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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Till Death Do Us Part; A Love Story From God...

Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.”

As funny as this statement may sound, there is some profound truth to it.

Think about it. What is purgatory? According to the Catholic faith, it is where we are put “through the fire” and, although, we will feel the greatest joy that we, as humans, have ever felt, we will also experience the greatest anguish that we have ever experienced.

Now, doesn’t that sound like marriage?

Last weekend, my wife and I served at a Marriage Covenant Retreat, meant for couples trying to improve their odds in today’s world, where more than half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. The retreat gives the participants an opportunity to take time away from their kids and all the distractions of their daily life and refocus on each other and their relationship.

A good friend of mine always promotes the retreat by saying that the most meaningful conversation he had with his wife in the first ten years of his marriage was during the Marriage Covenant Retreat several years ago. My friend is a huge talker (the kind that when a meeting is dragging and everyone is ready to go, starts giving his input and asking questions), so if his wife was able to survive a weekend of total focus and conversation, and they came out stronger from it, their marriage is meant to last.

Although my wife and my experience wasn’t as radical when we first attended it last year, the retreat afforded us an opportunity to discuss things that we don’t usually talk about, unless the feces is hitting the fan (to avoid using the word that I really meant to use). It was quality time at its best (we even had time to shoot some hoops).

This time around, we were asked to give a talk about our marriage; the good, the bad and the ugly. Although, I must say, the good far outweighs the bad and the ugly in our marriage (at least, for me; you may want to ask my wife when I’m watching the Heat and she’s doing the laundry).

Since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, allow me to share some of our love story and thoughts on marriage.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, next month, my wife and I will be celebrating out 13th Wedding Anniversary. Although, there’s a caveat; we actually got married twice. Our second marriage was three years ago in the Catholic Church; so I like to say that we tied a double knot to make sure neither of us could break lose.

We first met while we were both working at a local television station. My wife was working for a network show and I was working for the local newsroom (I’ve been in the news business a long time!).  However, I was married at the time (to someone else).

She was a beautiful girl, just out of college, that all the guys at the station would swoon over but, though I found her attractive, I didn’t pay much attention to her.

In fact, she tells people that she thought I was a jerk because she worked for the network’s top show and everyone bended over backwards to help her, except for me. (At the time, I had a tendency of being a bit intense and very wrapped up in my work. I didn’t want to be bothered; no matter how good looking she was!)

Nevertheless, it’s not like she was beating down my door anyway. She was just interested having fun, like a normal 20 something year old. But shortly after we met, she got a job as the Press Secretary of a U.S. Congressman and moved to Washington, D.C., where she lived for about five years, fell in love and got engaged to be married.

She actually moved back to Miami when her fiancé got transferred here just before they were to get married.

Well, as fate has it, the other "love interest" called off the wedding two days before the big day (talk about cold feet!); leaving my wife, over 300 guests, many from out of the country, all dressed up with no place to go.  (In other words, everything was paid for; the church, the hall, the dress, music, flowers, video, photographer, rings, honeymoon, etc., etc.).

Now, you can say poor girl but, hey, that’s where I stepped in! (Call me Shaquille O’Neal in his prime or Dennis Rodman without the wedding dress and tattoos)

You can say it was fate, or you can say it was faith. In the summer before starting high school (and entering the heathen years of my life), I remember praying to God to meet a girl like Sandy, Olivia Newton-John's character in the movie, Greese (Sound too much like a teenage girl?  I guess, I have always been in touch with my feminine side). And, I believe, many, many years and twists and turns later, my wife was the answer to those prayers.

About a month after her called off wedding, and six months after my divorce, we ran into each other at a South Beach nightclub, called Polyester’s (which no longer exists). I noticed her right away and just happened to be with a friend who had worked with us at the TV station and knew her better than I did. After getting him to go say hello, I also went to say hello (yes, remember me; the jerk?).

Several minutes later, we ran into each other in the hallway near the bathrooms. I was coming out of the men’s room and she was heading into the women’s. I was convinced she was following me so I struck up a conversation.

We hit it off right away and the conversation lasted about an hour before her friends came to tell her that they were leaving.

I didn’t get her number but, I knew where she worked and planned on calling her during the week.

The week went by and I didn’t call until Friday. By then, I already had plans for the night and Saturday night so, I asked her out on Sunday.

During our first date, I fell head over heels in love. We talked about every taboo subject that you could ever want to avoid on a first date; relationships, my previous marriage, her called off wedding, our families, and kids. I think we even talked about religion and politics. It was just so natural. It was amazing.

It was so amazing that on Monday night, the night after our date, I broke my rule of waiting two days before calling a girl because, it just so happens that, my brother, who is an actor, and we had talked about during our date, was appearing on The Cosby Show. (I had to call and tell her!)

After a lunch date and another Sunday night date, I invited her out for Valentine’s Day.

However, that Valentine’s date, I thought would be our last.

I took her to dinner at a nice restaurant at the Mayfair Hotel (the only place I was able to get a last minute reservation with the help of a friend) and had a little scheme planned. I bought a bottle of champagne, hoping this might be the night (four dates into our relationship, do you think I was a bit high on myself?). I put the champagne in a cooler and a blanket in my trunk without telling her.

After dinner, we started heading to South Beach. She asked where we were going and I gave her an option; we could go have a drink at a trendy bar that I use to go to OR… (My choice), we could go to the beach and I sprung my little plan of the champagne and blanket on her. 

She shot me down like “Goose” was in Top Gun (am I dating myself?) and very coldly said, “Why don’t we just go to the bar?”

It was as if the air was punched out of my tire. I felt an immediate rush of humility flushing my face and sense of tension in the air. I thought, that’s it, I screwed this up. I might as well have a drink and then take her home.

Then, as I was trying to get the bartender’s attention to buy a couple of drinks, she said to me, “That was very nice of you to send me flowers.” I had sent a large arrangement to her work earlier in the day.

I thought, “What?” I’m back in, baby! We ended up closing the bar down at about 4am (something that seems surreal to me now since I am usually fast asleep by 10:30 pm most nights).

From that night onward, we started seeing each other every night and soon thereafter I told her that she was going to fall in love with me and we were going to get married (I told you I was full of myself).

Of course, my wife points out that several months later, she called me out on the mat on the marriage issue since I would constantly bring it up and she said to me one day, “Let’s do it!” I was a bit thrown off-guard by her assertiveness and said, “hubada-hubada-hubada” as I took a big gulp from a beer I was drinking.  

But, then I reasoned with her. She was going to get married and I got divorced the previous year. To top it off, her father passed away six months after we met. It was just too soon. We needed to wait at least until the following year. And that’s what we did. (I think fast on my feet!... but it was obvious to both of us that it would be too soon to get married)

In March 1998, we got married in a beautiful sunset wedding at the Miami Rowing Club amidst about 200 of our closest friends and family. We’ve been living in marital bliss ever since (it’s all a matter of interpretation).

At first, adjusting to marital life, especially for my wife, who had been living on her own for about five years, was very difficult (Not too much for me. I took the round-trip flight; from my parents’ house to my house with my ex-wife and back to my parents’ house. Don’t judge me, I’m Cuban).

As most people know, marriage is not easy, especially today, with both spouses working full time jobs just to make ends meet (In my case, my wife works a day job, is a realtor and has a translations company). You add house work, obligations, kids and the stress these elements put on a marriage and it starts taking a toll. Marriage takes more than just love.  It takes commitment, hard work, patience and perseverance.

In my opinion, left to our own device, it is very difficult for most marriages today to make it unless God is part of the equation.

Divorce has become way too easy, facilitated by no-fault divorce, which most states have adopted. Moreover, unlike in previous generations, it is now socially accepted to be divorced. Instead of working through problems, as our parents and grandparents did, many couples today take the easy way out or when the feeling of “love” subsides. Because, unfortunately, we are told that life is all about “me” and how “I” feel and if “I’m” not happy then I need to find someone else that makes me happy.

As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. What they don't say is; the grass looks greener until you get there!

I myself am a product of the society. Although not my choice, I had a failed marriage. However, I believe my first marriage was doomed from the start. God was never a part of our life. We never prayed together. We never practiced or, even, understood our faith and we only went to Mass for weddings, baptisms and holidays (In fact, our wedding was in a Catholic Church more because of tradition than faith).

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the first and greatest televangelists in TV history, who had a prime time network show (if you can believe that), wrote a book titled, Three to Get Married; and as he said, the third person is not the mother-in-law. If God is not at the center of a marriage, its chances for success are drastically reduced.

That is the biggest difference in my marriage today. Despite, occasional arguments (sometimes more  occasionally then others), we know that we are in this for the long haul. God is a huge part of our married life and family; from prayer, to learning and living our faith to the best of our ability and setting an example for our children, to regularly partaking in the Sacraments.

As a family, we never miss Sunday Mass and personally, I attend daily Mass several times per week. We go to Confession on a regular basis and often take our 10-year-old daughter. We're also involved in different ministries, including the Marriage Covenant ministry. To us, divorce is not an option (As I heard a friend say recently, divorce is much less likely to occur when it's not an option).

After a reversion to my faith (I say reversion because, although I never left the Church, I was not a practicing or, even, understood my faith for almost 30 years), I finalized the annulment of my first marriage and my wife and I got married in the Catholic Church in December 2007, where during the same event, we baptized our son.

It is appropriate that God made us wait almost ten years before getting married in the Church because it probably took me that long to understand what sacramental love meant; and I’m still learning.

Sacramental love is that which we renew every time our two bodies become one flesh, as referenced in the Bible. Our marriage covenant does not end at the altar; it is renewed and reaffirmed every time we share in total self-giving love.

If you think about how profound that is, consider that God creates life through the marital union of husband and wife.

In fact, Pope John Paul II said that to enter into total self-giving love with our spouse, where we give ourselves completely to each other, is to enter into the very life of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a family). God is family.

Therefore, the Pope said, we partake and help complete God’s Perfect Plan of Creation in the human family; husband, wife, and child.

Jerry McGuire was right. His wife did complete him!

One of my favorite verses in sacred scripture is Ephesians 5:25, which is often used in weddings. It states: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for her.”

Think about that. Christ died for the Church and I am called to love my wife as Christ loves the Church. Therefore, sacramental love requires sacrifice. As a husband, I have to be willing to give myself up for my wife as Christ did for the Church (and hopefully she will reciprocate!).

It is also significant that St. Paul writes about the relationship between Christ and the Church in the same breath with marriage because, just as in marriage, where two bodies become one flesh, Christ becomes One Flesh with His Bride, which the is the Church, through the Holy Eucharist.

Therefore, marital communion is sacramental, like Holy Communion.

During our wedding vows, we say, "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life... for better, or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

Marriage is not a contract, as society and the culture tell us, which is why some in their naïveté and/or misguided charity are trying to redefine marriage.  It is a sacramental union; a covenant with our spouse and with God, in which we participate in the inner-most life of the Trinity, which is Love.

There is no opt-out clause.

4 comments:

barbara said...

Hello cousin,
Beautifully and profoundly written! Ron and I have been married 28 years and dated 3 years before that. I ditto your evaluation of commitment to marriage. It is a challenge of allowing each other to grow separately as individuals and together in marriage, strengthened by love and faith. May God bless you and grant you a blissful Valentine's Day.
Love and hugs,
Barbara Occhino

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Barbara.
May you and Ron have a wonderful Valentine's Day too.

searchingforsigns.com said...

I've never really considered the comparison of purgatory to marriage, but even though us on Earth have never experienced true purgatory, I agree that it seems to have a bit it common with marriage.

Great post, and I especially like how you skipped the "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord" verse of Ephesians 5. I'm sure you got "brownie points" for that one! ;)

Carlos Espinosa said...

That part of Ephesians 5 is blocked out of my Bible... I wouldn't know what it means...