The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
(11th in a series on long marriages)
Stephen and Sherry Collins had been married five years when, in 1980, difficult circumstances led them to Christian faith. On bed rest while pregnant with the couple’s second baby, Sherry, a Jew, watched the film Jesus of Nazareth on TV. After giving birth, she read the Bible during her hospital recovery and became convinced Jesus was the Messiah.
Meanwhile, Stephen, at home with the newborn, woke one morning to find his son cold and rigid in the crib—dead in his sleep. “It was the most shocking thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Stephen. “I felt helpless. I was shaking.” Like his wife, he turned to the Bible: Reading in 2 Samuel, he realized King David’s response to his baby’s death was “the exact opposite reaction that I had.”
Stephen and Sherry both found hope in Christ, but they nevertheless had a rocky marriage in the years afterward. The couple’s different personalities clashed and, with six children, so did their parenting styles. They fell into a repeated cycle of hurt feelings.
A psychologist who evaluated Stephen and Sherry in the early 1990s pronounced them “incompatible.” They separated in 1992 but came back together after a year. Still, they couldn’t stop fighting. They separated again in 1999: Stephen moved in with some single men from church, hoping the distance would help him and his wife sort things out.
But this time their problems intimidated fellow church members. Sherry said she prayed frequently as she cared for their kids and attended Bible studies and counseling. Stephen tried everything he knew: self-help books, Christian conferences, and counseling. After a year without progress, he gave up. He began looking for a new place to move to. It seemed his 26-year-old marriage was over.
One night, Stephen went to bed in despair, but when he woke up, he felt God telling him to go home and love his wife selflessly. His only explanation for the change that came over him: “The ‘me’ part of me died that day, sometime during the night while I was sleeping. The next day it no longer mattered to me whether there was any hope or not: I had to do what God told me to do: Go home, love your wife and your kids.”
Stephen called Sherry and said he was coming home. Sherry remembers feeling “happy,” because she really did love him. When he returned home, he found new ways to serve her, like cooking and doing the laundry.
Nearly 20 years later, they still fight, but now fight differently: Instead of emotional, selfish fights, their conflicts now often end in prayer. Stephen said they are learning to give grace and accept one another, instead of just fixing every problem.
Sherry said, “The Lord taught us that we have to forgive each other and think of each other [as] more important than ourselves.”
Stephen is now 67, and Sherry is 64. They agree the last few years of their marriage have been the sweetest: “The way it feels to hold her hand after 45 years of marriage, there’s no words for it,” said Stephen. “Most of the last 45 years has been God making up for what we do.”
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Austin, Texas, styles itself “the live music capital of the world” and a haven for painters and sculptors as well. So do other aspirational cities that have followed a New Urbanism script: gain an artsy reputation so the talented, young, and beautiful will follow. But what about those left behind yet also made in God’s image, including the blind, the disabled, and the homeless?
We visited three Austin institutions: The 164-year-old Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), with a capacity of 160 students ages 7 to 19. The 24-year-old Imagine Art ministry for those with physical or mental disabilities. The 30-year-old Art From the Streets project for homeless men and women. We then took a quick look at what’s going on nationwide.
AT TSBVI, JAZZ PIANO NOTES filled the hall as students with backpacks and water bottles filed in and grabbed seats. The white sticks they carried quickly dispelled any impression of a typical music or art class. One of the youngest students left his cane on the cane rack and used “protective technique”—clasping both hands and holding them out at chest level to serve as tactile sensors—to find his seat.
Projects on display engaged the senses: A 3D mural uses brown spoons to make up the trunk of a tree, with four yellow spoons—handles snapped off—forming the petals of a flower. Three students held close to their faces the clay mugs they are creating.
In a music classroom, five students recited without music the first stanza of the classic song “Autumn Leaves.” Teacher Jeremy Coleman then grabbed a classical guitar and played softly to complement the student voices. Their faces showed intense focus, with two students rocking gently back and forth.
Creating sound without sight demands special training. Sighted persons see how musicians hold and finger instruments, but blind students at first need teachers to position them physically and move their fingers the right way. Would-be pianists do best after they have explored the insides of a piano and felt the strings and the hammers.
But sometimes it’s an advantage to go to school with students who can’t see you. One TSBVI teen, Zaid Garcia, is not only blind but has skin horribly burned after a candle started a fire. Zaid has no nose, eyes, hair, or hands, but as he made his way slowly down the hall, no one recoiled. One student said he’s the most popular student in the school.
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(Tenth in a series on long marriages.)
Brad and Kris Bemis grew up in Seattle and met during their junior year of high school. In college, they stayed in touch as Brad studied to become a dentist and Kris a dental hygienist. During seven years of dating, they planned out their lives together, and in 1973 they married. Two decades in, things were going more or less according to plan: They had three kids, their own dentistry practice, and a home near their parents. Brad was researching places to visit for their upcoming 25th wedding anniversary.
In 1994, at their oldest daughter’s high-school graduation party, all their plans fell apart.
Kris, then 44 years old, felt a strange paralysis grip her body. The next morning, she could not move at all. Over the next six weeks, doctors ran tests and performed a spinal tap. Finally, the diagnosis: Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s nerves. Doctors gave Kris eight infusions, replacing her blood with sterilized plasma. Two weeks after the last treatment, the disease returned, this time shutting down everything except her breathing. She dropped to 70 pounds and felt needles of pain. She couldn’t swallow, move, or get out of bed.
Meanwhile, Brad struggled to maintain the dental practice and to care for their 13-year-old twins alone. When Kris came home from the hospital, he helped dress and feed her and took her to the bathroom. He cleaned the house, made the kids’ school lunches, and never missed a day of work. “I was doing my best to hang on day by day,” he said. But he remembers nights when Kris would shake uncontrollably, and all he could do was hold her, caress her, and pray, “God, please don’t take her.” He had no idea whether his wife would improve or even survive.
In early 1995, he lost hope: One evening, Kris wept at the dinner table and told Brad, “You have never loved me the way I needed to be loved, and you never will.” (Kris does not remember this: “A lot of the things I said were not me at all. My brain was very, very garbled.”) Brad broke down and walked outside, despite the rain, to pray: “I told [God], ‘I can’t take this anymore. I can’t do anything more for her. ... This woman is not lovable.’” He felt God replying, Do you think my disciples were lovable? Brad said, “The question pierced my heart and humbled my being to its core. I knew I am to love my wife as Christ loved the Church. I resolved to persevere a day at a time.”
At that point in their marriage, Kris said, “there wasn’t any communication. We were absolutely in survival mode.” But the disease did not return a third time. As months passed, the symptoms gradually eased. Slowly, the marriage healed too. On New Year’s Eve 1997, they crossed the Canadian border for a concert. “That was the watershed moment of our relationship, getting back to being able to do some fun things together,” Brad said.
Now the Bemises, both 70, enjoy visiting Cannon Beach and taking their dog for walks on the trails near their home in Woodinville, Wash. Kris volunteers at a pregnancy resource center, and Brad participates in men’s Bible studies at their church. Kris still has lingering effects from the disease—she still has no feeling in the bottoms of her feet, for example—but she and Brad are thankful for their 46 years of marriage together.
“My wife has recovered and been renewed to her wonderful ‘dynamo’ self,” Brad said. “There are few, if any, things in our culture that bless more people than a Christ-centered marriage.”