What God Has Joined Together
It's easy to think about love in the spring. The flowers are blooming, the sun is inching higher in the sky and June with its blushing brides is just around the corner.
And possibly nowhere in the Northwest is spring fever more keenly felt than on the Walla Walla College campus, when the valley fog at long last lifts to leave behind blossoming orchards and students enjoying cozy tête-à-têtes on blankets covered by unread textbooks.
These idyllic images make love and marriage seem like the ending of our favorite fairy tales.
But as we grow older, and with any luck wiser, "happily ever after" doesn't seem quite so guaranteed any more. Over the years, wedding announcements from peers have slowed to a crawl, while news of separation, adultery and divorce comes our way daily, often from picture-perfect couples of whom we would least expect marital trouble. It's enough to leave us wondering why anyone bothers uttering "'til death do us part."
And being an Adventist Christian is no guarantee that marriage will last. Like the general American population, about 26 percent of Adventist adults experience divorce during their lives.*
This sad statistics begs the question: Are we really involving God in our marriages as much as we pay lip-service to that ideal in our weddings?
The good news is that, of course, God can and does still lead in our human relationships. And just as He reaches us where we are spiritually, God can reach us where we are in our lives and relationships to shape for us a happier and more harmonious future, regardless of the unique and often difficult circumstances He finds us in.
Just Getting Started
Just such a harmonious future is what Kim Peterson and Skye Dahl have in mind. In July they will be joined as husband and wife after dating for nearly two years.
After investing in premarital counseling with their pastor, the happy couple is well on their way. And they are fully aware of how much God has played into their happiness.
In fact, it was their spiritual life that brought Kim and Skye together in the first place. Skye arrived in Portland after finishing up a business degree at Oregon State University. Though he was concentrating on his new career in finance, a faith reaching back to his childhood led him to find a church family in his new hometown. He settled at Pleasant Valley Church, where an active young adults group brought him into a social circle that included a schoolteacher named Kim.
Even as the activities and goals of the young adults group shifted over time, Skye kept his eye on Kim, engaging her in ever-more meaningful conversations. The reality of God's leading hit him on their first date. "It became incredibly clear that she was the person that God had planned for me all along," Skye says. He is sure that only God could have brought together all the qualities and characteristics he had been looking for and sat them right across the table from him.
Kim says she had the same revelation. "That night is when I started to fall in love with him," she admits now. On only their second date, their future seemed clear to Kim. She felt that God said, "This is it."
"It was one of those miracles where you could see God's hands all the way around it," Kim explains. "God met us where we were, and He brought us together. You could see His handiwork in the details."
Despite the heartache of two previous relationships, Skye realizes God revealed his ideal mate at the right time. "I feel that if we had met seven or eight years ago when I headed into my first relationship, it would not have worked. We were in different places in our lives," Skye explains. "God hadn't prepared me to be where I needed to be to accept Kim and to be mature enough to enter into a relationship of this magnitude. From my first two relationships I learned some valuable life lessons of what I wanted, what I needed and what I desired in a woman, and Kim was everything."
The timing was right for Kim as well. "It is so interesting how God works," she says. "A lot of people meet and marry young, but I would not have been ready for this five or six years ago."
"This is perfectly timed," agrees Skye. "It always is when it is God's timing."
A World Away
Timing is one thing; geography is another. Some couples find each other from such diverse places, the rest of the world says, "What are the odds?" As Christians, we have the luxury of sitting back with a knowing smile because the God who knows the end from the beginning can create a match made in heaven even from unlikely candidates.
In the case of Emilio and Julie Morales, He has formed a strong marriage of 16 years despite religious differences and a story that spans two hemispheres.
Though Emilio and Julie were both born and raised in Peru, the lure of a better life brought them separately to Anchorage, Alaska.
A providential encounter at a birthday party gave Emilio, who was a Catholic, the opportunity to help Julie improve her English skills, and over time they saw in each other the qualities they wanted in a marriage. After a six-month courtship and an agreement that neither had to join the other's religion, they were married.
Julie was active in her church. Though she never pressured Emilio, she made sure he knew he was welcome to attend with her, and occasionally he did. The local pastor made a point to answer Emilio's questions, and Emilio's heart and ears were open.
When their first daughter, Melody, arrived, Julie wanted her to be dedicated to the Lord. Emilio agreed. "If it is for us to be Seventh-day Adventists, we will. And if it is for us to be Catholics, we will," he remembers thinking. "So I put it into the Lord's hands."
With God in charge of the decisions, the future became clearer. Emilio decided to be baptized into the Adventist church in 1996.
Although Emilio's baptism hasn't made their life suddenly perfect, Julie does feels that their marriage has been made strong because they are united in their faith.
The Toll of Time
As most married folk will tell you, the longer you're married the more strength you need. When the flush of youth fades into daily realities like financial changes, demanding children, midlife crises and aging bodies, the strength of a God-centered marriage can provide a solid rock even in the worst storms on life's seas.
For Jim and Bonnie Bauer, life of late has been anything but tranquil. For nearly 15 years, Bonnie has been living with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and debilitating autoimmune disease affecting her central nervous system.
This isn't the first hurdle in their 40-plus years of marriage, to be sure. After finding love together despite drastically different upbringings, Jim and Bonnie survived his being drafted in the 1960s and made a family opportunity out of his extensive travel as an executive in commercial insurance.
Through all of it, they were certain of one thing: God brought them together. "We have said that many times," Jim says. "The Lord brought us to that place."
With that sense of God's leading, the Bauers are now facing a new phase of their marriage as they cope with Bonnie's disease.
Even in her darkest moments, Bonnie felt God's presence. "After five and half weeks of being in bed and fighting this depression, I said to the Lord, ‘This is as far as I can go,'" she explains. "The next morning, my depression broke. I wasn't clear the entire day, but I had the first moment of being close to the real world again."
And with that, Jim and Bonnie are going through each day leaning on the partner God so carefully chose. Jim is taking over the domestic responsibilities, and Bonnie is grateful for his help. "For the 42 years that we have been married, I could never ask for a better husband than Jim," she says. "My life began when I married Jim Bauer."
Naturally, life seems harder for the Bauers now. "Sometime when you get bogged down in situations, you say, ‘God, where are you now?'" Jim admits. "But when you look back, you can see how He has led you in the past."
And thanks to that leading, Jim and Bonnie are fighting hard times with a third partner. "We invited the Lord into our marriage from the beginning, and He has been there all the time," Bonnie says.
In for the Long Haul
If you think about all the phases of life 60 years can hold, it is nothing short of amazing that two people can not only survive the transitions but do so with a sense of love and commitment. In such a union, God's hand seems fully evident. Mort and Lorraine Juberg certainly see it that way.
After both growing up in farming communities and joining the Adventist church after high school, Mort and Lorraine met during supper at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. "That great big smile that he had did him in," Lorraine says.
Their continuing courtship convinced Mort that God intended their future to be spent together. "There were two times that I had strong impressions," he says. "The first was to work for the church, and the second was that I wanted to marry her."
Six decades together suggest that Mort's impression was a God-given one for certain. And they've learned a thing or two along the way. "One thing is very important in marriage: communication," Mort says. "We are very open with each other—no secrets."
"You cannot expect not to have differences of opinion or have conflicts, so I made my own philosophy: You discuss it; you communicate," Lorraine says. "If it isn't important, you can reach a compromise, or you can laugh about it and accept it."
After all those years together, Mort and Lorraine have solid advice for people preparing for marriage. "Plan ahead, get well-acquainted first and let love grow," Mort advises.
It's more than roses and violins to Lorraine. "You need to have some agreement as to what to expect. Don't have stars in your eyes and expect to live happily ever after," she says, adding, "Of course, the stars in your eyes help."
For the Jubergs, marriage is about understanding, acceptance and commitment.
"We thank God for being so exceptionally good to us for so many years," Lorraine says. "Life has its traumas, grief, sorrows, crises and puzzling problems, but with God's help and prayer, a couple's love and commitment for each other comes out stronger. And, she adds, "the spark ignited when we first met is still glowing after all these 60-plus years."
Heaven on Earth
In a world that splashes the heartache of short-lived Hollywood marriages on the covers of countless magazines, there is comfort in realizing that there is hope for committed Christians to be led by our Heavenly Father to a union of love that transcends our human nature.
Just as Jesus invested his first miracle to bless the wedding at Cana, He is ready to bless our marriages even over years, changes and challenges.
With Him at the helm of our relationships, we can experience a small reflection of His unconditional love and acceptance and experience for ourselves a taste of His heaven on this Earth.
* Monte and Norma Sahlin, A New Generation of Adventist Families, (Lincoln, Nebraska: Center for Creative Ministry, 1997).