WE MADE THE EFFORT: GOD DID THE MIRACLE!
"Say something to them, Val." My husband pleaded with me. "You have to do something. If you don't say something to her she's going to leave."
My shoulders sagged along with my heart. This had been going on for a number of years. Each time either I, or someone else counselled them, it would be like a band aid for a while, but the festering sore never healed. Eventually it would break out and the poison oozed back into their marriage. With each outbreak the venom intensified and a remedy seemed more and more remote. It had reached the stage of not sleeping in the same bed, not talking unless in frustrated anger and even some nights sleeping in the car in a park somewhere.
"I have said everything there is to say." I defended my lack of action. "The more I say the more they get their backs up." My refusal to intervene now caused my husband's shoulders to sag. It looked utterly hopeless. "We will just have to keep praying," I called after him.
That night as I lay awake, I went over some of the things Mark told me that made him so upset and then upon the things that caused Helena so much hurt and anguish. My daughter's biggest gripe was that he never noticed anything she did. He never gave her any attention. She didn't feel loved or special. On the other hand, Mark felt all his efforts to bring home a wage were unappreciated. He was tired of working and coming home to strife and an unappreciative wife.
It's a great pity they don't observe Shabbat I mused. It would be a wonderful opportunity for them to affirm each other. Before dropping off to sleep I cried out to God and asked Him to pave the way for me on the morrow to put forward this suggestion.
While Bill and I were staying with Colin and Nancy Campbell in America we enjoyed many a Shabbat meal together. Bill and I loved being eulogised by each other each week and I wanted our children and grandchildren to experience this joy too.
One of the effects of fighting in a marriage is that it drains the energy for daily routine. Mark would be tired at work and come home exhausted.. Helena could hardly drag herself through each day and found preparing meals and keeping her home almost too much.
It was with trepidation therefore that I approached my daughter with an idea to help her marriage because it meant she would have to make a big effort. I explained that whenever we choose to love someone it costs us something. It may cost time, energy, perhaps money, or hardest of all, laying aside pride and making an effort to make the other person feel loved, no matter how you feel. You have to WORK at love to make the marriage work. None of this was new. I had said it all before. Helena didn't want her marriage to end; she just wanted to feel loved and appreciated.
There was no way we would be able to have Shabbat in the traditional manner. Mark works shift work and cannot be home on the same night from one week to another. We would have to take this a day at a time. We are not Jewish, nor are we under the law. We are free in Christ. What I was looking for was the atmosphere, but not too religious, which I knew would turn them off. I decided not to introduce everything at once but do what Helena could manage.
I encouraged Helena to set her table creatively with her best china and cutlery (called silverware in USA) and to do it with love in her heart for her family. There were one or two negative grunts, but with my help she set to. Four-year-old Katie saw her mother setting the table with great flare and asked what it was for. As it happens, it was also the birthday of their eldest son, Joshua who only lived for seven hours. We decided to combine the celebration, so Helena told Katie it was Joshua's birthday. "Are there going to be presents?" She wanted to know.
"As far as I know, presents are not traditional" I told Helena, "but what you need to know is that this is your table. It is called Helena's table. It will have your touch of creativity, your handiwork and your love. You are free!"
She made a chocolate slice, cut it into squares, wrapped pieces for each person in tissue paper that matched her serviettes (called napkins in USA). Each packet had some silver curling ribbon. The table looked superb!
Helena named her candles "Remember" and "Observe". She decided to remember their first child Joshua, and what he meant to them. We took turns around the table. I went first. My memory of Joshua is very precious to me and I am thankful to God that I was present at his birth and his death. I remember the way his short life knitted us together as a family.
My husband, Bill remembered the love that flowed as we all gathered in the room, acknowledging Joshua's arrival and departure. The siblings obviously couldn't remember Joshua, because he was the first born. We encouraged them to remember that they have a big brother who lives in Heaven with Jesus and that one day they will meet him.
Helena also remembered the love that surrounded her. After all the medical advice to abort she had succeeded in finally holding on to her precious son. She remembered being thankful she could bathe, dress and hold him. With tears in her eyes Helena stated she would hold the memory of what he looked like in her heart for ever. Our eyes were very moist as we remembered with her.
Now it was Mark's turn. He was quiet for so long I began to think he was reneging. Finally, with tears in his eyes he shared that if they could live through the experience of the loss of their first born son, then surely they could survive anything life threw at them. Next thing, they were in each others arms, comforting and supporting each other!
God is so amazing! He brings it all together. We made the effort but He gave it His touch! We could have planned all sorts of things, but no-one could have foreseen this.
Does this mean the marriage is now miraculously healed? No, of course not! God, in His wisdom, knew that a husband and wife need to eulogise each other at least once a week. I read a saying the other day,
"More than Israel has kept Shabbat,
Shabbat has kept Israel."
As Helena has kept Shabbat (almost) weekly, we have noticed huge changes in their marriage. Last Shabbat Mark told his wife he loved her more and more each day and that he loves the way she keeps their home and looks after the children. To save time, Helena was bathing the children and they were coming to the table in their pyjamas. This time I suggested we all dress up. "More washing" mumbled Helena, but even I was amazed at the effect this had on all of us. Mark's obvious pleasure in seeing his children, clean, radiant with good health and anticipation was worth every effort. It is hard to imagine this is the same family!
I feel absolutely inadequate writing this. How can I ever hope to convey to you the profound effect this weekly celebration has on us individually and corporately? It is healing this marriage. I know my husband is going to say something positive as he praises me each week (Proverbs 31:28). I wonder that I don't become immune or blasé about it. Yet, each week I have this warm glow that lasts for days and then I'm longing for the next Shabbat!
Helena has thrown herself into preparing Shabbat with enthusiasm. As soon as one Shabbat is over she's planning the next. She introduces a new colour scheme each week by changing the colour of the serviettes. Each week she purchases a little something towards Helena's table.
I am warmed in my heart at this picture of a wife and mother who prepares and plans to bless her precious family. It has taken extra work, extra money, extra time and planning--something she didn't feel she needed with so much other stuff going on in her marriage. What about the reward? It's so priceless it cannot be counted in a monetary sense! It is obvious this reward has eternal overtones!
Gradually, Helena has embraced other aspects of Shabbat. We agree that if we had done everything at once it would have been overwhelming. Thank you, Lord our God, for showing us the importance of not just remembering how important our marriage and family is, but observing and honouring their great value on a regular basis.
Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia
My first thoughts and feelings when Mum introduced Shabbat were, "I don't know why I bother. Everything I do is unappreciated." Now I look forward to the excitement and pleasure I see on my precious family's faces each week. Through taking a little effort, I have established a regular opportunity for everyone to not only enjoy a special meal at a table set with extra care, but the opportunity to SAY those special things that we need so very much to say. My efforts have certainly been rewarded way beyond my initial reaction. I love it!
Following the "honeymoon years" we had settled into a routine of work and family responsibilities but had been remiss in putting aside the time to spend with each other (and for each other). Every day and every week seemed like a chore to just survive whilst trying to keep up with the daily toils and finances with little acknowledgement for the effort. At first I thought "Why conduct a regular Jewish practice when we are not Jews?" but I agreed to it, at first, as a celebration of our son, Joshua and as a starting point in cooling down the inflammation that was ruining our marriage.
There is not enough room to express how much more effective this regular opportunity for eulogising my wife, children and family guests has been in repairing and improving our relationships. Each of their faces literally lights up when I take my turn to praise and honour them. I have a modified the quote my mother-in-law mentioned,
"More than we have held Shabbat,
Shabbat has held us together."
"And indeed... this woman is now turning a dinner
into a kind of love affair-into a love affair of the noble and
romantic category in which one no longer distinguishes
between bodily and spiritual appetite or satiety!
From Babette's Feast by Isak Dinesen
"When all is written and sung,
When all is sung or said,
It is only God, who is really food,
It is only Love that is bread!
~ Ruby Weyburn Tobias
"Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread."
~ Conrad Aiken
"Love is a great beautifier."
~ Louisa May Alcott
"A crust eaten in peace is better than a
banquet partaken in anxiety."