Marriage, Mentors, and Memories - The Story of Two Couples

Several decades ago, the lives of two couples in our church family intersected. What followed is an inspiring story of deep friendship and inspiration. It’s a story that demonstrates the value of having people in your life who are further down the path. What began as an arranged connection has unfolded into a long-term blessing.  

John and Marci Worthy became engaged in 1996. In order to be married at their church, they were required to be part of a new premarital program that included attending ten counseling sessions, reading two books, and meeting ten times with a couple that they didn’t know at the time. The marriage mentor couple turned out to be Ray and Merilyn Abernathy.  

To the younger couple, the church’s expectations seemed too time consuming, expensive, and logistically difficult (Marci lived in San Luis Obispo, John lived in Santa Barbara, and the Abernathy’s and the church were in Ventura). But Marci says, “From the very first meeting, we bonded so easily with the Abernathy’s and have had a very special relationship ever since. They have a humor, grace and beauty in their relationship that is hard to describe. They are the most compassionate people I have ever known. Merilyn embodies an elegance blended with humility and kindness that is so attractive. Ray is strong and sensitive mixed with the perfect combination of humor and sincerity.”

When they began mentoring John and Marci, the Abernathy’s laughed at their statement that “life will be so much easier once we’re married.” In the weeks (and eventually years) that followed, Ray and Merilyn have shared principles from their own experiences that didn’t promise an “easy” relationship but did illustrate profound guideposts for a good and healthy one.

Marci says this about the bond they share with Ray and Merilyn, “God’s love and wisdom connected us. Over the years, we have maintained a close friendship, had many deep conversations, prayed together, enjoyed many dinners, and shared the ups and downs, and joys and pains of life.  We adore them.”

We wanted to know more about some of that wealth of wisdom the Worthy’s have gleaned from the Abernathy’s, so we recently asked Ray and Merilyn if they would answer the following questions:

What would you say to younger couples about marriage?

CHOOSE EACH OTHER DAILY!  In fairy tales…and Hallmark movies, the story ends with “and they lived happily ever after” message.  We remember a speaker at a marriage course saying, “We are sinners.  We get married.  Now there are two sinners living in the same house.  What makes us think that will lead to happy-ever-after?” That impacted us greatly and led us to CHOOSE daily to recommit our love for each other. Did we feel the love every day these 44 years? [Merilyn notes, “Many days, I don’t even like myself!”]

REMEMBER HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOU FELL IN LOVE AND THOSE TIMES WHEN YOU'VE BEEN CLOSE.  Frame and keep pictures around of those special moments. Not just the wedding. In one of our favorites, we are digging ditches, in rain, in Oregon. We were exhausted, covered in mud…and trying to lay the electrical wires. Way out of our comfort zone…but in it TOGETHER.

GO ON DATES!  Especially during the rough times. When “all our money was tied up in bills,” as Ray used to say, we would pack a picnic and head to a park or the beach…or drive to Santa Barbara, walk State Street, and have an ice cream cone at McDonald’s.

What practices have strengthened your relationship?

MAKING DAILY DEVOTIONS TOGETHER A PRIORITY:  YES…there is time IF we make it!  For us, it has been first thing in the morning. Our first devotional was a daily reading from Oswald Chambers’ book, MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST. Next was MOMENTS TOGETHER For COUPLES by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. This year, we are again reading through the Bible. We listen to THE BIBLE IN ONE YEAR plan by Nicky Gumbel.  

CHOOSING TO KEEP LEARNING ABOUT MARRIAGE.  Take advantage of classes, retreats, literature. Most of us studied harder for our drivers’ license than we did for marriage.

BEING PART OF A CHURCH FAMILY.  We have learned, grown, and experienced so much from the relationships GOD has orchestrated. We have been amazed at the people The LORD has used to impact, transform, and teach us.

What part has God played in your marriage?

The word MAJOR isn’t big enough. God’s fingerprints are all over our marriage. We are the testimony of HIS power to take two very different, broken people and make something wonderful.  

Visualize the cross. Now visualize a man and woman at the foot of the Cross. That’s the “secret” of our marriage. Us at the feet of Jesus. Two unworthy people in deep need of HIS love, mercy, wisdom, and forgiveness. This TRIANGLE is the key. The closer each of us gets to Jesus, the stronger our marriage is.

[Can’t you just hear the mic drop?!]

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