I wrote the following words several years ago and included them in my book “Intermission.” I share them again on the occasion of my 42nd anniversary. As you read these words you will better understand how 42 years is possible.
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12)
Finding the right person to marry can be one of the most foreboding tasks in all of life. In fact, it is such a difficult decision that many young people give up and settle for less than the best. The acceptable approach to marriage today is to try it for a short time and if the relationship fails, bail out and try someone else.
Fortunately, I was spared the difficult process of striving to locate the perfect mate. I sometimes wonder if God knew I did not have enough sense to make a good choice so He made it easy for me. I share how I found a wife with some apprehension. It is an experience that is not normative for most people. In fact, I would discourage anyone who thinks they might have a similar experience.
Sharon and I met at church. Although I was already a freshman in college, I still participated in the youth group. The youth program was led by Sharon’s parents and was built around a musical group called the “Proclaimers.” We traveled to churches around the state of Colorado and even a couple of trips to churches in Texas.
It was a grand experience for all of us involved. I knew a little music and played a couple of instruments, but it was in this singing group that I learned how to harmonize. Sharon’s mother played the piano in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis. She developed the skill as a very young girl as she played for church. Elva assigned everyone in the group a part to sing on each song. During practice, if you could not find your note, she would beat it out extra loudly on the piano until everyone was back on key. She could lead an entire congregation in singing without ever saying a word or leaving the piano bench.
We learned how to sing from the heart. Although the music might not have been award winning caliber, the presentation was always meaningful and many people were moved by the sight and sound of committed young people singing about the love of God. We all developed some great friendships within the group.
When Sharon graduated from High School she moved across the state to attend college. Although we were friends, we did not date nor did we consider any type of long-term relationship.
In the providence of God, Sharon and I both transferred to Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, Texas, at the beginning of the spring semester in 1973. We arrived at the Texas campus in the middle of January and neither of us knew anyone else.
College at Wayland was an adjustment for me. It would have been enough that I was so far away from home, but the real problem was that the campus was totally unprepared for someone in my physical situation. Few of the buildings were wheelchair accessible. Especially problematic was my dorm. The room was fine, but the bathroom was a large facility shared by everyone who lived on the same wing of the building. That meant community showers which I was unable to maneuver, or the embarrassing task of a sponge bath from the sink where everyone could watch. After a few weeks, the school reassigned me to another dorm that had a room with an individual bath. This is where I lived through the remainder of my tenure at Wayland.
As always, I found that other students were very helpful as I struggled to get around campus. There were few times when I did not have someone to push my wheelchair or a couple of friends to assist me getting up or down the stairs. It became second nature for many, who would simply see me headed a certain direction, grab the handlebars and provide locomotion.
During the first two weeks of school, Sharon and I encountered each other occasionally, but we did not spend a significant amount of time together. I was not seeking a girlfriend, nor was she looking for a boyfriend. After a difficult few years in Junior College, she was looking to getting her life back on track and pursuing her relationship with God. My interest was focused on school and chasing God’s call on my life to become a preacher.
After we had been in school for several weeks, Sharon called the dorm one evening and said that she had something to talk about. She was hesitant to say anything on the phone so I invited her to come by that evening and we would talk.
When she arrived, we sat together in the lobby of my dorm. Remember, this was a small Baptist college in the 1970’s. Girls were not allowed in our rooms. In fact, believe it or not, the girls actually had a curfew at night. They had to be in their rooms by 11:00 on weekdays and by midnight on weekends. In the typical chauvinistic world of the 70’s, the boys had no curfew. It was a great arrangement if you were one of the guys. We would drop the girls off at the end of the evening and then all meet at the White Rooster for a late night snack before study or bed.
The night Sharon came over, we spent several minutes with small talk. After a short time, true to my impatient nature, I asked her why she had called. I always like to get to the point.
She stammered around for a long time, unable to explain. I tried several ways to encourage her to talk openly but she was still powerless to express herself. She was able to say that she felt God was telling her something but she could not muster the courage to share it with me.
Finally, almost to the point of exasperation, I said, “Perhaps God is telling you the same thing that He is telling me.”
I will confess that I have no idea why I said that! Although I had been doing some thinking and seeking God’s will, I was not ready to make any definitive proclamations about my future. However, I was now committed to reveal what I had been thinking.
When I spoke, her eyes lit up as she quickly said, “What is that?”
With some hesitation in my voice I replied, “I think God is telling me that you and I will spend the rest of our lives together.”
Notice that I did not use the word marriage because I was not completely convinced that was the plan. However, thinking back, if we were going to spend the remainder of our lives together, what else could that mean if not marriage?
Sharon did not hesitate to express her agreement, God was indeed telling her the same thing.
What do you do when you find the person you are to marry but there is no emotional attachment. In many other societies this would not be a problem, but in the American culture, emotions normally precede commitment to marriage.
We set out on the only course of action that we could devise – we began the process of falling in love. It is not difficult to begin to love someone when you are committed to spending your life together.
Gradually over the next few months our emotions began to fall into place. We spent many hours together, discussing the past and the future. It did not take long for us to get excited about the prospect of marriage. Because of our commitment to one another, we were able to openly discuss issues that must be faced by married couples.
Because of our commitment to one another, Sharon and I have not had to deal with some of the problems that destroy marriages. Neither of us has ever had a doubt about the faithfulness of the other. Whenever a problem arises, we always know we will find a solution because leaving the marriage is never an option.
In many ways, Sharon and I are polar opposites. Yet, at the same time we are perfect mates for one another. She expects to have difficulties and problems; I anticipate that everything will always be fine. She cannot see the forest because of the trees; I cannot see the trees because of the forest. She cares about people’s feelings and thoughts; I care about getting the job done. She wants people to feel good; I want people to do well. She wants me to tell stories that are true in every detail; I want to tell stories that are entertaining and make a point even if not entirely true. Although she tries very hard, she does not always understand my sense of humor.
Whenever I preach a sermon, Sharon has the only opinion that matters to me. Other people can say, “That was a good sermon,” but it means nothing to me until I hear her affirmation. Even when she must deliver bad news about a particular sermon, she will say, “It was ok,” in an apprehensive voice which I know means it was not very good.
Sharon is especially important to me because of the way she has handled my physical liabilities. I have never felt her sympathy, something I have never wanted from anyone. She is not afraid to call me out when she thinks I am taking the easy road, but at the same time she has always been patient with my weakness and struggles. When my physical needs have put her in what might be considered an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation, she has never hesitated.
We have laughed together in times of difficulty and we have cried together in times of rejoicing. We have leaned on each other, taking turns being the one with confidence and stability. She has taught me to be more patient, caring, sensitive, understanding, and kind. I live every day with a consciousness of how important Sharon is to my life. Together we have enjoyed a partnership that could only have been made in heaven.
I recognize that our situation is very unique. In fact, I have not met anyone who has told a similar story of courtship and marriage. There have been some who tried it but it was more their doing than God’s so it backfired.
Perhaps the most important lesson learned from this experience is the importance of commitment before emotional investment. It is very tempting to give our emotions to another person before we give ourselves. The consequence is that most of these relationships fail, leaving broken hearts and bad experiences.
I do not expect the same process to happen for my sons or anyone else. However, I do hope that they will understand the necessity of commitment in marriage. Love does not make a marriage successful. Commitment makes a marriage and love is the result of this type of commitment.