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Enduring Bonds of Marriage: Building a Lasting Love

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A mature couple walks hand-in-hand near some boats in a marina. The goal of you marriage vows is to build a lasting love in marriage
Authors Bill and Pam Farrel look back on some of life's storms that helped them build a lasting, enduring love in their marriage. They offer some tips that will help you do just that.

Oh, the hope of an epic, lasting love! On Dec 14, 1979, we stood and pledged our faithful love to one another. Our vows were traditional, and we meant every word:” to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

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

We said these vows with our whole hearts, but little did we realize all we were committing to! This year, we celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. The last dozen years make this anniversary even sweeter and more precious. Why is this year so priceless?

A Couple of ‘a Certain Age’

We have both experienced more death recently than we ever had to deal with in previous decades. One of the reasons this anniversary is one we both treasure is that since the 2020 pandemic through this past week, so many of our friends and collogues have graduated to heaven. We have walked alongside both husbands who have ushered their wives into glory and wives who have seen the home-going of their husbands. It became a stark reality when we bought grief books in bulk, and memorial services filled our travel schedule. 

In addition, this is our “Medicare” induction year, a marked reminder that we are a couple of “a certain age.”

“But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

The Role of Bill’s Close Call in Building a Lasting Love in Marriage

We got an early wake-up call about 12 years ago when my very healthy but very overworked husband found himself in a health crisis. We were traveling for a media tour for our bestselling book, Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, when Bill started not to feel well. He went to a local Urgent Care, and his blood pressure was at a dangerously high level.

This got Bill’s attention because his grandfather died of a stroke in his forties, and his own father suffered a stroke in his forties that left him disabled on half his body. My husband was in his forties—and stressed.

That doctor prescribed a short-term treatment and urged Bill to see his primary care physician. It was Christmas week when we returned home and got to the doctor’s office.

The doctor cautioned Bill: “You are also a full-time pastor, writer, and speaker, plus a dad, husband, and community leader. You are burning the candle at both ends. Bill, you are a people helper. If someone came into your office with this erratic blood pressure and your packed schedule, what would you advise?”

Bill replied, “You have some strategic life choices to make.” Exactly. This was a watershed moment.

Bill’s health stabilizes … for a while

Bill loved the church he pastored—and he loved our Love-Wise ministry. But we both knew a choice was on the road ahead. I was going to bed praying that Bill would not suffer a stroke. I would sleep with my hand resting on his chest. Feeling his chest rise and fall with each precious breath, I gained enough peace to sleep lightly.

After many months of weighing out this important decision,  Bill chose to do ministry with me, writing, speaking, and relationship coaching through Love-Wise. His health stabilized, and a few years later, he accepted a job as Small Groups Pastor at a mega church, because he negotiated a contract that helped balance our ministry with church ministry– so all went well—until they added a Saturday evening service and the hamster on the wheel schedule repeated. This time, it was easier to recognize we needed to focus only on our Love-Wise ministry, so again, Bill resigned to save his health. Again, his health stabilized—for a while.

The Accident

Things were going well, even with a geographical move to be nearer his elderly parents to help with their care. That was until one night when Bill was hauling our last possessions up to our new home, and on the way home, he was hit from behind by a distracted teen driver. Bill was slammed into the freeway wall, and the truck was totaled, but Bill walked away.  My cell rang at 3 a.m. It was Bill, alive but shaken and in need of me to pick him up and bring him home. It was so foggy on the road that I took side streets all the way because the city lights and store signs shined bright enough for me to slowly make my way to rescue Bill.

We were so grateful to see each other that we just stood in a foggy parking lot, holding one another tight, as we cried grateful tears. Knowing this kind of trauma means you should be checked out medically. We first went to a neighborhood nurse center in a drugstore. Shocked by his extremely high blood pressure, they directed us to go to the urgent care down the street immediately. Bill’s dangerously high BP so rattled the urgent care staff that they instructed us to drive Bill to the ER immediately! Bill’s blood pressure soared because of the accident, but with excellent medical care, soon Bill was back to normal.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:10 NIV

Life on the ‘Love Boat’

To be near Bill’s folks as their caregivers, we moved on to a lovely liveaboard boat, and for a season, life had a wonderful balance and positive work-life rhythm.  Our marriage was like the tender romantic moments of newlyweds but with the wisdom of a seasoned couple. On weekends, there were concerts in the park by our marina, and we danced the afternoons away on the front deck of our oasis of hope–our boat!  Soon, we were known in our marina as “the dancing couple who lived on the “Love Boat.”

Like many in the world of the crazy chaos of the pandemic, even the marina closed, and we had to move inland to give 24/7 care for Bill’s then 92-year-old parents. We moved into an RV on their property that Bill had been using for his office, and we asked God to help us become “happy campers.” God was able to use those tight quarters to keep our hearts closely connected, too. Slowly, as things opened up, we were able to split our time between our “happy camper” caregiving tiny home and our “love boat.” Life had a nice healthy rhythm of ministry, caregiving, care for our relationship, and enjoyable self-care activities for our health.

“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-8 NIV)

The Role of Pam’s Close Call in Building a Lasting Love in Marriage

Then, in October of 2022, it was as if a flashing yellow light began warning us of danger on the road ahead. I had been dealing with a rarer form of diabetes for a decade, then I experienced a broken rib with excruciating pain, so I took over-the-counter pain meds, then a prescription from an urgent care physician— all of which I later learned are NOT recommended for someone with my medical condition.

The combination of medicines backed up my system, and my body became toxic, unable to function normally, and developed some kind of internal infection. My glucose escalated, and one warm fall, “Santa Ana” breeze day, I found myself piled with a blanket but could not get warm. I became nauseous, stood up, threw up, and felt dizzy, and grabbed my chest because my heart was racing and beating out a rhythm. I told Bill I thought I was having a heart attack, and my beloved whisked me to the hospital. Swiftly, I was in the ICU and placed in a medically induced coma to try to save my life.  I recently released an interactive memoir, Glimpse of God’s Glory,  that details this near-death experience, and this is an excerpt of what Bill wrote about that pivotal life-altering night:

Bill’s Prayer for Pam

At about three in the morning, they moved me to the ICU for the intense protocol of treating the DKA. At four o’clock, the doctors sent Bill home.

“Mr. Farrel, your wife needs you to get a little rest.” The doctor assured Bill, “I will stay here, and I will do my best to keep her alive. I will call if anything changes.”

Bill complied, went home—and prayed!

I (Bill) knew the doctor was right but didn’t want to leave. I reluctantly shuffled to the car and slowly drove back home. The numbness from all the intense scenes in the ICU made the drive back seem excruciatingly long. I put on my pajamas and set my phone beside the bed, hoping it would not ring, painfully aware I had no power to determine the outcome. I sat up against a couple of pillows and pulled the covers up to my waist. Through tears, I soberly prayed:

“Dear God, I know that no matter what happens Pam is going to be okay. If she goes home to be with you today, she will be completely healed and surrounded with joy. If she returns, I am confident she will have another season of effective influence. We have had a great run, and I know you have all the right to welcome her into your presence. I just hope you intend to give her back for a little while! Please don’t let my phone receive a call.”

Waking from the coma

Later that morning, after Bill had communicated with our sons and their families and had gotten on my computer and emailed many friends and ministry leaders, He walked into the ICU just as I woke from my coma. A big smile of relief came across his face. I was still on a ventilator, so I couldn’t smile or talk, but our eyes danced with delight, knowing we had just experienced a miracle of God’s power and a tender moment of marital love.

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psalm 56:13 NIV)

Navigating Life’s Storms for Building a Lasting Love in Marriage

As a couple progresses through life’s second half, a few attitudes will help you also navigate the tempests of the turbulent waters of Life’s Part B.

  • My Mate is Precious:  When one pictures a life without the one you love, without the one you promised to be faithful to “until death do us part,” each moment, each breath becomes the solid and secure love that cherishes the “I Do” and the “I Still Do” with every precious breath we each take. Other priorities fall lower on the list as you elevate your mate’s needs. Practicing daily kindness when life is easy creates the habit of compassion when life gets tough.
  • My Faith is Solid: We both had to trust God when each other’s health was hanging precariously close to the edge of heaven. Our church attendance patterns, being in marriage small groups, our individual quiet times in the Word, couple’s devotional times, and weekly marriage meet-ups layered strength into our love. In addition, daily prayers over meals, “Sunset prayer walks,” and goodnight prayers created a deep unity and a firm, rich faith in our Creator God that we knew would and could create a path forward no matter what circumstances arose.
  • Our Love Gives Victory: Through doctor appointments, ER and ICU visits, and car crashes, we instinctively pulled together. In one of our first books, we shared a slice of the movie “Twister,” which depicted a couple that ran into a pump shed when the tornado was imminent. They held each other together, wrapped a rope around themselves, and tied it to a strong pipe that went meters down into the ground. The tornado tore the shed apart, and as a couple, they rode to winds into the eye of the Twister held secure by that rope anchoring them together. In the same way, when a couple chooses to pull together in difficult circumstances, through the power of God’s love, they will survive almost anything life dishes out.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Is. 46:4 NIV)

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