Tag Archives: marriage

Book of the Month: Charles and Emma, The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

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Recently I found this gem in my library. It is a YA biography about Charles Darwin and the relationship he had with his wife Emma. Theirs was a marriage perfectly matched in every way but one: Emma believed firmly in God and Charles believed in science. Yet together they had ten kids and they were completely devoted, even through illnesses, deaths of children, and Charles’ growing ambivalence toward religion. Despite their theological differences, his wife read and edited every one of his papers, and never stopped gently trying to persuade him that some truths were found through “feeling, not reasoning.” By using many quotes from letters, diaries, and from Darwin’s own papers (which he let his kids draw pictures on the backs of), the author portrays Charles Darwin as a devoted family man who preferred to be with his Emma above all others. Although I felt the author was a little presumptive at times, and I have no idea why it is categorized as a YA, it was a fascinating read for me and gives the reader a human side of Charles Darwin beyond the image of the walking fish that gobbles the Christian symbol on cars. Most of all, I was very moved by the depth of appreciation and respect Charles and Emma had for each other. Truly they showed that two people who don’t share profound beliefs can still share a profound love. A great read.

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The Godsend: The Gift of a Second Marriage

Mom and Terry on horses

Photo by Bill VandeMerwe

Today, eight years ago, my mother eloped. Goodness knows she would have never let me do such a thing.

My five siblings, their spouses, and her 24 grandchildren were not invited to the wedding. Neither were any of the groom’s seven children, their spouses or his grandchildren. It was just the two of them, in the temple, married for time.

The two had been introduced to each other by a family member. Their first date had a stunning backdrop:  a huge reservoir in Wyoming, surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains. He was there on his boat, and she was to meet him at the dock at a predesignated time.  From the lake, he could see my mother’s little red car drive across the dam. He gunned the engines towards the dock and trolled up to the platform just as she walked up.

From where she was standing she could see that he was tall, robust, and handsome.

“You must be Terry,” she said.

“You must be Patsy,” he said.

“Are you a good guy?” she said.

“Depends on who is keeping score,” he said. He helped her into the boat and off they went.

My mother had been a widow for four years.  She moved to a new home in town, she dated, and she even served a mission to South Africa. And although she filled up her time with worthwhile things and was surrounded by good people who loved her, including forests of relatives, that didn’t take a way the fact that she went home to an empty house every evening, slept in a bed by herself, and woke up staring at an empty pillow. She had no one to make plans with, no one to share meals with and no one with whom she could anticipate the future. Sundays were the hardest. For my mother, this was like never waking from a bad dream.

Being single is hard at any age. And being an older single person comes with its own unique challenges. By that time people have lived pretty full lives. They’ve collected a lot of memories, children, and survived a variety challenges. It is different than two young 20-year-olds falling in love and building a life together. When you are older, lives have already been built. Change is not just hard, it is titanic. It is hard to find someone with whom you can relate and who will be willing to merge your lives together.

So when Terry came along, he road into my mother’s life like Zorro, saving the day. He owned horses (a passion of my mother’s), he was a crack-shot with a gun (I know some of you out there might not find this attractive, but we westerners do) and he could fix anything. My mother and Terry found they had much in common. They both had seven children. They both had the same beliefs. They both liked popcorn.

They were married by fall.

Surely it took adjustments for them as they settled into being married to a new person. I know it did. And their most stressful adjustment was probably us adjusting to them.  When a new person comes into a very old family, the transition can be tricky, and it goes much further than do we call him by his name or do we call him “Dad.” There is an unspoken resistance by the adult children that is painful and takes work to subdue.

Am I being disloyal to my father if I accept this new man in his place? Will Mom love him more than she loved Dad? Can we still tell stories about my dad?  Or do we have to stop talking when Terry enters the room? All we have left of my dad are the memories. If we can’t speak of him, and sing his songs, will my dad be forgotten? Oh the pain!

In an ironic twist, Terry’s name rhymes with Jerry, the name of my father. And to twist it even further, my dad was also good with horses, a gun and could fix anything.  My children would always see this newcomer as their grandfather. Who is this man to come in and take the place of my father? Not only that, but to elope with my mom like they were a couple of rebellious teenagers!

But I will admit the truth, that after observing the loneliness of my mother, and despite my fears, which I knew were 95% selfish, I was happy to welcome Terry into the family. But Terry still had to show us what he was made of. There were a lot of eyes watching him.

Was he a good guy?

My mother loves perfume. My father’s favorite scent on her was Beautiful, and my mom wore it all the time, even after my dad passed away. Terry, however, is allergic to Beautiful, and most of my mother’s other perfumes. But knowing that this was something important to her, he went to the fragrance counter at the department story and wheezed and choked through a half dozen bottles of perfume until he found one that didn’t make his eyes water. This he bought for her, and this is what she wears.

On Memorial Day he and my mother went to visit cemeteries. First they went to the cemetery where his wife is buried. Then they went to the cemetery over the mountain, where my father is buried. My father’s headstone was covered with dead grass. Terry got down on one knee and cleaned it off.  He noticed that the headstone had started to sink and was crooked, so later he brought a crowbar and pried it up, shook in some fill, giving it an new foundation. What kind of man does these things? A darn good one.

From the very beginning Terry made it clear that he was not a replacement. He was a bonus. And that is what we call him: Bonus Dad.

Ultimately, if an adult child wants peace and tranquility and if they desire to continue to have a relationship with their parent, they must humbly admit defeat: My dad is not coming back, my mom is alone, and God has sent us this gift. If our hearts only had room enough for a certain amount of people that would be a very sad thing. Fortunately, hearts can stretch. Infinitely.

Just before she met Terry, when my mother came home from her mission from South Africa, she sat on my couch and told me she felt as if she were at “rock bottom.” That is a scary thing  for a child, even an adult child, to hear from their parent. But since she married Terry I have watched her become a phoenix. They have served two missions together, built a house together, they ride horses, they go out on four wheelers, they eat popcorn for dinner . . . sometimes just popcorn. They are more like teenagers than teenagers. He is my mother’s elixir of life, she is his foxy lady. You can live a long time with that combination.

Terry and I have a joke. He always tells me “I love you” and I say “Thanks.”  I cannot return the sentiment. I just cannot. The words do not come out of my mouth.  I know I do love him (did you hear that, Terry?), but I can’t say it. And I won’t for a long time. I need to keep him waiting. Because the longer he has to wait for my “I love you” the longer he will have to stick around. And I want him to stick around as long as he possibly can.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Terry. I am happy for you, and I am proud of you.

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A Bulletproof Marriage

So I started dating this new guy.

We’d known each other for a couple of weeks. He was tall, blond, funny, and a little cocky. He told me he was good at tennis. So when he invited me one weekend to watch him play in the annual 4th of July tennis tournament in his hometown I tagged along. I was curious if this guy was actually as good as he said he was.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about tennis. So I sat on bleachers outside the courts, next to his 14-year-old brother who was clearly amused by my vast ignorance. But he was nice and patiently answered my questions and kept me updated on the score. As the tournament progressed I began to see that my date really did seem to excel at this sport. I smiled. I sat up a little straighter. I flipped my hair. If anyone asked me who I was I didn’t bother with my name. I just pointed out to the court and said, “I’m his date.”

But the best was yet to come.

During one match my date jogged up to the chain link fence and said to his little brother in mysterious tennis language, “Watch this. I’m going to ace him on the next serve.”

“What is an ace?” I asked loudly, not wanting to be left out.

Whispering, (because that is what you are supposed to do when you watch tennis) the little brother smiled and said, “Just watch.”

I peered wide-eyed through the fence as my date prepared for his serve by bouncing the ball a few times and casting a piercing stare across the net. Then he tossed the ball up in the air, at the same time bending his knees and pulling back his racket. Time stopped for just a moment as he waited for the ball to make its decent. Then, when the ball was in the perfect spot, he whipped his racket out from behind him and pummeled the ball,  hurling it across the court. Before his opponent had a chance to even wet his lips the ball crossed the net, hit the corner of the service box and shot passed him, rattling the fence. Without his opponent even touching the ball, my date had scored.

Then he turned, pointed his racket straight at me and said, “That is an ace.”

Six months later we were married.

Rising in Love

Falling in love was so exciting. Scott was by far the most fascinating person I had ever met. But soon the “falling” part of love quickly got . . . well . . . impractical. Life happens. How are we going to divvy up responsibilities? How do we pay for the things we need and still have something left for things we want? Should we go into debt or wait till we can pay in full? Should we move or should we stay? Then children come along and all of those fun, private “couple-moments” are the first thing to be thrown overboard as each of us is just trying to do our best to keep the ship afloat. When all this is going on, who has time for each other?

In addition to that, those wonderful things that attracted you to each other in the first place can become unbelievably annoying. (“You are going to go play tennis again?”)

That is when you stop falling in love . . . and you start rising.

Falling in love is spontaneous, unexpected, surprising, a little reckless, and oh so easy.

Rising in love is deliberate, thought-out, scheduled, and sometimes very, very hard.

I don’t know why some marriages work and some don’t. I am only an expert on my own marriage (although Scott probably thinks he’s the expert). I don’t think anyone gets married with the expectation that the marriage will fail. At the beginning every bride and groom intends for their marriage to last forever. After all, we are soul mates. Nothing will ever extinguish the love we have for each other. We are bulletproof. Right?

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But before you know it there are a zillion bullets zinging toward your marriage every day. Bullets from the outside, bullets from the inside . . . and you realize your marriage is anything but bulletproof. Often it is the small, “every-day” bullets that can do the most damage.

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My husband travels a lot. (Leaving me with lots of time to write blog posts.) On this particular trip he was going to be gone over Valentines Day. We had been having some internet issues with the way our phone and internet were set up. Sometimes the internet and phone would both crash and in order to get things working again Scott would unplug a bunch of cords and push some buttons and plug cords back in, blow three times, say the magic words, watch little green lights come on, do the hokey pokey and turn himself around and then the internet would start working again. For some reason I could never get it work, and my greatest concern was that the internet and phone would go out at the very moment one of my kids started choking (or some other catastrophe). I voiced this to him several times. Just before he left Scott handed me a paper of detailed instructions on how to restart the internet should it fail. Then he picked up his suitcase and said as he rushed out the door, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry I didn’t get you flowers.”

I held the instructions to my heart. “This is better than flowers,” I said.

We dodged a bullet.

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I remember one week when Scott had back-to-back sports activities. One night was church basketball, the next night was doubles tennis (mixed!) then he got up early and rode his bike with friends, then that night there was another tennis match. Meanwhile, I was languishing at home with three girls under three, gulping for some respite like a dying goldfish stranded on a counter gulps for air. Then came the last straw. He came home from school, went to put on a new type of sports outfit, grabbed a new type of sports paraphernalia,  turned to me and said, “Do you have any cash, Mom?”

Ah . . . Mom?

Well, that was the end of his sporting events for the week. He felt so bad that Saturday he surprised me with a light box he made himself that I could use for my art projects.

We dodged another bullet.

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Then there was the time I was a week overdue with my fifth child and I found out I had contracted lice.  Yes, you read that right: LICE. In my HAIR. “The world is ending!” I told Scott. But he helped me wash everything in the house and then he sat on the bench behind me and pulled every nit out of my very long hair. It was not romantic. But it was true love.

Another bullet dodged . . . which was a good thing, since that night we had a baby.

There are other “rising in love” stories, most of which will only ever be known to Scott and me. And I know there will be many, many more in the future . . . since we have a lot more rising to do.

Connected at the Core

After we had been married for a while one of the teenagers in our church youth program asked her mother a perplexing question, “Why did Brother and Sister Dyreng get married? They have nothing in common.”

What an observant child. Scott likes sports, Chelsea likes to read. Scott likes dogs, Chelsea likes cats. Scott likes to go to bed early, Chelsea likes to go to bed late. Scott thinks math is interesting.

But we do agree on some things.

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When it comes to the important things, Scott and I are connected at the core. As for the things we don’t have in common–the things that make us opposites–well, that just keeps life refreshing.

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Despite what you may read or hear otherwise, marriage is still the best place to find happiness, the best place to give children the best odds for success, and the best place to develop selflessness.  It is hard to rise by yourself.

(Click here for a short video that shows a heart-stopping example of what I mean.)

More and more I am discovering that the key to success in marriage can be summed up in one word: generosity.

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Giving what is expected, and then giving more.  And when that happens, marriage isn’t something that you are working hard to hold together . . . the marriage is what holds everything else together.

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So there is no such thing as a bulletproof marriage. And that is good, since it keeps us on our toes.

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