On August 23rd in 1969, my wife, Diana, and I were married at the Stafford, KS Methodist Church (the church had yet to change its name to United Methodist, a union that had happened the year before). It was blazing hot, though a heavy rainstorm earlier in the day had cooled things a bit. We each had seven attendants; the rather tiny church with its tinier pulpit/lectern area strained to contain all of them. The organist of the Highland Park United Methodist Church of Dallas (it had changed its name) played, and Diana, looking spectacular in her older sister’s white wedding dress, came down the short aisle on her father’s arm to an organ rendition of Bach’s “Air on a G-String,” probably the only time that particular tune has ever been so used in the Stafford church. That lovely and stately piece has become one of “our songs” ever since. (The accompanying photo is not of the two of us!)
Rev, Fred Haustein, a seminary colleague, himself recently ordained a deacon in the old deacon-elder days the UMC, performed the service, and several college and seminary friends, along with family (Diana and I each had three siblings then), made up the large wedding party. It really was a grand event, surely the social highlight of the 2000 person town, or at least we like to think so. Diana’s father was the town doctor and her mother was a significant pillar of the church and community, an actress of great skill; she was subsequently enshrined in the Kansas Theater Hall of Fame. Neither Diana nor I will ever forget the occasion; it was grand and probably has become grander in our minds as the years have raced on.
Just what is it like to have been together for 50 years? One notorious episode during those years makes a statement about our lives. After we had been married for 20 years or so—neither of us can remember exactly when—Diana gave my an anniversary card that said, “Thank you for 16 wonderful years.” I wanted to ask her whether those 16 were continuous years, or some years divided by others less wonderful, or some months at a time. It was a funny card, and we still refer to it regularly, but its truth was all too real. Our years together, especially the early ones, were hardly all wonderful. We were together for nearly five of those years before our son, Darius, was born in 1974. Then three years passed before our daughter, Sarah, joined our family. I hardly need tell any of you how much family life changes when children enter the photographs. Joy is followed by frustration, followed by exhaustion, followed by fears, followed by hopes, followed by disappointments, followed by demands, followed by all those things again. It was more than accurate to tab our first 20 years or so as 16 wonderful ones; to be honest that may have been overly generous.
After those 20 had passed, Diana and I were having a serious crisis in our relationship, and we separated for almost a year. During that time it was highly unlikely that we would stay together long enough to celebrate this year’s grand event. But through very hard work, capable therapists, and finally a deep conviction that the vows of commitment and love we made in that church on that hot August day meant more to us than those things that threatened to tear us apart. So, we came back together and began again to build our lives on what became a more stable and solid foundation. That work was neither quick nor easy, but it has led us to the place where we are today. I do not exaggerate when I say that what we have now together is more wonderful and glorious than it has ever been, and we are both regularly grateful to God for helping us weather the storms and to stay in the same boat. We have discovered that living together for so long gives to us a shared history of travels, friendships, and experiences of all sorts that bind our lives together with bands of memory and hope that is difficult of full explanation. A long life together is a rare gift that neither of us take for granted.
So now we prepare to celebrate this life together in multiple ways. We have just returned from a time in Ojai, CA, in a rented house in the middle of an orange grove, lounging about a pool, and on occasion swimming in it, with that family, son, daughter, and our two grandchildren, surrounding us and nurturing us. Then, in about two weeks time, we will head to Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, to spend four days in another rented place, a Japanese-inspired house, nestled in several acres of pristine land. And after that quiet togetherness, we will fly to Anchorage, Alaska to begin a land/sea adventure, including Denali, and on the very day itself, NO.50, we will step on a ship to begin a seven-day inland passage cruise, concluding in Vancouver, BC. On the ship both Diana and I will lecture to a group of about 50 folk (sounds appropriate, does it not?), many of whom we have known for a large portion of those 50 years. Then after about 10 days at home, we will fly to Europe and spend three weeks motoring through Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, drinking in the beauty and, we hope, the great charms that that part of the world has provided for centuries.
And all of this mad flitting about will be done together, Diana and I, supporting, caring and loving one another wherever we may be. These adventures will surely add to the vast store of our shared memories that began in that tiny church now 50 years ago. Both Diana and I thank our God for the life God has offered to us, a life together, a life as two people bound up in the bundle of God’s love. Gratefulness has become too often merely a cliché, but for us, it is nothing less than the truth of who have become as married people. We are grateful to the God who made us, who shaped us, who helped us stay together, and we are grateful to one another for our hard and persistent work that has made these celebrations possible. Sola Dei Gloria!
(Images from Wikimedia Commons)