Long Lasting Marriage - Life Stories Tim and Pamela Ford
My husband and I had the privilege to attend the wedding of one of our children's best friends last weekend. I have known the groom and his family for years and even held him as an infant Everything was beautiful and it is always a joy to help celebrate the joining of two lives in the bonds of holy matrimony. I couldn't help but think back to our wedding, when I was the bride in my white gown and Tim looked so handsome in his white tuxedo and tail coat. It is hard to believe that was thirty-one years ago. Looking back, we were so young, so in love, and so naive. We were going to live happily ever after, and in a lot of ways we have done just that.
There have also been times in our lives I would rather not think about. Times when the storms raged around us and we couldn't see how we would ever get through it. We had each other, our amazing families, and the promise that the Lord our God would never leave us nor forsake us. The words we spoke to each other all those years ago, when we were the bride and groom, were more than just words. They were vows, sacred promises to each other that we would love each other, no matter what happened in our lives. While those vows seem simple and almost cliché in today’s world, they are powerful in their simplicity.
"I, Pamela take thee, Timothy to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”
Less than fifty words that say it all. By looking at them individually we can see how they apply to all of life’s situations.
“I, Pamela take thee, Timothy to be my wedded husband”
This opening sentence is doing more than just identifying who is getting married, it is a declaration of intent. It says that “I”, by my own free will, take “You”. It is me saying that I accept you, with all your strengths and weaknesses to be my wedded husband (or wife). Before Tim and I got married, we went through pre-marital counseling with our pastor. It was one of the most valuable things we have ever done to help ensure the success of our marriage. Pastor Lee encouraged us to look at each other objectively and to talk about things that we might want to change in each other. He then said that if those things never changed, could we live with it. He was, in essence, asking if we could accept each other as we were right then, not how we want them to be. This is an ongoing process. As we age, things tend to “shift”. I certainly don’t look like I did on our wedding day, my gown would comfortably fit my thigh, and you know what, that’s okay. Tim loves me anyway! I look back at the people we were thirty-one years ago; I remember being that person and what she wanted for her future. Life hasn’t followed her carefully laid out path and things didn’t always go according to plan. By promising to accept each other, we have been able to fall in love with each other, over and over, as we have aged and look forward to our future together.
“To have and to hold, from this day forward”
September 19, 1987 was the day that Tim became mine, and I became his. He became my number one priority, even over my own self. Other relationships in my life became secondary to the one with my husband. Scripture tells us the following in Genesis 2:24:
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh”
The bond between a man and wife is different than all others, it is not because of biology as with our parents and children. It is by choice that we give ourselves to each other in marriage. We made a conscience decision to enter into this union. It is essentially a contract between two people that says that I belong to you and you belong to me. We now “have” each other for our own. I realize this is not a popular idea anymore, but it is an important one. I have heard the idea of “having and holding” being referred to as having a soft place to land. I love the image that it conjures in the mind, when life is hard and difficult there is a soft place to come home to, where you will be accepted and held. I love those Saturday mornings where we don’t have anything we have to do, and we can just lay in bed with each other. I don’t think there is another place I would rather be.
“For better or for worse”
These first two vows talk about what our responsibility to each other is, as far as it depends on us. I chose Tim as mine and promised to accept him for who he is, and I committed to being his soft place to land. This is the first of the vows that deals with things beyond our control. It simply says that I will be there for you when life is good, and when is isn’t. I mentioned above that I had a very carefully laid out plan for what I thought our life would bring, and in a lot of ways I was right. We had two beautiful children when I had planned them. Tim has been successful in his career as a Software Developer, which allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom to our children and gave me the privilege to homeschool them as well. However, things did not always go according to plan. Having children is an incredible experience. I remember being amazed by their ears, I know that sounds odd, but they were so tiny and so perfect, that I still wonder how anyone can hold a newborn baby and doubt that there is a God. Being a mother was harder than I thought it would be; I became overwhelmed easily, and I often cried without reason, but Tim and I both assumed it would just get better with time. During this time my parents were an incredible help and I don’t know what I would have done without them. After the birth of our second child, just a year and a half after our first, things fell apart for me. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital twice and was treated for clinical depression for the next several years. Those years, while amazing as we watched our babies grow up, were also very hard. I know it wasn’t easy for Tim to come home from work and have to deal with the train wreck that our life had become. It would have been so easy for him to have run and never looked back, but he didn’t. This was part of the contract we made to each other. This was the “for worse” part of those vows that we made. It wasn’t pretty, but with the Lords’ help we made it through. The word “grateful” does not even come close to expressing how I feel looking back on that time. Tim was truly my soft place to land.
“For richer or for poorer”
Money. The number one reason that couples divorce is over money. One of the rules we have always followed in our marriage was that we didn’t argue over money. We either had it or we didn’t, and all the arguing in the world wouldn’t change that fact. As I said previously, Tim has been relatively successful in this working life and we have been very blessed by the Lord to have opportunities open for us. Income was never our problem, it was the whole outgo thing that we messed up. We made some (alright, many) bad decisions with regard to our finances. I would like to tell you that it was just because we were young and stupid, and that we learned from our mistakes and never made them again. Alas, that would be lying. I really have no excuse for it, as my background is in accounting and my father has one of the greatest financial minds I have ever known. We just wanted things and we bought them and then ended up having to deal with the consequences. I will say it again though, we never fought over money. For the most part, our situations were the result of joint decisions, and like it or not, we both were part of the problem, and therefore had to be part of the solution.
“In sickness and in health”
There is an old saying that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. There is some truth to that, and health problems are some of the worst things that people have to deal with. The profound feeling of helplessness when someone you love is hurting and you can’t do anything to help them is devastating. Illness isn’t part of anybody’s idea of happily ever after. Around the time our daughter turned fourteen, I began to notice some changes in her behavior. She seemed moody, spending more time in her room than she ever had before. She seemed to be having problems focusing on her school work. I assumed it was the beginning of adolescence, and didn’t worry too much about it. However, within three months of her birthday I realized something was very wrong. I took her to the Pediatrician, who put her on an anti-depressant. Within twenty-four hours her mood had shifted one hundred and eighty degrees and she seemed like her old self again. It seemed wonderful, but somehow I knew it was wrong as anti-depressants usually don’t work that quickly. The dramatic rise in her mood was followed by an equally dramatic crash, and in January of 2007 we had to admit her to an adolescent psychiatric hospital. I will never forget the sound of the door closing behind us as we left her there that first night, knowing that I couldn’t get her out, even if I wanted to. I remember just collapsing in tears in Tim’s arms. We held onto each other that night, and continued to hold each other as for the next five years we dealt with the ups and downs of what was diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. That admission would be the first of ten over the next three years. There were multiple suicide attempts, and she had to be watched at all times. I literally spent those years focusing on keeping her alive. Tim and I eliminated everything from our lives that wasn’t vital, and with our family and a few close friends, created a veritable cocoon around our beautiful daughter. We clung to each other for strength in a way I didn’t know was possible. When I didn’t think I could go on, Tim would give me the strength I needed; and I would pick him up when he had come to the end of his ability to cope. With the help of the Lord, who loves our daughter even more than we ever could, and an incredible medical team, she gradually was able to gain mastery over the mood swings and other symptoms. In 2012 she married a wonderful young man and moved across the country to be with him. She still struggles with her Bipolar disorder, but she is truly one of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. As opposed to tearing us apart, dealing with her illness cemented the bonds we already shared. It has been said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I have to agree, although it certainly isn’t fun while you are in the middle of it.
“To love and to cherish”
What is love exactly? After all, we use the same word whether we are talking about pizza, football, pets, or our spouse. Surely we don’t mean that we love pizza in the same way that we love our children, after all when was the last time you jumped in front of a moving car to save a piece of pizza? What I am getting at, is that the word “Love” has become cheap and overused, and has lost its depth of meaning. What most people are really saying is that they like pizza, football, etc. Like and love are two totally different things. You may love someone, but you may not like them at that particular moment. There have been times in our marriage that if Tim had fallen off the face of the planet, I would have been alright with that (well, not really), but I always loved him. Just as I made the choice to marry Tim, I made a choice to love him. That means that I will love him whether I like him or not, whether life is hard or easy, whether we are sick or healthy. You get the idea, I can’t claim that I “fell out of love” with Tim, because the love that we are talking about here is not an emotion or a feeling, it is a commitment! Try calling your bank and telling them that you don’t like your house anymore because it needs to be repainted and the carpet is old, so you are going to stop paying your mortgage and move on. Be sure to let me know how well that works out for you. You may be thinking that loving your spouse and paying your mortgage are not the same thing, but you would be wrong. They are exactly the same thing! When Tim and I stood in front of our family and friends thirty-one years ago, and vowed to love and cherish each other, we signed a contract more binding than any mortgage could ever be. Our contract wasn’t with a bank or finance company, it was with the Lord our God, the creator of the universe! Just as signing a mortgage contract obligates you to the terms of that contract, so our marriage vows obligate us to its terms as well. Those terms are specific and binding, and they even have a time limit…
“Till death us do part”
When Tim and I had just started dating at college, I asked him if he thought he would ever get tired of me. It was just me trying to be cute, and he assured me that something like that could never happen. I didn’t think any more about it, until the next day when I had a small package in my mailbox. He had sent me a cassette tape (we have been married thirty-one years, you know) of an album by a band called “The Association” and it was cued to a song I had never heard before called “Never my Love”. The opening lines were almost word for word what I had asked him the night before, if he would get tired of me, and the response in the song was “Never, my love”. I thought it was so romantic (and it was), until I got to another line in the song that talked about spending my whole life with him. My whole life, I thought, that is a long time; a very long time! I must admit it was a little overwhelming to contemplate, as I was barely twenty years old and the rest of my life seemed like forever. The more I got to know him though, the more I realized that the rest of my life is not nearly enough time to spend with him, and as Christians we have the promise of eternity. We now consider “Never my Love” to be “Our Song”. The point is that our marriage vows don’t have an expiration date, so as long as we draw breath, we are bound by the terms of that contract. That is why marriage is not something you enter into lightly, it is the most solemn promise you will ever make. The words we spoke at our wedding all those years ago are still relevant to our lives today, because they define who we are, both individually and as a couple. I am his and he is mine! It is in the present, not the past. Just as the Lord says that He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so the vows we spoke were also binding the day we spoke them, are binding today, and will be binding until we are parted by death, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I am not saying that I have all the answers, far from it. When I got married in 1987 I thought I had it all figured out. However, time and experience have taught me that I still have a lot to learn. Marriage isn’t always easy, but nothing that is truly important ever is. I have always said that love isn’t about rose petals and silk sheets. Love is about holding on to each other when your hearts are broken. It is being there for each other when you’re terrified of what tomorrow will bring. But love is also knowing that whatever happens, you will face it together. There is a current wedding trend for couples to write their own vows, and while I think this can be a nice addition, I believe there is something powerful about the traditional vows. The wedding we attended last week used a slightly modified version of those vows. They dropped the “thee and thou”, but they otherwise said the same things. I pray that both the bride and groom listened to them and took them seriously because they are some of the most important words they will ever speak. Let me end by quoting what it says In Mark 10:9 (NKJV). “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate”