The Journey of a Lifetime – Or At Least Almost a Lifetime

This month my wife, Shirley, and I will celebrate 50 years of marriage.  It’s strange how a half of century can seem like yesterday, but it does.  We were kids in college.  Over five decades ago I asked her dad for his blessings for me to marry his daughter.  He said, “Can you support her?”  I said, “Yes, sir.  I’m pastor of a church.”  It did not seem all that important to add that they paid me $35 a week, but I thought we could make it.  Her father went on and gave me his blessings.  So in December of 1964, Shirley and I said, “I do.”  Neither one of us fully understanding what we were saying “I do” to or what we were supposed to do when we said “I do.”  We did know that we loved each other and that we shared a common heart for loving the Lord and a common goal of wanting to serve Him.

With friends and family gathered on a cold winter night at her home church, in the beauty of Christmas decorations and with the wonder and amazement of the life ahead for us, we were married.  Now, after all these years, I feel like a dear old man who was in our church some years ago.  I met him and his wife coming down the hall one Sunday.  They were holding hands, shuffling along.  I stopped them and visited with them a moment and then I said as they stood there hand in hand, “How long have y’all been married?”  She said nothing.  He kind of looked toward her and rolled his eyes upward as though he was looking for an answer and then he said, “Preacher, I don’t know.  I can’t remember if I was born first or married first.”

Important dates in life kind of run together.  It has been wonderful.  While there was a lot that we did not know and much that we still do not know, one thing we have learned and re-learned is that marriage is not just an event, it is a journey.  And my, what a journey it has been.  It has covered over 18,250 days, but in those days we’ve covered somewhere over 3 million miles.  It has been an incredible trip, one day at a time.  But like any journey this one falls into three parts.

If you’re going on a journey somewhere for a day or a month, there needs to be some preparation and preparations are not easy.  Being prepared is just doing the best you can to be ready for whatever might happen.  You won’t ever cover everything, but you can try and we did try to prepare for life.  A couple of years after we married, we graduated together from Blue Mountain College.  While many people may have doubted that young couple would indeed go on and finish college, we did with determination and the help of folks around us who wanted us to do our best and be our best.  Then we simply continued working.  She was prepared to teach school and I continued to preach at our church.  Together we tried to pastor a wonderful group of folks.

Somewhere early on we learned that this preparation thing continues.  She was preparing for class and grading papers and calling parents, doing all of the things that a schoolteacher does.  I was preparing sermons and making visits and trying to do all that I was supposed to do as a young pastor of a church.  We were always preparing and now after 50 years of preparing for this journey of life, we’re still preparing.  Now, though she is not preparing to go and teach every day, she stays in preparation mode getting ready to do something for one grandchild or another or go to one of their activities for another or answer a question or just delight in being with those kids.  And while I’m not blessed to be the pastor of a church at the present, I continue to stay busy preparing for the next speaking engagement or the next meeting or making another call or writing another letter or article.  We still keep preparing because the journey continues to unfold.

When you take a journey it involves preparation but it also quickly involves reflections.  A couple of days or a couple of years into the journey and you begin to reflect on where you’ve been and what has happened and the people you’ve met.  Not always, but more often than not, the reflections are on good things.  Sure, on the journey there have been bumps in the road, detours, a few wrecks, but much more than any of those things have been the glorious sunrises and sunsets and the beauty of landscape that rises before you and looks over a hill at beautiful valleys, rivers and streams, wildlife and snows and rains, floods and winds.  They’ve all been there along the journey, and so many wonderful things to remember, beautiful reflections of life.  I suppose above all of the reflections we hold dear are the characters who we’ve had the privilege to know.

In the churches where I have been pastor, we’ve known some absolutely wonderful people, men and women, young people, little children, precious aging saints.  All along the journey we’ve picked them up in our hearts and have taken them with us.  In my thoughts right now I can see them and name them.  Some of them have gone on to be with the Lord, but so many of them are still alive and vibrant, not only in our memory but in our existence.  They, one after another, bless our lives and our home and continue to do so even today.

As we were on the journey and as we reflect on what took place, the most significant impact on our home was three wonderful kids that the Lord allowed us to have in our home, Melodi, Rob, and Mysti.  They were and still are truly a gift of God.  We thought as we picked them up from the hospital one by one that they would be there forever, but on reflection, they didn’t stay very long.  Each of them hung around just long enough to learn to tie their shoes, dress themselves, read and write, use some manners and off they went on a journey of their own.  These three youngins who joined us on the journey, provided for us an unending stream of joy and challenges and triumphs and questions and moments of amazement that continue to this very day.  Their journeys involved them introducing us to their travel partners:  Tim, Kimandria, and Philip.  They are all still around and are in and out of our lives on a frequent basis.  Everybody is on a journey that is meaningful and guided by God.

When it comes to reflections, none is probably equal to the next invasion of people into our hearts as we have been blessed with eight grandchildren:  Madi, Trea, Ridge, Rivers, Banks, Coleman, Mary Lamar, and Clay.  What a blessing we have enjoyed, seeing and being with these bright, gifted, cheerful children, who unlike their parents sometimes have never been disobedient, are never in a bad mood, are always loving and kind toward us and toward each other.  Well, almost all the time.  They have blessed us.  They have brought buckets of blessings to our lives.

The last part of a journey, that journey that involved preparations and reflections and other contemplations, lessons learned or acquired, just a couple of things that I would contemplate about this whole 50 year journey.  First, that each day should be treated as a treasure from God.  The day may be filled with decisions or difficulties or delights, but still it is a treasure God has given you and me.  There are no do-overs in life, no repeat days; it is a one way street.  You and I have the privilege of deciding what we’re going to make out of it, how we’re going to treat others, the attitude we’re going to have in life, what we will attempt to accomplish, or the things we fail to do.  Each day is a special gift from the Heavenly Father.  The other contemplated thing that comes to my mind is for those of us who know the Lord this life is not the only life.  In fact, the Scripture promises us that we can’t even imagine what the world is going to be like that we’re going to be in.  “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

But for now, to that young lady who I invited to go on this journey with me, I can only say thank you.  You said “I do” and you did in sickness, in health, in poverty or wealth, good days and not so good, you have been a wonderful companion on the journey.  You’ve carried a load too big, worked too hard and too long, and put up with me with my crazy ways and in my bad days only to get up and join me on the journey down the road of another day.  It has been magnificent and today I invite you to join me on setting out on an adventure of life as we begin another 50 year journey.

Love, Jim

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer