Q & A time with Curt

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may be familiar with the
concept of Q & A With Curt. You may not yet understand it, but
at least you’ve seen it before. For the rest of you, I’ll offer a short explanation.
Readers sometimes send me questions regarding something I’ve written, or about
marriage in general. Sometimes my answers are so profound that I feel driven
to share them with everyone. But most of the time, no one asks me anything,
and my answers are rarely profound anyway. So I make up my own questions to
go along with some actual questions from readers and publish them in a Q
& A With Curt
post. This is one such post.

Why do you devote your blog to the topic of marriage?
I know the pain of divorce (my parents’) and the loneliness of bachelorhood (my
own). I think happily married people don’t encourage each other enough, and
maybe that’s because divorced and bitterly married people don’t want to hear
anything good about marriage. So I stand up and say, "I’m a happy husband,
and proud of it." For more details, see my
first post
.

You’re such a great writer. Why don’t you write for a living?
I do, sort of. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and even though
I’ve never been a journalist, every
job
I’ve had since graduating has been a writing job. They haven’t been particularly
fun jobs—writing
computer manuals, sales
copy, and marketing stuff—but they have been writing jobs. That means
I do in fact write for a living, but not in the exciting reporter/novelist
way
most people mean when they say "write."

Who has influenced you most as a writer?
I have a great deal of admiration for the memoirs of James Thurber, the essays
of E.B. White, the novels of Charles Dickens, the columns of Dave Barry, and
the various work of C.S. Lewis, William Zinsser, and George Will. At times
I do consciously try to imitate them (usually poorly—cf. Charles Dickens
and Baby
Happy
, as
well as Dave
Barry
and this blog’s Q&A
with Curt
feature), but
whether their influence has filtered down to my everyday style, I don’t know.

Who have you influenced as a writer?
Whom. The word you’re looking for is whom.

Who has influenced you most as a husband?
Right before I got married, I read a book by Gary Smalley that gave me a lot
of excellent insight, so he is definitely an influence. I hope I’ve picked up
stuff from my pastor as well, because he has the most loving wife and children
I’ve ever seen. I know I’ve learned a lot from Mrs. Happy, too.

Whom have you influenced as a husband?
I don’t know that I’ve actually influenced anyone, but I hope I’ve
at least encouraged people with my words, actions, and blog.

Why do you call certain people your geek friends?
I only refer to three particular people that way. One refers
to
himself in the third person as The Mysterious Cloaked Figure,
one knows more about comic
books than he does about breathing, and one often
writes about Star Wars on a blog that is otherwise devoted to the Bible and
theology.

Do they call you a geek friend?
Yeah, but I don’t know why. I’m a geek by association, I guess.

Speaking of your geek friends, do you think TheWriteJerry is
insane?

Obviously. I think he admits as much. He at least demonstrates it with the talking
dice
.

We all know that double negatives are a no-no in English, but
have you ever heard someone use a triple-negative construction?

Fourteen years ago, I was on my way to a tire store to buy a new tire when
my father
said
to
me,
"You know, I’m not sure I wouldn’t see if they don’t have a good used tire."
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

A weekend with Billy Graham

I had the privilege this past weekend of singing in the choir of Billy Graham’s
last New York crusade, and perhaps his last ever. There were services on Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday. Mrs.
Happy
and
I
both
sang at the Friday service (hence the lack of a post for Friday), then I went alone into the scorching heat and oppressive
humidity that surrounded the
Sunday
service, preferring not to have my pregnant wife pass out and fall out of the
stands and fifty feet to the ground.

I was especially looking forward to the Sunday service because the choir would
get to sing Because
He Lives
with the Gaither Vocal Band. That would have an
enormous amount of sentimental value for me, because Bill and Gloria Gaither’s
songs have had a huge impact in my life. The first concert I remember attending
featured The Bill Gaither Trio along with Sandi Patti and Carman. I think it
was at that concert that my parents bought me a vinyl record of the Gaithers
and a group of children singing Gaither songs. I think it was the favorite
record of my childhood, with the possible exception of the soundtrack from The
Muppet Movie
(though that one I had on a cassette tape). Anyway, three
Gaither songs in particular have always had a special place in my heart: I
Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary
, I
Am a Promise
, and Because He Lives. I can’t find any accurate
lyrics for Because He Lives online, or else I would link to them, but this
verse holds an especially powerful meaning for me now:

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still, the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He Lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

Sadly, some technical problems prevented us from rehearsing the
song on Sunday, so the entire choir simply sang the chorus in unison. At least
we still got to sing with the GVB, but I felt more like we were singing along
rather than being a part of the performance.

What a thrill it was, though, to sing How Great Thou Art with
George Beverly Shea. Apparently, he introduced that song to America in 1954
when he sang it at a Billy Graham crusade. He has sung that song at every crusade
since, I think. He’s 96 years old, and he can barely walk, but he still sings
the heck out of that hymn. I barely made it through without breaking down into
tears.

As for the Rev. Graham himself, I’m in awe. As I sat in the stands
behind the stage, I thought to myself, "Why would any non-Christian come to
an event like this?" Everything about the services seemed geared toward Christians,
from the hymns and praise music to the prayers and testimonies. He is no longer
even a dynamic speaker. He spoke softly for only 15 minutes on Friday
and 25 minutes on Sunday.
His
messages
were simple
and
plain,
infused
with humor and straight talk. From my perspective, he said nothing life changing
or earth shattering. But nearly 10,000 people claimed that their lives were
changed. I could see nothing remarkable about him. He was not exciting,
or controversial, or even pleasant to look at. He’s nothing but an 86-year-old
Christian who happens to be loved and respected by millions upon millions of
people all
over the world.

After the crusade was over, I saw his interview with Larry King
on CNN, and I think I finally figured out why people respond to him so readily.
It’s all about grace. He has grace in spades,
and he exudes it. Graham’s love for humanity is obvious to all,
and the message he speaks comes from a genuine desire to help people reconnect
to God. He doesn’t make people feel judged, and even when Larry King pressed
him for his stances on divisive political issues, his demeanor made it clear
that issues are not people, and that God loves everyone. Billy Graham is
not the agitator that Jesus was, but I think maybe no one since Jesus has exhibited
so much grace toward humanity.

Marriage links for the week

Here’s
an issue
I’ve never really blogged about—and maybe never will—but
Marla acknowledges it with grace and the soul of wit, as usual.

Steve begins his chapter-by-chapter
review
of the book Covenant Marriage by
Gary Chapman.

Tony says, quite rightly: "I’ve decided that weddings are big, sweaty, expensive
rolling disasters, and it’s a wonder that we do them, yet most of us are glad
we did, which I guess is kind of like marriage itself."

This
post
by Katy probably relates to marriage in some obscure way that I’m
too lazy to decipher. It’s a very good post, though, so read it.

Jollyblogger has responded
to my request
for advice on treating pastors well.
I’ve also added the link to the permanent
page
that collects all the responses.

Creativity and the Christian life

I mentioned a couple of weeks
ago that Mrs. Happy and I are leading a small group study about fostering artistic
creativity in the Christian life. Some commenters asked for "tidbits" or other
information about what we’re studying. We had our first real meeting tonight,
and I had some time when we got home, so I thought
I might write a little about the premise of the study.

We are all created beings. God created us in his image, which means that we
are creators at our very core. When we create art, we express ourselves
in a way that mirrors God’s expression of himself in his creation. When we
create art, we imitate God the way a child imitates a parent. That’s part of
our God-given nature, and it’s a part that we often ignore or deny.

If you assemble a group of 100 adults and ask them, "How many of you are creative,"
you may see ten hands (but probably fewer) raised tentatively. Ask
how many are artists, and the response will be even more tepid. If you assemble
a group
of 100 children and ask them, "How many of you are artists," the number of
hands raised will be closer to 200. All children are creative, and all children
delight in artistic expression. Kids love to make up stories, illustrate their
stories, make up songs, dance their emotions, play games of make-believe, and
more. They revel in their creativity. Unfortunately, practical-minded adults
tend
to beat
that
out of
them as they grow older.

So vibrantly creative children grow into practical-minded adults who beat
the creativity out of other children. They encourage young people to be "sensible"
or "responsible." They demonstrate how to live in a way that squashes creative
expression. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to share my
creative endeavors with someone, only to be told, "Curt, you have too much
time on your hands."

The sad fact is that when we squash our inherent creativity, we’re squashing
an important part of how we relate to God. It used to be that when you wanted
to hear the best music,
or see
the
highest
quality
paintings,
or
examine
the most
innovative architecture, you went to church. It is a horrible turnabout that
in the 21st century, church is the last place you go for true artistry. Nowhere
has creativity been more squelched than in church. Fortunately, that is starting
to change. More churches are seeing the value in creative worship, especially
in music.

In any case, my small group is going through the book The
Creative Call: An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit
.
Here are a few discussion questions from the first week:

  • How do you define "artist"?
  • Write three words or phrases that describe how you feel when you’re being
    artistic (or when you used to be artistic).
  • Write three words or phrases that describe how you feel when you’re engaged
    in activities that don’t involve creativity.
  • What do your answers to the previous two questions say about how you view
    these two sides of yourself?

I’ll try to post something more each week as time allows.

23 simple pleasures

One of the things I like about WordPress is that it gives me the ability to
categorize my posts. When I moved over from Blogger, I
went
through
my
archives
and categorized my old posts. It took a while, but I feel like things are
more organized now. (Still thinking about redesigning everything, btw. I haven’t
forgotten all the helpful comments.) However, now I can see that a few categories
are sparsely populated. I don’t know why, but I feel like every category should
have at
least ten posts.
So I’ll be working on bringing those numbers up. The 23 Things category
is particularly pitiable, with only three posts (four if you include this one),
so tonight I’ll add to that.

Life offers a few big, memorable moments. It also offers a lot of small things
that just warm your heart. These 23 things are part of the latter group, though
some are certainly bigger than others.

  • The way a happy dog smiles with its whole body.
  • Firefly.
  • The music of Roger Miller.
  • A book sale at a public library.
  • The taste of my favorite food or drink after I’ve gone weeks without even
    smelling it.
  • My wife’s laughter after I say something funny.
  • Comments on my blog.
  • A high-speed internet connection.
  • The look on a child’s face when he starts to ask me a question, then suddenly
    realizes I’m not his mother.
  • Reading a Bible passage I’ve read a hundred times before, but learning
    something completely new from it.
  • The way my wife rests her face against my neck.
  • Singing to my unborn child.
  • The
    Princess Bride
    .
  • Discovering a new link to this site.
  • Playing my ukulele.
  • Talking to someone who loves their spouse and loves marriage.
  • The comfort of my bed at the end of an exhausting day.
  • Chocolate.
  • Two-dimensional video games.
  • Talking to someone who loves grammar.
  • A good Broadway musical.
  • Talking to an old friend.
  • Making a new friend.

A message from Baby Happy

Life in the womb grows more fascinating every day. I seem to have developed
appendages with which I can prod Mama’s insides. I believe she feels my movements
faintly,
though I have not grown large enough for my movements to reverberate enough
for Daddy
to feel
them. If my size continues to increase at its recent rate, that should change
in a matter of weeks. Each day I become more aware, and each day I endeavor to
stretch my limits a little further, both mental and physical. Each day I understand
Daddy
a little more when he talks to me and when he sings to me. And each day I sense
Mama’s growing beauty a little more deeply.

Mama told me last week of a holiday known as Father’s Day. It is observed
annually to celebrate fatherhood (for some reason, I want to add "in a hostile
world"). Since Daddy has devoted so much time to me even before my birth, I
thought it only right that I do something for him. It proved more difficult
than I imagined to make a card and buy a gift within the confines of my current
dwelling, but Mama bought a book, made a card (the image in this post—Curt),
and wrote a note for me. She is certainly beginning to understand me more as
I
grow.

Until recently, Mama seemed to have difficulty thinking of me as an actual
child with a personality and will. My movements have endeared me to her, thankfully,
and she has even given me a nickname. She and Daddy both now refer to me as
‘Tater, which is a diminutive form of the more clinical One Who
Gestates
.
Mama says she looks forward to the day when she can call me Tater Tot,
and one
of my great-grandparents has already made plans to call me Sweet
‘Tater
. …Grownups.

Marriage links for the week

A child asks you whether a cohabiting couple is married. How do you answer the
question? Marla
tackles the issue
from all sides and discovers some additional
questions she must answer for herself before she can adequately explain the situation
for her 8-year-old.

Bowden McElroy has made a career out of dealing with marital issues and counseling
people in matters of the spirit and mind. If he
can’t read his wife’s thoughts
,
then I don’t feel so bad about my failure in that area.

There wasn’t much about marriage in the blogosphere this week. I did get some
more responses from pastors regarding ways a congregation can encourage a pastor.
Check out the links on the
permanent page
, which now include links from pastors Peter
Bogert
, Jason
Dollar
, Bowden
McElroy
(with two more parts),
Pat Morley,
and
Pastor
Russ
.

An interview with Julie Anne Fidler

I wrote yesterday about Julie Anne Fidler’s new book, Adventures in Holy
Matrimony
.
I submitted a few questions to Julie in an e-mail after reading the book. Here’s
what she had to say:

Why did you write this book?

When I was approached about writing
a book, my marriage was the dominant topic in my life. My husband and
I were going through a period of great healing, and we both felt like God was
telling us that He wanted to use that to minister to others. So it seemed
like it was "meant to be".

Why do you blog?
Honestly, when
I started blogging back in 2002, I did it because I wanted to work on my writing
skills, but now I’d have to say
it’s just because it’s my favorite hobby. Why do some people knit? It’s
relaxing, it’s their thing. That’s how I feel about blogging.

Why did
you and Scott decide to marry?
My husband and I had a really
passionate romance. I knew we were soul mates by the second date. We
probably really nauseated our friends, because we didn’t like to be apart and
nothing seemed as cool or as fun if we weren’t together. We COULDN’T
be apart. One thing I can honestly say about my life is that I married
for love — nothing more, nothing less.

Why did the two of you decide to
stay together when the seemingly insurmountable obstacles arose?

We didn’t
believe divorce was an option, deep down. We WANTED to get a divorce,
but there was something in us, emotionally, that kept us from doing that. We
have always believed that God hates divorce. We’ve also always believed
that God does not put a couple together, just to let them fall apart while
he steps back and watches
it happen. Even though it would have been easier to just split up and
go our separate ways, we knew that if we submitted ourselves fully to God,
and did the things He wanted us to do, we really had no excuse.

If you could
rewind time and be 18 again, what would you do differently?


I’d go to
college, and I’d work really, really hard! I
went to college, and partied hard, instead. Who doesn’t? But my
partying burned me out and I dropped out after a year. It’s my biggest
regret in life.

You talk in your book about how you plan to use your experiences
to minister to other couples experiencing difficulties. Does your husband support
that idea?

Absolutely. Now it’s just a matter of figuring
out what that means. My husband’s best buddy is a pastor, and he’s in
the emerging church movement, and he keeps talking to us about moving to the
Gettysburg area to work with the young adult/marriage ministry. We’ve
been praying about it, to see if we feel led.

What is your hope for the future
of your marriage?
I used to hope
that my husband’s health would drastically improve, and that we’d buy a nice
house, and have two kids, and drive a minivan, and it was this really aesthetic
dream. I still hope for my husband’s healing, obviously, but now I realize
it’s not about those things. My hope is that my husband and I will fully
develop into the people God has created us to be, and that our marriage will
do the same. I want to be people who reach out and help others, and inspire
them.

Adventures in Holy Matrimony, a review

I just finished reading Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the
Absolute Worst
by fellow marriage blogger Julie
Anne Fidler
.
The book is a celebration of marriage at its most difficult, and it is filled
with harrowing scenes of anger, frustration, disappointment, despair, and undying
hope. Julie
relates how her hopes for marriage began to be dashed on the day following
the wedding. She fell ill and was unable to do much of anything for a week.
Scott,
her
husband,
then began experiencing symptoms related to a chronic high level of iron
in his blood (symptoms that include chronic fatigue, swollen joints, Irritable
Bowel Syndrome, and impotence and loss of libido). Julie’s bout with bipolar
disorder, coupled with a past that included abuse in her
childhood
and an
especially
chaotic
adolescence,
proved
to
be
as
debilitating as Scott’s condition. The combination of physical
and psychological difficulties, along with crippling financial troubles, almost
killed their marriage.

The Fidlers’ story is one of hope, but not yet of conclusive triumph.
This book is a picture of a marriage in the process of healing. Julie doesn’t
offer canned advice or educational marriage counseling here. She doesn’t pretend
that her experiences give her any sort of general or specialized expertise.
She simply demonstrates how they have dealt with their difficulties in the
past (sometimes productively, sometimes destructively) and are now building
a life together after coming to the brink of divorce. In the process, she shows
how any marriage can fall victim to circumstances beyond anyone’s control,
and how a foundation of faith in God is vital for any marriage to last and
thrive:

"The intended message of this book is simple. Don’t give up, don’t give
in, and don’t throw in the towel. If we can make it, so can you. You are
never without hope as long as you have God in your corner. You can find love
and commitment where it appears your bonds have been all but destroyed.…[H]ealing
can be yours." —Julie Anne Fidler

Julie was kind enough to grant me an e-mail interview, which I will post tomorrow.
In the meantime, spring
for the book
. It’s definitely a profitable read (especially
for just $10) for everyone who values marriage.