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Joy Ride

Mike and Amy Nappa found out what makes marriage fun

Mike Nappa grew up without his dad around, so he never lived up close to a marriage. As a boy watching the adults around him, it seemed that couples were always bickering, always struggling. He wanted to get married—for the love, the companionship—but he was gearing himself up to grit his teeth and endure the hard stuff.

Then he married Amy and got the shock of his life. "The biggest surprise was that marriage is so much fun," he says now. "I'd rather be with Amy than with anybody else. I didn't expect marriage to be such a blast."

It's not that Amy is a paragon of perfection or that Mike is the most easygoing husband in the world. They're human—complete with pet peeves and personality quirks. And it's not that their nearly 13 years of marriage, most of them spent working together, have been pain-free. But by God's grace, the Nappas have uncovered a few secrets for creating fun and enjoying each other.

Talk about Impulsive

While Mike and Amy were students at Biola University in Southern California, Mike missed a day of class and needed to borrow somebody's notes. When he took the notes back to the girl he'd borrowed them from, her roommate, Amy, answered the door.

"I thought, 'Wow—who's this?'" Mike says.

"We'd already met a few weeks before in the school cafeteria," says Amy. "He just forgot."

"Sometimes second impressions are stronger," he insists.

They ran into each other occasionally because of mutual friends, and then school let out. Amy was sticking around for the summer semester before her senior year, and she got a job at Zale's Jewelers at a nearby mall. She hadn't counted on Mike being the assistant manager.

"It was part of my job to train every new employee," says Mike, as if he needed an excuse to pay attention to Amy.

"After a week, he asked me on a date," explains Amy. "Ten days later he asked me to marry him."

And she said yes? "He was serious about living for God. That attracted me," Amy explains. "For example, almost every guy I'd dated (even at a Christian college) only seemed to care about sex. So once we'd started dating, I kept waiting for Mike to try to get me alone. Finally one night he pulled me into the dark dorm kitchen. I thought 'Uh-oh!' But then he said, 'I want you to pray with me.' He was different from every other guy I'd known."

Of course, she thought he was "fun and creative and handsome" too. "But mainly," she insists, "I could see he was already living a godly, consistent life—the way I'd want a husband to live."

And how did Mike know Amy was right for him? "Oh, Amy is so easy to love," he says. "She had everything I wanted in a wife. It was a matter of choosing. I chose to love her, and after that my impatience kicked in. I thought, 'We love each other, let's just get on with the marriage."

Three months later they married. Amy finished her senior year while Mike dropped out to work full-time. Then they both worked while Mike finished his degree.

Fun and Games

The Nappas started out broke. "We were so poor," says Mike, happily. "All we had was each other. No money for a TV, no money to go out to dinner or the movies. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese … "

"A lot!" agrees Amy. "We played board games constantly. That first year we played Boggle—until Mike had the nerve to start beating me. We could afford those games and walks in the park and having friends over. We didn't even have money to pay for long-distance calls to our families. It was a good time for us to learn to depend on each other."

Amy took it for granted that their home would be a place of fun, games and laughter. "My dad laughs all the time and tells jokes," she explains. "My mom is the prankster. The first time she met Mike she tried to dump an ice cube down his back. My childhood memories are joyful—not memories of fighting."

"We are our own entertainment," says Mike. He and their son, Tony, who was born when they'd been married three years, love to make up new games and then talk Amy into playing with them.

"They've only rarely broken the furniture," says Amy. "One of their favorites is the Elvis Olympics, which involves a lot of dancing and Elvis impersonating. We have to close the curtains."

"I'm ashamed to confess I've passed a love of Elvis on to my son," says Mike. "And now to Tiffany too." Tiffany is Mike's 10-year-old niece, who's living with the Nappas.

"We've found we have to plan to have fun," says Mike. "If I want to go do something fun, I think, 'Why should I do this alone?' We like to say to each other, 'You know what was best about this or that? That you were there.'"

"Whenever Mike and Tony were cooking up some new game, he'd come and say to me, 'Want to come join us?'" says Amy. "Then, once when Tony was tiny, he made a slip of the tongue. He said, 'Want to come enjoy us?' We liked that so much, we still say it. Sharing the fun is so much about enjoying each other."

Ups and Downs

But Amy's and Mike's joy goes deeper than fun and games. These two have found a secret contentment, no matter what challenges come along. Their marriage has encountered its fair share of tough times.

After conceiving Tony easily, the Nappas struggled for years with secondary infertility. After miscarrying when Tony was a toddler, Amy felt confident that they'd have more children. It got tougher as time went by and they didn't conceive. "I got bitter about it," she admits. "I thought, 'God, I kept a good attitude despite that miscarriage—and you never rewarded me for that.' Eventually I started realizing that God didn't owe me anything. If anything, he'd given me everything!"

When Tony was seven, they had already made plans to adopt a child when Amy found she was expecting again. "We were thrilled," says Mike. "We thought, 'Great. It'll be like having twins.'"

But Amy miscarried again. Then, two weeks before the baby they planned to adopt was born, the birth mother opted to keep her baby.

A few months after that, another adoption fell through. "This time, Tony really went through the disappointment too," remembers Mike. "He'd cleared all his toys out of his room to make half the room a nursery. He was so excited. I had to go in at bedtime one night and tell him we weren't getting the baby. He sat up, didn't say a word, and tears started streaming down his cheeks. I held him for two hours 'til he cried himself to sleep."

After two more failed adoptions, the Nappas got off the emotional roller coaster. "First it was doctors," says Amy, "then it was social workers and scraping to afford the expense of adoption. We love our son. We agreed that if we can only have one kid, Tony's a great kid to have."

A second big hurdle the Nappas have had to jump is that of Mike's chronic nausea. Two years ago he underwent routine gall-bladder surgery and didn't recover as he should have. Instead he was constantly sick to his stomach, throwing up two or three times a day and often bedridden by extreme nausea.

"Unfortunately, I've always been impatient with people who are sick," says Amy. "I have this two-day limit. I can be nice—bring in a book to read, a glass of juice—for two days. After that, I expect people to get better and get on with life. Then Mike was sick month after month after month. I had to fight against resenting him, reminding myself, 'He doesn't want to be sick.'"

Their joy goes deeper than fun and games.

The Nappas found a secret contentment.

No one knew what was causing the nausea. "They kept telling me it was psychosomatic," says Mike. "But I knew it was real. I couldn't even drive to the grocery store without stopping to be sick. The third doctor I saw diagnosed it. The bad news is that it's something we're probably going to deal with for the rest of our lives. But medication helps."

Mike will always have a low nausea threshold. "I can't ride in a car without being the driver. Otherwise I get sick. Bad smells make me sick. If someone's house is too warm I get sick. I had long hair for years, but I had to cut it because I'd get nauseous during the time it took to wash and rinse my hair."

The condition has changed the Nappas' lives. "We've learned to enjoy the good moments," says Mike, "the times when I don't feel sick. Sometimes I'll say, 'Hey, I feel great right now. Let's go play basketball,' because I may be sick an hour later."

Side by Side

Not only are the Nappas partners in life, they're also business partners. Through Nappaland Communications, based in Loveland, Colorado, they write magazine articles, together and separately, and they are the authors of several books, including A Heart Like His (Barbour).

These days, Mike works on a laptop from bed, where he got most comfortable during his long days of illness. Amy works on her own computer.

"She's such a good editor, I don't send anything out without running it past her first," Mike explains. "Some times I'm too flowery, too wordy."

"And sometimes I'm too dry and practical in my writing," says Amy. "He'll say, 'What can we do to make this more attractive, word-wise?'"

They complement each other well. "I love not having to go through a long litany of details about office stuff just to explain why I'm having a hard day or a great day," says Mike.

"When Mike first started working from home, we had to balance things," Amy continues. "I was used to having the car, having the computer on my schedule. But now I'd never want him to leave."

They agree that working together is a "great arrangement for family life," leaving time for Mike, Amy, Tony and Tiffany to enjoy plenty of Elvis Olympics.

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

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Commitment; Fun; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 1999
Posted September 30, 2008

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