Points to Ponder: What's Love Got to do with it?

Points to Ponder
What's Love Got to do with it?

From my topical files, I pulled one entitled, "Love." Among the collection of clippings I have stored there, two columns fell out, side by side. One from People magazine, "The End of the Road" (9/22/03); the other was "Muriel's Blessing," from Christianity Today (2/5/96). "Love" is perhaps the most misused term in our culture. From sappy and silly "love songs" to the "love scenes" (which are actually sex scenes) in movies and TV, our society seems confused. What does real love have to do with any of it? Especially when you take a vow before God to love and honor your spouse "til death do us part." These two articles, lying side by side before, got me thinking. "For better or for worse" is a vow one should not make lightly.
"Muriel's Blessing," written by Dr. Robertson McQuilkin, was a follow up of a 1990 interview by Christianity Today. Both explored the "...or worse" part of living out the marriage vows til death.
In the 1996 article, McQuilkin picks up in the 17th year of his wife's long journey with Alzheimer's disease. He had stepped down as president of what is today Columbia International University in South Carolina to provide full-time care to his wife, Muriel. As her condition deteriorated over the previous five years, he gained deeper insights into the mysteries of love and marriage.
In recalling a time when he was cleaning up one of Muriel's bathroom accidents, she was "helping." As he was trying to fend her off and clean simultaneously, Pastor Chuck Swindoll, booming from the radio, said "Men! Are you at home? Really at home?" McQuilkin writes, "I smiled, 'Yeah, Chuck, I really am.' Do I ever wish I weren't?" His answer - no.
Alongside of McQuilkin's amazing account of sacrificial love for his wife, Muriel, I had the story of Lance Armstrong's marriage, "The End of the Road." At the time, he had won five of the eventual string of seven Tour de France victories; a rising star as an athlete and cancer survivor.
The summary statement at the front of this article: "Cycling champion Lance Armstrong reveals how his athletic success helped lead to a rare defeat: The unraveling of his five-year marriage."
Armstrong had beaten testicular cancer in 1997, was married to Kristen ("Kik") in 1998, and won his first Tour de France in 1999. In his first book, It's Not about the Bike, he described his amazing against-the-odds defeat of cancer, how he and Kik had met and how they fought the disease together. He described how, together, they "rebuilt" him, thus enabling him to win perhaps the most grueling endurance race in the world. Endurance race - yes. That too is what marriage is; love is what keeps it going to the finish line.
"Love suffers long...endures...never fails" (I Corinthians 13:4, 7d, 8a).
Armstrong credits cancer as being a great "gift" that taught him how to make pain work for him. In all seven Tour de France races, he surged ahead in the mountain- climb stages, coming out victorious at the end. He said he could push through the pain of those long climbs because of a well of deeper strength which cancer had helped him to find.
Cancer did not beat him. The best athletes and toughest mountains in France could not defeat him. But success did. Armstrong said, "All I knew was that in trying to do everything, we'd forgotten to do the most important thing. We forgot to be married."
Then I re-read "Muriel's Blessing," in which McQuilkin describes the pain he climbed through: the death of his eldest son, "my dearest (wife) slipping away," and his life's work "abandoned at its peak" so he could care for Muriel.
It was Valentine's Day, 1948, when Muriel had accepted his marriage proposal. On Valentine's Day eve, 1995, he read something about how the caregiver is the true "victim" of Alzheimer. He said he never felt like a victim. He loved her.
That night he bathed Muriel in bed, tucked her in, and kissed her goodnight, praying the Lord would keep her til morning.
"The next morning I was peddling on my Exercycle at the foot of her bed and reminiscing about some of our happy lovers' day long gone while Muriel slowly emerged from sleep. Finally, she popped awake and, as she often does, smiled at me. Then, for the first time in months she spoke, calling out to me in a voice clear as a crystal chime, "Love...love...love." I jumped from my cycle and ran to embrace her. "Honey, you really do love me, don't you?" Holding me with her eyes and patting my back, she responded with the only words she could find to say yes: "I'm nice," she said.
"Those may prove to be the last words she ever spoke."
In his article, Armstrong concluded:
"People warn you that marriage is hard work, but you don't listen. You talk about the pretty bridesmaids' dresses, but you don't talk about what happens next; about how difficult it will be to stay, or to rebuild. What nobody tells you is that there will be more than just some hard days. There will be some hard weeks and perhaps even some hard years. In February I returned to Europe for training alone, and Kik stayed behind in Austin. We intended to bring the same dedication and discipline to counseling that we brought to the rest of our lives."
He said that their marriage had been a success because it produced "three great prizes," their children. But I wonder what he lost by not staying in the race?
I don't write this to judge Armstrong or venerate McQuilkin. It makes me think on this:
"Love never fails" (I Corinthians 13:8a).
What am I doing in my life and in my marriage with that truth?

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring, MD. These articles (and sermons) are also found at www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com. Listen to Pastor Dennis on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs, at 10:45am and 7:50pm, both days.