What to Do When "For Worse" Means Mental Trauma
- Monday, July 16, 2012
It started with an accident...
When our school receptionist met me with a worried look as I came to work, I knew something was wrong.
"Stan, Mindy's been in an accident. She says she is okay, though."
Through the years, Mindy has had several health issues: she has been backed over by a GMC Tahoe, developed a wheat allergy, showed signs of some kind of auto-immune disorder, and more. So given that I am chronically a little anxious about her health, I immediately left to check on her.
It was a four car pile-up. Mindy's CRV was the first to be hit. She seemed dazed and had a burn from the airbag. Her wrist was discolored, so we sent her to an urgent care center to get checked out. That was a pragmatic decision; our co-pay for the ER was much higher than that for the urgent care clinic. Good news. Nothing broken. No evidence of serious injury. We took her home to rest.
Flash forward one week. One of Mindy's co-workers called: "We are taking Mindy to the ER. You need to meet us there. Something is really wrong. Her speech is slurred, and she can't write anything down." After a few brain scans we had a new diagnosis: post-concussive syndrome. Mindy spent the next several weeks in bed. After weeks without any sign of recovery, she lost her job. On top of it all, the driver who hit her had no insurance.
Promises vs. Reality
When Mindy and I married, we wanted to write our own vows because somehow it would be "more meaningful." Among those vows were her promises to encourage me, pray for me daily, and make our home as stress-free as possible. In spite of those promises, and through no fault of her own, Mindy was now relegated to bed and emotionally unstable. Oh, and did I mention we had two grade-school daughters? And I was working on my PhD while teaching full time? I felt like an over-worked single-parent: neither mom nor dad, just... mad.
The next year would feature numerous doctor’s visits, speech and physical therapy, Mindy sleeping a lot, and a variety of financial worries. And frankly, a lot of anger from me. While failing at other idealistic promises, I kept my most important vow: not to divorce her.
The old vows are wise vows
Vows about fidelity in sickness and health, better and worse, richer and poorer ‘til death aren’t especially enticing to a twenty-something confident of future health, getting richer, and becoming better (after all, we were “living right.” Surely God would protect us from irrational bad stuff). We thought our own vows - based on Scripture passages about marriage, no less - would be even more significant.
We were fools.
Here is reality: bad things happen to good people. A lot. For no apparent reason. Now don’t freak out on me, Christian reader. I’m not advocating nihilism. I’m just saying what seems to happen to us.
If our vows are centered on a hopeful marital ideal and not a realistic and holistic picture of life together – its ups, downs (and sometimes, sideways) – then we are woefully unprepared for what life will throw at us, even as part of God's sovereign plan. By the time of Mindy’s accident, we had already experienced several years of her being inexplicably sick, financial stress (while serving in ministry settings no less), and increasing personal stress for me as I took on more responsibilities trying to dig us out of what seemed like an ever-increasing mess.
(Did I mention that I was in a car accident less than three months after Mindy’s? We went from a two-car family to a zero-car family. I also totaled our computer when I vomited on it a few weeks after my car accident).
I'm convinced our lives are stories. Like all stories, our life stories are composed of settings, conflicts, and resolutions. Thankfully this episode of our story began to find some resolution after a few years. In the midst of all that stress, God really did provide for us. There were several times checks just showed up in the mail; we eventually purchased gently used cars; Mindy got strong enough to work two days a week; I was able to finish my PhD coursework. In the process I grew up a bit, and I learned a lot about being a husband. I need to say all those positive things to any readers in the middle of a similar situation – don’t give up hope. I can’t say exactly how God will provide for you, but I can say He provided for us. So if you are in the middle of something similar, don't give up... on God or yourself.
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