Gary & Julie // Covenant Marriage


Today's post is the last (and possibly my favorite!) scheduled post of this series. I asked Ben's Mom and Dad if they would be willing to share some of their thoughts on their now 33 years of marriage, and their answers are inspiring. Gary & Julie have been a constant encouragement for Ben and I, so it is a real pleasure to get to have them both as a guest on the blog. This post gives a bit of a glimpse into the awesomeness of these two. They've weathered just about everything, and the joy they have as a couple is contagious. 

I can attest personally to the truth of the advice found below. A lot of the advice written here have become cornerstones to Ben and my marriage. Getting to read them here is fun for me in that I can see where Ben's values (like awesome celebrations, pursuing community and pizza!) came from. We're blessed to have parents with healthy, thriving marriages and I'm especially excited to get to share with you the wisdom of these two today.

Meet Gary & Julie:

We are Gary and Julie Sprague originally from Illinois and Indiana. We raised our kids in Michigan and Minnesota and now we live in sunny Arizona.  We spend our time working 60%, driving 5%, sleeping 25%, relaxing in the sun 10%.  We both work way too hard! Just an FYI, we answered the questions together and I put the information into paragraphs.  I teach 7th grade Language Arts so if it is too wordy, my apologies.

What first attracted you to your spouse?

Gary and I met at Lincoln Christian College in the laundry room. I love a man with long hair and a beard – the hair is much shorter now but the beard is still around - - and ohhh those eyelashes – He was a quiet guy who made me laugh and still does. He tells the tale of a tall and vibrant young woman and her pretty laugh.  We were both committed Christians at Lincoln so the focus of God first was a given and still is. God and his goodness has been the driving force of our life from the beginning - - don’t know if we would be together without Jesus - -actually I am sure we would not.  Gary and I are quite different people. If you would know either of us without the other you would never imagine we are married - - however friends and family who know us say that we are a perfect blend. So after 33.5 years of marriage and 2 amazing kids later God knew exactly what he was doing in that laundry room many moons ago.

Early in our relationship we had a snow day at Lincoln and Gary and I spent over three hours in one of the music practice rooms. He would play songs and I would sing. I can’t keep a pitch so my roommates told me to snatch him up - - I did and he has always been a gracious and patient man.  Gary and I have had to move a great deal in our married life due to graduate school and job changes. I have been fully supportive of any of life’s major changes – I love this man so if we had to move – move we did.  Each move was hard on all of us but each time I viewed it as a new adventure and looking back it was easy to see how God worked through our lives and the lives of our children. 

What has been some of the best parts of being married? 

Some of the best parts of being married is the laughter  - we laugh together every day - - mostly due to Gary’s wit and my inability to stand up straight or focus for any length of time. Gary mentioned reliability and trust. Don’t get us wrong we have had our share of ups and downs, hurts and doubts but through it all is Jesus and his promise to lead and guide and lift us up when we need him most sustains us.   So there is a keen sense of reliability and trust.  

Also never underestimate the little bits of advice you get from each other when raising the kids. “Do they need a coat?”  “Should we let her/him go to the …” “What should we do about…?” The ability to ask another’s opinion and an opinion you trust is invaluable.  Also the little moments like when we pray together and we can hear each other’s’ hearts.  The rejuvenating spirit that comes with spousal prayer is without equal.

What has been one the hardest parts of being married?

There have been many difficult compromises for both of us – moving from state to state, job changes, illnesses – having to be someone’s nurse is hard for one of us (inside joke).  Marriage is work and communication is key – it took us far too long to learn this.  We are proud of Ben and Britt and their ability to see the importance of this early.  We definitely wish we had the wisdom that is out there now and the openness of most churches to share what couples need upfront.  Having to “figure things out” on our own has been tough.  We always say, “If we knew then what we know now, we could have avoided a great deal of hurt feelings and tears.”

What were some surprises you didn’t anticipate in marriage?

Some surprises we didn’t anticipate in our marriage would have to be everything – when you get married you don’t know everything there is to know about each other - - no matter how long you talk or what counseling you attend! This past summer we drove to where Gary was raised until he was in Jr. high.  While I knew it was a hard move for him, I never knew all the details and how much he still thinks about all those years.  In addition, we never would have dreamed all the family dynamics in play with in-laws and moving so often.  On a lighter side, I never dreamed of all the laughter - - on a daily basis!!!  We laugh about Gary’s snoring, my snorking, students we have, family, friends, the dogs, food, television and so much more.  Take time to laugh each day, together! Our granddaughter and her crazy faces make us laugh the most right now – she is a joy!

Have you received any advice that has helped shape your marriage significantly? 

The greatest advice we received that helped shape our marriage was an unsaid expectation: find a community of believers.  We come from a legacy of faith and without the many people who have loved us in the many churches we attended life would have been much harder, albeit impossible.  Also we knew early on that we were quite different but we were encouraged by pastors that told us this could be a great thing if we recognized it and used it to strengthen our marriage.

What little things do you do as a couple that keep marriage your enjoyable?

Believe it or not pizza keeps our marriage enjoyable.  Pizza is a plus!  We both love the same kind of pizza so it’s fun to find new places and talk.  We love to celebrate and we love to go out and talk across the table – this has been a mainstay in our home since we were first married. The first Friday of the first week of school is always eat out night so everyone can share their first week adventures. 

Also we love to have others over and celebrate them.  We both definitely have the hospitality gift; our daughter Sarah has this, too!  We were asked by one of Gary’s colleagues what we did when we entertained a speaker who had come for a college revival.  We didn’t really know at the time but realized that all we did was try to make he and his wife feel special.  We try to do this for each other, too.  Birthdays in our home are major holidays. I love when he brings me those sappy, lovey-dovey cards for my birthday and valentines. And he loves that I still love them.   Now that the kids are grown, grocery shopping together on Friday nights is actually a riot – and nobody is around.  We like to go to Goodwill, too on Saturdays and see what types of bargains we can get.  Again, it’s the little things.

What advice would you give to a just-married couple?

Our advice to newlyweds is to pray together, daily.  Stay in a community of believers and if you aren’t in one get there.  Forgive and forget – shut your mouth before you speak – don’t slam any doors – if you don’t want help and just want to vent, say so before you start complaining or sharing – take time for just you  - pray together, every single day (I realize I said this already but it can’t be said too much!)! And no matter what keep the “I love yous” coming. Not just the words but even more the actions.  Gary’s "I love you" to me is doing the dishes, cleaning the toilets, loading my cart into the car. Mine to him are laughing at his jokes and wit and cooking. No matter what you say or do, do it with love. The kind of selfless love Jesus demonstrates for us.

What advice would you give to a couple with young kids? 

Our advice to couples with young kids is to get help!  Find someone in the church to help mentor your kids- -  make sure you have a support system other than your family.  Have fun but don’t be afraid to say, “no!”  Less is more – too many activities - - bad, bad idea (this is true for older kids, too.)  If you are running from one activity to another, quality time is not really found in the car.  However driving to an orthodontist appointment and then home can afford you time with a busy middle or high schoolers. 

Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes in front of your kids – I don’t think we did this enough - - they need to see you fail once in awhile    They need to know you are human and that God supports and guides you and always will.  Finally, the best toys are still oatmeal boxes, wax paper, and pots and pans – and of course books – I could give a diatribe on how important it is to read to your kids before they are born until, well forever.  I still buy my kids picture books and novels and read to them!!  Look into their little faces and talk to them – just talk to them about whatever – it doesn’t really matter!

What are some key ways God has worked most in your marriage?

There were many times we could see God’s hand in our marriage. When we struggled and he brought us to our knees in forgiveness; these are the most personal of stories so just suffice it to say that God is good all the time.  In our weakness HE is strong.  What kept us going was family both in words and deed. Also, time alone, time in prayer, commitment to a community of believers, and finally self-control.  Sometimes the only person you can count on is Jesus; he is enough. (A wise woman once said this and it is now my go to phrase – Jesus is Enough!).

Husbands what advice would you give to other men in relationships?

Our basic advice is: husbands listen and give good advice when you’re asked. Never forget birthdays, anniversary, etc. or be late for anything without calling/texting – women worry and hold you in high regard –return this with everything you are. Pray together!

Wives what advice would you give to other women in relationships? 

Wives: breathe when you are upset, swallow your pride- - make sure you have eye contact if what you’re saying is really important.  Always put his needs before your own and make sure that he knows you support him, no matter what!! Pray together!

What do you enjoy most about this stage of your marriage?

Our marriage right now is a quiet house, finishing each other’s sentences, more “us” time, hearing from and about our kids and granddaughter.  When we pray in the morning we both sit down with this peace about the house and turn everything over to God. Dreaming about retirement and how to spend weeks and weeks together is quite fun, too!  It is an unspoken love that continues to grow and change and a spoken joy for spending time with one another. It is also pride; it’s very exciting to be able to tell people that we have been in love and married for almost 35 years.  I got to do this just last week with my seventh graders, we earned a round of hearty applause. 

God has richly blessed us and he will bless you too if you allow Him to lead AND pray together, daily! 

Thank you Gary and Julie for sharing your wisdom. Your marriage is inspiring and I can't thank you enough for the time and effort you put both into your marriage and kids. I'm reaping the benefits of it! 

To read the rest of the covenant marriage series Click here.

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