On Valentine’s Day: The Keys to Your Happily-Ever-After

February 14, 2017 | 60 comments

Milo and Wanda always sat in the same pew of our little Lutheran church, on the north side. And they were always touching, holding hands. His arm was often draped around her, along the back of the pew. Her hand rested on his leg.

He dragged around an oxygen tank. She needed knee surgery. They’d been married for nearly 65 years.

And they still had stars in their eyes.

One Sunday a couple years back, Wanda scooted over to my pew before church, and she held out her hand. “Look!” she beamed. She wanted me to see what Milo had bought for her — a new Black Hills Gold ring.

I looked over Wanda’s shoulder to see that ol’ lovebird beaming. He told me he’d seen the ring in a catalog that arrived at their farm. He thought she needed it — just because. He bought the ring for no other reason than love.

After church, we drank coffee together in the fellowship hall. I asked them the secret to their happy marriage. He asserted that it was mostly due to the fact that he was “always right.” He winked; we all laughed.

Then Milo got a little teary-eyed. I had asked him about their first years of love, the years filled with hope and that starry-eyed belief that deep happiness is possible. Milo and Wanda got married right there on the family farm, on April 28, 1950. And for years, they kept meeting in their fields. During planting season, she would run across the rows of newly planted crops to bring him lunch. And his heart would swell up with love when she came running.

When he told me that story over coffee, Milo reached across the table to find Wanda’s hand.




I guess you could say that Wanda kept running toward Milo for nearly 65 years, even when they couldn’t really run anymore. And Milo kept running toward Wanda.

In my own marriage, I have learned that a happy marriage doesn’t just “happen.” It is the act of two hearts running toward each other, even when you want to run away.

Milo and Wanda had hard years. There was heartache in their decades together. That’s their story to tell, not mine. But I can tell you that most couples who lives to see their 60th wedding anniversary understand how you feel when you say you lost your happily ever after. Almost every couple I know has, at one time or another, wondered where the happiness went after the magical music of the wedding dance faded.

Milo and Wanda came from a long line of Lutherans, and maybe they had heard that Martin Luther quote, the one about marriage: “Marriage does not always run smoothly, it is a chancy thing. One has to commit oneself to it.”

And one does have to commit oneself, yes? Because real life happens. The needle scratches across the record. It doesn’t happen in a day, but in a series of months that turn to years. Marriage slips into a bland malaise. Suddenly, you wake up and realize that someone short-circuited the electricity in your marriage, and both spouses blame the other for faulty wiring. Couples slide from happy to humdrum — or worse.

We wonder: how did we get there? Is it possible to rescue what seems irretrievably gone?

Milo and Wanda would tell you that it is possible. They’d tell you not to give up. We had a lot of talks about that, and we had plans to have more of those talks.

Our family visited Wanda and Milo in the hospital, shortly after Wanda had gone in for that knee surgery. The nurses had brought an extra bed to Wanda’s hospital room, so Milo could stay with his wife, instead of out on the farm alone.

That afternoon, we prayed together, and we laughed together. We talked a little about what makes marriage work.

Milo did what he always did: He laughed at his own jokes. And the two held hands the whole time — in sickness, and in health.

That was the last time we saw Milo. He passed away March 2, 2015, at age 91. They buried him across the road from our country church — Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

We’ll never forget the lessons that Milo taught us. He and Wanda shared such a rich vision of marriage, at a time when cynics will tell you that holy matrimony is outdated, outmoded and utterly unfixable.

But they had managed to reclaim the joy of their own wedding day, and then multiply it across the years.

They had found the secret to happiness, right in the gritty-real of their everyday life.

Here are a few quick lessons on how to make a marriage last — courtesy of Milo and Wanda — as well Katharina and Martin Luther! (When it comes to marriage, some tips are timeless.)

The Keys to Your Happily-Ever-After

1- Look for Happiness Right Where You Are.

Milo and Wanda remind us that happiness can happen under your own four feet. You don’t have to plan a dream trip to a faraway island, or find yourself on the winning side of a lottery ticket. Happiness can happen by intentionally embracing a lifestyle where we wake up to the life we have, rather than the life we wish for. It begins with taking a long look at what – and who – is standing in front of you, sleeping next to you, sharing your towel rack and your toothpaste holder. It is determining that you already have the seed of something that can produce happiness, and letting God water that seed.

 2 – Practice the Art of “Going First.”

The happiest couples we know teach us what to means to “go first,” to be the first to offer a kind word, a surprise note, an apology, a gentle touch at the bathroom sink. These couples don’t give, based on what they’ve gotten. They give, based on their desire to give and love as Jesus taught. “We love because he first loved us.”

3 – Find the Humor.

Author Michelle DeRusha recently published a fascinating book on the marriage between the Reformer Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, and she says that the Luthers have a lot to teach us about how to make a marriage work. One way? To continue to make each other laugh.

Michelle spent months researching the Luthers’ writings. She tells me that she was surprised by the lighthearted repartee that the Luthers seemed to enjoy. “I figured, given Luther’s theological background and Katharina’s history as a nun, that they they’d be stodgy and uptight, but that wasn’t the case. We don’t have her letters to him, so we are missing a crucial half of their story, but his letters to her are full of good-natured teasing and sweet banter. It’s obvious that they enjoyed each other’s company and really just simply liked each other.”

4 – Appreciate the Average Things. 

A happy marriage happens over the bumps and twists of years spent under the same roof. We say “I do” to the marriage, and to the mystery. There are so many BIG things that can break you as a married couple.  But happiness grows from a million LITTLE things: meals at the supper table, the making up after the door gets slammed. It happens when you share a bathroom and a closet and a counseling session and a queen-size bed and a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of wine. It happens during those late-night dates when you’re quietly watching Netflix, and you reach in the dark, to find the hand of your favorite person.

Michelle, the author of the Luther book, tells us that the Luthers lived this way as well. For instance, Luther’s last letter to Katharina was written on Valentine’s Day, while he was away on business. It wasn’t a gushy, sappy love letter. It was a casual, comfortable letter. “It’s kind of average, but it speaks to their comfort with each other.” In the letter, Martin informs his wife that he’s bringing her home a present: a trout. Yep, a common, ordinary, average fish — but one that Katharina (as the keeper of the house) would have deeply appreciated.

So there you have it. 

Happy marriages happen when, after the falling apart, you work together to put it all back together again.

Marriage is for better and for worse, and knowing that sometimes? The better comes after the worst.

And marriage is waking up tomorrow to do it all over again. It’s bliss and it’s chaos.

Milo, Wanda, Martin, and Katharina would be the first to tell you: it can be truly, deeply happy. Because you were two hearts that just kept on running toward each other, even when you didn’t know if you could take another step.

Book Giveaway

Michelle is giving away a copy of her latest book, Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. To enter, simply let us know in the comments that you’d like me to put your name in the drawing. As always, any shares on social media earn you EXTRA entries. We operate on the honor system, so simply let me know in the comments where you’ve shared.

ABOUT THE BOOK: When Michelle’s editor asked her which of the 50 women from her first book she would pick for a full-length biography, she didn’t hesitate to answer: Katharina Luther. Their marriage was radically revolutionary and arguably one of the most scandalous and intriguing in history, yet five centuries after they said, “I do,” we still know little about Katharina and Martin Luther’s life together as husband and wife. Until now. Martin and Katharina Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk brings the private lives and the love story of this legendary couple into the spotlight and offers powerful insights into our own 21st-century understanding of marriage.


Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Our featured writer this week is Sue Donaldson. We’re all thinking about the word “love” today and I’m grateful that Sue reminds us that love is a verb. P.S. She has a free printable for you in her post! Find Sue here. To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer

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by | February 14, 2017 | 60 comments


  1. Rachel

    Please put my name in the drawing. As a longtime Lutheran, I’ve heard tons about Luther’s theology but not so much about his family. The book sounds fascinating.

  2. Mark-Toni Goodson

    Love this post… so much hope! Thank you, and God bless you! Happy Valentine’s Day! I would like to be entered into the drawing please. Also, shared on FB to my friends.

  3. Michelle Bills

    I would like to be put into the drawing. This book sounds really interesting. Thanks for the reminders on how to keep our marriage going!

  4. Michelle Bills

    I shared this on Pinterest. Again, thanks so much!

  5. Heather

    Please enter me into the drawing…I can’t wait to read this story!

  6. Linda Dresselhaus

    Beautiful, inspiring post! The book looks wonderful…thank you for the chance to win it!

  7. Patti Pierce

    I would love to win this book! I shared on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

  8. SarahPinault

    I have friends about to get married, would love to give them this.

  9. SarahPinault

    Also shared on Twitter

  10. Kathy Wilson

    I would love to have this book. Also, how appropriate since 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Lutheran Reformation.

  11. Julie Flood Beebe

    I would <3 to win this book! I shared on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

  12. Lisa Wight

    I would love to win this book!

  13. Katie Ellefsen

    I would love to win!

  14. karen

    Would love to be entered to win this book!

  15. Kathy Erickson

    Please enter my name in the drawing!! I read and reread her first book!!

  16. Kelly Schmidt

    Oh please please enter me!! Sharing on Facebook 🙂

  17. Keri Lyn

    Please enter me in the drawing and thank you for the reminder that a good marriage is based on giving both love and laughter.

  18. Cheryl Burroughs-Zueger

    Martin Luther is a hero of the faith and I would dearly LOVE to win this book!!!

  19. Mary

    Thank you for sharing Milo and Wanda’s story. That is love! The advice for our happily ever after is perfect for me too as a single woman. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  20. Trudy Den Hoed

    I love Milo and Wanda’s love story. I about cried though when I read that Milo passed away. Thank you for sharing this, Jennifer! Love and hugs!

  21. Michele Morin

    I love the way you share Milo and Wanda’s story alongside Martin and Katharina’s. We have a tendency to turn historical figures into flat characters, but I have a feeling there was plenty of 3-D energy in the Luther home! I have Michelle’s book in my pile, and am just so eager to begin reading!

  22. Karen W.

    Thank you for a wonderful glimpse of a special love story. Please enter my name for the book giveaway. Our church, Grace Lutheran Church, is enjoying a year of focus on Martin Luther and his teachings. I would love to share the love story of Martin and Katharina with members.

    • dukeslee

      Karen! You are the winner. Please email me your mailing address within the next 24 hours, and we’ll get the book sent to you! Yay, you!

  23. Dawn

    There is something about a love story that endures the ages, one that was lived by love especially in the difficult times and a couple that’s willing to be real. Thanks for sharing Milo and Wanda’s story, Jennifer. I have always been intrigued by Martin and Katherina’s story, Michelle’s book looks like a great place to start.
    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  24. Tara Ulrich

    Milo and Wanda give me hope. It’s hard to describe and make others understand. But at 38 years old, always yearning to be a wife and mom, my heart is sad that those desires haven’t been met for me yet. I honestly don’t want to lose hope but somedays that is easier said than done.

  25. Narrow-Minded Woman

    I would love to be entered for a chance to win the book. The marriage of Martin and Katie is one of my favorite love stories. What a beautiful model of, not a perfect marriage but a marriage of love, sacrifice, respect, and honoring Christ and each other.

  26. Leslie

    Jennifer, I never knew these things about Martin Luther. I love that marriage quote! And the story about Milo and Wanda is such a beautiful one. Thank you for sharing this.

  27. Ruth Bockrandt

    I I would love to win a copy of this book….sounds absolutely riviting.

  28. Meghan Weyerbacher

    Great wisdom here, friend. Thanks for this heart story about these beautiful people. I hope our marriage is as this. I forse it being because we won’t quit even when the odds are stacked against us. xoxo

  29. Maree Dee

    Beautiful story about what to stave for to make a marriage.

  30. Liz

    Because. Real. Life. Happens. Yes, it does… We must commit whole-heartedly!

  31. Betty

    What a love!y story of lifelong love. Please enter me in the book drawing.

  32. Dolly @ Soulstops.com

    Wow, what two beautiful stories. Thanks, Jennifer…and also thanks, Michelle 🙂 Tweeted 🙂

  33. Sue Donaldson

    i’d love to be put in the drawing – probably a diverse a couple as Mark and I – Iowan and Californian…appreciating the common things that draw us together. (:

  34. Nancy@ThereIsGrace

    Please enter me in the drawing. This book sounds fantastic! Shared the post on FB and Pinterest.

  35. Jessica

    I’d love to win this book!

  36. Sarah Geringer

    Hi Jennifer, I really enjoyed the story of Milo and Wanda. Thank you for sharing their love story here! I have read Michelle’s book and I absolutely loved it. If I win, I will donate it to my church (I’m a Lutheran too!) so others can enjoy and learn from the Luthers’ fascinating story. Sharing on FB and Pinterest too!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Sent a tweet also!

  37. Linda

    This book looks great! Please enter me in the drawing. I’ve posted on Facebook and twitter.

  38. Rebecca

    I love this. It’s beautiful and real and makes marriage — a long marriage — feel real and attainable and practical and still full of love!

  39. Angel1111

    What a touching story. I have share this on Twitter and Facebook.

  40. Christin Baker

    So nice to meet you, Jennifer! It is my honor to link up with #TellHisStory for the first time! I love the beautiful story of your friends from church, and the powerful testimony their marriage displays of true love and relentless commitment. I desire to run towards my husband, and to my Lord with the same passion!

  41. Julie Loos

    This is my goal, to have a marriage like that. Reminds me of the movie “The Notebook.” It gives me hope that these types of marriages still happen. When I look around my community, it seems to tell me otherwise. What a huge blessing to share a love like this!
    The book looks great! Thanks for sharing!

  42. June

    Beautiful story, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing.

  43. Sherry Thecharmofhome

    What an interesting story. I didn’t know that about the Luthers. Thanks for sharing and hosting. I will come back to visit!

  44. Sandra Kay Bowman Oden

    Great story of lasting love….would love to read the story of the Luthers

  45. Meg Bucher

    What a sweet story, and wonderful tips. I hope and pray to be able to own similar stories in another fifty years. God willing! Marriage is a battlefield of absolute craziness! lol. Happy Wednesday!

  46. Felicia Stout

    It would be interesting to read that book.

  47. Theresa Boedeker

    What a sweet story of Milo and Wanda. I want that to be my legacy. Good points, especially about going first and not waiting for the other.

  48. Beverly Lewis

    We’ve been married 38 years and I still learn everyday. I’m an avid reader- thanks for the opportunity to read this book.

  49. Susan

    I posted a story yesterday about Hettie & Harley from our church! Very similar to Milo and Wanda. I shared on Pinterest and Twitter.

  50. Beverly Lewis

    I shared this on Twitter. Thanks for another chance to win.

  51. Tiffany

    “Sometimes the better comes after the worst.” Such truth! Those growing together pains, that doing life together day in and day out, that’s kind of the most beautiful part. Love this story of love.

  52. Sue Donaldson

    And, Jennifer, thanks for featuring my post. I don’t love grammar but I love my Man-in-Plaid…

  53. Nancy Ruegg

    I’m sure my parents would have agreed with your keys to a happy marriage. They were married 66 years when Mom graduated to heaven in 2014. I enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a secure, loving home, my husband the same. Both sets of parents set a high standard for us to follow, which I now appreciate more than ever. The most important key you’ve mentioned which I need to implement more often: Go first–a great way to keep love simmering! Michelle’s book sounds intriguing. ‘Would love to be included in the drawing!

  54. Bethany McIlrath

    Shared and commenting! I keep hearing about this book and it sounds so fun and refreshing! Thanks for entering my name : ) Also- yay Sue!! So glad to see her featured!

  55. Anita

    I loved Michelle’s book :), and I loved hearing about Milo and Wanda. Marriage IS hard work. I especially love the advice about going first. All too often I forget that.

  56. Jerri Miller

    I love the story of Milo and Wanda! Real life stories of those in the trenches give us all hope. I’ve been hearing about Michelle’s book. I’m going to have to get a copy soon. I’m sure it is a very interesting read.

    I love Sue Donaldson! Thanks for featuring her. I will head right over to read her reminder about putting love in action. ~ Jerralea

  57. Angela Fardo

    Sounds like a book I could learn from. I enjoyed this post and think Milo and Wanda sound like a couple to emulate. 👍



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