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Just dropping by ... The new boat

Yevet Tenney Published on 27 February 2015

My last few articles have been about marriage and how it is important in the beginning to “burn the boats” as Hernán Cortés did in the early 1500s. He did not leave his men with any possible escape.

They must take the Aztec city that was filled with treasure and return in the boats of the enemy or die trying. Of course his strategy was successful because his story is written for us to read centuries later.

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That is the way it is with marriage. Our marriage success story will be written in the hearts of our children for generations to come or it will be a forgotten failure that will be repeated more times than we care to count.

I am a family history enthusiast, and as I studied my family’s genealogy I noticed that there was one line that had repeated divorces, marriages and re-marriages, while in other lines one or two spouses were lost in death but the marriages, for the most part, lasted to the end of life.

The marriage with the repeated divorces traced back to a couple of ancestors who, for whatever reason, were not able to burn the boats and stick together.

I don’t know the “whys and wherefores” of those divorces. I am sure there were some very good reasons. Decisions like divorces are never spur-of-the-moment or easy. There could have been abuse, alcohol, drugs, infidelity or crimes, which are certainly valid reasons for divorce.

My heart goes out to those couples and their children and children’s children. Perhaps they were never taught the principles of a lasting marriage. Perhaps they were wide-eyed young couples who looked for that perfect world that does not exist.

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Maybe someone told them that “there is a perfect match and you look until you find him or her, even if you have to go through two or three.” No one told them perfect mates are like trees: They grow from tiny seeds and are nourished by commitment, love and compassionate understanding. Mates take a lifetime to grow into the perfect spouse.

It could be that these couples were never told that marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition. It is a 100 percent commitment from both parties. They might not have been told that marriage is not so much a give-and-take situation as it is a give-more-than-you-expect-to-be-given arrangement.

Unlike Hernán Cortés in his conquest, a new boat for marriage needs to be built and made big enough to accommodate a family.

The boat needs to be built of service. The other day, I went to my parents’ house. Mother has macular degeneration and can’t quilt as well as she could before. She loves to quilt, and though her stitches don’t always follow the lines, she makes a gallant effort.

When I walked through the door that morning, Daddy was standing beside Mother, holding a pencil where the line should be. She was happily quilting. You must understand that Daddy turned 93 in November.

He is stooped with age, and it isn’t easy for him to stand, but there he was holding a pencil for Mother to quilt. He had been doing that for hours.

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It was never a one-sided situation in their marriage; Mother cooked for him, bore his children and lay awake nights waiting for him when he worked a graveyard shift at a paper mill. She always had his lunch and dinner waiting for him. In her later years, she took care of Daddy through two strokes and three heart attacks.

Daddy and Mother have nurtured their marriage until they have grown into a mighty “oak tree” couple and have grown a small forest. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren number in the hundreds.

My husband’s oldest daughter, Holly, and her husband, Karl, started out marriage with many glorious dreams. They had two little sons and were working hard to make the sacrifices to make a wonderful marriage.

Karl was working at a chemical plant, and Holly was a stay-at-home mom. Karl was helping to renovate an apartment when he fell from the roof and became paralyzed.

We prayed and fasted and struggled with the situation, but the Lord did not choose to restore his feeling in his back and legs. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down. He had the use of his arms and hands, but his lower body was useless.

For 18-plus years, Holly has cared for Karl. She has learned to do wound care like a professional and has become strong lifting him to his slide board and then into the vehicle or his wheelchair. She has been faithful and true to him despite the fact that he has been in a wheelchair all those years.

She has become the breadwinner. She teaches school and has obtained her master’s degree. She could have walked away when things got tough. There were times she wanted to, but her commitment to Karl went beyond the physical. Their bond was eternal.

What about Karl? He has learned to work with computers and helps Holly with the dishes, cooking and canning of fruit. His sourdough bread is to die for. He goes to her classroom and talks with the children. He has blessed the lives of hundreds of Boy Scouts with his knowledge and commitment.

He received the District Award of Merit and the Silver Beaver Award. He has served in his church organization and has become a math tutor at the local college. If you ever have a problem, call Karl. He will make you feel like you are exceptional. He is a joy to be around.

Holly and Karl have grown into mighty oak trees. They sway in every breeze of adversity together. Is their marriage perfect? No, but it is the kind of marriage God would be proud of. After they burned their boats, they built boats of service that will carry them safely through whatever torrents of life they must pass.

The outside of the boat must be sealed with a double coat of compassionate understanding. No matter how well you know your spouse before you are married, you are marrying a stranger. You grew up in different households with different parents and circumstances.

What you expect married life to be might not match what your spouse thinks married life should be. There is where the compassionate listening and understanding comes in. You must try to understand more than you expect to be understood.

One day, I was pining that my husband, Reg, didn’t say “I love you” very often. He seemed to spend all his time working or building on our house. We didn’t talk much together, and I expected that married couples should talk all the time. After all, my roommates were very talkative.

Of course they were all female, so naturally they talked. I had no idea that men didn’t enjoy discussing things as much as women. So I pined often at my plight. As a newlywed with six children, I thought I deserved to hear “I love you” once in a while, even if we didn’t talk that much.

I suggested that he might not love me because he didn’t tell me. He said, “Look at all those bricks in that wall. Every one of them says, ‘I love you.’” I looked at the bricks, and there were hundreds.

I was humbled as I realized that he had been working hard after his regular eight-hour to 12-hour job to build me a nice house to live in. Of course he was saying, “I love you,” but in his own way. Words were not his language of love.

His language of love was and still is service. Once I listened with understanding, I felt and heard his messages of love. I have learned to paint the outside of my marriage boat with a thick coat of compassionate understanding.

Now I know there will be readers who are divorced and feel that I am judging them. I am not. I do not know the circumstances of your lives. I do know sometimes no matter how well you build your side of the boat, your partner refuses to build his or hers.

You can’t do it alone. My son had such a situation. One day, his wife of only a year left him a goodbye note. He has since married another who is much more mature and committed to the marriage vows.

When we burn our boats at the marriage altar, we must build another boat so that we can sail the waters of life together. We must become one.  PD

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