Sunday, November 17, 2013


On our third floor apartment balcony hang a set of melodious wind chimes and a mobile of carved wood fish, painted in brilliant patterns of blues, yellows, greens and reds. Tethered to clear monofilament line, the fish “swim” contentedly in the light breezes that sweep in from the ocean and over the lake next to our home, reminding me of our many scuba diving trips to islands in the Caribbean. 

Sometimes the breezes are not so gentle and the fish spin and flail wildly, their tethers tangling horrifically until they are tightly locked in tangled knots and can manage to only swivel weakly in place. It does no good to wait and see if they untangle by themselves. The longer I wait to intervene, the worse it gets. I notice the mess every time I open my door to go outside or when I’m coming back to the apartment. Nothing else catches my attention: not the sun glimmering our lake, not the green jungle, not the osprey hunting over the water, not the brilliant Florida sun. I see only the tangled mess of wooden, brightly colored fish hopelessly entwined around each other. What a mess.

Finally, I can put it off no longer. I set down my keys, and whatever else is in my arms, and turn to untangle the fish mobile. Sometimes it takes almost a half an hour of patiently moving a fish and its tether to the right or the left, through a knot, over or under, one tangled clump of snared monofilament line at a time. Holding my arms up as I perform this duty is tiring and I have to put them down and shake out the stiffness once in a while. I’m tempted to just pull the whole thing down and toss it in the trash. But I never do because I know my efforts will be ultimately successful in untangling the mobile. I would not want to lose them; the fish are pretty, and they add a sense of fun and barefoot hominess to our place.

Finished at last, I step back to observe my handiwork. The fish are once again “swimming” freely in the light breeze and all seems right with their little world and mine too, for a day or two. Then the wind kicks up that night and the fish are once again thoroughly tangled by morning. It happens all the time. Wind tangles, I untangle. Repeat.

How similar we are to my bright fish mobile. The buffeting winds of adversity and our own weakness seem to combine on a regular basis to tangle up and complicate our lives. We make bad choices, we suffer from other’s bad choices, or we are plagued by the vagaries of mortality that visit us as physical and mental illness, financial challenges, disillusionment, despair, disappointment, death of a loved one, betrayal of a friend. The list is endless. All of these things tangle up our lives and stymie us. Entangled, we cannot swim freely, we cannot be the kind of person God wants us to be.

The longer we live being tangled up the worse our lives seem to get. Wrong choices become habits; habits become addictions. Discouragement becomes despair; despair becomes depression. We wind up even more tangled than before.

Untangling ourselves is impossible, just as impossible as my bright wooden fish untangling themselves. We need help from someone outside ourselves who understands how we got so tangled up in the first place. We need someone who knows exactly how to help us out of this mess, someone who is patient enough to work with us no matter how long it takes and no matter how many times we get tangled up, someone who loves us too much to ever just get fed up with untangling us and toss us in the trash.

I have learned from experience that this Someone is our Savior, Jesus Christ.

…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people…” Alma 7:12

If we turn to Him for help in untangling our lives He will indeed always be there for us. As we pray earnestly for comfort, for aid, for peace, He will sooth our souls. As we study, not just read, but study His word in the scriptures and from a living prophet His Spirit will guide us to paths of wiser choices. As we make the small (or sometimes big) adjustments in our lives to keep His commandments He will bless us far more abundantly than we expect. We will see the living miracle of our own untangling play out right before our eyes. Elder Draper and I have seen it many times in our own lives and in the lives of the precious military men and women we serve. We’ve seen addictions conquered, families put back together after crisis, depression overcome, faith restored, hope renewed – knotty tangles untangled by the Savior’s loving hand.

The solution to our untangling is found in the scripture we’ve selected as the theme for our mission:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

He is here for us not just when we get tangled up one time, but time after time. Every time we get tangled, no matter what a mess we make of our lives, He’s here to untangle us if we put aside our pride and petulant “I can do it myself!” attitude, trust Him, and have the tiniest bit of faith to ask for His help. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sea Change

We have but six months to go on our mission here in Jacksonville, Florida. After that our lives will abruptly change once again as we make our way first to South Carolina to say farewell to our dear friends, and then to California to spend some time with my amazing sister who has sacrificed so much so Larre and I can serve this mission. Then it is on to our new life in Mexico. I am already starting to feel the tide shifting in my soul, pulling me toward a Mayan shore.
We have come to love those we’ve been serving here so profoundly that even as I write these words I feel the tears well up at the thought of leaving these good people, our sons and daughters in every way save natural birth. We’ve enjoyed a ring-side seat at many miracles, witnessed a mighty sea change in many lives, and benefited everyday from the Lord’s tender mercies. We truly are our brother’s keeper in these last days.
I’ve heard it said that “a mission is more for the missionary”. And that is absolutely true. My testimony has grown stronger, drilling down into the solid bedrock of the Lord’s love, cementing the doctrines of Christ into my bones. I’ve witnessed the divine paradox in action many times here: When you lose yourself in the service of others, you find yourself. A new normal has changed my default setting to “service”, service among the people with whom I live and work. This mission has changed my life and I would never have known this transformation had I not come here. Larre feels the same way.
Over the course of this mission the threads of our lives have become tightly woven into the tapestries of these military “sons and daughters”. Our marching orders from military relations handlers at church headquarters were to “use your skills and talents to bless the lives of the military servicemen and women.” Even when we are doing things not related to serving “our kids” we are preoccupied with and vividly mindful of their welfare. Does so-and-so need a friend right now? Would that brother like a blessing? How can we help this sister while her husband is deployed?
These kids seldom hesitate to call us for assistance when they need a hand, a ride somewhere, help with grocery shopping, or for us to bring in dinner, a gallon of milk, or Gatorade when the family is ill and can’t get out of the house. Navy wives are so self-reliant that it is sometimes difficult for them to ask for help. But they’ve grown to trust us enough to know we will drop everything and come cheerfully and gratefully when they call, as any devoted parent would.
"You got this, Sister Draper!"
Brother Zayas and I finishing strong.
We also simply have a lot of just plain fun fulfilling this mission. We take these kids shooting, diving, snorkeling with manatees, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, swimming, shopping, and even run half-marathons with them. Brother Zayas, an active duty Marine (hooyah!) and one of my scuba students, is a Cross Fit trainer and a human machine. He was also my running partner throughout the Marine Corps Half-Marathon race last week. It was my third half-marathon and his first, and he made it look so easy. I doubt he even broke a sweat. As my running partner, Brother Zayas pushed me to excel the entire 13.1 miles to finish strong in under two and a half hours. That bright, warm Saturday morning saw the gospel in action; bearing one another's burdens by helping each other along life's journey, and doing it with gusto through beautiful downtown Jacksonville.
Like women after childbirth, runners who finish a long race, or mariners who come through a storm, the pain and anxiety of the moment soon fade after the ordeal. All that remains bright in memory is the success of the accomplishment, the triumph of survival. The intense pain of childbirth, the runner’s aching muscles, and the battered boat are soon forgotten in the thrill of having come out on the other side victorious.
Something else happens to those who have been through such crucibles. Fundamental, indelible change also occurs deep within the soul. The new mother finds a reservoir of love she did not know existed before that soft, angelic life was placed in her arms. The runner wears an invisible mantle of pride and confidence. The mariner gains new respect for the sea and his skill as a seaman. None of them will ever be the same. Each has undergone a sea change, a transformation which has left them forever altered, forever lifted above where they were before. An ordeal that once appeared daunting, a course that seemed hopelessly long, waves that towered impossibly high have each been faced and conquered, resulting in a miraculous metamorphosis.
The sea of our souls is changing because of this mission experience. We are undergoing that strange metamorphosis we hope will alter and shape us forever to be more the daughter and son a wise and tender Heavenly Father wants us to be.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Parable of the Crippled Kayak

The unmistakable POP! was instantly followed by a noisy hissing and bubbling as the inflatable kayak beneath me suddenly went flaccid. The two main air cells were breached and taking on water. Within seconds the kayak was barely afloat.
It was a perfect storm of misfortune. I was more than a mile from the take out at the southern end of Dutton Island, an inland island surrounded by marshes near our home in Florida’s Atlantic Beach. I was deep within a remote maze of estuary channels, my cell phone battery dead, the tide rapidly going out, and I was hung up on a cluster of razor-sharp oysters that grew in scattered beds throughout the maze. There was no possibility of walking out of the marsh either. In the attempt to free the impaled kayak I lost one of my flip-flops in the thick, oozing muck. Colonies of sharp-edged oysters hid here and there just beneath the surface of the black water and, if I abandoned the kayak, I wouldn’t get five yards before they would shred my bare feet to ribbons. A neon sign of warning flashed urgently in my head signaling that the decision I made in the next moments would be critical. Now was the time for calm, rational thought. A desperate or a poor choice could leave me stranded for hours, or worse.
A quick assessment of the kayak’s condition, the water level, and direction of the tide left only one option: paddle the quickest and deepest route back to civilization. I didn’t know how much longer the kayak would stay afloat. Although the remaining air cells seemed to be intact my little vessel was riding low in the water and responded sluggishly to my paddle strokes. It didn’t seem to be foundering but I couldn’t afford another breach as the water level continued to ebb with the outgoing tide. Staying in the center of the largest and deepest channels was the best chance of keeping the bottom of the crippled kayak above and beyond the reach of the treacherous oysters.
The take out was the only location where I could both get safely to dry land and back to my car, and there were only two routes to the take out. I had to make an immediate decision which one to choose. The first route was shorter but through the marsh channels, and without the GPS on my smartphone I wasn’t absolutely certain of the route. I would be paddling along increasingly shallower water trails and likely become impaled again. A wrong turn into a dead end could make my dicey situation even worse by leaving me completely stranded deep in the marsh with only a trickle of water in the channels until the next high tide. By then the kayak might be totally useless and I would be cut off from an escape and trapped.
The second route I knew with certainty, but it was a longer route and took me back out to the river known as the “intercoastal waterway”. Out in the river the dropping water level would force me further toward the middle and closer to motor boat traffic. I was confident I could stay close enough to the river’s shore to avoid unobservant boaters, but I would still have to slog through rough motor boat wake waves. The tidal current would also work against me and was much stronger in the river than in the marsh. The river option meant a long, hard paddle in my poor crippled little kayak. I chose the river route, reclined back in the kayak to counter its deflating taco effect, and pulled hard on the paddle through a wide marsh channel until I emerged out into the river.
For the next hour and a half I struggled against the river’s outgoing tidal current, keeping a wary eye on the boats. With every outboard that sped by came the wake waves: a succession of five or six each time, making it more difficult to get any forward progress toward the take out.
Hot, tired, thirsty, and with my arms and shoulders aching, I finally left the river and entered the cut that led back into the estuary and the take out. The river tide was particularly strong at the mouth of the cut and required doubling my strokes to barely make slow, grudging headway. If I stopped paddling, even for a moment, the current would carry me back out to the intercoastal waterway. Miraculously the crippled kayak remained afloat, so I leaned forward to get more power into each stroke and kept going. The take out wasn’t far now. Dip right, pull, dip left, pull. Dip right, pull, dip left, pull. Right. Left. Right. Left.
Farther into the channel the current relaxed a bit and the going became somewhat easier. A woman fishing from the dock at the take out waved to me as she saw me emerging from around the tall salt marsh grasses at the last turn. I waved back and breathed a sigh of relief that the little crippled kayak and I were finally at the end of our adventure.
On the way home, as I considered how to patch the kayak and get back out on the water, I realized my misadventure is a fitting allegory of our life on Earth.
Our take out is the heavenly portal through which we come to live and journey by faith and through which we leave this place and return to our heavenly home. We paddle through this earthly estuary, along its winding paths where we encounter sublime beauty and wonder, such as the dolphins who kept me company on the first part of my trek when the kayak was still healthy and whole, the sun glinting on the water, and the peaceful solitude of miles of quiet marshland tributaries all around me. There is much joy to be found in this mortal and strangely foreign existence: the tender love of a parent toward a child, the rich bonhomie among dear friends, the love born of serving a neighbor, the satisfaction of planting a seed and watching it grow, creating something beautiful, making order out of chaos, the harmony of a marriage nourished by devotion and sacrifice.
More reliable than the navigation app on my power-hungry smartphone is our spiritual global position system (GPS) of the scriptures, the words of prophets, inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the counsel of others who are wise. All these help us navigate along the safest routes through life and eventually guide us back to our home.
Often adversity impales us on shards of poor decisions, such as taking an inflatable kayak into a marsh when the tide is going out, or ruining our health with substance abuse, neglect, and addiction, or ignoring the wisdom of the divine GPS and thinking we can make this journey on our wits alone. Adversity also slices into us for no apparent reason at all; we are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. The accident caused by a drunk driver, victims of abuse, casualties of war, a job loss, mental illness, physical disability, the betrayal of a friend. The list is endless. Sometimes we even volunteer for adversity when we break out of our comfort zone to blaze a new trail by taking a risk, going back to school, or learning a new skill. These challenges are our ebbing tides, our razor-sharp oyster beds, our oozing muck, our motor boat waves, our aching muscles.
Regardless of the cause, adversity is as much a part of our journey as joy. It is uncomfortable, often painful, frequently difficult, and certainly unpleasant. But we learn important lessons during these periods of trial and challenge, lessons we would never learn otherwise, character we would never discover if the winds were always fair, the tide always high, and the river always calm. Hopefully, we turn for help to the One who knows us best, we recognize the opportunity to gain wisdom from the experience, we deepen understanding and compassion. From the aching muscles of paddling against the current we grow stronger, more capable of handling the next challenge. Blisters turn to calluses, and our once tender skin is not so susceptible to being bruised and torn next time.
Time and again we must paddle against the tides of life. We have to keep pulling through the water no matter how tiring or discouraging the effort or the current will sweep us out to places we don’t want to go. The worst decision is the decision to give up. Prayers of faith, seeking strength, guidance, and comfort pull down a divine reservoir of aid to keep us moving forward. Whatever it takes we must keep our faith strong and our hope bright. We can’t afford to let the light of Truth dim in our souls or we will find ourselves stumbling in a darkness that attracts despair and even more adversity.
After all our experiences in the marshes and rivers of mortality we eventually paddle around the last bend to the take out. All the challenges, all the struggle will finally be over. Rest and peaceful shores are before us. Sore, tired, and relieved we step out of this earthly estuary and are welcomed home.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sons and daughters

Many years ago both Elder Draper and I, long before we met and married, were each promised through a blessing under the hands of a patriarch in our church that “sons and daughters” would come to share our lives. Years later we welcomed two beautiful daughters into our family. No other children came after.

We often wondered, where were the boys promised in the blessings? Had God gotten the “sons” part wrong? Did we do something wrong? We might say we already have one son, a wonderful son-in-law. That’s one son. The blessings were specific in that we would have sons, plural. Would I end up like Sarah, the wife of Old Testament prophet Abraham, and get pregnant with a son long after passing through menopause? Were we to have only two daughters?

Throughout the ensuing years this blessing seemed a little strange to us but we just shrugged it off as one of the mysteries of God that we may never unravel in this life. Little did we realize that we would see the patriarchs’ blessing unfold in profound ways on this mission.

Serving a mission requires a substantial sacrifice of time, talents, financial resources, and our own will on behalf of others. As we’ve sacrificed and served the military men and women here in the Jacksonville area we’ve gained new appreciation for an important eternal principle: you love whom you serve. And the depth of that love seems to increase in proportion to both our sacrifice and service.

A chief characteristic of the parent-child bond is the unconditional love parents have for their children. Parental love toward a child is born of sacrifice given joyfully, freely, and without condition. Parental love is nurturing and protecting. It is also empathetic: we hurt when they hurt, we rejoice when they make choices which bring them lasting happiness, we suffer their tragedies and triumphs right alongside them. Perhaps the greatest example of parental love through sacrifice is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world [us, His children in the world], that he gave his only begotten Son.”

With the Zayas family after a
5K Color Run
Through our service and sacrifice more than a few of the military men and women here have become sons and daughters to us in every way save natural birth. Our hearts truly ache when we see them struggle with the myriad challenges of deployment, with their demons of addiction, loneliness, marital issues, with their anxiety about the next duty assignment, their disappointments and indecision.

Like any parent, we want to fix things for them, make things easier for them. But that is seldom wise. It is through adversity and struggle that they learn the lessons God needs them to learn. Our stepping in to solve whatever is troubling them, if we even could, would just short-circuit an important growth opportunity. Often all we can do is watch anxiously, pray for them and with them, encourage, and cheer them on. “You can do it! We love you!” When action is required we try to be right there for them with transportation, a homecooked meal, a fun activity, a house cleaned, a wall painted, a blessing given, a satellite dish dug up, furniture moved, an errand run, even a sofa to crash on.

Welcoming home the USS Vicksburg
Their joys are our joys, their triumphs our triumphs. One young woman struggles with clinical depression and mental illness . Throughout the time we’ve been here in Jacksonville we’ve cried and laughed with her and comforted her through anguish and despair. After encouraging her to keep a gratitude journal she came to us later with a glow of joy and expressed how much that helped her to face each day with strength and renewed hope. Seeing their joie de vivre underwater when they learn to scuba dive is a unique experience that I particularly enjoy on this mission as a scuba instructor. We make happy memories with them to take on deployment: we took our Navy chaplain “son” to the temple in Orlando and diving Disney’s Epcot aquarium (“a once in a lifetime experience” he exclaimed in a letter to friends and family) a few days before he shipped out. We stand on the jetty waiving our giant pirate flag to farewell their grey ships as they pass out of the harbor and stand on the dock with “Welcome Home” signs and little American flags when they return, many months later.

With Chaplain Justin Top at the
Orlando Temple just before his deployment
These kids sometimes refer to us their “Florida parents”. It is not unusual to get a knock on our door or a text asking to come over just to talk, to ask our advice (which I jokingly tell them is worth only what they pay for it), or get a blessing of comfort.

Since arriving in Jacksonville last year we have tried to follow the wise advice of an LDS chaplain and bishop. Referring to the military servicemen and women whom we would serve he said, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Some of our “kids” became instant family the moment we met. Others are taking a bit longer. Each is unique and precious. We love them all fiercely and deeply.

They are surely our sons and our daughters.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Someone once suggested that if we want to gain a greater understanding of the scriptures we should read them in a different language. 

The Book of Mormon has been fully translated into 90 languages, and sections of it have been translated into 26 more. Translations include major languages such as German, Spanish, French, and Chinese. But others venture into the obscure such as Papiamento, spoken almost nowhere else but on the Southern Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao; and Chamorro, spoken by only about 47,000 people on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

I’ve chosen Spanish. Mostly because we’re moving to Mexico after the mission and I want to get a jump start on learning the language of my new adopted country. But also because it draws me closer to Maria, a young Hispanic Navy wife I’ve come to love as a daughter.

Maria and I started this ambitious reading project last September. With the press of life’s distractions, family duties, and the potential for waning enthusiasm I didn’t dare hope we’d make it out of First Nephi (the first of fifteen books that make up The Book of Mormon, like the books of the Bible). But here we are in July, nearly finished with the entire volume of scripture.

Five days a week I am greeted at her door and invited in to read El Libro de Mormon with her. She patiently corrects my halting gringo pronunciation. I try not to mentally translate every word in my head as I read but instead let the words full of ripe, delicious consonants and plump vowels flow into my consciousness, like nectar pouring over my head. I get the gist of most of it and my vocabulary is getting stronger. Repetition helps, too. The Book of Mormon lexicon consists of scores of words and phrases that appear in many of the individual chapters, and even many versus within each chapter: Y aconteció (And it came to pass), las palabras de Dios (the words of God), sobre la faz de la tierra (upon the face of the earth), guarder los mandamientos de Dios (to keep the commandments of God). To help prepare I read our daily selection that morning at home in both English and Spanish. Then, when we read together just in Spanish the words seem to take on a life of their own and need no translation. I can feel their meaning.

Occasionally I run across a word in Spanish that conveys a different nuance compared to its English cousin. The imagery in Spanish is often richer, fuller, more exact. For example,
Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life. (3 Nephi 15:9)
The same sentence in Spanish,
Mirad hacia mí, y perseverad hasta el fin, y viveréis; porque al que persevere hasta el fin, le daré vida eterna.
Notice the Spanish word in the last sentence, perseverad, corresponds to the English word endure. I think the Spanish word conveys the Savior’s intent for us in this sentence better than the English word. It looks and feels a lot like our English word persevere, and indeed enduring and persevering are similar, but differ in an important way.

When I think of enduring something, I imagine hunkering down and waiting it out until the storm is over. One dictionary definition of endure suggests just that: “to bear without resistance or with patience; tolerate; hold out against; to continue to exist; suffer patiently”. This white-knuckling, holding-your-breath, keeping-your-head-down through adversity, or even just the daily grind, is a passive way of dealing with life. We merely emotionally and spiritually hole up somewhere and ride out our existence until the dust finally settles and “the end” shows up. It implies no more courage or action from us than crawling into a bomb shelter and waiting for the “all clear”.

Another definition of endure, to “sustain without impairment or yielding”, conjures up an image of a man leaning against a boulder to keep it from rolling over him and crashing on down the mountain. He can’t hope to make any forward progress pushing the boulder up the slope. It’s all he can do just to keep from being squashed by his burden. But he’s enduring. Sweating and straining, he’s not yielding to the force of gravity that wants to turn him into a human pancake.

To persevere, on the other hand, means to put one foot in front of the other every day no matter how far away the horizon, how high the mountain, or how scary the path through the dark forest. It takes a certain amount of courage and fortitude to “persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly”. It implies accomplishment at the end, something won, a character enhanced, a life enriched. Persevering is a brave and active behavior. There is nothing passive about persisting, continuing steadfastly, or purposefully moving forward past obstacles.

The meaning in Spanish conveys what I believe God really intends for His children. It took a fair amount of courage for us in the pre-Earth life to perseverad in standing up for Jehovah’s plan and against Lucifer’s massive effort to win souls to his side. All of us did persevere so faithfully that in the end “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7) when we learned we’d earned the privilege of gaining a body and coming to Earth. Now we’re here trying to summon an even greater courage to face a mortal lifetime of challenges both great and small. This requires we continue to perseverad, not merely endure. 

We are surrounded by examples of and opportunities to perseverad hasta el fin: finishing and excelling at our education, serving with dedication a full-time mission, cultivating a lasting and loving marriage, raising responsible children, thriving through the long Navy deployments, and even reading El Libro de Mormon. One verse at a time. Patiently. Persistently. Until we’ve finished all 642 pages.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Suicidal Marriage that Lived

“I want a divorce.”

The words hung suspended in the air like an executioner’s blade just before it falls and severs an unwilling neck.

Where did this come from? Our marriage had the flu, not a terminal disease. It certainly didn’t require euthanasia. Or so I thought.

A litany of grievances poured forth out of him and into my stunned and disbelieving silence: a chronology of hurt, bruised feelings, neglect, and wounded ego. His complaints were a suicide attempt aimed at drawing attention to our marriage’s cry for help. I forced myself to listen without comment, mentally drumming my fingers on the table, impatient to interrupt him with reasonable counter arguments.

He wasn’t making any sense, I thought. But I kept quiet and listened. There were no vices, no addictions, no interest in other women. Life as a recluse away from female company, of any kind, was simply preferable to being married to me. The landscape of our years together was crevassed and pitted as far as the eye could see with long separations for work, military service, and school. Perhaps these had exacted their final toll.

His discontent at last vented, he sank back into the kitchen chair, grim resignation etched in his face.

“None of these are good enough reasons to get a divorce.” My words fell slowly, deliberately into the chilly space between us. Now is not the time to panic, I reminded myself. We’ve had rough patches before, although not like this. “But they are all really good reasons to see a marriage counselor.”

As soon as I said these words, and throughout the ensuing days and weeks, I knew if I gave the seed of divorce a chance to grow in our minds, like the weeds in our garden, it would greedily take root and flourish, eventually crowding out and choking off any tender feelings of love and commitment that, however dormant, still remained. And I was certain they were there, buried somewhere under the 30 years we had invested in this marriage. Moreover, there was still a future, an eternity, to be a couple. We had a history together; that was worth something, wasn’t it? I couldn’t bear to simply toss it in the trash bin. We really did love each other once but I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that love warm my soul. Where did it go? What happened to the adoration, the tenderness, the confidence we used to have for the other? These days we wrapped ourselves in a multitude of petty resentments which were selfishly easier to harbor and feed than abandon. What was once wonderful about our relationship was now ordinary and stale…and for my husband, painful enough to leave.

Our marriage had atrophied from compassion to convenience. Predictable domestic routine had long ago replaced solicitous romance. I convinced myself that I could live with this condition because the marriage still meant financial security, social stability, and companionship. Sure, things were far from perfect but I was content to cling to this much. The alternative was to start over with someone else or live alone, both prospects fraught with more risk than I could stomach.

His words made clear that afternoon at the kitchen table he no longer loved me. Yet his eyes could not conceal a strangled, tired, worn down, and disenfranchised love. I still loved him, even if only out of a sense of duty rather than seeing him as the most important person in my life.

Clearly our bond had devolved from devoted companions to disinterested roommates. In the place where love once incubated and sprouted, apathy crept over all like a rank fungus. Heedless of the insidious warning signs, we had done nothing to hinder our love’s demise. It was only a matter of time before one of us found the arrangement completely unsatisfying and wanted out. It just happened to be him.

We agreed on three things. First, our marriage was in trouble and was worth saving, but we needed help to fix it. We’d go to marriage counseling and give an honest effort to follow through with whatever counseling prescribed. Second, until marriage counseling had run its course we would operate under the assumption we would stay married. Neither of us would speak the “D” word or consider divorce as a contingency plan during the weeks of counseling. Third, God would play a major role in the healing. We couldn’t do this by ourselves and no marriage counselor in the world can duplicate our Heavenly Father’s balm of peace and hope and power to change hearts. We would redouble our efforts to draw closer to Him through worship and prayer, both together as a couple and individually.

Improvement came gradually, sometimes grudgingly. But it did come. The difficult, sometimes tearful, initial weeks turned into months, then years. The suicidal marriage survived.

And I am so grateful it did because it was not until serving this mission with my husband, the near-suicide of our union fading in the rearview mirror, that I discovered what I believe to be God’s chief purpose for marriage: to make us holy even more than to make us happy.  

If God’s plan for us as His children is to become as He is, to live with Him, to achieve our highest potential by gaining all that He has then we have a lot of work to do given our current imperfect, mortal, and fallen state. It’s quite impossible for us to live up to our divine heritage, in fact, without the expiation for our shortcomings provided through Jesus Christ’s atonement. The atonement gets us the rest of the way home after we’ve done our best here in mortality. And it’s a good thing, too, because God set the bar very high for us when we left our heavenly home. In order to qualify to live in the same realm with Him when we leave this veil of tears, we have to become like Him. We have to acquire the attributes of love, charity, longsuffering, patience, mercy – you get the idea – that He has.

This is where marriage comes in.

Where else but in marriage do we really learn how to love another more than we love ourselves – everyday, all day, for a lifetime, even when our partner isn’t always lovable, even when it is not convenient? Where else but in marriage can we hone the traits of mercy, patience, sacrifice, longsuffering, humility, service, charity, and the discipline of true discipleship? Marriage is the best university for  acquiring this degree. It is the best institution for learning to become like God, for becoming holy. The fact that happiness is one of the byproducts of striving for holiness is a divinely added dividend.

On this mission, as we’ve worked to align our desires and actions with God’s we’ve also discovered miraculous changes in our depth of love and compassion, greater than our marriage has ever experienced. Certainly there are challenges we face every day. We are not naïve to think the road gets easier the longer we travel it. Forces relentlessly work to tear our marriage apart, to plant seeds of discontent, to whisper that we’ve grown apart. Our commitment to each other is constantly being put to the test. But in facing each new challenge with forgiveness, acceptance, and respect the marriage seems to be getting stronger, more resilient, more infused with tender, caring love. Behaviors that used to annoy no longer command the attention they once did, and thus seem shrunken in their demand for resentment. I see my husband with my soul, not just my eyes.

The lessons I’ve learned about marriage here in Florida have not been my doing alone. I had a little help from others, including some fine authors who know a lot more about marriage than I do. In the hope that what I have learned may help others, allow me to recommend my latest reading list. Even after 37 years in my role as wife, the message in these books has changed my connubial default setting:

Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make us Happy. Gary Thomas, 2008.

The Peacegiver. James L. Ferrell, 2004.

Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness. James L. Ferrell, 2012.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, 2009.

Each day I am profoundly grateful our suicidal marriage stepped away from that ledge and lived…
… and is still learning.