When he was ten years old, my husband contracted strep throat. With no money to pay for a doctor, his parents let the virus run its course. Instead of improvement, the disease spiraled, and his fever climbed. The desperate parents finally sought the help of a physician. When the doctor saw how ill the child was and diagnosed him with rheumatic fever, he ordered a taxi for the family and sent them immediately to the hospital. The child received penicillin and sulfa drugs, but the disease was so far advanced his heart began to swell. The doctor tried an injection of cortisone, which for the early 1950’s remained an untested new treatment. Finally, when the heart reached the point where more swelling would cause it to burst, the doctor told the mother that he had done all he knew to do. He told her to prepare herself because the next phone call would probably tell her the boy had died.
His mother, afraid for her child’s life, began calling everyone she knew, asking them to pray for her son. The prayer requests spread from phone to phone, each prayer warrior passing on the information to another whom they knew would go to his or her knees and beseech the throne of grace on behalf of the sick child. Satisfied that she’d done all she could, nothing remained for the mother to do but wait.
The night passed and the heart hovered where it was. Twenty-four hours after the first phone call, the heart began to shrink. People continued to pray. Within a couple of days the child had passed out of danger. The damage to his heart was unknown, so the doctor kept him in the hospital for another two months. When the boy was released, the physician’s orders were for the child to spend the next year in bed. The following year he used a wheelchair. When that year was up he was not to run or work at anything physical. He couldn’t participate in sports at school. He would recover, the doctor said, and would probably live a reasonably long life. The swollen heart, though, would cause the heart to fail suddenly and his life would be over. He believed the boy’s life would be shortened by several years, probably ending somewhere in his early fifties.
A few years later, my husband’s father passed away, leaving his nineteen-year-old son to care for his widowed mother, a younger sister and the remaining hospital bills that the boy had run up during his illness. The family had no insurance and had worked out a payment plan with the hospital that would last well into the man’s early thirties. The young man decided that he would do physical work, whatever he could find, and if the labor killed him, so be it. He’d had eight years being careful of his health; he was ready to move on.
He worked on the green chain at a local plywood mill, a job that would tax the healthiest men among him. Then he worked for a logging company, setting chokers on steep hillsides. Not used to this kind of physical activity, the young man would return home every night exhausted, but the day-to-day grind increased his endurance and built his strength.
When we met ten years later, my husband had rippling muscles in his biceps and a physique that spoke of a well disciplined lifestyle. He lifted weights at home and ran up and down the bleachers at a local football stadium. I would never have guessed that he had endured a sickly childhood and an adolescence of limited activity.
When he proposed marriage, he told me what the doctor had said, that we might only get another twenty years together. I hesitated with my answer, knowing that his health would leave me alone early in my life, probably with under aged children if we had any. My parents’ marriage ended when my father contracted a rare spinal disorder and died at 49. He left behind three children ages 20, 18, and 16. My own experience told me there were no guarantees, and I knew I loved him, so I said yes.
Now, thirty-five years later, our two children are grown and we are still together. My husband loves his job and though he will be seventy in November, still insists on working what many would consider tough, physical labor. He often says he wishes the doctor who made the original diagnosis were still alive today to see him. My husband knows the doctor would be surprised at how well he lived the rest of his life.
The Bible says our days are numbered by the Lord. He alone is the only one who can say how many years, months, days and hours we will get. Each day is to be lived to its fullest because we aren’t promised tomorrow. My husband decided to do just that. God has honored him with a rich, full life in return.
We can’t know what our heavenly father has in store for us, we only know He is in every facet of our lives—even the illnesses that appear to steal our time. So we should begin each new day with thanksgiving, knowing that this twenty-four hours has been given to us for a reason and we aren’t promised any more. We should not waste our time. Every minute is precious.