All the fairy tales say "and they lived happily ever after" at the end of story--right after Cinderella got her shoe back and married the prince, right after Sleeping Beauty woke up from her coma and tied the knot... you get the idea. The start of the marriage is the end of the story for Disney, but in real life, it's only the beginning. For many (maybe most), it's the start of a relationship that turns out not to be as easy as all the stories and movies would have us believe.
So I want to tell you about a couple whose love story is so amazing it has rocked me to my core. The sight of this sweet couple together sometimes brings tears to my eyes because their marriage has defied all the odds. They stuck it out when SO many others would have called it quits.
I've heard both of these sweet friends speak about their spouse to me separately, and privately, and what I hear them say about the other is now what I think of when I hear the phrase "true love."
Because true love isn't butterflies. If you're a Christian, it's a covenant made before the Lord.
It's saying "forever. No matter what."
Not "for now. Until it gets too hard."
So let me tell you about Jerry and Kathie,* whose sacrifice for each other is rooted in selflessness.
They met at church when Jerry took a position as the new worship leader and Kathie was in the choir. They were smitten with each other and their mutual love of music, and they married within a few months when Kathie was 21 and Jerry was 26.
Kathie is vivacious. Her energetic personality is contagious, and she befriends practically everyone she comes into contact with. Jerry, however, is on the quieter side. The definition of 'introvert' might have his picture next to it. The kind of man who would prefer a good book over going to a party.
Jerry and Kathie celebrated 40 years of marriage this past year, and if you're wondering if that is what makes their story so awesome, it's not: it's everything that happened in the middle.
While they were still newlyweds, Jerry was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors told him that even though he was young, he likely wouldn't survive his melanoma. Kathie stayed by his side through the surgery, and even though the doctors were sure it would have spread to the rest of his body, miraculously it hadn't and it was all removed.
But several years after Jerry was well, mental illness decided to rear its ugly head in Kathie's life.
With her bubbly personality and continuous smile, most people would probably never guess that Kathie struggles with debilitating depression. The depression had been intermittent in Kathie's adolescent years and in her 20s, but in her 30s the undiagnosed illness became crippling, and she struggled to maintain hope that she would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Kathie went through a lot of Christian counseling, most of which was not helpful because most the counselors did not address the clinical side of her depression. Jerry saw a need in this area and felt God calling him to change careers, and even though one of his greatest passions was (and still is) music, he quit his job as minister of music as soon as Kathie started to get better and followed the Lord's call to help others by becoming a licensed professional counselor. Jerry went back to school long after the "normal" age and earned his Master's degree in Clinical Counseling and eventually received a Doctorate of Ministry in Christian Counseling.
But I think the years of struggling in ministry and helping with the effects of his wife's depression took its toll on Jerry. Some of life's more difficult obstacles can leave their mark on you physically, even though it's usually only the people who have also dealt with horrible loss or suffering who can recognize that haunted look in the eyes, because they have seen it in the mirror themselves.
Even though it took several years to move in the direction of recovery, with the help of an awesome doctor and the unwavering support of Jerry, Kathie is now well.
Years passed, and Jerry and Kathie enjoyed seeing their children grow and leave the nest and they eventually welcomed grandchildren into their family. And now as empty nesters and both physically and emotionally well, another blow struck their family: Five years ago, Jerry was told he had Parkinson's.
But none of these things were able to destroy their relationship. Not cancer. Not depression. Not Parkinson's.
In fact, their marriage just seems to be getting stronger. I can barely type this sentence without hearing Jerry's voice saying "when something good happens, the first person I want to tell is Kathie. When something bad happens, the first person I want to tell is Kathie." And I can hear Kathie's voice, telling Jerry (with an almost defiant attitude) "well, I'm not going anywhere" whenever he speaks about his Parkinson's diagnosis.
And maybe this blog post is pointless to those of you who don't know this dear couple, or that the words above don't resonate with you because you didn't hear them spoken with such tenderness that I almost felt embarrassed just by hearing them spoken.
People have divorced over much, much less than what Jerry and Kathie have been through. Husbands have left wives when their depression just became "too much to handle." Wives have walked out of their marriages when they don't feel that they have anything in common with their spouse--and the plague of my generation: narcissism and selfishness, so often takes precedence over marriage vows.
This sweet couple has taken their experiences and poured into the lives of dozens and dozens of young couples in our community by sharing the truths found in God's word about what marriage really is. They spend hours investing in the lives of engaged and newlywed couples trying to prevent the problems that end so many of today's marriages.
They taught us what the Lord teaches in Ephesians 5:33 "...let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
In Christianity, marriage is supposed to be a mirror reflection of Christ's love for the church. And that is exactly what Jerry and Kathie have done with their relationship.
That's what makes them so special to me. And because the time they invested in my and Randy's lives saved our marriage before it even started.
Many of you probably don't know Jerry and Kathie White. But if you do know them, and they have impacted your life, leave a comment below and let them know what they mean to you.
* names used with permission