Living Love Stories
Storytellers: Joe & Carolyn Shirley
Writer: Sheila Holliday
… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:33
Joe and Carolyn Shirley cite communication as an essential component in making marriage work. After 57 years of marriage, they’re still working on perfecting that skill.
“Although we have similar personalities, we have different styles of communicating,” allows Carolyn. “I talk, talk, talk, and Joe is more of a listener. Through training for marriage mentoring, I’ve learned to be quieter, and Joe has learned to talk more.” She adds, “If a couple never fights – how boring would that be?”
The couple was asked by CrossPoint Pastor Jim Gane in 2018 to coordinate the Marriage Mentoring program he oversees. “We talked about it and prayed, and felt it was a ministry we could do together,” says Joe. “We believe in marriage.”
The Shirleys have mentored several couples “two- on-two.” Through the Love and Respect and Dare to Be Different programs, they’ve also helped in training several other couples to become mentors. Since 2018, 22 couples (pre-married and married) have received mentoring through CrossPoint’s program.
Carolyn adds emphatically, “I believe in marriage and I hate divorce. It ruins families. My heart breaks when I see a woman not respecting her husband, or a man not showing love for his wife. The Marriage Mentoring program at CrossPoint has been tremendously successful. We have seen couples learn new skills and make positive changes that have transformed their relationships. Above all, we want to see marriages that honor God.”
Romance for the long run
Carolyn likes to ask couples what made them fall in love. “I think it’s important to remember the good times; to capture and keep that sentiment alive,” she says.
The Shirleys met through their involvement in Youth for Christ. At a fundraiser for the outreach program held at a mansion in Beverly Hills, 20-year-old Joe served as a parking valet. While parking a friend’s car, his buddy introduced him to the pretty girl with rich brown hair in the back seat. Joe was immediately smitten, and soon asked her out on a date.
Carolyn had gone to the event to give her testimony about what Youth for Christ meant to her. Originally from West Virginia, she had moved to Southern California with her family at the age of 14. “It was a very different culture than I was used to,” Carolyn relates. “I was involved in a church, and what rescued me was having another girl there who invited me to a Youth for Christ club meeting on our high school campus, which was allowed in those days. The strong friendships I made there were what kept me morally centered.”
Like Carolyn, Joe’s family moved to Southern California when he was 14, from North Carolina. He recalls, “I fell in love on our first date. She was beautiful, she knew the Lord, and she was smart – smarter than me. We talked about what we loved and wanted out of life, and discovered we had a lot in common.”
Carolyn adds, “What I was drawn to in Joe was his enthusiasm for life. He was so upbeat and positive about everything. He still is!”
They fell in love on their first date and were engaged a month later, and in nine months they were married. Fast forwarding nearly six decades, their union has yielded three sons and five beautiful and productive grandchildren.
Histories and mysteries
After retirement, the Shirleys took their zest for life on the road. For three months in the spring and three more in the fall, they crossed the country and visited Canada in their motor home. “While traveling we met the nicest, most interesting people,” says Joe. “Everybody will tell you their stories.”
They only stopped traveling because Joe needed to care for his aging parents, which he also considers a privilege. His parents are gone now. Their only surviving parent is Carolyn’s mother, now 101. Both Joe and Carolyn grew up in loving homes with parents who were Christians. Carolyn’s mom made sure they were involved in church. Her hard-working dad unfortunately had a gambling problem. After 32 years of marriage, when Carolyn was in her 20s, her parents divorced.
“I’m glad they stayed married while raising my four siblings and me,” reflects Carolyn. “Divorce would have been devastating for us as kids. My parents were so different from each other. My dad liked to have fun, while mom was more reserved. She never talked much about their relationship. But years after the divorce, I remember mom saying she wished she’d understood his needs more.”
Through Marriage Mentoring, Joe and Carolyn hear lots of couple’s stories from the comfort of their Huntington Beach home. And they’re not bashful about sharing their own lives with those they mentor.
“What we say between these walls stays within these walls,” assures Joe.
Mentoring by the book
The ministry uses the Love and Respect and Dare to be Different curriculum to help couples build strong, life-long marriages. The 10-week program begins with a comprehensive couple’s survey to assess the marriage’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, are they in agreement on how to handle money? Parenting? Sex and romance?
As unbiased, caring facilitators, mentors use the survey results and marriage mentoring guidebook to tailor the program for the couple’s unique relationship. Homework given each week focuses on areas designed to improve communication and teach problem solving skills.
“DARE” is an acronym for Discover, Ask great questions, Require action, and Evaluate progress. Joe notes, “It’s such a well-done program that guides us and gives them tools for challenges and conflicts. There are scriptures to help with resolution of specific problems. We try to follow the mentoring guide to a T because it works!”
The cost for the course is $50 per couple to cover materials. If the couple cannot afford the fee, it is waived. While not all participants have been members of CrossPoint church, members do have priority. Enrollment has slowed down since COVID-19 hit.
Inspired by Bible stories
For their ministry and their own lives, Joe and Carolyn draw on Biblical wisdom. They point to I Corinthians 13 which explains what real love is. They live by the words of Christ, and gain insights from many strong Bible characters.
“This morning I was studying Rebecca (in Genesis),” shares Carolyn. “She trusted God and went to marry a man she didn’t know. She trusted her father and relatives, who loved the Lord, to know what was best for her, and willingly, eagerly went to be Isaac’s wife.”
Joe adds, “I’ve always related to King Asa (portrayed in I Kings and II Chronicles). It’s a great story about what God can do if we allow him to do it. It’s easy to be human and take matters into our own hands, especially when things are going well. God came alongside him to give him victory in his battles, but at other times because Asa forgot God, he failed.”
Preparing for the next chapters
Through the mentoring process, married couples discover ways to keep romance alive and find harmony in the midst of daily stresses. Mentoring is beneficial for couples who want to enrich their marriage or for couples in the midst of crisis. Pre-married couples learn skills to get their marriage off to a good start.
“The common theme is the couples all have hope that they can strengthen their relationship,” says Carolyn. “Our greatest joy is seeing results and receiving feedback about the value of the time we spent together.”
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