We were both shy of being 21, but only by months. It was January 2, 1978. I instantly regretted being talked into wearing a white suit because black is way more slimming. Besides, I look like I belong behind the wheel of a Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am instead of being at a marriage altar with that blonde.
You don’t care about the details. You’re here for the stories. So am I. And I’m not really in the business of telling love stories, but you know LTW began as a “legacy project” and this is a monumental part of my legacy – my marriage to a girl I started dating when we were both 18. That picture of us is day 3 of our dating. It was the summer – July 4th to be exact – of 1975. I was done. Smitten. By the way, that’s a straw in my mouth. Again, I should have been wearing black, but it was a hot summer day in Oklahoma so I opted for lighter colors. A dumb, dumb choice!
As much as I’d like to make this about me – or us, this couple pictured above – I think I’ll go on record for the umpteenth time to express my love of the girl I married, Rhonda. Then I’ll veer into more general wisdom talk – talk of the power of a spouse, the value of marriage and how a man and a woman can benefit each other more and more over time through mutual commitment and love.
2018 was a challenging year for us, as it may have been for many of you. Some of you endured health hardships. Others financial burdens. Some experienced the dissolution of their marriage. Still, others got married. It’s all that “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” thing.
I confess that 2018 was a ridiculously pivotal year in many ways for me professionally. I made some serious decisions to take my career in a new direction. I’ve talked about that at GrowGreat.com so you can always go check that out if you care. Making such a pivot isn’t easy. But it’s exciting.
Personally, Rhonda and I faced some personal challenges that we’ve never faced before. We’re still standing together though, arm in arm and hand in hand. Because from the moment we began to date, we were committed to each other. After that first date, neither of us ever dated anybody else. From July 2, 1975, through yesterday, January 2, 2019, we’ve been a couple. Funny the wisdom you can exercise when you’re just 17. It was clearly a decision I got right. Her? Well, that’s quite debatable. If that girl pictured had known what she was in for, she may have made better choices. But I’m glad she committed. There hasn’t been a day pass that I’ve not been devoted to earning her respect and making her happy. I don’t succeed as often as I’d like, but my commitment is sure. I love her more today than I did in either of those pictures and that’s saying something because I was very in love in both of those photos.
We’re weathered and worn today, but life does that. We know so much more. We’ve seen so much more. Wisdom has never been deeper for us, often coming at a price we’d preferred not to pay. Such is life.
The Power Of A Spouse
Through the years I’ve sat down with many couples asking me to help them sort through a variety of problems. As a leader in a local church, it just goes with the role. Knowledge, wisdom and experience have taught me the power of a spouse, but I can’t speak of it (or even think of it) without recognizing the biggest reason marriages struggle.
Nothing disrupts the power of two people enjoined together as husband and wife more. Nothing.
It’s the corruption behind every betrayal and disturbance. Selfishness. Self-centeredness. Self-absorption.
The power of a spouse is the power to put the needs, desires and wants of another person ahead of your own.
Nothing everybody is willing to do that. Or to sustain it over the long haul. The power of a spouse is evidence of the power of selflessness. Self-LESS-ness.
There’s nothing nearly as rewarding as I’ve found as putting the needs of somebody else before my own, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. And I’m not nearly as accomplished at it as I should be, or would like to be.
Rather, it feels mostly like failure to me. Because I have high expectations and I feel like I so often come up short of what I expect. It’s a single area where my dissatisfaction is rampantly out of control. Mostly I’m able to contain or manage my discontentment. But not when it comes to my wife. She and I have talked about this and it’s completely my fault, but I never feel like I get it quite right. I’m always coming up short. Missing the mark. And it’s not on her, it’s merely my strongest drive to hit the bull’s eye with each shot. But mostly I feel like I miss the target entirely. It’s the single biggest driver in my life when it comes to professional and personal ambitions. I’ve spent years looking at it, analyzing it and trying to figure it out. Decades into the search I can only report the fact of it. I don’t suspect anything will ever change it because I’m that committed to her. I don’t want to change it.
Perhaps the power of a spouse is that power to serve somebody else. And to have somebody willing to serve you. It’s not a score-keeping thing. It’s mutual. Neither of you keeps score because you’re trying hard to help each other. The score is joint. It’s the two of you together. Not separate.
A helping hand is always available when you’ve married the love of your life. Yet some of the loneliest people I know are married. To the love of their life? Well, I can’t be sure about that, but I suspect there is no loneliness quite like the loneliness inside a marriage. It’s sad. Sadder still because it’s completely preventable. Mostly spurred by the selfishness of one or both people. Unwilling to put the needs of their spouse in front of their own. Unwilling to bend or relent in always getting their way, having things go exactly to their liking. Gross immaturity wrecks the deal when people behave like a spoiled rotten 14-year-old. I’ve never understood why selfish people even bother with marriage. You’d think they’d simply move about freely to take full advantage of as many people as possible, but I suppose trying to have a single slave is appealing to them.
When you’ve been together as long as me and Rhonda there is so much history and context between us, and in our life together. It’s like compounding interest. It has grown through the years making our marriage more valuable. But like compounding interest, that’s only possible because we’ve both invested in this marriage. We’re committed.
So when we talk about the value of marriage we have to insert a qualifier – it hinges on your investment into the marriage. Like most things, it’s not automatic. Get married, enjoy a highly valuable happy marriage. Nope, won’t work. The value is found in the work you’re both willing to put into it.
“It shouldn’t be this difficult,” says the bride. She’s talking about a spat with her husband of 5 months (or 5 years). She’s wrong. Sometimes the husband makes a similar declaration. He’s wrong, too.
It should be that tough because it’s HIGHLY valuable. It’s worth it. People just don’t often understand how high the stakes are. Or how extraordinarily valuable it is to be in a great marriage. To be so closely tethered to another human being that you’d do anything to help them.
Most focus on the value of having somebody available for their needs and wants, but the bigger value is being available to help somebody else. To not have the focus on yourself. To be so preoccupied with the well-being of your spouse that you lose yourself. I’d love to tell you I’ve mastered that, but Rhonda would be the first to tell you that ain’t so. But I think she’d also quickly tell you she knows without a doubt how madly in love I am with her. She knows I’m committed to her welfare, even if I sometimes fail to fulfill what I most want for her. Thankfully, she’s patient while I try to figure it out. 😉
Time enhances and increases value. But only if you make the time count by working on yourself. YOU provide the value in the marriage.
That’s not a selfish YOU, but it’s YOU in the sense of who you most control. It’s YOU in that you must work on improving yourself. Your growth is key.
It’s not about making demands of your spouse. Or feverishly being intent on making them somebody you may want them to be. Instead, it’s about you working diligently to become the best version of yourself. And simultaneously working hard to help them become the best version of themselves…but it’s letting them drive their own life.
Black or white. It’s binary. On or off. Right or wrong. Yes, I know life is filled with gray, but in marriage, the commitment must be full or it may as well be null. You have to be all in, pot committed, going for broke. Your spouse must know it. Not merely hope for it. Or suspect it. But know deeply, without question or reservation, how true it is. It’s a level of reliance you can’t find in other relationship. Complete trust. Complete commitment to each other.
That’s a special human connection found nowhere else. It’s also a level of unsurpassed love.
I feel the same way Sir Winston felt. He was more articulate than I’ll ever be.
“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” – Winston Churchill
There is something special in that. The fact that he felt that way – and the fact that I feel the same way – displays how much we value our wives. Perhaps that’s key. Our ability to put a higher value on somebody other than ourselves. The years have taught me that anybody can do that, but too many just don’t. They refuse to make up their mind about it because they foolishly think if they’ll make it all about themselves, then their life will be enhanced. They miss the point of it all. And they miss out on the high value found in creating the GIFT, a great marriage.
It doesn’t mean things are perfect. It doesn’t mean the husband and wife are perfect. Rhonda nor I are perfect. Far from it. But we tolerate each other’s imperfections. We make fun of ourselves, and each other without malice. We can frustrate ourselves and each other. We fail each other more often than we’d like. But none of those things – and a host of other weaknesses we have – negatively impact us because those are not big things. The BIG THING is our devotion to each other. Our devotion to our united effort in making sure we protect, preserve and grow our marriage. We’re bigger together than either of us could ever hope to be by ourselves.
Yesterday – actually last night – marked 41 years since we both said, “I do.” Whatever wisdom we possessed – look at the kids in that picture, how wise could we have been? 😀 – we’re so many miles past that point now, today’s wisdom has no resemblance to our 1978 version of it. That’s how it should be. Growth in wisdom, growth in connection, growth in devotion, growth in love.
When Oprah introduced the world to Dr. Phil I recall hearing him talk to somebody about the difference in young love and old love. The difference in falling in love as kids, and being married many years. He said it better than I ever could in describing long-term love – the love like I have with Rhonda.
“It’s a comfortable place to fall.”
It instantly resonated with me and that was many years ago. But I often think of his description because it’s so accurate. So ridiculously valuable. So INVALUABLE.
But for a few small decisions and my life would be much, much less. Eighteen year old me got it right. Even a blind pig can find one every now and again.
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