By Cheryl and Bob Moeller
Hunter and Haley have been married nearly ten years. To outsiders, their marriage would appear to be a success, but not everything is as appearances suggest. Before they were married Hunter wanted to go overseas and teach English in a two-thirds world country. Haley resisted the idea, citing health concerns, poor pay, and the lack of good schools for their children. To accommodate his wife, Hunter reluctantly gave up his dream and has spent his career in a civil service position instead.
Today he finds himself struggling with anger and resentment toward her. He seems obsessed with the past, imagining what life could have been like it he had not listened to her. "If only," he says day after day to himself. "If only I had followed my heart."
Jack and Courtney have been married seven years. Jack comes home from work one day and finds the house strangely quiet. When he walks up to their bedroom, he discovers Courtney's closet is empty. Bewilderment soon gives way to panic and Jack begins furiously searching the house for some clue to what has happened. In his hunt, he at first misses the obvious - a note pinned to a throw pillow on the bed. Trembling, he picks it up and scans its contents.
"Dear Jack, this is the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life. But it's the only way I know to get your attention. I've been trying to tell you for a long time that I couldn't go on with things the way they are. But you wouldn't listen. Maybe now you will. Don't try to contact me. Right now I just need space. Love, Courtney."
Jim and Jen are on the third day of their honeymoon in the Caribbean. Seated on the balcony of their hotel room overlooking the crystal-green ocean and coral white beaches, Jen believes it is an ideal setting for love. But Jim is unusually quiet.
"What's wrong dear?" she asks, reaching out for his hand.
Jim feigns a smile. "Nothing, sweetheart."
"No, really, something's bothering you. Please tell me what it is."
Jim looks away, a pained expression on his face. "I've been struggling the last few days. I...I'm not sure I should have married you. I just don't know if I love you or not."
Jen stares at her new husband for a moment, then she runs inside the hotel room. Jim can hear muffled sobs. He feels awful for what he just said but it is true. At last his agony is out.
What do these three stories have in common? They're stories of marriages that have gone from "the better" to the "the worse." They're stories of people who need to learn to love each other again and to discover that God's plan for their lives includes the person they married "for keeps."
Many people believe that lifetime love is only for the lucky or the strong. God's design for marriage is for every couple to know true intimacy, deep fulfillment, and the exhilarating experience of being loved just for who they are.
Yes, the design for marriage and the reality of marriage often don't match. Each year millions of couples choose divorce, adultery, or an armed truce as a means of coping with a disappointing marriage. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Is Love only for the Lucky? No, instead hope, love, grace, a fresh start, a second chance - these are the essentials of renewing a marriage when the going gets tough.
When Bob was in high school he worked nights as a janitor in the Department of Agriculture building. Besides cleaning bathrooms and emptying wastebaskets, he was assigned a highly critical task: buffing the tile floors on the perimeter of the office complex.
You might not be familiar with what a buffing machine looks like. It resembles an upright vacuum cleaner with handlebars and a giant circular disk on the bottom the size of a manhole cover. As the disk spins around at the speed of light, it polishes the floor.
Using only one finger, the foreman demonstrated the relative ease of operating this high-powered machine. He slid the machine effortlessly back and forth across the tile. Together, he and the buffing machine resembled an Olympic figure skating pair, gliding on ice, responding in perfect synchronization to each other's moves.
"There they go, Katie. This is the last move in the compulsories. They're going to attempt a double axle. Yes! They've done it! A perfect 10!"
"Do you think you can handle it?" the foreman asked.
"Piece of cake," Bob replied.
As the foreman waved good-night, Bob swaggered up to the machine like John Wayne approaching a horse. Bob grabbed both handles, closed his eyes, and squeezed the trigger. The machine bolted away from him like a crazed Doberman pinscher on a short leash.
Bob desperately tried to hang on as the machine careened from one side of the hallway to the other. It would bang into one side of the wall and then another. Bob consoled himself with the Russian proverb, "Every beginning is hard." In this case it was brutal.
Then the worst case scenario happened. As Bob went past the head supervisor's office (the Grand Poobah of the Agriculture Department), his buffing machine leaped from the floor onto his carpet. Bob stood helpless, unable to react as the buffing machine whirled round and round, driving all the dirt, wax, and foreign particles from the hallway deep into the plush pile of the chief executive's carpet. Bob buffed the boss' rug! Stunned, he left from the office before he could do any further damage, dragging the machine with him.
The next day he came to work prepared to pick up his last paycheck. As he approached the foreman, a grin crept across his face. "I see you had a little problem last night."
"I guess it got away from me." Bob mumbled.
"Don't worry. I cleaned it up before work this morning. The supervisor doesn't know anything about it. You'll get the hang of it."
For reasons Bob still doesn't understand he was given a second chance when he really didn't deserve one. That's the nature of grace.
You may have been pummeled, punched, and dragged down the hallway by the disappointments in your marriage. The fabric of your relationship may be marred by deep, ugly, and stubborn memories. You may be all but certain it's over. That's where the power and strength of your vows can carry you through the tough times you're facing. You can learn to love again. It's not just luck.
Your promises to each other can put your marriage back on track. But to turn "for worse" into "for better" you will need to give and receive grace from one another. You will need to put the past behind and allow love to be rekindled. You will need to go beyond disappointment and despair and seek the beauty and reality of true intimacy. Fortunately, God is in the business of grace and will help you each step of the way.
A friend of our's was going through a difficult phase in his marriage when he came home one day to find the oak coat rack standing in the middle of the hallway. His wife had covered it with yellow ribbons and placed on it a note that read, "Who cares if it's not a real oak tree? Any old oak tree will do. I love you." His encounter with her unconditional love was a breakthrough. From that day on, their marriage started to change "for better."
On this Saint Patrick's Day remember love isn't for the lucky, it's for people of grace.
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