Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wedding Vows IV – In Sickness and In Health, Till Death Do Us Part

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14(NIV)

It nearly killed him, but he never complained. Caring for her was taking a physical and emotional toll that had begun to worry his family. We all thought it had potential to kill him, but she died more quickly than we thought she would. Perhaps that was her parting gift of love; to let go of life that he might live. It would have been like her to do something like that.

My father in-law’s love and dedication to Betty was remarkable. Sadly, many of their final years together were marred by her illnesses. Diabetes, heart disease, and all the associated symptoms of both conditions compromised her quality of life. She was clear that time was short, so they lived as if she might die any moment. Not a bad way to live when you think about it.

The deterioration of Betty’s health was sad. She had such a zest for life and such a strong desire to live. She loved traveling with Jack to places like Gettysburg for the history, and Nashville to Opryland Hotel. And she really loved holidays. I think of the parades around the farm of grandchildren on tricycles and in wagons waving flags to be patriotic; led by her, of course, in an Uncle Sam hat. But Christmas was her favorite. She prepared for it all year long by purchasing and hiding presents and planning for all the parties. We really miss her at Christmas.

Jack’s care for her was moving. There was no doubt about that man’s love and commitment to his vows to care for her. Like swans, they’d mated for life, and were inseparable. They raised a family of four children and 10 grandchildren, and left all with lots of good memories and assurance that they were loved. I think she held on to life as long as she did in order to see the grandchildren grow up a bit.

I’ll never forget the day we helped Jack transition Betty to hospice care. We met with a doctor and a nurse who explained that no more curative efforts would be offered. “That’s it then,” Jack quietly declared. “It’s time to go home.” How right he was. It was time for Betty to go home; to make the transition to a life where there would be no more pain and no more tears.

It was the spring of 1999 when Betty left us. A few days before her birthday, she was taken to back to the hospital for a final stay. Jill and I were greeted in the hall by her favorite pastor. His look said she’d departed. Jack was close behind. “She’s gone.”
We missed her final moments; a fact that bothered us at first. But upon reflection it seemed most appropriate that Jack and Betty would have a private goodbye.

Neither Jill nor I can listen to today’s resource without crying. Her parents’ story is one of youthful romance, zestful living, and commitment till death. I hope you’ll listen to the song and that it will not only move you as you reflect on the seasons of your own romance, but also steel you to love your partner through any health challenges – until death do you part.

Lord, because of you we don’t have to fear the mortality of our bodies. It is humbling to age and to witness aging. And there is nothing like sickness to humble us to our frailty and dependence on you. Thank you for models of commitment by partners who go through periods of sickness and show love until the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Wedding Vows III - For Richer or For Poorer

Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred. ~ Proverbs 15:17 (NAS)

We were young, and we were poor. The rent for our first apartment was $175 per month, utilities included. Our landlord, Nora, sweetened the deal by regularly providing cookies, coffee cake and other goodies left on the stairs to our second floor newlywed nest.

A big date for us was to ride my motorcycle to the bank to withdraw five dollars from the fast-cash machine. Then it was off to the store to splurge for authentic ingredients for Toll-House® chocolate chip cookies! We often devoured the whole batch in one sitting! 

The following year we moved from southern Indiana to Chicago. Flu symptoms flattened us a week before moving. They were still lingering when we arrived in Chicago. Jill’s flu was diagnosed as pregnancy. Yikes! Not planned, no maternity insurance, and no home. It was not a good script for financial success, but we were certain that we were doing what God had led us to do.

We moved into the home of a polio victim to care for her and her father in exchange for room and board. That was a tough situation for a first-time expectant mother, so we put our names on the list for a campus apartment. The same day we were notified that we miraculously moved to the top of the list we were also informed of our eligibility for a student HMO with no pre-existing conditions clause for pregnancy. Three months later Joshua entered our world for the cost of seven dollars. We brought him home to a 700 square-foot apartment. It was small, but the privacy was priceless compared to the boarding situation.

From Chicago we moved to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, for my first job post-Master’s. After a year of golf, seafood and walking our toddler on the beach, we moved back to the land of familiar in Ohio to raise our children amidst family.

We signed papers for our first home in Jill’s hospital room on the day Carly was born (a few hours after her birth, not during labor as requested by the attorney). Four years later we moved onto the family farm for a great setting to raise kids. All the while I was working for the community mental health agency. Wages were low, but our needs were always met.

The late 90’s brought more income. We arranged legitimate vacations and didn’t worry as we had in the past. We even bought items that weren’t on sale or for which we didn’t need a coupon! In 2004, we volunteered to upset that security when we decided to participate in a national endeavor to save marriages. It’s been back to faith living ever since.

I’ve always wanted to provide more for my family, but Jill has always reassured me that it’s not money she wants. “I want us to do what we’re supposed to do, and for us to be okay.” That’s pretty special, and certainly evidence that she meant her vow “for richer or for poorer”.

Here’s to you on your birthday, honey! I love you. (originally published during surprise birthday trip for Jill, Sept. 8, 2008)

Thank you, Lord, for supplying all of our needs. Thank you, too, for modeling your sustenance as doing the will and work of Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wedding Vows II - For Better For Worse

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .
~ Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

It’s been the best of times and the worst of times. Peaceful, hopeful and happy seasons of marriage and family have been punctuated with tragic death, problems with children, estranged relationships, financial stress and health issues. No marriage of duration escapes life unscathed. The bright hopes of the wedding day are sometimes obscured by the dark times of life and our own sin nature.

Our first year of marriage foreshadowed the future. Bright beginnings and tragic endings were cyclical. We moved into a new apartment, and three months later mourned the tragic death of Jill’s brother. What I would have given to have my joyful wife back during her months of grieving. The best of times turned to the worst of times pretty quickly. A few months later, still during the first year, her mother was fighting for her life as it threatened to slowly ebb away after her second open heart surgery.

Not all of the bad times were from the outside. We manufactured some of our own. Personality clashes, unmet expectations, and sex differences at times led us to view each other as beings from another planet. Words we let fly in moments of passion to express raw emotion and frustration opened wounds that took time to heal.

But, because we were of a generation and familial background that valued commitment and binding power of spoken promises, we persevered with our commitment. “In good times and bad, for better or for worse . . .”

Christmas Day 1985 was three days before our wedding. That morning Jill’s dad gifted us a car. It was a white Plymouth Volare with a red bow on the hood. As he handed over the keys he said, “The car you can return, my daughter you can’t.” His message was clear, “You better stick out the tough times, boy.”

Every marriage goes through seasons; some good, some bad. Every change is an opportunity to recommit and to renew this vow, “For better, or for worse.”

How would you characterize this season of your marriage – as a good one, or a bad one? Have you renewed your commitment to her/him? Have you recommitted to one another before the Lord?

Dear God, it was before you that we first spoke our vows. Just now we renew them. For better, for worse . . . Thank you for empowering us to persevere in this sacred commitment. May you be glorified as the One who has enabled us to do this. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wedding Vows: To Have and To Hold

*This and the next four Wedding Vows blogs were originally published as Daily Grace & Truth Devotionals in September 2008. I felt a prompt to re-post them now to commemorate our 26th Wedding Anniversary (December 28, Today!). It feels momentous to move beyond 25 years, and it feels appropriate that it was in our 26th year the God used our marriage to birth a book about marriage (and how to coach your own marriage! (click here for "Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship")

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother
and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. ~ Genesis 2:24 (NIV)

I was almost too nervous and too emotional to say my vows, let alone really understand their meaning. I just wanted to make it through the ceremony.

As Jill was escorted down the aisle by her father, my knees quivered. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized she was making me her one and only, forever. I was so humbled and overwhelmed. And, I suppose I was scared, or at least I should have been scared about holding her in love, the rest of our lives.

To have a wife is a gift. To hold her is a responsibility that is fulfilled only by selfless love. That’s something I’m still learning.

Privilege comes with responsibility. I get to have her and I must hold her. While I have exclusive rights to emotional and physical intimacy with my wife, I also have responsibility to love and to provide for her. Maybe this was another reason my knees were shaking – my subconscious knew that I was getting in over my head.

Jill often shares with couples that she and I have grown up together. We’ve been learning love for a long time. I feel sad when I contrast my bride’s happy and hopeful expression at our wedding with images of her tear-stained face when I’ve hurt her. If there was anything I vowed not to do when we married, it was to not cause pain. But I have. Being human, it’s impossible not to. I find that sad.

Life outside the Garden of Eden is tough. Pain is inevitable. It’s a clear consequence of sin. Sadly, in relationships, we hurt each other by what we say and don’t say, and by what we do and don’t do. Our best intentions sometimes go unnoticed and sometimes they are misinterpreted. Sometimes we don’t cooperate with our partner’s right to have us or to hold us. And sometimes we make it hard for them.

Recently we coached a couple by phone. She was full of pain, anger and frustration. We facilitated her sharing lots of angry, sad and scared feelings. He admitted that he had to clench his teeth and bite his tongue to keep from rebutting with his own thoughts and feelings. After she was done, he described that she was holding him, but that he wanted to pull away. She felt held by him hearing her heart and wanted to be close, despite having been hurt. He was struggling with anger about some things she said, and confusion about how she could want to be close to him. I think that’s a good picture, a realistic picture of what it’s like and what it takes to hold on to our vows in marriage; to hold on through hurt.

The pastor who officiated our wedding could have commented on our vows. It wouldn’t have been romantic, but it would have been realistic. “That’s right, Jeff and Jill, to have and to hold. You’ll have to hold on through the rough times and hold on through hurt. The happiness of this moment and the newness of your marriage will wear off at some point. Reality will set in and you’ll probably have a fight. Feelings will be hurt and your vows will be tested. When those times come, it will be important to hold on through the hurt.”

Are you hurt? How are you holding your partner? How are you holding on?

Lord, you are one who holds on through the hurt. As you hold us, we can hold each other. Thank you for your stubborn love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to Become Your Partner's Best Therapist

A link to a New York Times Article, "Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy", was posted by Diane Solee, founder of Smart Marriages (originally the couples coalition for relationship education) on March 6. I read the article (click here to read) and then wrote to Diane to agree with her exhortation to the SmartMarriages listserv that Relationship Educators could drive a train through the hole created by the majority of the 48,000 Psychiatrists in the U.S. who have decided that talking to patients about their problems doesn't pay, so they take 15 minutes (if you're lucky) to hear about symptoms (but not why they have them or other potential solutions).

Here is the email I sent to Diane that she forwarded to the Smart Marriages listserv.


Amen that we can drive a Marriage Education train through this opening!

Frequently we're asked by couples what they can do to help themselves outside of session. Here's our reply:

"Armed with knowledge, skills and exercises from the school of relationship education you can become each other's best therapists; you can hold each other's hearts, work through conflict in a way that builds rather than hurts your relationship, proactively build and sustain healthy closeness, learn to manage emotional and difficult conversations on your own, negotiate for shared goals and behavior changes, learn to meet each others needs, etc. We can teach you all of these things by modeling skills and exercises and then facilitate you through some practice. Once you get it, we'll be done and you can continue yourselves."

Everything we learned through relationship education since the summer of 2004 (Smart Marriage, Dallas) to the present not only equipped us to serve hundreds of marriages and families around the world, but also helped us to save our own marriage.

Drive the train!

Jeff and Jill Williams

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Marriage and Family: The Crucible for Refining My Soul

*Note: the following is the blog of John Piper, a well-known Christian author and publisher. This is an excerpt from his blog posted January 1, 2011. Click Here to read the entire entry. This portion about marriage was a stunning and encouraging disclosure from a man so well respected. I hope you take heart (and practical wisdom from what he has shared). Thank you Rich Wildman for posting this on your blog (click here to read).

The crucible for refining my soul is marriage and family—even more so than the challenges of ministry. So I turn to these now, knowing that I am still talking about the effects of the leave on my soul.

On December 21, Noël and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary. It was peaceful, happy, memory-laden, sober, and sweet. We are in a good place.

I would label my decades-long, besetting (and I hope weakening) sins in this relationship as selfishness, self-pity, anger, blaming, and sullenness (all of them species of pride). There are others, but these are close to the root of our troubles. I put my gun-sights (Romans 8:13) on these with increasing focus as the leave went on.

Time will tell, and Noël will tell, whether the progress I have made is deep and durable. I pray it is. How these changes happened and what God has used to bring them about, will, no doubt, be subjects of messages and writings in the months and years to come.

For now, I should simply say that in the refining process God has used a combination of things:

private soul-work in the word and prayer,
formal counseling,
the faithful personal ministry of David and Karin Livingston, who have been more deeply in our lives than anyone else,
much reading about the relational shape our sins take on,
research into the peculiar (dis?)orders our brains bring to the relationship,
corporate worship,
endless conversations (time!),
new physical efforts to be strong and healthy (sleep, exercise, diet, leisure), and
new, more rigorous applications of Philippians 2:12–13 (“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is the one at work in you”).
The upshot for our marriage of this sanctifying work has been

less withdrawal, more engagement,
less moodiness and sullenness, more hope-filled emotions,
less brooding over past disappointments, more dreaming from God’s promises,
less of a critical spirit, more verbal affirmation,
more tenderness, kindness, and touch,
more intentional time together,
more patience with (genetic?) personality traits without assuming sin,
more of a spirit of forgiveness,
more gratitude and less taking for granted,
more courage to name sins (our own and each other’s) without sounding hopeless or condemning,
a fresh sense of God’s gracious fatherhood over us, who, when he disapproves, does not hold us in contempt—and our learning to do this for each other.
Relationally, perhaps the most crucial text has been Ephesians 4:31–5:2.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

God has been very patient with us.