Before we got married, my wife and I had to take a mandatory church marriage class. The Baptist church would not marry anyone without it.
The idea was: After eight weeks of rigorous marriage training, couples would receive an official certificate, trimmed in gold, with their names on it. And this certificate would prove to the world, without a doubt, that couples were spiritually prepared to stand at an altar and combine health insurance policies.
Keep in mind, this certificate wasn’t a marriage license. This was a “Baptist pre-marriage class certificate,” from the back of the “official Baptist marriage workbook,” purchased for $24.99.
Within the Baptist tradition, you see, you can’t do anything without first obtaining a certificate and unanimous committee approval. Even Sunday greeters are required to attend a four-week class that teaches them to properly say: “Here’s your bulletin, possible wayward reprobate sinner, sir.”
Thus, my future-wife and I arrived at the fellowship hall each week to participate in courses that prepared us for cohabitation.
These courses featured many important games which the workbook termed “marital building exercises.” Many of which were developed by professional marriage book authors—some of whom had been married to the same person for as long as three to four years.
One such exercise was the Egg Test.
In this game, the future-bride (Jamie) balances an egg on a spoon clenched between her teeth. She wears a blindfold and walks across a room.
The future-husband (me) stands on the opposite side of the room (over by the piano). He uses ONLY his words to guide his future-wife through an obstacle course made up entirely of folding chairs which represent the confusing Maze of Life.
On the chairs are Post-It notes, labeled with various day-to-day marriage problems like: “car trouble,” “bills,” “career,” “children,” “chapter 11 bankruptcy,” “sharing the covers.”
In this exercise, the woman stumbles over chairs, spoon held in her mouth. She is thus forced to either trust her mate, or remove her blindfold and dog cuss him before his peers.
I realize that non-Baptists might think this game sounds ridiculous. But this exercise equips young couples with the wisdom needed for facing the increasingly common threat of folding chairs.
Another exercise was the Question Jar.
In this little gem, we were given empty mayonnaise jars and slips of paper. We wrote personal questions on paper and dropped them in the jar.
Couples were encouraged to read questions to their potential mates in front of the class.
For example, one man asked his sweetheart: “Which country do you want to visit that’s NOT in America?”
You had to love this guy.
His fiancé smiled. “The Grand Canyon,” she said. “I always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon.”
They were perfect for each other.
Then another woman read a question: “Honey, how do you prefer your steaks? Rare, medium, or well-done?”
He responded with: “Medium-rare, darling.”
And this couple was then granted permission to marry and have as many kids as they wanted.
When Jamie, however, read a question, she did not ask how I wanted my New York strip. She asked:
“Just how many girlfriends came before me?”
Jared White, who sat next to me in class, bowed his head and whispered, “Give him strength, Lord.”
I am getting off track here. As of now, my wife and I have been married for sixteen years. We are happy. And we do not balance eggs anymore unless absolutely necessary.
Still, marriage class was valuable. Mainly, because we laughed about the whole Egg Test thing until we almost peed ourselves. We’ve laughed a lot over the years.
I’ve always enjoyed making that woman laugh.
It was about ten years into our marriage that doctors found something in my wife’s breast. It was a truly bad day. We did what all couples probably do. We tried not to talk about it. We tried to live normal lives. But it doesn’t work like that.
At night we would lie in bed and hold each other. I remained awake, smelling her hair. I know that sounds strange, but her hair smells better than average hair.
After the months of waiting, tests, and worrying, the UAB doctor gave us good news. I cried in the exam room—right in front of the doc. What a day.
Anyway, today I was in the storage shed. There was a dusty box beside my workbench labeled: “books.” I opened it. I found a sixteen-year-old workbook.
It made me laugh. It made me sniff. In the back pages was a certificate with two names on it, trimmed in gold. Two names that do not sound right unless they are said together.
We passed the class, Jamie.
No eggs were harmed in the making of this column.