Part 1: [Don’t] Mind the Gap »
It’s a good thing Ellie’s radio wasn’t working.
Don had it all planned out: He would go visit his sister, who just happened to work at the same place Ellie did. And he would just happen to have tools in the back of his car.
Providing live-in care for an elderly lady didn’t include many opportunities to meet people. At 29, Ellie realized that if she were going to get married, God would have to bring someone to her. When Don offered to fix her radio, she thought, “Lord, this is the kind of man I would like to have as a husband.” There was more, of course. During his week-long visit, she saw that he was good with animals, that he showed leadership and friendliness.
At 24, Don had already made a few unsuccessful attempts to find a wife. What helped him overcome his discouragement and pursue Ellie? Her character was most important, but there was more: her sharp wit, her ability to communicate — and her responsiveness to him.
They played Rook, the sparks flew, and Don began to hope.
As Don drove away, Ellie prayed, “Lord, is this something you’re doing, or is this my imagination?”
When they first met, Don had been just a kid: He was 14; she was 19. Since their mothers were friends, they had seen each other off and on through the years: most recently just a few months before, when she came to his uncle’s funeral. Though she had not previously thought of marrying someone five years her junior, in the last few months God had been begun placing seeds of openness in Ellie’s heart: openness to something different, something new.
Don had been open all along: after all, his father was nine years younger than his mother, and in his mind, someone older would be an asset. However, he was also open to someone that much younger. The number one thing in his heart was to discover what the Lord wanted. He simply went searching for what that was, while actively asking God to lead and control. He felt so inept in understanding God that he was trusting completely in the open and closed doors.
But as he considered Ellie, Don ran into a roadblock. His deepest desire was for a wife who would be willing to go anywhere, at any time, to serve God — and someone had told him that Ellie was not like that.
Wisely, Don decided to ask Ellie: Her answer was all that he had hoped for.
Meanwhile, the last thing Ellie wanted was to be acting only on her feelings. “Is this really the man God wants for me?” As time went on, she realized that God was giving her these emotions, and the permission to follow them.
Theirs was a very old-fashioned courtship. These were the days before e-mail, and Don didn’t have a telephone. For three months, the handwritten letters flew back and forth across state lines.
Thanks to their shared background, the list of issues to address was blissfully short. They were engaged on their very first date, and married six months after it all started.
That was 36 years ago.
Now, Ellie can’t remember a time when she was concentrating on their age difference as a problem, a concern, or even something to be aware of. Looking back, she figures that there probably were age-based challenges, but after the first two or three years, they ceased to matter. In fact, it startles her once in a while, when she remembers that her husband is younger.
During the first two or three years of their marriage, Don found himself relying on Ellie’s judgment. At the time, he simply thought she had sound wisdom, but in retrospect, it could have been because she had more life experience. He figures that in any marriage, you get people with different talents, abilities and limitations. In the first years, you are trying to discover what those are and how to work together, but as time goes on, you meld into a team rather than two individuals.
From Don and Ellie’s perspective, age difference is a minor factor compared to temperament and communication. With her naturally reserved personality, Ellie can see how a wife who is older than her husband could over-correct in the area of submission. But Don says that if a husband asks for his wife’s opinion, he really wants to know. If one or the other person is closing the door by refusing to give an answer, or shrugging it off, that makes the whole relationship struggle.
A lot of it boils down to the willingness to communicate when it’s hard, and open your hearts to each other, even when you feel that you’re risking being hurt. Communication, he says, is the key to success.
Together, they have a greater wealth of wisdom, and a greater circle of friends: for Don and Ellie, their gap is an asset.
Mark was still awake.
It was late, but he was all fired up about the new Bible study method he was learning in this three-month discipleship training program. In search of a place to read without disturbing his roommates, he went outside and found a light in the garden.
Meanwhile, Liz was praying, “God, I want someone to talk to here.” She wandered outside — and found Mark. She sat down; he talked nonstop. They became friends.
At almost 18, Mark was the youngest guy in the program, but day after day, as they were being spiritually challenged, Liz watched him mature faster than the others. She saw his sensitivity to God, and his willingness to obey, even when it sounded crazy. Because he had that attitude, she was able to look up to Mark, even though she was two years older.
Mark figures he took it for granted that Liz’s character and values lined up so well with his. After all, everyone there had the same values.
But if she hadn’t had such strength of character, he would definitely have thought twice about what came next.
One day, Mark asked God a question. “What do You want to tell me about myself?” The answer he got was completely unexpected.
What? Was God really telling him to marry Liz?
Mark liked the connection he had with her when they talked. He figured that if he sprang the whole “God wants me to marry you” line, she’d never speak to him again. But he also knew that God is not the kind of person who lets you down when you are trusting Him. Sometimes, he says, God’s motive behind speaking to someone is not just to exchange information, but to build character and teach a lesson. So he waited and listened.
“I got something in prayer, and I don’t know what to think about it,” he told his friends. “I need you to pray for clarification.”
After a few days, the impression hadn’t changed. He decided that even if it cost him the friendship, he was going to obey God.
So he told Liz.
Now, Liz had been doing some listening of her own. She wasn’t at all keen about the idea of marrying someone because God told her to, but here’s what she thought she had heard Him say: Your husband is here at school. Wait and I will show him to you. Problem: During these three key months, school policy prohibited dating.
“God?” Liz asked, “Do you know the rules?”
“If this is a relationship that’s going to last for the rest of our lives,” they figured, “then we want to do it right from the beginning.” Together, Mark and Liz went to their leaders. “This is what God told us,” they said. “That’s why we’re telling you.” They were advised to simply stay friends until the end of the training, and they did.
They also called their parents. Liz had been talking regularly with her family, but this was only Mark’s second call home, and they had no idea of the changes that had been going on in his life. They encouraged him to wait a little while, maybe go to college.
Mark and Liz had already planned separately to minister in Turkey; now they wanted to do it together. “I know what God wants me to do with the rest of my life,” Mark thought. “I don’t want to wait four years.”
“When you’re in a relationship that’s designed by the Lord,” Liz says, “you don’t have to be a certain age to qualify for that role. It really just comes down to submitting yourself to the Lord and saying, ‘I want You to be in charge of this relationship.'”
Training program over, they spent two months in other countries. He went to Cambodia; she went to Fiji. She suffered two severe attacks of dengue fever. He called her dad from an internet phone for permission to get engaged.
Not surprisingly, many people doubted that they were old enough to marry. Over the next months, Mark and Liz put this passage into practice: “Let no one despise you because of your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Mark worked two jobs, helped Liz’s dad, who had just suffered a major heart attack — and shared a room with her 10-year-old brother for six solid months.
Though still unsure about the timing, Mark’s parents eventually agreed to bless the marriage. And within months, what began as deliberate support for the new husband and wife became genuine respect.
On their wedding day, Mark was 19 years old, and Liz was 21.
And yes, there were unique challenges.
Liz describes herself as the typical strong-minded first-born child, used to taking care of herself. Occasionally, she is tempted by the thought, “You’re older. You can do this.” But in marriage, she says, it’s not about who can do what best; it’s about taking your right role. God has the roles really well laid out, and when you do it, it really works.
When they were first married, Liz had a lot of experience with her family’s small business, plus a couple of her own, while Mark had only done odd jobs. Yes, she helped him open his first checking account, but “You can learn stuff like that,” Liz says. “He had stuff in place that you can’t learn very easily.”
From Mark’s perspective, Liz has been good about letting him work his way through his responsibilities. He is a musician; she is a mechanic. The fact that she had real-world know-how did help when they were starting out, but she hasn’t held on that role. Instead, she stepped back and prayed, watched God mature him in practical ways.
When she became pregnant, Mark took over the finances, saying, “I want to do this to bless you, so you have more time to be a mom.” She hasn’t had to do it since.
Mark notes that any time there’s an age gap, there might be a gap in your timelines for starting a family. It’s very important to communicate about these expectations. From the beginning, Liz told Mark that she didn’t want to be any older than 25 when she had her first child. He was aghast. “I’ll only be 23!” he exclaimed.
Eventually, Liz decided that she wasn’t going to pressure or manipulate him into having things her way. A couple years into their marriage, she simply said “I think it’s time to start a family. Would you pray about it?” He did, and felt that it was indeed time.
Now married for five years, Mark and Liz are expecting their second child, and are looking forward to returning to Turkey for a second time. The age gap only broadens their friendship base; their Christ-centered marriage is a powerful testimony to their Turkish friends. “I love the place where I am,” says Liz, “and I love the family we’re becoming.”
Copyright 2009 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.