The Story Of Us

This afternoon we were talking with a young couple of friends who have been married about a quarter of the time that Karen and I have been married, and we will have been married forty-three years this coming May, and we’ve known each other for over forty-five years now.

First, we were talking about our parents and then we switched to how we met our respective mates. Three of the four of us shared wonderful stories from our individual perspectives, and it was so good to hear the beauty of human love and the goodness of God in giving us to one another. Near the end of our conversation, I realized that I had done most of the story telling about Karen and me, and so I asked my beautiful bride to tell us what she remembered, but the time was short, and Karen isn’t as loquacious as am I. So, she demurred, and we soon said our “Good nights” to each other.

But in the back of my mind, I remembered something that Karen and I had done a dozen or so years ago for a Valentine’s Day Dinner at our old church where Karen and I had separately answered a series of questions about our young love and our early life together and how much I had loved reading back then my dear wife’s account of things for a change.

After some considerable searching tonight, I found that questionnaire from over a dozen years ago buried deep in the hard drive of my computer, and here it is reprinted in this post so that it’s easier for me to find next time.

The first time ever I saw Karen’s face she was just looking away after we had made the briefest, sweetest bit of eye contact when I had noticed her, the prettiest woman in her church’s choir.  She was looking at me and trying not to get caught but doing so with a shy wisp of a smile on her lips while she was singing.  It was my first Sunday there, and I thought, “Is this a great church or what!”
I saw Mark the first time standing with some friends of mine outside the doors to the sanctuary at our church.  I noticed him immediately.  Being up in the choir with a full view of all the handsome guys, I  continued watching Mark as he sat during the morning service with these same friends.  That is when Mark caught me looking at him.  He was new and good looking.  What can I say!

Our first kiss was in Karen’s ’67 Mercury Cougar sports car that she let me drive, as usual, after I’d taken her out for dinner to celebrate her birthday.  We were parked on a bluff in a park in Tempe, Arizona, overlooking the moonlit Salt River which had actual water flowing in it that memorably romantic night in March of 1979.  I had just confessed my love for Karen and she confessed hers for me after we’d been such good friends for over a year.  I later learned that had I not done so, she was going to ask me that night if I would stop seeing her!

We had been going out for about a year as friends only, although I thought of it as “dating.”  This night Mark took me out for dinner at a nice restaurant called Charlie Brown’s to celebrate my birthday.  Afterward, we drove around town, talking about our friendship, and if it was going to be more than that.  Mark parked the car on a bluff above the usually dry, but now flowing, Salt River overlooking downtown Tempe, Arizona.  It was at this time that Mark declared his love for me and I my love for him.  We kissed as the stars reflected in the river below.  I knew at this time that I loved Mark and that he loved me!

I proposed to Karen the night after we’d counseled with our young pastor and his wife about whether it might be God’s will for Karen and me to marry now that we’d spoken our love for one another.  I had mentioned that I was kind of seeking some sort of sign from God, and when my pastor asked me what sort of sign I was seeking, I said I didn’t know.  The next morning I awoke with the most complete sense of peace about the prospect of spending the rest of my life with Karen, and so on the way to a Bible study at the home of a family in our church, I stopped in the parking lot of a Mormon church, which was the nicest spot I could find on the route, and I proposed marriage to Karen.  She said, “Yes!”

Mark called me on Monday afternoon about 4:30 and said that he would like to pick me up early for our Home Group.  He said he had something he wanted to talk about with me.  I said, “OK.”  As we drove to Home Group, after many long minutes passed, I asked Mark what he wanted to talk about.  He said, “I’m looking for a nice place to pull over so we can talk.”  About the only nice place in the residential area we were driving through was the parking lot of a Mormon church because it had nicely landscaped green grass and trees.  Mark pulled in and parked the car.  He turned to me and said, “Close your eyes and listen real close to what God tells you to do.”  I did, and Mark asked me to marry him.  I didn’t have to think about it.  I immediately said, “Yes!”  But I told him that he would have to ask my Dad’s permission.  We kissed and went on to our Home Group where we announced everything to everyone there.  Afterward, Mark took me home, and he asked my Dad to come outside so that they could talk.  While my Mom and I sat in the living room, Mark and my Dad were outside for nearly an hour.  I didn’t know what to think, but they finally came back in with my father’s blessing.  Mark later told me that my Dad had spent the hour telling Mark all about his marriage with my Mom from the early difficult years after they’d eloped as teenagers and gotten both families upset with them through the years of raising my brothers and me to the present when my Dad said it was finally getting easier!

We wrote our own wedding ceremony, and the only memory I have of doing so was when we were sitting by ourselves on a bench in the garden of our public library and I made Karen a little upset because I mostly just wanted to kiss her and she mostly just wanted to get things down on paper for the wedding that was only a couple months away.  We talked things out for a little while and eventually found time to do both of the things we most wanted to do!

We got married at our church, Faith Evangelical Free Church, in Tempe, Arizona, on May 17, 1980 at 11:00 in the morning.  Our service was about an hour long, and it included six songs, sung by various friends, sharing communion between ourselves, and exchanging our wedding rings and the vows we had written.  The pastor I’d grown up with and our new, young pastor who had baptized Mark officiated.  We had five attendants each, a little flower girl for whom I’d babysat and befriended as she grew, and a ring bearer who was a wonderful little boy I had worked with in my job at Tempe Center for the Handicapped.  Then we had an outdoor reception on the lawn at our church.  There were close to 300 family and friends there to share our special day.  Our wedding was a testimony of God’s love for everyone.

We honeymooned in San Diego, California, for a week and then for another week at Kohl’s Ranch outside Payson, Arizona.  That was the last two week vacation we’ve had in almost thirty years of marriage . . . and also the best!

Mark made our honeymoon plans.  I did express wanting to go to San Diego, California.  Mark had never been there and wasn’t interested because he thought that it would be too much like Los Angeles.  I told him that it wasn’t anything like L.A.  So Mark took me to San Diego afterall, and we loved it!  Each day we saw and did something new and different.  Then we came back to Arizona and stayed several days in a cabin on Christopher Creek near Payson.  Finally, we drove up to Show Low, Arizona, where Mark’s brother and his wife lived to return their car that we had borrowed.  We stayed with them a couple of days more, taking walks along the Mogollon Rim overlooking southern Arizona below.  We housesitted for the summer in a town home near our church in Tempe before we moved into our first apartment.  

Our first fight, if you can even call it that compared to some that came after, started out innocently enough as we were planning a spaghetti dinner to be held in our new apartment to which we had wanted to invite our parents for the first time.  I happened to ask Karen how she made her spaghetti sauce, and when she replied that she used the bottled brand, Ragu, that they sell in grocery stores, I merely observed, “That’s unforgivable,” as a prelude to suggesting that we make the sauce from scratch like I thought that my mother made hers.  It was very quiet for a very long time as we drove across town, a manner of disagreeing that we soon later abandoned for the more vocal variety.  I don’t remember if we ever even had spaghetti for that particular dinner, but we now use Hunt’s canned spaghetti sauce, and it really tastes as good as any I remember my mother ever making.

We weren’t married yet.  I was house-sitting with a friend for a couple of widows in our church who always left town for the summers.  We wanted to have our parents over for a spaghetti dinner.  As we drove to the store, Mark asked, “How do you make your spaghetti sauce?”  I told him I used Ragu.  Mark said, “That’s unforgivable,” because his Mom always served homemade sauce.  We did use Ragu.  So I guess I won that one.

I don’t remember a “hardest time” in our marriage, even though there have been some periods of hard, difficult times interspersed now and then throughout our years together.  Some of these include:  me, Karen, our 4 year old son, John, and our infant daughter, Julia, moving in with my parents for my first year of law school and later all of us moving in with Karen’s parents for my third year of law school and the period thereafter until I passed the bar exam;  losing the law clerk job that had enabled us to live in our own apartment for my second year of law school;  failing the bar exam on my first try and praying hard and working harder and waiting for what seemed like forever until the time when I passed the damned thing so that we could begin again our lives on our own;  the deaths of each of our parents at different times in the succeeding twenty years, as well as the losses of other family members and close friends;  my needless worrying about our teenaged children who never did rebel like I had done in my teens but who were basically good kids like Karen had been in hers;  medical conditions we’ve experienced, learned to prayed over, and had to just live through. 

I think that the hardest time in our marriage was having to live first with Mark’s parents and later on with my parents during Mark’s first and third years of law school back in the mid to late 1980s.  We all had to make adjustments, and sometimes it was not easy.  But we loved one another through even some tense times.  We did what we had to do, and God saw us through.  He is so faithful!  

The highlights of our marriage began before we were even married with our mutual relationships with Jesus Christ; after that, our wonderful Christian Brother/Sister friendship that turned into romance; some solid first years of marriage well grounded in good churches and surrounded by family that were close but mostly not intrusive; working hard for goals that God helped us to fulfill like our occupations of lawyer for me and teacher for Karen; the purchase of a house He helped us make into our home; the sometimes struggling but ultimately satisfying labors for Christ in the churches in which He placed us; raising our children and helping raise other people’s children and seeing them begin their young lives; immensely enjoying our grandson; and, last but not least, the fellowship of so many good friends.  

Amazingly, the years spent living with each set of our parents was also one of the highlights in our marriage.  Our parents got to enjoy our son and daughter and us in a close way that never came again, and our children got to enjoy and then treasure special memories of their grandparents.  Our parents were there for us even though it meant giving up their own wants and desires.  A year or so after we had moved out on our own, we moved to Yuma and never again got to live so closely as we once did.  Mark and I and John and Julia were blessed immensely through this experience, and we are all the better for it.  It was our inheritance from our Moms and Dads!

The song I used to listen to riding home in my brother’s car after I’d drop Karen off at her parents’ house for the night back when we were still courting was one off of my brother’s 8-Track collection of MoTown hits by a group called The Spinners entitled, “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love?” 

We did not have a “together” song.  Mark apparently had a song by The Spinners that made him think of me when we were dating.  I didn’t know this until a few years ago.  I liked the song “If” by a rock group called Bread.  We had it as one of the songs in our wedding.

Ever since Karen and I fell in love and were married, my song for us is one by a favorite artist of ours named Al Jarreau entitled, “After All.”  For me, this song tells our story, the love story of God and me and Karen, the wife of my youth.

There, there was a time I knew
that no matter, come what may, love
would prevail.
And then inside the dreams I knew
came the question lovers fear,
Can true love fail?
Then I would miss the childhood wish,
and haven’t I sung to you
of the knight in armor bright
faithful and true to you?

Darling, after all,
I will be the one to hold you in my arms.
After all,
I will be the one to hold you,
I will be the one to hold you in my arms.
In my arms.

I know in my heart and mind
that no matter, come what may, love will survive.
And Love, the Author of space and time,
keeps the galaxies and each sparrow alive.
And the Love that heals the wounds
after the war is through
is the Knight in armor bright
Faithful and True to you.

Darling, after all,
I will be the one to hold you in my arms.
After all,
I will be the one to hold you,
I will be the one to hold you in my arms.
In my arms.

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