But as seasoned couples will tell you, marriage is what you make it. It can be wonderfully romantic or exasperating — and sometimes both.
One Cleveland couple, married for more than 35 years, are keeping their love alive with the same ingredients that initially brought them together — their faith, fondness of family and sense of humor.
Andy and Margaret Anderson were only teenagers when they first met at church in Michigan in the 1970s. It wouldn’t be long, however, before the two youths were vowing “for better or worse” and decided to build a family together.
Andy said, “I’ve always loved helping people and after moving to Detroit at 16 to live with my dad, the church I attended needed a youth pastor. The pastor asked me if I’d like the job and, after much prayer, I agreed. It was the most rewarding, most satisfying, most challenging and least-paying job I ever had.
“Being a single youth pastor was a full-time job. I dated a little but I realized, early on, that physical attraction would not be enough to ensure a successful marriage. I finally stopped dating altogether and asked God to send me a wife in His time. I knew dating could easily lead to more intimate encounters and I didn’t trust myself to continue always being ‘strong’ in the Lord. When a guy is looking for God at 18 a wife could be very helpful.”
So Andy worked and waited for some two years before the love of his life entered the church he attended. Margaret explained how the two became one, stating, “He was an 18-year-old youth leader at Christian Life Center in Dearborn Heights (Mich.) and I was a 16-year-old volunteering at a veterans hospital. I passed the church one day and decided it looked like a good place to go. I didn’t have a car. I just walked there. Andy started giving me a ride home from church and that’s how we met.”
Margaret admits she was not aware of any romantic interest when they first met and was just happy to be going to a church she enjoyed with a new friend.
“He was always happy and he was a good person — that much I could tell,” Margaret said. “That was in October of 1977.”
But Andy admits he had more than friendship on his mind when he first laid eyes on Margaret.
“She came walking in our church one day as a new visitor, and as soon as I saw her I knew God had answered my prayers!” he said.
“I didn’t know at the time,” Margaret said. “He did. But I didn’t know he was serious. I think it was two weeks later. He asked me, ‘What do you think about marriage?’ I said, ‘You mean you and me?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’”
But it wasn’t fine with Margaret’s parents who were born and raised on the island of Malta and came to America for a better life.
“I was in high school and my dad wouldn’t sign for the wedding unless I graduated,” said Margaret, who was born and raised in Michigan. “The day after I graduated we got married — eight months after we met.”
“She graduated on a Thursday, and we were married on Friday — the next day!” Andy said. “I was the only guy she ever dated. I figured being the only guy I could train her — but I was completely wrong. I don’t know why I thought that, but I thought, ‘Hey, she hasn’t dated anyone else. She’ll do whatever I tell her to do.’ You find out when you get married it doesn’t work like that at all.”
To illustrate his point, Andy shared an experience that brought shifts in his family that completely changed their lives.
“I had absolutely no desire to have kids,” Andy confessed. “I would joke with our friends and say, ‘I’m still a kid myself!’ We started traveling and speaking at churches all over the country. A few months after we’d been married my wife said she wanted a child. I said no. She continued asking. I finally agreed that when we settled down and stopped traveling we could start a family. I thought we’d be traveling for years. Well, we were on the road for almost a year, and then we moved to my hometown of Danville, Va. Ten months after settling down, we had our first son, a little less than two years after we were married. Then we had Rebecca. Then I had a vasectomy.”
Andy admits his vasectomy was the worst decision of his life and his dreams reflected the loss that would privately haunt him.
“Afterward I began having nightmares,” he said. “I felt such a sadness in my spirit, although I never told my wife. I had two very vivid dreams during the five years after my procedure. In both dreams, there was a beautiful little girl that came to live in our family. These were two completely different girls. I could see their precious, innocent, smiling faces — hear their sweet, tender voices, and feel the love they had for us, and us for them. And in each of the dreams, both of these little girls spoke to me and said, ‘You can’t be my daddy now.’ Then they would very sadly turn and walk away into the arms of another couple standing in the shadows. Both times I awoke weeping.”
After years of hiding his regret, a peculiar situation presented an opportunity for a reversal of fortune to Andy and the Anderson family.
“One day Rebecca — who was 5 years old at the time — kept looking at a photo album of herself as a baby,” he explained. “Then she started saying she wanted a baby brother or a baby sister. She went to Margaret and told her. Margaret said, ‘Go tell your dad.’
“She came to me and I said, ‘That’s too bad!” So she started crying and saying, ‘I want a baby!’ Margaret comes in and says, ‘Your daughter wants us to have a baby.’ I looked at her and said, ‘What am I suppose to do about it?’ She said, ‘Go see the doctor who did the first operation.’”
Andy conceded and had his vasectomy reversed, admitting, “It was more painful than the first one. I was laid up in bed for two weeks!”
Shortly thereafter, Margaret was pregnant and everyone was excited. But she suffered a miscarriage. To make matters worse, the young couple was informed by their physician that she could not have any more children.
It seemed strange to Andy that his wife refused to believe her doctor. She was adamant that they would have three more children and he could not convince her otherwise.
“She had such faith,” he recalled. “And she was right. We had three more children, and we love them all.”
Having five children and seven grandchildren has made Margaret and Andy feel blessed, successful and happy, according to the close-knit couple, although Andy says his family has presented him with several amusing anecdotes over the years.
“I love my wife and kids and grandkids, and sometimes, if you listen real close, you’ll hear the most amazing things come out of their mouths,” he said. “When Sarah was 5 years old, she saw me playing with Abraham, who was age 2. She smiled and asked me, ‘You love him like the dickens, don’t you?’ I answered, ‘Yes.’ She then paused, stopped smiling, and said, ‘Do you love me like the dickens?’
“One night we were at church, and the preacher went way too long. Everyone was tired. He finally paused a moment, and Sarah, who was around 4 or 5 yelled at the top of her lungs, ‘LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!’ Everyone in the church, it seemed, turned and looked at us.
“We were at a buffet with the whole family. Everyone but me had finished eating. My son, Jacob, was always in a hurry, so he started saying, ‘Let’s go Dad, I’m finished!’ I answered, ‘I’m not, and since I’m paying for the meal, we’ll leave when I’m ready!’ He then started chanting, and got his brothers and sisters to join in with him as he said over and over, ‘How would you like to weigh 600 pounds? How would you like to weigh 600 pounds? How would you like to weight 600 pounds?’ People began staring. Suddenly I lost my appetite. We left immediately.”
Through it all, the owner of Anderson Insurance in Cleveland said he and his family have wonderful times together, filled with laughter and love and the challenges of life that make one’s faith all the more meaningful. He credits his wife with much of his success and their sense of humor with adding to their spice of life.
“Margaret is such a hard worker, and, unlike me, she never makes the same mistake twice,” he said. “She learns the right way to do something, and no matter how difficult a task, she always completes it and does it right, and quickly.
One day she was giving me a little lecture about something. Of course, I, like most men, only want to hear the ‘good’ things about myself, so I wasn’t listening very well. She finally said, in exasperation, ‘But it’s constructive criticism!’ I replied, ‘That’s like saying he’s a ‘nice murderer!’”
After 35 years together the couple said they still laugh and joke with each other, as well as with their children and grandchildren, which favors a happy family life.
When asked about their most romantic experience, Andy joked, “There’s been so many romantic things we’ve done — at least five of them that comes to mind right away!”
Margaret returned to the room asking, “What is he saying now?”
He laughs. They agreed that going to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary in 2003 ranks as their most romantic experience together thus far. When asked if they had a secret to their happy marriage, Andy said candidly, “I don’t believe there is any secret to a happy marriage. If two people love each other and commit to each other, and never use the word ‘divorce,’ they’ll have a great marriage.
“I love my wife more than anything, and I know she loves me — but we couldn’t be more opposite! I think one thing that has really helped us is Gary Chapman’s book ‘The 5 Love Languages.’ This book teaches you what your spouse’s love language is, and how to speak it. It’s probably the best book ever written on marriage. Another great book is ‘The Act of Marriage’ by Tim Lahaye. I believe if a couple read and followed these two books, it could turn any marriage around.”
The author of the popular novel “The Winter of Our Destiny” said to this day some of his grandchildren will look at him and Margaret and quip, ‘She married YOU?’
The question itself still makes him laugh because Andy said he realizes what a prize Margaret was when she first walked into his life while working as a youth pastor. Both agreed they would gladly do it all over again.