Or: Fifty-five years ago
Or: Love is a Choice
Nothing has done more disservice to the institution of marriage than the Hollywood image of love:
Love makes you happy . . .
Love is constant great sex . . .
Love is warm and cozy . . .
Love is great fun . . .
At the end of the year after spending months demonstrating fifty-five years of marriage, I don’t want to give the idea that we never went through rough patches—sometimes for days, sometimes for months, and a couple of times for years.
We’d been married probably less than a year when I asked Joe why he never told me he loved me anymore. His response was: “I married you didn’t I? Of course I love you. If I ever don’t, I’ll let you know.” Through the years, he has learned the women need words, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t say those magic words that make a woman’s heart soar: “I love you,” at least once, usually twice (morning and night) and often more.
One of our longer struggles—before we had children—was the period of time when we were both in graduate school. He was in medical school, and I was in social work. You couldn’t have two fields farther apart. He focused on cold, scientifically provable fact. I focused on intuitive, nebulous emotion that can never be put in a test tube. I felt like we were going in opposite directions, and to a large extent, we were. He rarely went to church, and I was in a period of deep seeking and spiritual hunger, digging into God’s Word and growing by leaps and bounds. I remember sitting on the front porch of our little rented home one day and asking God if I had to stay married to this man the rest of my life. He said yes, and that I’d better work on making our marriage better.
When we both had our degrees, we discussed his choices for residency programs. To be a good doctor, he believed experience was the best teacher, and the more experience he had, the better doctor he would be, so he chose to go to Tulane University because their residents practiced at Charity Hospital, a facility for charity patients that housed a vast number of patients. Although supervised by university professors, the bulk of the hands-on care was provided by residents. He also planned to do an internship, and volunteer to go into the military—it was the Viet Nam era, and doctors were drafted out of training. By going this route, he’d get his service obligations out of the way, avoid the draft, and we’d have GI benefits during his residency. I knew an internship at Charity meant he would be working most of the time, and then he’d be gone to Viet Nam a year. The University where I received my Masters offered me a teaching position while I worked toward my PhD. Heck, we wouldn’t see much of each other anyway, would we? It sounded good to me, but when I prayed, God wouldn’t let me. I was already struggling with our different approaches to life—cold, hard facts versus intuitive feeling—and God made it clear to me if I chose to remain in North Carolina when he went to Louisiana, I would sign a death warrant to our marriage. Constant association with others would undermine our relationship. He would be among nurses and female doctors, and I would be among social scientists. We would both be tempted. I refused the fellowship. We didn’t discuss it. We didn’t pray together back then. I didn’t even tell him. I just followed him across country in my little VW bug.
That was the year I was first introduced to the charismatic movement, and began to seek an even closer relationship with God. When he left for Viet Nam, I was pregnant with our first child. I had prayed to learn to love him more and better, and he was at war. I prayed desperately for him to come home to see the baby he had planted in my belly. Be careful how you pray!
I had another difficult season when one of our sons was acting out during his middle school years. Joe had plunged into building a practice in West Virginia, our boy was strong-willed and resented the hours his dad worked. Joe was terrified of losing everything in a lawsuit, and very judgmental of this struggling kid. I finally told him if I had to leave him to get our boy through this period of his life, I would I told him I’d be back, but I’m not sure I meant it. I was worn out: worn out with worrying about both of them, worn out with the constant conflict, worn out of his long hours, worn out with his incessant fears. At that time our house was constantly full of boys. We had three teenage sons, and I was the stay-home mom, so their friends gravitated to our house for after-school snacks: cookies and lemonade in summer, potato soup in winter. After the laughing, boys separated one afternoon, I stood at the sink and realized many of them were from broken homes, and our home was intact. Clearly, God told me that afternoon we were those kids last, best hope, and I had made a covenant, not just with Joe, but also before this assembled company, and with God Himself. Marriage is God’s idea and God hates divorce.
Contrary to Hollywood, gals, Love is a Choice. Sometimes a tough one, but with God’s help, always a good one, in the absence of abuse—no woman should live with abuse, no children should either, and seeing a man abuse a woman gives both sons and daughters the wrong image of God’s plan for marriage.
That said, most of the time the tough choice to love pays off. After fifty-five years Joe and I both know and accept each other’s shortcomings and quirks. We share children and grandchildren. We walked the Duke Garden this month remembering where we first fell in love. We chose to fall in love over and over again. I want you to see the end of the choices, but know you will face tough times, too. By God’s grace, you can do this.
If I can help, I want to be there for you.
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