(This appeared as the back page “Classic Thoughts” column in the February 2010 issue of “The Classic”, the alumni magazine of Northwestern College. I’m grateful for the privilege to contribute to this fine publication.)
Pulling into the parking lot, I ask my 9-year-old twin daughters the same question I ask every week.
“Girls, what are we here to do?”
“Serve each other with love!”
“And where do we find that?”
“Galoshes 5:13b.” (We’re still working on the reference part.)
For the past two years, Annie, Emma and I have been bringing flowers and hugs to the residents of Carillon House and Vista Care, a skilled-care center and in-patient hospice. God uses our simple act of service to teach us many life lessons, like the power of encouragement and the frailty and brevity of life. It’s also allowed us the privilege of witnessing the final chapters of beautiful love stories.
Say to any couple, “Tell me how you met,” and you’re guaranteed a fun and fascinating story. Beginnings are full of romance and anticipation.
Sadly, romantic beginnings do not guarantee happy endings. If only couples could be glued together like the souvenirs in a wedding album. Some thrive during seasons of “better”—times of health and wealth. Yet when the “worse”—sickness and poverty—happens, their commitment wanes.
“How we met” stories are many. “How we stayed together” stories are much rarer.
There are many love stories among our Carillon friends. Ray and Margaret had been married 65 years when she died last month. Mr. Williams is a steady presence at the side of his bride of over 50 years. He watches helplessly as Alzheimer’s assaults her memory.
What choices do you make when “for worse” will never get better? Buddy and Shirley were married 50 years when he went in for a hip replacement two years ago. Complications from the anesthesia have left him bedridden ever since.
My Emma asks me, “Daddy, is Shirley with Buddy every day?”
Emma pauses before concluding, “She loves him.”
Dub stares at a photo of himself and his wife, Cody. “She was the pick of the town. Everyone told me how lucky I was. A kind and godly woman of high moral character. Everyone loved her.” After combat in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Dub came home and proposed. They built a life together as West Texas cotton farmers.
Through better and worse, God was good to them. He blessed them with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As he speaks, Dub doesn’t want to cry. Yet with the memories come the tears.
“I had a stroke 18 years ago,” he says. “I was dependent on her. She was so good to me. No matter what, she made sure I got out of the house twice a day. She would drive me to McDonald’s, and we’d sit and have a 37-cent cup of coffee and talk.
“I had to have a hospital bed in our bedroom. When I woke up, I always looked over at her. She’s been gone for over a year now, but when I wake up, I still look that direction.”
When your eyes have awakened to the same beautiful face for over six decades, how could you not keep looking and hoping she would be there? Dub and Cody were married 62 years when she died.
“Those 18 years after my stroke were the best years of my life because I got to see her every day. If I hadn’t had that stroke, I’d have been out playing golf or out fishing and I would have missed that time with her,” Dub concludes.
Sometimes it takes the worst to teach us what is the best.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 tells us, “The end of something is better than the beginning.” Maybe Solomon was saying that however something starts, finishing well is more important. Better a beautiful final chapter than a happy first paragraph.
My daughters know the reason we come to Carillon is to “serve each other with love.”
I hope someday they realize the Dubs and Codys they met here succeeded in marriage for the very same reason.
Todd A. Thompson – April 11, 2010