Early in our marriage, I didn't recognize romance as a primary ingredient in keeping Barry and me together. But now, after 15 years and four children, I realize how it keeps desire connected to commitment. Romance has always given our relationship its edge, its liveliness.
Our romance has taken many forms through the years. We've exchanged love letters (some silly, some serious), traveled alone (near and far), celebrated and flirted. But the most constant thing Barry and I do is to lunch together at least once a week, while the kids are in school. It's our date time, a ritual we established before we married.
Our regular date would be easy to forego, especially during crunches of time or finances. We could cut it out of our schedules and feel virtuous about it. But we don't because these dates connect us.
Though we live in the same house, schedules and children moving in four different directions pull us apart. Even when we're all at home, the distractions of phones, computers and children's chatter keep our conversation banal and insipid.
Because we date regularly, however, our individual dreams, hopes, frustrations and doubts tumble out — not because we plan that to happen but because there is opportunity. In the process they become shared goals, endeavors and struggles.
Romance infuses our marriage with fun and spontaneity. Barry showed up at my last birthday celebration with party horns and candles in Hostess cupcakes. It was silly and, yes, romantic.
Such an ongoing romantic relationship reminds me to protect the balance of our marriage. It would be easy, for example, to concentrate so much on raising children that I neglect my husband. But nurturing my relationship as wife helps me develop into the mother God wants for our children.
Of course, the demands of being Mom to a line of preschoolers might have over-whelmed the delights if Barry hadn't taken pains to keep romance alive. Our children — Britt, 12; Jordan, 10; Luke, 7; and Keilah, 4 — were each born two or three years apart. In the early years, just when I feared I would drown in infant formula, Barry would pick up the phone. "I'm coming home for lunch."
Sound mundane rather than romantic? Candlelight and roses aren't required for romance (although they're a great start). Romance is devotion, whether expressed in phone calls, love letters, physical affection or light conversation over a bland lunch.
I first understood the importance of romance a decade ago. When Britt was two, she was hospitalized for kidney failure while suffering from a rare disease. Church members came one day to help us at the hospital.
I turned to Barry. "She'll be asleep for a while. Why don't we go down to the cafeteria together?"
Barry and I didn't eat much. We didn't go for food. It's never been about food.
Because we've nurtured our relationship all along, our first impulse is to reach out and cling to each other, especially in rough times when life is not fun or silly or mundane. We realize we're really holding each other up.
So maybe romance does keep us together. I know I'm not ready for marriage without it.
Kima and I started our courtship when I was a youth minister, and the hours at the church office dragged while I waited to go and see her. I wanted to spend every minute with her! It didn't matter whether we went to a ball game, movie or spent a quiet evening at her parents' home — I just wanted to be with her.
We specialized in love notes, long phone calls and occasional gifts. I noticed what her favorite candies were and bought them. I made every church function an opportunity to be with her. (Her parents probably caved in and let us get married just to get me out of their house.)
I'm thankful we got married if only to slow the breathless pace of our courtship. I could imagine one of us eventually keeling over from a heart attack or sleep deprivation.
But as the early years of our marriage sped by, I became convinced that romance was intended not just for courtship, but for our lifetime of marriage as well. While we adjusted our pace for the long haul, neither of us has ever dropped out of the race.
The Scriptures tell us, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). In their book, Fit to Be Tied, Bill and Lynne Hybels point out that the first verb in this verse is in the Greek present imperative tense. Hybels says a more accurate reading could be, "Husbands, keep on treasuring your wives."
This is a command from God, not a suggestion. I'm convinced that romance is necessary for me to fulfill my God-given responsibility of loving my wife. Romance helps me to be a servant of Christ to my wife, concentrating on her needs and not just mine.
Also, in purely human terms, romance helps me focus on my most important relationship next to Christ. Romance causes me to spend time thinking about Kima and prods me to be sensitive to her needs as I look for ways to express my love for her.
Romance makes our relationship fun. When I spend time alone with Kima, whether it's at lunch, dinner, a ball game or the theater, I can simply enjoy her companionship. These times balance the more mundane moments and relieve the drudgery of our lives.
Whenever we can, Kima and I leave our kids with friends, and she and I travel to an annual ministers' meeting. We go for other purposes, but this time away for spiritual renewal usually sparks a romantic revival as well.
A dynamic, ongoing love affair helps me stay faithful and pure in my thought life. When my heart and eyes are focused on my wife, I am simply less likely to stray. When, in my mind, I have the greenest grass, why would I look at another man's yard?
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.