By Gary Thomas -March 30, 2020
You can survive the storm.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of ours texted both Lisa and me to ask what was going on. She had had a terrifying dream about us the night before. “You and Lisa were in this tall tower,” she explained, “and this red plane was headed straight for you. I could see both you and Lisa overcome with sorrow and the plane was aimed right at you to finally take you out, but we couldn’t find a way to get into the tower to help you. I spent most of the night praying for you two. I couldn’t stop crying.”
God had “outed” our pain, so to speak, so we shared the details with her. When I later explained all that was going on in our lives to a counselor (I hadn’t been to one in over twenty-five years) and then sheepishly told him about our friend’s dream, he paused and said, “Uh, do you guys have anyone who can pray for you regularly? Because I don’t think that dream is too far off.” We were going to need help to survive the storm we were facing.
Because the situations (there are multiple) don’t involve just us, Lisa and I don’t feel free to share the details widely. But we have certainly felt targeted from just about every angle we can imagine and since I began meeting with that counselor, an entirely new front has opened up so apparently the “red plane” hasn’t run out of fuel yet (and prayers of protection and conquering for our entire family would be most welcome, as God leads).
Perhaps that’s why I was primed to be enthralled when a publisher sent me an amazing book of devotions to preview: Jeff and Sarah Walton’s Together Through the Storms.
We all know the biblical Esther was made queen “for such a time as this.” I believe God can also use books for such a time as this, and in the extraordinary turn of events our world has seen in the past month, I can’t imagine a more appropriate, helpful and encouraging book for marriages that are wondering how to survive the storm they are facing. I believe God inspired it and prepared it just in time, as I am sure many couples, now more than ever, are facing multiple challenges and “red plane” attacks of their own.
Here’s the beginning of their story (and their book):
We remember it like it was yesterday. The sun was shining, everyone was smiling, and, other than the fact that the DJ played the wrong song for our first dance (which we eventually laughed about), it was as close to a perfect day as it’s possible to be. I was twenty-three. She was twenty. Sarah and I were young, we were in love, we were excited, and we were ready (or so we thought) to embark on a life together.
We didn’t expect life to be perfect, of course—but we naturally assumed our marriage would be filled with more of the “better” than the “worse.” So with stars in our eyes and big dreams for what the future would hold, we confidently vowed:
“ I take you … to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.”
That was nearly sixteen years ago. Little did we know that those years would bring chronic illness, financial loss, job loss, special needs, suffering children, overwhelming stress, and the marital strain that accompanies each. We never imagined that we’d experience so much of the “worse,” “poorer,” and “in sickness” parts of our vows.
The Waltons’ marriage barely got a chance to breathe before they faced a monumental challenge. They were instantly asked to survive the storm that was beyond anything they could imagine. What is often a very happy time for couples became terrifying for them:
Less than three years into our marriage, we excitedly welcomed our first child into the world. All was going well until he spiked a fever and was hospitalized with a severe infection at seven weeks old. After five days in the hospital with terrifying, inconclusive reports, we were sent home without answers. We thought it was an isolated incident, but over time it turned into years of life-altering neurological challenges that have forever changed our family’s lives. Every day, we helplessly watched as our sweet, smart, funny little boy would turn into someone else, displaying behavior that was extremely difficult to control and navigate. Countless consultations, tests, and evaluations left doctors shaking their heads, and all we were left with in the end was an increased financial burden, a stressful home life, and growing fears for him and us.
This wasn’t just a tough challenge, it became a long-term challenge and might even turn into a lifelong challenge, depending on God’s healing mercy. But in many ways the Waltons had just begun their season of storms:
Along with that, Sarah’s health was rapidly declining, and with each of our four children that she bore, she was increasingly unable to function through her own chronic pain and illness. On top of that, an ankle injury that she sustained in high school has now led to five surgeries and an inability to do much of what she loves anymore.
As our son’s disorder continued to intensify, and as Sarah grew sicker and our younger children began to exhibit their own chronic pains, my job as a consultant to orthopedic surgeons often kept me from being home. Our marriage began to suffer under the weight of it all.
Eventually, doctors were able to pinpoint the myriad symptoms of Sarah’s (and several children’s) maladies to Lyme disease, but they weren’t able to offer any clear consensus on what to do in order to treat the neurological and physical ailments. Reading this story, I could imagine the checks flying out the mailbox and the bank account depleting as they sought to do their best to overcome a tricky and nefarious disease.
Unfortunately, even more bad news was ahead:
When we were at our lowest point, convinced that we couldn’t endure anything else, it became clear that I could no longer sustain my on-call job. So I left it behind, along with half of our income. We sold our dream home and downsized to a smaller rental home. A year later, my new company began to struggle and suddenly I was without a job—leaving us with no income at all.
Our family was in crisis. Most of our time spent together as a couple consisted of doctor appointments, navigating challenges with our son, soothing crying and hurting children, discussing what treatments we could afford, healing from each of the nine surgeries undergone between the two of us, dealing with Sarah’s chronic pain, and stressing about our draining finances, all the while being too exhausted to address the tensions that were building within our marriage. We were both broken and both wondering where God was and why he was allowing such deep and layered suffering. As we endured one loss after another, we found ourselves battling despair and hopelessness, and being confronted with deep questions of faith that neither of us had faced before. We were surviving, but we—and our marriage—were hanging on by a thread.
But we’re still here. Still together. And, somehow, stronger for it all.
If ever a couple had “street cred” to write about how to survive the storm, the pain and its impact on marriage, the Waltons do. What amazed me about the book though was the faith and inspiration that breathes off every page. While avoiding easy answers and sentimentality, the Waltons have found hope, healing, and strength to persevere in their faith in God and the rich treasure trove of truths found in Scripture.
In this time of trial for so many marriages, Together Through the Storms can be a life preserver for marriages going through similar trials. You’ll still have to learn how to swim (or at least paddle) in the midst of your trials, but the truths discussed in this book will keep you from drowning in sorrow, doubt, and despair (natural temptations all). It’ll help you survive the storm. Unfortunately, the book isn’t available until May 1, but pre-sales are crucial for any new book and I’m hoping this one finds an enthusiastic response. Christian Book Distributors, Barnes and Noble, Amazon—anywhere you normally order books, you can pre-order Together Through the Storms.
I’ll end this blog post by quoting Jeff (chapters are written from both the husband’s and wife’s perspectives, and both Jeff and Sarah are excellent writers) and urging you to take advantage of a book that I truly believe was written and is being published “for such a time as this”:
We’re writing in the trenches, right there beside you, not from the mountaintop. But we have written these pages as a testimony to the faithfulness, goodness, and sustaining grace of Jesus. He has been and continues to be our help, strength, song, and salvation.
So this is a book about marriage, but it’s very different than most books on marriage. It’s for the storms—to prepare you for them in the future, or to help you navigate them in the present, or to help you deal with the aftermath of what you’ve just come through. We hope to encourage you by acknowledging many (though certainly not all) of the challenges that we can face when storms come into and against our marriage. That’s not because we’ve navigated our storms and safely reached the other side, but because Jesus Christ has been faithful to strengthen us, carry us, and change us and our marriage as we continue to weather them together.
Every marriage begins in the sun; every marriage must pass through storms. For you, maybe those storms have brewed within your marriage—from rubbing up against each other’s weaknesses, differences, and sins—perhaps from the pain of infidelity, addiction, hurtful patterns of sin, or an unbelieving spouse. Or maybe for you it’s been the storms of circumstances around your marriage: the experience of excitement over starting or growing a family becoming a deeply painful struggle with infertility, loss of a child, or special needs; or living with chronic illness, a life-altering injury, something that was done to you in the past, financial loss, tensions in your extended family, or a rebellious child.
Whatever your storms have been, or will be, these trials will inevitably cause you to wrestle with difficult and complex questions of faith—and they will either drive you closer together or further apart. It’s where and to whom we turn to for the strength and hope that we need to endure the storms that will make all the difference.
It’s possible to survive the storm.