Marriage links for the week

Several couples renew their commitments to each other after being married between 30 and 60 years.

Christian musician Michael W. Smith was a huge influence on me during my teenage years. He recently celebrated his 22d wedding anniversary with his wife and occasional lyricist Debbie.

The Catholic Exchange considers what God meant for marriage to be. (Link via Ryan’s Head.)

Children teach adults a lot about how to love and how to relate to God. (Link via Patriot Paradox.)

Alan over at Imago Veritatis examines the nature of sex as God intended it.

Check out all of this week’s posts at Little House. They have more touching stories of marriage and family than you’re likely to find in one place anywhere else.

Larry’s love story

Last week I shared Rey’s
love story
. After my request to hear others, I received
the following from Larry Lovering.

It began when I was twelve, living in Colorado Springs. I was a scrawny
and brainy kid, two deadly attributes in the company of cretins with less intelligence
than a bucket of Jell-O. I took refuge often with the youth group at First
Methodist Church, a very large church in the Springs. They had a heart
for God, and their youth programs were well attended. I was in Boy Scouts
at that church as well.

One Sunday night, there was a youth service in the gym, and communion was served,
potato chips and coca-cola serving as host substitutes. I thought a lot
about God and how Jesus lived and died; and that night I gave my life to him. Two
months later I was on a plane bound back to Massachusetts as another of my father’s
marriages was crumbling. It was his third.

The ensuing years put me in different churches but not for sanctification, but
for a place to go. The Congregational churches of New England are watered-down
ghosts of their Puritan beginnings. I didn’t feel like I was backsliding,
in fact I didn’t really know what that was. But I felt safe there, knowing
that God was watching.

High school, and I finally faced up to the demons that dogged me by punching
one in the nose after school. I never had a problem with bullies again. And
I kept on being a good kid in the face of everything that peer groups can throw. I
graduated, went to college briefly, then to work.

At 22, I found a Baptist church near where I lived and began attending, full
time now. I began to see what God’s plans were for me, and that he was
with me all those years. Well, I didn’t really realize that until, well,
that comes later in the story. As I sat in a singles class for Sunday School,
I was introduced to a list-making help to discern a mate. I wasn’t too
interested in being married at that time, but I thought carefully about my list
and resolved not to become unequally-yoked. I worked, went to church, worked
again until I was 25.

I met Joann in one of my stores. She was playing a record in the stereo
department, a record that I heard from across the store. It wasn’t an ordinary
song, though. It was Stravinsky’s Firebird, played with electronic instruments. There
was a style to the performance I recognized, and I thought that my friend Billy
and me were the only ones in the Western World who had Isao Tomita’s records. I
asked Joann whose record it was, and it was hers. Now there were
three that knew Tomita.

She was very attractive, and I decided to ask her out before I left for the day.
She gave me her number, and for the next three weeks I dialed that number,
no response. Finally, I did get through, and we set up our first date for
September 6, 1980. We spent that day until almost midnight in Boston, and
it was very close to the end of the date when I found out she was a believer,
which made my heart jump. I was respectful, always, and kissed her on the
cheek leaving her that night, with a promise that I’d call her back. I
did, the next day, and the next day, and the next…

Our second date was at a church picnic, her church, but we wandered away for
most of the time and talked. Our third date was dinner at my house, and
I prepared a home made Italian feast, a specialty of mine. To set the stage
for this, I thought she was French, ok? Well, she comes up the stairs and
says, "You have a nerve, cooking Italian for an Italian." Fortunately
she liked my cooking, a lot.

Six weeks later, I proposed to Joann, and she accepted. Five months later
we married, on her birthday. And for twenty years, our marriage was one
with the Lord, a storybook almost every day, and when the day wasn’t so, the
night was. We couldn’t have children, so we adopted an infant boy
ten years after we married. And though our relationship got a little rocky
at times, God was still at the head and in control. Even when we found
out she had ovarian cancer.

The world didn’t stop then, only slowed down a lot. I went with Joann to
each of her chemo sessions, and stayed with her every night in her hospital room. We
hoped and prayed for a miracle. She lived for four and a half years after
that, and for most of those years we traveled and made the most of our lives. She
died, at home, in August 2001.

Joann’s testimony lived on, spreading her Gospel message about trust and hope,
and peace in Him through our web site. It is amazing to me, but two people
that I know of, came to know the Lord as their Savior after reading the web site. And
my life, cut apart as it was, is slowly regaining life because of God and His
promises to me. We knew after our first date that we would be together,
and many years later, after she died, I found her list, the one she used to see
if I met her "standards." Number 3 on the list was, "would
like to cook for me once in a while." I did, for almost two years
after we were married, as she arrived home later than I did from work. But
of course, that isn’t the reason our marriage was so successful. It was
God being the head of our marriage.

After reading Larry’s story, I downloaded Isao
‘s rendition of The Pachelbel
Canon from the iTunes Music Store (which introduced me to a fascinating artist
and also taught me the proper spelling of Pachelbel). Larry recommends
the album Snowflakes
Are Dancing
(featuring the music of DeBussy) for newcomers to his music. Larry
runs the Web site,
where he offers information on a variety of fascinating topics and also publishes
a blog
At the site, you can also read about Joann’s
ordeal with cancer
(in her own words) and how she handled it
through faith
the loving support of her husband.

Please continue sending me love stories. I love to read them, and I love sharing them even more.

My (non-)Mannersly wedding

I love Miss Manners. She seems to be the only person in the media lobbying for a return to general civility. Twice a week, her column advocates people respecting each other, children showing deference to their elders, and adults behaving like adults. I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything she writes, and she often teaches me something new.

Her January 25 column focuses on weddings, one of her pet peeves. When she writes about weddings, she reminds me of Steve Martin’s views on irony in the movie Roxanne: “Irony? No, no, we don’t have that here. You see, in this town people ski topless while smoking pot, so irony is sort of a non-issue.” (I’m quoting from memory, so that’s probably not verbatim.) She holds the opinion that weddings are quickly becoming as irrelevant as irony in Steve Martin’s town for a host of reasons, including the fact that many are part of a series for either or both central participants, many feature a pregnant bride and the five-year-old son of the bride and groom as the best man, and many are superfluous ceremonies since the couple eloped but didn’t want to miss out on having a party in their own honor. I should say here that all three circumstances have occurred within my own family, and I don’t judge anyone for their desire to have a ceremony they can share with family and friends.

I wonder, though, what Miss Manners would have thought about my wedding. We had a gift registry at three different stores, and Miss Manners despises gift registries. I sang a couple of songs (both of them precious to my bride in some way) during the prelude, a practice which she hasn’t addressed in her columns but would surely frown upon. My friend Matt (my favorite singer in the world) sang several other songs important to us both. We had my best man tell a condensed version of our love story for members of our extended family who didn’t know how we met, became friends, fell in love, and committed to each other. We had the pastor explain the concept of salvation and why we see marriage as a sacred and holy union, neither of which is essential to the ceremony. I don’t think Miss Manners would approve of any of that.

On the other hand, we exchanged the traditional wedding vows, something I feel passionate about. Mrs. Happy (appropriately, I might add) wore a white wedding gown, and I a black tuxedo with a white shirt and no non-traditional colors. We let people know where we registered for gifts, but never insisted that gifts come only from those places, and we never solicited money in lieu of gifts. We also required commitments of time and effort (and as little cash as possible) only from the members of the wedding party. We did not throw ourselves a bridal shower, instead allowing friends and/or family to do so as they desired. I don’t think Miss Manners would shake a disapproving finger at any of that, except possibly the gift registry.

I have heard that some people complained about our wedding being “too much of a show.” Maybe it was for some people. But of all the weddings I have attended, mine is still my favorite. That’s as it should be.

Working together

I’ve mentioned before that my wife is an artist. Sometimes she gets me to draw things even though I can’t create anything more sophisticated than a stick figure. She says art is therapeutic. A person’s art, even when formed by an untalented hand, can express what the heart feels when words fall short. This happens even (and maybe especially) when we don’t intend it—just as we can’t speak what we don’t think, neither can we draw what we don’t feel.

So sometimes I draw pictures for her, sometimes she draws pictures for me, and sometimes we draw pictures together. Our favorite collaborative medium is something we call panel art. For a piece of panel art, you divide a page into at least four sections. One person draws something in one panel, making sure that lines in the picture touch every edge of the panel in at least one place. The other person then does the same in an adjacent panel, drawing a completely different picture. The two artists pass the paper back and forth until every panel contains a picture. The catch is that all lines that touch the edge of a panel must meet the lines that touch the same edge from the adjacent panel.

Panel art is a wonderful creative exercise and provides a chance for two people to communicate and create without using words. My favorite piece of ours is one we did in six panels. I’m too tired right now to analyze it and put into words what we were feeling or communicating, but you can see it yourself here. My panels are the upper-left, upper-right, and bottom-center. Mrs. Happy’s are the upper-center, lower-left, and lower-right.

Marriage links for the week

It appears that a cultural tide is shifting again. More educated young women are choosing to build a happy marriage and family instead of pursuing careers in the business world.

One man explores the neurotic habits he and his wife have developed during their thirty years of marriage. He concludes that they help keep the marriage strong. I’m not sure he’s correct. I’ll let you know in 25 years.

The author of the 1965 book Always Ask a Man, The Key to Femininity revisits some of the things she wrote about marriage, relationships, and womanhood. I can’t endorse everything she says, but it is interesting reading.

Ryan (of Ryan’s Head) is expecting a baby soon, so he and his wife have been practicing the fine art of swaddling with anything they can find that has the same general shape as a baby.

Bryan (of Clarity amidst Chaos) sees a spiritual metaphor in Batman’s enemy Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two Face. Two Face constantly fights an internal battle of good spirit versus evil nature. His only solace is his wife, Grace(!), whom he simultaneously craves and despises.

Another day in paradise

I sometimes tend to portray my marriage in a rosier light than exists in reality.
I try to be honest about the difficulties involved, but sappy positive things
float atop my consciousness, so those are the things that usually wind up on
this page. That leads to accusations from friends that my wife and I are a
couple of Smurfs living in Smurfland singing Laaa-laaa-la-laa-laa-laa Laaa-la-laa-laa-laaa
all day long. It’s not true, though. We have a deeply serious argument at
least once every two weeks, and more often if we’re visiting family. We don’t
let those fights get us down or come between us, though. We almost always resolve
things to the satisfaction of both of us before we go to bed.

Almost every day, we argue about something completely and absurdly inane.
We generally forget those arguments as soon as they’re over. Sometimes we even
forget during the middle of the argument if something distracts us. Here are
some of the ridiculous things we’ve fought about:

  • the proper pronunciation of the word opaque
    think that she disagrees with me no matter how I pronounce it, and she
    thinks I always
    pronounce it incorrectly.
  • the proper pronunciation of Ronkonkoma, a town on Long Island
    This argument
    had her saying rahn-KAHN-kuh-muh and my answering RAHN-kahn-KOHHH-muh,
    with no other words in between, back and forth for 45 minutes. I found
    later that she was right.
  • whether I’m capable of going to the grocery store and picking out a dessert
    less stupid than a bag of Oreos to take to a church function
  • whether an Entemann’s cake is less stupid than a bag of Oreos
  • whether fashioning a humanoid doll out of rubber bands is possible and/or
    a worthwhile endeavor
  • what to do with our couch as we moved from Austin to Long Island
    Mrs. Happy wanted to sell it to someone who offered us $150 and then get
    ourselves something new in New York. I insisted that we wouldn’t be able
    to buy something new for $150 and we might as well take it with us even
    it would
    be more hassle than leaving it behind. We took it along, but it wouldn’t
    fit through any doorway in the house, even with the doors off their hinges.
    No one
    in New York would buy it, and since the upholstery had been slightly frayed
    in the move Goodwill wouldn’t even accept it as a donation. We eventually
    threw it away and bought something new.
  • which TV show is less worth watching: Star Trek Enterprise or The Gilmore
  • which Friend‘s personality more closely parallels mine: Ross or
  • the appropriateness of a wife doing a happy dance upon trouncing a husband
    in a game of Scrabble, then painstakingly reproducing the final appearance
    of the
    with a pen and paper, then telling everyone she sees that she beat me 514
    to 215 after fabricating a Q-word (quod) that just happened to be
    in the dictionary
  • how a man should have better sense than to walk, speak, or breathe in the
    vicinity of a woman on the verge of setting a new record on her favorite
    video game

So maybe we do live in Smurfland, but even Smurfland had its Gargamel.

A friend’s love story

I think my favorite kind of story is a true-to-life love story. Movie love stories tend to just make me mad. Hollywood doesn’t seem to understand how real people experience love, affection, commitment, and sacrifice. But I love to hear a real person tell how he came to know and love God or how he met and married the love of his life. Bill (a.k.a. Theognome) shared both of his love stories in the comments section of Tuesday’s post. It’s wonderful. Go read it. (My comments have a limit on how long a single comment can be, so he had to break up his story over eight entries. My apologies.)

My favorite kind of love story is one in which a person’s heavenly and earthly love stories are bound up in one another. Rey (the driving force behind The Bible Archive) recently shared his with me, and gave me permission to share it with everyone. Here it is.

Letting go is hard.

I was eight when I saw the Exorcist. It made hell evident to me. At a prayer meeting, one of the brothers preached the gospel and it made sense: It was a way for me not to go to hell.

Then saved, I lived my life without making God my ruler. My focus was on doing what I wanted. I was saved, but my life was mine. I realize in retrospect that even when I prayed, I prayed selfishly. My prayers were about saving me from danger and for girls to like me. Thank God that He is merciful, and even in such prayers He listens, although He may say “wait.”

After some time, I wound up going to a Christian conference in Connecticut where the preacher connected the Word in ways which boggled my green mind. I knew I was saved and I knew I wasn’t dedicated. I spiritually bent down then and dedicated my life to Him. I went home and read the Bible in its entirety. I prayed, got baptized.

I backslid.

High school was filled with a constant struggle of fighting the Old Man in my spirit. I came to an understanding of Paul’s words: Those things I don’t want to do…those things I do! Doubt crept into my life and for a time I wanted to die. I thought the answer to “Who will deliver me from this body of death!” might’ve been myself.

It was one night at the edge of my bed that I broke down before God and realized that I thought I could be a believer without heavenly help. Somehow, I missed the point of being saved in the spirit. While studying the book of Galatians I fell in love with the thought that “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, but it is not I but Christ who lives within me.”

I cried.

God is the one who justifies and he has declared me just in the cross of Christ. He will deliver me from this body of death. It had nothing to do with me, but everything to do with Him.

Letting go is difficult. Even now I still hold on to aspects of my life and it pains me.

During my junior year of college I went on trip with my church to a camp where the Word was taught and preached in a way I had never known. Vibrant, pulsating, and powerful, it gave me a taste akin to that of small group studies and private time, but magnified. The people there were saturated in the scriptures, and the singing of hymns sounded like the heaven opened.

Jokingly, I threw my arms around a few girls asking them to go play volleyball. One of the girls was really cute but I had decided that I wasn’t going to be doing any chasing anymore. Plus this cute girl just kept reiterating her boyfriend’s name. These girls told me about working in the camp during the summer and about how washing the pots was fun.

I’ve done my share of pot-washing in another camp and I never heard it described as fun. I hated it and I hated how the camp managers would yell at us saying that “You’re working for the Lord! Is THIS how you work unto the Lord?”

I acquiesced that I would try to stay for the summer but I also warned that my parents were strict and that I haven’t gone to camp for more than two weeks since I was 14 because I had to work in the factory where my father worked. They told me that this camp pays, and though very low, it’s better than nothing.

I asked my parents and surprisingly enough, they said yes and drove me down a week later.

Away from the city, the noise, and my siblings, I studied. Man, how I studied. I loved it. I could read the Bible in the morning, run over to the kitchen to work, run over to the morning message, have a little free time and then get back to the Bible. All of this was interspersed with hanging out with those girls and some good guys I met there. I carried with me a black guitar re-made by some awesome college friends of mine. I called it the True-Dee after the people who handed it over to me.

Pot-washing WAS fun. It’s where I learned to sing while I work.

Those friends are still dear to me. I wrote letters to them all, and this continues even today. At the end of that summer, those dear friends purchased a guitar and gave it to me as a gift. I named it Summer.

For it was that summer that the love for my God grew. It was that summer that a young woman became a close friend, and years later wound up marrying me on those very same camp-grounds in August of 1999.

Laura, the cute girl who I played volleyball with, who convinced me to stay at the camp, has been my greatest help since our summertime conversations on everything from the stars to work in the church. In our relationship, love came softly, entering into marriage as a natural progression. It felt completely comfortable. We’ve been married going on five years, have a child and we can still laugh like idiots at two a.m. about something or other.

God answers prayers in amazing ways, and in my case, usually after letting go.

By the way, if anyone wants to share their own love story, please e-mail it to me. Like I said, it’s my favorite kind of story.

Christian Carnival

Nick over at Patriot Paradox is hosting the first ever Christian Carnival today. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a carnival is a collection of posts from many different sites that all deal with a similar theme. In this case, the theme is Christianity. Last week, Nick invited bloggers to submit their posts “of a Christian nature” so that he could link to them in the carnival. I submitted my post on spiritual leadership, and others submitted their own Christian posts, so go over to Patriot Paradox and see what’s there. You might just find something that broadens your horizons, provokes your thoughts, and stretches your mind.

Falling in love

A commenter on ireneQ’s site recently posed this question:

How did you fall in love with God? In an instant, or through ongoing exposure and getting to know him better? Or, because of fear of the consequences of not loving him?

I’m taking the question completely out of the context in which it was offered, but the thoughts it provoked in my mind surprised me. As I pondered the question, I realized that I fell in love with God in much the same manner that I fell in love with my wife.

I have gone to church my entire life. I met and accepted God at the age of five. I was truly pumped about my new life for a while, then the excitement died down and I didn’t pay much attention to God. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I learned quite a bit about God, but I didn’t really get to know Him in a personal way. At the age of 14, I attended a youth event (known locally as Disciple Now Weekend) that consisted of groups of teenagers congregating at a house and going through two days of intensive Bible study led by a seminary student. Something clicked in my mind and heart that weekend, and I finally understood everything I had been learning about God. I finally, truly understood (at least as far as I was capable of understanding) who God is, why He loves me, and why I owe Him my life. It took me nine years of knowing about Him to suddenly fall in love with Him.

I met my wife at the age of 22, in the summer of 1994. I immediately liked her friends and felt more or less neutral about her. She felt fairly neutral about me as well (actually, she thought I was a “dud,” though a harmless one). She tolerated my presence because her friends liked me. When the fall came, her friends returned to their universities in other states, leaving her and me alone with the other 50,000 students at The University of Texas. Stuck with each other, we started spending time together and eventually became best friends. I developed attitudes of friendship, loyalty, affection, protection, encouragement, and intimacy toward her.

I don’t remember the exact moment, but an exact moment did occur early in 1997 when I suddenly realized that I loved her as a husband should love a wife. It took a little over two years of steady emotional development for me to reach that lightning-bolt epiphany.

I had two life-changing experiences that built up for years before exploding, and both explosions continue to resonate through all areas of my life. Thank God.