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Rev. Dietrich Gruen from First Presbyterian Church of Columbus visits the Garden Tomb during his recent trip to Israel.

We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with a special song before our Call to Worship. We won’t sing to anyone not with us in church that day; nonetheless, our thoughts and prayers are with our celebrants in Spirit. I don’t always remember, at first, to lead in the singing, even when the celebrated people are present. And we don’t always sing on time or in tune with yours truly being forgetful and tone-deaf. Sunday Sept. 22 was no exception to this rule—until the exceptional happened.

We delay 10:30 worship by four minutes with all the kibitzing that goes on, even forgetting to ring the bell. We begin, as we typically do, with greetings and announcements, joys and concerns—except that I forget to announce our three anniversary couples: but of those six people, five were absent anyway. This absent-minded pastor remembers to sing to that sixth person only as we’re finishing the four-part call to worship. Duly noting the two couples who are absent, I recognize the half of one couple who is present that day—Eric Lukasavitz. We then bid the organist Kathy to start up “Happy Anniversary.”

Midway through that four-round chorus—“Happy anniversary to you, happy anniversary to you, happy anniversary God bless you… Happy anniversary to you”—lo, and behold, who should walk down the aisle? Kimberley Lukasavitz! At their wedding 11 years ago, we would have been swaying and singing, “Here come the bride.” But this time, during Sunday worship, the bride was not expected, as Kimberley often stays home, feeling too down to be fit company for anyone. Now she’s beaming, realizing what she’s just walked in on. The other worshippers break into cheers and tears, as she keeps walking down the aisle to give me a hug. Then it’s the groom’s turn. Had I my wits about me, I should’ve said, “Eric, you may now kiss the bride.”

Never again will we at FPC-Columbus sing “Happy Anniversary” the same way again. Some things you just have to be in church to fully appreciate. This was one of them. Moral of the story: Get to church on time—for your wedding and at least on your anniversary!

Speaking of anniversaries, mine is this weekend. I married Sue 29 years ago on Oct. 12, a Friday. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Madison that night and one in Fort Atkinson on Saturday, following a Fireside Theater dinner and show, “Fiddler on the Roof.” We’ve been setting aside Fridays as date nights for dinner out and theatre ever since.

Sue became a marriage counselor 13 years ago. That’s been good for me, too—as she modelled principles of a successful marriage from Day One and has helped me write a book on the same. My strategies are reality-tested, based on one bad 12-year marriage that ended in divorce and one successful marriage that is going strong the last 29 years. I now pass along some of those insights, to commemorate our marriage and help yours.

Adults survive marriage—yes, thrive in mental and physical health and career—when in a firmly attached peer relationship. We are created with God-given need for attachment that continues through adulthood. “Love is a primary need, like oxygen or water,” say the marriage experts. One identifies four behaviors basic to attachment: We monitor physical and emotional closeness to our beloved; we reach for this person when sad, unsure or feeling down; we miss him/her when apart; we count on him/her to be there for us as we explore the world.

By all such counts, I am connected to Sue! Ask the same of your spouse.

Conversely, the lack of attachment can be hazardous to health and marriage. Emotional isolation is a greater health risk than smoking or high blood pressure, but turning to someone other than your spouse for emotional support undermines that primary relationship. Adults who do not feel secure in their relationship either become anxious, angry or controlling. OR they avoid contact and stay distant. I’ve been there. Those who feel close to and regularly depend on their partner, will not go there as often. They express anger in a more limited or controlled way, often with positive outcomes, such as solving problems and reconnecting with their partners.

Conflict and hostile criticism from a loved one increase self-doubt and create feelings of helplessness—two classic triggers for depression. And depression saps a marriage, while significant touch sparks the original match. Simply holding the hand of your partner can calm jittery neurons on the brain. One couple I know well holds hands every worship service.

May you know the love of God expressed in your wedding vows, renewed on your wedding anniversary and every week since—whether on regular date nights or Sunday worship. Romance and prayer keep the drive alive.

Rev. Dietrich Gruen is pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus and Bethany Presbyterian of Randolph.

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