I decided to marry Cheryl on my 24th birthday.
That's not the day I proposed to her. It's the day during graduate school when she delivered a complete breakfast to my door at 6 a.m. Cheryl has always been something of an untamed spirit when it comes to engineering surprises. That morning she and her roommate carried, up a full flight of stairs, a metal serving cart arrayed with orange juice, fresh strawberries and assorted pastries.
I hated the very idea of mornings, so when I heard that knock at the door I nearly told whoever it was to go away. But I got up, threw something on and opened the door to see that beautiful breakfast—and with it a beautiful woman smiling at me. "Happy birthday," she said, handing over breakfast and disappearing down the hall.
That's when I knew I wanted to marry this woman who could make others feel so loved.
A Gift from God's Heart to Mine
That was nearly 20 years ago. That morning I caught the idea that God was up to something special, but it took me years to grasp the full reality of what he was giving me. (This reminds me of Dave Barry's explanation of guys and relationships. Guys are like an ant on top of a truck tire. We know there's something big here, but we don't know what it is. Even as the tire starts to roll and we're about to be crushed we're still thinking, "Huh?")
Two decades later, now I know: God was giving me a gift—straight from his heart to mine. As Proverbs puts it, "Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord" (19:14). That last phrase has captured my imagination—my wife is from the Lord. Cheryl's a unique present God gave me to be my lifelong companion, lover and co-heir of salvation.
Like all true and worthwhile gifts, my wife continues to bless my life. Don't get me wrong. I rarely get breakfast served in bed now, not even on my birthday. But there are explanations for that—five in all, with a sixth on the way. Just keeping them safe and well-fed, and preventing them from appearing on "World's Scariest Police Chases," takes up most of our time and energy. The sheer effort of living leaves us with little time and energy to spend time together, much less time for orchestrating romantic surprises.
Resisting the Pull toward Chaos
It seems to be a natural law—like gravity—that all relationships will decay from a state of health and organization to one of chaos unless there's a stronger contravening force in the marriage. In other words, there's always a temptation to underappreciate and even scorn that spouse we once welcomed as one of God's best gifts.
Case in point: One day I was playing volleyball with some other guys at a church picnic. During a pause in the competitive play, a wedding procession—complete with white limousines, horns blaring and streamers waving—went by in grand style. The man standing next to me, the lid apparently coming off his subconscious, said in a low voice, "Poor fool. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into."
What a sad attitude! Solomon, the wisest king ever to rule Israel, wrote, "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord" (Prov. 18:22). God intended you to see your spouse as a gift. Life is too short to waste it, believing your husband or wife is an anvil tied to your ankle for as long as you both shall live. Spiritually it's dangerous, too. When I devalue the gift God's given me in Cheryl, I come dangerously close to devaluing God, who gave her to me. How must God feel when he places a diamond in our hands and we complain we're married to a lump of coal?
Both Cheryl and I have to fight the tendency to let mortgage payments, broken transmissions on the car and phone calls during supper keep us from remembering we're living with the gift that is each other. We've discovered three practical ways to keep a high value on each other.
Here Today, but What about Tomorrow?
Whenever I'm tempted to take Cheryl for granted, I try to imagine life without her. Who on earth would have the patience to listen with sympathy and understanding to my melancholy doubts and moments of self-despair and still treat me as if I were normal? Who'd remember to mail my siblings a card a week before their birthdays when I can't even recall the code for my ATM cash card? Who would take the time to make phone calls to our friends to keep these relationships intact when I haven't written a thank-you card since the Reagan administration (the one before that was written during the final days of the Watergate scandal).
Cheryl is much more to me than these simple gestures of love, but they do remind me of the unselfish presence God handed me when he gave me my wife. If she were to disappear, the void of love and companionship would surpass the size of the Saraha desert.
A Gift This Good Is No Accident
While valuing the gift God's given me in Cheryl, I also try to remember what the Scriptures say so plainly: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17). Cheryl didn't come into my life by accident. God wasn't preoccupied with the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 when our romance began to flourish.
When I devalue the gift God has given me in my spouse, I come dangerously close to devaluing the God who gave her to me.
I'm so thankful that long before I ever met this beautiful, blond-haired, brown-eyed pastor's daughter from Michigan, God was hard at work preparing a good and perfect gift from heaven itself. Am I saying Cheryl's perfect? (Well, more perfect than I am, though she's quite human.) She's "perfect" in the biblical sense of "completeness" or "wholeness." God gave me a gift "complete" for the work he wanted to accomplish in both of us.
It also helps me to keep noticing Cheryl's impact on our children. Though four of Cheryl's five pregnancies were so difficult not even the CIA would consider using them on a hostile government, she has seldom complained about those long and difficult ordeals. She loved each of our children so much that once those dreadful days were behind her, she never spoke of them again. She let go of the suffering and turned her entire focus toward loving and nurturing the children God had given us.
Today when I see our kids' generous and good-natured hearts, their refreshing sense of humor and their tender concern for others, I see how much Cheryl has imprinted their personalities.
There are still mornings I wake up quite early (still hating mornings, on principle) and hear the sound of our van pulling out of the driveway. It's Cheryl on some errand of love—to the grocery store early to pick up the kids' favorite lunch foods for a field trip or to pick up a poster board for a project due that morning that one of them forgot about. At moments like this I can still hear that breakfast cart rolling down the hallway of my dorm. Twenty years of marriage hasn't changed the essential, beautiful soul of my precious gift from the Lord.
Bob and Cheryl Moeller make their home in the Chicago area. Their most recent book is a one-year devotional, Marriage Minutes (Moody).
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.