[We] never get around to praying. Why? Because we don't think prayer makes much difference. - Paul E. Miller in A Praying Life
In 2017, I was in my first year of marriage to my incredible husband Paul. I say "incredible" because, not only does he model Christ-like love and understanding in the daily ups and downs, but he has also weathered some really rough things with me since our marriage began.
Within two months of our wedding, I got mono, which (prior to COVID-19) I would have described as the worst and longest flu you can imagine. For two weeks, Paul did everything for me because I was helplessly sick, with throat glands so swollen that just swallowing my own spit made me cry out in pain and shed tears. (I was blessed, by the way. Most people who get mono spend months in recovery.) All those newlywed expressions of delight in one another were unromantically swept aside in favor of midnight vomit-cleaning, the constant stink of feverish sweat, and my need to have Paul help me with the least little thing. We learned to pray together, not out of joyous bursts of spirituality, but out of physical and emotional exhaustion.
The mono virus at last retreated, but it triggered something worse in its wake: a mysterious condition that it would take eight specialists and a year to eventually diagnose as a Functional Neurological Disorder, sometimes called conversion disorder. I developed increasingly violent convulsive episodes. A fifteen minute episode could take me a day to recover from, and when I had multiple episodes in a day--well, I didn't get much done. These episodes were increasingly followed by periods of partial or full paralysis, during which I could only communicate with Paul by blinking--once for "yes," twice for "no." And then there was the pain, so intense that if Paul so much as put his arm around me, my whole body seized. Given my uncertain medical future, my employer and I agreed to separate. This was around the same time that I became so ill, Paul began to fear I might never recover and I lost almost all memory of two full weeks.
And yet, when I started to seize for the third time at night and Paul roused himself from sleep to hold me through the episode, he kept whispering, "If this is given to us for no other reason than to pray, then it's worth it."
You might think that that would be a moment I wanted to slap him. But I never did. His grief for me was so deep and his helplessness so real. He was made to be my protector, but the best he could do was bring my need to our Father and petition for my recovery. For the believer, there is a confidence in the midst of deep trial, a confidence that prizes spiritual treasure over physical relief. If Paul and I had to suffer this condition together--me in body and he in spirit--then we dared not miss the glimpses of God that we might see within it. So we spent those long nights in prayer, interspersed by the soft singing of worship songs and the unpredictable convulsions of my body.
When we finally had a name for my condition--Functional Neurological Disorder or (the older term) conversion disorder--there were still many unanswered questions. What caused it? Anything from an undiagnosed autoimmune or neurological condition to a severe PTSD response to past trauma. Would I ever be cured of it? Uncertain. What was the long-term prognosis? Impossible to know. Were there any medications that could help? Unknown. Could we have children safely? Who could say?
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