I didn’t know — honest!  I wondered why her Mother was crying in the portico at church one Sunday. She wasn’t wearing the ring.  When finally we talked about it, she said she wasn’t wearing the ring because she had decided to send it back to Allen, who, if I understood correctly, was in the military in another part of the country.

She also told me that before Allen, there had been Louie.  She was also engaged to him, for how long I don’t know.  If I got it straight, both of them were at least a couple of years older than she.  Joy, Terry and Cherri have the straight scoop on that.

I remember the first time we kissed.  We were riding (not parked) in the back seat of the car as four of us were headed somewhere, who cares where.  I don’t know how many times we had dated when that happened.  I just know it happened.  The earth didn’t shake, there was no thunder and lightning, no bells ringing, but darn near it.

I remember sitting upstairs in the old parsonage, where the Vicar (pastor in training on his internship at our parish) and a few of the guys were talking.  The subject of my having had a few dates with Mary Ann came up.  They assured me that I was not up to the task of taming that feisty lady.  They were right.  I just married her, I did not tame her.  By the way, I have no doubt the other guys in the group were hopelessly jealous of me.

I remember one time at Mary Ann’s house when a bunch of us were there, she said, “Where’s my Man?”  She was talking about me.  My heart jumped right up into my throat.  At that time in my life, the stature, big ears and pointed nose remained the same, but I had worked out regularly that first year of college.  I was 135 pounds of toned muscle, having done a record 17 back handed pullups during the physical fitness test we took.  I could bench press my weight.  I curled 90 pound weights regularly.  By the way, now that I have been lifting Mary Ann for so many years as her Caregiver, I am again 135 pounds of toned muscle, just wrapped in 30 pounds of fat.

As the letters I wrote to her confirm, I fell head over heals in love with her in short order.  I wrote her every night for the next three years, other than summers, when we were together.  During that time, Sunday afternoons were the worst, I missed her so.  The second and third years of dating were during my years at a pre-Seminary school in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

In addition to the letters there were weekly phone calls.  In those years, long distance calls were very expensive, a luxury.  The phone calls were less than satisfying.  The letters were better.  Often when we called the conversations found us in different moods.  Mary Ann never liked talking on the phone.  She was not overly sentimental and I was hopelessly lonely and in love.

Weekends together came after much anticipation.  The pattern was, a couple of days to get re-acquainted and in tune with each other, and then it was time to say a painful goodbye.  One day, she surprised me by leaving for church in Aurora in the morning and arriving in Ft. Wayne four hours later for lunch.  I won’t forget that day.  Her parents were very displeased even though she was 22 or 23 years old at the time. She had not told them what she was doing.

Summers were great.  By that time my parents had moved to a house they built at what we called the farm, my Dad’s dream place in the country.  He used every penny he and Mom had saved to build a three bedroom house in the woods, with a creek running by.  Mary Ann lived in town.  We were twenty miles apart.  After a while I could practically drive that blacktop in my sleep.  In fact, many times, I would become alert again after I had made a treacherous S curve with no memory of doing so.  That 1958 Chevy Impala with a powerful V8 engine could fly.  It was my Dad’s car.  I still didn’t have a car of my own.

Yes, I stayed out very late and got in trouble with my Dad more than once.  We were just talking!  Again, let me be clear.  We played by the rules and waited until we were married.  She made sure of that.  I was a typical young guy with hormones raging (cover your ears, Lisa and Micah).  By the way, is this in the area of too much information? That is all I will say about that.

Mary Ann and I were never afraid to argue with one another.  Mary Ann was strong willed, and as much as I loved her, I was willing to express myself also when something seemed unacceptable to me.  Sometimes we wondered if we should stay together, but making up was such fun.  (Again, too much information.)  I wonder if our ability to argue during those years helped us learn how to survive together and love each other with a lasting love.  We didn’t put each other down.  We just got mad at each other and said so when we were.  We could do passive-aggressive pretty well too.

At the end of my Senior year in college at Ft. Wayne, I finally got a car.  It was a 1950 Chevy in mint condition with 43,000 miles on it.  I got it early in 1965.  I drove it over to St. Louis at the end of that school year, ostensibly to check out the Seminary campus.  When I was there I went to a little office on one of the upper stories in an old building in downtown St. Louis to a wholesale jeweler to who catered to Lutheran Seminary students.  I got a diamond that is of exceedingly high quality, almost a half caret (pretty special for a college kid trying to make it on his own) and beautiful.

I surprised her with it one evening at the beginning of that summer when we were together at my folks place.  As is now obvious, she said yes!

Enough for now.  Like it or not, the story will continue in the next post.

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Author Sandra Tsing Loh has now declared marriage to be obsolete.  She and her husband of twenty years both had affairs and are divorcing.  She has concluded that marriage is simply obsolete these days.  It was useful in the agrarian culture up until early in the 1900’s, since many hands were needed on the farm.  Marriage is no longer useful.  Studies of primitive humans reveal that the spark in a relationship is programmed to last about four years, long enough to have two babies up and out.

I am tempted to get on a soap box and with great self-righteousness rant against such silliness.  That would be far too easy.  I have counseled couples through some very tough times over the years.  Some worked through their problems and found a new relationship that had more resilience and strength an intimacy than before they struggled through whatever it was.  Some concluded that they needed to divorce and begin new lives.  There were money problems, affairs, trust issues, problems with alcohol misuse, abusive behavior.

I respect those who worked out their relationship, and I respect those who chose to divorce and begin new lives.  Does that sound unpastor-like?  Divorce is among the most painful experiences anyone can have judging from what people shared with me over the years.  It is frightening how many killings are done by estranged spouses.  When I moved to Oklahoma City five months ahead of Mary Ann and our children, who were finishing the school year, I was standing just inside the door of a Skaggs Drug Store returning a faulty alarm clock I had gotten the day before.   As I was standing at the counter, someone ran in and hid behind the counter where I was standing.  When the doors opened, I smelled the gun powder.  Fifty feet away from me, outside the door of the store, an estranged husband shot his ex-wife in the face.  After a time, I went out the door to leave and walked by the paramedics with her.  She died there in that spot.  The ex-husband was found at Lake Overholser about a mile and a half away.  He had taken his own life.

Having seen the level of pain that comes with it, I no longer judge those who have chosen the path of divorce.  Those who have experienced divorce are unlikely to recommend it as something to be sought after.

With that said, most of those who divorce do not then conclude that marriage is obsolete.  Apparently, almost 90% of those who divorce choose to remarry.  It appears that we are wired to marry.  I realize that sounds ridiculously obvious, but apparently it is not obvious to some.

Assuming that in our primitive brain the spark that brings a man and a woman together has a four year shelf life, the conclusion implicit in the author’s contention that marriage is obsolete is that there is no point it staying together once the spark has expired.  In fairness, I think she would say that it is no longer sensible to try to recreate the spark after many years of marriage.

I guess the author’s conclusion might be reasonable if the spark were all there is to marriage.  To use her metaphor, a spark is what gets the fire going.  It would be pretty hard to weather a cold winter if the heating system in the house never had more than a spark.

If we chose to live only by what lay in our primitive brain, the fight or flight impulse would preclude the possibility of living in peace with other human beings, at least other than those in our tribe.  What makes us human is the capacity to use our frontal lobes to reason out a better way to live.

If we chose never to move from the spark to that which the spark ignites, of course marriage would become obsolete. What the spark ignites is relationship.  The spark ignites feelings that grow into actions that produce newly discovered feelings that spark levels of trust and intimacy that could never be experienced if the spark were to remain the only measure of the value of marriage.

The spark needs to be in contact with some sort of combustible material or it will produce absolutely nothing but a tiny burst of light and heat lasting only a fraction of a second.  The combustible material is made up of promises and commitments that are lived out day by day in big ways and little ways.  The combustible material is not romantic gestures (although there is a lot to be said for them).  The combustible material is made up of time spent listening to one another, arguing with one another, forgiving one another, standing up to one another and giving in to one another.

Long marriages provide the possibility of a kind of relationship with a beauty and depth, that is far beyond the spark that brings couples together in the first place.  People who have not chosen to marry or are divorced or widowed, can also find deep and lasting relationships that grow out of the combustible material in their relationships with those who are closest to them.  Marriage, however, is certainly not obsolete as a meaningful and fulfilling way to live for as many years as life allows.

For Mary Ann and me, marriage is hardly obsolete.  It is what allows us survive in difficult circumstances.  We get to experience relationship that is deep enough to weather irritations and frustrations and misunderstandings without any of it stealing the fire from us.

When in the Seminary training to be come a pastor, I was in a choir that sang Bach’s St. John Passion three times over four years.  The third time we sang it was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in my life.  I will never forget singing the chorale at the conclusion of the Passion.  The power of that chorale lay in what had gone before.  Each aria and recitative and chorus sung over almost an hour built one on the last until all that had gone before filled the last chorale with overwhelming joy, more deeply moving than there are words to describe.  Without what had gone before, the chorale would have been a beautiful hymn.  With what led up to it, the experience touches me to this day, forty years later.

No, Ms. Sandra Tsing Loh, marriage is not obsolete.  For me, our marriage, now, after forty-three years is the chorale at the end of the something that has been building in strength and power for all these years.  The spark has ignited something enduring and of great beauty.

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As a retired Pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say to me that they had no use for churches since church folks are a bunch of hypocrites.   It is certainly true, churches are full of hypocrites, but so is every other place that has people in it.  I am here to suggest that being a hypocrite isn’t necessarily all bad. 

This post is not about churches, it is about Caregivers.  I am convinced that the only way to be an effective Caregiver is to be a hypocrite. 

First of all, there is certainly hypocrisy that is unhealthy.  Debilitating  hypocrisy is the creation of a false image of yourself.  It is the pretense that you are something you are not.  That sort of hypocrisy gets in the way of honest communication.  It hinders growth.  It promotes a kind of denial that blocks the ability to see the truth. 

I have what seems to me to be a fairly realistic view of people.  I expect people to act in their own interest.  As a result, I am often suspect when someone presents himself or herself as a wonderful, selfless, noble bearer of goodness, caring only for the welfare of others.  Let me add immediately that while I am suspect, I do not rule out the possibility that some are exactly that self-giving and noble.  I just don’t expect it.  Most of us are not. 

Those of us who are Caregivers have probably heard others wonder out loud how we do it.  Sometimes we are embarrassed by people affirming our goodness.  I think it is a good thing to accept those words of affirmation, and appreciate that we may very well be doing a good thing.  The problem comes when we begin to believe that we are just plain wonderful and noble.  The problem comes when we allow a false image of ourselves to develop.  That is a kind of hypocrisy that is destructive.  It hinders growth because it is not real.

Caregivers care about ourselves.  There is self-interest folded into our caregiving.  I guess I need to speak for myself rather than for all Caregivers.  The rest of you are probably more noble than am I.  I love Mary Ann.  It makes me feel good to take care of her.  I get more out of it than she does.  I want other people to respect me.  I care about my image with others.  There is a self-serving element to what I do to care for Mary Ann.  I find meaning in doing the care.  I want to have meaning in my life.  This task offers me the opportunity to find that meaning. 

Then there is the harsh truth that I am not always very nice.  I get grumpy.  I sometimes say things that do not build her up but rather simply vent my frustrations.  There will come a post at a later time on Caregiver’s guilt.  In the matter of hypocrisy, it is far healthier to be painfully honest with ourselves as Caregivers, without creating some false image of who we are and what we are doing.

Then what on earth can be good about hypocrisy when caring for someone else who needs your help?  The etymology of the word is helpful.  It has to do with actors and acting.  If I remember correctly from all those years of Greek, the word’s roots are in the use of masks in the pretense of acting.  How can acting be a good thing when caring for someone who needs your care? 

Good hypocrisy is acting in a way that is good and caring and loving and kind, even when you don’t feel good and caring and loving and kind.  Good hypocrisy is not waiting until your insides are spontaneously producing good behavior but instead, just going ahead and doing the good behavior. 

If I were to wait until I am pure and good and wonderful and noble before doing good things for Mary Ann, there would not be very many good things done.  Good hypocrisy is refusing to allow grumpiness and resentment and frustration to decide every behavior.  Good hypocrisy is choosing good when you don’t feel like being good. 

It is very tempting to use the respected trait of honesty as excuse for bad behavior.  “I was just being honest with you when I said those harsh words!”  “It would be hypocritical of me to be kind to you when I don’t feel like it!”

When counseling with couples about to be married, one of the things that seemed to me to be important to say concerned the nature of commitment, duty to one another.    My counsel was to treat each other in a loving and caring and affirming way during those times in their marriage when they did not like each other.   I was convinced that unless they learned to do that, a marriage of any length was unlikely.  The good news is that when they got through one of those times in their relationship, their relationship would be stronger than ever, stronger than it could have been without going through that time.  Mary Ann and I have been married well over forty-three years now.   We have had a pretty normal life together.  There have been times we were enthralled with each other and times we didn’t much like each other.  We chose to love each other anyway (one of our favorite phrases).

The wonder of it is that when we choose good behavior in our caregiving even when we don’t feel like it, we can actually be changed by the good behavior we have chosen.   Just as good behavior can emerge from good feelings, good feelings can emerge from good behavior. 

Maybe hypocrisy isn’t always a bad thing.  Being honest enough to admit to ourselves our selfish motives and unloving feelings frees us to face them down and refuse to let them rule.  Having the courage to be good when we don’t feel like being good allows us to grow into more than we could have been otherwise. 

It seems to me that good health for Caregivers demands enough honesty to face the reality of our own selfish motives and resentments and less than noble thoughts.  Healthy caregiving demands the courage to face all that and still do the right thing, still act with kindness and concern and gentleness.

Maybe a little hypocrisy can be a good thing. 

 If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.