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.
Here we were again in Austria for a short pre-Christmas break to relax and get in tune with each other and with the Lord before the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and all the kids and grandkids descended upon us. But our time in Austria had not gone as planned. It had been one frustration after another.
Room by room, we slowly walked through our family home for one last time. Our words echoed off the empty walls as we randomly grabbed memories from two decades of family life. “Dave, do you remember when we first found this house and there was the ice-maker hook-up we needed and had prayed for?” I (Claudia) asked.
We smiled at each other, remembering how years ago we had scraped together our pennies for the down payment, and how that ice-maker hook-up in some strange way had confirmed that this was to be our home!
“Yes,” Dave replied. “And remember how huge this house felt when we moved here with our two preschoolers?”
Our children grew up in this house. Now all three sons were gone, and the real estate sign in our yard read “Sold.” We were saying goodbye to our wonderful family home that had too much yard and too much room for just the two of us. Reality hit. We were moving. Our life was changing.
We were actually entering a new stage of life: a time to downsize—a time to refocus. What lay ahead? With apprehension, we closed the door of our family home for the last time, walked down the sidewalk and got into the car.
We knew God would go with us into the unknown future. With His help we could surmount the empty-nest challenges—to share our dreams, to make fresh commitments and to work toward a more satisfying union. Together we would embrace this new season of life.
As we backed out of our driveway for the last time, our hearts were comforted with an unspoken thought . . . Change is as certain as the seasons. Embrace it! I will go with you.
Pulling into the traffic, we turned at the next the corner. Our future awaited us and with God’s assurance, we could face it with optimistic enthusiasm. The rest just might be the best!
Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.
ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY
It started when Avis gave us a car with summer tires. Hey, it’s December! No surprise that didn’t work out well for us in the snow and ice. We weren’t able to make it up the icy hill to our chalet. We had no other choice than to carry our luggage, while slipping and sliding, up the ice-covered road. As we were unpacking and settling in, we soon discovered we had no Wi-Fi or internet connection. Zilch! Having forgone the expensive international plan for our notebook computers, we were limited to Wi-Fi. So much for streaming entertainment and keeping up with the news. (Obviously, we could do without the latter.) Our limited international data plan on our phones was—well, very limited!
Not a problem since we planned to spend lots of time outside, on the ski slopes and on winter snow hikes. But the weather wasn’t cooperating either. Cold, Icy. No fresh snow. Everything looked dirty. The ski slopes—like the roads—were sheets of ice—so we stayed in by the open fire.
We slept, wrote Christmas cards and occasionally very carefully took walks in the icy snow and lugged groceries up the hill to our chalet. Like it or not, God had slowed us down. To be honest, we didn’t like it.
On the last evening, would you believe it, started snowing. Really snowing. Fresh, lovely snow. Excited, we headed out for a night hike. We walked for an hour in the snow making a new path with each step we took. The new cover of snow illuminated the sky so we could see the peaceful village below, the farms on the rolling hills and the majestic Tyrolean Alps towering above us. Previously walking had been hard because of the ice, but with the new snow walking was effortless. Each step secure. No slipping or falling. Everything was beautiful.
With the softly falling snowflakes, God painted our world a beautiful white—seemingly just for us—no gaudy-colored Christmas tree lights nor Santas climbing chimneys; no commercials shouting “Buy me!”; no ringing phones, no internet to surf; just a quiet whisper, I brought you here to renew you—body and soul. And just as you’re glorying in this walk in the new snow, I want you to go into this new year with joy and anticipation of what I have planned for you. Walk toward the Light and I will be with you every step of the way.
Suddenly, all the frustrations of summer tires, cabin fever, ice and no Wi-Fi, were overshadowed by a realization that our Heavenly Father was renewing us—body and soul—and we could walk into the new year illuminated by His Light making a clear path for us follow. With a new sense of gratitude, we returned to our chalet to pack and prepare to head home the next morning.
Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things,
but just look at what they can do when they stick together.
VESTA M. KELLY
The rays of the sun danced on the pristine snow as the gondola rose higher and higher. All was quiet, except for an occasional thump as we passed under another supporting tower. Below us majestic evergreens laden with snow bowed silently in reverence.
Reaching the summit, we disembarked. A breath-taking panorama of the majestic Austrian Alps surrounded us. We felt as though we were standing on holy ground. The spell was broken when I (Claudia) said, “Dave, how are we going to get back down to the bottom? It’s so steep!” “Obviously,” I (Dave) answered, “we’re going to ski down. After all, that’s why we took the twenty-minute gondola ride.”
Years ago, skiing had been our family’s favorite sport—but that was years ago. Now, we were venturing out once again. Out of practice, our ski legs—though weak—were determined to hit the slopes—as long as we hit them slowly.
It seemed to be a perfect day for skiing. Swish! Swish! We began our descent, stopping often to enjoy the beauty of it all. And with each successful turn, we became more confident—until halfway down the mountain we ran into fog. Thick fog. Pea-soup fog. This was not part of our plan! Pleasure was replaced with panic.
“What are we going do to now?” I (Claudia) asked.
Clueless, I (Dave) answered, “Pray!”
Together we considered our options. We could side-step down, but in the thick fog others might crash into us. We could take off our skis, carry them and walk down, but even then, not knowing the slope, we might get lost.
As we wrestled with our options, another couple—skiing at about our pace—skied by, and stopped just below us. Their laughter and obvious lack of concern assured us they knew the slope. They weren’t gripped with fear like their two American observers. So as they skied into the fog, we bravely followed them. When they turned, we turned. When they stopped to rest, we stopped to rest. Without realizing what they were doing, they safely guided us safely down the mountain.
Answered prayer? Definitely! Angels in ski suits? Probably not, but they could have been! Unknowingly, they had modeled for us and provided a path in the snow for us to follow. Then it struck us . . . others are watching us—what are we modeling?
While we aren’t the best models for traversing and getting down ski slopes, we began to realize that couples may be following us in other ways. What about younger couples who pattern their marriage after ours? Or the couples in our small group who watch how we handle difficult situations, or how we deal with conflict, or even how we handle success? Yes, others may be watching us right now and be influenced by how we relate to each other. Are we being good models?
What about you? What difference would it make if you knew others were watching you? In our confusing, foggy world yours might be the only marriage model others see clearly. It’s something to stop and think about.
Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. PSALM 34:3