I whisked away my roommate's copy of "25 Surprising Marriages"* before she had a chance to read it herself.
It's not a study in "happily ever after," although the couples involved are bound for eternity with Christ. It's a collection of stories about the family lives of 25 famous Christians.
As a woman, I often wonder about the perspective of the wives of famous Christians. As I mentioned when writing about missions, I wonder about the practical details. I don't see any problem with the wife being behind the scenes, yet I wish that someone would shed a little light on the situation. Just how do you "run a school"? It seems like missionaries' wives were always doing it, yet it seems like quite a daunting task. How do you keep house in the jungle? How do you deal with your husband rarely being home because he is out "furthering the Kingdom"? How do you feed and clothe your family when there is no steady salary to depend on?
And this book answers many of those questions, not with step-by-step instructions, but with inspiring examples.
And now, for the details:
This book features not only clergymen, but musicians, evangelists, missionaries, and others. Since I read the book in Russian, it was a bit laborious at times and I cringed at various aspects of the translation, thinking about how awkward it sounded. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it.
As you read the stories, you get the feeling that you are reading excerpts from biographies, and not original works. Indeed, each story cites 2-3 sources. It would be worth it to read the more extended biographies. However, having the marriage stories in one volume is equally informative and helpful for the sake of comparison.
The format of each story is a bit of a teaser. It starts out with a preview of the couple's married life: what they accomplished together, what was unique about their union, etc. It begins to tell the story of how they met and fell in love...and THEN goes back to their infancy to begin at the beginning. I suppose it is interesting to hear about their childhood, but after the preview, you want to go forward, not backwards!
I'll admit, I skipped a few stories. Some of them I had read elsewhere, such as C.S. Lewis and Hudson Taylor, and I didn't need to struggle through them again in Russian. There was also a section which seemed to be about UNhappy marriages. The other stories seemed challenging enough without tragic endings, so I chose to skip the depressing ones. I can always return to them another time.
But overall, I was encouraged. Whenever I read a story about Christians who served the Lord passionately, I honestly do not envy their lives. I don't strive to become a martyr, to give birth on a ship with no one but my husband attending, or to visit him in jail every day....if it isn't my calling. But seeing how the Lord sustained these women (and men) as they responded to His call is inspiring. It encourages me that He would do the same for me.
Some of my favorite parts:
-A weary Charles Spurgeon falls asleep before preparing for the sermon, and instead of waking him up, Susannah Spurgeon writes down what he says in his sleep, and it becomes material for the sermon!
-George and Mary Mueller are so busy rushing about ministering in orphan houses that they barely spend time at home together. Yet they often run into each other in the street unexpectedly, as if the Lord is granting them those few minutes together.
-the wives of both John Bunyan and Adoniram Judson remain faithful to their husbands who are in jail; Elisabeth Bunyan appearing before the court to plead before the judge (but refusing to lie and say that her husband will stop preaching); Ann Judson visiting her husband daily and even relocating to a different area with her infant when Adoniram is transferred to a different prison.
-Ruth Bell Graham, when she realizes that the man she is marrying will be absent much of the time due to speaking engagements, takes it upon herself to make the most of the situation. She moves their family back in with her parents, knowing she can live cheerfully there while her husband is gone, and makes an effort to "keep busy" so that she won't fall into depression.
*Petersen, William J. 25 Surprising Marriages Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.