a motto for marriages

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2: 1 – 4

Your spouse did not come in your seabag

Up through the late 1980s,  the military services did not yet offer the kind of training and support that married service members need.   When training was introduced,  the first programs were the ombudsman that informed the unit commanders about the family support systems for the military members in their unit.   Classes through the Family Service Centers in life basics, credit, budgeting, child-rearing, shopping, nutrition, and employment opportunities for the military spouse started a little more than two decades ago.

Is marriage outdated?

For 2017,  the U.S. Government (CDC) issued these statistics for marriage and divorce in the United States:

Number of marriages: 2,245,404
Marriage rate: 6.9 per 1,000 total population
Number of divorces: 827,261 (44 reporting States and D.C.)
Divorce rate: 3.2 per 1,000 population (44 reporting States and D.C.)

One-quarter as many divorces as weddings in 2017!   While divorce statistics have declined a bit, the number of people cohabiting and not getting married may be part of the statistics.  And what factors contribute to divorce?   Without going into the data,  it is probably the same things that people all say – financial difficulties, different goals and attitudes, infidelity,  mental or physical abuse,  health issues, and so on.   People whether gay or straight, and if examined, probably in any other country,  have the same issues.  A lack of common, unifying principles, beliefs, or values that treat each person with  respect and  worth.

The recipe for a failing marriage is actually based on our human nature.  Take two self-interested emotional people and put them legally together.  Remove intimacy,  common goals, and a support network of family and friends.  Add long separations due to the nature of the military job, a culture that is generally foreign to a civilian spouse, and the dangers that any day,  a training accident or hostile action can mean a complete life change for either person in a marriage.

Semper fidelis is not just a Marine motto

Always faithful.  Regardless of someone’s spiritual understanding or lack of one,  there are means to learn how to not merely survive, but thrive as a married couple.  It does take effort and common goals of both persons – daily – to have a successful marriage.  And it is not enough to be a member of the same spiritual, ethnic, or career community either.  It is the commitment to learning, practicing what one learns, treating one another with respect and love and honoring your vows.

Self-paced training

This week, our fellowship in church began a series of lessons from a book by Dr. Gary Smalley,  If Only He Knew, for husbands and for wives, For Better or Best.    The married men began with lessons on checking our tongue, by not spouting off sarcasm about things that irritate us,  and not sharing your “fix it” strategies when your spouse is sharing her frustrations and needs.  These only serve to alienate our children and spouses at home, and those attitudes can also negatively impact your work environment.

A second part of the introductory workshop covered protecting our spouse physically, emotionally, her honor, financially, and with sound principles.  To which were also included our spiritual involvement.  A husband should provide a safe and secure home by regular upkeep or maintenance.  Vehicle maintenance, especially with working spouses is also part of that physical protection.  Emotionally, we should learn to recognize the signs when our spouse is burdened.  Sometimes, husbands can neglect the shared responsibilities for childcare and home.   For most of our spouses who also have careers, this can be overwhelming. It is also a fact that many people suffer chronic depression, so recognizing the symptoms and seeking care for a spouse may be a responsibility of the husband.

Protecting a spouse from negative attitudes or disrespectful comments by other family members is protecting her honor.  Financially,  husbands need to protect our spouses – whether or not they are a two-income family- by setting sound financial goals, spending habits, communication and mutual agreement.  Too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” spending more than their income each month.   And then there are the sins that plague us as men – greed, lust, selfishness, envy, and arrogance or pride that if we men do not actively control – or apologize when something occurs – they can ruin our marriages.

Additional study

The first book  I read on the subject of developing a vibrant marriage was  Strengthening Your Marriage, by Wayne Mack which I bought a few months before I got married eighteen years ago.  This was the basis of a class that friends of ours, married then six years, taught us starting while we were engaged and then for  several months into our marriage.   In a future blog post, I will summarize the lessons from this book.

Over nearly two decades, our church has held several “marriage workshops” for members and invited guests.   The principles that the speakers have shared  cover the mistakes that even biblically-centered couples made.  And the successful application of the principles in this article’s biblical quote.  While I know that Christian couples who do not actively work at the principles for a strong marriage can fail,    I am aware of couples married for decades who do not attend church but with the help they got and the lessons they learned from biblical principles and these sorts of helpful books and seminars,  grew closer to each other and to God.

my cook needs wine

Her recipe called for Madeira wine, and though I assumed that was Portuguese in origin, the dots connecting it to Port did not follow.  But a Chief when given a mission,  follows through. And Sunday dinner fare succeeded.

In all my years of naval service,  even the best Culinary Specialists, who were once titled “Mess Specialists” when food was  disrespectfully called “chow”,  never prepared meals with wine as an ingredient.   If there was any alcohol involved in food preparation,  I would imagine it would have been more to add sauce to the cook than perhaps to the dish.   Based on personal experience of several decades,  I attest that a man’s heart is soothed by food.  Men, left to themselves, might be soothed by a few tacos and beer;  on a Sunday afternoon,  a barbecue of steaks or burgers, again with a few beers, might be a comfort to prepare for the new week.   But in a world increasingly based on soothing outraged feelings,  it seems the Europeans – who have prepared food for hundreds of years with sauces mildly alcoholic – found the best path to enlightened dining.  Add a little flavoring from marsala – or, today’s recipe item,  madeira ( a type of Port) wine and a  gastronome is born.

Chicken prepared with Madeira wine, mushrooms and garlic

A clarification I feel is in order.  These dalliances with different recipes and ingredients  never appeared during the years we raised our “bilge rats”.   There never was time or the appreciation (from the diner) to prepare gourmet fare for a crew that was never dining but rather grazing, microwaving, or inhaling “chow”.   Once the Senior Chief and his bride, the command (home) Flag Officer, were left to themselves, chow time became dining together.   And the menu became a little higher on the Michelin scale.

While I may look backward fondly to my Navy days,  I can say that in my home, the Culinary Specialist in the years since my retirement, has never once used a steam vat, does not need to label the dish to identify whether a meat or a vegetable,  and does not have to obtain approval from “higher authority” before adding a little wine or spirit to a dish.   Oh my,   I think I have become French.

navy chow is not served here



There is a feeling of relief today from both wife and husband regarding an evening of entertaining that has instead become a quiet evening at home.  A call yesterday reminded both the caller and me that I had made – and promptly forgot –  a two-week old invitation to dinner for young man and his date to our home Friday – tonight.

With both of us leaving our jobs late – the holiday Tuesday made a three-day workweek somewhat longer,  over breakfast we had a  improvised some strategic planning:   a grocery run, expedited house cleaning, and games and such to make a welcoming evening.      A call from our prospective guest asked us to reschedule.    Date night – even ones that were to be had at our home – would be less hurried when the date – and the hosts have some time to prepare.

But the menus that I have enjoyed since our youngest left home, and we became Empty Nesters,  is the thing that my wife has made quite encouraging – when she has time to prepare.   I have, unashamedly, taken a liking to my spouse’s insomnia which tends to express itself now in cooking.   Whether inspired by the Food Network or recipes shared on Facebook,  we tend to have tasty lunches and dinners all week long.   For the last six months, on weekends we make a “date” shopping for organic vegetables and fruit, and to COSTCO for meat or poultry.   In the evenings, – as long as I remember to buy propane – I will barbecue the meat that makes up that week’s menu.

Mango salsa, sweet potato, braised chicken, beef stew,  and so on were never part of my diet when I ate at military chow halls.  Even when I became a Chief Petty Officer, and the food improved from chow identified by the day of the week, rather than taste or aroma,  I never knew about mango salsa.   And as a parent, when you have teenagers living at home,  burritos and big pots of food that could be flavored to taste – were the norm.  And when kids hurry out the door at mealtime or promise to eat later, food  I might have secreted away in the fridge for myself – were usually gone before morning.

But when you aren’t cooking for an army,  we can experiment with some of the things that we otherwise might have gone to a restaurant.    Home cooking, when you can tip the chef with a smooch or a little convivial time — is better than anything.

Entertaining “Shipshape”

46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -Acts 2:46 (NIV)

As a Navy man, I know the difference between cleanliness and “white glove” clean.  In the ten years since retirement, that is NAVY retirement,  I have not kept up the rigor of four-a-day “sweepers”, field days, and “change of command” – mode painting and sprucing.  With dogs that shed hair hourly, there only just keeping up with the general clean during the week.   0512-0707-1115-1056On those weekend evenings that we entertain – which is something we are doing again now that we have no children at home – my spouse,   and sometimes one of our adult sons – is (are) conscripted in the early afternoon to field day.  While Chiefs supervising junior Sailors prepare official Navy functions – at USS Homestead, Chiefs and indians provide the labor.   But my bride, formerly the Senior Enlisted Leader’s spouse, has got the whole affair managed.   My role subsequently is to take out trash, walk the dogs, put my work-week items away and clean up before guests arrive.  ( I went out to obtain the dessert as my contribution to the evening.)

On a Friday night, we enjoy a home-cooked dinner with friends.  With friends you can relax;   nobody comments on incongruous objects in the dining room – a framed Japanese watercolor cat on rice paper ( hiding a still-to-be sanded hole in the drywall);  a framed hawaiian turtle motif on handmade, dyed paper that eventually will move to a more esthetic location; and a bag of dog food that was overlooked in setting the dinner table.  While the room needs a fresh coat of paint, the house is clean and welcoming.  The dogs are mostly behaved.  The dining table is polished,  scented candles and the dinner-party china are pulled out.

Entertaining has become fashionable again; we may not have granite counters, but we have solar-powered air conditioning.  And games.  Mexican Train, a dominoes game, is quite popular with our friends.  And with our group of friends a late evening is 9 PM.     Best of all,  Saturday is not a work day.  After an early prayer walk with friends, walking dogs, taking out trash, doing yard work, and putting away laundry I will have time to sit and write.


God the Provider: Our Opportunity to Give

When I was a child, my parents provided for me so that I never had to wonder where I was to sleep at night, what I was going to eat when I got hungry or who would dress my wounded knees and elbows when I fell down at the park climbing trees or on my bicycle. .

But when I grew into manhood, I found that I had to make decisions for my own provisions.  While in military service, my needs were provided for, with the understanding that you trade your obedience and work for those things.  

During a time that I wasn’t in the military, I had little money to stretch between the things I had to have – a place to live,  pay the light bill, and to wash clothes,  I had to decide what was most important.

Only later did I understand that God the Father and Jesus His Son had been watching out for me.  Things that were stressful and difficult – in my career, in my personal situation, with my health, were being kept in check — for a future life that I would have —  provided for by God.   And that is the same that has been done for all of us who now have sanctuary in Christ Jesus.

Those here in this fellowship, may know- or we may not yet realize –  that our rescue from our former life was through Jesus.  But living a new life takes training, changing life choices, and looking at things through spiritual eyes.  I learned & am still learning –  to live on a budget,  to be willing AND able to help those in need, and to provide for my family. – spiritual and physical  

1 Timothy 6:17    (NIV)
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment

The refreshing of Living Water that Jesus provides us through his death and resurrection, is a treasure beyond value.  Through our contribution – our tithe —  we have  leaders to  draw us closer to Jesus.    We have a place to meet for worship and for training in our marriages and discipleship.  We have outreach to the poor and to help those in our fellowship.  

Let us be generous in our ability to give back to God.

Music Man-ly

It may ” take a tough man to make a tender bird ” per Frank Perdue.  But I’m no chicken – to go to a kids musical performance on Friday night. Catching up with a dear friend over good cigars, or an evening with my wife, her friend and her little boy. I chose wisely.
My wife knew I would.
Suessical is a sold-out show for every performance. And I do like Green eggs n ham — it’s a military thing.

Lessons for a Thriving Marriage:

the author and his beautiful wif
Long before I made Jesus Lord, and before I married the woman I adore,  I was married before.  In my late twenties, before I made the Navy a career,  I was married and divorced for a complex history of unpleasantness.  Unlike today,   I  then had few positive role models and no spiritual understanding of the marital relationship.
But at the age of 41, after three years of dating “pure” (that is, guarding her honor with  no intimate contact) and a fundamental shift in my character,  I married the love of my life. It was work from the very beginning.   With both of us previously married, we knew how difficult and painful a lazy, un-spiritual and self-centered marriage might be.
anything worthwhile takes training and effort
Christian marriages will not fare better than relationships that are not Christ-centered without Christ remaining at the heart of our relationship.  But every endeavor needs role-models and training.  And that is the same with our marriages. which brings me to the subject today of a wonderful Marriage Workshop: Let Love Grow.
The couple that spoke to us that afternoon have been married thirty-three years and have counseled hundreds of Christian marriages.  Without a Jesus-centered life,  the lessons they shared – some basically were lessons derived from the mistakes they made – would be difficult to understand absent a faith-based approach.  As two people who form a union from two individuals with different experiences, habits, expectations, and upbringing, to be successful requires work, compassion, adaptability, and selflessness.
Here are some points made today:
Great marriages take faith, forgiveness, selflessness and prayer
Most of us did not have good role models from our parents’ marriage to build upon.  Marriage is not innately something we can go from self-serving, complicated individuals to a union of two thriving as one.  
Marriage is more than compatibility,  and more than a human invention for financial or domestic stability.    When spouses commit God as our authority, the Bible is treated as living and active; we seek improvement through study and application, and husband and wife have as a main purpose to help the other to get to Heaven.   
A FOOL’S MARRIAGE TIP:   If it’s Wednesday.  it’s”business time” .
Learn from others’ mistakes about marriage.   Marriage cannot be ‘winged’ successfully. Get a lot of advice from those who have had spiritually strong, long-term marriage. And learn to put these observations into practice:
  • NO reaction is BETTER than a BAD REACTION.  “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble”. Proverbs 21:23 (NLT) 
  • Increase your GRATITUDE FOR YOUR SPOUSE.   ” Moreover, when God  gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God.  They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” Ecclesiastes 3: 19-20 
  • Look for the GOOD and SHARE it generously. “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right, Think about things that are pure and lovely and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.” Philippians 4:8 (TLB)
  • Examine your EXPECTATIONS. “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22 -24
  • Learn to PRAY for wisdom first in the (heated) moment. “Pray with all prayers and with all desires always in the Spirit and be watching with him in prayer every moment as you pray constantly and make supplications for the sake of all the Holy Ones.”  Ephesians 6:18  (ABPE)  
  • Seek to UNDERSTAND more than to be UNDERSTOOD. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19 -20  
  • HIDDEN anger can be just as bad as anger EXPRESSED. “A man with hate in his heart may sound pleasant enough, bo don’t believe him for he is cursing you in his heart. Though he pretends to be so kind, his hatred will finally come to light for all to see.” Proverbs 26: 24 -26 (TLB)
  • Learn from older, more experienced role models.  “ Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to  much wine, but to teach what is good.”   Titus 2: 3 -5
With a renewed understanding of marriage and how to avoid the pitfalls described above,  the sexual relationship is the glue which binds a thriving marriage.   Giving to one another in a positive, loving and fun marital bed has been fundamental to healthy marriages.  If a married couple, however long they have been married, can seek to understand and apply these life lessons  and have a foundation such as described here,  how many marriages would be thriving !

Speakers: Bob and Barb Harpole, Los Angeles Church of Christ
Recommended reading: The Marriage Go-Round by Andrew J, Cherlin