children • education • parents
relationships • marriage • the elderly


The Best Marriage Advice We Ever Received

January 14, 2019 by

A few weeks ago, my husband, Chris, and I were invited to a reception hosted by the families of a young couple, in celebration of their upcoming wedding. The couple glowed appropriately, their respective parents basked in the moment. There were toasts and hors d’oeuvres, jokes and songs.

Later in the evening, the mood grew more reflective as guests were invited to impart words of wisdom and encouragement to the prospective bride and groom. Chris and I hadn’t prepared a joint contribution – we’d talked vaguely of performing an impromptu rendition of a country love song or some such item, but hadn’t got around to convincing ourselves it was a good idea. But I was unsurprised when Chris picked his moment and pulled out a letter to read to the couple. I knew right away it was the gift we both wanted to give them.

The letter was written to us by Dale Recinella, a dear friend and sometime colleague at Plough Publishing who mentored Chris as a young writer and editor, and who decades ago walked away from a highly successful legal career to serve Florida’s death row inmates as a chaplain. Dale was unable to attend our wedding, so he penned a letter to us instead.

Dale’s letter was our most unusual wedding gift, because it didn’t even come in the form of a card – it was handwritten on loose-leaf, lined paper and placed in a very regular envelope. When we read it together after our wedding ceremony, we instinctively felt that its words were something we would reference in the years to come. But we never realized – and how could we, at that fresh place of beginning? – that we were holding in our hands some of the best marriage advice we would ever receive.

In the twenty years since then, Chris and I have lost count of the times we’ve read and reread Dale’s letter. In times of minor misunderstanding or major frustration; in the tumult of grief or sickness; in the most terrifying places, flailing to comprehend “the place where learning begins” – time and again, this letter met us, helped us, and directed us anew to the saving Strength we can always claim.

photograph of waves on rocks and a life ringPhoto by author

As this year begins – a year for new beginnings, new forgiveness, new lessons and new gifts – I’m sharing this letter so that it can bless others the way it has blessed us. Perhaps you’re still riding the wave of success, or somewhere treading water. Maybe you’re in the middle of the most disastrous, disillusioned and disappointing mess with seemingly no way out. Regardless, take this advice and watch things turn to the side of light.

And Dale, thank you for living every word of this letter. You and Susan will always hold a special place in our hearts.


July 5, 1998

My dear Chris and Norann,

We are with you in mind and heart and spirit on this day of your coming together before God as a unity for life.

We wish you every happiness – knowing full well that most happiness comes only with work and struggle.

So, in effect, we are wishing you much work and much struggle. But let it be said, the paradox is that therein lies the blessing.

No one ever learned anything of value riding the crest of success. But sooner or later every wave breaks. It all comes down – it’s guaranteed. Whatever wave we are surfing on will break. And we find ourselves in the deep, treading water while tons more pours down on us.

This is the space where the up-thrust hand, grasping for air, desperate to survive but with no means to do so, this is where the empty hand that has no option but faith finds the hand of God.

This is the place where learning begins. It is terrifying. And it is a gift.

One of the many blessings of a marriage based in the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ is that two seekers can thrust their hands up together, that like Aaron holding up Moses’ arms, two can support each other treading water when the strength of one is not enough.

This is where the up-thrust hand, grasping for air, desperate to survive but with no means to do so, this is where the empty hand that has no option but faith finds the hand of God.

But there is a danger in that too: we must be clear that two people with little strength are barely more powerful than one person with little strength. The most we can do for each other is hold up the arms to God. Only God’s power will overcome.

This is my prayer for you – that no matter how tired you are, how frustrated, how discouraged, how fed up, how angry, how disappointed or disillusioned – no matter – that in spite of it, you will always rush to the side of the other to hold up your spouse’s arms in prayer lest the other become too tired to pray, too tired to reach up one more time and find the hand of God. And just like Moses and Aaron, you will always see that God is faithful to his promises, that as you hold each other up in prayer, two as one, the spiritual battle will turn to the side of the light.

Love, Dale

Follow Norann on Twitter at @NorannV.


About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • Thank you for your thoughts, Kevin. For my husband and me, God is central to our marriage. He brought us together and keeps us together; He is truly that 'third strand' in a cord which is not easily broken.

    Norann Voll
  • I’ve never been married so I’m no expert, but I’ll bet one reason there is so much divorce is because so many marriages are not rooted in God. There was little discernment and prayer before the marriage and little after- it was just a relationship between two people who wanted to be together and (probably) start a family.

    Kevin Cushing
  • Thank you, Veena, the words you write are true. Love enables us to face and overcome every one of life's obstacles.

    Norann Voll
  • So very true Only true love can get one over the hurdles we face in life