Eileen and Steve Benthal on their wedding day in 1986 and in 2013.
I remember the first time we met. It was right after Mass at Christ the King Chapel. A mutual friend introduced us. We had been sitting in the same pew, but I hadnʼt noticed him until I looked into his eyes. Those deep blue eyes caught my attention right away.
He remembers the first time we met. We were standing in the long line for Sunday brunch at the cafeteria. We talked about the eggs and the french toast.
No matter. He noticed me and I noticed him; and the rest is “his story” – and mine.
We met during my sophomore year in college. We had similar interests, especially music. We were part of a traveling music group that toured around the country giving concerts in churches and private high schools. We traveled on weekends and did extended touring during school breaks. We performed contemporary Christian music with guitars, bass and drums. Steve was the drummer and the business manager. I was a vocalist and the scheduling coordinator. It was a fun gig that lasted all four years of college.
At some point that summer of sophomore year we noticed each other more. We worked together a lot on the schedules and financials for the group and we realized we kind of liked hanging out. We were very good friends. I remember before we discussed our mutual attraction; we were both a little fearful at what the other was thinking. One day I decided to bring this budding relationship to prayer. I was surprised and intrigued by the answer. I opened to the Song of Songs, the one book in the Bible that is totally devoted to romantic and even erotic love. My eyes fell on this verse:
“Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its time.” (Song of Songs 2:7)
In that moment God was beginning to teach me and Steve about a life-long lesson of love: timing is everything. While it was becoming more obvious we were attracted to each other, it just wasnʼt the right time. We just needed to wait a little longer. Focus on school and work and maybe start dating when we were less distracted and could give each other more time. We went on tour that summer, and did the music for the summer conferences at Franciscan University. Somehow, in the midst of traveling for hours in a 12-passenger van, moving from city to city and playing for thousands of people under a hot sweaty conference tent, we fell in love.
Our relationship was deeply rooted in mutual friendship and common interests. We went for romantic dinners in nearby Pittsburgh and long walks on the cliffs of the campus, that looked out over the Ohio River. We discussed our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns. In the midst of a busy college life and ministry, our love grew. We went through some periods of disillusionment too. Steve graduated before me, but came back to tour full-time in the fall and student teach to finish his high school certification the next spring. Then two years after we met and one year after we started dating, we got engaged on Thanksgiving day.
We had no idea where we were going to live or work, we just knew we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Eight months later we were married in the chapel — where I am certain we met. We had a simple reception in a banquet room on campus for $10 a plate. I remember as we were leaving the campus, a friend asked us when we would return. I said, “When our first born is ready for college.” Ironically, or providentially, each of our young adult kids decided they liked that small Catholic University and this May, our 20- year-old will be the fifth one in our family to graduate from Franciscan.
This summer, we will celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. I donʼt know how we got to be our parentsʼ age or how our eldest kids are the age we were when we started this adventure. Weʼve kept a vision before us of love that endures. Sometimes enduring love is sweet like fine wine and smooth chocolate and fragrant like a bouquet of precious roses. Sometimes enduring love means just getting through the tough times, with or without the wine and roses, trusting that, in the end, love never fails.
Through the years, my husband and I have had been through the stages and cycles of love. Weʼve been madly in love — and disillusioned in love. Our vows to love one another in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer are an integral part of the cement that holds us together. At one time, I naively thought we had an ideal marriage; we had faith as our foundation and mutual respect and affection spurred us on. But like every relationship that means anything, we have experienced some really hard times. Far from my ideal, I still marvel at the real marriage we have become. Through thick and through thin, we are committed to love one another till death do us part.
Just as the Song of Songs sets a tone of romance for courtships and marriage, so the poetic love of God in this book speaks to us of true love that endures. At the end of this book of poetry and love songs, Solomon offers a fierce definition of true love.
Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he has to purchase love,
he would be roundly mocked.
(Song of Songs 8: 6-7)
Love for each another places an indelible mark on our hearts to bind us together for life. Stern and relentless are not the descriptions youʼll find on a valentine. “My love for you is stern and relentless” would not evoke romantic images of a couple sitting by the ocean.
And speaking of the ocean, Solomonʼs images of deep waters and floods are enough to scare any couple away from making a lifetime commitment to love. Yet, any marriage committed to last, faces death in the world, in each other and in the relationship. Love is a blazing fire; the fire of passion brings forth a deeper union and new life. The fire of trials and difficulties in a relationship is a refining fire that consumes the dross covering the beauty lying in the depths of love.
True love cannot be swept away in the tidal waves of life. Even though we may feel like we are drowning in the floods, love finds a way. Love is our greatest resource and costly treasure. Love is taking out the garbage in the cold snowy nights and running the vacuum for the third time in a week. Itʼs caring for the sick. Itʼs working side by side, trying to find a way to make ends meet and hanging on when the tidal waves threaten to sweep us out to sea.
True love is much more than the stuff of valentines. It is made of fire and water, life and death, darkness and light. This is the heart of true love and true love endures.