Adapted from Polishing God’s Monuments: Pillars of Hope for Punishing Times by Jim Andrews:
Our message and its interwoven story are for serious-minded Christians. It unfolds between edited pastoral letters, mostly written to my congregation during some of the worst of our agony, recounting limited details of our plight, as well as biblical insights we have gained—the light of God’s Word illuminating harsh circumstances.
Juli is the younger of our two daughters. The older, Kristi, is married to John, a pastor, and they have 2 children, Alex and Ashley, and several grandchildren. Juli and Paul live in Tigard, Oregon. Sadly, the Lord has sovereignly denied them the joy of a family.
From the womb, struggle and narrow brushes with death have strangely dogged Juli’s life. In retrospect, her breech birth seemed almost an omen of things to come. In fact, my wife, Olsie, and I have wondered if that irregular delivery played any role in her eventual troubles.
Early on, Juli betrayed hints of musical talent. For Christmas when she was only three, she received a miniature piano with only one octave…the kind of toy usually quickly forgotten. Not in this case, as Juli spent hours plunking away on that little keyboard.
After high school graduation, Juli’s piano skills earned her a place in the Wheaton Conservatory of Music as a piano performance major. The very first day on campus she spotted Paul, who was also a piano performance major.
Juli sensed right off the bat this was God’s man for her. She was so sure that she even gave her mom and me a heads-up. Olsie, after visiting Wheaton for Parents’ Weekend, was duly impressed with the tall, dark and handsome young man, who had a winsome personality and a smile like sunshine.
Paul is a brilliant young man with near-total recall. He was co-valedictorian in high school. At Wheaton he graduated summa cum laude with a double major. A gentleman in every respect, Paul grew up in a pastor’s home. Both his parents, Gordon and Elaine, had been Wheaton grads themselves. Elaine, like her son, graduated summa cum laude. Gordon had gone on to take a master’s degree at Brandeis and his doctorate at Boston University.
Paul himself was cut from the same soldierly cloth as Juli. The only difference is, to this day I honestly could not tell you what his warts are. The guy is a gem. If ever a marriage was prearranged in heaven, this was one. God reserved for Juli a special companion with a rare (but utterly necessary) combination of intelligence, recall, meticulosity, patience, unstinting love, and unwavering faith in the most baffling circumstances. Besides these virtues, he also has the persistence of a yellow jacket at a picnic. Any lesser combination of attributes, and their love boat would have been swamped long ago.
Ironically for a conservatory student, Paul’s goal was missions, not piano performance per se, which tells one something about him right there. With that in mind, he took a double major, combining ethnomusicology (study of non-Western music) with piano performance. His vision was to help indigenous believers create culturally authentic Christian music for worship instead of borrowing the hymns and choruses that Western missionaries had imported.
Juli returned home from a missions trip to Kenya after her sophomore year with cough that soon developed into walking pneumonia. However, it wasn’t until the last semester of her senior year that things started to unravel.
Ironically, the catalyst that set her troubles in motion was her participation in a communion service during which the partakers shared a common cup of grape juice. Apparently, two young women seated near Juli had recently contracted mononucleosis, though it was unknown at the time.
Shortly thereafter, when Juli returned from the Wheaton College Concert Choir annual spring tour, she was diagnosed with a bad case of mono and had to be put up in the college clinic. The severity of her case stemmed, I presume, from the fact then hidden from us—that her whole immune system was on the verge of implosion.
Though mono itself is hardly the end of the world, this sickness could not have been more ill-timed. Her particular case was so debilitating that everything became a big struggle, again a cameo of things to come. Besides, her senior recital was originally scheduled for two weeks after her eventual diagnosis, a nightmare for any piano performance major.
Still, with Paul’s constant help, she battled through it. Even though he was beginning to show signs of becoming sick himself, the poor fellow was her tireless and ever-trusty pack animal. In the end somehow, Juli managed to rise from the dead. At her rescheduled senior recital, she gave the performance of her life — a monument of God’s timely grace.
Complicating matters even further was the fact that their wedding was set for Saturday, May 16th, the day before graduation! This was going to be an elaborate ceremony with a large reception at a local hotel. How does a sick girl coordinate all that on top of attending to her studies? It was enough to devastate anyone’s health.
On her wedding day, the fragile bride (mouth full of painful canker sores) was a living lump of walking exhaustion. As Juli and Paul repeated their vows, “in sickness and in health,” both sets of siblings, who were bridesmaids and groomsmen, as well as all the wedding guests, laughed at the irony. At that moment, none of us had the slightest inkling how applicable those words would be for them. Nor did the families realize the supportive and sacrificial roles they would have to play in the years to come.
Through sheer adrenaline, Juli mustered enough strength for the “Big Day” and even managed to walk for her graduation Sunday afternoon. But how would a girl in these circumstances find the time to pack and ship all her belongings in preparation for her honeymoon trip immediately after commencement? She couldn’t do everything, even with Paul’s help.
After their marriage and graduation, Paul and Juli flew to Florida for an extended honeymoon and a desperately needed rest. Their future for the next couple of years was already mapped out. They had enrolled in Western Seminary here in Portland, where I taught, with the intent of starting work in the fall on master’s degrees (MDiv for Paul, MA for Juli) in intercultural studies. They both planned to attend seminary while teaching piano to support themselves. After graduation they would head off to some third-world mission field. This was a well-formulated plan and a beautiful dream, but the Lord had other ideas.
Upon her return to Portland, Juli had not revived nearly as much as we had hoped or expected. Fighter that she is, she attempted to “keep up with the program,” but after just a few weeks, she had to drop out of Western. She still taught piano part-time, as her energy allowed. Then, as Juli’s energy level continued its free fall, Paul too came down with mono! To ration his strength, Paul dropped two of his three classes, but managed to continue teaching piano part-time. His condition eventually worsened to the point where he had to drop his seminary studies altogether. (By March 1989, they would both also have to terminate their piano teaching — a heart-wrenching decision for all of us.)
Desperate to find relief, they reached in many different medical directions, but found no help. Like so many others with baffling afflictions, they were waved off with that exasperating cop-out so familiar to frustrated patients, “There’s nothing wrong with you,” or “You’re just depressed.” I guess blaming the victim is a universal human evasion tactic when the person responsible for answers has none, and refuses to admit it.
Finally, in December of 1988, a viral disease specialist at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) diagnosed the health monster they were facing. Since they both became debilitated after contracting mono, he concluded that they were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a term that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had recently coined for a severe postviralsyndrome, which was sometimes precipitated by the Epstein-Barr (mono) virus. However, because the CDC was unable to identify a single virus that caused all the current cases, they concocted this idiotic-sounding appellation (used only here in the U.S., nowhere else), which belies the utter seriousness of the disease.
Unfortunately, taming this beast has proven almost impossible. Although there have been some advancements in this area, there is still no cure for CFS (now renamed myalgicencephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS).At the time of their diagnosis, much of the medical community was still skeptical of its existence. For those who did acknowledge it, the understanding of this condition was still in its infancy. So, even though the CDC had officially recognized the disease, there was little any doctor could do to alleviate it. We were all facing dead-end street.
Before long, however, Juli was beginning to suffer from another condition CFS patients are prone to. Whatever the underlying cause of this affliction, Juli was soon developing what would become a horrifying, out-of-control, and totally mystifying disease called environmental illness, now known as MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities). In lay terms, MCS is a condition that varies in severity from patient to patient and causes them to react to certain chemicals that would never affect the average person.
Before Juli’s symptoms began, neither she nor I would have given the slightest thought to something of this nature. We had never even heard of them. Yet now, the excruciating symptoms (known as vasculitis) she experienced when exposed to certain chemicals felt like burning acid was being poured into her veins and muscles. A nationally recognized doctor later found remarkably high levels of toxic chemicals in her blood and remarked to Paul, “Your wife has a real problem.”