For a belated twelfth anniversary celebration, Lt. Col. Danny White and his wife, Nora, went on a Potomac River dinner cruise. They strolled across the ship’s deck, reminiscing about how God had brought them together after the untimely death of Danny’s first wife.
Sometimes it seemed like everyone at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, knew their story. It was a real-life picture of the von Trapp family from The Sound of Music. Nora was the nanny who came to help the young widower with his two young children. They fell in love and married, and then had children of their own.
Danny looked deeply into Nora’s eyes and asked her what was supposed to be a rhetorical question, “Would you do it again [marry me]?”
Nora didn’t want to spoil the evening, so she weighed her words carefully. “Can you imagine if we hadn’t done it?” she asked. “Our beautiful children wouldn’t be here!”
For the next few days, Danny’s question echoed in Nora’s mind. Finally, she decided to tell him the whole truth.
Would she marry him again?
“I don’t know.”
Falling in love
Nora first saw Danny in January 1998, when the young Marine spoke at the base chapel. He talked about what God had been teaching him since the deaths of his pregnant wife, Jenny, and their oldest son, also named Danny. They had been killed in an automobile accident just a month before.
With the loss of his wife, Danny was left with a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. Nora was impressed by the Marine’s faith and transparency. She wondered if there was any way that she could help.
In April their paths crossed once again. Nora’s father, the deputy base chaplain, was good friends with Danny’s commanding officer (C.O.). When Danny accepted his C.O.’s invitation for dinner he was surprised that Nora and her family were also there.
A few days later, Nora’s father called Danny, asking if he needed help with childcare. Soon after, Nora began working as a nanny for the two children. Although she had no romantic intentions, she and Danny quickly fell in love. With the support of their families, on September 12, 1998, she became Danny’s second wife.
Danny and his first wife, Jenny, had been high school sweethearts. Yet Nora had only known Danny for months when she became a wife and mom; they did not completely understand each other.
He was content to live in the moment. But Nora always wondered how things could be better. Whether eating a meal together or having a conversation, Danny often felt like his wife’s expectations could simply not be met. So over the years, he increasingly looked to others for approval.
Wanting to be noticed by more senior officers on the military base, Danny often spent long hours at his assignment. When he got home, whether at night from the Pentagon or after months on deployment, he was emotionally exhausted.
By the time Nora was the mother of six children (she had adopted Danny’s two, and they had four more together), she was often stressed from taking care of the growing family. When Danny got home in the evenings, she longed for heart-to-heart adult discussions. And when he volunteered to help with the dishes, she wanted to put the dishes aside to make room for conversation.
Danny and Nora seemed to speak love in different languages. Eventually they stopped praying together. When she went to bed, he did online research. “We lived almost a disparate life,” Danny says.
Once Nora felt so alone that she looked for a place where she could scream and not be heard. On a deserted golf course she shouted out to God, “Help me feel connected to this man!”
When Nora told Danny—after their anniversary dinner cruise on the Potomac—that she didn’t know if she would marry him again, his world was shattered. What about their children? What about their Sound of Music story? He was sure that God had brought them together.
“I have done everything honorably,” he told Nora. “I’ve been a good husband; I’ve been faithful to you. I’ve provided. I’ve helped with the children.”
What more could she want? Had marrying Nora been a mistake?
Danny told his brother that he was thinking of leaving Nora. His brother’s reply cut to the core: “Do you think you don’t have issues yourself?”
No one had ever asked Danny that question. He had always blamed his problems on someone else.
After days of soul searching, Danny realized that he did have a part to play in his marriage problems. So he wrote Nora a letter, asking her to forgive him. He confessed that he had been thinking of walking away from marriage, but that down deep he really wanted their relationship to work out.
“’I don’t know what to do,” he wrote. “I don’t know how to live up to your standards.”
With a spark of hope that things might get better, Nora knew they needed help. So she suggested counseling.
In 2011, Danny and Nora met with their military chapel’s pastor to talk about their failing marriage. He told them about FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. “You’ll get six months’ worth of counseling [in one weekend],” he said.
The Whites decided to check it out.
Danny says that he was “blown away” with all he learned at the getaway. The first session, on communication, hit him squarely between the eyes. His tendency with Nora had been to ignore issues and wish that they would go away. And if Nora gently brought up one of his flaws, he felt disrespected—not realizing that she was just trying to help.
As Danny and Nora completed the projects for couples during the weekend, he started to understand his wife. He learned about a lot of Nora’s past hurts and that she was his gift from God.
Before driving home from the getaway, the Whites purchased a copy of the audio book, The Five Love Languages. As they listened to it, Danny had a new revelation: Nora had been begging him for quality time because that was her “love language”—that’s what she needed from him.
Nora says that learning about healthy conflict was a real turning point for her and Danny. As the speakers transparently told about their own conflicts in marriage, she was reminded that arguments in marriage are normal. That they are not signs of a bad marriage.
In one of the couples’ projects, they wrote love letters to one another. “We cried together,” she says, “and took it to the next level in being open and talking about things that were intimate and personal for us.”
After the Weekend to Remember, the Whites met together with the Navy chaplain for one or two more times, and then Danny had individual counseling for about eight more weeks.
“I’m going to fight for my family … for my marriage,” Danny says. “… I think it’s a process.”
Both Danny and Nora are grateful that they didn’t give up on their marriage. Now retired from the Marine Corps and parents of seven children, they have vowed to attend a marriage conference every year. They’ve also been investing in others’ marriages by making monthly donations to FamilyLife as Legacy Partners.
And today Nora says that she would marry Danny all over again. “We can wish things were different in the past,” she says, “but would we risk losing what we have in the present?”
She says that her life now with Danny is God’s gift to her. “And it was God’s gift to me then, even in the desert times.”
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