family bonds

Forty-two years ago, a kid from a dysfunctional family got off a bus from the airport at the entrance to the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command, San Diego. The following eleven weeks for me and my fellow recruits physically, mentally, and spiritually reshaped us into a military unit and family. Through shared sufferings, goals, and mindset, we changed from unruly civilians into Sailors.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. – Richard Bach, novelist

http://www.wiseoldsayings.com/family-drama-quotes/

After a few years in the military and several more as a civilian, the Navy again became my “family”. Abandoned by an unhappy wife (she later was diagnosed with mental illness), my military family was preferable and predictable. During the years that relatives would not talk with one another – or with me, one divorced parent lay dying in hospice and the other was living purposely alone in the Sonoran desert. I rarely spoke with one of my mother’s siblings, never with the other or her daughters, and only after my mother’s passing have I deliberately and earnestly sought conversations and visits with my father’s relatives.

Here’s a news flash: No soldier gives his life. That’s not the way it works. Most soldiers who make a conscious decision to place themselves in harm’s way do it to protect their buddies. They do it because of the bonds of friendship – and it goes so much deeper than friendship. Eric Massa

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/eric_massa_481858

Over twenty-six years in the military, twenty years of fellowship in my church, eighteen and a half in marriage, and in fourteen years with a company where I just retired, did I develop a trust, a bond, mutual respect and joy with people I was related to only by common experience. My marriage is a gift of trust and joy shared not through shared DNA; it was her children accepting me and them accepted as “our kids” – proving that DNA does not define family.

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13: 35 (NIV)

So when you see two or more veterans gathered together, laughing, crying, and swapping stories, they likely are not related, nor may they even be from the same service, or of the same generation, but all have common experience. They are family.

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.