May 2, 2017
Volume 9, Issue 1
30 Years and The Third Strand
It seems simply impossible that Sally and I were married 30 years ago today. We wed in a picturesque setting on an ivy-covered hillside in a Japanese teahouse in the backyard of my mother-in-law's Studio City home.
The yard itself was almost entirely a swimming pool which necessitated scuba divers coming in and building a scaffolded platform over three quarters of the pool. Guests enjoyed "nightclub" seating with candlelit tables on and around the pool.
The ceremony was full of music and people told us later it was the best wedding they had ever attended. I believe the reason the evening was so successful was that after we had done our due diligence in terms of preparations we "let go and let God."
We didn't sweat the small stuff. One of my groomsmen learned at the critical moment he had forgotten the ring. Fortunately, it was only 30 steps away in the house. For many weddings—the ones that have to be "just perfect in every detail"—this would have been enough to send the bride sobbing that her majestic ceremony was ruined by the flaw. Or the groom.
Not my bride. I have learned over the years she is made of stronger stuff.
And speaking of strength, Sally and I were tested and learned early that if our love and marriage were to survive we would need to invite God into the relationship in equal partnership. A single strand rope is easy to cut through or allow to fray. A two strand rope, when intertwined, provides a certain strength but is not invulnerable to the forces that would come and tear it asunder.
But if you add a third strand to this configuration it will stand against almost any obstacle. Especially when that third strand represents God Himself.
This is unquestionably the greatest lesson of our marriage. For us it was absolutely essential that God be an invited partner in our marriage. A wise man taught us this from the beginning and because of our broken natures and selfish inclinations we wouldn't have made it to our fifth anniversary without God. To Him goes all the glory of 30 years and beyond.
" Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
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—Michael & Sally
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The Best Is Yet To Come
by Sally Klein O'Connor
Two years ago I was sitting in a run-down motel room I paid too much for—especially with no fridge and no Jacuzzi. Not that I am complaining, mind you! It was just across from the harbor in Hyannis, Massachusetts. I was there for a mini-retreat on Cape Cod—and it was “raining, pouring, the old man (whoever he is…) was snoring.” But, oddly enough it didn’t detract from my time at all. It was perfect writer weather, and I found myself in a reflective frame of mind…
Just a few months before, I had stayed at the home of an older woman and her husband for a night. She was in her late 70s. But no one would have ever known because appearances mattered very much to her. She wasn’t vain, just aware. She cared, probably more than I might, but I haven’t quite reached that age of awareness yet. We began talking in the living room, while her husband—in his early 80s—continued watching TV in the other room. A game show, then an evangelist came on while his wife and I shared stories of our lives with each other. He briefly stepped in and introduced himself, perching momentarily on the far end of the couch, before returning to his chair and TV in the other room.
As he stepped away it seemed to me she preferred it that way. I was struck by how little contact they had with each other during my stay—almost as if they lived separate lives in the same house.
She spoke of her first marriage, saying he was her “soul-mate,” how he unexpectedly died from a sudden illness after almost 20 years of marriage. I heard and saw the echoes of longing and sadness in her voice and face as she shared about him. Speaking with a measured distance of her current husband to whom she has been married over 20 years, she said only that he had been very kind to her at a difficult season in her life.
Now she mentors young women in the faith, feeling a special anointing in this part of her life. And she longs to go further in ministry. In some way, it felt like she was seeking my approval or agreement with her—but I couldn’t find it in myself to agree. I was sad for the loss of what could have been between her and her current husband. It was clear to me they were separated by more than the wall that divided the sitting room from the living room.
It reminded me of when my parents separated when I was 21—and how much it hurt. It wasn’t like I didn’t see it coming. My dad and mom were so completely different. My father worked long, hard hours in the flower business, took long hot baths, read his paper, loved fishing and people. My mom loved the arts. Both music and painting were passions of hers. And she read her way into understanding as much of the world around her as she could. Beauty, knowledge, and manners were so very important to Mom. But they did not carry the same currency in my father’s world.
Tragedy came and shattered them—dividing them even more deeply—until eventually they could no longer coexist. Dad moved out. Mom never reconciled with him. For his part, he wrote her a letter of repentance, which she received and read without ever offering any comment or response in return.
The night he died, it was unexpected. He was recovering from a semi-routine procedure that became complicated when pneumonia set in. He was on a respirator at one point during Christmas, but then began to recover. The last day I saw Dad he was sitting up in his chair in the hospital room after dinner. We all thought he would go home the next day. And he did… to His Father’s house.
I remember seeing Dad’s body later that night and the overwhelming sense of peace in his face. I phoned my mom to let her know and she screamed, “No!” and then hung up sobbing. I always wondered if she harbored secret regrets about Dad. If some place in her heart love lay dormant, waiting for Spring. Or if, like me, somewhere inside her soul she silently grieved for what could have been—but never was.
And sometimes I think about Michael and me…
On this particular May 2, 2017 Michael and I are celebrating our 30-year wedding anniversary. A lot of years have passed since we first heard each other’s songs in Jack Segal’s extension class at Cal State Northridge. Seems like a lifetime streamed by from that sacred, silly moment we sang to each other, promising our hearts forever—until now.
Sometimes I wonder where we are in our story.
We are together still and certainly faithful, through many storms—internal and external—that would have broken us, apart from God’s grace. But there is distance too and wounds. When all is said and done, I don’t want to wonder about what could have been. I want us to live it now.
Even during the recent A Tour of Roses project in Brussels I saw the distance between couples committed to ministry. Some didn’t even touch each other, barely acknowledging the other as they worked to make everyone else feel tended to. Everyone but each other.
There were no real examples of lasting love in either of our families. Mike’s parents split up after 18 years and mine separated after 30. I was married for a very brief season at 17 and we failed each other miserably. What we needed was something so much more than a romantic sprint or a passing passion, but we were too young to understand what kind of commitment marriage entailed.
Michael and I spent one whole year every day reading 1 Corinthians 13—“The Love Chapter,” hoping it would somehow magically change us. But the single strongest realization we each came to, again and again was, how very far our relationship was from those strong and beautiful words. How clearly we could see all the places we failed to love—daily—with each other.
When I became pregnant with Shannon in 2001 Michael decided to pursue therapy for his anger issues and weight. His therapy soon became our therapy for the next 13 years, and we both learned a lot. I felt then—and still do now—it was extremely courageous of Michael to voluntarily submit to therapy. When we first hung out together Michael seemed convinced he could simply walk away from any and all trauma he experienced as a child. He would just choose differently than his parents and all would be well. He never expressed any interest in searching out the root of his issues until he saw the effect on our girls.
And even then, I know he thought it would be a much simpler, shorter episode in our lives than it became. Michael threatened to walk away from therapy a few times over the years, but he never did. I think many of the men in our church (we have been there over 30 years) would be well-served in going a little deeper to find the roots of their choices and behaviors at times, whether through prayer, classes, or counseling. At the same time, I believe that it is often much harder for men to acknowledge they might need some help in that direction than it is for women.
Recently Michael asked me, “What do you love about me?" I couldn’t find the words in that moment to say from the heart. Maybe they weren’t there because it has been such a long uphill road for so many years, and I am just grateful not to be arguing as much as we did. But even now I don’t know if that’s because we are older and more tired, or because we have actually healed. I like to think we have learned a little bit over these last few years.
I will always remember one Sunday evening in Orangevale, CA while we were still touring together as a family early in the ministry. It had been a very difficult day and Michael and I were continually struggling with each other. We finally arrived at the church where I was to give a concert. We pulled into the driveway an hour before and proceeded to argue for the next 45 minutes until I had no idea whether or not I could even do a concert. And then, by some miracle and grace of God—and maybe the desire on both of our parts not to stay in this difficult place—we reconciled.
It turned out the pastor had been watching us while we were in the van for the entire time, praying. God blessed the service tremendously in every way. But how many times did it feel like our insides were ripped up by each other’s harsh words and actions? I well recall wondering how we would survive each other, let alone thrive.
While surviving isn’t dying, it certainly isn’t thriving. By God’s grace we have managed to survive—and still love each other most of the time. But I believe there is so much more. I believe the best is yet to come. Like the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine at the end of the feast, I believe our marriage can be like that water-turned-into-wine, which was served last and was the very best. That’s what I want for Michael and me. The best for last—and I believe that season is here and now.
In March we put on a special fundraising dinner for A Tour of Roses. So many good friends helped us put it all together. It was quite a beautiful evening! There was a special segment that Michael and I planned out with one of our board members, Elaine Stover.
It was a little question and answer time about our personal lives—a chance for Mike and I to kibbutz and play a bit. Well, what I didn’t know was that Michael had planned a few little surprises during our sharing time. And he had a partner in crime, Greg Stanley, who helped him execute his little stunt. How Michael got practically everyone in the room to sing the theme song of a show Michael loves and I despise—Green Acres—I will never know.
I think Michael has a special anointing in that arena, since he also managed to get everyone to sing along on the chorus of the song he wrote for me for our wedding—30 years ago. But it was what followed that completely blew me away! Michael and Greg managed the question & answer time to bring it around to how Michael proposed to me all those long years ago.
And as Michael confessed his regret at not having the chance to make “the grand gesture” he had hoped for at that time, he got down on one knee (which was definitely not as easy 30 years later) and asked me if I would marry him again in front of all these witnesses for our 30th anniversary. Not at that exact moment, mind you, but sometime near our May 2nd wedding date this year. I am grateful that all the struggles between us haven’t dried up all Michael’s mischief and surprise. We are hoping to put together a little ceremony in July, right around Michael’s birthday, and anyone who wants to celebrate with us is welcome. Details will be forthcoming.
I have seen many marriages become refineries with only a few couples coming through the fire to the other side. We too, have weathered some deep and difficult storms. And I am thankful for God’s grace leading us out the other side each time. I don’t take it for granted. I have seen too many husbands and wives lose each other in the journey.
I look back at the woman I stayed with, and it seems to me she has settled in her current marriage. Her life is full of ministry and a desire to serve God, but there was no evidence I could see of a hunger to pursue more in her marriage. And I acknowledge that I may not have perceived their relationship as it truly is. Perhaps I projected myself into her situation, but whatever I saw sobered me and made me look at my life with Michael. All I can say is that at 60—30 years into our marriage—I want more for Michael and me. I don’t want to settle for “peace in our time.” I want the fat of the land, the sweet milk and honey promised. I want what’s good and rich and fair in the little time accorded us…
Michael, I want to make history with you!
Improbable People Ministries
As Sally alluded in her essay above I surprised her with a second marriage proposal more than 30 years after the first. The deed was recorded on camera at the A Tour Of Roses fundraising dinner in March. We thought you might enjoy seeing Sally's shocked reaction to my "Grand Gesture." Just click on the picture below—or here—to see the three minute segment.
Although we do not have a firm date yet and most of the details are still being ironed out one thing is for certain—we is gettin' hitched again! We hope to be able to share our rededication ceremony with our friends and family and will spread the word once we have a venue, a preacher, some musicians and some food lined up. Stay tuned, as they say, for details.