Follow the Light
by David & Claudia Arp
May 18th, 2017
What should have been a lovely drive through the Austrian Alps was not. Instead we could see nothing—just miles and miles of fog. We had looked forward to driving back to Zurich, Switzerland, to catch our ten-hour flight home, but we had not anticipated this fog.
by David & Claudia Arp
Then, near Innsbruck, the dreary sky hiding the Alps gradually became brighter and brighter, and in one magic moment the fog at the very top of the Alps broke. We could finally see the tip of the Alps. The next moment they disappeared—as if they were playing hide and seek with us. Fog. Alps. Fog. Alps.
How breathtaking it was when the fog lifted and we could see the majesty of the Alps! How disappointing when the thick fog reappeared! But isn’t this how life is sometimes? Or even, on occasions, our marriage? At times we see so clearly the beauty all around us—and at other times we only see the fog. Yet, like the Alps in the fog, the beauty is always there whether we can see it or not!
As we continued to drive toward Innsbruck, we talked about times we have felt close to God and other times when we felt only distance. And then God seemed to speak to our hearts: Like the Alps, I am there even when you don’t see Me! Trust Me in the foggy times as well as the sunny times in your life and in your marriage.
Oh, if we could only remember this lesson—especially when we’re in a fog of discouragement. God is there in the foggy times just as He is there when all is sunny in our lives. We need to trust Him both times.
And then as we approached the outskirts of Innsbruck, the sun suddenly broke through. Suddenly, we were surrounded by God’s majesty—360 degrees of magnificent stately Alps! We promised each other we would remember this day and in those times when fog reappears, we will remind each other that in the midst of the darkness and dullness, God is still there—even when we don’t feel His presence! His love and protection—more majestic than the Alps—surrounds us!
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds his people both now and forever.
April 27th, 2017
Sitting with our friend, Vera Mace, on the screened porch at her home in Black Mountain, North Carolina, we commented that she and David must have enjoyed rocking on their porch and looking at the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains.
Vera chuckled. “Eventually we did, but we almost didn’t have a screened porch! You see,” she continued, “we didn’t agree on how to go about it. The problem was that David’s favorite tree was right here in the middle of where the porch needed to go. I wanted to cut it down. David didn’t. I still remember the conversation:
‘Vera,’ David said, ‘how could we even consider cutting down this tree? It’s older than we are!’
‘If we want to build our porch,’ I replied to David, ‘the tree will have to go. There simply isn’t another spot for it.’
“Back and forth we went, each desperately wanting our own way. Finally David capitulated. Giving me a gift of love, he said, ‘We shall cut down the tree. You shall have your screened porch!’”
Did David ever regret giving in to you?” I (Claudia) asked.
Vera laughed, “No, not at all! You see, when the tree came down, we discovered it was hollow. The inside had rotted away. It was good riddance! And if David had insisted on keeping the tree, in its weakened state, a wind storm could have blown it over on our home.”
Then we realized how that tree is like marriage . . . selfishness leads to decay; deferring to the other leads to blessing.
Just as Vera and David’s tree appeared to be fine, our marriage may look great on the outside, but if we selfishly demand our own way, our marriage will decay on the inside. Over time, our relationship can become hollow, weak and rotten. But when we defer to each other, we strengthen our relationship.
Years later when we remember Vera’s tree story, we are challenged to work on our marriage—to cut down our own trees of selfishness and to defer to the other. Then we can help other couples build better marriages, and hopefully in the sunset of our lives, we will also enjoy rocking on our own screened porch.
What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other? GEORGE ELIOT
April 20th, 2017
We sat in city traffic anxious to get home. The next day we were leaving for a series of conferences, and once again we were in the panic mode—too much to do and too little time!
Why do we always do this to ourselves?” I (Dave) asked.
Staring at the brake lights of the car in front of us, I (Claudia) replied. “I don’t know, but I do know something has got to give. We simply can’t keep us this pace!”
About that time on a voice in our car asked, “Are you experiencing ‘fast-lane stress’ in your marriage?”
We looked at each other and in unison said, “Yes!”
The radio spot that day seemed customized for us. We continued to listen. “If you’re experiencing fast lane stress, here’s a tip for you. Sit down and make a list of all the things you need to do. Then prioritize your list. Put the most important thing first and start there. You may not get everything done in one day, but you will go to bed at night knowing you have invested your time in doing the most important. Think about this—life is too precious to hurry through it.”
The last seven words changed our day. It was as if God audibly spoke to us . . . Dave, Claudia, your lives are too precious to hurry through them! Slow down and trust Me!
As the traffic began to move once again, we knew what we needed to do. We drove straight home and over two cups of coffee we made our list and prioritized it. Then we divided the most important things that needed to be done before we left the next day.
The results? We didn’t get everything checked off our lists, but we stopped hurrying. On that day we realized just how precious life is and how much we valued our marriage. And we vowed in the future when we get in a hurry to remind each other to slow down. By the way, what we heard that day on our car radio was our own two-minute program, The Family Workshop, and the couple we were listening to was ourselves! Sometimes we even take our own good advice.
We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly,
but let us never lose sight
of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way. GLORIA GAITHER
The logs in the open fireplace crackled a warm welcome to the guests who had assembled to celebrate the union of Marcy and Tim. Outside the snow continued to fall. The ambience of the old hunting lodge on this cold winter day was a wonderful setting for a wedding reception.
The small, intimate ceremony, completed just a few minutes earlier, had reaffirmed that God is the one who created the holy state of matrimony. Vows spoken. Two lives joined as one. Two hearts fused together in love. Now the celebration.
In the background the musical notes of a classical guitar and violin filled the room with romantic cords. Each instrument complemented the other. Wonderful two-part harmony! And then God seemed to whisper . . . Marriage is a two-part harmony—each has your own notes to play. Play them in such a way that you complement and harmonize with one another.
What a beautiful picture of a marriage! Two lives harmonizing together to create a new entity—a marriage. But too often we want to play our own song without harmonizing with the other. Or we want to be our own voice rather than blending together as one. Yet in a duet each seeks to enhance the other so that together the music is more beautiful than it would have been with just one playing or singing alone.
In a harmonious marriage there is no room for competition or tooting your own horn. Competing is the opposite of harmonizing. If we’re playing in harmony, it means we mutually respect each other and our unique gifts. It really is like we are two different musical instruments playing different parts. With God’s grace we can continue to make beautiful music together!
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. PHILIPPIANS 3:3
We were desperately in love . . . young love, true love, filled with deep emotion. I (Claudia) was a freshman at Maryville College, which was located on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. I (Dave) was in my second year at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga. Two hundred miles apart! But we remember one time when Dave drove up for the weekend. Time for just the two of us! Time to be together.
Slipping away from the college campus, we drove to Cades Cove in the heart of the Smokies. And on that day we visited the past—others’ past. Cades Cove, untouched by “American progress,” is a tribute to the first families who settled there so many years ago. We imagined the young couples, in love and struggling for survival in the beautiful but isolated valley. We stood together in the Primitive Baptist church and talked about how someday, we would speak our marriage vows in the little Methodist church in Ellijay, Georgia, where Claudia grew up.
Now, decades later we revisited Cades Cove. We went back to the Primitive Baptist Church and once again remembered those lovers who went before us. We remembered our own wedding day now so many years ago.
We talked about the future and wondered what the future would hold for our grandchildren. Would they ever experience the quietness and peacefulness of Cades Cove? Our world had become more complicated. Life was anything but primitive. How would they fare? And in the middle of our memories and fears for the future, God spoke to our hearts, Never forget your past; let it enrich your present, but you must trust Me for the future. I am the same, yesterday, today and forever.
And then we began to realize, the future—yet to be written—is in God’s hands. Future generations will have their own unique love stories to write. But the greatest love story of all—God’s love for us—will be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Each happiness of yesterday is a memory for tomorrow.
GEORGE WEBSTER DOUGLAS
The illuminated seatbelt sign reinforced what I (Claudia) already knew—we were flying through severe turbulence. I checked the security of my seatbelt. When the weather is sunny and the winds are calm, I like to fly. But on days like this one, I’d rather have my feet on the ground.
And how was Dave handling all this turbulence? Looking over at him, I was simply amazed. He was actually sleeping! I desperately wanted to wake him up. What if it got worse? What if we hit wind shear?
As I tried unsuccessfully to relax, I began to think about how flying in planes is similar to building our marriage. Over the years of our marriage, we’ve lived through turbulent times. Every marriage experiences turbulence. Of course, you want to avoid severe and extreme turbulence if at all possible. And while some marital turbulence can be avoided, at times you simply must fly through it. Unfortunately when some couples experience problems, their marriages crash and burn. We’ve dedicated our lives to helping couples avoid martial disasters—so what could I learn from this mental exercise?
About that time the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said, “As you are aware we are experiencing turbulence. For the next few minutes it will continue to be bumpy, since we are flying right on top of the clouds.” Oh, I thought. On top of the clouds! I began to relax a little bit now that I knew to expect a few more bumps. And with each bump, I tried to picture our plane skipping on the top of the clouds.
Suddenly I understood: it is possible to handle your fears of flying in bumpy weather or even turbulent times in a marriage if you know they are coming and if you stay on top of them!
The key is to stay on top of the clouds! Later, when Dave woke up (refreshed and unconcerned) I told him about the turbulence he missed and the pilot’s comments and my analogy. Our conclusion? The only way to avoid turbulence in marriage is to stay on the ground and go nowhere. And there are those static, boring marriages that do. But for couples who realize a little conflict is a given and who want to fly through it, their love for each other can grow. As our plane finely landed, we agreed we wanted to continue to grow through our own turbulent times. And from now on, when I’m faced with a rough flight, I’ll try to stay on top of the bumps!
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. ISAIAH 26:3
Jeanie smiled at her husband, Dave. “From the beginning of our marriage, we’ve had fun together. Even when the children came alone, we still managed to find time for each other.”
“Not as much time as before kids, but we always found some time,” Dave added. “And that didn’t end when we entered the empty nest. We simply filled our nest with bunnies!”
When we visited in their home, sure enough, rabbits were everywhere! They even have four stuffed bunnies who travel with them. But their fun relationship is about more than bunnies. That’s just the beginning.
Jeanie told us. “For years we’ve had pet names for each other—not just two or three—we have hundreds!”
“What’s your favorite?” I (Claudia) asked.
She answered with a smile, “Lover Bunny.”
They also have special kisses. They send each other love letters. At airports they fake good-bye kisses and then get on the plane together. And at the grocery check-out counters, Dave often asks Jeanie to marry him all over again.
Their light-heartedness influences other areas in their relationship—even areas of conflict. Years ago they came up with the ten-minute silence rule. At any time, either can call for ten minutes of silence. If the nonverbal is a problem, they also have an out-of-sight-for-ten-minutes rule. This helps them calm down and get things back in perspective.
What has kept this couple’s fifty-plus-year marriage happy and delightful? In our hearts we know their secret . . . and then we heard the confirmation . . . Fun and laughter is a key to a great marriage . . . Couples who play together, stay together!
And Dave and Jeanie are the living proof!
If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.
HERODOTUS, THE HISTORY OF HERODOTUS,
by David & Claudia Arp
February 16th, 2017
Time—what is it? Sixty seconds makes a minute, minutes turn into hours, and hours into days. Time zips by almost unnoticed. Then something happens and time seems to stand still. Life is never the same again.
It was one of those phone calls you dread. Lillian, Dave’s mom, had suffered a stroke. In the next few weeks as she lingered between life and death, time stopped long enough for us to reflect on this remarkable woman and the seasons of her life and marriage.
Dave’s parents were married for fifty-five years. As we reflected on their years together, we thought about our own marriage and a challenge . . . Are you being good stewards of the time you still have together? How are you investing your marriage moments?
Each season of marriage comes with different stress points and challenges. The casual discovery days of the first months and years accelerate into the hectic parenting years and on into the empty nest and the retirement season of life. The years quickly race by.
As we considered my parent’s fifty-five year marriage, I (Dave) remembered how, when I was a young boy, my parents from time to time would go off alone together. As a teenager, I’d catch them hugging and kissing on the balcony. I remembered how as empty nesters, they were each other’s best friend. Throughout the seasons of their marriage, they took time to love each other.
Now Lillian is gone. We realize anew that our marriage is time-bound and someday we too will be parted by death. We ask ourselves, are we being good stewards of the time we do have?
THE TIME IS NOW
If you are ever going to love me,
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings
Which from true affection flow.
Love me now while I am living.
Do not wait until I’m gone
And then have it chiseled in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.
If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
Alone at last, Steve and Jan looked at each other across the candle-lit table. The old Italian restaurant was a perfect setting in which to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary.
I wasn’t sure we were ever going to get here,” Jan said. Then she rattled off how she had coordinated—piano lesson, homework, and she had even found another dad to sub for Steve at soccer practice that evening.
“Now that you brought up soccer,” Steve said, “I’m concerned about the lack of parental support for the team.”
Jan then mentioned the problem with Hannah’s kindergarten teacher—and Joey simply could not start nursery school until he was potty-trained.
Over dinner the conversation moved from the kids to their budget. As usual, money was tight. “As a matter of fact,” Jan said, “We should head home and relieve the babysitter.”
Later back at home, after putting Joey to bed—the babysitter couldn’t get him to sleep—Jan and Steve snuggled on the couch to watch a movie. But after a few minutes, both fell sound asleep. Some anniversary.
Then next morning, Jan and Steve rehashed the night before. Even after overcoming mountains of obstacles to celebrate their anniversary, they had spent most of the evening focusing on the kids, finances—everything but their relationship.
“We used to be best friends, soul mates, lovers,” Jan said. “Now it’s more like we’re running a business—a family business. We keep saying things will change, but nothing does.”
“There’s always a crisis—at work or at home—and we just seem to run out of energy and time before we get to us.” Steve added.
Discouraged, they looked at each other. And then they realized ultimately, it was up to them to make a change. In the silence, the answer came . . . It is never too early or too late to make changes! Today, you can choose to make your marriage a priority.
That morning Steve and Jan made the choice. They agreed to try a thirty-one day experiment. For the next month they would carve out ten minutes a day to focus on each other. Whether early in the morning before the kids woke up, or in the evening after the kids were in bed, they agreed to spend ten minutes together and acknowledge it as their couple time.
During those thirty-one days, they faithfully claimed their couple time. Even in those times when they were too tired to talk, they invested ten minutes holding each other and sitting close to each other. Did it make a difference?
“Yes,” Steve told us. “It was just a little step—just ten minutes a day—but we proved that little steps, if taken in good faith, can change everything.”
Time is a very precious gift of God;
so precious that it's only given to us moment by moment.
The rows of young corn plants resembled a military marching band with the tassels swaying in the late afternoon breeze. Rain was in the forecast. As I (Claudia) hurried to finish weeding, I could picture our family sitting around the table eating corn on the cob dripping with melted butter. Yum!
My vegetable garden was my pride and joy. For the past five years we had lived in an apartment in Vienna, Austria. So to have a yard again was great. But the real treat was having my very own vegetable garden, and soon corn from it would be on our table!
Then the storm came. High winds. Thunder. Lightening. Inches of rain. Early the next morning we surveyed the damage. The rows of corn were now in disarray. It looked like a herd of cattle had trampled through our garden.
“Dave, it’s just not fair!” I cried. “I worked so hard and now my corn is ruined.”
“Not to worry,” Dave said. “I’ll get some string and stakes and we’ll tie the plants back up.”
After hours of hard work, we survey our garden. Each corn plant was now a prisoner securely tied to a stake. About that time our neighbor, Carol, who was a seasoned gardener, came over, looked at our tied up corn plants and burst into laughter. “Why on earth did you do that?” she asked. “Don’t you know when the sun comes out, the warmth of the sun’s rays will cause the corn to straighten up?”
We looked at each other. Muddy, tired and exhausted, we realize we had worked in vain to do what nature would do on its own. We needed to work with nature—not help nature out. We really couldn’t control the weather, and we couldn’t control our corn plants. But God, who created nature, had it all under control.
How foolish we felt. Later, when we reflected on our gardening experiences, we realized that it’s just as foolish to try to manipulate each other. To get all tied up trying to fix and control everything about each other. Sometimes we need to let God’s sunlight do the correcting. Yes that was it. At that point we understood . . . our Heavenly Father is the gardener of our marriage. He sends the rain and the wind and He sends the sunshine. His healing power will make our relationship grow.
So what happened to our garden that year? In our attempt to save our corn, we unintentionally packed the soil and disturbed the plants. We had some corn, but the plants never quite recovered. The next year we saved our string and stakes and let the sun take care of things. We also tried to be more sensitive with each other. Like our garden, our relationship requires a lot of work and attention. We need to shower each other with support and encouragement. And when our marriage gets hit by the storms of life, we look to God and ask Him to send warm rays of healing. We want to keep cultivating our “marriage garden” so that in the future we can reap the fruit of a healthy relationship.
The garden is the place where we discover that faith is a work of art.