Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together.
"I promise to love and cherish you in sickness and in health, for better or worse, as long as we both shall live." Like most couples, Nolan and I spoke these vows in 1972 never realizing what the future would hold for us as a married couple.
"Your baby has cystic fibrosis and probably will die before the age of thirteen. But don't get your hopes up because most kids with CF do not even live that long," cautions the young intern. He promptly walks out of the dismal hospital room. The news is incomprehensible. Our precious baby is only three months old… how can a doctor talk about her death? Nolan and I caress our infant and wonder what the future will hold for our little girl. How long will Rebekah live? Tears are uncontrollable.
The next day a counselor advises that our attitude toward this devastating disease will determine how Rebekah deals with cystic fibrosis. Also she warns, "The majority of couples who have a child with an incurable disease get a divorce. The financial burden and emotional stress is just too great." Nolan and I assure the counselor that our marriage will last. The counselor says, "I hope you are right and that your marriage will not be another divorce statistic."
Distraught over the counselor's information, we talk about the importance of communication to keep our marriage alive. Daily, Nolan and I discuss situations and make each decision together. Together, our determination and commitment will help fight this deadly disease. We know we are stronger together than apart. The wedding vows we made to each other five years earlier were for better or for worse. This event certainly is "the worse" in our marriage. We are determined to survive this disease as a family committed to loving one another. We have a powerful weapon… prayer and faith in our mighty God.
During the hospitalization, we learn the effects of this progressive disease. We must administer breathing treatments to our baby to prevent lung congestion. Doctors, nurses and counselors are available at the hospital to answer questions and help us learn more about the deadly disease. But we wonder, "What will happen once we take our little girl home?"
Finally, the day arrives and we leave the hospital. A breathing machine and numerous medications are necessities we take with us. We are determined to enjoy our beautiful daughter for as long as she lives. Nolan and I believe that we can handle the daily stress associated with CF because we have each other's love and strength.
Our family settles into a routine. We want to keep things as normal as possible for our daughter and two-year-old son, Bryant. But each time Rebekah coughs repeatedly, fear engulfs us. The responsibility for her health is overwhelming.
Constant hospitalizations do put a strain on our relationship. Sometimes, we are on an emotional roller coaster. We are more determined than ever to make every moment count. Rebekah's health is always a great concern. We know that our marriage must remain strong. So, we decide to consciously make a time for each other every evening to talk. As soon as the children go to bed, we turn off the television and share the events of the day. We discuss and solve problems one at a time. Our home is a place of calmness and loving acceptance.
Years pass quickly. Rebekah enters a private school where teachers commit to understand CF. It is extremely difficult for a parent to leave a child with a critical illness anywhere, especially for long periods. I seek an activity to keep me busy while Rebekah is at school. My husband suggests enrolling in college. So, I do. While my children are in school, I attend classes to pursue my lifelong dream of teaching. Often I say to Nolan, "I don't think I can handle college and house chores in addition to all of Rebekah's special needs." My husband is adamant and encourages me. Nolan helps both children with homework and administers Rebekah's breathing treatments. After the children are in bed, he helps me with my homework until after midnight.
Our hard work pays off! Finally, my dream comes true. I am a college graduate at age forty. I apply to teach at the Christian school my children attend and they hire me to teach second grade. So, I am fulfilling my lifelong ambition to teach.
At times, our life seems almost normal. Rebekah amazes us with her determination to succeed. She participates in sports, drill team and cheerleading. But, she battles constant fatigue and chronic lung infections. But even with all of my daughter's accomplishments, often I am frightened that the doctor's predictions will come true. Will Rebekah die soon?
To our amazement, Rebekah lives past the age of thirteen. Our daughter has a dream of teaching and wants to attend college after high school. But to our distress, she develops diabetes, a frequent complication for adults with cystic fibrosis. Now, in addition to CF and two to three hours of daily breathing treatments, Rebekah must control blood sugar levels by exercise and insulin. The disappointment is great! Nolan and I struggle to deal with an additional disease. But our amazing daughter says, "This is no big deal! What's another disease! I have learned from the two of you that our family can handle anything together. We love each other and we are a team! You and Dad have taught me that!"
Our team seems to be challenged often. The death of my beloved dad is overwhelming. Nolan helps me through the grieving process. We take walks and I pour out my emotions. We visit the gravesite together and remember my dad and his influence on my life. Nolan and I face another challenge together… two teenagers. We experience the joy of success with good grades, awards, and winning teams. Rebekah participates in dance recitals, volleyball teams, and an award-winning cheerleading squad. She receives a national cheerleading award. Bryant pursues soccer, baseball, and varsity football. We also encounter the frustration of two teen drivers with speeding tickets and car wrecks. But we survive the teen years. Our marriage is strong because we are committed to tackling each problem together with love.
Our son has even noticed a difference in our marriage. Bryant says, "Lots of my friends' parents divorced, thinking that would solve all of their problems. I know it took extra efforts for you two to stay together. I don't know how a separated family could handle problems like CF. I appreciate how our family focuses on God and has always worked together as a team."
Our daughter graduates from high school and takes college courses with a fierce determination to succeed. Hospitalizations occur every six months. Rebekah is finally a college senior but the last semester is physically demanding and her body is ravaged by pneumonia. At age twenty-three, she is sicker than she has ever been. The fear of losing our beloved daughter is ever constant. The counselor was right. The stress is great with a chronically-sick child. However, when Nolan and I pray together, God enables us to overcome the fear.
After ten days of hospitalization, Rebekah's physical strength returns and her lungs are clear. She gets to go home in time for Christmas. Amazingly, she continues college. A miracle happens! Rebekah graduates from UNT with a degree in education. On that day, tears flow freely as Nolan and I marvel at the accomplishments of our daughter. Rebekah hugs us and says, "Thanks so much for supporting and believing that I could achieve my goal of a college degree."
Our theory of stronger together is proven true year after year! We praise God for the power to conquer the daily effects of our daughter's disease. Stress, fear, financial obligations, and even dealing with medical insurance frustrations… we can handle together. Now, the average life span for an adult with CF is the mid-thirties. But, we've met adults with CF who are fifty and researchers claim a cure for CF in the future is realistic. We believe that our daughter will continue to accomplish her dreams.
Our marriage is stronger now than when we first made the wedding vows. The reason is simple: we love each other, pray constantly, communicate daily, and have faith in God. What a team! And after thirty-seven years of marriage, "I promise to love and cherish you in sickness and in health, for better or worse, as long as we both shall live" is a vow that still endures. We can definitely say, "Our marriage will last for better or worse as long as we both shall live because of faith in our mighty God."
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love© 2009 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.
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