In many ways it seems like yesterday I handed my job application for a van driver to the attractive young woman behind the Reception Desk at Judson University. But it wasn’t yesterday. March 10, 2017, that woman and I celebrated 50 years of marriage. With gratitude, we honestly wonder, how that can possibly be?
We’re flawed like everyone else, not a one-of-a kind example, so how have we made it 50 years? There are other ways to pile up marital decades, but I know our story best. Ultimately God’s grace has been prominent for us, and we’ve been mindful of that grace. Easy answers are not always available for life’s ups and downs. When I think of friends whose marriages ended with the death of one or both spouses, I realize we have been given an amazing, undeserved gift.
Our expectation has always been to stay married, and to make our marriage good. Good marriages are hard work. We can all choose to pursue good and what multiples good, even when bad things happen. We made that choice.
We are quick reconcilers. We’ve tried not to waste precious time being upset with each other. That’s been our goal. We usually reached that goal, but not always. It’s hard to cough up “I’m sorry” when you feel justified in your beef. It’s been helpful to remember we cannot recoup energy and time taken to stay angry. You know how it goes. “Why was I offended?” Then you spend more time trying to recall it and stoke the fires for your case. We’ve tried to practice the biblical admonition: “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, . . .” (Ephesians 4:26). The times we didn’t do that could probably be counted on one hand, maybe two. If you’re married to a stewer who has to mull stuff, that’s a tougher assignment. But making it a goal might be a start.
We enjoy doing things together. In our early years together we liked to go to open houses. It still sounds fun to us. We both love theater or a good movie. Just be sure we have plenty of popcorn with lots of butter.
Because of the generosity of our first church, a highlight of our marriage was traveling to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. While there we officially rebounded from a pitiful honeymoon – one night in a Chicago suburb, then back to our apartment to open wedding gifts. That’s all we could afford. On our 12th anniversary we stood on Mt. Nebo in Jordan, where Moses saw the Promised land – a considerable upgrade from our original honeymoon.
Family vacations have been important for us and our children. For 25 years we took our girls to Horn Creek family camp in the Sangre De Cristo mountains in Colorado. I remember asking our daughters many years into that annual trek, “Would you like to go to Disney World some time?” Their answer took me aback: “And miss Horn Creek? No way!” We had established a bonding tradition for our family.
We’ve tried to make respect a high priority. We have different tastes, hobbies, interests. I’m a keeper. Mary’s a tosser. I like things around the house to stay the same. She loves to change it up, regularly. I love the outdoors. She doesn’t want her hair windblown and doesn’t like to get her clothes dirty. I love fishing. Fish have to really be biting to get her attention, if I could even get her near where they might be biting. I can’t match colors. She can, very well. Many times I’ve headed out the door, and heard her gasp, “You’re wearing that? It doesn’t match!” She loves old movies. I have to be convinced that an old movie could be good. I like an action flick. She tires quickly from that. But our differences have been refreshing. They’ve opened us to see things in a new light. Seeing things differently has great benefits. I marvel how rare it’s been for both of us to be down at the same time, because we see things differently.
I wanted no one’s feedback about a sermon I’d preached, more than Mary’s. Her opinion has mattered more than anyone’s, even if her response was bad news. She has fresh ideas, helpful insights and great wisdom; things I have often missed. Most marriages have that, but it takes respect to encourage those ideas, insights and wisdom to be shared.
A wonderful gift was given me by a church member when I arrived to comfort him after the sudden death of his wife. She had left for work that morning and died suddenly. He lamented over having broken his pattern of telling his wife he loved her before she left. ‘Always remember to tell your wife you love her when you part,’ he counseled me. I’ve never forgotten that. We’ve tried to express our love for each another in things we do for each other and the words we say.
We’ve had supportive parents and families on both sides. And we’ve been blessed with the two wonderful daughters we’ve been given, the choices they’ve made in marrying, and the grandchildren they’ve given us. They made our 50th special. One daughter and family live in Vancouver and could not come until summer, but they put together a special dinner, beautiful cake and an amazing video of friends over the years, that was edited into final form by our son-in-law who works for Sony Pictures. It’s cool! Our Vancouver gang joined us then on Facetime as we watched it and celebrated together. Our wider family is another undeserved gift, because it’s hard to buck winds of family resistance and turmoil, often out of our control, that can spill into a marriage.
When we take our annual family vacation in Michigan, it’s increasingly difficult to get us all in one place. Our two daughters and their husbands have given us eight grandchildren, one grandson is now married and they’ve given us a great-granddaughter, and we’re anticipating a great-grandson from them this summer. Another granddaughter is getting married this summer as well. They’re all family, and if you’re counting, that’s 16 total. . . so far.
There’s a bottom line for our lives, our marriage, our family. It’s the grace of Christ – receiving it, living in it, trying to extend it to each other. Without that, our story could be quite different.
By the way, I got the job. And the Receptionist who took my job application? I fell head over heels in love with her. She agreed to marry me a little over a year later. That was the beginning of a 50 year journey . . . and counting. God is good, very good!