Being Transparent

Shingleton Family

Written by Rachel Shingleton, Crossings Member

Getting Real About Marriage

When Ron Mahn and Shari Murphy approached Simon and me about helping them in the Becoming One class, we wrestled with it a bit. Being asked to participate somehow suggests you’ve got it all together or that you’re an expert at something. (Insert photo of me doubling over in laughter here.) And while we can unequivocally say we hardly have everything together, we both feel passionately about getting real about marriage.

Simon and I were married in 2005. When I look at our happy faces smiling back from our wedding photos, I often think how I want to say to those two people, “You have no idea what’s coming!” The first four years of our marriage were a crazy roller coaster of chronic illness, a premature baby, death of family members, serious surgeries, and a total career change for my husband. In other words, any expectations I might have had on what our lives were going to look like were completely blown away. Within nine months of being married, I was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, ulcerative colitis, at the age of 25. That whole “in sickness and in health” part of our vows was about to get real.

Shattered Expectations

At the height of my illness, I was taking 21 pills a day to manage my disease. My expectations for early marriage had completely gone down the tubes. I struggled enormously with guilt over being sick all the time and worried that I was unfairly burdening my new husband with something he hadn’t signed up for. I was struggling to manage my stress, which only exacerbated the crazy cycle, and on top of the health issues, I was also newly pregnant. Jude was born in October 2007 at 33 weeks of pregnancy, and I quickly spiraled downwards with postpartum depression. I felt like my world had completely fallen apart. The turning point for us was getting help through an amazing family counselor and doing the hard emotional work of therapy.

Answered Prayers

Within a few years, my disease was completely out of control. I had run out of options with medication, and my only choice was to have my colon removed. In December 2009, I had my first of two surgeries at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota—a total leap of faith. We were scared to death, neither one of us knowing what to expect or if my quality of life would really be improved. Three months later, we went back for the second surgery in what turned out to be a victorious return to the Mayo Clinic. In the three months since that initial surgery, I began to feel what it was like to be healthy again; my life was given back to me. I had been sick for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to feel good. Through trial by fire, I was healed of my disease. I went from 21 pills a day to zero pills, which still amazes me now four years later.

In the years since that surgery, God has blessed our lives in untold ways. I wouldn’t trade those trials from our early marriage for anything; we’ve learned that we truly can do hard things.

Learning to Be Transparent

I think we can boil down our M.O. as a couple to this: we believe strongly in the power of transparency. There are far too many people who go through hard experiences thinking, “No one ever told me it would be like this.” I was one of them! It’s paralyzing, alienating, and really lonely. But odds are, you’re not the only person who’s ever experienced your particular hardship. And I refuse to keep the lid on the hard things of my life just because they’re not pretty or they’re hard to talk about. Everybody’s got issues.

And that’s what I really love about serving in the Becoming One class. There’s a generosity through transparency that is happening in this class—it’s blowing the lid off any myths about marriage and helping couples prepare for their lives together. It’s the willingness to say, “I can be honest and real about this with you because I know there’s a benefit to it.” Simon and I are honored to be a part of it, and I can’t wait to see what grows out of this.

“Being Transparent” originally published in the Winter 2013 edition of Crossings Magazine.