A popular song of my day claimed that Catalina was the island of romance. I laughed at that silly notion. I was going there to learn more about the Bible and witnessing, not for romance. But God had a surprise for me.
Near the end of the summer month of Christian training, our college group hiked over hilly terrain to the beaches of Avalon to witness. As I struggled up a steep slope, Milt, a student from my campus, took my hand and helped me up the trail.
One year later, I took Milt’s hand again — this time in marriage. That was fifty years ago. As we’ve journeyed hand in hand together, God has guided and strengthened our relationship. Looking back, we can see His hand of love throughout the seasons of our marriage.
“You make a cute couple,” a teacher at our daughter’s high school recital said after the program. “I want a marriage like yours.”
We thanked her and then looked at each other. We knew it wasn’t Milt’s balding head or my plain-Jane appearance that prompted her compliment. Perhaps she noticed us holding hands and saw the joy we shared during our daughter’s performance. But we knew the real source went deeper.
I wrote a note to the teacher. Drawing a triangle with the point on top, I jotted my name by one lower corner and Milt’s by the other. At the triangle’s peak, I wrote God. I explained that as Milt and I drew closer to God, we also drew closer to each other.
Twelve years later, our son had finished college and was getting married. “Do you have any marriage tips?” he asked. I gave him Ephesians 4:26: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (ESV). Milt and I had applied that verse many times throughout our marriage, making sure we resolved quarrels before going to sleep.
I remember one night when Milt did something that upset me. I slipped into bed and built an invisible wall between us. Icy silence replaced our usual friendly chit-chat. Restless and unable to sleep, I prayed, “God, what does Milt need from me?”
“Unconditional love,” the Holy Spirit quickly prompted. As I lay awake, rehashing Milt’s bad behavior and justifying mine, God’s Spirit softened my heart and nudged me to apologize.
Finally, I rolled over, tapped Milt on the shoulder, and said, “Honey, my attitude was wrong. Will you forgive me?” My peacemaker husband asked forgiveness too.
The wall crumbled. We hugged and slept peacefully, again experiencing the truth that “a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” But we knew it was God who helped us forgive each other.
Keeping love alive
After my husband’s cataract surgery, he needed drops in his eyes four times a day. As instructed, he kept his eyes closed for a minute after each drop. During that time, I’d kiss him and tease, “Guess who’s kissing you.”
One day when our three-year-old granddaughter visited, she wanted to play along with us and take turns kissing Grandpa while his eyes were shut. The next time we saw her, she asked me, “Are you still kissing Grandpa?” I assured her I was.
I smiled, too, knowing “love is of God” (1 John 4:7) and that God’s love flowing through us to each other kept us kissing and holding hands.
Sustained in sickness
In my late fifties, I received shocking news of incurable cancer. Thankfully, it was treatable. This began a medical merry-go-round that shook our marriage and nearly took my life. My husband faithfully drove me to oncology appointments, chemotherapy treatments, and trips to the emergency room, where I wondered if I would return home. Milt chose to retire early to be there for me.
Since we weren’t certain we would make it to our fiftieth wedding anniversary, we planned a special fortieth anniversary party. Family and friends joined us to celebrate God’s love to us and our love for each other.
A decade after my devastating diagnosis, Milt developed serious life-changing medical problems, and I became his caregiver. Deeply saddened by his unexpected health prognosis, I added many tears to the bottles in heaven where God is storing them (Psalm 56:8). My motto became “kiss more and criticize less.”
Recently, I have been reading the book of Job to gain perspective on hardship and suffering. No matter how much Milt and I struggle, we have experienced little hardship compared to Job’s grief. His attitude in adversity inspires us. Although it’s not easy, we want to embrace Job’s outlook: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10, NIV); “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).
One day, as we walked arm-in-arm into church, a gentleman asked, “Still holding hands?”
“Yes,” I replied, “for forty-six years, and we hope for many more.”
Now with arthritic knees, we not only express love by holding hands, we literally hold each other up (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10). As we age, God’s hand of love continues to fortify our relationship, and He helps us deepen our love. At medical appointments, when Milt’s doctors ask him if he has fallen lately, he always replies, “Not that kind of fall. Only falling more in love with my wife.”
In our seventies, we have decided to consider this season of life as our second honeymoon and do fun things together as often as possible. After our grandkids heard this, one of them asked, “What did you do on your honeymoon today?”
“We had a pillow fight,” I replied. Perhaps we are in our second childhood. And sometimes I say to Milt, “Come sit by me, because we still make a cute couple.”
I’m glad I took Milt’s hand years ago. He continues to help me up the steep slopes of life as we journey together hand-in-hand with God.
Lydia E. Harris writes from Lake Forest Park, WA.