February 2006 – Three days before Christmas, retailers were already gearing up for Valentine’s Day. Store shelves once stocked with Christmas decorations and wrapping now displayed heart-shaped hues of pink, red and white.
It was obvious to see that commercialism was clobbering the birth of the greatest love story of all time. After all, Scripture tells us that love comes from God because God is love. Without the acceptance of God’s bundle of love presented in a manger 2,000 years ago, Valentine’s Day is rather pointless.
But when seen from a Biblical worldview, Valentine’s Day takes on a whole new meaning. It’s the prime time to be reminded that “marriage is a gift to you from God,” as defined by teacher/author Dr. Voddie Baucham.
Six couples from AFA are attempting to do it His way by grounding their marriages in the Word and remaining committed to God and to each other.These couples offer words of advice and lessons in love they have experienced so far.
Jim and Candise Brown, 9 months
For newlyweds Jim and Candise Brown, agreeing on the thermostat setting seems to be the most difficult part of their marriage thus far. But they are not so naïve as to believe that it will be the extent of their obstacles over a lifetime together.
With life comes the unexpected, and with marriage comes commitment. Therefore Jim and Candise know whatever comes their way, whether good or bad, they will face it together with their Father, who is the foundation of their marriage.
“Just like [we said in] our vows – in sickness and in health, anytime – that commitment is there regardless of the circumstances,” said Jim, American Family Radio (AFR) news reporter.
“We’re in it for the long haul. … We’re in it for each other,” Candise added.
“When I was single, obviously I thought about doing things for myself,” Jim explained. “Now having a spouse in mind takes away from some of my own self-interests.”
“We can see ourselves becoming one,” Candise added, “not one person, but one in spirit and one …”
“… of the same mind,” Jim added.
The couple credits their oneness to God, the orchestrator of their relationship. They see their personal relationships with Him as being keys to a lasting marriage. After all, their personal relationships with the Lord were the common bond that brought them together while participating in an evangelism program at their local church.
After one year of dating, the wait for a lifelong partner was over as Jim, 26, and Candise, 24, made their way down the aisle and into a dream come true.
“When you wait on God’s timing, it’s definitely worth it,” Jim said. “No doubt about it.”
Advice: Do not make things happen on your own timetable or according to your own desires.
Shan and Tasha Easterling, 10 years
“We base our marriage on the principles God set out in the Bible,” said Tasha Easterling, part-time paralegal for the AFA Center for Law and Policy. Tasha is married to AFR engineer Shan Easterling.
“My parents have been married for 52 years, and Shan’s parents have been married for 42 years, so having them as examples certainly reminds us that marriage is meant to last,” Tasha added.
The couple’s commitment began after they met at church and dated for two years prior to getting married at ages 27 and 28.
“The words ‘commitment’ and ‘marriage’ are essentially synonymous. I think you have to go into marriage being totally committed to your spouse and never allow yourself to stray from that,” Tasha explained. “From day one, divorce has never been an option for us. We don’t even allow ourselves to think about it.”
Rather they focus their thoughts on patience and forgiveness as significant factors in sustaining their marriage.
“Good cooking doesn’t hurt either,” Shan added.
Neither did the addition of children – two girls, now six and three years old.
“When God chooses to bless your marriage with children, it’s the most wonderful thing,” Tasha explained.
But at the same time, the birth of the couple’s first child also brought about difficulty because Tasha decided to quit her full-time work to be at home with the baby.
“It was difficult because we would be losing half of our household income, but we just stepped out on faith and believed that it was God’s will for our family,” Shan explained.
“It’s still not easy some months to make our finances work out right, but we have always had our needs met,” Tasha added. “We are both confident that this is what God wants for us right now.”
Advice: Take it one day at a time while understanding that marriage is a lifelong commitment.
Ed and Dianne Vitagliano, 24 years
“Hey, is that an Amplified Study Bible you have?” asked Ed Vitagliano, news editor of the AFA Journal.
These were the first words he uttered to Dianne, now his wife of 24 years, after she caught his eye during class at Bible college.
“I wanted to figure out a way to meet her and noticed she had an Amplified Study Bible,” Ed explained.
The question piqued just enough interest to generate the first of many conversations about Andy Griffith reruns and old movies, among other topics.
“I asked her out, and she said ‘no’ twice,” Ed admitted. But Ed was persistent.
“Soon after I first saw Dianne, I told my friend, ‘I’m going to marry that girl,’” Ed said.
Dianne finally said yes to a first date, and a year later both of them said, ‘I do.’
So was it love at first sight? Not so much as God’s affirmation of a match made in heaven as evident from the couple’s grounded faith that is at the base of their marriage.
“We lean heavily on God in our relationship – praying for one another and with each other,” Ed explained.
The couple’s relationship is also strengthened by humor.
“The humor in a relationship eases the friction of life, and … it helps a couple develop a common view of their life rather than an adversarial view,” Ed explained.
“And you don’t tend to cry as much,” Dianne added.
In addition to humor, Ed and Dianne have found communication, commitment, and transparency to be key elements for a healthy marriage. Communication is more than just talking. It involves being a good listener and a devoted friend.
“He is my best friend,” Dianne said of Ed.
“I can completely trust her,” Ed added. “When my back is turned, she is [still] committed to me. That commitment helps you be transparent, too. Transparency draws people together, and commitment prevents rejection.
“I think being married to Dianne has made me a better man,” Ed concluded.
“That’s out of a movie,” Dianne prodded as the couple erupted in laughter.
Advice: Avoid cruel and insulting comments but always share an ability to laugh.
Casey “Buddy” and Carol Smith, 33 years
From childhood neighbors to high school sweethearts, a trip down the aisle was the next natural step for Buddy Smith, AFA’s executive assistant to the president, and his love, Carol.
“I was in ninth grade, and she was in seventh grade when I first expressed an interest in her,” Buddy recalled. “Her mother put a stop to that, and I couldn’t get past a phone call.”
But as the youngsters matured, a relationship of love began to develop that led them to marriage at the ages of 21 and 19.
“We believe that marriage was God’s idea and that He brought us together as husband and wife,” Buddy explained. “The foundation of our marriage has always been the acknowledgment that it is made up of three people – the two of us and God as the central figure.”
“We like to picture Christian marriage as a triangle – a man and woman at the base with Jesus Christ as the apex,” Carol added.
Therefore, a Christ-centered home is the couple’s master key to a fulfilling marriage.
“[But] other vital keys on the ring of a lasting marriage include unconditional love, mutual trust, honesty, respect, care, communication, sexual faithfulness and purity, friendship, reconciliation and growth,” Buddy said, all in view of commitment.
“We think it’s very important to talk about commitment in the marriage relationship in light of the nebulous meanings of ‘love’ in today’s culture. … For many couples today, love is treated as a feeling that comes and goes and is void of any commitment,” Buddy explained.
“But marriage is not whatever society chooses to make of it,” he added. “A Christian marriage is a total commitment of two people to the person of Jesus Christ and to one another.”
“We understood on our wedding day that our commitment was only a gesture of beginning the lifelong process of handing over everything to Jesus Christ and one another,” Carol explained.
Advice: Anchor yourselves in a Bible-believing church that offers ongoing ministry opportunities designed to strengthen existing marriages.
J.E. and Cherry Sims, 35 years
She was merely a college freshman. He was a career-bound senior. Both had the voices of angels and sang their ways into each other’s hearts.
After an on-and-off dating relationship, participation in a summer musical at a local church became a defining point in the relationship between Cherry Sims, director of media placement for AFA, and her husband, J.E.
“We just knew God had us together,” Cherry said.
And it’s their dedication to Him and to each other that is the foundation of their marriage that is 35 years in existence and going strong. Love, commitment, communication, compromise and just the right amount of humor are significant factors in the Sims’ marriage.
In other words, the couple knows the value in putting each other first and “loving each other the way Christ loved us and being willing to give ourselves for our mate,” J.E. explained.
“Emotions change, but commitment is an act of the will,” he added.
“What we see happening today is that the minute marriage gets rocky, couples split,” Cherry said. “When emotion – which is fickle – ebbs and flows, commitment – which is the glue of the marriage – holds things together. It sticks.”
And how rewarding it is for Cherry and J.E. to know the commitment holds tight after more than three decades together.
Advice: Always make it a point to compliment your spouse in front of your children.
Don and Lynda Wildmon, 44 years
“I first saw her at a community college basketball game,” said the Rev. Don Wildmon, founder and chairman of AFA, about his wife Lynda.“When I asked my friend who that cute little cheerleader was, I was told she was going steady with someone. So I didn’t pursue her.”
But six months later when their paths crossed again, Lynda was attending summer school six miles from Don’s home.
“I asked her for a date,” Don said, “and she accepted. Five minutes into our first date, on the way to a movie, I looked across the seat and said, ‘I think I will marry you.’
“A year later, we got married,” he added. Don was 23 years old, and Lynda was a week away from being 21.
Now, 44 years later, the couple has four grown children and six grandchildren – all products of a relationship grounded in a love for God and each other.
“[It is important to] pray for your spouse, be faithful to your marriage vows and give your spouse some space to do things he enjoys,” Lynda said. “[Also], have a sense of humor, be able to laugh at your shortcomings, and be able to accept constructive criticism if given with compassion.”
“Commitment is also absolutely necessary,” Don said. “[As a result], we have become helpmates as we matured, still striving for the perfect marriage but learning, in reality, that we are both imperfect.”
Don admits that learning to accept each other’s differences has been a difficult part of their marriage, but it has also been an area that has taught the couple the importance of compromise in their relationship.
“We have found the will and love to stay together,” Lynda said. “It’s rewarding to come to this stage of marriage and reflect on the many stages of life,” which include watching their children grow into adulthood as well as making a lifetime of memories together.
Advice: Respect each other, help each other, accept the perceived faults of each other and admit when you are wrong.