“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam ... And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva ... So tweasure your wuv.”
Sometimes I think this quote from the clergyman in the classic movie “The Princess Bride” is a decent analogy for the way a lot of us married people actually viewed marriage before we were married: An exciting, yet difficult to understand, arrangement that was all about dreamy love and that would bring the “happily ever after” to all of our problems.
My wife, Sharon, and I have been dear friends with John and Tracy Peck for over 25 years. Recently John retold the story of their honeymoon at our small group Bible study. I think there are a couple of lessons in it for both long-time spouses and singles who are thinking about marriage:
Lesson 1: The honeymoon doesn’t last forever.
“Honeymoon” is actually a strong word in this instance. John and Tracy had been high school sweethearts and got married very soon after Tracy’s graduation in 1990. The honeymoon was to consist of the three-day drive from Louisville to Dickinson, North Dakota, to the Air Force base where John was to report.
“We were on the third day of the drive in a 1980 Ford LTD with a small U-Haul on the back,” John recounted. “Tracy was driving, I was napping, we were a couple of hours from Dickenson. She woke me up and said, ‘Honey, I think the car is on fire.’ I said, ‘We should probably pull over!’”
The fire started under the hood and quickly engulfed the entire car, leaving a burned-out shell. Although the U-haul and some furniture in it were saved, most of their clothing and gifts and cash from the wedding were destroyed. John had taken his shoes off while napping and lost those too. And as the car burned, it began to rain (but not enough to put out the fire).
Lesson 2. The importance of community.
John said, “We eventually got to the sheriff’s station. We were 20 hours from our families and this was before everyone had cell phones. We were both in shock.”
After finally getting to their apartment in Dickenson after midnight, they both collapsed on the floor (no bed yet) and slept.
“Early the next morning, there was a knock at the door. It was an airman I knew in passing, who was there with his wife and the pastor of their local church.”
They took them shopping for clothes and gave them some spending money. A local car dealer donated a car to them.
“That day was a blur. I just went wherever they told me,” he said. “Tracy and I grew up in a different faith tradition but had drifted. I’d like to say that the kindness they showed us resulted in some immediate transformation. It didn’t, but we’ve never forgotten that it was the church who came to us when we needed help.”
Lesson 3. Every marriage has car fires.
“Tracy and I tell people that the first few years of our marriage were the worst, the most difficult,” John said. “Tracy had never been away from home. I had thought, ‘You get the girl, you get the job, and then life is simple.’ It took us a few years before we stopped surviving and started thriving.”
One night in the first two years of marriage they were so close to ending it that they packed suitcases. I asked John what changed things.
“Around the five-year mark, we found Southeast Christian and joined a small group and were baptized. We didn’t understand what we had been missing before that. We didn’t know what love was until we understood how God loves us.”
John recently earned his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and he now shares some of the lessons he and Tracy have learned with others. I asked him what he would say to a couple whose car is on fire now.
“Don’t give up! And if you gauge your marriage’s success strictly on happiness, you will eventually be disappointed.”
John emphasized that successful Christian marriage is also simply a decision to not leave.
“When Tracy and I met, we both really thought the other was cute and lovable! You have to decide to love your spouse when they aren’t lovable,” he said.
John and Tracy now have two sons, John III and Ethan. They celebrated 31 years of marriage this year. Something John said reminded me of what Jesus said about husbands and wives in Matthew 19:6: “‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’”
John said, “On the other side of those early struggles is where Tracy and I are today. Other bad things have happened to us since the fire, but two things are constant. God has us and we have each other. We laugh at so many things together, just based on things we’ve been through. We don’t even have to explain; something will come on the TV and we’ll just look at each other and laugh. I don’t really know where I end and she begins.”
Whether you’re a newlywed or have been married for decades, don’t give up! There can be life in abundance after the fire.
Bill Womack has been a member of Southeast Christian Church since 1997.