“I don’t love you any more, and I want a divorce.”
My husband’s words pierced my heart as hot tears stung my eyes.
It was the Sunday before Father’s Day of 1988. We’d been married for three years and had two darling baby boys, only sixteen months apart. We’d had our ups and downs, but I was committed to our marriage. I knew that he’d been with other women during that time, but I thought that was over. On this Sunday afternoon, my fantasy of “we’re going to make it” came to a screeching halt as a nightmare unveiled.
“I assumed when you pledged to ‘keep yourself only unto [me]’ in our wedding vows, you meant that,” I pleaded with shaking voice.
“Well, that’s what you get for assuming.” His icy words hurt me as much as his declaration of not loving me any more.
I, like millions of others to whom this happens, was crushed to the core. How can you truly love someone, then stop loving them? I still loved my husband and was willing to forgive him, committed to our marriage and our children. At our dreaded divorce hearing a couple years later, the judge noticed I was crying uncontrollably in the witness stand. The judge asked, “Mrs. ___________, do you still love your husband?” My answer: “Yes.” I was humiliated and heartbroken, living now as a single parent with two young children. (Keep reading! There’s a happier ending!)
Ironically, when our old station wagon was packed and U-haul hooked up, my husband was the one crying. Looking back, I realize that God gave me a supernatural peace in that moment, as I wiped my husbands tears from his cheeks with my hand. He had even put his wedding ring back on, after not wearing it for months. He stuck his head through my open window to kiss me good-bye as he told me, “You’ve been the best wife anyone could have ever been.”
When I learned a few weeks later that he’d actually taken his mistress with him to set up housekeeping (instead of sending for me and our children), my thought was, “If I was such a ‘good wife’, why did you leave me, knucklehead??” The kids and I were expecting a two- week visit with my mom in Oklahoma, planning to join my husband at his new duty station when he found a house for us. Instead, that two-week trip turned into 29 years.
What happened to love? What happened to commitment and ‘happily ever after’?
Over my lifetime so far, both through personal experience and through the truths of God’s Word in the Bible, I have discovered some critical ingredients of cultivating a love that lasts.
This topic has been on my heart for some time, and is a key reason I am compelled to write the upcoming book, Love in a Lurch: Biblical Wisdom for Relationships in Trouble. Before I share what I understand as “real love”, allow me to introduce you to a married couple I met only two days ago. Hearing their story of tragedy and faithful love has inspired not only me, but countless thousands of others. When I heard their incredible story, I knew this was “the rest of the story” I’d been praying for concerning this month’s blog post.
Jimmy Stewart was one of our keynote speakers at this week’s Oklahoma State Evangelism Conference, put on by the BGCO (Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma), receiving a standing ovation after sharing his riveting testimony. He serves as the Director of Evangelism and Church Development for the Alaska Baptist Convention.
Later that evening, I believe God divinely orchestrated for me to run into Jimmy and his wife Kathryn in the hotel lobby. I shared with each of them how God had touched me through their story, and asked permission to share it in my blog. They were most gracious to share, and also take a photo with me. (I rarely write 3rd-hand accounts here – only those that happened in my own life, or someone I know personally.) Read on to catch a glimpse of the horrifying events of the Stewart family’s lives, and the love and faith which sustained them.
While checking the source of a gas leak in the crawl space of his family’s rural cabin, Jimmy Stewart took the brunt of a gas tank explosion that blew open the cabin as his family was inside. He describes the fire as a “flash bang” that miraculously extinguished within seconds.
“Visqueen (plastic sheeting) covered me, melted from the blast, and flesh was hanging from my body,” Stewart said. The fire burned his skin white, took his hair and all but the collar of his shirt, and shredded his pants, he later learned. Powered perhaps by adrenaline, Stewart ran to check on his family.
His son drove him to the nearest road to meet the ambulance that miraculously arrived within 10 minutes. He was flown to Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle, WA where he spent the next four months — two months in Intensive Care, five weeks in acute care and two weeks in rehabilitation — before his discharge from the hospital in November 2016.
Hospital staff called him the “miracle man” for surviving the accident they considered deadly, Stewart said.
His family plastered his hospital room with Scripture, family photos and some of the 900 inspirational cards he received worldwide from Southern Baptists and others who noted their prayers for him. As [friends] learned of his accident, they began a 24-hour prayer chain and “just went to town praying,” Stewart said.
His wife Kathryn relied on “prayer support of dear sisters and brothers in Christ,” and the “encouragement of gracious friends and loving family,” she said. “Thanking the Lord for every detail that we have to be so grateful for every hour” helped sustain the family, she said, noting most of all the comfort found in Scripture.
“‘So do not fear, do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand,'” she quoted Isaiah 41:10. “Psalm 56:3, ‘When I am afraid I will trust in You….’
“I just always felt He had it in His hands,” Kathryn said of God. “We never had any doubt, even in the difficult times.”
God still performs miracles, the Stewarts acknowledge.
“It truly was a miracle that I survived the initial explosion and fire,” Stewart told BP [Baptist Press]. “The first 48 hours in the hospital were critical. God protected me and sustained me … I believe God did many miracles.” [Portions of this article originally published by www.bpnews.net ]
A particular statement that Jimmy made at the 2018 Evangelism Conference two nights ago really struck me.
“I’ve witnessed others in the hospital who were severely burned, and their spouses left them after their accident, unwilling to remain married to them in that condition. But Kathryn, my loving and faithful wife, ran towards me, not away from me. I told her that if I’d gone on to Heaven, she would have been a rich woman (through life insurance), but Kathryn wanted me… not my money.
Contact Jimmy and Kathryn, read more or watch the video of Jimmy’s testimony HERE.
Here’s what I’ve learned about “real love”.
 God is love, and all real and lasting love comes from Him. Human love by itself will always fall short of God’s perfect love. His “agape” love (unconditional, expecting nothing in return) is what compelled God to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus, to be crucified on a cruel cross – for undeserving people (like me and you).
Since we, as humans, are created in God’s image, we can learn to genuinely love others by His example, and only by the empowering of the Holy Spirit of God Who indwells those who belong to Him. Just as it’s nigh impossible to push a car for 100 miles with no gasoline in it, it is impossible to love completely without God’s help.
 Our thoughts determine our beliefs, and our beliefs determine our behavior (including our emotions). This is true concerning all of life. Every human being is tempted by sin, and tempted to believe the lies of Satan, each of which are designed to destroy people, marriages, family relationships, churches, companies, armies, and nations. Satan loves to plant thoughts of resentment, disappointment, and self-serving pride in our minds. “How DARE he treat me that way!” “My wife just doesn’t understand me…” “If my husband really loved me, he would ________.” Don’t believe that the grass is greener on the other side… it’s only artificial turf.
Satan is an accomplished deceiver. He tempts us to focus on the few negative things in our spouse (or boss, or friend, or even our teenage children), instead of the immense good in them.
That’s why the Bible tells us in 2nd Corinthians 10:5 “ We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” A man once said, “You can’t keep birds [wrong and sinful thoughts] from flying over your head. But you CAN keep them from making a nest in your hair.”
Romans 12:1-2 says: “Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect.” (God’s Word translation)
The NIV version of that same passage reads: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [I have underlined portions for emphasis.]
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 Love is a garden that must be tended and nurtured. An attitude of love, respect and commitment toward our spouse and our marriage (not to mention to God, our employer, our children, etc.) must be nurtured and fed if they are to grow and flourish. Seeds of distraction, disappointment and disillusionment come into every marriage… but we must learn to “keep short accounts” and forgive daily. Much like pulling weeds and warding off pests and predators, we must guard our hearts and relationships as the treasure they are.
A passionate, lasting and loving marriage requires a deliberate effort (by both spouses) to nurture good thoughts, kind words (between and about each other), and loving, sacrificial actions toward our spouse. Take time for romance! (Hey- Valentine’s Day is coming! But you don’t have to wait until then;) “Speak love” to your spouse in ways he/she understands. (By the way, the book “The 5 Love Languages” has literally saved my 25-year marriage to my dear husband — who’s “love languages” are the opposite of mine! I urge EVERYONE to read it!)
 Love is commanded by a Holy and righteous — and loving – God and Creator. He wouldn’t “command” us to do something that  we weren’t capable of doing (with His help), or  that wasn’t supremely good for us, or  that we had no choice about. We certainly do have a choice whom to love, and how we love them. God gave us the parameters for that 2,000 years ago, and His prescription for marriage — and lasting love — has not changed.
We are commanded to love GOD, first and foremost – which puts every other priority in place! (See Matthew 22:37-39 below.) Ephesians 5:25 & 33 commands husband and wives to love and respect each other: “Husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands.”
Another life-changing book I read that truly helped me during my 3 1/2 years of being a single parent (before I remarried) is Love is a Choice . It is considered the ‘definitive book on letting go of unhealthy relationships’. It was so helpful that I passed it along to an extremely co-dependent ex-boyfriend to help him. (No joke!)
I leave you with excerpts of probably the most famous “love” passage in the Bible, 1st Corinthians chapter 13.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.