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fun loving you
enjoying your marriage in the midst of the grind
By Ted Cunningham
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Ted Cunningham
All rights reserved.
Love, Laughter, and a Trampoline
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
One of my primary missions in life is to make Amy Cunningham laugh. Sitcoms have laugh tracks. Comedians have happy drinkers on the front row. Preschoolers have Tickle Me Elmo. I need none of that.
One way in which I accomplish this mission is by modeling my wardrobe choice for her each morning. After dressing, I step out of the closet and put my hands on the corner of the vanity. Then I drop my head like one of those New York runway models, lean my back end toward Amy, and say, "You want to tap it?" Trust me, it is not a sexual move. She breaks into laughter every time.
When was the last time you and your spouse laughed out of control? Amy and I got on a roll a few months back while jumping on our family trampoline. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, Shocker, a family in the Ozarks with a trampoline. We keep it next to the inflatable pool and my truck. When I assembled the trampoline, I thought it would be for the kids. I was wrong. I had no idea how much fun a married couple could have on one of these Walmart specials. When I say fun, I mean in the daylight and at night.
It's hard to be mature on a trampoline. There's nothing like coming home exhausted from a long day at work and being asked by your seven-year-old, "Hey, Dad, you want to jump on the trampoline?" Your first answer is probably the same as mine. We know the right "let your kids know you love them" answer. However, my heartfelt answer is, "That's the last thing on earth I want to do right now."
Nevertheless, we take off our shoes, unzip the safety net, and roll onto the fifteen-foot-in-diameter mesh. After three or four jumps the static electricity builds up and our hair stands on end. When you see an adult jumping on a trampoline, you never think, Well, look at that; there's a responsible adult.
Not taking yourself so seriously is the first step toward bringing laughter into your marriage. Being a responsible adult does not mean that you must remain serious at all times. Self-deprecating humor goes a long way in building intimacy in your marriage.
God wants you to laugh.
We need to laugh in the midst of the grind. The grind may be one reason why the average child laughs some four hundred times per day compared to the average adult laughing only fifteen times a day. If we let it, the grind can rob us of our sense of humor.
Solomon shares with us that laughter is an important season of life and a break from the grind. Laughter is given to us as a time of refreshment, just like the seasons: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens" (Eccles. 3:1). God has appointed the seasons of our lives. They are part of His creation. There is "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance" (v. 4).
The Maker of heaven and earth set our planet on an axis of 23.5 degrees. That's what gives us our seasons. The Creator did this for us, and He says in verses 2 through 3 that there is an appointed time to be born. There is an appointed time to die. There is an appointed time to plant and an appointed time to uproot. There is an appointed time to kill, an appointed time to heal, an appointed time to tear down, and an appointed time to build.
He has even given us an appointed time to laugh (v. 4). The almighty Creator of heaven and earth gave us laughter as a season. In extreme climates, there are only two seasons, a rainy season and a dry season. What season is your marriage in right now? Is it in one of those dry seasons where everything is a fight? If I can be blunt, some of you are currently in a "too serious" season. Laughing to you seems childish and immature. Lighten up. Your spouse will thank you, and you will live longer.
I think somewhere along the line Christianity has taught that marriage and adulthood are about long faces and being serious all the time. I can always tell when I walk into a church whether laughter is permitted. You see it on the faces. Thank you, Woodland Hills Family Church, for your ability to laugh. We take God seriously, but not ourselves.
How else is laughter good for you? Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Could you use a little dose of this medicine? Laughter not only benefits your marriage, but also benefits your health.
The healing power of laughter was not taken seriously by a scientific world until the late Norman Cousins, former editor of Saturday Review and subsequently professor at UCLA's School of Medicine, wrote about his life-changing experience with humor. As he reported in his book Anatomy of an Illness, laughter helped turn the tide of a serious collagen disease. "I made the joyous discovery," Cousins reported, "that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep." He surrounded himself with Marx Brothers films and Candid Camera videos. He also checked out of the hospital and moved into a hotel, where, as he says, he could laugh twice as hard at a third of the price.
Cousins called laughter "inner jogging" because every system in our bodies gets a workout when we have a hearty laugh. Laboratory studies support Cousins's hunches. Our cardiovascular and respiratory systems, for example, benefit more from twenty seconds of robust laughter than from three minutes of exercise on a rowing machine. Through laughter, muscles release tension, and neurochemicals are released into the bloodstream, creating the same feelings long-distance joggers experience as "runner's high."
I think it is time to make room in our lives for some YouTube clips. Your home needs laughter to reduce stress, improve health, and create a bond with your spouse and children.
Try it right now. Just tighten up your stomach and start laughing. You can even fake laughing if you don't feel like genuinely laughing. Have you ever noticed that spontaneous laughter is contagious for your family? Somebody starts laughing and then you start laughing. You walk into a room where people are laughing, and it immediately brings a smile to your face. That is the power of laughter.
Preacher Henry Ward Beecher said, "A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It is jolted by every pebble in the road. Good humor makes all things tolerable."
Airports are at times intolerable, and for that reason I love making Amy laugh at the security check-in. She knows I love the screening where you stand in the 360-degree Xray scanner. If they are going to see me naked, I'm going to give them a show. When invited to stand on the two yellow feet, I plant myself and launch into a one-man dance party. Amy loves hearing the TSA agent say, "Sir, we need you to stand perfectly still." No problem.
The best way to avoid a pat-down at the airport is to act like you want one. When the TSA agents size you up for the "special treatment," give them a gentle nod and inviting wink. It throws them off every time. They immediately wave you through. I have had 100 percent success with this method.
"Laugh out loud," said Chuck Swindoll. "That helps flush out the nervous system." On another occasion Chuck said, "Laughter is the most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity."
Milton Berle said laughter is an "instant vacation."
Jay Leno said, "You can't stay mad at somebody who makes you laugh."
Bill Cosby said, "If you can find humor in anything—even poverty—you can survive it."
Essayist and biographer Agnes Repplier, who was known for her common sense and good judgment, said, "We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh." I agree.
I met Amy in April 1995. We were students at Liberty University, and a mutual friend set us up on a blind date. It was a clear night on Smith Mountain Lake, where we sat across the table from each other on a dinner cruise. She was (and still is) smoking hot. I was as nervous as a pig at a Hormel meatpacking plant. I wish I could say we laughed our way through dinner, but we barely spoke. It was awkward for me because I literally was speechless in her presence. Even though I struggled through dinner, it was all the time I needed to decide she was the one.
When the cruise returned to the dock, I told our buddy of my intentions to marry Amy. He laughed.
"Ted Cunningham!" he said with a look of shock. He could not believe that I could make a decision that quickly.
"I'm serious, Austin; I want to marry her. She is the one." I spoke with calm and resolve. The picture of our marriage and family was clear in my head.
I knew I had to do something to blow her out of the water and clearly state my intentions. Since I was the coordinator of the cruise, I took a couple dozen of the flashy Mylar balloons from the boat back to school with me that night. I wrote a letter to Amy sharing with her my excitement from the evening. I then asked her roommate to place the balloons and note in her room.
When Amy returned after chapel, the mass of balloons caught her off guard. She read the letter and thought, Was Ted on the same date I was? She considered our first date a dud.
She spent that summer on a mission trip, and I sent her a few letters to keep in contact. They were short and to the point. My plan was to lie low through the summer, then reignite the sparks upon our return to Liberty in the fall.
It took the entire semester for our young love to bud. There were several moments while dating where things were shaky. Nothing unusual, just typical relationship-formation bumps in the road.
But by Christmas, we knew marriage was close. I asked her to marry me in May 1996. We married on October 19, 1996.
Seventeen years of marriage, two kids, a mortgage, and a minivan later, I am crazy in love with Amy Cunningham. Not a day goes by that we don't laugh, dream, play, and enjoy life together. Every day we make the decision to lighten up and pursue a fun marriage.
If you followed us around for a day, you would probably say, "These two are boring." Our day-to-day routine is similar to most couples. We raise kids, make meals, work jobs, pay bills, clean house, attend church, take out the trash, do the dishes, help with homework, change lightbulbs, plunge toilets, get ready for bedtime, and wake up the next day and do it all again. Our daily grind is predictable, and I love it.
Our life and marriage are not drawing the attention of any Hollywood screenwriters. It would take quite a bit of embellishment to make it a blockbuster movie. (However, if I had to pick two actors to play Ted and Amy, I would choose Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. We relate to them the best on the big screen.)
The first seven years of our marriage were like most marriages. We shifted our attention from similarities to differences. We realigned our expectations with reality. We fought over money. We felt misunderstood and at times devalued. We went to bed angry and quiet on many nights.
Our marriage was in the grind, yet we knew there had to be a better way. We felt stuck, and we wanted to be unstuck. We knew the grind was here to stay, so we figured we should try doing something else. We didn't want to medicate our way through the grind, and we had no plans to look for someone else. The grind was unpredictable, and we had no control over it. So we decided to change our approach rather than find an escape.
We remembered all the fun times we had while dating in college and wondered if returning to those days was even possible. We wanted the romance, passion, desire, and sparks. Many senior couples we talked to would tell us, "Welcome to the real world." "You can't have those feelings and good times forever." I refused to accept that.
So we asked ourselves, "What is the formula for a fun, loving marriage? What will it take to enjoy life again? Enjoy marriage? Enjoy each other in the midst of the grind?" If we stopped bringing up controversial discussions, would escalated arguments go away?
If we downplayed differences and focused on similarities, would the sparks return? If we quit our jobs and moved somewhere different, would a change of scenery bring back the excitement? What if our marriage is missing children? Would we be happier if we made more money?
A fun, loving marriage is not found in the answers to any of those questions!
To begin enjoying life and marriage in the midst of the grind, we needed a paradigm shift in our thinking. Enjoying marriage and each other is possible in the midst of controversial issues, differences, pain, hard work, toddlers, and a tight budget.
The formula for a fun, loving marriage is not all that complicated and is found in three simple words: honor, enjoy, and prioritize.
First, when you're stuck in the grind, you must esteem marriage and each other as highly valuable. Hebrews 13:4 states, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." At first glance we tend to focus on the "marriage bed kept pure" section of Scripture. To do so overlooks the clear teaching that each of us must lift high the institution of marriage.
Every day Amy and I strive to paint a beautiful picture of marriage to our kids, family, and friends. Through our social media outlets we raise the flag of marriage and encourage people to invest in their marriages. We do not run each other down, make fun of each other, or criticize each other to family and friends. We believe that marriage should be safe and shouted from the rooftops.
Part of honoring marriage is honoring each other. Amy is personally autographed by God, and I want to show her that value each day. Some marriage ministries have a take on this message: "God gave you your spouse to beat you down and suck the life out of you so you can be more like Jesus." Is this really the picture of marriage we want to paint?
Honor decides. It makes a decision to esteem as valuable. God did not ordain marriage to be a miserable weight you wear your entire adult life to bring you closer to Him. A fun, loving marriage starts by raising the value of your marriage and spouse.
Second, in the midst of the grind you must enjoy life together. Ecclesiastes 9:7–9 says to "go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun."
You and I have a responsibility in the daily grind. Dare I say part of your purpose in life is to play and have fun? Yes! You are called to enjoy life! This is a message we lost years ago.
When you're stuck in the grind of life, enjoy life. Live life! Pursue it! Decide to not waste it! Find those precious moments in sharing a meal, laughing, and being joyful. Life is difficult, yes, but you can decide to find those moments and enjoy each other. You can't escape the grind, and for goodness' sake, do not turn your spouse into the grinder.
God did not give me my spouse as part of the grind. Amy and I are going through the grind together. You do not have to choose between life and a spouse. You can enjoy life with your spouse in the midst of the grind.
Third, in the midst of the grind you must prioritize your marriage in the home. Amy and I tend toward a kid-centered home, but we fight against it every day. We know it's not good for us or for the kids. Parents of generations past used to remind their children regularly, "The world does not revolve around you."
My daughter, Corynn, knows that she is my princess. She also knows that Amy Cunningham is the queen of our home. No one speaks when the queen is talking. No one runs ahead of the queen. When the queen picks a restaurant or activity, no amount of whining from the kids deters me. Our course is set.
My wife likes being the queen. The kids and I like her in the role of queen. But she rarely takes advantage of her esteemed position because she knows it destroys the lesson we are trying to teach Corynn and our son, Carson. Regularly I remind our kids, "I'm not perfect, but I am trying my hardest to show you both how a queen should be treated."
Corynn is convinced that our home has enough room for two queens. The fact is, there is room for only one.
Excerpted from fun loving you by Ted Cunningham. Copyright © 2013 Ted Cunningham. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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