Love - A Shelter from the Storm
My grandparents were married for over 60 years. One day sitting with them at the breakfast table, we asked, “Grandma and Grandpa, how did you stay in love for more than 60 years?”
My grandmother looked at Grandpa and with a twinkle in her eye said, “Pure grit and determination.” I recalled their history: They married when Grandpa was 18 and Grandma was 14 in the middle of the depression, and then came two world wars, the loss of a baby, the near death of my grandmother in a fire, several close calls for my grandfather with heart attacks, cancer, and other health issues. It was a decision to love, to dig a little deeper that held my role models together—but it was also their weekly Saturday evening date to the dance. Even when things were at their worst, I remember my grandfather two stepping his sweet bride across the kitchen floor.
Sometimes creating that deep abiding love is more of a challenge as tough circumstances come crashing down. And often it is the decision to love creatively that forms a refuge, a sanctuary, and a safe haven where passion can push through the pain to hold you together.
Push Pause on the Pain
In our most recent storm, sadness and depression became the ugly wallpaper of our home. One day, recounting the misery, one of us accidently said something funny. We laughed much longer than was probably logical, but it felt so good to have a side-splitting hoot, we decided to cultivate humor to draw us close in the midst of misery. We hunted down jokes to share, went to the Improv Theater, or watched clean standup comedy because it gave us a brief reprieve from the emotional turmoil that had become the daily unwanted, uninvited, unwelcome guest in our home. We decided to push pause on our pain. Proverbs 17:22 became a favorite verse, “A joyful heart is good medicine . . .” The tradition of going on a humor hunt has remained a precious unifying gift to our love even now that the storm has passed.
One of the couples who know trauma and how to cope with an ever-present ache is Carol and Gene Kent whose only son is currently incarcerated with a life sentence. Carol, a bestselling author of books like, When I Lay My Issac Down; A New Kind of Normal and Between a Rock and a Grace Place, never would have guessed their committed Christian family would have found themselves surrounded by the razor wire of a prison fence. What my husband Bill and I so admire about our friends Gene and Carol is their deep and abiding love for one another. Their passion is seasoned with romance and sprinkled with just the right amount of humor and positivity to maintain a love that is a bright light to thousands despite pretty dark circumstances.
One of the Kent’s secrets to marital success was voiced by Carol, “Rather than pulling us apart, our greatest challenges have pressed us into a safe place with each other where we can be honest about what we are feeling—including our grief, anger, fear, and self-pity—without judging the other person.”
But how can we avoid passing judgment and skip right to unity?
A Mile in His Loafers, a Kilometer in Her Heels
Look at your spouse’s life with eyes of empathy and sympathy:
- Sympathy is feeling sorrow FOR your mate. You pity your mate.
- Empathy is feeling sorrow WITH your mate. You are pained with your mate.
- Sympathy says, “I am sorry you are going through this.”
- Empathy might not even voice a word, but instead it is you wrapping your arms around your mate and weeping in concert.
It takes both emotional steps to build a deep long-term marriage. Once you place yourself in your mate’s shoes, then walk in them. Observe a strength you admire in the middle of the storm. 1 Peter 3:8 encourages, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.”
In 52 Ways to Wow your Husband, I challenge women to create a tribute that will elevate his soul. Husbands can also return this kindness in turn. Look for a way to not just placate your spouse, but go the extra mile and pay honor to him and his strength in a meaningful way.
Carol shared an example with us:
From the time J.P. was a child, Gene read to our son. He read all seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia out loud. Aslan, the Lion, was always a favorite character because he symbolized God in all of His remarkable power, love, compassion, and peace. As J.P. became a teenager, my guys often read the same books, not only because they enjoyed the same authors, but because they greatly enjoyed bantering back and forth over the unique contents of each book. Since our son’s incarceration, they still read the same books and continue to enjoy great conversations about the subject matter.
I was speaking in Columbus, Georgia, last year and walked into an antique shop. There it was—a small brass sculpture of a lion with a flowing mane, lying on a book. It was unique and lovely, but I was sure it was out of my price range. The manager saw my keen interest in this item and had heard part of my story from a co-worker. When I asked what the price was, she said: “Hmmmm…I don’t think we’ve even priced this item yet. What would you like to suggest?” Later, as I left the shop with the perfect gift for Gene that “fit my budget” because of the compassion of the manager, I smiled, realizing that God had allowed me to find a significant gift for my husband. On the card, I wrote:
This gift is a reminder of the incredible father
you were to J.P. during his growing up years, and of the father
you are today in the middle of more challenging circumstances.
This lion reminds me that our God is still in control!
Romance in the Eye of the Hurricane
The winds of a hurricane can be up to 200 miles per hour, but in the eye things remain calm. Even in life’s painful moments, you can ease the burden of your mate by looking for ways to distract or alleviate, even for a moment, the heaviness of your spouse’s heart. Carol explains, “Gene has always loved musical theater, but ever since our son’s arrest and conviction for murder, we spend every at-home Saturday and Sunday in the prison visitation room, so doing “fun” things on weekends is rarer than it used to be. Gene’s birthday was coming up and it fell on a Sunday. As we left the prison and walked to the parking lot, I announced: “We’re not going home yet. We’re headed to Tampa.” He had a quizzical smile on his face and asked: “What are we doing there?”
I surprised him with a lovely dinner out at his favorite restaurant, followed by an evening at the theater where we saw the Broadway production of “The Lion King.” The evening was filled with laughter and surprises as characters in full costume marched up and down the aisles. For a few hours we escaped into a fantasy of fun, frivolity, and togetherness in a joy-filled atmosphere.
I tend to be the workaholic in our family and Gene is the one who knows when we need a break from the intensity of life and ministry. Later he said, “Today meant a lot to me. Thank you for making my birthday special and for planning a memory-making getaway.”
Now it’s your turn. What will lift the heaviness from your mate’s shoulders, even for a few hours? Plan a date this month that pays tribute to the strength of your marriage. Look back over hard times and observe what trait in your mate helped get you through the storm. Then make a list of activities that makes you both smile, laugh, or are a shelter in the torrents of life. Spend your time thanking each other for the traits you love and admire in your mate, then commit to leaving the pain in God’s hands for the length of the date and commit to enjoy the company of the person and not replay the pain. Revel in the love of the person who actually meant it when he or she said, “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”
Pam Farrel is an international speaker and bestselling author of nearly 30 books including Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti. She lives in LaMesa, Calif. Visit farrel.communicaitons.com for more excellent marriage resources.