A Marriage Story

A Marriage Story

Billy Joel

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

“Just the Way You Are” was the song for the first dance at our wedding. We all go into a marriage with expectations of how it will be. Some are spoken, some are unspoken. The song expressed some of our expectations as we said “I do”.


When we got married we had many expectations of each other. As it says in the song, we assumed that:
• We don’t have to change in our marriage to please each other.
• We love each other just the way we are – We can stay this way forever.
• We don’t have to keep telling each other “I love you”.
• We will be the same people through out our marriage as were when we started.
• Our love for each other is as full as it can ever be.

Then there were my own personal expectations for marriage.
• I assumed that Bill would approach people and ministry the same way I did.
• I assumed that Bill would have the same capacity for people that I did.
• I assumed that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by my family (that’s a tall order for anyone).
• I assumed that his passion for God would never waiver.

I, too, had my expectations, although I must say that I probably hadn’t dreamt about them for as many years as Liz seems to have! In many ways, our dating and courtship and marriage was like a miracle to me. I had never imagined pursuing such a wonderful woman, and she pursuing me back! As those months went by, at moments when it was quiet and I was alone, I wondered “How did I get so blessed?”
• I expected that we would raise a family, live in suburbia, go camping and hiking a lot, and probably live in one place for the rest of our lives.
• I expected that Liz would struggle with whether to work outside or stay home, but that we would work it out.
• I expected that we would be intimate wherever and whenever it seemed right to me.
• I expected that our children would grow up to be just like us, while admiring us the whole time, since we were, after all, walking with God.

We had these expectations, but God had other things planned for us.


Liz and I were born back east – I in Rochester, New York; she in Montpelier, Vermont. We each have three siblings: I’m the oldest of four. Liz is third of four. We each remember shady streets, riding bicycles and playing in the empty lot or in the woods down the hill, and only came home to eat or sleep. Both our parents have stayed married over 60 years, and our background is a little like “Leave It To Beaver” with June and Ward as the faithful parents.

Bill and I were introduced to each other at church while I was still I college. I was a Junior and he was already out of school – the older man. There was interest right away but since the college fellowship we were involved in frowned on dating it became a tricky endeavor. It wasn’t until my Senior year that we actually had our first date. He took me to Howard Johnson’s. (Long, long ago, Howard Johnson’s was an ice cream shop, not a motel!) This date was the beginning of our lives being in a fish bowl for all to see, for better or for worse. Picture this scene: There we were, in a booth ordering one bowl of ice cream to share. Across the restaurant happened to be a table full of the guys from college fellowship, having a Bible study. And let me tell you, I don’t think the Bible was the focus of their speculations that evening.

Not too many weeks later, the leader of the fellowship pulled Bill aside and asked him, “What are your intentions with Liz Field? Are you going to marry her?” Obviously that was the only reason anyone might ever date. Bill never missed a beat and said, “Oh, I don’t know. I might.” It was the first outside challenge in our relationship: conforming to the others’ expectations – a challenge that was to be repeated several times over the following years.

We got serious very quickly, our first date was at the end of September and by November we were talking about marriage. And there we met with the second challenge to our relationship. You may not know this but I have a strong personality and next to Bill’s gentle one the contrast was, well, noticeable. I had not been labeled as having a “quiet and gentle spirit” nor was I a conformist. The leadership of the ministry we were involved in felt that Bill was not a good match and that the man I married would need to “have a stronger personality than mine in order to control me – translate – keep me in my place.”

Well, we did get married in 1981 and it was the beginning of really understanding God’s truth apart from man’s interpretations. Much to everyone’s surprise, as Bill loved me unconditionally the way Christ does the church, I no longer felt the need to protect myself and that “heavy hand” that some thought would be needed wasn’t.

However, it wasn’t long after “I do” that it became apparent that “I love you just the way you are” really meant, “I love you just the way you are and also the way I will help you to be.” I’m an extrovert and love being around people and I couldn’t understand why Bill didn’t want people at the house all the time: not every night – we could keep one night free. I didn’t understand why he didn’t approach God and ministry the same way I did. And since I didn’t understand the differences, I assumed that clearly God wanted me to help him become the man I wanted him to be. Boy, did I need to learn the phrase, “different not wrong.” I just assumed that if it wasn’t my way it was, “wrong, and different.” I have a coffee cup that a friend gave to me that says, “I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas.” I’m sure there is a strength hidden in this bossiness. While I was praying about ways to help Bill change, I should have been praying, “God keep your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth.”

I had my own expectations.

I don’t know when it came to my mind that one of my expectations was that I would be able to travel and see the world – and that Liz would come along. This seems to be at odds with the “stay in one place in suburbia” expectation I listed earlier. But God put into my path many chances to travel to faraway places. And since Liz hadn’t been to those places, and we had the money at times, and we loved each other, I expected that she would want to see those places, too!

• I would go on a trip for months, given the chance. Liz’s limit is about 2 weeks.
• I would go into the woods with nothing. Liz would go if there were clean sheets regularly and hot coffee.
• I would pack up the house and family and work from overseas for a year or two. Liz would say “No, I don’t think so. I’m not leaving all my friends here.”

So God is teaching me to value fellowship and temper individuality. He is teaching me to be satisfied with a trip now and then, and that it’s okay to still have a “wish list of destinations” a mile long.

In addition to expectations, we had a lot to learn about communication. Liz came from a family overflowing with words. Being outspoken was expected. Talking in the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom – it was all normal. My family? Not so much. Outspokenness was not rewarded, and we were people of few words.


Communication was one of the first lessons we had to learn in our marriage. Men and women hear different things when words are spoken. When we were preparing for today we had a meeting with James and John and some other people. Later when Bill was explaining to our home fellowship what they thought the direction of our talk should be, I looked at him and said, “Were we at the same meeting?” I heard something very different.

In the early years it was amazing how clear things were in my head. I couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t read my mind. And when I actually used words, he needed nouns to understand what I was talking about, not just pronouns. It wasn’t clever conversation that was the hindrance; it was the inability to decipher the meaning of the words in the conversation. It’s taken us awhile to understand each others’ language and even now we get tripped up. I hate to admit it but it’s usually what I don’t say when I am saying what I’m saying that is the problem.

Recent example: The other day I called Bill at work and said, “Do you want to go to Santana Row tonight? We can just walk around and window shop.”

Bill thought about it, and said, “Naw, I’m really tired. I’d rather just stay home.”

I cried.

What I really said in my head but didn’t communicate to Bill was, “We haven’t been out in a long time. I’m tired of being in this house day after day. I really want some time with you just holding hands and feeling like I’m loved.” Now I don’t know why he didn’t understand all of that from my original question!

What Bill heard was a question about what he preferred to do that evening. He said exactly what he meant. “Naw, I’d rather just stay home.”

In the earlier years of our marriage I would then go down the path, “He doesn’t want to go out with me. Why doesn’t he want to spend time with me? He would rather stay home and watch TV than do something with me.” I’m getting better at taking Bill’s words at face value.

I’ve also learned to give Bill a head’s up as to what I’m really asking. Some questions are just courtesy questions.

“What do you want for dinner this week?” doesn’t mean that whatever he says I am going to make. It just means that I’m including him in the process.

Bill – Solving problems vs. listening

I also had a lot to learn about communicating. One area was solving problems versus listening. Yes, I come from a long line of problem solvers, not listeners. If it’s a stereotype assigned to men, it does at least fit my predisposition. For many years God has watched me listen and maybe not offer solutions verbally, but conjure them up in my head in the gaps between Liz’s sentences. But there has been a lot of progress in this.

When Liz calls me at work and says “I haven’t gotten anything done today”, I’m not supposed to reply, “Well, how about if you make a list.” She just wants to express herself. Or when she calls at work, and I continue typing on the computer. And then she says, “You’re supposed to say something here…” Oops.

There were occasions when I waited before offering a solution to her problem. In the first two years of our marriage, Liz worked as a teacher’s aide at the local high school. It was a frustrating job for her that didn’t pay much at all. After six months or so, she was in a dilemma. She didn’t want to be viewed as a quitter, but she didn’t want that job to wear her out either. She asked me if we could talk about it. I thought “What do I know? I’m just trying to figure out my own career!” Then she said, “What should I do?” And I answered, “Leaving this job doesn’t make you a failure. It’s okay”. And she did.

Years ago, we were traveling with close friends – another couple who had obvious big issues in their marriage. Liz noticed it. So did I. We looked at each other across the crowded room, and her nonverbal message to me was “We need to talk with them”. My reaction was “But how can I do that! It’s my brother!” But I listened to her spirit, and each of us took one of them, and we talked for hours. In ways, it got them over the hump, but mostly I remember being drawn out of my shell by listening to my relational wife.

I learned that sometimes I did have something to say. God could use my words in spite of my hesitation. Liz learned that she could use her strengths with people to draw me out.

Learning that God is in control and usually has a better plan than we do.

Another lesson we had to learn was from Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The small church we were involved with when we were first married was the catalyst for this lesson. Our church was an offshoot from a bigger church. We had no pastor, just a head elder. This would be the same head elder that questioned my intentions about Liz Field.

There was no oversight and no outside input. Yes, it was as scary as it sounds. Looking back it fit the description of a cult very closely. There were a lot of spoken and unspoken expectations all closely related to the measure of one’s godliness. You had the appropriately clean house. Your wife baked bread, cookies and healthy snacks. Her hair wasn’t longer than yours or she wore a head covering. You monitored the time your children spent with people outside your home, which wasn’t hard since you also home schooled them! Being the nonconformists that we were (that Liz was) we’re sorry to say our reading on our church’s Godliness Meter wavered in the bottom half of the scale.

The pressure was incredible and there seemed to be no way of escape. But God kept saying, “I know the plans I have for you.”

Shortly after Allison was born we applied to Wycliffe Bible Translators. We weren’t accepted due to a not so flattering reference the head elder had written. We read it and it wasn’t what one would call accurate and we blamed him for our rejection. In reality, it was God’s hand that kept us from the mission field. He knew what was coming in the years ahead and He knew what we were going to need. One of the hardest things about not getting accepted was that God was leaving us where we were. We knew that God was in control and that He had a plan but we really wished He would give us a glimpse of what He was doing.

A few years later IBM sent us to Oregon for one whole summer. During our stay it seemed that a job might be offered in there in Oregon. At that point our church was already heading into rough waters with its doctrine. We were counseled very strongly that it would be wrong to leave the community where God had placed us. As much as a move seemed to offer a relief from the pressure of having to conform, God never opened the door to a new job there.

Not too many years later God did open doors, and we moved here to California. When we look back we can see how God was in control and how His perfect timing was, well, perfect. Romans 8:28 became very real for us: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It strengthened our marriage by forcing us to be a united force with God. Satan is very quick to use circumstances to divide a husband and wife. It’s so important to be on the same side.

Liz’s Depression

One of the hardest things in our marriage has been learning how to deal with Liz’s depression. Being on the same side was part of what has gotten us through.

During those tumultuous years my struggle with depression became apparent. The church put me on a shelf and labeled me unfit for ministry. Bill wasn’t far behind since he had a flawed wife. The thinking was that depression was a result of un-confessed sin. During those times the verse that kept coming to mind was “Even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you. I have done it, and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you and I shall deliver you.” [Isaiah 46:4] We knew that God was in control but life was hard with 3 little children and dark, long Vermont winters.

My depression then looked very much like it does today.

It is always present but not always as well controlled as other times. When it starts it feels like a slow motion fog that is going to smother me. I don’t answer the phone. I can’t make decisions, “Peas or corn for dinner?” No matter how hard I try to remember truth, I still feel inadequate as a wife, mother, and friend. And it creates tension between Bill and I because I don’t want to always be the needy one.

It has been a long road finding the right medication, the right counsel, the right boundaries. And a long climb from struggle to acceptance.

There is old song that says, “Though the trials never end, I’ve learned to take them as my friends.” Just to let you all know, depression and I are not friends.

What does it look like to Bill?

Thinking back over the darkest years of Liz’s depression brings memories mostly of not knowing what to do, but moving on day to day anyway. A number of dreams had to be put on the shelf – including the idea of missionary work that Liz mentioned earlier. I had to scale back my responsibilities at work, but this flowed directly from the years of making family and God come ahead of work anyway. God was faithful to bless me in my career, even here in Silicon Valley, even with this ‘unusual’ priority call.

Depression is the kind of disease that spends most of its time hiding just beneath the surface. I was never sure what I would find when I came home each day from the office. A wife with everything in control? Or a wife staring at the wall? Once, in despair of finding the solution, I sent her home to her mother for a week.

By some miracle, our children got through those years, mostly because we worked as a team. Like the job decisions, Liz and I had chosen years earlier that family came first. Family vacations came ahead of college funds. School meetings and helping with homework ahead of business trips. We each did what we had to do, which included my doing the cooking, cleaning and changing diapers many, many times.

Gradually, Liz and I made lists of the things which aggravated her depression. She learned what to watch out for, and she also learned to let me point out those things when she didn’t see them.

Through it all there have been individuals who have been there for us. Church was there, in prayer and fellowship, and holding the box of Kleenex when we needed it. We had come a long way from our insular little group in Vermont.

I think two of the hardest parts for me, other than having “more than one wife”, were dealing with a problem I could not fix, and wondering at times “when is it going to be my turn?” Yet through all those years, God held me up. On the good days, when Liz could be alone, I would go hiking in the woods. God feels closest to me there.

In the midst of the darkest times, God does not look at what I am accomplishing. He does not demand that I function at a certain level. God and Bill don’t require me to be spiritual.

I have learned that it’s always darkest before the storm but God is in the rain. He is where I am. He is in control. And He is enough. Bill is not enough. Bill is wonderful. He loves me unconditionally. He is my best friend. He is understanding but he is human. Only God is enough.

What About our Kids?

What about our kids? They have taught us a lot of things about God as well.

• We have learned that a united force is not easily shaken, and that united force needs to be us and God. “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three stands is not quickly torn apart.” [Ecclesiastes 3:12].

• We have learned that the only one who really loves us unconditionally is God.

• We have learned that making mistakes isn’t fatal and will not scar our children for the rest of their lives.

• We have learned that God loves our children more than we ever will.

• And the two big lessons we have learned over and over and over again are God is in control, and there is only one God and we’re not Him.

Together we have survived the terrible twos, the terrible threes, elementary school, jr. high dances, high school parties, waiting up in the wee hours of the morning for kids to come home that should have been home long ago. We’ve seen them go off to school, graduate, get married, move away, come back, succeed at their jobs and they did this all in spite of us. They did all this because God is a big God and He is in control.

Passion for marriages

Let’s talk about passion for marriages. Do you want good marriage or a great marriage? Our passion for marriages started in Vermont when there were no older couples to help the younger ones survive. Typically the older couples would explain their lack of involvement in the young couple’s lives by saying, “We don’t have anything to offer. What would we say?”

Trust us on this one, you have a lot to offer. When some young person is sitting at the counter in your kitchen, or on the back porch during your barbecue, and they start talking about their own marriage, what do you do? Regardless of your experience, you can always pray. Or you can listen – new couples crave this.

As much as we strained against the doctrines of our little church in Vermont, one application we took to heart then has borne fruit even until now. We have had people live with us off and on for almost as long as we’ve been married. For days, or weeks, or months, or even a year or two, we have had single people, married couples, even couples with little children, share our home. While I would not recommend this to everyone, the experience made us comfortable opening our marriage for anyone to see who wanted to pay attention. We had to let go of the pressure from the early years and not try to show “the perfect marriage” day in and day out. We showed ourselves – the arguments, the struggles with kids, the depression, the stupid jokes, the experimental meals, and even the laughter and tears.

For the last eight or nine years here at PBCC, Liz and I and the Blooms have been involved with teaching a class on marriage skills. It’s been named “Young Couples’ Class”, and “Newlyweds’ Class” and now “Newly Marrieds’ Fellowship”. For sure we don’t know all the answers, and we’re still learning. But with the help of others, and good materials, and lots of prayer, we have seen dozens of married couples move through the group – creating a strong fellowship of friends to deal with the adjustments of marriage.

Our story is different from your story. We’ve had different challenges and different joys. Looking back, I see how Liz and I started in a marriage after only a few months of dating. We said our vows “For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer”, and God has been faithful to bind us together along this journey. We understand those vows a lot better now. We balance the struggles with the fun times. We know how important it is to have a sense of humor. And to pray when all else fails. Or before all else fails.

This fall we’re teaching a class during Second Hour with our dear friends, Terry and Olivia– all about marriage. Well, not all about it. But we’re going to tell everyone who comes how important it is to study your spouse. And that God has a bountiful harvest in mind.

For today, our parting words of wisdom come from Song of Solomon 5:17 which says “This is my beloved, this is my friend”. God can make it so.

© Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino