I’m writing this intro section shortly after midnight on Susan’s birthday. She is reclining with her granddaughter Rose who is congested and unable to stay asleep in her crib. I’m praying we all get the rest we need to enjoy the day that lies ahead.
The genesis of what follows was first published in February of 2019. I’ll tack on an addendum to bring it up to date.
Over Labor Day weekend in 2018, I met the woman who would soon become my wife. Susan is all I could ever ask for in a life partner. She is intelligent. She has a beautiful smile. She has a great sense of humor. And, most importantly, she loves me and shares my faith. She accepts my identity as one who has bipolar disorder and affirms my mental health ministry. She is a definitive example of “ezer,” a help-meet who enhances my life, not a slave subservient to me or a master who emasculates me. I am truly blessed.
Susan and I have experienced this past year as if it were a decade. It has been thrilling, delightful, full of joy and peace. At first, some of our loved ones who know us best expressed concern over how quickly our relationship developed. Yet, in the ensuing months, as they saw how deeply we care for each other, they came to celebrate and support our union.
As with many couples, we proclaimed in our marriage vows that we would stay together, “in plenty and in want; in joy and in sorrow; in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. We have both said these vows before, within relationships that ended. We are intent now to enter God’s covenant of love with the passionate commitment that builds us up and helps us grow in faith and love. We know we can’t do this on our own. We are humbly relying on the Holy Spirit to shape our marriage into something holy unto the Lord, something that lasts and brings glory and honor to God.
This week, the strength of our relationship was tested as Susan had major surgery. She had been experiencing health struggles that gradually revealed that surgery was necessary. As with all surgeries, there are risks involved. Yet, the alternative of not having surgery seemed bleak. So, she gave her consent. Off to Cleveland Clinic.
Even with my faith, I was also more than a little scared. Not only did I fear what the outcome would be, but I was riddled with doubts about how I would meet the challenges of caring for her. More than anything, I wanted to be a strong support, someone she could lean on when the her emotional and physical pain became too much to bear. I feared I might collapse under the weight of worry and become have some sort of breakdown, leaving her to deal with her trials alone.
As someone with a mental illness, I knew I had to take care of my own needs if I was going to be there for her. So, leading up to surgery, I got plenty of sleep; I was diligent to take my meds; and I curbed my work commitments. I drank plenty of smoothies. We booked a room for the day before and five days after surgery, both to allow Susan’s body to heal and for me to maintain and re-establish the rhythm my body and mind needed to stay well so I could contribute to her wellness.
More important than anything, we recruited the prayers of countless people from all walks of life, and all over the world. Through the miracle of text, email, and Facebook, we were able to stay connected. I could provide updates and ask for specific prayers. In response, they called on God for merciful healing and sent encouraging words of hope.
By God’s grace, the surgery went well. Very well. The surgeon reported, “The problem is fixed.” My lungs breathed in the news like a fresh inhale of cool mountain air. Our wait was over. My worry was gone. It would be smooth sailing from here.
Well, not quite smooth sailing. The surgeon’s laser focus on sharing the good news of success trumped the cautionary words that things would get worse before they got better. In the recovery room, I found Susan suddenly shift from being talkative and coherent to hardly being able to speak. I told this to her nurse and this set in motion a battery of tests to uncover the cause. I spent the night with her in Intensive Care. As each second crawled by, I became more and more frantic that something serious was wrong.
My prayers that night were mixed with crippling anxiety. Some say faith is the antidote for fear. I say faith is often mixed with fear. In fact, “Do not be afraid,” is God’s hopeful word spoken to those God favors who have fear. It is only when we express our fear to God and God’s people that we can come to hopeful confidence.
And this is just what God has done. As I write this, Susan is resting peacefully in bed, listening to some soothing music. A love song, no less. Our relationship has survived this trial. Who knows what lies ahead? But we do know, and give thanks, that we won’t have to go through hardships alone. We have each other. More importantly, we have the God who has drawn us together, who maintains us, and keeps us moving forward in the faith that conquers fear.
That was February of 2019. It is now November, 2021. Our daily lives are no longer defined by sickness. We have entered into a season of health. Susan has been largely asymptomatic for over two years. She has taken on a huge challenge as Visiting Professor for the Indiana University School of Education. We were able to engage in a successful relaunch of her book Kicked to the Curb and she is doing consulting work. I still have bipolar disorder, but enjoy relative stability as long as I commit to my treatment regimen. We are both well enough to do things we love like grandparenting.
There are so many blessings to count as I gift thanks for Susan’s life on this her birthday. While I had a reason to live before I met her, she has helped me want to live longer so I can enjoy more time with her. Four months ago, I committed to a lifestyle plan that has resulted in me enhancing my health immeasurably. I am devoted this pursuit as I share the good news of the difference God is making in my life with others, including Susan.
Happy birthday, Susie K. Enjoy your day!