Much to Celebrate

“Happy anniversary, my Darling,” he said as he handed her the beautiful bouquet of flowers.  “Forty years ago, you turned my life upside down when you moved into my neighborhood.  And it took a few years before I plucked up the courage to ask you out on a date.  Thank you for not saying no and for the happiest years of my life.”  He pulled her to his side and kissed her on the temple.

Joanne smiled as she inhaled the sweet fragrance of the roses.  “These are lovely,” she said.  “Thank you for being such a wonderful husband.”

Tears came to her eyes as she thought of how amazing he had been when they found out that she couldn’t have children.  It had devastated her because she had longed to be a mother and she knew that he would have made a terrific father.  For years they had tried and then she had learned that they would never have children.  It was a very bitter pill to swallow and for months she was depressed but Martin was always there, loving her and trying to help her through those though times.

During the moments of despair, she lashed out at God, asking Him why He would deny her the joy of being a mother.  Friends encouraged her to looking into adopting a child but she didn’t want to consider it.  And Martin assured her that she was more than enough for him and tried to encourage her to go away on trips with him and get involved in activities to take her mind off of things.  He was so devoted to her that sometimes she felt ashamed of how she was so fixated on not being able to have children that she might be neglecting him.

One day she was turning the pages of her Bible, not sure what to read.  It had been a while since she had even opened it.  And her eyes fell on the chapter one of the first book of Samuel.  She began to read it.  She could identify with Hannah.  She remembered those times when she couldn’t eat and was always in tears.  And all Martin could do was try to comfort her as best as he could.  It must have been so hard for him.  The words, But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.  Martin loved her even though she couldn’t give him children.  Her barrenness hadn’t diminished his love at all, in fact it had grown stronger.  Her friends remarked on how he treated her like a queen.

And Elkanah’s words to Hannah cut Joanne to the quick.  “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”  Wasn’t Martin better to her than the children she wished she could have?  He was there and they were not.  God had blessed her with an incredible man whose happiness was wrapped up in her and the life they could have together.  She felt ashamed and she cried out to God, asking Him to forgive her for being so selfish and for her anger and bitterness toward Him.

That night when Martin came home, she asked him to forgive her and he, of course, assured her that there was nothing to forgive.  He took her in his arms and held her close for a long time.  That night was the turning point in her life.  She decided that she would focus on her marriage and nothing else.

Forty years later and they were still going strong.  There were still moments when she wondered what would have happened if her life had turned out like Hannah’s.  Hannah had prayed to God and He had opened her womb and blessed her with seven children.  Joanne had prayed for Him to do the same miraculous thing for her but it didn’t happen.  God had blessed her with a lasting, strong and healthy marriage and tonight she was going to celebrate.

“Are you ready?” Martin asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.  I’m ready to celebrate forty years of being married to an incredible man.” Yes.  There was much to celebrate.  And she had God to thank for that.

man giving wife flowers

The Refusal

“What offense did I commit, Mother?” Catherine demanded.  “All I did was

turn down Mr. Nivens’ proposal of marriage.”

 

They were sitting outside the hotel facing the sea.  The family  was vacationing

at their favorite seaside resort for part of the summer.  It was there that

Mr. Nivens had proposed to Catherine and she politely refused him.  Upset,

he left and her mother, upon hearing the news took her outside where they

could have some privacy.

 

The sun was setting and it was pleasant evening.  Ships sailed

in the distance, people were on the beach, enjoying the last

few moments of sunshine.

 

However, Catherine was not out there to enjoy the view or bask

in the fresh air mingled with the briny smell of the seashore.  She

was there to explain to her mother why she had rejected Mr. Nivens.

She sat down beside her mother who was casting her a censorious look.

 

“What offense did you commit?  You turned down John Nivens.  A fine,

upstanding gentleman.”

 

“Mother, I do not love him.  He’s old enough to be my father and he’s

a bit of a bore–”

 

“A bore?”  Her mother was incredulous.  “Why I find Mr. Nivens to be a

very amiable man.  And to think you turned him down.  With his wealth

you would have been well provided for.  You have thrown a perfectly

good future away.”

 

“Mother, I could not in good conscience consent to marry Mr. Nivens when

I did not love him.  Besides, my heart belongs to someone else.”

 

“What?” her mother was aghast. “Who is he?”

“James Fenmore.”

 

“The solicitor?”  The older woman was beside herself now with indignation.

“You turned down Mr. Nivens for a man who is below your station?”

 

“Even if I were not in love with James, I would still have refused Mr. Nivens.”

 

“Has your Mr. Fenmore proposed?”

 

Catherine lifted her head, her eyes flashed in defiance.  “No, he has not.”

 

Her mother shook her head in disbelief.  “You turned down Mr. Nivens who

chose you when he could have chosen any number of fine young ladies for

a man who has not even proposed to you.  How could you be so foolish,

Catherine.  I always thought you were a sensible girl but you are letting

your feelings rule your good sense.  You have no future with Mr. Fenmore.

You would have been better off with Mr.  Nivens.  Perhaps, it isn’t too late

to appeal to him.  Perhaps he will forgive your reckless behavior and reconsider.

I shall write a telegram to him and—”

 

Catherine jumped to her feet, her face flushed with anger.  “Mother, you shall

do no such thing.  I will not marry Mr. Nivens even if he were the last man

on the earth.  I would rather die an old spinster than subject myself to a life

of unhappiness with a man I do not love.”

 

Her mother took out her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.  “Very well then,”

she said.  “Suit yourself.  I will say nothing more on the subject.  But I must say

you behaved very badly toward poor Mr. Nivens.  Yes, very badly indeed.”

 

“If putting one’s happiness above another’s constitutes bad behavior in your

estimation, then I am guilty.  As for James.  I cannot determine if he will ask

me to marry but I will admit that I hope he does.  I love him, Mother, and

I would count myself very fortunate to have such a man for a husband.”

 

Her mother got up and stalked over to the chair which faced the beach

and sat down rather heavily.  She sat with her back to Catherine gazing

stonily out at the sea.

 

“Excuse me, Mother.”

 

There was no response.  Shrugging, Catherine turned and walked away.

No matter what happened between James and her, she had stood up to

her mother and secured her own happiness by not settling.  And contrary to

what her mother had said, she had used good judgment and reason to

make her decision.  She was convinced that she would not have made

Mr. Nivens any happier than he would have made her.  She had

spared them both future unhappiness. And that accomplishment alone

was well worth the ire of her mother.

 

Young Victorian girl walking away from mother

A Second Chance

Natalie stood on the deck watching the Mediterranean Sea. It was a beautiful morning and it was the first day at sea.  She was on her second honeymoon.  For twenty-five years she was married to her first husband, Richard, a truly wonderful man.  They had started out as friends and then their relationship developed into something they hadn’t expected but felt was a blessing.

Together they raised two remarkable kids—Josh and Annie.  Those years with Richard were the happiest for her.  So, it was devastating when he died.  It was so sudden.  He was on his way home from the office when he collided with another vehicle which ran a red light.  The other driver escaped with scrapes and scratches but Richard’s injuries were severe.  He died at  the hospital.  It was her faith and the consolation of family and friends that got Natalie through those horrific years after Richard was gone.

 

In time the pain grew less and she was able to think of Richard without breaking down. She slowly began adjust to life without him.  Her kids now grown encouraged her to go out and enjoy herself.  She attended dinner parties, operas, ballets, concerts and even went on a cruise with a group of single friends.  It was on that cruise where she met Mark.  He was travelling with some friends too.  They shared the same dinner table and while the others went off either to the casino or to watch the live entertainment, she opted to go to the deck where she stood, enjoying the cool night air.  He joined her.  They spoke and she found that she enjoyed his company though she couldn’t get past the fact that he was much younger than her.  Still, he was really nice and she was so relaxed around him.  They spent a lot of time together and when the cruise was over, they exchanged phone numbers, promising to keep in touch.

 

Life returned to its old routine when she returned home but the highlight of her evenings was speaking to Mark on the phone  for hours.  They made plans to see each other over the summer.   She introduced him to her family and they seemed to like him although her mother didn’t seem too pleased.  She didn’t know exactly when it happened but she knew that she had fallen in love with Mark.  One night when they were sitting on the sofa, having tea, Mark confessed that her.  He asked her to marry him and she accepted but after he left, she worried about her family’s reaction.

 

She waited until they were at her mother’s house to make the announcement.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Her news had knocked them all for a loop.  It was some time before someone said something.  Josh spoke up.  “I can’t say that I am happy that you are marrying a man in my age group but I won’t stand in your way.”

 

Annie hugged her and said, “Yes, Mom.  You deserve to be happy again.  And I don’t see why it’s okay for a man to marry a woman much younger than him but a woman can’t marry a younger man.”  She said that for her grand-mother’s benefit.

 

Natalie looked at her mother whose expression was thunderous.  “How could you seriously be thinking of marrying a man half your age?” she demanded.

 

Natalie drew a deep breath.  “I didn’t plan to fall in love with a man younger than me but it happened.  Like you, I had a problem with our age difference in the beginning but I remembered that father was considerably older than you and yet, you were so happy together.  Mother, I am sorry that you don’t approve but God has given me another chance at happiness and I am going to take it.   We haven’t decided on a wedding date as yet but I will let you know as soon as we do.”

 

Her mother pursed her lips.  “Well, don’t expect me to be there,” she said.

 

And true to her word, she didn’t attend the wedding.  Nor did Mark’s parents which came as no surprise to her.  Still, she had hoped they make an appearance for their son’s sake.   She met them once when she was invited to dinner at their home in Long Island but that meeting didn’t go well.  They raised the same objections as her mother.  Mark’s mother had remarked that Natalie was a lot older than she expected.

 

It was a beautiful and simple wedding with some family and friends in attendance.  Her son gave her away and her daughter was the bridesmaid.  It was a day she would always remember.   And here she was now, basking in the joy she didn’t imagine she would experience again.  She had twice been blessed with two great men and she was thankful to God who had been her Anchor during those dark moments.  He had brought Mark into her life.

 

Mark.  He must be awake by now and wondering where she was.  She turned away from the rail and walked back to their cabin with its scenic view of the ocean, her steps quickening in anticipation.

 

woman in hat on deck of ship

Anchored

She stood on the pier watching the boats come and go.   She was once like an unmoored boat, drifting out into the currents of life because she had no anchor to hold her like the boats fastened to the dock.  It began when her parents were killed in a car accident and she had to live with her aunt and uncle.

Life with her aunt was terrible.  Her uncle was nice–he treated her with kindness but her aunt was a miserable woman.  She kept saying to her, “You are your father’s daughter.  You are just like him.  No good.  He was a good for nothing lout, a drunk and a cheat.  I don’t know why my sister ever married him.”

Day in a day out she said bad things about her Dad and her.  It got to the point where she stayed out late just to avoid going back to that house.  Her aunt thought that she was out drinking and partying with her friends and threatened to kick her out.  “I will not have that sort of behavior in my house,” she fumed.  It was no point telling her aunt that she hadn’t been doing any of those things.  The truth she had spent hours in the library until it closed and then she had gone to the pier to look at the boats and the flickering lights.  It was her favorite place.  She and her Dad used to go there.

She didn’t say anything in her defense but went on the laptop in the study and started searching for an apartment to rent.  Her uncle helped her to find a place and she gladly moved out.  She was relieved to be away from her aunt who was a Christian.  Her uncle wasn’t one.  If Christians were any thing like her aunt, she wanted nothing to do with them.

Of course things didn’t get any better after she moved out.  She struggled to get by.  She had to do a lot of things for herself–such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, paying bills, etc. Working part-time while studying was a great challenge.  Going out with friends during the week was out of the question now.  She went out with them on Saturday nights but she got tired of going to nightclubs and bars and meeting guys who had only one thing on their minds.

After she graduated, she got a job at a publishing company and life was improving.  She was no longer struggling.  She made new friends.  It was at a barbecue at one of these friends’ home where she met Jim.  Jim was a funny, handsome and easy-going guy.  They hit it off right away.  They spent most of the afternoon and evening together.  He drove her home and they arranged to go out for a bit to eat the following evening.  They started to see each other on a regular basis.

When Jim first told her that he was a Christian, she couldn’t believe it because he was the complete opposite of her aunt.  One evening he invited her to go to church with him on Saturday.  At first she was hesitant but then he persuaded her and she went.  The moment she set foot in the church, she was amazed at how warm and friendly the people were.  Jim’s parents were there too and he introduced her to them.  They invited both of them to have lunch with them after church.  She spent a very pleasant afternoon with the family.  Like her, Jim was an only child.   He and his parents were very close.  As he drove her home, he told her that they liked her very much.

Jim studied the Bible with her and she went to church with him very week.  Then one Saturday morning, she got baptized.  Her uncle went but her aunt didn’t.  When she heard that it was a Seventh-day Adventist church, she refused to go saying, “Adventists aren’t real Christians.  They are a cult.”

She smiled now as walked along the pier.  It was here where Jim proposed to her.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon.  They had just had dinner and had come here afterwards. As they walked slowly along the pier, he suddenly went in front of her and got down on one knee and popped the question. With a happy laugh and tears in her eyes she said, “Yes!”  He sprang to his feet and hugged her.  For the rest of the night she was walking on cloud nine.

She called her uncle and asked him to give her away.  As they drove to the church, he looked at her and said, “I wish your parents were here to see what a beautiful young woman you have become, especially your Dad.  He was a good man, Amanda.  He adored you.  And he was good to your mother.  It’s just that things got rough for him and he coped with it the only way he felt he could.  You are your father’s daughter and don’t let anyone make you ashamed of that.”

She smiled at him through the tears and squeezed his hand.  “Thanks, Uncle Bob.”  Yes, she wished her Dad were there that day to walk her down the aisle.

Now she stood there on the pier, anchored in her faith and in her marriage.  Yes, she was like one of the boats fastened securely to the dock.

woman on pier with sunglasses

The Wedding

A wedding farce, that’s what it was.

She sat there with a smile plastered

as her uncle told his tired jokes before

toasting to her happiness.   After fumbling

with the microphone, and saying “Testing, Testing”,

her father recited the lyric for “A Song for My Daughter”

which made her cry.   She cringed as her mother told every

body about the very embarrassing scrapes she got into

when she was a child.

 

Her sister got up there and remarked,

“Brian, I don’t know how you got my

sister to marry you.  She always said that

she would never get married.  She told me

once that….The bride’s mother signaled to

the DJ and her sister’s voice was drowned

out.  Thanks, Mom.

 

Brian held out his hand and they went

on to the dance floor for their first dance.

 

Aside from the shameless way her friends

were prowling after the eligible men,

her aunt’s incessant chatter and the no

so subtle looks the bartender gave her,

it was a pleasant evening.  She leaned

her head on Brian’s shoulder and smiled.

Tonight was the first night of many nights

together.

 

bored bride

Keeping Up Appearances

They had been together for twenty years.  The first ten had been relatively happy but after the loss of their child, their marriage started to crumble.  They went for counseling and things improved but only for a while.  They tried unsuccessfully to have other children.  They thought of adopting but decided not to.  The wait period was too long.

They thought of going for more counseling but felt too embarrassed to do so.  At church they acted like there was nothing wrong with their marriage.  When people looked at them, they saw a couple who were still going strong in spite of their loss.  They didn’t see the pain that was beneath the surface as Sarah watched other mothers holding their children or as husbands put their arms around their wives, their faces reflecting the love in their hearts.  All they saw was the artificial smile on her face when she and Bill walked through the front door of the church and were greeted by the elders at the entrance to the sanctuary.  No one knew the turmoil that had become a daily part of her life.

How much longer could she continue with this charade?  She wanted a real marriage not an artificial one.  She was tired of keeping up appearances.  Either they were going to make this marriage work again or they were going to call it quits.  The latter terrified her.  She couldn’t imagine being on her own again after being with Bill for twenty years.  The idea of starting all over again at the age of forty-nine was daunting.  She thought of what the people in church was say if she and Bill were to split up.  Neither of them had committed adultery so, why end their marriage?  Why not get counseling?  Why not try to work things out?  In their eyes, she and Bill had no grounds for divorce.  And what if they decided that they wanted to end their marriage and then, later on down the road, one of them decided that they wanted to get married again?

The words of Jesus came flooding through her mind, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11, 12).  She didn’t want to be labelled an adulteress should she decide that she wanted to find happiness with someone else. 

Should she do as her mother did?  Her parents’ marriage was not a happy one yet they stayed together.  There had never been any divorce in the family and they didn’t want to break that tradition.  She had watched how miserable they both were, the love between them fade until it was gone.  All the while, they pretended that things were fine between them when they were around friends, other family members and in church.  Only she and her brother knew that it was all a charade, that their marriage was artificial.  She didn’t want that for herself.  She didn’t want to pretend like her parents did. She saw what years of pretending had done to them.  It wasn’t until after her father’s death, that her mother started to live again.  The spark was back in her eyes.  She never remarried but she lived the rest of her life in content.

Sarah had vowed that she would never go through what her parents did and yet, here she was, twenty years later facing a tough choice about her marriage.  What should she do?  Divorce Bill and be happy or stay with him and be miserable?  Getting up from the bed, she knelt down beside it, her head bowed and her hands tightly clasped.  “Lord, please tell me what to do.  I love Bill but we are no longer happy together.  I don’t want us to continue to live like this.  I know you hate divorce and I never imagined that our marriage would end like this but I know that you want us to be happy even if it means that we can’t be happy with each other.  Please help me to make the best choice.  Please…”

The tears started to fall so she reached over to grab a handful of tissues from the box and something fell on the carpet.  She picked it up.  It was last week’s church bulletin.  She had left it on the bedside table, meaning to read it when she had the time.  She turned it over and her eyes fell on an announcement.  It read:

Courageous Hearts

The pace and pressures of life place enormous strains on a marriage. Couples often find themselves merely coexisting. They share the same house and split the bills, but that’s about it. Courageous Hearts helps couples rebuild vital connections in their marriage through clear communication and healthy ways of resolving conflicts.

Our Courageous Hearts Retreat is designed to restore communication and rekindle affection encouraging you to have a healthy Christian marriage.

Listed below the announcement were the dates of the retreat and a phone number. She got up from the floor and left the room, holding the bulletin, her mind racing.  That evening after dinner, Bill sat next to her on the sofa.  “Morris gave me this” he said, handing her a small card.  Morris was their next door neighbor and an elder in their church.  She took it and glanced down at it, her eyes widening.  It was the same announcement that was in the bulletin.  She looked up at him and asked, “Do you think we should go?”

He nodded.  “I am willing to give our marriage another try, if you are.”

“I am.”  It was worth another try.  She felt that this was what God wanted and she trusted Him to know what was best for Bill and her.  She had heard of marriages almost on the brink of divorce being restored because of one of these retreats. Perhaps, the same miracle could happen for Bill and her.   After all, with God anything was possible…

unhappy-couple-413919

Keep the Spark Alive

Remember those times when you and he were dating how you used to be on the phone for hours?  You never seemed to run out of conversation.  There were no awkward moments.   The conversation just flowed.  And when you were together, the time just seemed to fly because you were having so much fun? And the only times you were not together was when you were at work.  There were those occasions when you were with your family but more often than not, you were with him.  It was torture being apart and total bliss when you were together.  There were times when you would go out with other couples but for the most part, you and he preferred to be alone, enjoying each other’s company.

Things quickly got serious between the two of you and pretty soon you are planning your wedding.  The big day finally arrives and you walk up the aisle, your eyes sparkling with excitement.  Your heart leaps when you see him standing there, smiling at you.  You gaze at each other as the vows are exchanged and then the minister pronounces that you are husband and wife.   After you kiss, you stroll arm in arm down the aisle in the midst of a sea of smiling faces.  After the reception, you go on your honeymoon where you enjoy a week in paradise, wishing you could stay there for the rest of your lives.

Life is wonderful as you settle into being a wife to your new husband.  Then, you have children…

Suddenly it’s no longer just the two of you.  Now there are four of you.  In my case, there are three of us. When I was on maternity leave, I was so happy when my husband came home.  I needed adult conversation and company after spending all day with a baby/toddler.  I didn’t feel attractive so I didn’t feel romantic.   We didn’t have anyone to babysit and we didn’t feel comfortable getting a stranger to do it so we were stuck.  We couldn’t go out for a romantic dinner.  We had to settle for entertaining ourselves at home while trying not to disturb our son.

Now, it’s a matter of trying to find time for each other.  During the week, it’s a challenge.  By the time we come in from work, we are tired.  Sometimes we have to prepare dinner.  After we eat, we have to spend time with our son before he goes to bed.  Then we have to clean up and have our baths.  By the time we are finished doing these things, there’s not much time for us to relax.  We have gotten into a rut where we end up watching television or a movie instead of spending quality time together.  We don’t talk as much as we used to.  We are not bonding as we used to.  It’s not much different on the weekends.  Our son and other things demand our attention.  And there is hardly any “us” time.

When a couple doesn’t spend quality time together, their relationship suffers.  The spark starts to flicker and if nothing is done about it, it will go out.  Ladies, what can we do to keep the spark alive?  I came across these tips which I plan to put into action.  I hope you will find them helpful too.  Instead of writing the tips word for word, I rephrased them as best as I could.

Date Your Spouse

Go out for a date.  Set up a date night schedule.  This will help you to have quality time together and reconnect after a hectic week.  It gives you the opportunity to appreciate each other and to unwind.

Surprise

It’s nice to surprise your spouse from time to time.  It can be as simple as leaving a note on the fridge or flowers at the office or tickets to a fun event.  Make a special meal for each other.  Dress up sometimes.

Prioritize Each Other

Make time for each other.  It’s not easy when you have children but you must make the effort.  Without your marriage, there would be no foundation for your family.  Besides, you will be setting an example for your children when it comes to good/bad relationships.  Set a good example.  Make sure that your spouse knows how much you value them and that life wouldn’t be the same without them.   Don’t assume that they know this.  Tell them.

Be Affectionate

Show your spouse how much they mean to you not only in words but in actions.  Hug and kiss them.

Be Spontaneous

It’s hard to be spontaneous when you are raising a family and juggling so many things at once but it’s a good idea to change things up a bit.  Instead of your regular dinner plan, how about having a picnic or eating out?  Instead of staying in over the weekend – go out.  Be adventurous and steer away from the norm.  Spontaneity in your life will help to keep the spark alive (Belief Net).

Add Some Playfulness Into Your Marriage

This is a way of breaking out of a routine.  You can sneak in a quickie before making dinner.

Talk to Your Partner

Instead of watching television, talk to each other.  Sit outside and enjoy the weather while the kids are in bed (Canadian Living)

Respect 

Show each other the same respect you did when you were dating.  Let others know that it is an honor for you to be with the one you love.  Speak kindly and listen to one another again.

Gift Giving

You don’t have to give elaborate gifts.  A random card with a note letting them know you are thinking about them would do very nicely.

Studying One Another

Ask each other questions like you are meeting for the first time.  You might find out that the things you thought were true or what may have been true 20 years ago isn’t the case anymore (What Christians Want to Know).

Talk to couples who have been married for 40 years and over.  Find out the secret of their success.

Have fun trying to keep the spark alive in your marriage.  If anyone has any tips they would like to share, I would love to hear from you.

Husband and wife smiling

 

 

 

Sources: Belief Net; What Christians Want to Know; Canadian Living