Friday, January 28, 2011

The Bridge is Love

Today is our wedding anniversary. Fifty years today we stood before the altar in a Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and said, “I do.” There was ten inches of snow on the ground. It was cold, very cold. A lot of people couldn’t get to the church because of the weather. But we drove away in my little Green Plymouth across the Ohio River to Indiana. We stayed that first night in some motel close because we were afraid the roads would be too bad to get to our honeymoon destination: French Lick, Indiana. Quite a honeymoon it was—two nights and three days. Meals included. Some time ago I ran across the receipt from that trip—I think that honeymoon cost us: $58.00 and some cents. (Tips not included.)

She was finishing the University of Louisville and I was ending my work at Louisville Baptist Seminary. We had dated for three years—mostly by bus and some friend’s car because I had no car. She was studying piano with Dwight Anderson the best teacher at the school. He loved her and thought she showed great promise. When he heard she was getting married to a Baptist preacher he exploded: “You can’t do that. You’ll throw your life away. You’ll forget your music and end up in some place like Anniston, Alabama!” Well, we never made it to Anniston but there some days I wish we had been that fortunate.

Our first church was on a side road in Philpot, Kentucky in western Kentucky. Neither one of us had lived in the country—so this was quite an experience. The Church was 75 years old and had never had a full-time preacher. They had used Seminary students through the years. And so, green and young and totally inexperienced, I became their first full-time Pastor at the age of 25. Gayle was 21. I call those years my internship. Maybe it was our marriage’s internship, too. It was a hard time. Little money. Not quite knowing what I was doing as pastor or husband. Two years later our first child came: a redheaded girl. And so to the task of being husband and wife and pastor and wise we added a new responsibility: parents.

After three and a half years we moved to Southside Virginia in the middle of very rich tobacco country and where our second child was born: a boy. I was learning a little more about church, Gayle was learning a lot about parenting and putting up with a still-young insecure husband-pastor whose ups and downs must have been a helluva ride for my wife. But she held on and helped me. In the middle of a dark time after my father died I remember a book that I read during that period. It was called Love is a Bridge. And later when I wrote my first book I dedicated it to: "Dear Gayle who has taught me best: The bridge really is love. "

I don’t want to bore you with our ministerial journey. Georgetown, Kentucky. Clemson, South Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee and then my last church in Birmingham. She stayed with me. She put up with a lot from me and churches and just having to pack and move and pack and move and pack and move.

She never loved the spotlight. In fact she never wanted a big to-do made over her. And yet at out retirement party one of our friends stood and said, “Gayle Lovette has always been my role model because she always was herself.” What a woman. She never put on airs or fitted into anyone else’s mold. She was just herself, comfortable in her own skin and has one of the healthiest self-images I know. After retirement she has followed me through seven interims. Several of these we lived away from home and going back and forth was hard for her. Yet—she stood by me.

And so—here we are fifty years later. Time sure does fly when you are having fun and when you’re not having fun. She’s a great Mother. Both of our kids have done well thanks mostly to a mother that was as good as any mother could be. Our daughter a great teacher and a good mother of two girls. Life has not always been easy for her—has it been for any of us? But she has hung in there and we are very proud of her and the girls. Our son an artist-businessman has also done well. He has found his way, too—and for all these we are very grateful.

We took an Anniversary trip in October with her twin sister, Gwyn and husband Joe. It was a River cruise on the Danube River from Budapest to Prague and was wonderful. We planned on going back to French Lick this week where we had our honeymoon. But the weather is as bad there as it was then—and so we will wait a little while.

Friends of ours were getting married weeks ago. They are about our age and have found one another after losses and grief and we rejoice in their starting over. They said they wanted to write their own vows and wondered if I had any suggestions. I sent them the words that follow.

One of favorite all-time writers is the western writer Wallace Stegner. He taught writing at Stanford for years and was a mentor for Wendell Berry and a great many others. One of his later books is called, The Spectator Bird. It is the story of old love. This couple was been married for a long time. As with most of us there were fits and starts and ups and downs and hard days and good times. And so Stegner wrote about this couple. These are his words that I sent to my friends getting married:

“It is something, it could be everything
to have found a fellow bird
with whom you can sit among the rafters
while the drinking
and boasting
and reciting
go on below;
A fellow bird whom you can look after
and find bugs and seeds for;
One who will patch your bruises
and straighten your ruffled feathers
and mourn over your hurts
when you accidentally fly into something
you can’t handle.”

I chose these words because they are as true of my feelings as anything I know.


  1. Happy Anniversary to two of our favorite people!
    Zelma and Pat

  2. i love how gayle has always been exactly who she is and i'm thankful that you never tried to make her into a preacher's wife. we loved our time with you in the pulpit and gayle in our sunday school class (which she'd always found a little boring in the past lol)

  3. Beautiful article. Happy Anniversary!