Thursday, February 14, 2019

When Valentine’s Day Isn’t Lovely ------- by Sara K. Parker

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s heart-filled, candy-laden, flower-blooming Valentine’s Day, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that plenty of others feel the same way I do today: disenchanted and a little sad.

All the reasons why don’t really belong on a blog like this, but my husband and I have weathered some fierce storms over the past several years, and we could use a break.

Currently, he is on around day 25 of a pretty serious health slump with no end in sight. So, on this Valentine’s Day you won’t be getting a story of roses and sunshine from me. Instead, allow me to give you a window into the crisis that hit our family suddenly twelve years ago this February.

But first, I’ve got to back up.

My husband and I met on a blind date in 2001, and our love story developed like many love stories do – we fell fast in love and knew early on that this was *IT*. We married in March 2003…

Enjoyed a couple years of adulting and traveling…

Lunch in Scotland on a three-week backpacking tour in 2004.
Then suffered a chemical pregnancy and infertility, and zoomed right into the world of adoption in 2005, when we adopted our two sons from Ethiopia, who were 11 months and 2.5 years old. 

Life. Was. Magical.

Financially, we struggled a bit, as I’d quit my job to become a stay at home mom, and DH had recently finished college and was searching for a higher-paying job (he’d done four years with the Marine Corps. before college).

But by the summer of 2006, God had answered our prayers: DH got his dream job and we moved to Northwest Houston where we could actually afford a single family home. Predictably, it wasn't long before I grew homesick.

When I was out of sorts, my hubby would stay home with the kids on a Friday night or Saturday morning and send me out to shop. At 27, I was slightly addicted to retail therapy. On one such day in February 2007, DH stayed home with the boys who were three and four years old, and I shopped to my heart’s content – never knowing that he was miserably sick at home, even though we’d spoken on the phone several times throughout the day. In truth, he’d been throwing up all day, but hadn’t wanted to ruin my shopping adventure.

What we assumed was a stomach bug didn’t go away. Instead, the illness progressed with varying symptoms – debilitating fatigue, nausea, vomiting, extreme vertigo, migraines, rashes, excessive sweating and body aches, to name a few. He couldn't tolerate noise or light, so he moved into the office upstairs in our house, covered the windows with blankets, and shut himself off to the world. He was basically bedridden for nearly a year as I dragged him to more than 20 specialists searching for answers.

Keep in mind, we had no friends or family nearby. We had just moved across the country and were on our own. We had no medical histories here, no doctors who cared about us, no way to know how to navigate this catastrophic problem. He was diagnosed with Epstein Barr Virus, and then mono, and then chronic mono, and maybe Lyme disease until finally all the doctors settled on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is by far the most idiotic name ever given to such a life-stealing medical condition. Once he was labeled with CFS, doctors lost interest, and we lost hope.

Chronic illness is utterly devastating. It is often invisible, not well understood, and extremely isolating. It destroys friendships, finances, and families.

But, we have this hope. It is an anchor for our souls, firm and secure. (Hebrews 16:19)

As my husband struggled with this debilitating illness, I floundered for years through severe depression, anxiety and loneliness. I began to doubt what I had always believed about God: that He is good and loving and with me always.

I stopped going to church and reading my Bible. When I tried to pray, I mostly ended up in the darkness of my closet, sobs pressed into a pillow I’d brought in with me so I wouldn’t freak out the kids or worry my husband.

The story of my own healing and the strengthening of my faith is a long one, and it’s still evolving - but slowly, light filtered back into my life. It began, I believe, when I went back to church one Sunday. After the service, I went to a side room to ask for prayer, but when I walked into the room and opened my mouth to speak, I started weeping. My heart was broken, and I had no words. 

A man who was stationed there to pray simply opened his Bible and began to read. He prayed Psalms over me, and that would mark the first time in my life when I experienced what I’d read and been taught – that the Bible is God’s living and breathing word (Hebrews 4:12). Relief poured over me, my tears stopped, and I felt an inexplicable sense of comfort – even peace.

At home, however, faced with our hard reality again, my peace quickly dissipated. I’d put a Bible by my bed, intent on reading it, but it collected dust for weeks, maybe months.

Then one morning, I woke up with what was now a familiar sense of dread, and I opened my eyes and stared at the leather-bound Bible. 

It’s hard to explain this moment, as I didn’t hear an audible voice, but somehow my heart heard these words: Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you.

I had never heard God speak to me, and I have never had an experience like that since…but I knew He was speaking to me. I’d like to say that I jumped out of bed, grabbed my Bible, and read out loud for hours on my knees. Instead, I turned away. I rolled over and went back to sleep. It was a very long time before I would open my Bible again.

But those two experiences replayed in my head time and again over the years – as God brought me deep friendships and then added our two daughters to our family…

As He sustained my husband’s job despite his chronic health condition, as He provided financially during more than one disaster, as He healed our daughter from a cancer that I felt almost certain would take her life

After surgery for Ewing Sarcoma in February 2017

Ringing the bell to celebrate completion of cancer treatment in September 2017

As He lovingly deepened my faith and taught me to pray and listened and sat with me in anguish, as He heaped joyful blessings on my life during the hardest times…
Celebrating my first LIS sale at RWA with two of my sisters who also write for LIS - Mary Ellen Porter, who has two books out, and Shirlee McCoy, who has been churning out romantic suspense since 2003. :)

Kids and cousins playing on a beach in Hawaii at sunrise.

Boarding a plane to Florida for our daughter's Make-A-Wish trip (a Disney Cruise).

A scene from a serene retreat I recently attended at Laity Lodge in Leakey, Texas.
So, yes, on this Valentine’s Day, I admit to feeling a little sad because of all my husband’s illness has stolen from us - but through Jesus, I have a hope that sustains me (2 Corinthians 4:17). This world is wrought with pain and suffering, but it is also overflowing with goodness and light. I don't think it's coincidental that our most important jobs here (love God and love others - Matthew 22:37-39) actually relieve stress, reduce pain, and lift loneliness. Appropriate for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? 

If you're struggling with hope today, may I suggest how I plan to celebrate (because the hubby and I will have to take a raincheck)?

1.     Write a letter to God, recognizing the blessings in your life, and then pour out your sorrows to Him.
2.     Read out loud a chapter of the book of Psalms (23, 27, 91, 119, 121, 139, for starters).
3.     Order some take-out and settle in with a good book – because good food and great books are cheap therapy.

How do you hold onto hope when reality feels bleak? What do you do to dust yourself off when life is dragging you around? What is the best way someone has shown you love in a time of crisis?

Many blessings to you on this Valentine’s Day.

P.S. I love to connect with readers and other writers on my Facebook author page  and over at


  1. Sara, what an amazing love story, and the perfect one for Valentine's Day. So real. So heartfelt. It touched my heart. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. What a powerful post, Sara. You've endured a lot of hardships and it's so understandable why you questioned God's will. I know when my mother died I did the same thing, but just like you, found my way back. Your children are beautiful! Absolute blessings! And your husband sounds like a strong man who has gone through a lot. I'm so glad you're still holding on to your love story and all the blessings in your world. It doesn't mean things aren't tough. But you're still standing on a foundation of LOVE. Happy Valentine's Day!

    1. Thank you! Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too!

  3. What a beautiful story! Thanks so much for sharing. <3

    1. And thank YOU for reading. It was super long - ha! :)

  4. Thank you for such a relatable post. Life isn't always a bed of roses...if it ever is. All we can do is trust that God has seen the other side of our pain, and He promises good for those who love Him. It helps us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. <3

    1. Absolutely. I’ve been working with a great counselor for a few months, who has been reminding me to do just that - the next right thing, and then the next.

  5. I think just knowing God is there, also have a neice under 2 years old who is such a light with photos n videos from her mum and also friend who i can say nearly everything to

  6. Dear Sara, thank you for sharing your journey. Struggles come in all forms and never are planned. I'm thankful you find your way back to God and that He can work through you and your family to His glory.
    I look back over some of the struggles and doubts I've had over the years and can see His hand even when I felt lost and alone. Your words are a reminder to not take the good times for granted and to remember where my strength comes from in the bad times. I can get so busy with life I forget to remain thankful the blessings. You have a beautiful family.

    1. Thank you, Terri. I often forget to be thankful, too. The past couple of years in particular have been teaching me to be more present and less anxious. But I will probably keep learning the same lessons multiple ways for years to come. :)

  7. Thank you, Sara, for sharing your journey and that of your family. You are such an inspiration to grab God's hand and just keep going. You have a lovely family. Praying for you all.

    1. Thank you for your words of encouragement and your prayers, Marie. ❤️

  8. Praying for you, Sara! DH & I spent Val. Day at doctors; many health issues for us at present!

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that, Jackie! I will pray for you and your husband tonight. <3

  9. Oh my stars, you have made it virtually impossible for me to make fun of you today, and that is totally thwarting my inner snark. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, WOMAN????? Going and getting me all warm and fuzzy and sympathetic because you deserve all of that warmth and empathy and sympathy...

    But here's what I see in you and maybe because of what you've experienced or how God worked his most original design within you when he formed you years ago:

    You're strong. Yes, you've had to be strong and maybe had to learn to be strong, but hey: News flash! You did it. And chronic illness is a total drain on fun, family, faith, fearlessness because it cycles in, often at the very worst times... but then when is there a good time for it? Never...

    You amaze me. That doesn't surprise me, because I love people who amaze me, they make me want to be bigger, better, stronger, faster. Not to compete with them, but because they inspired me to think outside myself. I bet you've done that to countless people over the years. Most of whom you don't know and have no idea that you've touched a life or lives.

    Well done, good and faithful servant... and those words might not make the day-to-day easier, but I always think of Mary during those I Can't Believe How Bad This Is times... following her Son. Following that cross. Witnessing what was done to Him... and being unable to save Him. But never leaving his side.

    She is my inspiration to be the best woman I can be. To be the best person I can be because when I compare my walk to hers...

    Well, dagnabbit, she wins.

    Like, what?????

    She wins and I realize that her inspiration and my faith guide me through those gut-wrenching times.

    Praying for you and your beautiful family, sweet Sara, and I would love a world where medical answers outweigh medical questions but that world is still slightly out of reach. But as more answers are revealed, I pray for your husband's full healing! I claim that for you!


    1. Whelp, Ruthy, you totally made me cry (the good kind of crying, of course). I have read your words multiple times this morning. Your empathy, encouragement and commitment to pray feel like a mama-hug reaching through the computer screen. Thank you for all your loving ways. ❤️


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