A Good Man Will

Two years ago I sustained an injury to my left hip in a traumatic car accident that could have easily taken two lives if the incoming car had hit 6 inches to the left. God kept the two of us safe and well although my hip will never again be the same. Due to the spinning projection of the truck being literally thrown across two intersections and a set of railroad tracks, my hip was jammed into the the seatbelt plug. I cried for two days standing on it, gripping the back of the pew in front of me during church the next day with knuckles turning white from sheer will. Recounting the accident still makes me shake. The memories give me nightmares. 1 week later, the man I was in love with called me and told me he couldn’t take care of me, ending our relationship and incoming engagement.

What was apparent was that not only was he was walking away from a future with me but that he was walking away from me because my health was too much and too concerning to be worth it to stay. I was shattered. It was pure agony, because my parents had never made me feel as though my health was a burden, and then the person I trusted and loved most next to them said it was.

For two years I’ve struggled with separating my worth from my wellbeing, but in the last few months, God has given me the laughter to think back on that poor statement and laugh and laugh. Even my closest friends have joined in on the giggles that ring through the house: “If only he could see me now!!!” Ohhh if only he could see me now.

A hip that aches and occasional tachycardia has been the least of my worries this year.

Hey, I’m the toxic one in this relationship.

On January 31, I left the United States and flew to China to live there for 6 months to serve as a photographer at a special needs foster home for Chinese orphans. The days were hard and long; the hours seemed endless, filled with so much work and so so many joyful, beautiful moments. It was ministry. It was missions. It was hard. It was real life. It was home. It was joy. It was tears. It was aching. It was a full heart. It was the Gospel.

I went above and beyond and past what I ever thought I could handle. There were serious days with my boss bursting through my apartment door and ordering me to lie down and many moments monitoring my vitals, to taking so many things to counteract “impossible to diagnose” illnesses when everyone around me was completely fine (albeit worried I was going to be ok). There were many hard tears, many scary moments.

Due to the smog conditions in China and my body being sensitive and honestly Satan being bored? (hahaha), I struggled with my health from the 2nd month until I came home in July. Conditions I thought I’d leave behind in China once I stepped onto American soil have followed me around, making me nauseous most days, struggling to breathe some days and with the almost full certainty of every day being uncertain, followed by a serious but joyful cheer at night to myself “Yay!! You didn’t die today!”.

I went to China to serve Jesus and love orphans and I did. And I came back toxic. And it was worth it. It was more worth it than you will ever know. More than 5k views of a China video can prove. Beyond worth it.

With this toxic diagnosis comes some great comebacks like “Oooh did you hear I’m toxic? Yep. Pretty great.” or “Go to China and come back toxic? Who could have foreseen this? What a shock.” or “Hey, I’m JM. I’m the toxic one in this relationship.” or my favorite: “I’m toxic. I’m literally who Britney Spears wrote her song about.”. Hahahaha. 

Online dating isn’t ecstatic about you being toxic. 

As surprising as it is, the full implications of my toxicity (lol I told y’all it was funny) did not truly kick in until I came back from China to the USA and thought for fun and being 30 and brave that I would sign up for online dating. (Please laugh with me over this.) And in true JMF fashion, I ran 3 dating apps wide open for months. It’s been bringing an insane amount of laughter to the dinner hours in our home, which means it has been worth its weight in GOLD, because there is no money amount I wouldn’t give for JOY.

As hilarious as it’s all been, it has been increasingly disheartening to me. “It’s worth it’s weight in gold for laughter but not so much for other reasons. I’m neverrrrr getting marriiiieeedd.” is a pitiful wail followed by hilarious laughter among my girlfriends and family friends as they hear about various conversations.

Never has it been more apparent to me than the moments spent scrolling through these dating profiles that the truth is: I do not match up to what most young American men are looking for. There is a sad heaviness every time I see a profile bio wanting a fitness and hiking wife to go on adventures with. I have to click past, which makes me want to cry occasionally, for I love adventures (girlfriend went to 3 countries this year, take me to ALL THE PLACES) and I love hiking and I love traveling.

I just also love breathing. 

I get it though. With sad tears in my eyes many days I have softly whispered to my parents “I get it. I mean, why would you want to take this on? It’s scary and it isn’t easy.” 

A few days ago a friend joked about me being frail. The friend wasn’t wrong in a way, I can be prone to getting hurt at photoshoots (oh look my knee is bleeding, ah, well), I had bruises on my leg for weeks after I didn’t quite clear a cement planter in China in a run and everyone tsk-ed at me. But I’m not frail. I’m active and brave and strong. I might be temporarily sidelined due to an impossibly frustrating illness, but I’m not frail. 

Some days I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself in amazement because I know better than anyone how dang brave I am and how dang much I went through.

I made it.

I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China twice and (taken a picture with the sign warning cardiac people not to), I’ve hiked the bluff trails at Bondi & Bronte in Australia twice, I walked all across Sydney, I climbed rocks and hills in Bondi and Busan, South Korea, I hiked wee little hikes in the Blue Mountains, I walked the beaches of Gerringong. I pumped up and down stairs 30x’s a day for 6 months in China and got the calves to prove it. I helped lift children that were half my size, held children all day long, raised them up, held them close, and often worked holding a toddler on one hip and a camera in the other hand.

I was often breathless and in pain. But oh, I worked so so so hard to keep going.

If you’re looking for a brave adventurer, you’re looking straight at one and not seeing her.

My worth is set not in my health or my future. My worth is set in Christ.

It has taken many long days to preach to myself what I know to be true in these past 2 years. That my worth is set not in my health or my future. My worth has been set since the day God created me as an image bearer of God, a co-heir of Christ, and a daughter of the Most High God.

Health cannot nor can ever take that from me.

Air can be stolen from my lungs. Pain can fill every part of my body. Nothing can be safe to eat.

But God will never allow my inheritance to be taken away or my soul to be moved. He is unchanging. Everything He has promised will always be true. Nothing He promises me will ever come undone.

He has promised me that I am His (Ephesians 1), and that my worth is set in Him.

And so “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” – Philippians 3:8-9

The doctors say it could take 3 months to 6 months to a year to regain my body back from toxicity. It’s been 4 months that I’ve been home, and I’m not there yet. I remind myself that the hope is there that I will one day be myself again, but I do not rest there.

“…that no one be moved by these afflictions…For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you before hand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know….our labor is not in vain.” 1 Thess. 3: 3-4, 5

Instead I look at the pictures of the children I love so much and I look to Jesus. And I count my toxicity as gain because I went to China expecting to serve Jesus and instead began to love Him in a new way, all over again, and trust Him like I never have before.

I thought Jesus gave me China as a gift. Instead Jesus brought me to China to bring me to Himself. Toxicity is a small footnote to relearning the heart of the Savior I love more than life.

Nothing could be worth more to me than knowing Christ. Not even my health. Not even marriage. Not even a thousand dating profiles where I don’t measure up.

We are promised Jesus in this life; we are promised healing in the next.

It’s my parent’s fault for teaching me what generously taking care of those you love looks like. My mother had migraines since I was a child, and we would often go to the chiropractor  because it was the only way the pain could be relieved. Daddy paid every bill out of his work checks, with insurance or without. Mama always reminded me to eat even when I don’t want to spend the money, has taken me to doctor appointments and been the best Mother since I was a baby, she’s always taken care of me. She keeps us alive with her meals and her laughter. My sister has listened to hours of symptoms and helped figure things out. And I can’t tell you how many days Dad has told us to “get a little something before you get on the road” or “I hope you have an amazing time out” or “we will go back to the doctor and figure this out.”

We’ve all sat through so many doctor appointments with fear on our hearts and tightly held hands and tears in our eyes. We’ve been through too much to think we are promised easy years of health. Hours of prayers uttered over meals for each other’s illnesses and ailments has reminded us over and over again that we stand upon the promises of God and trust Him through every trial and pain, and that He has good for us. He is both Savior and Healer.

“You know that you have truly come through a season of testing without the stench of smoke when you can say; “It was good for me to be afflicted” (Psalm 119:71) I didn’t think I would ever get here, but I have. God’s ways are so mysterious, and God is so faithful.” – Christine Caine

We are promised Jesus and His presence in this life. We get healing and everything He’s ever promised us in the next. We will not be in need, because He gives us all we will need.

So how does this apply and change how you look at dating and marriage?
I’ve been crying over the answer for weeks now, for the best reasons….

A Good Man will stay. 

A good man will not look at you and see years of medical bills to pay or long hours in hospital rooms or doctor’s waiting rooms and an uncertain future and decide you’re not worth it.

A good man will look at you and hurt that his bride hurts. He will look at you with the eyes of Jesus, in the light of the Gospel, and he will not waver to love you through it, in it, in spite of it. He will weep with you, mourn with you, encourage you and fight for you. He will prayerfully hold your hand and think you’re radiant even in sickness.

I’ve watched husbands (and wives for husbands!) for my entire lifetime tirelessly and tenderly care for their wives, in and out of scary, frustrating days of no diagnosis and hard surgeries and years of pain medications and dietary restrictions and hours of doctor appointments with no good news. I’ve watched husbands do dishes and laundry and all the housework as well as the outdoor work and confidently take care of the children while their love struggles to recover or fades from this life to the next.

I’ve watched husbands take on a second job to pay for their wives’ treatment and cancel dates in the middle of dates to rush their sick wifey home on a moment’s notice.

I’ve watched men completely in love tenderly take my friends as wives in the middle of terminal cancer. I’ve watched them watch their love from across the room to make sure she isn’t close to fainting, and I’ve watched them weep as they say goodbye at the torn open grave.

This kind of love is self-sacrificial, tender, protective, God-given, Biblical love. It does not falter or fail in the end, though many frustrating days are in between. It lasts and lasts. It faithfully bears all things, believes, hopes, endures and perseveres. It does not let go. It stays rooted & grounded in Christ. It stands the test of time and looks beyond the grave.

I have been more blessed in my 30yrs probably than most have in this world to see so much faithfulness and good husbands and wives who love God and love their spouses and it has made me defiantly hopeful and determined to be that way in my own life.

Many people have no idea of the sickness that will face their spouse when they stand at the alter, but even at 30 years of age, mine will. You only need to take a scroll through my Instagram that has chronicled my real life or ask me about the last 6 months in China to know I’m not quite like everyone else.

By the time he promises to love me “in sickness and in health”, he will probably already have seen me struggling for air during hypertensive crisis with tears running down my face as I try to persuade my body to work, seen me sitting cross legged and shaking on any floor to breathe through a panic attack, seen pain cross my face as tachycardia causes chest pain and hits out of nowhere, seen me sit down suddenly in church to monitor my heart rate and take meds, watched me pore over ingredient lists so I don’t ruin someone’s party by going into an allergic reaction, and probably watched me hilariously glare at any passionfruit item for almost killing me that one time I tried some.

None of us know what our future holds for us, good and bad, but our God does, and He is the One that holds me firm and secure in His arms. That is what we will sing about on my wedding day (if I ever get married). That He is trustworthy when we can’t breathe. That the Life-Giver who flung stars billions of years deep into the night sky loves me and sees me.

And He bestows that loving gaze to some special people here on earth.

So if you’re wondering if someone could ever see past your diagnosis or long term illness.

Yes.

A man who looks at you with the gaze of Jesus will.

A good man will.

 

{image by Shannon Ashley Photography, Durdle Door, England, 2016}

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