Anniversary Tribute to Elke and Reflections on Marriage

This cool, calm and still morning, I strolled outside to admire the dawn, as eastern cirrus clouds evolved through wondrous progression of salmon, cotton-candy pink, Tang-powder orange, luminescent gold, champagne, and aluminum silver hues. Reminding me of the reverse tonal sequence of sunsets I’ve watched with my wife Elke in our treks all across the Great Plains, the experience brought an appreciation of the many blessings God has granted me—a small one being that sunrise, and a larger one of life itself in a land where (for now anyway) we’re still free to get out there and catch those colorfully brightening glows.

Elke’s presence is God’s greatest blessing to me. That’s just the simple but powerful truth. Thirteen years ago Tuesday, we wed in a small chapel in Golden, Colorado, near her home at the time, set in the foothills—a small, intimate wedding with a dozen or so friends and another dozen or so family. Her arrival in my life was the clear and obvious answer to prayers, some general and some very specific over the span of two years prior, in which a very humbled and broken soul in me laid my future in the Lord’s hands and asked that His will be done, because my failed first marriage proved I did not have all the answers. I still don’t, but now I at least can report on what resides on the healthy and happy side of the marriage equation, and why! And so I will here…

Much has been made lately about marriage, how it is defined, who lays claim to it, legal versus religious, and so forth. Divisive topics they are. Not exactly being a reclusive wallflower when it comes to controversy, I have staked out an unwavering stance of strength and certainty on the meaning of marriage, and being rooted firmly in His word, make no compromises thereon. Maybe that’s not all because of my faith and moral convictions, however, but also, partly because I know what does and does not work in a marriage. One ended cold and hard, a divorce that was biblically justifiable yet no less agonizing, a Titanic sunken to the chill depths after years of trying to right the badly listing vessel. Regardless of friends who assured me it wasn’t my “fault”, the truth is it takes two to succeed in any relationship, and two to fail, regardless of anybody’s perceived distribution of blame. At the time it was an abject failure of the ideal of marriage, an unheard-of and resounding defeat for a former straight-A public-school student who didn’t and still doesn’t tolerate such very well.

Yet my marriage to Elke has been a success beyond anything I could have dreamed, a relationship of the sort I’d like to place in a glowing display case on the highest mountaintop and offer up to the word as Exhibit A on how it can and should work. Is our marriage perfect? Of course not; none ever is. Yet we hardly ever argue, and when we do, it’s usually over something fairly trivial about which one or the other of us (most often me) has gotten a little too self-centered, and it passes quickly. Sure we’re different in some minor ways. It doesn’t matter; in the most important ways, we are not just similar, but one.

Here’s the key: on the most important issues—faith, values, household roles, finance, life priorities—we are fully together as a unified body. Early in our relationship, we realized how uncannily similar we were in our worldviews, and only have grown even tighter in tune with each other over the years since. I’ve changed, she’s changed, but in ways that grew us even closer. Instead of trying to adjust each other (perhaps the most common error in a marriage and a very selfish undertaking, truth be told), we’ve interwoven ever more tightly and adapted to life together. Together! We’re united in faith and strength amidst a broken and harsh world.

Now, a most fortunate 13 years passed, I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, a time without my beautiful bride, an introvert by nature who also is also the most insightful, endearing, compassionate, thoughtful, spiritually gifted, and quietly intellectual person I’ve ever known. Her gifts come from God (as all ours ultimately do) and have been illuminated brilliantly for me, and I’m thankful for it every single day.

Yes, God. It is to Him I give credit for his guidance is what brought us together and keeps us on the rails, and the miracle of Elke’s presence in my life. [Hey, if someone would marry me willingly, eagerly and happily, that must take a miracle from above, right? Or at least that’s what many who have known me for a long time will claim.] Yes, I deem it miraculous, without reservation; the mathematical odds at the start of this sequence (before our births) would be far too small to attribute to anything else. How else do these two unlikely mates ever come together?

  1. An adorable little four-year-old Austrian girl in Salzburg, speaking nothing but German, beloved by her family for her gentle and loving nature, quiet brilliance and outward beauty even as a small child. Her father, a geological engineer, hauled the young family to the U.S. Rocky Mountains when she was a little tyke. Why immigrate here? His skills were in high demand, as I-70 was being carved and blasted through the mountains, but ultimately it was thanks to a love for and fascination with America instilled in him by one simple deed of kindness in war’s devastated aftermath: a candy bar given to him in childhood by a U.S. serviceman.

    Growing up in the Front Range suburbs, outwardly an idyllic life, the irresistibly cute little German-speaking girl became a beautiful woman with no trace of an accent, and with a deep love for helpless baby animals that got her mom started in a lifelong career of raptor rehabilitation. Then hard lessons of life shattered her innocence and shook her faith in both God and people, through a series of painful personal relationships and awful family troubles out of her control. She had many different jobs, most not paying well, most involving shift work, some involving hard physical labor. Through it all she developed a love for storms that would bring us together online, of all places, in a medium that didn’t exist just a few years before. And she rediscovered, in deeper and richer ways than ever, a patient and welcoming God from whom she had strayed. Then we became friends, and later, much more…

  2. An only child of a laborer father and visually impaired mother, living paycheck-to-paycheck in the city, sometimes with no paychecks at all, “white trash” minority in a majority-minority inner city. We lived in assorted rental duplexes, each in mostly decrepit condition with no air conditioning in Dallas summers (we couldn’t afford it). Rats crawled through walls and ceilings, roaches crawled up my legs in bed. I heard the gunshots, wails of sirens, and barking dogs all night. Quiet by nature but innately intolerant of BS, I got street-smart and street-hard with an attitude, learned how to fight and fight effectively…got in more than I care to admit, and have some scars to show for it. I also learned early to compartmentalize rigidly…saw by abundant example what did and did not work in terms how to handle poverty…and very seldom got in trouble at school. Education obviously was the path to following a deep passion for severe storms and tornadoes I had since earliest childhood and I was not about to screw that up.

    As a teen I dabbled in atheism but reasoned my way out of its literal dead end and gradually heeded the call of the Lord. In college I dabbled in chosen victimhood and its Siamese sibling of leftism but outgrew that unproductive nonsense quickly, thank God. The storm passion, itself a gift from above in my infancy that never has wavered, and a stubborn determination that has been both blessing and curse, led me to a great career. But personal life got mired in a bad marriage along the way. [Even that was a blessing in the end, for it gave me two kids, now grown, whom I love deeply.] And out of the ashes of personal failure came a miracle from Austria via Colorado, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Let me tell you this: in Heaven, I’m going to find that WW2 GI, shake his hand and thank him profusely for the cross-generational fruits of his simple act of generosity!

That beautiful little Austrian doll, this dirty kid with attitude from inner-city Dallas, somehow together in midlife in Oklahoma after some intense times along the journey before…that’s no accident. I believe with all I know that it was guided from above. Elke told me before we wed that she wouldn’t be with someone who hadn’t been to hell and back. We all know she didn’t marry me for my looks, so it had to be the real deal. 🙂 God turned life’s hardships and pain into the richest blessing I’ve known, and it is to Him I give all the thanks.

You know, faith was the very first topic Elke and I ever seriously discussed at length—one many would like to avoid for fear of offense, but one we charged right into with mutually caring, supportive, sharing fervor. Our prenuptial e-mails and phone calls on that topic alone could write hundreds of pages of text. We learned so much from each other about God and our respective bumpy and rough journeys to find Him, and what better foundation can there be than that? The Lord was the centerpiece of our building relationship then, and remains so today. Every day we discuss faith in some way. God truly is the architect and arbiter of our marriage. Yes, God-less marriages can be happy and last a long time, at least outwardly; most rules do have exceptions. Nonetheless, even if the couple doesn’t fully realize or acknowledge such, something huge still is missing regardless: a spiritual wholeness and fulfillment that, in our case, most certainly is not. The message fundamentally is consistent and sturdy across time and books and translations…

    “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” –Genesis 2:24

    “And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.'” –Matthew 19:5

    “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” — Ephesians 5:31

Our marriage has been so wonderful because each of us does not put “me” first. The doom of every bad marriage is selfishness…every single one! Tell me the circumstances of any divorce, every breakup, and I’ll point out blatant examples of selfishness. We look for ways to give to each other, be it when she cooks a delicious meal for me or I give her a foot rub. From her days working shifts, she knows what it’s like and adapts accordingly. I try to give her the room she needs to be a creative and effective web designer and graphic artist. We go on lunch or dinner dates several times a week, look for bargains on useful items at estate sales, and watch football together (she has become quite the OU Sooners and Dallas Cowboys fan…see, I have had a little beneficial influence!). She selflessly sacrificed of herself to help to raise my kids, for which I am forever grateful. All the while, I think we set an example for my kids of how a marriage should work, after all the torment and uncertainty they had endured when smaller. For years we have traveled together on journeys of storms, photography, exploring the world, and rediscovering each other and God’s glory, and cherish every bit of all of it. She is my beautiful angel, better than I deserve, and I try every day to treat her that way. As a song once said, “She’s close enough to perfect for me.”

Our roles are traditional: I’m the “breadwinner” (but she contributes financially too as a freelancer) and she does the most around the house (though I try to be helpful too). I work on household projects with her; she does web and manuscript layout for a meteorology journal I edit scientifically. Our hobbies and interests either are identical or mesh well, and our Christian worldviews have phased together in an awesome and real way. We complement and encourage each other in many ways, usually with little conscious effort. As another song once said, “we’re one, but we’re not the same”…and we respect that. We don’t try to change each other, but we do heavily influence each other—and for the better! Thanks to her, I’ve gotten less hard-hearted and rigid over time, in those ways that rigidity is deleterious (still an idealistic and opinionated iconoclast otherwise, and she loves it!). She has taught me so much about love, living in the moment, and appreciation of days, and I’ve taught her a few things about storms and football. [Rather lopsided, I know…]

Life experience means something, which is why I often advise young people to wait and gain some, to think rationally even more than emotionally about marriage and what it entails in a pragmatic as well as romantic sense. Will you love your mate when he or she looks like a shriveled-up old prune? If not, don’t marry that person. Will you want him or her to change to match you better? If so, don’t marry that person. Do you think you can make him or her different? If so, don’t marry that person until you have accepted how they are right now. Have you discussed deep issues like faith, child-rearing philosophy, money, sex, materialism, career goals, where you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 and 30 years? If not, it’s too soon to marry. Is he or she jealous, possessive, with a history of bouts of rage and/or abusive behavior toward people or animals, prone to drinking too much or doing drugs? If so, run far from that relationship!

You see, it helps to understand, to let go of self, to learn to offer oneself and to follow through, to give to each other, and to recognize and squelch the temptation to put “me” first. Know each other’s strengths and roles, and respect them. It helps to have fully compatible worldviews. Sure, a conservative can marry a liberal, an atheist can marry an observant Jew, a Christian can marry a Buddhist, a Sooners die-hard can marry a Longhorn fan (perhaps the greatest chasm to bridge!). Do not, however, underestimate nor discount the value in a marriage of hugely overlapping and mutually enriching worldviews!

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the biggest predictor of marital success is not race, class, status, looks, or even what passes for “love” in those torrid nights of hormonally fueled young romance. Instead, the best gauge of marital success is how closely a couple’s worldviews match. I’m so fortunate to be with someone whose beliefs, temperament and outlook so closely overlap mine that we relate in ways that go far above, beneath and beyond what is spoken. We are determined never to stagnate, either; for in relational and spiritual life as well as professional, stagnation is death. I’d take that vow to love, honor and cherish, still today, and every day hereafter. Elke is worth all that and more.

Here’s to however much more time we are allowed on this Earth. I look forward to every day, regardless of the trials of life and the accursed sickness of the world at large, because I know it will involve being present with the one I love in God’s grace and oversight. That’s more than good enough for me, and I’m a grateful husband for Elke’s presence. After all, as I often tell her, she’s the “bestest and the beautifulest”—inside and out.


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