Reflections On a Long, Shared Journey

Photo credit: Jon RawlinsonOur 67th wedding anniversary is near (December 20) so you can understand that Kathleen and I are reflecting these days on our long, ongoing journey together.

We remember the modest bungalow on North Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where we exchanged simple wedding vows. Kathleen’s sister, Muriel, hosted the event and provided a chicken dinner for the eight who were present. In recent years I’ve driven along North Street several times for sentimental reasons but it appears we have outlived the house that was there.

For that event, I had bought a bundle of plastering laths to erect an arch the bride and groom could stand under for the exchange of vows. What I produced was so unstable that it couldn’t be trusted to stand upright for the whole ceremony. A collapse mid-service would have been a bad omen. My best man, the late Mel Prior, took it apart and rebuilt it.

After a night and day in Toronto we boarded a Canadian Pacific train to travel 1600 miles to my home town, Estevan, Saskatchewan, where Kathleen would meet for the first time my parents, a younger sister, and an older brother and his wife. That plan wouldn’t meet today’s honeymoon standards, but in 1947 life for most people could be simplified and made with fewer demands.

As we learned when we arrived, also two older sisters, their husbands and families, had driven 1200 miles from British Columbia to surprise us. We might say to overwhelm us. Kathleen managed this in her usual gracious way, and when newness wore off and curiosity was satisfied, we had very pleasant family celebrations for Christmas week.

Then it was back to Winnipeg on the Soo line and thence via Canadian Pacific to Toronto. There, we caught a Greyhound bus to travel 15 miles to Port Credit where we took occupancy of our one-room apartment above a garage and across the Queen Elizabeth highway from Lorne Park College.

That tiny apartment was a charming place from which to launch our life together. I went back to my studies and other assigned duties at the college. Kathleen had left her teaching position to settle into a new life. We traveled together on weekends to speak and sing in churches in Southern Ontario and nearby States.

Our first ten years were packed with activity and movement. With Kathleen’s invaluable support and her uncomplaining oversight of domestic matters, I ploughed through two academic degrees; we moved seven times; accepted our first pastoral assignment; and welcomed into our union four children — one born in Ontario, two in Illinois, and one in Kentucky.

Toward the end of our ninth year, after three years in Lexington, Kentucky, we loaded four little children, one a five month old infant, into our Plymouth, and, towing a big springless trailer, we joggled across the continent to New Westminster, B.C. to serve our second church.

It was in New Westminster, while serving a loving congregation, that we learned we would not have the privilege of raising our fourth child, John David. At the end of three days for tests in Vancouver Children’s Hospital, we were told that he would be severely limited in his development and would need the special care of an institution. After three years of Kathleen’s dedicated mothering we surrendered him broken-heartedly to the care of professionals, where he is to the present.

We approach our 67th anniversary recalling many bright occasions and a few times of struggle and even crisis — not with each other, but with unexpected circumstances. Early on, for example, we endured major financial stresses. There was a string of surgeries, and our experience with John David was wrenching, leaving us with a sadness in our hearts that has never gone away. We’ve wept together, suffered sleepless nights together, and endured the anxieties and fears that go with raising a family.

Much more than all of this, however, we have relished the joy of each other’s company, and the pleasures of seeing our children launched into stable, successful lives of their own. Looking back, we declare the life God gave and continues to give is a life of predominant joy.

Looking back also I can identify three constants of our years: from the start, we prayed together daily, a lifetime practice; we tithed to the Lord’s work the first money we owned jointly; and through all those years Kathleen has been my adviser and behind-the-scenes consultant in matters of Christian ministry. To God be the glory.

And the memory of that simple but life-changing event on North Street in Niagara Falls continues in a special way to ignite my joy even yet after our 67 years together.

Long years ago a young man and woman, each 21 years of age, stood under a beribboned arch. An older man in a black suit faced them. In his hands he held a little black book. He read from it words of ritual and asked the couple some questions. They responded in the affirmative, without reservation. He declared them husband and wife. It all took about 20 minutes, but sixty-seven years later the two still live under the wonder of that enduring covenant made before God and to each other.

Photo credit: Jon Rawlinson (via flickr.com)

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4 thoughts on “Reflections On a Long, Shared Journey

  1. Approaching 67 years of marital union ! What an extraordinary and inspiring achievment.Congratulations Pastor Donald and Kathleen.

    It’s a joy to read your story of a long shared journey – from your Niagara Falls wedding vows through your Canadian Pacific rail trip to Estevan for Kathleen to meet her new family,your 1947 family Christmas ,your journey to styart life together in a one room apartment above that Port Credit garage,and then the blossoming of your union into a family of 6 while completing your preparatory academic studies and beginning your pastorate.

    It’s sad to hear of your heartbreak at separation from your son with special care needs, John David May his precious life be supported by all the best professional care for his needs .God bless him.

    You and Kathleen have come through financial stresses,medical stresses and your heaertwrenching separation from John David – without crisis between each other.Your praying ,tithing and ministering together as a team is a wonderful story to hear .To the glory of the Lord!

    Reading your books,Pastor , with their useful advice on how to live a fulfilled Christian married life in a family,to God’s Will, I can see how the Lord has given you the very life that best equips you to pastor on Christian family living.

    The best words I have read on Christian marriage and family living ,have both been by two writers I’ve read this last year.Yourself,Pastor Don, not only in your ‘God’s House Rules’ ,but also in ‘The Pastors First Love’ and in your ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ blogs.The other writer who’s words on marriage really touched me is Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.This year I read his Letters from Prison.Imprisoned by the Gestapo for standing up for his Lutheran Christian principals,he was unable to attend his relatives wedding.But he wrote letters of wonderful pastoral advice for the couple whose wedding he could not attend.

    I’d like to quote a few of my favourite passages on marriage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer,all from his Prison letters,in celebration of the long loving marriage between you and Kathleen,Pastor Don

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Marriage. From his ‘Letters From Prison’

    “In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”

    ‘’Every wedding must be an occasion of joy that human beings can do such great things, that they have been given such immense freedom and power to take the helm in their life’s journey”

    “Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. In your love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsability towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.”

    “As you gave the ring to one another and have now received it a 2nd time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love.
    It is not your love tht sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.’’

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I believe the best marriages reveal God’s Loving Goodness.The best marital unions glorify God.As does your marriage with Kathleen,Pastor Donald .As does your loving family.Thankyou for sharing with us the good story of your long shared journey.

  2. Hi Don and Kathleen:
    As you told of your 67 years together my memories in many ways popped up almost in parallel. I sense that there is little you would change as you look back. Neither would I. The predominate theme is: God has been so good down through the years. Roy

  3. 67 years! How wonderful! We are approaching 59. Also, I had the privilege of attending Mel Prior’s memorial service. He was a good friend. -Erle

  4. Thanks for your wedding account, Don; I remember those Lorne Park College days, but not your actual wedding event. Like Roy Kenny I identify many parallels; having been married while I was still a student at L.P.C., after returning to finish grade 13, our marriage falls, too, into the $200. category. Why didn’t some-one tell me 64 years ago that a ‘moneyless marriage’ couldn’t succeed? Beginning university at Roberts Wesleyan with a wife and 4-month-old daughter and a hoarded $300. and no furniture might find also a parallel. What wonderful training, however, for a life of depending on God!

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