Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: marriage

No longer alone

It was a small wedding, just a few of our family and friends. I remember that we barely made it to the church on time and I remember when we signed our marriage certificate. My meory doesn’t seem to have recorded anything else, but that’s the important stuff anyway – we were there and we got married. Later that afternoon we left to spend our honeymoon at Lake Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park. In the middle of our first night together Chris woke up, startled and a little disoriented, saying, “I just dreamed that we were married!.”

We’ve been living that dream for almost 48 years now. Like most dreams, it has had twists and turns when we wondered how it would turn out. Now we’re old folks and still together.

They tell you that two become one when you marry. They don’t tell you (or maybe I just wasn’t listening when it was told) how hard it will be to change the old habits of singlehood. As a bachelor, I had washed dishes when I had nothing left to cook with or eat from. Socks and shirts stayed where they dropped when I took them off. Every couple weeks I would go round the house, gather my dirty clothes and take them to the laundromat. I kind of knew my bride wouldn’t be charmed by those old habits,  but they died hard.

I wanted a Christian home, but had little idea what that might involve. The first night after we settled into our home in Sperling, Chris told me she wanted us to read the Bible and pray together. That is, she wanted me to take the lead in doing it. I resisted, she insisted. Once begun it became a practice that has continued to this day.

Chris had finished Grade 11 when living at Kelliher with her uncle. Now she enrolled in Grade 12 in Carman, the second town west of Sperling and caught the school bus early each morning.  That didn’t last long. Being a newcomer and the only married person in the class left her out of the social whirl of school. She decided that she had more important things to do at home.

Before we were married, I tried teaching her to drive my pickup truck. It had a standard transmission with the shift lever on the steering column. We drove out of Belle Plaine onto Highway Number One, the Trans-Canada, and I sat close beside her to coach. This was easier back in the days before seat belts and bucket seats. An RCMP officer stopped us and asked what was happening. Chris showed her learner’s permit and I my driver’s license and explained that I was trying to coach a driver who was unfamiliar with manual transmissions. He was a nice guy, he didn’t snicker or give us a ticket, just suggested that Chris might manage better if I didn’t sit so close.

Now that we were settled down, she enrolled in Driver’s Ed in Carman. I had traded the pickup for a car with automatic transmission and soon she was able to do the grocery shopping while I was at work.

Chris had never heard of Mennonites before she met me, but decided that if I wanted to be a Mennonite she did too. There were Mennonite churches of various kinds within a 15 or 20 minute drive from Sperling. I didn’t know much about any of them and stalled at trying to find out. One day I came home from work and my young bride informed me that she had talked to a minister at Lowe Farm, a town straight south of us, and we had an invitation to go and visit him and his wife.

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A new course in life

If you’ve followed me this far you have no doubt gathered that I wasn’t a romantic kind of guy. I had strong emotional feelings, but I woud have been horribly embarrassed if anyone got a glimpse of them. Circumstances told to me that now I needed to do something to let my bride-to-be know how I felt about her.

So I sat down and wrote my very first love letter. I quoted some lines from a song by the Bee Gees that was popular at the time: “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away,” and tried to put my feelings into words. I don’t remember writing any more letters, mostly we talked. That meant collect phone calls from Chris to me. I didn’t call her, since her uncle would have answered the phone and that wasn’t what I wanted.

As for the suspicions that some farmers may have harboured, it seemed best to me to just carry on without saying anything more. I had done nothing wrong and I had been careful not to accuse the former manager of wrongdoing. That proved to be the right course of action, as everything went well from then on.

It took several months for it to dawn on me that something had changed in my life. I was no longer turned off by Christian radio broadcasts, there were a couple that I began to listen to regularly. I bought some Christian books. I read more about Mennonite history.

I had always considered the “born again” thing to be a sham. The people I had known who claimed to be born again were no more honest than anyone else. They boasted of a elationship with God, but their attitude of superiority towards other people was not attractive. Now my life had taken a turn, and it had happened at the time I prayed for forgiveness. Was that change what Jesus meant by being born again? I concluded it was.

At that time grain elevators often shut down for the first two weeks of August. The managers would take their vacation and return refreshed to start receiving deliveries for the new crop that would be harvested after mid-August. Chris and I set Saturday, August 1, 1970 for our wedding date and began planning.

Where were we going to get married? What minister would we ask? Neither of us had any church affiliation, I was a lapsed Anglican. Chris’s family was one that said, “If anyone asks, say we belong to the United Church,” but they never actually attended that or any other church.

It happened that Reverend Ken Vickers was now the minister at Saint Barnabas Anglican church in Moose Jaw where my parents attended. Mom asked him and he said he would be happy to do the honours. I was happy to see him again.  We had a counselling session or two with him to help us grasp the importance of the step we were about to take.

Chris has an older brother and four younger sisters, they all lived with their parents. Chris had been with her aunt and uncle ever since a health scare in early childhood caused by neglect. By this time I had met her brother and two of her sisters, but not her parents. Since Chris was only 17, her real father was going to have to give his permission for her to marry. Chris approached him with some trepidation, but he signed.

I asked Joe Zagozeski to be my best man and Chris asked her friend Sandy Carson to be bridesmaid. We were all set, all we needed to do now was get to the church on time.

Belle Plaine, continued

My prescription for the heart pills ran out about as soon as I got settled in Belle Plaine. The doctor who had originally prescribed them had retired in the meantime so I saw Doctor Gass. He flatly refused to renew the prescription. I thought I needed it and tried to argue with him. “You don’t need them,” he told me and that was that. I guess he was right, that was over 50 years ago and I’ve managed quite well without them. Somewhat later I figured out that Phenobarb wasn’t a heart medication anyway.

That ended the problem with being able to drink alcoholic beverages. I tried just about every variety of alcoholic drink and liked them all. This was thankfully before the days when recreational drugs were so readily available, or I might have tried them, too.

It was at Belle Plaine that someone suggested taking an antihistamine for my allergy problems. I have been taking them ever since and they make a difference. They haven’t made my problems go away, but they have enabled me to cope, most of the time.

In January of 1967 there was a two week training session for new UGG elevator managers in Winnipeg. We were put up in one of the better downtown hotels, just a few blocks from UGG headquarters. One morning we were given a tour of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Our tour guide was none other than Bill Parrish, president of Parrish & Heimbecker, one of our competitors. He was also chairman of the grain exchange at that time and not many years older than I was.

Joe and I had spent the night in the bar and it was around midnight when we arrived back in Belle Plaine one night. We weren’t ready to call it a day, so when we saw a light in Bill and Wilma Paskaruk’s house we went and banged on the door. They let us in and we sat around, drank coffee and made small talk.

As we were leaving I turned and blurted out “Someday I am going to be a Mennonite and wear a beard!” I was just as shocked at that revelation as my friends were. Where did it come from?

I had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol, yet I knew this was not some drunken whimsy. My memory of that moment is crystal clear and I knew it was somehow connected to the thoughts that had been tumbling around in my mind.

As I mulled that over I decided the time had come to visit a Mennonite church. I searched the phone book and discovered there was a Mennonite church on the west side of Regina. I drove by the church the next time I was in Regina and checked the time for worship services. A Sunday or two later I got up early, dressed for church and drove into Regina. I was impressed by the simple form of worship, but found that I was invisible. I walked into that church, sat down in a pew just before the service began and walked out when it was over and nobody seemed to notice. I went again the next Sunday, with the same result. That was the end of that little experiment, I decided to try again some other time, some other place.

There were thousands of wooden grain elevators in the Western Canada grain belt. But trucks were getting bigger, able to haul more grain over longer distances, and the days of  small elevators were numbered. In January of 1969, at a district meeting in Regina I was informed that my elevator was being closed. I would be going back to being a helper until something else opened up. For the next two months I was located in Markinch, north of the Qu’Appelle Valley, again with an older manager who would soon be retiring.

I made frequent weekend trips back to Moose Jaw, with stops in Belle Plaine to visit Christine. At the beginning of March I was told that an elevator manager in Sperling, Manitoba had suffered a heart attack and I was to go there and take his place. Facing the prospect of 400 miles between us, Chris and I began making marriage plans.

Moving on, or pressing on

I really thought that spring would be here in just a day or two. The sun shone warmly on Saturday, the few patches of snow left were becoming smaller and smaller, we heard of birds coming back to a place just a few hours south of us.

Alas, it was but a dream. We awoke Sunday to a thick covering of fresh snow and rapidly cooling temperatures. Today the wind is blowing fiercely, cleaning the snow from open places and packing it into firm drifts in other places. The forecast doesn’t offer any hope of warmer weather until the 21st when spring officially begins.

No wonder the Romans named this month after Mars, their god of war. Many of the worst blizzards I have experienced arrived without warning during this month.

Wouldn’t it be better to live in a part of the world that never has winter? That sounds like a good idea on days like today. But – I have visited Arkansas and Mississippi at the end of March, when the weather was beautiful and I don’t know how I could survive a summer in those places. Besides, winter provides us with an all natural, ecologically safe barrier to things like fire ants, brown recluse spiders, Burmese pythons and other such creatures. Tornado season here is much shorter and less destructive.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I am accustomed to the hazards of living in this climate and know how to cope with the unpleasant aspects of it. If I moved somewhere else to avoid those issues, would I know how to cope with unfamiliar and unexpected aspects of the new locale?

A Saskatchewan politician visiting in British Columbia once said “A lot of Saskatchewan people move to B.C. because of the climate. Most of them move back because of the weather.” My father-in-law was one. He got so depressed by week after week of clouds, rain, and no sunshine in B.C. that he came back to Saskatchewan.

I think that applies to other aspects of our life. Someone grows frustrated in his job, his marriage, his church, the place he lives, and thinks a change will make things better. (I used the masculine pronouns because that is what I am and what I am most familiar with, not to imply that persons on the feminine side may not have the same temptations.) Most often the result is not what was anticipated.

Often a person will explain the change in one of these relationships by his need to get away from persons who are causing him trouble. Oddly enough, the same kind of persons, causing the same problems, are usually found in the next job, church, town, or marriage. And the next one after that.

If we take an honest look at ourselves, we are apt to find we have a full time job looking after the troubles caused by our own attitudes and actions. If we occupy ourselves with that, we will usually be quite content to stay where we are.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to move on, other than discontent with the people we have to do with. My wife and I tried out a number of churches years ago. We met a lot of fine people, but not the spiritual fellowship that we longed for. We have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 37 years now. That doesn’t mean we have found nicer people, or better people, it just means that we are content that we are where God wants us to be.

Here in the Swanson congregation we have been trying for over a year to decide what to do about our aging church building. Such a situation provides endless possibilities for conflict. But it also creates possibilities for confession and apology when attitudes and words have been uncharitable. It feels like this process is drawing us closer together.

My way is the best

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. My mother had a huge garden, producing enough potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and other veggies to last all year. The potatoes and carrots went into large bins in our cool cellar. Other veggies, fruits and meats were canned in glass jars. She bought flour in 100 lb bags and kept us supplied with bread, buns, cinnamon rolls and pies. The garden also produced strawberries and raspberries that she turned into jam and cucumbers that she turned into pickles. No matter what the time of year, there was food on hand.

At canning time the local grocery store had peaches, pears, cherries and other fruits; at other times there might occasionally be apples or bananas, and at Christmas time there were always mandarin oranges. Usually, there was not much n the way of meat, vegetables and fruit that we didn’t have at home.

Not much has changed. Rural people have freezers now, probably two or three, the ideal is still to be as self-sufficient in food supplies as possible. That’s the right way to do things isn’t it?

Then we moved to Montréal. There we observed that many people bought fresh bread, fruits and veggies every morning for the day’s meals. That seemed wasteful to this prairie boy – until I considered things from their point of view. They were getting fresher, better tasting, more nutritious food in every meal. Very little was wasted.

Yet it cost more – or did it? What about the cost of all the canning supplies? What about the cost of the freezers, the freezer bags, the electricity? How much of what is preserved gets wasted? Sometimes things get lost in the freezer and when they are found nobody wants to eat them anymore.

Which way is really best? Well, people in rural ares still don’t have much choice but to do what they’ve always done. But in Montréal, with fresh food available in the markets year round, the ways of rural Saskatchewan don’t seem like the only right way any more. Still, old habits and attitudes are hard to shake.

I also grew up thinking that when a young woman married it was absolutely necessary that she take her husband’s family name. I was in for another shock when we moved to Montréal. In Québec my wife was once more Christine Vance. How could that be right? That’s an attack on the very fibre of society, isn’t it?

Yet all that really changed was the name on her drivers license and some other official documents. She was as much my wife as before. That got me thinking: family names are a fairly recent invention. Iceland still does not have family names that pass from one generation to the next. When Olaf Nelsen and Brunhild Carlsdottir marry, their names do not change.When they have children, they will be known as something like Sven Olafsen and Helga Olafsdottir.

There are many countries where it never has been the custom for a woman to change her name when she marries. Many Hispanic countries give both last names to children, such as a doctor we once knew in Moose Jaw, Isabelita Joven y Bienvenido. So which way is right? The Bible gives no instruction on this matter. When Rebecca married Isaac, she did not become Rebecca ben Abraham did she? Best to just follow the custom of the country where we live. We will need to make many changes when we move from one culture to another, there is no need to take on the added burden of trying to change the culture.

What constitutes marriage? Thinking of Isaac and Rebecca again, there was no wedding ceremony, no official documents sent to the department of vital statistics. We are simply told that Isaac loved his wife.

Hundreds of years ago, Roman Catholics accused Anabaptists of not being married and went from there to accusing them of all kinds of immoral practices. It was true that in many lands at that time Anabaptists were not legally married. The only legally recognized marriage was that performed by a Roman Catholic priest. Can we imagine a young couple coming to a priest in a time of persecution and saying “We’re not going to attend mass or allow you to baptize our babies, but we want you to marry us”?

Anabaptist couples still considered themselves to be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of their congregations. According to them, the essence of marriage was their commitment to each other before God. Isn’t that still the essential point?

Exchanging vows before a minister of the gospel, with a multitude of family and friends as witnesses, is a wonderful thing. But it is not a guarantee of a marriage that will endure the stresses that will come. Changing the bride’s last name, putting a ring on her finger, creating a photographic record, none of these are guarantees either.

A deep, settled commitment to God and to one another is the one thing that will create a foundation that will enable them to overcome the challenges and disappointments that will come their way.

Outward forms may differ from culture to culture and from one era to another. The way I do things, the way my parent have taught, is not the only right way to do things. If, beneath the superficial differences of outward customs, there is a submission to the will of God, we will find the way that is safe and sure.

Two shall become one

– But it’s easier said than done.

On Sunday, before God and 500 witnesses in our country church, a young man and a young woman said their vows, joined hands and were declared husband and wife. Our little church could not possibly hold 500 people, even with chairs in the aisles and all the way back to the doors. The rest of us sat outside in a large tent where we could peer at the open doors and get a small idea of what was going on inside. There was a speaker in the tent and the sound quality was excellent, except when it cut out for short periods of time for no discernible reason.  No matter, they are now married and embarked on a whole new adventure in life.

Marriage has unexpected consequences. It shows up things in our spouse, and ourself, that we were not aware of before. My wife found that the cool, laid back guy she married was pretty much a slob around the house. Dirty clothes were left wherever they landed when they came off. That was no problem in my single days, I would just sweep through the house on laundry day, gather them all up, sort them and wash them. That wasn’t so cool when there were two people in the house. As a bachelor, washing dishes was a once a week event. I had just enough dishes that there was no need to do it more often.

On the other hand, it seemed to me that when we planned to go somewhere my wife would start to get ready about the time I wanted to walk out the door. Then I would find something else to do while she was getting ready and when she was all set, she had to wait on me to do some last minute thing.

Before we married, we were both independent, with our own way of doing things. We found that it can’t be business as usual when two people are trying to build a life together. Things have to change. And change is not something that happens smoothly, naturally and effortlessly, even if you are very much in love. Sooner or later, you fall back into the old routine. How soon that happens often comes as a shock to your spouse.

We each had our mental picture of what our ideal wife or husband would be like. So when we found that the person we married didn’t really match that picture, we set about to help them change to better match our ideal. That is not the recipe for a peaceful and happy home. It took a long, long time, but eventually it dawned on me that the only person I could ever hope to change was myself.

Sometimes we learn from a bad example. At meal time during my childhood I occasionally heard my father say: “That doesn’t taste like mother used to make it.” I resolved that when I got married I would never say that.

Little by little, I have learned some of the things that my parents never taught me and I never heard in the churches I attended in my youth. There were things the preacher said at the wedding on Sunday that I wish I could have heard before I got married. But we were in a totally different setting; neither of us came from a home where we had the example this young couple had in their homes. Yet our marriage has survived for 46 years and we have the joy of being grandparents. There is so much joy that we would have forfeited if we had thrown in the towel during the rough spots.

 

Did King Solomon hate women?

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Ecclesiastes 7:27-28

This sounds like a pretty severe indictment of women, doesn’t it? Yet this is the same man who in another place wrote: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22), and also:  “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

How could the same man write with such negativity about women in one place, and with such fulsome approval in other places?

The only way that I can make any sense of this is to remember that the book of Ecclesiastes is the memoir of a man who had accomplished great things in his life, and now looking back sees the vanity of it all. Then he comes to counting up his wives and concubines, there were a thousand all told, he realizes that not one is a bosom companion that he can safely trust. Here too he has missed the mark.

The book of Ecclesiastes should be read as a lengthy confession and repentance, leading up to this realization: ” Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)..

What is marriage?

The first marriage took place between Adam and Eve. There was no certificate issued, no record in the government bureau of vital statistics and no ceremony, there having been a notable lack of preachers and witnesses at the time. Nevertheless, a precedent and a principle were established: ” Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Another notable example from the Old Testament is the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. This was an arranged marriage, but if we follow the account closely, it is evident that it was God who did the arranging. And when the two finally met: “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:67). Here again there were no ceremonies or formalities, yet a monogamous relationship was established that lasted a lifetime.

Nowadays governments find it necessary to record and govern every major event in our lives, including marriage and divorce. In most cases God is not involved and the results bear little resemblance to the relationship between Adam and Eve, or Isaac and Rebekah. More than 100 years ago, a leader in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite wrote: “Circumstances arise in the world which cannot be governed on the gospel basis of marriage” (John Holdeman, Mirror of Truth, page 414).

I doubt that brother Holdeman could have imagined the circumstances around us in the 21st Century. Yet there are people who have grown up in these circumstances, become thoroughly entangled in the chaos and confusion of the present era, and then turn to God. They get converted and then want to regularize their family situation so they can have a truly Christian home. This raises many questions. As Christians, we cannot recognize everything that the world calls marriage, whether religious, civil or common law; nor can we recognize everything that the world calls divorce. Neither can we make a one size fits all rule for these circumstances, for often they occurred while the persons involved were quite ignorant of God’s perfect will for their lives.

There was a lengthy period in the history of the Anabaptist people when they could not be legally married. The only marriage that was recognized by most European nations was a marriage performed by the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, had the Anabaptists wished to have their marriages legally recognized, they would have put their lives in peril by identifying themselves to a priest. Anabaptist brethren of that era considered the wedding vows made in their circles to be sacred, but since their ceremonies had no legal standing this led to many scurrilous, and untrue, accusations from the priests.

In their defence, Anabaptists made statements such as the following: “That marriage properly consists in the consent or agreement of union between man and woman” (Martyrs Mirror, page 346, part of the confession of three brethren executed at Norwich, England in 1428).

This is a return to first principles. It is good for wedding ceremonies to be public affairs, but those who witness the making of the vows should consider themselves bound to support the couple in being faithful to their vows. This commitment of a man and woman to one another is the essence of Christian matrimony and is the thing to be looked for when considering the situation of those who began married life in questionable circumstance.

Unintended consequences of cataract surgery

I called my cousin Rose Friday evening. She’s actually the widow of my cousin Ron, but I don’t think cousin-in-law is a word. Anyway, I’ve known her all my life so I just call her my cousin. Ron died three years ago at the age of 91. Rose will hit that mark next month. She had a mini stroke in December and uses a walker now, but sounds just as upbeat as ever.

I mentioned that I was going to have cataract surgery on my right eye in a few days. “That’s nothing to worry about. There’s nothing to it. Ron and I both had it done and we were very happy with the results.”

Then she added, “Except that after Ron had his eyes done, he looked at me and said, ‘I never knew you had so many lines on your face!'”

I’m sure he said it with a smile. They were happily married for 64 years.

Now she tells me, or, Why didn’t I ask?

My wife and I pulled into a parking spot at a fast food restaurant a few weeks ago. There was an empty space to our right and another empty space in front of that one. Just as I was about to get out, my wife said “It’s going to hit us!” I felt a bump and saw a car proceeding forward through the empty space and leaving the scene. I recognized the make and model of the car and my wife took down the license plate number.We were on our way to a little celebration later that evening, the damage was just a couple of scratches on the door, so I didn’t report the accident right away.

I was looking in the other direction and didn’t see the beginning of this incident. Since I saw the other car moving forward, I assumed that the car had come from behind and bumped us as it attempted to pull into the space beside us. I assumed that I had all the information needed and later filed a hit and run report with the police and a claim with the insurance company.

Last night over supper, my wife informed me that the other car was attempting to back into the parking space, evidently felt the bump, changed direction and left. We hadn’t really talked about the accideent before, we had other things on our mind that evening. We just looked at the door, saw that there was no major damage and proceeded with our plans for the evening.

I realize now that my wife saw the whole thing happen and I didn’t. My mind just filled in what seemed to be the most likely sequence of events. My wife assumed that I had seen what she had seen. As soon as she filled in the missing detail, which I hadn’t even realized was missing, everything made a lot more sense.

This got me to wondering — how many misunderstandings and arguments are the result of one person not having all the information, yet being absolutely positive that he does?

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