On October 29th, Linus and I were joined by family and friends to celebrate our first 50 years of marriage. What a grand evening it was, organized by our six children. We weren’t sure the invitation was sent to everyone we wished would join us, but we were so honored by those who came. We didn’t think to put “no gifts” on the invitation so were surprised and touched by the gifts and cards we received. One of the gifts was a plaque that read, “The first 50 years of marriage are always the hardest.”
While the plaque had a touch of humor to it, it is particularly true of our first few years of marriage together.
I was a young girl when I began my Christian journey and dreamed of being a medical missionary. I held on to a goal to get a nursing degree and go to a mission field—anywhere but Africa, I thought. All the missionaries from Africa I met seemed to be single. I wanted to be a missionary, but I also wanted a husband and children. I pursued my dream by studying to be a nurse but my studies squeezed out the most important thing in my life: my relationship with God. Engulfed in my studies, I lost sight of the need for me to let Him guide me. I had ‘things’ to do and God got put on my back burner of my life. He could wait… or so it seemed.
While in the midst of my nurses training and it’s demands on my time, I met a young man who afforded me an escape from the rigors of my schooling. He took me boating, hiking and other outdoor activities that I had been missing. He was a bit outrageous, wild, and adventurous, but fun. He wasn’t interested in talking about spiritual things but I rationalized that it was okay since I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship.
I continued to see him and a few months later we were married—under difficult circumstances, including my having to drop out of nurses training. Linus and I were married on a Saturday morning with only two friends and his disappointed parents in attendance. That afternoon Linus played football with his friends. Our honeymoon was at a nearby motel, where Linus studied for a final exam for an engineering class. Then he played the guitar until late into the night. The next morning (Sunday) we moved into a small apartment and Monday Linus took his final, while I was out looking for a job. I woke up shortly after our wedding with the realization that I was married to someone who didn’t share my faith (albeit weak) and whom I really didn’t know.
“WHERE SIN INCREASED, GRACE INCREASED ALL THE MORE….”
In the emptiness and disappointment of the direction my life had taken, I began to turn back to God. I began to pray again, and once again give God His rightful place in my life. As I did, Linus became threatened that someone else was more important to me than him. He ridiculed my reading the Bible, wanting to go to church, listening to Christian songs I found on the radio, and became more and more adamant that God didn’t exist and that faith was for the weak and ignorant.
Although Linus’ antagonism was hurtful, I determined not to leave our marriage but to trust God and let Him guide my path. I prayed for God to change my heart and give me strength.
Weeks and months crawled by, and as they did Linus became even more contentious. He battered me with his arguments, and there were times when I felt I was losing my mind. I wanted out of our marriage so I sought the counsel of a respected Christian friend who told me I was free to leave Linus. It was what I wanted to hear, but a soft inner voice told me ‘not so fast’. I sought the counsel of Scripture and became convinced I should stay in the marriage.
There were many moments when I felt overwhelmed by discouragement and depression, but I hung on to the promise in Jeremiah 29: 11-13 where God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” I pondered, “Could this be true even though I spurned God. Might this verse be for me?”
One morning, three years into our marriage, Linus woke up and told me of a frightening dream he had. In it, the earth was bare except for an empty house in which he was standing. The dream pictured to him the emptiness of his life without God. He exclaimed, “Sharon, I believe in God; I believe in Christ.” Shortly thereafter a friend invited us to his fraternity house for an evening meeting. The speaker talked about the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus after His death and how through Him we can know God. The next day Linus met with the speaker who shared how through Jesus we can have a personal relationship with God.
I was shocked when Linus came home and told me he had become a Christian. Oddly, I felt terribly disappointed. I felt that now I was really trapped in my marriage. I had hoped Linus would tire of me and quit our marriage, leaving me free to begin a new life. What I didn’t comprehend was the truth and meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
BEAUTY FROM ASHES
Over the years that followed, I began to understand how God takes our failures and disappointments and begins a new work in us. He replaces the ashes of our lives with a new beauty. So it has been with our marriage.
As I looked out over the gathering of our six wonderful children and many of our friends, I couldn’t help but marvel at the grace of God in my life, in Linus’ life, and in our marriage. I couldn’t help reflect back at the difficult circumstances of the way we started out and the unhappiness of our first years. At the same time, I couldn’t help but give thanks to God for drawing me back to Himself and Linus to Himself. I couldn’t help but worship the God of all grace who has plans to give us hope and a future. I couldn’t help but marvel that the dream I had as a little girl to serve God as a missionary (and a happily married one with children) came to fruition. I couldn’t help but praise Him for the first 50 years of our marriage.