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Still the One

Marriage Partnership catches up with four couples who have been married 20 years—and discovers their secrets for staying together.

In recognition of our10-year anniversary, Marriage Partnership profiled four couples who were celebrating their tin/aluminum anniversaries. This time around, MP tracked down those couples to find out how their marriages have developed over the last decade. We were pleased to discover that all four couples are still married, and we're certain that their commitment to each other and to God will once again serve as an inspiration and encouragement to our readers.

The Honeymooners Give Back

Tim and Tiffany Thompson stay close by serving together.

Ten years ago MP dubbed Tim and Tiffany Thompson "The Honeymooners" because they were committed to keeping each other first. How did they best do that? By going on trips together every 18 months. It's a way for them to "keep that 'newlywed-ness,'" says Tiffany.

After 20 years of marriage, they're still committed to couple getaways, although these days some of their trips would never be mistaken for a honeymoon. Whereas 10 years ago they focused only on newlywed-ness, now they focus on "other-ness" by spending their time together on mission trips.

"We still want to invest in our marriage and spend that time together, but serving together is also a way that we get closer," says Tiffany.

They've traveled to Guatamala, and this year they're heading to Israel. And in what has become their annual Christmas mission trip, the Thompsons and their four children have traveled to Mexico every year for the past five years.

"People tell us, 'Oh, cool! You're going to Mexico for Christmas,' because they think it's exotic and warm. But it's not like that," says Tiffany. "It's in the mountains, so temperatures are in the 50s. There's no heat in the hotel, and sometimes no hot water for showers. We go to the slums and clean up their playgrounds and play with the kids, so it's not a vacation."

"It's not one of those honeymoon trips," says Tim. "There's no white sand, no beach. But even though it's not that type of excursion, it's amazing that it turns out to be our family's favorite trip."

The couple has enjoyed watching their kids discover their spiritual gifts on these trips, but they've also witnessed ways mission trips have benefited their marriage.

"When we're on a mission trip, with our cell phones off and our attention on serving God," says Tiffany, "we're better able to hear his voice and learn more about his will for our lives. It's incredible to be able to share this kind of experience because it increases our spiritual intimacy."

Better than caffeine

For the past three years, as part of her job, Tiffany has traveled to high schools in Kenya, where she spends two weeks promoting abstinence as a way to combat AIDS.

"Those two weeks are a long time," admits Tim. "But one of the things that helps when we're apart is that we journal to each other. It's fun when she comes home because we'll sit together and share what happened each day. She'll read her day and I'll read mine, and sometimes we find that we were praying for each other or thinking the same thing at the exact same moment. It's an awesome bonding time even though we're apart."

Despite the togetherness time, their marriage has had its share of struggles. This year was difficult for the Thompsons as they began to empty their nest. Beyond feeling as though they were losing their child (their oldest left for college), it also affected how they view each other.

On the drive home from dropping their daughter at the airport for her flight to school, Tiffany began to weep. "I looked at Tim," she says, "and told him, 'I guess I never pictured that you'd still be here; that we'd send her off together; that we'd make it.'"

Tiffany's parents divorced when she was a teenager, impacting profoundly her view of trust and lifelong fidelity. "I've always had this fear in the back of my mind that Tim will leave me." After all, she felt, if her parents couldn't stay together—and they were Christians—what guarantee did she have in her own marriage?

She wasn't used to seeing couples make marriage work—pursuing each other, loving each other. Instead, she knew too many couples who were staying together for the kids or simply living like roommates.

"There aren't words to describe how grateful I am to God and to Timothy for how he honors God and has kept his wedding vows. He's been faithful. And God has kept me faithful. It's the most beautiful gift we could give each other and our kids."

"If you don't do anything for your marriage, it will go backward," says Tim. "The best thing you can do is to invest in your relationship with the Lord. By honoring him personally and individually, you have something to give when you come together as a married couple."

Tim understands that his wife is always aware that divorces can happen, and even after 20 years, he still makes an extra effort to help her trust him. "It's little things that really make a difference," he says. Things such as putting his arm around her, paying attention to her in a room full of people, leaving her messages by the coffee pot before he goes to work in the morning.

"His notes say things like, 'Forever Yours' or 'I Still Do,'" Tiffany says. "Those notes give me a much better boost than the coffee does! They're visual reminders that Tim is faithful, and they make me feel cherished and secure."

The Thompsons are determined to make their marriage work—and that's why the trips they take are so important to them. Whether they're enjoying a honeymoon hotspot, ministering to an area in need, or simply journaling to each other when Tiffany travels alone, Tim and Tiffany are committed to finishing their journey together.

All in God's Timing

Shawn and Jackie Curtis learned the importance of never giving up on dreams.

Ten years ago, Shawn and Jackie Curtis shared with us the disappointing reality that they were unable to have children. At that time they were still willing to say, "We feel certain that whatever happens is the way God wants it. We can accept that."

And after 18 years of marriage, long after they'd given up on having children, God's plans for them included a precious baby girl, Tinsley Olivia.

"I'd resigned myself to never having children," says Jackie. "We'd prepared ourselves that God was not going to give us children of our own. But he did. In his own timing."

When Jackie made her announcement, Shawn had trouble believing she was really pregnant; it took a trip to the doctor and a third positive pregnancy test before he acknowledged they were really going to have a child.

"We'd been praying that God would give us a child when we were in our twenties, right after getting married," admits Shawn. But when that didn't happen, they accepted that God had other plans. "We had pretty much become content with each other and how God was using us as a married team."

In addition to his full-time job, Shawn is a minister, and Jackie has a singing ministry. Over the years, Shawn and Jackie have counseled married couples and were always willing to help families rear and train their children.

Now with a newborn of their own, they were facing a season that most of their friends and family had already gone through. But more than that, Jackie discovered a surprising aspect to their long-awaited parenthood.

"When you've been the center of someone's attention for 18 years, and then another little woman comes in and kicks you out of the number one spot, that can be a challenge," says Jackie. "There were times when I had to say, 'Okay, Daddy, give me a little attention. I'm still here too.'"

But the couple agrees that Tinsley has strengthened their relationship with God and fortified their marriage.

"If nothing else, having Tinsley has helped me truly understand how awesome God is, and not to worry so much about things to come," says Jackie. "Through her I can truly see how he is faithful."

Even after 20 years of being married and learning from each other, it was Tinsley who taught them to be more loving and gave them a newfound respect for each other.

"Shawn has a quiet, laidback nature," says Jackie. "But I'm overwhelmed when I see the emotion he exhibits when he's playing with our daughter. Seeing him with Tinsley every day, and laughing with her, makes me love him even more because I get to see the kind of father he is."

Reigniting the spark

Although Tinsley, now two, occupies a lot of her parents' time, Jackie and Shawn still give their marriage the attention necessary for it to be successful.

"We make an effort now as Tinsley's getting older to show her Mommy and Daddy being affectionate with each other, Mommy and Daddy hugging, Daddy giving Mommy a kiss," says Jackie. "So it's not all about her."

"We still have Tinsley as a priority in our life without dismissing our marriage in the process," says Shawn.

Over the last 20 years, one of the ways they've worked to make each other a priority is by going on anniversary trips together—until, that is, they had the baby. Now they still take a yearly trip—just not alone. Last year, they took Tinsley with them to Florida.

"This year, whatever we do will include our child as well," says Jackie. "We're basking in the joy of being parents and we still find it difficult to be away from her."

But with or without a baby, the Curtises realize the importance of nurturing the spark that made them first fall in love.

Shawn does his part to feed that spark by writing Jackie love letters every month—a tradition he started before they married.

"I want to express to her how much I love her," explains Shawn. "The letters are just a piece of the love I share with her."

"I have them locked in a fireproof safe," says Jackie. "So if the house burns down, I'm still going to have those letters."

The Curtises honor their treasures—the letters, each other, and Tinsley.

Since Tinsley has brought so much joy and meaning into their lives, do they plan to try to give their daughter any siblings?

"No!" Jackie is quick to say.

Shawn agrees. "I think she's going to be an only child."

For now, the couple is enjoying the time alone they can steal when their daughter is napping or asleep for the night. They've found that a toddler can be demanding, but they are grateful that God chose to answer their prayers. Even if it was in his own timing.

Reality Check

When their experience serving God in Africa didn't match their expectations,  Brian and Dana Cummings discovered the importance of depending wholly on God.

Labeled "The Adventurers" 10 years ago, Brian and Dana Cummings had hoped to buy land, start their own farm, and settle down with their kids. God had other plans.

In 2001 the couple, with their three kids in tow, went to Ghana to serve as missionaries. Brian and Dana worked in South Africa with the Peace Corps in the early years of their marriage, but because interracial marriages still aren't completely accepted in that area, Brian and Dana decided to go to Ghana for their second stint in Africa.

Being missionaries in Ghana was far from easy, as Brian and Dana found themselves involved in a different type of ministry than they'd expected. Instead of developing a pastoral and agricultural training school as they'd planned, they spent their first year-and-a-half working with local churches and the following two-and-a-half years working with ministries to Muslims. As time passed, they were discouraged that their ministry didn't match their expectations. Feeling frustrated, friendless, and bombarded by spiritual warfare, their relationship began to take the hit. Intimacy dwindled, and by the time they returned to the states in 2005, their marriage was faltering.

"I felt like God had disappointed me," says Dana. "He'd sent us to Africa, and we did good work there, but we left without doing what we thought we were going to do. We came back beat, and it reflected in our marriage."

"Part of our reason for coming back was that we were about to kill each other or leave each other. One of the two." Brian laughs for a moment. "We trained with two other couples, both of whom are now divorced. Dana and I stayed married, but there was serious stress on our relationship. We left the mission field feeling like failures and looking to each other to do something only God can do, which is fill an empty place in our hearts. It was really difficult. I was looking to Dana for more physical, sexual fulfillment, and she didn't have it to give. And she was hurt herself, so that made the situation even worse."

Dana agrees. "I finally told Brian 'Just leave! If I'm not able to meet your needs, then find someone who will.'"

Brian responded by telling Dana that she couldn't send him away. "God put us together, and if the Lord hasn't released me, then neither can you."

Though Brian and Dana sought support from fellow Christians, they were told that missionaries shouldn't have marital problems. Dana was especially hurt by the reaction from some of her Christian friends.

"They told me I shouldn't be crying or struggling because

I was a Christian," says Dana. "They asked where my faith was and told me I was backsliding."

Brian and Dana were able to get counseling; they talked through their problems, and spent a lot of time in prayer.

Looking back, the couple says it was only their commitment to God that kept them together.

"Divorce just wasn't an option in our minds," says Brian. "When Dana told me to find another woman who would make me happy, we both knew that wasn't the answer. Also, we understood that the answer wasn't quick or easy. But when Dana saw that I was committed to her, no matter what, a process of healing began."

"From that point on," says Dana, "God began to woo me to Brian's heart, and more importantly, to God's heart."

Ready for more

Today, a little more than two years after returning from Ghana, Brian and Dana both say their marriage is stronger than ever, and they're making plans to step back into full-time ministry.

This time around, though, they want to return to the mission field with more education under their belts. So after much discussion—and with the financial help of their parents and other sources—they both decided to return to graduate school. They're currently full-time students and expect to complete their degrees by June.

After finishing their studies, Brian and Dana plan to go on short-term missions trips until they can raise enough support to return to the mission field full-time.

"Dana and I both feel called and uniquely gifted to be missionaries in the less-developed world," says Brian. "We're better educated and more experienced in what to expect and how to protect our relationship."

"We've had more opportunities to trust in the Lord's faithfulness," says Dana. "We're feeling more healed and whole than ever before. And God will continue to remind us how he brought us through the first time. He can do it again."

Moore of a Good Thing

Mitch and Mary Moore feel as if their marriage is all about parenting. But that's how they've discovered the richness of each other.

With 15-year-old quadruplets and one 14-year-old, Mitch and Mary Moore's parenting responsibilities often overshadow their marriage.

"I have a difficult time separating marriage from raising kids," admits Mary, "because I feel like mostly we're just raising kids."

"I don't think we could talk about what goes on around here without talking about kids," Mitch agrees.

Because of the hectic nature of a life when rearing multiples, the divorce rate for such couples is above average. The Moores can understand why.

"When there are 50 million things going on in the

household and the last thing I have time for is my wife,

the marriage suffers," says Mitch. "But when all this blows over, we'll still be standing and we'll still be together."

But for now, their time together is in

bits and pieces: when they're at church, attending kids' games, or even just running errands. "Sometimes it's nice just to be in the car together," Mary says. But even then the kids are still around. So what do they do for alone time?

Mitch and Mary go quiet for a moment. Then hesitantly, Mitch admits, "We have a shower that has two heads."

"Sometimes at the end of the day when we shower, it may be the first time we have a conversation the whole day," says Mary. "Some couples meet over coffee at Starbucks; we meet in the shower."

Despite the stresses the Moores face while trying to keep up with the schedules of their five teenage children, they both realize it's a team effort. Even though their busy schedules often keep them apart, their joint efforts also bind them closer together.

"I love her more now than ever as I watch her do what she has to do on a daily basis," says Mitch. "But there's so much going on that it's difficult sometimes to find time to take a breath and be together."

Looking forward to an empty nest?

"When I think about my life and where God has put me, I don't think I could ever imagine a woman who is as loving, organized, giving, tough—because you gotta be tough to survive this," says Mitch. "I absolutely know that she is the perfect wife and mother for our situation."

"Wow." Mary laughs. "I don't know if I can live up to that."

"No one's perfect," says Mitch. "That's not what I meant. But I've seen it for 20 years now. She's the right person at the right time for the right job."

Mitch, on the other hand, seems torn between his role as a father and his desire to act like a kid. "Sometimes a game breaks out in the house," says Mitch. "We try to get away with it until we hear Mom coming."

Mary laughs. "Notice his use of the word we."

"Sometimes," Mitch says to Mary, "you look at me and say, 'I need you to be an adult right now.'"

"Just think," he muses. "If we do this interview 10 years from now …"

Mary finishes his thought. "We won't have any kids in the house."

With a chuckle, Mitch says, "We'll be in the shower all the time."

While the Moores can hardly imagine living in a house without teenagers, they realize they're only a few years from this eventuality.

Mary remembers longingly how the two of them used to travel before they were parents. "Hopefully we'll be able to do more of that."

Despite having a house full of their own children, Mitch and Mary regularly visit an orphanage located just south of the California border in Rosarito, Mexico. If Mitch really wants to have an empty nest in a few years, he knows he needs to keep an eye on Mary, or she could end up bringing more kids into their home.

"They have 20 kids there in a house the size of an American garage," says Mary. "I can't go to an orphanage without feeling like I have to bring them home. It really is hard."

Thinking about what would happen if MP interviews the Moores again after 30 years, Mary says, "When you call us again, we'll have 20 orphans in the house."

Mitch groans.

"Okay, maybe we'll just have two orphans," Mary says.

Eventually, Mitch concedes, "God's going to do what God's going to do."

"God has a plan," Mary adds. "We'll see."

Once their nest empties, though, the Moores don't actually plan to adopt the orphans they have come to love. They will spend more time at the orphanage, but they look forward to returning to a home where they can spend quality time alone together—and not just in the shower.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Commitment; Marriage; Relationships
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2008
Posted September 12, 2008

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