It all began on a cold, cold night in Kentucky. 10 below zero if I remember. The church was far from packed. Many could not come but others braved the weather...tramped through the snow to the church. And so by candlelight this 25 year old green young man and this beautiful 21 year old said our vows. “For better or for worse...in sickness and in health...” That was 52 years ago. Her piano teacher was furious that she was marrying a preacher. She was a great pianist and he had plans for her. He told her: “If you marry him you will throw your life away and wind up in some ungodly place like Anniston, Alabama.”
Well, we never made it to Anniston but here’s our story. I rub my eyes and wonder where it all went. What happened? Only yesterday we were young and green and hopeful and scared. And in-between then and now so much, so very much has happened.
We were given two children—redheads that have been the great joy of our lives. Doors opened—at first I had wished they were other doors—more sturdy, well polished and impressive. But we walked through the door that stuck and looked around at pews that did not quite fit and a threadbare carpet down the middle aisle and colored glass windows that had been patched and re-patched. Down the road we settled into a four-room house ill heated with an occasional mouse. In the middle of the country—we city kids were far from home.
But she learned to put up with my ups and downs and my fears and my changing moods. She took that “for better or for worse...” seriously. She didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife because she hated the spotlight but she came along and did her part—far more than I then realized She became the best pastor’s wife I ever knew simply she was herself, comfortable in her own skin and no pretense, no piousity—just herself
She followed me through church after church. Decorating someone else’s house. Making home out of whatever she could find. Sometimes not much. Yet it was always clean and comfortable and attractive. She was her mother’s child.
She never complained about living on a shoestring. Sometimes, it seemed, just like one string—not two. She simply took care of the children, worked hard at several jobs, and stood by me and my ups and downs and the churches as well.
We’ve survived church fights, hospitalizations, teen-age children, moving and moving and saying goodbye to parents and realizing somewhere along the way—we were now the parents. And they were gone.
She had a following in every church we ever had. The women, especially loved her because she was herself and some of them stood by wishing, just wishing they could be more like their friend who never thought she was much of a pastor’s wife. She was wrong, dead wrong about being a poor pastor’s wife.
There were dark days from time to time—mine mostly—and she stood by me and held my hand and kept saying: “It’s Ok. You’re good. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right.” She was a true believer. And some days I thought she had lost her mind—how in the hell could this place and this time be Ok? Is it any wonder that when I wrote my first book I dedicated to her: “To Gayle—who has taught me best—the bridge is love.”
And so here we are fifty-two years later. We’ve been to Paris. Lying in bed high up in this tiny hotel room in Montmarte, I remember asking her: “Did you ever think we would be here—in Paris?” “I’m not surprised,” I always through we would.” We spent a summer in England with the kids before they left home. We traveled all over Europe and spent two shining months in Oxford. Every summer we loaded up and headed to Princeton. We’re planning another trip next month to France again. And if I asked her again if she really thought we would do all this—she would smile and say, “Of course I did.”
Looking back we have been blessed by a multitude of friends, people in every church I ever served that stretched us and made us believe all over again. Maybe, just maybe old Paul was right when he said: “We have this treasure...” Of course it comes in an earthen vessel—look at us. But we have known much, much of the treasure.
We have two grand children grown and beautiful. We are proud of them and every summer when we get together we have fun and we have family. Thank God for the ties that bind.
And so—this morning I remember back to that cold, cold evening in Kentucky when it started 52 years ago. I am greatly in her debt—she has kept that “for better or for worse...” far more faithfully than I ever have.
William Barclay wrote in his autobiography of a great friend of his, “If they were cut me open they would find your name engraved in large letters on my heart.” And so, on this anniversary this is exactly how I feel about the girl I married once upon a time on a cold, cold evening in Kentucky.