Rachel Gilson: How My Husband’s Chronic Illness Brought My Family Closer to These Christian Truths

My husband Andrew’s foot ailments have given me a curious window into the Christian life.

Before he and I were dating, his first swelling incident was misdiagnosed by a college nurse, and we only discovered the mistake when it happened again five years later. Both seemed like freak incidents. Then in 2012, on a summer mission trip in the Middle East, his left foot swelled up and left him on the couch for the remainder of the trip. Much of his life since has been progressively couch-bound.

Every contradictory explanation added to the pain. How do you treat something that you can’t pin down? In 2013—around the same time that we found out we were pregnant—we discovered that one of the bones in Andrew’s feet had broken so many times that it had died. I didn’t even know bones could die. It would have to be removed, lest his body begin to eat it away, clearing itself of the decay.

Andrew doesn’t have an interesting injury story—he didn’t kick down a door to save a child or get into a fantastic sports accident. His feet are simply shaped all wrong for bearing weight, and it took two decades for that harvest to reap its fruit. Looking at him, one would never guess his body is so structurally unsound or that he’s had four foot surgeries in five years.

Even though his disability is often invisible to others, his vulnerability has dramatically changed our family life. Our daughter has always known her dad with some kind of “boo boo.” Sometimes she knows what’s going on because he has a giant pink cast on his foot that is highly visible. Other times his pain is hidden. He can’t play with her outside, even though he can walk around the house without crutches. The invisible danger of further injury always crouches nearby.

At the beginning of our life together, I was waiting for Andrew’s body to be normal again. After we did this procedure or got those orthotics, we’d have our life back, I thought. I was pragmatic, optimistic, even blasé. But years of doing one thing after another finally shook me by the shoulders: This constantly vulnerable state was here to stay. So were all the emotions that went with it. Realizing this caused me to enter into them truly for perhaps the first time.

Andrew and I would never have asked for his ailments, and we often pray for God to heal them. Nonetheless, living with them has brought many hard-won lessons that illustrate how we’re called to live as Christians in the world.

First, we live with constant awareness.

When I had strep throat in high school, I became painfully aware of how often a human needs to swallow. But as soon as it passed, I rarely thought about that vital function again. Similarly, in the life of faith, a crisis often brings some spiritual reality close and creates urgency where there was none. We are driven to vigilant prayer, scriptural study, Communion, even to fasting. The experience can be poignant, but oftentimes when the storm is over, our diligence and discipline also come to an end.

With Andrew’s long-term injuries, we have gained a mindset of constant awareness, which can be exhausting. Even when nothing is acutely wrong, we think about his body many times a day and speak about it just as often. Is there any progress? Is anything particularly weak or strong today?

In the same way, although much of our Christian life is an invisible reality, it should be constantly in our mind’s eye, because it is reality still. There is nothing about my body that necessarily shows I am risen with Christ, yet my union with him is even more real than my weight upon a chair. Accordingly, Paul urges us to set our minds on things that are above (Col. 3:1–2) and to think about it daily. Is there any progress in my faith? Is there anything particularly weak or strong today?

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Source: Christianity Today