Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Family Forte: Marriage from a Nazi Prison

 By: Topher Wiles

 Last week my wife and I celebrated our seventeenth anniversary with one of our kids duly noting, “Your marriage is old enough to drive and almost old enough to vote!”  Ashley and I have celebrated this momentous occasion by eating out, watching our wedding video & vows that I converted from VHS, and taking a marriage assessment test (I know, fun right?). One of the greatest blessings in our marriage has been to listen and reflect on the inspired wisdom of others concerning love and marriage.  

Instead offering my own marriage experience for your inspiration, I want to share with you thoughts on marriage that inspire me from a collection of letters from another's extraordinary life.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German protestant minister who wrote from prison before his 1945 execution at the hands of Hitler's Nazis.  On May 15th, 1943, approximately 6 weeks after his arrest and missing the wedding ceremony of close friends due to being held in prison, Dietrich wrote these thoughts on marriage to the newlyweds.

 "Marriage is more than your love for each other.  It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time.  In your love, you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of generations.  In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind.  Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal.  It is marriage and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.  Your love comes from you, but your marriage is from above, from God.  As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love.  It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love." 

Today, I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letter writings on marriage from a Nazi prison to be refreshing and empowering.  I believe the modern view marriage has often been reduced to an extravagant party or a temporary civil union. Bonhoeffer’s marital declaration bolsters my resolve to care for the marriage God has given me with my wife.  It reminds me of my marriage's purpose as a practical use in humanity but also as an example of God's designs for others.  Bonhoeffer's writings echo the strong sentiments of scripture about marriage such as these writings from other letters:

 "Let marriage be held in honor among all." - Hebrews 13:4a

"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband." - Ephesians 5:31-33

 Ashley and I want marriages in our community to not only survive, but to thrive.  We know that families thrive best when marriages are healthy.  Kids tend to be happier and well cared for when mom and dad are enjoying a loving and trusting relationship. (for more on the effects of a happy marriage, visit the Huff Post article here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/happy-marriage-happy-kids_b_828370)  

If we can help you strengthen your family by encouraging your marriage relationship, offering marital resources, or by praying for you to our God, please let us know.  May your family be blessed with fortitude through marriage!

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Patiently Pulling My Son to the Prize

by: Topher Wiles

     Sweat was dripping everywhere from my aching body as my legs screamed at me.  Then, the cheering erupted.  High fives and hugs dominated the moment as the gracious volunteer hung the heavy metal around my neck and wrapped me in a “space blanket” on that cold December day.  My feet felt like weighty concrete but my heart was as light as a feather.

     Perhaps it was the five caffeine laced gelpacks I consumed in my four hour 26.2 mile marathon run that kept my heart racing.  Maybe my heart was light because, unlike the first unfortunate marathoner who died after his run, I knew had successfully survived the brutal assault on mind and body.  It’s possible that the light feeling was the result of the St. Jude’s cancer patients and survivors showing signs in the last mileage that read, “You’re doing this race for me!”   Yet, I believe the biggest motivator was the accolades and praises of my training coach that made my runner’s high continue from the Memphis St. Jude’s Marathon all the way home.

     Sure, Tough Mudders were a blast, half-marathons were fun, and sprinting 5k’s to a gold medal win was exciting, but they weren’t the same as that Marathon with Don.  My friend Don was at least 10 years my senior and has run in the Boston marathon, which means he is a high level runner.  His wife was also a cross country coach while he raised four cross country running kids.  This guy knew how to train me to run a marathon.   Back in the day when I would proclaim, “I’m not a runner and I don’t like to run,” Don took me under his wing and educated me on all things running.  I still don’t like to run, but I’m a proud runner today because Don’s patient training pulled me along to the prize and that amazing runner’s high.

     Don’s secret training methods weren’t about buying Eliud Kipchoge’s record breaking shoes or the latest breakout training routine.  Don simply pulled me along and encouraged me every step of the way.  For months he texted me frequently to coordinate running schedules together.  He helped me rehab through injuries and gently corrected my form offering little tips along our journey together.  During the long runs, when Don could tell my body was starting to give up, my training partner would always run two steps ahead of me, shielding me from the headwind, pacing me with his time, and constantly encouraging me with his words.  Even during the race, Don would pull just a couple steps ahead of me, challenging me to quicken my pace all until the last half mile, when he shifted behind me encouraging me to take the lead and the photo finish glory in the home stretch.   I was ecstatic crossing the finish line because I had reached not only my goals but I made my training coach proud.

After multiple races totaling hundreds of miles since my marathon run of 2014, I’ve only been able to duplicate that runner’s high feeling a couple times, with one happening a few weeks ago.  That lighthearted feeling lasted all day after the race and well into the week, except this time, it was me who crossed the finish line a half step behind a runner.  My son, Gabriel (8th grade), had never run more than a 5 miler before he expressed interest in running the Sawbriar half-marathon in Jamestown, TN.  I was worried about whether or not a 14 year old could accomplish this extensive distance, considering there just aren’t any real middle school cross-country options nearby to train him. So every week I monitored Gabriel and his progress while sharing little tips that I have learned in my years of running.  When we ran together on long runs, Gabriel was silently conserving every breath for his lungs and legs while I chattered away about life, running, and God to keep his mind from focusing on his aching legs and burning lungs.

    On race day Gabriel was visibly nervous about his first ever 13.1 mile race, especially since it was rainy and cold, but our prayer together with church elder Ty Webb at the starting line lowered his heart rate and helped set the stage for one of his biggest achievements in pursuit to date.  Like my training coach had done for me years ago, I stayed two steps ahead for the first 12.5 miles.  Then, as we sprinted to the finish line, my smile lengthened and my heart skipped a beat as I watched Gabriel out run me by a half step, accepting the cheers, hugs, and high fives of family and friends.  My achievement in the Sawbriar Half was not my personal record, but I finally duplicated that amazing runner’s high of 2014 as Gabriel lifted his award for first place in the under 18 division. 

     Friends, we may not all be called to run the road, but we are called in this life to be like a training coach like Don, patiently pulling other people to the prize.  You may be called to focus on your family as you help a child set and reach their goals in family, education, or their career.   Your calling may be toward a young person at church as you pull, train, and cheer them to reaching spiritual milestones.   A struggling family in the community may be your aim as you patiently guide them through the trials of life.  Whoever it is, remember that reaching those same milestones you’ve already eclipsed takes patient time in training, helpful and positive tips from your experience, and a lot of encouragement along the way.  There are few greater joys than helping others succeed.

Now, who are you going to patiently pull to the prize?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.christiscentral.org.