“The love of a lifetime is worth at least a million tries.”
Chris Young’s latest country song paints a love story about the hard times making the good ones worth it. Those real relationships mean more to us than saying goodbye, and when you’ve got it right, you realize that the uphill battle’s victory is worth the fight. As we see the number of divorces sky-rocketing around us, I still believe that there’s a way to make it last.
There are a million ways to know you’ve found a “keeper,” but according to a few 20-year (and counting) successful marriages, here a few ways to keep them.
Rachel Smith and Bryan Yelton met in college. After 22 years of marriage Rachel can still distinctly recollect her college years spent laughing alongside her “faithful friend Bryan.” (There’s hope for the friend-zoned.) “He moved into an apartment with my boyfriend,” and as time would tell, he picked up the slack when her boyfriend missed the mark. (Slacking boyfriends, take note.) “Sounds geeky,” she continued, “but he was my best guy friend ever.” The turning point came when her boyfriend refused to go with her to the movies for an assignment, and Bryan stepped up to the plate. Their relationship stands as a testimony of the importance of friendship, faith and affection. Rachel emphasized the importance of kissing, and kissing a lot! However, she claimed that covering the relationship in prayer is what she has to thank for her relationships tenure. She said, “I prayed for me to see changes I needed to make in my own life to better love him, that I may do him good and never harm for all the days of my life.” This prayer provided a foundation to allow their relationship to be built on solid ground. “We are keenly aware that God has a plan for our relationship,” Rachel explained, “but so does Satan.” It was prayer that protected this college love struck couple, and as Rachel confessed, “When I wanted to run away, or had thought of murder,” it was prayer that pulled them through.
Deana and Jeff Watson were middle school sweethearts, well, at least Deana was. After 25 years of marriage, Deana claimed, “he was my first love. I will never forget the first time I saw him. I’m not sure if it was the wind blowing through his beautiful, jet black Bon Jovi hair, his laid back attitude as he drove by, or the freedom he represented in his old Pontiac Le-mans but time stood still.” Their adventures and later with the three best gifts ever, three blessings that Deana described, “have his love for life and his fire in his eyes,” increased her admiration for Jeff even more. However, their journey has been far from perfect. Deana illustrated, “Thirty years ago our song was by Willie Nelson and it still stands true. There have been things we should have said and done, but we didn’t take the time.” Yet, through it all they have fought to not let their sweet young love die. Watching her mee-maw fix my papa’s plate or watching her grandpa’s excitement to give her grandmother a pair of Angier boots every Christmas, exemplifies what is takes to make it work. “Every decision you make, every thought that you have, every obstacle you face throughout life as a couple, well, the song says it best, ‘You were always on my mind.'” Their relationship clearly illustrates the importance of a selfless attitude, giving more than you should, and never walking alone. Deana continued, “I read that love is about seeing the beauty in the ugly and staying. It’s about turning yourself inside out.”
Dee Dee and Ken McGinnis met senior week at the beach (of all places). Since that summer, they have defied the odds and have pocketed 33 years worth of memories of marriage. The love story of this cheerleader/ pageant queen who fell for the rebel illustrates sacrifice, commitment, and endurance. When asked about how they have managed to thrive even after 33 years, Dee Dee claimed, “Love is more about the choice than the feeling.” As she continued memories of sleepless nights spent in hospitals watching her sleeping husband recover from severe oil burns and later a minor heart attack replayed in her mind. “Love is about the little things, it is replaying the falling-in-love days over and over in your mind. Replay the good times in your mind, erase or try to forget the bad times.” She turned her rebel into a lover and though those high school glory days may be behind them, their future promises of so much more, and there’s no looking back now! “Hold on to the end,” Dee Dee said, “that’s what I intend to do.”
Arthur Lynn and Rebecca (Becky) Watson met in church where, thinking back 54 years ago, Becky remembered, “He would make googly eyes at me and think it made him look sexy.” They would hide the fact that they were holding hands during church services Becky admits (true rebels). She was seventeen when the two decided they were going to get married. That meant that they couldn’t get married in the state of South Carolina without a parent’s consent. Yet, after her dad’s refusal, and her mom’s reluctant signature, her uncle married them at his house. Becky wore a bridesmaid dress that she had worn to two different weddings already, but to her, it seemed brand new. “Here’s the thing,” she described, “you have to learn to be tolerant. I have to tolerate his annoying habits and he has to tolerate mine. You cannot give up, and that’s it.” Arthur Lynn, giving his input stated, “Growing up we came to realize that giving up was not an option. We could not fail, because we had no one to bail us out, in all aspects of our lives.” Tolerance and determination have fueled there fifty-four year adventure, and it is not over yet!
Diane and Doug Stacey can still remember it all like it was yesterday even though it’s been 52 years. “We were married young,” Diane explains, “we had planned to have years before children. However, that was not God’s plan. I was in business school and all of the sudden pregnant.” After only being a married for a year, enter the first daughter of two. “We had Deana six years later after trying for years. Another six years passed, and I got pregnant and lost a baby boy. We learned a hard lesson, that children draw you closer, and push you apart.” However, remembering back to walking down the isle to Doug, she knew that she loved him. She explained, “there are no perfect marriages, and no marriage, no child, no big houses, nothing will bring you happiness unless your joy is rooted in Jesus.” When times got tough, they visited a christian counselor who gave Diane the best advice she ever heard. She described, “It’s not 50/50 like a lot of people think. The counselor told us that we had to give 300 percent.” Diane clarified that if one of was struggling to do their part, it was expected that the other would pick up the slack. She continued, “We just got back from a trip to San Francisco, Alaska, and Canada. We had the best time in our marriage.” It is clear that after fifty-two years of marriage, Diane and Doug stand by what they believe, and that is that the best is always yet to come.
The divorce rate in America is between 40 and 50 percent and rising. With that being said, there is hope. There are men and women who put up a fight daily to defy the odds, and they have and will. To beat the statistics, to rage war against this societal trend, we have to tolerate, pray, believe, and hold on, because it’s one bumpy, yet fulfilling ride. I have heard it said best in one of Bob Dylan’s songs: “The future for me is already a thing of the past. You were my first love and you will be my last.”
So, here’s to the fights to come and the commitment that we will promise to withhold. Here’s to the end of a movement, and the beginning of the restoration of one of the greatest promises in our lives, to the one person who will hold our heart forever.