We’re so thankful to Genna for sharing her story with us, and now with you as well! Each post in this series will include the questions we asked and each woman’s first-person answers. We hope these stories of true love in chronic illness–full of the real, the difficult, the beautiful, and ultimately the Gospel–can be a blessing to you!
Gennavieve and her husband, Caleb, live in Virginia with their two sons. Caleb has a small contracting company and can fix pretty much anything. Genna spends most of her time homeschooling, keeping track of aforementioned sons, and trying to keep their home cozy and open for visitors.
How did you and Caleb meet?
It’s a long story, but the short version is that a mutual friend told us to connect online. At that time, I was living in Mexico with my family, and he was considering a move to China, so we shared a love for missions.
While internet access was spotty, we managed to email occasionally, usually over a portion of Scripture, a bit of doctrine, or recent events that we wanted to discuss. We met twice in person, and that was all it took for him! I required a bit more coaxing, but he won me over in the end.
What was dating like for you?
Dating was like a delightful, emotional, harrowing uphill climb. We both had many other life changes going on around that time, and going through them together created a deep bond. My health issues were growing worse and required us to consider all sorts of “future” topics far–like family planning, where we would live, how we would get medical insurance, etc.–before we felt ready.
Our biggest challenges were communication when I was having a difficult day, and the guilt I felt for bringing such a weight into a relationship. I really had to wrestle with my own ideas of what a girlfriend, and eventually, wife and mother SHOULD be. Mentally I knew that the Lord would give wisdom and grace in all circumstances, but to actually take on those roles, knowing it would be different than what we hoped and dreamed, was heavy.
Looking back, I’m very thankful for the level of sobriety it added, but at the same time, there was a loss of simple, carefree couple moments.
It also felt isolating at times. When we would meet up with other young couples, there was little in common, or the activities planned didn’t work well with my limitations. We found more understanding from older couples, or other folks who were also juggling treatments, therapies, and chronic illness.
Can you tell us a little about your condition?
Growing up, I had “frail ” health that required us to be mindful of surroundings and my triggers (asthma and what we now know is MCAS). Finicky allergies and breathing problems often landed me in the hospital.
When I was 16, I contracted a tropical fever (perks of missionary kid life) and never quite recovered. Since then, I’ve experienced marked fatigue, cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog,” increased pain, joint issues, skin issues, etc.
Things were going downhill as Caleb and I began dating. During one appointment, we were told to plan on me being in a wheelchair in five years, with a myriad of other complications. It was sobering news for two young people, but he regarded the whole thing as “part of the package deal” and never wavered in his commitment. Eight years of marriage and two kiddos later, we have certainly matured in our ability to deal with health complications, but we have our moments where it all feels like too much.
Especially as a mother, days that require more rest or altered schedules can *feel* like a waste. I have to constantly remind myself that God has designed our family, and ultimately what happens is being used to shape and grow us. If all that happens is Bible time and keeping kids fed, then I’ve done my best. My boys have already developed a sense for where I am physically and can pitch in with chores or even just give an encouraging word.
At times, I have to step back and allow myself some time to mourn the dreams that have been changed or set aside. There is loss tied up with chronic illness, even if it’s not a tangible loss. But when those tears have dried and I look around at what God has given, and what we have accomplished as a couple and as a family, then it always lifts my weary spirit.
What challenges have you faced together because of your condition?
Sin touches us, just like everyone else. Figuring out where we need to die to selfishness, and where my symptoms play in, is very tricky!
Communication is an ongoing battle, especially when brain fog and fatigue have caught up to me. Sometimes we desperately need to work through an argument or decision, and my mind just isn’t up to the task. I’ve learned to prioritize important conversations on “better” days.
We’ve had to work around the physical aspects of our relationship. How do you respond when the person you love feels pain when touched? When raising their HR is a bad thing? When you want to hold them but you can’t lift your arms? Take it day by day, praying often, forgiving often, choosing to embrace what IS available for both, and loving even when it’s hard.
On a lighter note, we also experience my constant forgetfulness and inability to recall words. My husband can usually read my mind, but there have been so many moments where I’m requesting a certain item, incoherently, and it leaves us giggling. “Can you please fetch me the, uh, the um, the thing, with buttons, and fabric, that helps me not be cold” is obviously code for “heating pad.”
Embrace the silly, the mildly inconvenient, the awkward, and laugh heartily. Finding humor in the weirdness has helped us time and time again.
What do you wish you had known when you were starting your relationship?
I wish I would have known to limit the amount of advice we took. While “there is safety in an abundance of counselors,” we still need to be discerning with the people we choose as those counselors. Who is directly involved in your spiritual growth? Who loves you deeply? Who can you trust to give discreet, biblically sound advice? Go to those people!
I also wish we had savored the little moments more. Relationships require time and effort, and when you add in additional stressors like chronic illness, it is easy to assign it all to a tidy mental “to-do list.” Train yourself to stop and notice the ordinary little graces that fill up the days and make it sweet.
How would you advise women with chronic illness to pray for their Special Someone?
Pray for him to prize community. Pray for him to be steadfast in the face of trials and learn how to fully, deeply rejoice in the Lord. Pray that God places people in his life, true friends, who love him enough to encourage and rebuke, when needed.
What resources helped you specifically through your challenges?
I’ve found a lot of comfort in singing the Psalms and other Scriptures. I know, it sounds pretty old school, but they give such a broad range of human emotions and rich theology. It’s difficult to feel alone when you sing the words of faithful ones who went before. Some of my favorite artists are: My Soul Among Lions, Matt Searles, The Corner Room, Psallos, and Sandra McCracken.
In addition to that, find things that calm and/or delight your brain. Comedy, beautiful artwork, fresh air, good food, whatever it is, jot it down for when you inevitably feel overwhelmed or weary. Have a list of little things that can pull you out of your present distress and point you to the beauty of the world and the goodness of God.
Is there a part of Genna’s story that most encouraged you? A word of advice you plan to take home? Any stories of how YOUR Special Someone (or a friend or family member) has shown you true love in your chronic illness? Please share in the comments, we’d love to hear!