The Mathises are one of the few couples that I met that have been married for such a long time but still act like they're on their honeymoon. I had the pleasure of meeting them at a marriage workshop they conducted at my church a few months ago. I loved watching them interact with each other: Denise would giggle as Rick whispered in her ear, they held hands, and gazed into each other's eyes in a way that made me blush sometimes. They had an easy rapport with each other and clowned around like teenagers. It was beautiful!
I asked Rick and Denise to share some nuggets from hurdles in their marriage over the years:
In November of this year we will gladly celebrate 40 years of marriage and we realize we could not have done that on our own, so we offer thanksgiving to God for His blessings of the past and for what He will continue to do in the future for us.
We believe that the greatest challenge on our marriage was learning how to balance children, our home, our jobs and the responsibilities and positions of church life. As our children grew, we continued to take on more responsibilities in the church and figured since God called us to work in the church, He would care for our children. When we saw the progress reports of our children, it then dawned on us that they needed more time with us than we were giving them.
We had to have a meeting with our family and God revealed to us that our children were our responsibility and that we could not leave the raising of them to Him alone. We began to seek the assistance each child needed and we began the process of limiting or balancing our time between home and church with the understanding that our children was a priority. We enrolled in training sessions to understand how each child learned and the environment in which they could learn. We attended family counseling to learn more about our adopted children and how to blend the both. We both felt guilty at first about limiting our leadership and responsibilities of the church, but we realized that the in-reach ministry in our home had to be greater than our out-reach for the church and community and that God’s blessings were still with us.
In facing the challenges of raising adopted children, we realized several things that we did not know and the very difficult times could have divided us and even ended our marriage. There were times, we felt that if we had not reached out for help the entire family would have suffered in ways we would not like to think about.
There was one time in particular when we felt we had done all we could until one Sabbath at church we heard a sermon on forty days of fasting and praying. Together we decided to fast from specific things, television and radio, meat and the Holy Spirit inspired us also to pray three times a day. As we followed the Holy Spirit in this fast we found a sense of peace with each other that we hadn’t experience in a while. As we entered our 20th day of fasting the Spirit instructed us begin praising God as though our prayers had been answered. But to our surprise, things got worse and there were times when our prayers only included tears and groaning, we felt our peace leaving and we prayed, cried and pleaded with God more. The forty days came and went with no answer from God, but a week later, we experienced something that grew our faith in God and we saw the benefits of fasting and praying.
We realized even though we felt we weren’t equipped for these challenges; God knew better, it in spite of what we thought were weaknesses. We also realized that when we’ve gone to the end of our strength, seeking God with such transparency and humbleness and understanding that His strength is sufficient was a huge faith builder for us. Our closeness today is learning how to grow together in our valley experiences when it’s just us and God.
We’ve learned how important prayer is in our lives individually, as a couple. That growing oneness as a couple takes a daily commitment to each other and the family. We would like to pass on to couples to give God a chance to work out the issues in their marriage and family life and not let the really hard stuff separate you, but to use it to grow closer to each other and to appreciate each other’s strengths and the talk and pray about the differences in each other.
For me [Denise] as a wife and a mom, I’ve learned that there was strength in me that God wanted to develop and instead of asking God to take away the really hard stuff that made me spend countless times in tears, He showed me that my peace and strength was not found in me, and if I would seek Him, I would find it, and that He only allows stuff to happen in our lives, He knows we can handle.
For me [Rick] as a husband and father, these times allowed me to realize I needed more of God and less of me. I was shown the importance of living a life devoted to God first and then my family. God showed me how to pray in times of adversity, how to become that spiritual leader in my home by instituting morning and evening worship. I encourage husbands to develop a prayer life and watch God WORK!! WON’T HE DO IT!!
New insights about God through these experiences offers us hope as a couple. Looking back on the past thirty-nine plus years, we can see how our faith has grown because of the challenges in our marriage and family life. We know that God is working in our lives, we know because we’ve seen Him over and over again and we realize that it could not have been anything of our doing, except to surrender to a mighty God who has our best in His heart and following His plan for marriage and family life and we look forward to the forever years as Rick and Denise Mathis. Jerimiah 29:11 says; For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. We choose His outcome every time.