why;” whatever would come our way…we would struggle through it all as a married couple. We vowed that our relationship would be one built upon a foundation of commitment until the day that one of us dies. This commitment does not make us perfect. In fact it seems that our imperfections give greater cause for commitment. It is because we are prone to faults and failure that this trait is all the more needed.
What I did not know is how life would imitate life. In 2010, Carla had just earned a Ph.D, seemed on the path to doing great things as an educator and was building a wonderful music program for our church. I was a retired Army Chaplain, had become the pastor of the church where I always wanted to be and was planning great things for the future. We were on an upward trajectory. All things looked bright. During our military days we traveled the world and were set to live a fun life as our kids would hopefully leave our nest and pockets soon.
In June of that year, Carla, my beautiful bride; smart, gentle…sexy too, was diagnosed with an inoperable and malignant glioma in the thalamus. The progression of the disease, the assault of radiation and chemo therapy has rendered her bedridden, unable to perform simple functions. She is in hospice care, sometimes incoherent, and from time to time even agitated. My day consists of “doing” for her. Bathing, lotioning, cooking, bed changes, and whenever I can sneak one in, getting a hug from my boo.
I am fortunate to have two lovely daughters, dedicated sisters and a sister in law to help with this special calling. But the commitment is mine. I am pledged to do the best that I can by this lady to whom I am committed for life. I would be less than honest if I did not add that sometimes I feel like God has played a cruel joke, that He is testing my faith, or even worse, that God is off somewhere taking a vacation. Sometimes I am just plain angry with God! Yet, just as my parents, I am called to live out this thing called commitment. I pray that I am a little gentler than my father was. But I also pray to be just as determined to give her the best care that I can. Most of all I pray that as others see our journey they will know what it is to be committed. You see, commitment makes it work!
These are my parents, Keith and Carla Jones, at their wedding on February 4, 1984.
Mom and Dad at my wedding in 2013.
(photo credit: Lindsay Fauver Photography)
(1 Ruiz, Don Miguel; The Four Agreements; Amber-Allen Publishing; San Rafael; 1997.)
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