Not Sure About Visiting?

We would be happy to answer some questions you may have.

Arranged Marriages

I guess you could say I’ve been lucky in love with at least three good women over the course of my lifetime, but my only real and lasting good fortune is simply that each of those three companions turned out to be the wife who joined me a few weeks ago to celebrate our 35th anniversary over dinner. As usual, my preparations for our anniversary proved rather inept. This is not really my fault. All those years ago we never took the time to calculate that our wedding date would forever run up against a holiday season making it nigh-unto-impossible to score a good restaurant table on the night of our celebration. At the time, we were simply trying to figure out how to manage getting married over a Christmas break during my first year of graduate school. It never occurred to us that this sense of priority in the scheduling of our nuptials would put a royal crimp in the holiday plans for all our relatives and friends. We were in love, as they say, and back then it just sounded Groovy with a side order of Awesome Sauce for us to wave goodbye to everyone at the church before heading out on the interstate highway in a blizzard of Biblical proportions. Fast forward another 35 years, and there we were once again, slipping and sliding through ice and snowflakes only to discover that the restaurant was closed due to inclement weather. As any husband with a little pluck will tell you, this is exactly the kind of situation that calls for a bit of broken-field running and improvisation. So I made Carmen get out of the car just about the time the skies opened up in one of those thunder-and-sleet-snowstorms that your television meteorologist is likely to call a “wintery mix,” so she could walk unannounced and without reservations into the only restaurant on the street that appeared to remain open during what was soon to become some sort of Snowpocalypse. After all these years, we were still in love, and it was time to part-tay just like we used to back in the day. You say you have no dinner reservations, my friends? Not to worry. For you, we have a lovely table against that picture window, allowing you to dine sumptuously while being serenaded by a smelly dockload of barking sea lions just a few feet away. Again, none of this is really my fault. I guess you could say this is just how we roll after 35 years of wedded bliss.

Now if you are still interested in asking me about that whole lucky-in-love-with-at-least-three-good-women deal I mentioned right out of the box, there is a perfectly good explanation to offer. The Carmen with whom I enjoyed our most recent anniversary dinner is of course the third of those companions sharing my life. There is something wonderful to be said about what happens when a couple grows old together, learning that unspoken marital shorthand that enables a wife to glance across the crowded room of a boring party to say with nothing more than an unspoken look, “Are you ready to go home?” But during the first decades of our marriage, there was also a younger version of Carmen that I learned to love. She was the bold and intrepid wife who took my hand with a faith and confidence that arose from who-knows-where to move thousands of miles away from the people and places that had up to that moment been the only Home and Life she had ever known. How can you ever forget those early years together when you learn what it is to find a job, build and buy a house, or fix your own broken appliances, vehicles, and heartaches without relying on your Dad and Mom to come running if you call? Never underestimate the power of each of those early, first experiences as husband and wife to become the brick-and-mortar of a long and fulfilling life together, for at least part of what it means to love your spouse is to recognize the wisdom of the Bible in reminding us what happens when a man and woman leave their parents to cleave to one another. The two become one, and with the grace of God they will spend the remainder of their lifetime together discovering just who is the one that the two have become.

By now, you can see where I am heading. At least you will have narrowed down the list of suspects to recognize that the first of those three women that I love is none other than the Carmen that I met, courted, and married all those years ago. As for the meeting itself, from the very beginning it was obvious that neither of us could really claim much credit for finding in one another the kind of potential mate we would have been seeking if we would have known what qualities to pursue in someone else. In our case, even the idea of meeting one another for the first time came initially to another family member who knew each of us well enough to get busy on finding a way to throw us together. It was Carmen’s maternal aunt who had the bright idea that her niece should come to church one Sunday evening to meet a college boy who would be preaching that night, of all things. Then Aunt Donna strategically cornered me that Sunday morning somewhere between the Sanctuary and my intended destination in the Men’s Restroom to extol the grace and virtues of her sister’s oldest daughter. At the time, I calculated that Donna was probably just another well-meaning Church Lady thoroughly convinced that her favorite duck was a swan. As I came to understand it several months later, for her part, the last kind of college boy Carmen was looking to meet was undoubtedly one of the Preacher Boy variety. I don’t really blame her for her suspicions. Back in those days, young Preacher Boys often tended to be known for their smooth talk, quick marriage proposals, and proven ability to invest long years as unemployed Seminary students while their wives worked hard to support them in the manner to which they had grown accustomed. In short, we did not meet that Sunday night. It was only months later that we bumped into one another, each of us planning to find a place to study at the same table in a college Library, exactly as your Mother and Father would have it when they send you off to a Nazarene university to learn your own vocation in the world. Sometimes, to find the best partner you will ever have in this life, you may discover that the people who have known you best will often have a much better clue than you do what you actually require to get to where you most need to go. So remembering Aunt Donna, I can only tell you that as a pastor, I am very fond of arranged marriages. Your Mother and Father will probably tell you much the same, and this is has always been at least one of the best reasons that we have for going to all the trouble to build and maintain our system of Nazarene universities.

In the end, a few weeks ago we were celebrating our 35th anniversary while a colony of sea lions barked lustily adjacent to our restaurant table in no small part because we met senior year on the campus of Northwest Nazarene University. In looking back on all of that, I remember sensing very soon after meeting that young woman that I should try to live in such a way that she might be willing to suspend her intuitive sense of disbelief (regarding Preacher Boys) long enough to go out with me. But that final year of college, I had also determined to move ahead with obedience in response to a sense of vocational call to ministry in service to Jesus and his Church. Most importantly, in that final year of college I found myself at an altar of worship, praying that God would help me to adopt the motto of my alma mater as the guiding philosophy and commitment for my life: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).” You might say that it was all laid out there in a nutshell, the future direction of my life. My spouse, career, money, and future would have to come in second, for only God could be honored as the first and best priority of my life. For as an acquaintance of mine often puts it, “Everybody tithes to something, because everybody gives their first and best to something.”

Maybe you remember Father Abraham and Sarah, the honored and exalted ancestors whose faithfulness gave rise to another family that had its own share of blessedly arranged marriages over the years. If you do remember their saga in the book of Genesis, then you probably recall the decades that they waited on God to fulfill the promises of blessing, prosperity, and renown that were focused on a son who had not yet been either conceived or born. Bummer. Perhaps you know what it is like when you’re waiting on an Answer from God: Not Yet always feels exactly like No. So what should you do while you’re waiting in the misery of an unanswered prayer? May I suggest the example of ancient Abraham and Sarah? For the way in which they dealt with their longing for a future only God can give was to consistently build an altar, making a place in which to sacrifice the old life they were leaving behind to receive their new calling to be a blessing to others no matter where they lived. You don’t need to fight with the folks around you who do not believe in the promises of God. You don’t need to drive away the unbelievers that resist and ridicule your efforts to live faithfully before God. And you don’t need to waste your time and efforts trying to come up with your own clever ways of manipulating a successful fulfillment while you’re waiting for God to finally answer your prayers. Just build an altar, a place to give back to the Lord all that you are and hope to one day be in the prayer that God will take pleasure in your offering of sacrifice. Just build an altar, for everyday can be an occasion to honor the Lord as the first and best priority of your life.

Everybody gives their first and best to something. But you already knew what to expect from somebody like me. “What does God want me to do?” is a question meant to remain at the center of every significant decision of life. But perhaps the observation of an acquaintance of mine will put that familiar question into sharp focus. “I know that sounds simple,” he said, “but it’s surprising how often the opinion of God doesn’t even register as relevant information for many Christians.”

Jeff Crosno