Above all else, love is the most important thing.

Linda: Raised in different faiths, Barry and Joyce were both certain that the strength of their love would be sufficient to overcome any complications that might arise from their different religions backgrounds. Both sets of parents however saw things differently.

Sometimes a couple needs to drop into the pits of hell in order to find the motivation and develop the strength to meet their challenges. At these times, nothing less than a fierce commitment is sufficient to open the door to greater possibilities. The problem is that the door swings both ways, and what can inspire and intensify one person’s commitment can break another’s.

Barry and Joyce met when they were each eighteen and freshmen in college. They fell deeply in love immediately. Neither of them had ever experienced anything like it before. But both sets of parents had a problem with their relationship. Joyce came from a Protestant family and Barry is Jewish, which proved to be a major source of stress for their families. As much as they loved each other, it felt scary and disloyal to go against their parents’ wishes. They were young, and succumbed to the pressure, deciding that it would be best for all if they broke off our relationship. So they tore apart and said goodbye. It was one of the most painful experiences of their lives. They were both overwhelmed with sadness, and couldn’t stop crying.

They were in different colleges. Barry was at Boston University; Joyce was at Columbia University in New York. They agreed to make a clean break of it and cut their tie completely. Otherwise the pain would be unbearable. They stopped speaking to each other all together. Despite their best efforts, neither could let go. It seemed that to respect and honor their families’ wishes, they had to let each other go. But, their love was so strong that they weren’t able to do that. It felt like an impossible situation.

After weeks of being separated, and missing each other, Joyce went up to the roof of her dorm and prayed all night for spiritual guidance about what to do. The very next day, Joyce’s friend’s mother visited, and gave her a simple bookmark that had fallen out of her Bible. Her friend’s mother said, ‘The feeling was so strong to give this to you that I took the four hour bus ride just to bring it to you today.’ The words on the bookmarker were: “above all else, love is the most important thing.” When Joyce saw that, she knew that she had received the answer to her prayers, and called Barry to tell him that she knew they were meant to be together. Barry told her that he felt the same way. They knew that their days of separation were over for good.

Both families were disappointed when they got engaged, and married when they were twenty-two. Barry was in his first year of medical school. Although they were so happy to be together, this was not an easy time. While Barry was clear that he wanted to be a physician, he was filled with worry about being in a white and Jewish minority in an African American medical school in the south in 1968.

One day when Barry was at a low point, he dared to reveal his fear and vulnerability to Joyce. Joyce was so deeply moved that she looked straight into his eyes with a penetrating gaze and said. “You are so beautiful. I am awed by your beauty.” Barry was so utterly moved by her acknowledgment of him in that moment that he was no longer able to hold on to the limited view of himself that he had been carrying around for most of his life. Barry experienced the truth of Joyce’s belief in him. He knew he now needed to really see the beauty within himself, the beauty Joyce saw in that pivotal moment.

Barry and Joyce not only survived these and other crises, but they grew in their capacity to love and to open their hearts far beyond what either of those two young people that first met and fell in love could have imagined. Joyce and Barry have dedicated their lives to service, contribution, and spiritual growth. Their greatest lessons have not come from books or seminars, but from those experiences that have challenged them personally on the playing field of their own marriage.

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