By Edward C. Lee
The Christmas holiday season always makes me think of my grandparents.
My grandfather, Buddy, and my grandmother, Thelma, were married on New Year’s Eve, December 31st 1935. They had been married 59 years when my grandfather passed away in his garden with his hands neatly folded on his chest and a smile on his face in 1994. With a nickname like “Buddy” it goes without saying that he was the friendly, giving type of person that everyone loved.
For as much as we all loved him, his passing gave the family time to really get to know my grandmother in deeper ways than we had to that point. Of course she dealt with her bouts of loneliness without her soul mate of almost 60 years by her side. But in those years she did not just survive but she thrived and grew in her independence until she passed away in 2008. One minute she was laughing with some friends at her assisted living facility over lunch and minutes later she had a stroke and was in heaven.
I love the way they died: happy, fulfilled, well-respected, well-loved and content. I aspire to live a life so that one day I might die as well as they did (think about that one for a minute). Yet as thankful as I am for how they died, it is the way they lived that has shaped me and my views of what is important in marriage.
So as I reflect personally, as I always do this time of year, I want to share some of the lessons my grandparents modeled in front of me as they persevered through their 59 years together.
1. Maintain a Light Spirit in Heavy Times
In the later years of my grandmother’s life I would take every opportunity to find out what life was like for her and my grandfather through the 1930″˜s, 40″˜s and 50″˜s. She would often share stories of traveling from Pennsylvania back through parts of the South to get to Florida. She would tell of the network of people and lodging arrangements they would have to make to ensure that her, my grandfather, and their two small children were safe as they travelled through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida during the 1950s. Yet, given the backdrop of every story – danger, near misses, hiding, racial cruelty – she always told them with bursts of laughter woven into the seriousness. She could laugh because in the seriousness of what they faced they learned to remain light hearted. They did not turn on each other, but they stayed together and found ways to laugh through the heaviness of what they experienced. They never allowed the oppression to press them out of their character or turn against each other. In retrospect it fits with the advice my grandmother would always give me, “Give your wife a kiss, everyday, just love her even when you are mad, hold onto each other and you can get through anything. A hug and a kiss every day. Just hold onto each other.”
2. Avoid the Urge to Blame
In the mid-1980’s my grandfather was fixing the lawn mower in his basement and noticed some water from a recent storm had gotten into the basement. So he went to get a rag to wipe it up. Unfortunately, what he thought was water was actually the gasoline from the lawn mower. As he returned and knelt down to wipe up what he thought was water, the furnace exploded in his face. The force of the blast was so powerful that it knocked down my grandmother who was all the way up on the 2nd floor. Yet my grandfather whose face was inches from the blast did not have even a hair on his head singed. It is pretty amazing that he made it out of there alive. Perhaps even more amazing that there was never a word of blame spoken or expressed between them about the fire.
For the next year they lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment. Every thing that could be salvaged from what remained of their three bedroom 2 story with a basement home was jammed in this tiny two bedroom apartment – box upon box, from floor to ceiling. Yet there was never a word of complaint. My grandmother never said, “How could you have burned down our house…” not a word. She never blamed him, instead she supported him, cheered him on and just forgave. She later shared with me that she was more concerned with getting through the ordeal together than placing words of blame. Her reflection of what was most important to her at that painful time has been a point of challenge to me. There have been times in my marriage when I just want to say, “this is your fault!”. But grandmom is right, love and support are far more productive at keeping the family together than blame.
3. Sacrificial Living and Giving
With the exception of the day that he died, my grandmother, never, ever drove herself anywhere if my grandfather was around. He just would not allow it. He would stop what he was doing – set aside his own agenda, change out of his work shoes clean himself up and take his wife wherever she needed to go. I remember watching this as a child and thinking it odd that he would always cater to her this way. What was most peculiar to me, is that I never heard her ask to be taken anywhere. Grandmom would just announce where she was going and he would insist that he would take her. Now, I understand, this was his way of pampering her and making sure his wife was taken care of. I am not advocating in this day and age that you drive your spouse everywhere – I certainly do not. However, it does present a challenge to look at your own agenda and look at what can be set aside to give sacrificially to and for your spouse.
4. Lose the Scorecard
There were times during family gatherings that he would get frustrated. At these times he would quietly steal away to another room. Within a few minutes I would peek in on him, just sitting there, literally twiddling his thumbs, with his eyes closed. As a young boy, I would wonder what he was thinking about, why doesn’t he just tell her how it is and how it is gonna be – like a man is supposed to. But I can now see that in marriage it is not always about what you can say, but the ability to treat your wife (or husband) with respect even when you have been…not fairly treated. I always want to reach for the choice words or the areas I know my wife is vulnerable to attack from. But to pass on the attack and find peace and balance within yourself is marital maturity. Lose the scorecard, lose the need to win individually and start winning personal peace.
My grandparents marriage was by no way perfect, but it was durable. I pray these reflections will prove to be challenging and valuable as you plan and think about what the upcoming year holds for your marriage.
How about you BMWK, what has worked for you in building a “durable” marriage?
Edward is an Ordained Minister, Bible College Professor, Pastoral Marriage Counselor, and Author of two first of its kind marriage books, Husbands, Wives, God: Introducing the Marriages of the Bible to Your Marriage and the soon to be released e-book, Husbands, Wives, God: 52 Week Devotional. To learn more about Edward and Husbands, Wives, God go to edwardclee.com or follow on Facebook at Husbands, Wives, God.
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