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December 15, 2003

I’ve asked a male or two this question in a over a dozen foreign countries: “What is the most valuable and attractive attribute a woman can have in your culture?” The answer has been consistent in every country, Happy, cheerful, fun, joyful, smiling, good attitude…etc.

One of the fond memories I have, back when all of “us kids” were still living at home, is of hearing Dad somewhere outdoors laughing hysterically and Mom shrieking “I’m going to get you…”

We kids tore the house up trying to get outside and see the action. There was Mom chasing Dad around the house – literally. He was always so out of breath from laughing that he couldn’t run very fast, so he would finally trip and fall. Sometimes I wondered if he didn’t manage to trip on purpose; it always seemed to happen on the softest, most grassy piece of the yard. Mom would land on top of him, long pointed fingers tickling him mercilessly while he gasped for a reprieve, laughing and crying at the same time. He was paying his dues for jumping out of some dark corner and scaring Mom.

Scaring Mom was a favorite pastime of the whole family. Of course, Mom had instigated it by trying to scare everyone else. She was continually lying in wait behind furniture, in closets, and behind bathroom doors, trying to catch her prey off guard and provoke a startled yell. The problem lay in the fact that nobody was as easy to startle as Mom. Once, she huddled in wait behind a door to scare Dad. When she jumped out at him, he roared like a bear and jumped right back at her. Mom screamed and turned to Jell-o; it was the last thing she had expected. But she made up for it that evening behind the bedroom door. We heard Dad’s helpless laughter and pleading. He was paying his dues again. Nobody could tickle Dad quite like Mom, for he lost all his strength when she assaulted him.

Just hearing them laugh would set us all off. Mom and Dad would be locked in their bedroom laughing their heads off, and all five of us kids would be in the living room laughing right along with them.


I’m grown and married now. I don’t get to watch Mom chase Dad around the house anymore; but I’m very sure he is still happily “paying his dues.”

Yesterday when my husband came home from work, young Joseph heard the car drive up just as I announced gladly, “Daddy’s home!” Joe began to race back and forth up on the couch, screeching in hysterical anticipation. Gabe came in growling like a bear and grabbed me with a ferocious roar. Joe’s screeching rose to an even higher pitch. Gabe swung me around, still growling. By that time I was screeching, too. Joe had his hands over his ears and was jumping up and down on the cushions, delightfully trembling from head to foot. Watching his reaction, you would have thought he was the one getting eaten by the big bear – not his mama. The game gets more exciting every day. Watching Daddy and Mama laugh and love seems to be Joe’s favorite thing in life, and memories of my own childhood attest to that fact.

My favorite photograph of my grandparents, my Mom’s parents, is of Nanny sitting in Daddy Bill’s lap. They are in their seventies, gray-haired, and tired-looking. But that photo assures me that Nanny tickles Daddy Bill, too. In fact, I have memories of Nanny laughing until tears ran down her cheeks the day she turned off the basement light while Daddy Bill was down getting some canned goods. She hid in the dark by the stairs, waiting for him to stumble up looking for the light switch, and when he was only inches away, she asked in a loud voice, “What are you looking for, Bill?”

My great-grandparents, Papa Reed and Mama Reed (Nanny’s parents), passed away when I was 12 years old. I remember once going over to visit, and I wandered through the house looking for Papa Reed. Mama Reed warned me in a whisper that he was probably hiding in the toy closet, waiting for me to open it so he could jump out and scare me. Just knowing he was hiding in there unnerved me, and I wouldn’t open the door. Mama Reed opened it for me, and out he jumped with wrinkled white hands grasping for me, and yelling, “Boo!” Mama Reed couldn’t help but jump a little, too, and then she started laughing. Her shoulders shook beneath her polyester print house dress, even while she was fussing at Papa Reed for trying to scare me. He was dodging her batting hands, teasing her for jumping, and insisting that he had scared her. They were in their mid-eighties, still enjoying life to the fullest.

Now, scaring each other is just a family “heritage” on my Mom’s side of the family, but loving and laughing is a family trait, period.

Although Daddies are a definite factor in the fun, I believe we Mamas determine how far the fun will go – and if it will go at all. Daddy may decide what direction the family is going to take, but Mama decides how they feel about it. Mama is the mood-setter in the home. If I am happy and playful, my husband and my children are happy and playful. If I am sick or depressed, little Joseph suddenly has a hundred maladies, and Gabe gets grouchy. I never understood the verse, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” until I got married and had a family. When my joy is gone, the strength of my family seems to go down the drain. I have to make a continual choice to lay aside anything short of joy. The heart of my romance with my husband lies in our joy together. We look for reasons to be happy, reasons to laugh. Solomon said; A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones. We keep our bones well-oiled around here!

Are you wondering why your husband doesn’t jump out and scare you, tackle you and blow on your neck, or chase you around the house? Maybe he’s afraid of rejection and criticism. When he becomes confident that every overture on his part will be met with delight, he’ll start making more aggressive overtures!

I knew a couple in Montana who, from all appearances, “had it together.” While staying with them once, I noticed their children seemed oddly tense and quiet all the time. They had absolutely no sense of humor. One day the mother pulled me aside and told me that her husband had cheated on her and that she was afraid he would do it again. I watched the family with new eyes. The father walked with his head down and his eyes glued to the floor. He seemed tense and fearful around his wife. She was continually ill with a headache or some other such malady and had no tolerance whatsoever for “foolishness” – otherwise known as “fun”. I began to understand why her husband had been unfaithful and why the wife expected he might be again. There is never any excuse for sin. But we wives must remember that by our joy we can impart an extra measure of strength to our husbands. A wife’s joy can make the difference in whether a weak husband falls or excels.

I wondered if this family started out joyless or if it was a result of the sin. But that no longer mattered. The children were suffering from the todays that went by without the sound of laughter. How could laughter matter so much? Because laughter is love’s receipt, and joy is proof that the heart is sound. Although the children had no idea what was going on in the minds of their parents, they knew quite well what was going on in their hearts.

I cannot communicate adequately how desperately children need to see their parents laugh and love each other. Emotional healing begins with knowing the people around you are all right. I’ve known families who were absolute heathens, yet raised happy, stable children because of the healthy atmosphere at home. Family devotions and religious rebukes don’t produce healthy souls; healthy souls produce healthy souls!

When I was 16, we took in a foster child who was three years old. He had been in and out of various homes, and was often in the hospital, due to life threatening asthma attacks. Going from one foster home to another and from one hospital to another, the only thing in his life that had not changed was his car seat. When he came to our house, he spent the first few days quietly sitting in that car seat in the living room. We couldn’t coax him out of it or get him to smile. He had seen many smiling, well-meaning people ready to meet his needs. David needed to see people laugh and love each other. So Dad went to Home Depot and bought some foam insulation tubes for plumbing pipes. Mom, Dad and we kids played in the living room, beating on each other with the foam tubes and laughing till we cried. We rolled on the floor and tackled each other and played some more. Little David sat in his car seat and watched. After a while a foam tube landed near him. He got out of his seat and picked it up. The next thing we knew, he had whacked Dad over the head with it. Dad laughed and whacked him back. David stood still with eyes wide open for a minute and then burst out laughing. Soon, he was in the middle of it all, shouting and laughing with the rest of us. David’s healing had begun. In a few weeks his “severe asthma” was completely gone.

Finally, I’d like to declare that laughter is a universal gift from God, pleasant to hear in every language. Joy is valued in every culture. I’ve traveled to more than a dozen foreign countries, and in every one I’ve made an effort to ask a local male or two this question: “What is the most valuable and attractive attribute a woman can have in your culture?” The answer has been consistent in every country, from orthodox Jews to dope-smoking backpackers, from tribal men in the bush to suited businessmen on their way to work. Without a pause they always answer, Happy, cheerful, fun, joyful, smiling, good attitude…etc.

The number-one rule of romance is obvious to me: BE HAPPY!

Before I went to college, I wrote this poem and had it attached to the bottom of a photograph of my parents in dorky straw hats with pitchforks in their hands. I hung it on my dorm wall, and before the first week was out, every girl in the dorm had been in to look at it and laugh.

Mountain Ma and Pa
Oh, so much ter do,
So much ter be done.
The work‘s never thru,
And the work ain’t fun.
No thanks fer labor,
No pay fer the job.
Jes, Whus fer supper?”
“How ‘bout corn-on-the-cob?”
Ya mop, an ya sweep,
Ya warsh an ya shine.
Then ya turn around,
An whadaya find?
His shoes on the floor,
His coat on the chair,
His rear in the couch,
An his feet in the air!
So. . . kick off yer shoes,
An throw down yer broom.
Wink at yer ole man,
So he’ll make ya some room!

Rebekah is the daughter of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of best-selling book To Train Up A Child. She is among the first fruits of the homeschooling era.

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13 comments on “ROMANCE 101”

  1. This article sounds great and I would love that. My question is how do you get that joy?? I realize it’s important and wonderful for all, but how do you overcome life’s hardships and have that kind of joy? My husband is emotionally abusive and I feel I walk around wounded from his actions. Not to mention, we are soo poor, we are basically homeless and can’t afford food. With the abuse and financial stress, how can I find joy? Is it something I should try faking even if I don’t feel it? I agree with you, just don’t have it and want it.

  2. To the note above:
    When our marriage started to go bad I had no idea where to begin. After reading the book “Created to be his help meet”, it suggested smiling and humming around the house even when you didn’t feel like it. I tried to make a habit of it even when my husband was not around. That way when he came home I was appearing to be in a great mood. In turn it just sort of rubbed off on him even when he came home grumpy. I will admit it was a very hard habit to get into and many days I wanted to give up on it, but I am glad I didn’t. It is now a habit I have made to smile, laugh, hum and whatever else I need to do to be happy. It has made the biggest difference in our marriage. Everyone should at least try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference. You have nothing to lose. Good luck!

  3. This afternoon I was thinking about all the different advise we have heard/read over the years and trying to decide what has been the most worthwhile. I remembered this article as one of the best and was thrilled to find it on here. Thank you for the great service you all do for families. We have been blessed many times over by your ministry.

  4. I understand everything you’re saying and i agree whole heartedly; my husband and i started out as a joy filled unit, always laughing and having a good time, until my husband started using porn… The first time it happened we talked it over. He said he was sorry, wouldn’t happen again ect… We’re going on the forth time and I’m really having a hard time finding joy in life and in being with my husband. I don’t know what to do any more. I’ve gone past being mad or upset, and am now just hurting. I love my husband with all my heart and to look at him and know that he has lied to me countless times in the past, makes it just the much harder for me to trust him now.

  5. I too would like to have greater joy, but struggle because my husband has struggled with alcohol abuse over the years. When things are going well and he isn’t drinking much, I just feel so happy, but when he has been doing well for a while and brings home a six-pack, I just feel myself stiffening up and getting angry inside. Sometimes I fight that feeling and choose to let things roll off my back, and he usually is more cheerful and loving when I even “fake cheerfulness” and just love him. He responds very negatively to me when I try to control him or lecture him about drinking. I just find myself so happy when he is “doing well”, and so stressed and disappointed when he struggles. Then it clouds all my thoughts of him and I can become critical, angry, controlling, and basically just make the situation worse. He is a believer and he knows he shouldn’t drink so often, just can’t quite get that freedom from it. We have several children, and I know that it has worried them in the past too. Any suggestions for me to maintain joy and not make the situation worse by feeling sorry for myself and becoming rebellious (because I perceive his sin to be rebellion)? Thanks! I do love the man dearly when he’s sober, and he is overall an excellent father and loving husband, just can sometimes have an annoying, unstable personality change when he drinks.

  6. To those concerned with pornography: I understand your plight perfectly, I’ve been walking it for seven years. Be strong; it is difficult, but when you can’t forgive him one more time, think of how many times you’ve asked God’s forgiveness for something. Also, ask yourself how many times you’ve committed “emotional adultery” by thinking “Oh, if only I had a man like that…”

  7. First, thank you to all the Pearls. I trained up my children and they are wonderful. Even as teenagers, they were amazing. My marriage was saved because I changed my attitude as a result of Debi’s articles and book.
    This is the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve read this article. My husband was in an accident and suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury, and a traumatic brain injury. He is now paraplegic. My heart is broken for my husband. There is so much to overcome. His pain is unmanageable, in addition to dealing with the emotional side of becoming paraplegic. His brain injury has rendered him a frightened child (at times) because of his childhood.
    To be joyful during this crisis has been difficult. What has helped has been to be grateful my husband is alive, isn’t brain dead, isn’t paralyzed at a higher level, and he retains his memories. Only by the Grace of God have my family and I been able to get through this. Galatians 5:22-23 rings through my head everyday. “But, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy peace, longsuffering, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law”.
    The proof is evident: If I’m having a hard day, my husband has a bad day. And his pain level is much higher. Even if I try to hide from him how I feel. He picks up on it. So ladies, if you have to let out your emotions, punch a punching bag, go for a walk, cry in your car, and most importantly present yourself to the Lord for His truth. I beg for your prayers for I am imperfect and pray I don’t inflict harm upon my husband by being the opposite of Galations 5:22-23.

  8. So glad to reread this article!!! It is so true that JOY makes a difference in the home and that we wives and mothers set the mood of the home. We do have a choice to be happy and joyful or grumpy and critical. Thankfully when the devil tried to steal it (Joy) from our home (through me)the Lord showed me through this article and some very good preaching not to let him tear our home apart. Smiles, laughter, a twinkle in the eyes, and showing genuinely that you care for your family is the key. I do a check up from the neck up every 3 to 6 months. I ask myself is my life/schedule pleasing to the LORD (my hubby let’s me make the schedule for homeschooling and extra activities). Is the extra stuff going to count for eternity for my kids and I or just exhaust us. The other thing I ask is, Is this the way my hubby wants things to go. He gives me a lot of liberty in planning but will this make him happy. He is truly a blessing from God. I was a self centered, spoiled, only child with a critical heart (and yes I was saved) when we wed but he has got TONS of patience. I love my Mr. Steady. Don’t let the devil still YOUR joy!!!

  9. Gracias!! Muchas gracias! Pienso que reír es una gran medicina como dice la Biblia y los disfrutan mucho más mis hijos. Pero a veces mi esposo es muy irritable e impaciente. Como reír cuando también tengo ganas de llorar y llorar.