One of the privileges to being in ministry is that one gets to experience the best and the worst of other people's lives. I love watching as a young girl grows and matures and falls in love. I love watching a young boy grow and mature and fall in love. I love to see them pledge their lives, one to another, especially when you know that Christ is at the center of their relationship. It brings a new dimension to the mix. The metamorphosis is a gift to observe and experience as part of the great cycle of life. It continues to evolve as they fight the battle of the first years and as they add to their family. It's just a gift to be a part of that.
But love stories don't always start that way...
A few months ago, Jean started bringing Jim to church with her. They were "just friends" and he was curious what our little church was all about. We all had a sense that a bit more was going on, but we played along with them, giving a knowing wink to one another. Jean was a great hostess and made sure that Jim was introduced around. Jim had a great handshake and when he said he was "pleased to meet you", one had a sense he really meant it. Unlike many who visit Horizon, Jim came back. Every week. With Jean. Time proved that Jim was as genuine as he seemed. He was a really good man. As I continued to watch Jean over the ensuing weeks, I noticed the appearance of a light spring in her step. You might even say there was a bit of a sashay as she moved. Jim was very attentive to Jean's needs. It was a different kind of love story and it was blossoming before our eyes.
Jean has been a widow for forty-two years. Forty-two years. Her husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack when she was forty years old. He was a principal at one of the local schools and he died at his desk. This left Jean with three small children to raise on her own. She did so by supporting her family as a first grade teacher. She retired after many years of loving little ones. Whenever we have visitors to church, I can count on Jean to introduce herself and I know it won't take long before she is learning of their family lineage. Somewhere along the line she has taught a father or grandfather or aunt or cousin and she's going to figure it out. In a town the size of Bremen, it doesn't take long to find the connection. Everyone is related to everyone, except of course for those of us like me who are from away.
Jim hasn't been a widower for quite as long. His wife, Lucy, died last fall. Jim and Lucy had lost a son of their own tragically the year before when he was in a cherry picker for work and a power line brushed against his arm. Jim and Lucy had been longtime friends of Jean and her husband. I think Jim told me that he and Lucy had been friends with Jean for 62 years. I don't know the details, but somewhere along the line of the last half year or more, Jean and Jim became companions. I think it just came naturally from that longtime friendship. And so, Jim came to church with Jean. And we all watched. On Sundays, they go to his church. Jim C said he'd always wondered to his wife, Lucy, why Jean never remarried. Later, he told Jean's son, "I think God was just saving her for me".
About two months ago, my husband, Jim, came home and with a twinkle in his eye said, "I've got something to tell you". It seems Jean had visited him at the church office that morning and wanted to know how he thought it would look if Jim and she got married. My Jim thought it was a wonderful idea. There was a bit of a catch, though. They wanted to be married in the eyes of God, not through the eyes of the law. New marriage gets complicated for the elderly. A legal marriage would mean that they would both lose financially. There is the complication of pensions lost and separate families being provided for. It is a great set-up for stress, tension and hard emotions. It's not fair, but it is the way our legal and financial systems work in the U.S. Jean and Jim C did not want to do anything that would be frowned upon in the eyes of God. If God couldn't bless their relationship, then it just would remain as is. Because my Jim had researched this situation years before he was able to quickly ease her mind and the planning began. Jean was still a little hesitant for people to know (she was afraid "people might talk"), but she gave my Jim permission to tell me. That night at church as she passed by me, she grabbed my arm and said with a bit of a giggle, "You know something, don't you?". My response was, "YES, Jean, but I have one thing to say to you---NO BABIES!". "Oh, you," Jean said as she slapped my arm. I got all warm inside.
A few weeks later, my Jim was in Utah with Clella and another couple and Jean and Jim C stopped by. Jim C has a vintage car in pristine condition and I kept seeing it drive slowly by my house. Finally, they pulled in the driveway. It was about 8:30 pm, but they were hoping to catch me so I could call my Jim to confirm a date for their wedding. We sat and talked a bit and I asked them a little bit more. We talked about their children and how they were feeling about this marriage and the love and support Jim and Jean were feeling from family and friends. Jean told me that Jim's kids were wanting him to move to be closer to them, but Jean said, "I told them it'll be okay. I'll take care of him.". She said it with such tenderness and such love. Her saying that brought tears to my eyes because I realized something. Jean was content in the thought that she could take care of Jim. In all the years I've known her, I've never known her to be unhappy in her single life, but there was a settled joy in her statement. It was lovely.
As my Jim began the simple yet sweet ceremony, he talked about the vows to be spoken. The vows would be the traditional vows, but he said the words "til death do us part" take on special significance when the bride is 82 and the groom is 86. Then the tears began to pour. I couldn't stop. When my Jim asked the groom if he took Jean to be his wedded wife, he didn't say "I will". He said with conviction, "I will!" When my Jim asked the bride the same, she whispered with equal conviction, "I will". As they tried to place the rings on the finger of the other, it was not without struggle due to swollen knuckles. We all laughed out loud as we collectively cried to hear the words of exasperation being spoken back and forth. I wish I had gotten it on tape.
When my Jim pronounced them "husband and wife", there was a simultaneous "Ooh" from the bride and an "Aww" from the groom.
My heart just danced and I knew I would have to write this down.
Oh, and the honeymoon? They went to church that night.
What a gift I received to be present at this wedding.