Their son and daughter-in-law have been friends of ours for many years. We know their son, their grandchildren, and even recently their great-grandchildren.
We didn’t know John and Ruth until they moved to our town a couple of years ago and began attending our church. Ruth was in bad health so they had moved to our town in order to live near their son and daughter-in-law, who could help care for them.
Every Sunday John would pick her up at the nursing home and drive their van directly onto the patio close to the front doors at church. I would watch them enter the building as John pushed Ruth’s specially- designed wheelchair type apparatus. They would sit in the back so to be comfortable, have room, and not be a distraction.
I would watch John dote on Ruth and attend to her every need. He would smile at her, wipe her face, and touch her lovingly even though her health made it difficult if not impossible for her to respond. I was moved by his affection and love for his wife of sixty-two years. I was captivated by the dignity and grace he displayed with her despite her rapidly declining health.
Clearly he loved her with an everlasting love.
Then one day Ruth went home to see Jesus. He too had loved her with an everlasting love.
At the funeral home I spoke to John about how much I admired him for the way he cared so much for his wife in her latter years, as I had watched the two of them.
“I took a vow,” John told me. “In sickness and health I promised.”
What he said next stunned me. Ruth had suffered from multiple sclerosis for 50 years.
When John made that vow he had no idea that for 50 of their 62 years together, Ruth would suffer from multiple sclerosis.
And John walked through it side-by-side with her because as he said, “I took a vow.”
Every day I see special-needs couples on the verge of packing it in and giving up on each other. People are losing their jobs, their retirement, their homes, their faith, and their hope. Every day, we, like so many other special needs families, struggle to cope and survive together with the unique challenges we face.
I counsel special-needs couples whose marriages are on the brink after only a few years together all the time. I see so many couples that just can’t commit to or grasp the idea of dying to their own selves. And I see the stress of raising a child with special needs tear apart or threaten to destroy marriages.
I see people just walking away every day. The number of special-needs marriages falling apart is staggering. Single female caregivers are now in many ways caring for a generation of individuals with special needs.
Then every once in a while you’ll meet a John and Ruth.
Sixty-two years of marriage. Fifty years of disease.
Sixty-two years of love, joy, devotion, compassion and kindness–all to the very end.
Because John “took a vow.”
And that’s the gospel according to John.
Thank you John.
We needed to hear that.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law against these things!
On Saturday April 18, my wife Becky and I along with our team at Rising Above Ministries will be presenting a one-day Two-Gether Marriage Workshop for couples caring for an individual with special needs at New Salem Baptist Church in the Atlanta area. You can learn more about the workshop and register online at risingaboveministries.org.
By Jeff Davidson
Husband to Becky, Father of one
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
Rising Above Ministries
Author of No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches: a father, a son with special needs, and their journey with God