Who Needs a Piece of Paper?
My van buzzed with excitement the entire eight-hour trip from Nurnberg, Germany to Boleslawiec, Poland. There were four of us, all Army wives, all escaping motherhood and domesticity, and all looking forward to an adventure. We had left at the ugly side of morning without complaint. We were unified in our mission: locate and purchase polish pottery. We had planned this trip for weeks. The Wall had recently come down and travel to Eastern Europe was becoming safe and more doable. I was driving as we approached the border check point between the former East Germany and Poland. As we were getting our passports ready, one of the wives, Joan (name changed to protect the guilty 😊), realized that in her hurry that morning she had grabbed her son’s passport instead of her own. Oh no! We were overwhelmed with disappointment, but quickly agreed we did not want to turn back. The logistics of this kind of an adventure could not be repeated. To arrange this trip, we had called in all kinds of favors to care for our nine collective children. At a loss for what to do to salvage the trip, we considered leaving Joan at the border. We weren’t serious, but in the moment, frustration and disappointment causes you to consider things 😊. Then it dawned on me. The solution was simple. We would smuggle Joan into Poland!
We told ourselves that this really wasn’t cheating as Joan did have a passport … she just did not happen to have it with her! So, Joan crawled into the back space of my van and we laid our coats on top of her. She was invisible. We approached the gate and handed the Polish border agent three passports. He eagerly welcomed us into his country. No muss, no fuss. American commerce was a new thing to the Polish people, and they were as happy as we were about us being there. We drove about 10 miles into Poland before feeling that it was safe for Joan to pop out of the back of the van. Victory! Trip disaster averted! We continued on with our exciting adventure. We found our way to Boleslawiec and its one and only hotel … a ½ star hotel. It was straight out of a horror movie! Exposed wiring and faded wall paper was all throughout the hotel. And most disturbing, there was but one communal bath and toilet for each floor. What an adventure! We were roughing it and camping Army wife style. And people, we navigated our way through town using maps! No Google directions back in the day. We did it old school style. We found the two pottery factories that we had been told were there and literally wiped out their inventory! I myself bought place settings for 12, as well as many accent pieces of pitchers and casserole dishes – all for under $100. We celebrated and enjoyed every moment of our trip. It was great fun! After two days of shopping and exploring the beautiful city of Boleslawiec, we started our journey back to our families and homes in Germany.
My van was now packed to the gills with boxes of beautiful pottery as we made our way home. But unlike our way into Poland, there was now less room to hid Joan getting out of Poland. We had managed to create a tiny space between boxes in the back of my van and stuffed Joan into that space. Again, we placed our coats on top of Joan in the hope that she would not be seen. As we approached the German border crossing station, we were ridiculously over confident. We had done this once before, so we all assumed we could do it again. WRONG. Unlike the Polish government, that wanted us and our US dollars in their country, the Germans were, shall we say, not so “welcoming.” When I rolled down my window and handed three passports to the German border agent, he replied in very rough English, “Open the back.” I pretended not to understand his attempt to communicate with me and handed him a snack. I then smiled my sweetest Southern Bell smile and tried to distract him with other things from the front of the van. I handed him my map, my diet coke, my military ID, anything I could think of. In frustration, he walked to the back of the van and banged on the hatch. Then I panicked. I could no longer pretend that I didn’t understand him. He wanted to look in the back of my van, and knew that I understood him. Months later, I learned that Germany charged a tax for items purchased in Poland and brought into Germany. So, the agent was probably interested in what we had bought in Poland so that he could collect some money. But, I learned this bit of information too late.
For the record, I will never make a good crook I don't have the heart for it. I got out of my van and slowly walked to the back, all the way silently praying for the rapture to snatch me away. I joined the German agent, fumbled with the keys and reluctantly opened the back hatch. In a moment, our hidden friend was discovered. The guard was as surprised and taken back as Joan was, but without hesitation, demanded that Joan produce her papers. Joan’s passport was the only thing that was going to get her back into Germany.
The next few hours were a blur of tears, loud German words shouted at us by one agent after another, and our feeble attempts, in the best German we could muster, to justify and explain what we had done. Joan did have a passport, we stated over and over, but it was just not with her. All four of us, including Joan, showed the German border agents our military IDs and our NATO driver’s licenses. All no good. These men did not care. Joan’s passport was all that mattered, and she did not have one. Finally, Joan was permitted to call her husband using an old-fashioned land line – there were no cell phones back in the day. After many attempts, Joan’s husband answered. Another hour or so later, a copy of Joan’s passport arrived by fax. So, after much chastisement and several desperate hours, which seemed like a lifetime, we were released. We drove the last six to seven hours home in shock and silence. We clutched our passports as if our lives depended on them. We learned that day that as Americans living in Europe, they actually did!
Back at home, we had a new respect for our most important link to America – our passport. That one piece of paper, with its bad photo, was the only thing that could prove that we were legitimate and a citizen of our country, the great USA. That paper entitles you to privileges and guarantees you safe passage through other countries. Four young Army wives found out, the hard way, how very important that piece of paper really was. Now I will bet that you can guess where I’m going with this. After all, this is a post in a marriage blog written by a marriage enthusiast! But here I go, hopefully driving home an important point. Keep reading.
A marriage license is an equally important piece of paper. Like a passport, a marriage license allows you to stake claim to a relationship with your spouse. It tells the world who you are and that you are part of a forever union with your spouse. Marriage provides you security and a sense of belonging like no other human relationship. And as a Christian, you are not alone in this relationship – God is in this thing with you! I know that today many people question the need for a marriage license. In my day, very few couples lived together before marriage. But today, living together out of marriage is common place. One survey I read the other day suggested that 70% of 30- 34 year old’s had lived together with someone prior to marriage (Timeinc.net; “How shacking up Before Marriage Affects a relationships Success.”)
Through the years, I have heard many people justify cohabitation. They often say, “I don’t need a piece of paper to prove my love.” But what I want to say when they use this justification as a reason for not marrying is, “Try telling that to the first real problem that comes knocking on the back door of your van.” The security of knowing that you are official and not alone is intense. Another study, done at the University of Virginia, shows stress levels, as measured by fMRI, when a person is presented with a stressful situation. The study shows that married couple brains handle stress better than un-married couple brains. There are other studies that suggest that people who are married live longer, accumulate more wealth and are happier than singles or those who live together (The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller).
I believe that what couples really mean when they say they don’t want that “piece of paper” is that they are not really sure that they have met the right person. And, they are not ready to say no to all other possible relationships. They are still hedging their bets, just in case someone better comes along. They want to be like my friend Joan who hid in my van. They hope that no real trouble will come along that requires the security of that paper. If you are a believer, and are in a monogamous relationship, and are living with someone without tying knot, “get out of the cheap seats and get into the game,” to quote my husband! God is ready to join you in the covenant of marriage. God created marriage, not man (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4). God decided that He wanted to establish a relationship on earth that would reflect His love and relationship with mankind (Ezekiel 16:8-14, Ephesians 5:22-28).
I love my polish pottery! And today, I love to tell the wild and crazy story of how I acquired it. Back in those days, I was a much braver, or some might say, fool-hearty girl. But one thing is for sure, my guardian angel was worn ragged with all my escapades. If you have ever eaten at my house, you have probably dined on these very dishes. They are beautiful and a prized possession, for which I risked life and freedom 😊! And although my passport picture is truly bad, I treasure it as well. I will never again let anyone in my party leave the country without one! And as for my marriage license, I will never, ever take it for granted! My marriage is important, and is an essential part of God’s plan for my life. I am thankful for my marriage to Jody and for my Word washed life! Keep reading friends!