The Secret  

The Secret

Apparently, it is hard to stay married. I say this because of how many divorced people I meet. Not one person I’ve met started out their marriage by saying, “I will stay married for a few years and then get a divorce.” Most of them uttered words to the effect of “till death do us part” only to find themselves a few years later wanting to speed up that process. I have a friend who says that the reason people cry at weddings is that they know what this blissfully happy young couple is going to have to go through to make things work out.

It is no “secret” that the “secret” to staying married is commitment. When the first blush of shallow romantic love fades, it’s commitment that keeps the couple together. It takes commitment to make it through sickness, health, poverty, and wealth. Unfortunately, commitment is difficult in a society where divorce is easy, acceptable, and in many circles even trendy and stylish. You can pick up any pop psych magazine and read that lack of commitment is why America’s divorce rate is high and rising.

What everyone wants is to stay happily married. If people were happy, marriages would survive even in a society where lack of commitment is an issue. Perhaps the best kept “secret” in modern America is how to have a happy marriage.

Is the “secret” to being happily married to choose the right person? It must be part of it because parents carefully advise, pray, and hold their breath when their children are picking out life mates. It can’t be all of the answer because I’ve seen Godly people change into “monsters” when their faith slipped and I’ve seen monstrous people changed into the image of Christ when they finally surrendered to the call of the Holy Spirit. Let’s face it, people change.

Is this secret to be involved in church? Frankly, I wish that were so. A good church offers Biblical principals for staying married and examples of people living by these principles and reaping the results. Church is an important part of a good marriage but the divorce rate inside churches is almost as high as the divorce rate outside of church.

Is it having things in common? I don’t think so. I’ve had too many people say that opposites attract to think that can possibly be true. People that are happily married often revel in their differences and let these differences expand the other’s horizons while others do nothing but complain about these differences. People that have many things in common may delight in going to museums, malls, and the opera together or complain that they find themselves bored.

Is it making God the center of the marriage? Aha, the test wise say. This must be the right answer but after watching a glowing Jimmie and Janice Sullivan celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary (see pictures in the Photo Gallery under Louisiana – Houma – Sullivan Anniversary,) I suspect that too is only part of the secret. What I do know from watching Janice and Jimmie kiss, worship together, jitterbug, and hug their grandchildren is that a long term happy marriage is well worth seeking.

I call Janice my Cajun girlfriend. Janice calls herself a barefoot country girl. Tiny energetic Janice, who grew up in the bayous of Louisiana has jet black spiked hair, loves to wear vibrant colors, wouldn’t be seen without her lipstick, and delights the world with her dynamic sparkly earrings. She is a motivational public speaker and when she steps up to the podium, if she forgets to give a Cajun yell, the audience yells in unison, “Aeeeeeeee.”

Janice married Jimmie Sullivan on August 12, 1956. I thought Janice was the most extroverted person I knew until I met Jimmie. Jimmie’s full head of black wavy hair makes one wonder how he could have been on earth long enough to have been married fifty years. Janice and Jimmie’s youthful faces are a testament to the theory that laughing often and smiling broadly is a fountain of youth.

Bob and I arrived in Houma, Louisiana on Friday night, the night before the big party. We were to camp in the front yard of Janice and Jimmie’s son and daughter-in-law, Shad and Loretta’s for the duration of our stay. When we drove up to Shad and Loretta’s home, Janice bounced out the door to throw her arms around us. I’ve been friends with Janice for years but this was the first time I had met Jimmie. Jimmie stood patiently behind her and when she was finished hugging me, he folded me into a bear hug without waiting for an introduction. Everyone talked at once as Janice introduced Shad, Loretta, and their children, Shane, Shawn, and Lily Ann. The men helped get Happy (our RV) parked and leveled while the women and children went inside talking excitedly.

We sat in the living room of Shad and Loretta playing with children and catching up. “Lilly Ann, do the wolf,” big brother Shawn suggested. All eyes turned to Lily Ann. 19-month-old Lily Ann impishly made her turkey sound. “Silly, that was a turkey. Now do the wolf,” Shawn encouraged. Instantly, everyone in the room but Lily Ann howled like a wolf. Lily Ann was delighted.

“You’ve got to come see my home,” Janice insisted. (See the Sullivan home under Photo Gallery – Louisiana – Houma – Sullivan Home.)

“Can we come Gonnie?” begged Shawn and Shane.

“Sure can,” Janice smiled. Tiny Lily Ann wasn’t about to be left behind. She held her arms up to Pop and Pop scooped her up, nuzzling her neck as he did so.

“Watch Lily Ann,” Loretta carefully instructed Shane. Shane and Shawn cavorted barefoot around us as we all tromped happily down the middle of the dark street. We never stopped talking as we walked the short two blocks and entered the Sullivan home through the carport into a cozy well lit kitchen.

“This is my kitchen,” Janice beamed. We walked through the kitchen into a dining room, stopping to admire the family photographs everywhere. Several giant stuffed deer heads and a tiny colorful stuffed duck decorated the Sullivan living room, reminding us of Jimmie’s love of hunting.

As we walked to the back of the house, we saw Janice’s office. Her Bible, devotional books, and other inspirational books lined shelves, letting me know this was the room where Janice went every morning to talk to God. I saw the computer Janice uses to read my stories and to send me e-mails.

We walked to the back of the house to see an obviously male room. Hanging on a coat rack were camouflage hats and coats. More animal heads were on the wall. “This is my room,” Jimmie grinned. “Of course I sleep in there,” he winked as he pointed to their dainty bedroom, “But my stuff is here.”

The next morning, I went over to the Jolly Inn to help prepare for the big event. Janice’s sons, Shad and Tod, delivered supplies in their pickup trucks. Daughter Tina, with her beautiful waist length hair streaming behind her, directed the show. We put out white plastic table clothes, bowls of nuts, party favors, flowers, and confetti on each table. Janice’s tiny lace wedding dress, yellowed with age, was on a manikin in the corner, beside boards containing pictures testifying to a life of love, fun, productivity, and spirituality.

The party didn’t start until 12:30 PM but people couldn’t wait and began arriving at 11:45 AM. Like me, they had been counting the days until this party and the air crackled with excitement and anticipation. At exactly 12:00 PM, Janice and Jimmie made their grand entrance, wearing color-coordinated clothes. Janice’s long dress, covered in sea foam glitter, was exactly the same color as Jimmie’s shirt and tie. (see pictures)

Immediately, the waiting crowd stampeded them. Beaming, Janice threw her arms around each person, always squealing with delight when she saw who it was. Jimmie not only hugged, he kissed. “Hey boy,” I’d hear Jimmie shout as he spotted a long time friend across the room. “Get over here!” When Jimmie hugs, he throws his entire body into the hug. Together, Janice and Jimmie greeted the 250 guests that entered the room, making each person feel loved and special. In the middle of talking to everyone, Janice reached down and picked up tiny Lily Ann, including her in the introductions and hugs.

We all sat down and the ceremony began. Janice took the mike and said, “I know you’re hungry but that is what the peanuts are for.” Everyone laughed. Father Mike led them as they solemnly and tearfully said their wedding vows. Each child took turns talking about their parents, having carefully written out what they wanted to say.

“You have been an example of love for all of us,” Tod said.

“You have made me a better man,” said Shad.

Tina wrote a poem called Forever Love (see on website under Daily Journal – August 13) which described the fifty year romance of Jimmie and Janice. As each child finished their tribute, their loving parents embraced them. Grandson Jacob, an artist, drew hands that had the words strength on it. (See website under Photo gallery – Louisiana – Houma – Sullivan Anniversary – Ceremony.) Crying, Jimmie held up the beautiful framed picture as they both hugged 15-year-old Jacob. 13-year-old Shane took the microphone and talked of his Pop’s hunting trips and his Gonnie’s cooking.

“My turn,” said Jimmie, taking the microphone. He talked about how much his marriage and his faith meant to him. “Jesus Christ is everything to us,” he said in tears as Janice held his hand tenderly. “We owe Him everything. I hope all of you know Him the way I do. I pray that Jesus would heal all the sickness and unhappiness in this room.”

Janice took the microphone and thanked everyone for coming, telling people how important they were to them. She introduced people that were in the wedding party and told stories of how important people were to them.

Then the friends started coming up. Each reported how much Jimmie and Janice had helped them.

“I wouldn’t have made it without them,” friend Red reported.

“They have no idea how much influence they had on us,” another said.

“They give us hope that a happy marriage is possible,” someone remarked.

Father Mike said they were like newly weds all the time.

After a good old-fashioned Cajun lunch, the dancing began. Janice and Jimmie are award winning Jitterbuggers. When they dance together, it is like one person dancing. My favorite part is watching their faces, lit up with pleasure and love. They demonstrate for all to see that you can still have fun after 50 years. They each took turn dancing with friends, children, and grandchildren but when they found each other again, they would relax, happy to be home.

Janice and I are friends and I already knew Janice and Jimmie were happily married. You can’t talk to Janice for longer than five minutes without her mentioning Jimmie. I have often heard her share her spiritual journey in front of groups. She always talks about “her” Jimmie. One time I heard her say, “He always smells so good.” I suspect all the women that hear her speak have developed crushes on Jimmie and wish they could be married to someone just like him.

When Jimmie watched the slide show of their life together, I heard him say, “Would you look at that.” The screen had a picture of Janice in a tight pair of pants. “Mmmmm M. That’s my woman!”

Janice and Jimmie are popular people. I already knew that too. When Janice and I travel together, people run up to her, bouncing and screaming, “Janice, Janice, Janice!” Janice starts bouncing back and screams their name as she hugs them. It’s a good thing my self esteem is secure or I could get a complex. Once, when Janice and I were in New England together, I had dinner with some other women. I told them my woes and asked them to run up to the table where Janice and I were giving service together, bounce, and scream “Cheryle, Cheryle, Cheryle.” “Be sure you don’t even notice Janice standing there,” I advised. They did it and Janice just laughed and laughed. The truth is, I enjoy watching how much Janice loves people and how much they love her. I’ve learned a lot from watching her.

There are many reasons people are popular – some of them good and some of them not so good. As I prayed for Janice and Jimmie on the morning of their anniversary party, I realized that Janice and Jimmie were popular because they make each person they meet feel like the most important person in the world. I thought back to all the attention they gave us the night before the big party. Never once did I feel as if I were intruding when they had a million things to do. I thought about Janice and Jimmie hugging their grandchildren in the middle of entertaining 250 guests. There was no doubt they were loved and important even with Gonnie and Pop were surrounded with people, some that they hadn’t seen in 50 years. I thought about their greetings to each person. Never once did they look over a person’s shoulder to see who was next. When they were with someone, they gave their undivided attention.

Then, I realized that when Janice and Jimmie are together, they make each other feel like the most important person in the world. Could that be the secret to being happily married? Could the well kept “secret” to a happy marriage really be as simple as always making sure your spouse knows he or she is the most important person in the world to you?

It has to be the secret. I can’t think of any other reason. Janice and Jimmie aren’t just happy because they married the perfect person. I’m Janice’s friend and as much as I love her, I also know she isn’t perfect. They aren’t happy because of an over abundance of material wealth and possessions. Janice and Jimmie would be the first to tell you that they are simple people. They are happy because each knows the other cares about them.

I know what you may be thinking – but you don’t know my spouse. I’m not sure that matters. Let’s look again at the Sullivan marriage and see how they are able to continue to make each other feel so special.

Jimmie says Jesus Christ is responsible for everything good in their marriage. That makes perfect sense since Jesus came to offer grace. Because both Jimmie and Janice have a solid secure personal relationship with God, they can offer grace to each other. That allows them to let little things slide before they become big things. Because they live in grace, they know how to count their blessings. Because they model Christ to each other, they each get to see Christ on a daily basis. Because of grace, they can survive the vicissitudes of sickness, health, poverty, and wealth. Because of grace, they get the joy of still holding hands as they move into their senior years together, enjoying their children, grandchildren, lives, and each other.

Prov 31:11-12
The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. NASU

Prov 31:28-29
Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all." NASU


Cheryle M. Touchton is the Director of Pocket Full of Change Ministries. For more information or to schedule a speaker for an event, go to or call Cheryle Touchton at 904-614-3585.

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