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Is marriage outdated?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.

Scoundrels, Sailors, and even a spy

Only in America would circumstances bring a first generation Polish-American Jew and a Scot-Irish Protestant together, fall in love and marry.   My parents met in New York City; I was born in San Jose, California. What little I knew of my father’s family, particularly my grandfather’s story,  began with his fondness for fisherman style caps, and a Russian phrase I later learned was a soldier’s response to orders given.   Only from clues from my aunt and searching the internet, was I able to tie a few of them together.

Since my Polish grandfather and his betrothed came to the United States through Canada in the early 1920s,  I can only imagine he learned the Russian if conscripted by the Bolshevik Army after the Revolution. They occupied part of Poland in those days.  He obviously escaped and made it to New York City becoming a U.S. citizen and finding work as a shipfitter at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.    I am particularly grateful, as I might have been Italian-American and an Army veteran, as my mother was previously very smitten with an Italian-American soldier,  given several pages of photographs and a few old letters I found after her death.   Then how would I have ever obtained the wife I have and become a retired crusty Senior Chief?   Like my eldest son today,  I am not great at marching nor am I particularly suited to running miles in combat boots.

My mother’s ancestors in Northern Ireland were mainly merchants and businessmen in the flax or finished linen industry.  In Scotland, some were town leaders (burgesses), maintained order, were metal workers, or were in the ministry.  However, in almost every generation going back to the early Sixteenth Century an ancestor served in the military, was involved in combat or insurrection, or had some colorful story that was almost lost to history.  One fought the British Army in a late-Eighteenth Century uprising in Ireland.   Some forebears served in the British Army,  some died in Colonial America, and some went to Australia.   While the British Empire exiled folks there centuries ago, it probably was due to military service or to seek one’s fortune.  And some others went to sea.  There is a story of  James Blaw,  a ship’s surgeon,  who was shipwrecked in the South Pacific and subsequently rescued, whom I identified from accounts digitized and made available online.

While my mother’s family line spent three hundred years in Ireland, they came from  Culross and Dunfermline, Scotland.    It was only due to the second son emigrating to Ulster in the 1600s  (and changing the spelling of his surname)  since it was his elder brother who inherited property.    But James Blow, as Scottish printer’s apprentice and then in Belfast, partner, who was to make the greater mark in family history.   It was his firm that printed one of the very first English Bibles in Ireland.

But our family is not without its scoundrels – or spies.  While descendents of the Ulster Blow  family pursued careers in the military, or life at sea, or emigrated to other lands of the British Empire,  a Scottish curmudgeon,  the printer’s elder brother,  John Blaw, was a courier and spy for Bonnie Prince Charlie, who at that time was exiled in France.

After that attempt to mount a return of the Jacobites failed, it seems Blaw, who never was the businessman his brother was, ended his days as a mean drunk.  After a bar fight -he was in his sixties at the time – he was imprisoned and tried for murder of another pub patron.   He apparently was also a horrible provider for his family.   After his conviction and execution,  his widow sold much of the family possessions.   And his granddaughter and her husband – a descendent of the trial prosecutor – sold the family estate.

Another ancestor of my mother,  sent out to live with a relative, settled in the early Nineteenth Century South, eventually founding banks and railroads.  Even after the Civil War and ReConstruction,  he died a millionaire.   However, his Scotch-Irish relations from Ulster swooped in and “appropriated” investments.  News clippings detailed scandal, the deceased’s questionable marriage, and a missing will.  In hindsight some of my forebears were indeed scoundrels.   But others served honorably. There is one commemorated on a wall in the Belfast City Hall,  to those who died in combat.  Flanders, Belgium during World War I.

Other family branches came to America.  Two from different families served with distinction during the Second World War.  One’s service was shrouded in secrecy- probably in Army Intelligence – he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Another relation, serving in the Merchant Marine, was awarded for gallantry during a fierce battle of Malta.   I never met him in person, but he wrote me a recommendation to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.  He is commemorated at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

My father was never in uniform, but he was a defense contract engineer on integral projects for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Department of Defense.  He helped design the C-5A Galaxy aircraft in the 1960s and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.   I may have found it easier to enter the Navy field that subsequently has given me a lifelong career due to a long family history of service.

this land (and sea)

In pre-war (WWII) Northern Ireland, the businesses that my grandfather inherited and ran made a sufficient income to have a generally comfortable middle class living;  in the post-war economy, those businesses collapsed and they were forced to emigrate, with little option but to start over.  My grandfather found work selling insurance and wanted his daughters to work as bookkeepers or in such work.   Mom applied, was accepted, and ultimately graduated at the top of her nursing class at Mount Sinai Hospital.

My father, son of a Polish immigrant, was born and grew up in the Bronx;  he excelled in school and ultimately pursued aerospace and mechanical engineering at college.  His, too, was an act of desperation.  My grandfather was a shipfitter at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWII.  He and my grandmother ran a small bakery for a time.  When my grandmother passed away relatively young – my grandfather was a restaurant -equipment repairman.   My dad had to excel in a profession to make his way.

 

Life was always complicated in America.  It went through successive struggles of growth, industrial expansion, war, and immigration open to the world.  Through the centuries, Dutch, English, German, Irish, Italian, and eastern Europeans (Slavs) arrived from the East.  Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and all over came via the West.   They came as Protestant, Catholic, Jew.  The came as indentured servants, slaves and refugees.  African-Americans after the Civil War spread out from the South to the  urban Mid-West and Northeast.  Before the influx of immigrants from the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia, life was quite complicated,  and particularly so after a World War.  The Cold War, Viet Nam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have colored the last 75 years of the American psyche.

It was no less complicated since the 1960s.  In my lifetime, I have personally practiced in elementary school for impending nuclear attack.  I heard the unusual reports of someone in high school bringing a firearm.   Metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs in schools and public places.  School mass-shootings.   A President in office while an Islamist revolution held American diplomats hostage for more than a year.  The first World Trade Center bombing.  September 11, 2001, in which a mentor and friend was murdered by terrorists using a commercial aircraft as a weapon.

The late Woodie Guthrie, folk singer, wrote a song that we sang as schoolchildren in California in the 1960s.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.
I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

navy chow is not served here

506green

 

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.

Tools and their uses

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. -2 Peter 1: 5 -8 (NIV)

 

Academy to so educate train and develop midshipmen 1 That they may have a fine sense of honor,  a wholehearted love for the best traditions of the service,  an enduring love for country,  subordination based on proper initiative of the subordinate,  an appreciation of the humanities,  and a keen sense of responsibility in assuming authority over others

– Report of the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy, p 10, 1910

“What tools are in your toolbox?”. the speaker asked last night at our men’s church devotional service.   tools_and_their_uses_tm_9-243-10He went on to offer several additional scriptures on faith and perseverance, as tools.   As a former Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer,  I understood that  any young Sailor – or young (spiritually) disciple of Jesus,  life is embracing that you do not know what you do not know but then learning the doctrine, spending time with a mentor and persevering through conflicting desires and priorities.  Perhaps it is safe to say that “duty” is the first concept I embraced.   As a Sailor matures,  the life that each voluntarily accepted  on the NAVY’s terms has certain obligations and responsibilities.  So to as a student of Jesus,  voluntarily but without a ‘contract.   Some skills are beneficial as they will potentially save you or a shipmate in times of peril.  Mastering your calling and seeking to help others grow stronger – for a greater good – will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your naval career.

So too, with a spiritual compass.  The Master Mariner, Jesus, sets my course though I voluntarily follow.   But a path voluntarily chosen can build character, endurance, positive outlook and joy that the world desperately needs. (Happiness is a shallow, easily damaged emotion where joy is not.)   Where the military prepares a service member to prepare for war,  it is no less true with even a glimpse of a spiritual life,  war continally rages around us.  For us to rise and help others to rise out of violence,  hatred,  greed, fear, selfishness, loneliness, and misery,  requires faith in a gracious God and the proper tools – faith, perseverance, knowledge, self-discipline, good character, and whole-hearted love.    God’s Word  and the Navy I served for a quarter-century are tools for life.   FB_IMG_1491759647178

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.