Last year, my sister Rosie, her husband, Roger, and their two beautiful daughters came to visit us in New Orleans. They drove all the way from southeast Florida, which is no small feat under normal circumstances but considering that my brother-in-law has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), it makes this long trek seem almost heroic.
While they were visiting us, I was amazed by my sister’s tireless attention to his needs and by Roger’s humble acceptance of his condition. He is in the advanced stages of ALS, living in a wheelchair and no longer able to speak. He communicates with a smile for ‘yes’ or grunts for ‘no’. Rosie’s love for Roger shows as she attempts to anticipate his needs and when she can’t, she cycles through a list of close-ended questions to understand what is wrong. At times, her patience runs out, but she is dedicated to making sure Roger is taken care of properly. I am grateful the ‘ice bucket challenge’ craze that swept the nation a few weeks ago, yet seeing Rosie and Roger up close has given me a new perspective on not only ALS but how life continues despite a chronic illness.
At times during their visit, I would simply admire their marriage and contrast it with what many would expect a “good marriage” to be. I, also, found myself thinking about the many couples I have heard over the years complain about “communication problems” and wondered how a relationship can thrive when communication is reduced to mere glances and head nods. I was at their wedding 9 years ago and never imagined that this would be their life now. But who does? How do you prepare for such things? You can’t. What I see in them is a remarkable ability to accept the struggles of life and make the best of it. I see how they choose joy through their profound faith and hope in Christ Jesus. Their marriage has been stripped to its most raw elements: love and dedication. This is a reminder that is really does not take much to make a marriage good.
While Rosie and Roger were in town, they connected with the Gleason House, an organization started by former Saints player Steve Gleason aimed at helping ALS patients improve their quality of life through technology. In doing so, they were able to see new technologies that allow ALS patients to open doors, set the thermostat, or turn on a TV. As you would expect, these things are expensive. Roger and Rosie recently discovered that Team Gleason has awarded them a generous grant that will cover more then half the expenses of getting their house outfitted, so Roger can regain a small amount of his independence. Roger can now turn on the TV, change the channels, control the ceiling fan and even text message with just his eyes! This is a huge blessing to our family.
I now understand why Steve Gleason chose the motto “No White Flags” because he is communicating the importance of having a determined spirit that never gives up or surrenders. I think this is a good motto for most marriages to abide by. Far too often, couples choose to raise the white the flag when the glow of the honeymoon fades. They overlook the simple ways they can express their love to one another because they are waiting for the “perfect” moment or they cannot let go of a particular hurt. I understand that divorce happens, yet, I look to my older sister and her husband as a model of self-sacrifice and faith-in-action rarely showcased in our throwaway society.