He is able to keep that which we have committed unto Him.
Choosing a bride has always been a risky business. No one can or should make up someone else’s mind on the subject. Some cultures have arranged marriages, but that was not my experience. Perhaps I could say that where a match-maker was no help, the Holy Spirit did a superb job in choosing and arranging my present marriage. How? Let me take you on a journey of hope, struggle, and faith—a story, as Max Lucado puts it, of an Uncommon God touching the lives of a common couple.
I became a widower at a young age. Most grievously, my young wife succumbed to rheumatoid arthritis of the lung after four and a half years together. Though I intended to seek a lady in due time, I also knew my life was surrendered to God first. I saw no need to chase or convince or search for a partner. I had just lost a dear wife, and I was content to take a break. A long one. Especially I felt that marrying another woman with health issues would not be a good plan.
Now let’s go back to the Bible School years. During the course of the school year the three Feasts come around, and the intensity of learning from Scripture increases with the extended schedule of meetings. Personal testimonies are a vital part of worship and are often included in the services. And the students get to attend the entire schedule.
One afternoon during a Feast of Passover, one of my classmates told of reading the Law concerning slaves as found in Deuteronomy. If a slave chose freedom when it became available, he could leave. But if he chose to stay with his master, he would go to the door and an awl was put through his ear into the doorpost as a sign that he had chosen his master’s house. (See Deuteronomy 15:17).
So my classmate said she had been inspired to follow Jesus this way, and in faith she had committed her life to Him. Her story touched me, and I connected with Jesus in a similar desire. I remember a special sense of belonging to and with Him as I rose from my knees following this prayer, and I had a new knowledge that He had accepted me as a willing slave.
Now fast forward 15 years, covering many places, times, and by-ways. Life certainly reveals the truth of such vows, and God most surely takes us at our word. In doing so, He reveals the sometimes amazing consequences of obedience, consequences which allow Him to show His Glory and Power in the common man. The examples of Abraham, Daniel, the three Worthies, the Apostles, Paul—all these showed me freely-chosen relationships with the God who is bigger than life, and longer than life. I had experienced His love like that in some of these years. I had invested in Heaven so completely that I found I could afford to let Him continue to manage the details of my personal affairs.
In this frame of mind, having found myself single again, I was just waiting patiently for God’s call. Part of the immediate assignment was shipkeeping on board the gospel yacht Coronet—a sweet job if ever there was one! One example of the joy I found in that service came on a Sabbath men’s breakfast I hosted once a month on board ship. I had invited Captain Frank Murray to come and share Coronet’s connection with the land of Israel. He did so gladly, and soon we set about praying for Israel today. Then the Holy Spirit visited us with such a time of prayer that Captain Murray exclaimed he had not witnessed the work of the Spirit like that since he was a young man.
Heaven was very close to that group of twelve men, and it has proved a day to remember for all who were there. For those gathered there in His name, mere common men became inspired agents in the hands of an Uncommon God.
For me it was another investment in Heaven, and as I continued in my work, getting along pretty well on my own, this experience only made my choice to embrace and serve the Master even more satisfying.
In the meantime there was someone in my church who needed help shoveling her walks and driveway in winter as well as just doing practical things around the house. Her husband was gone, and her daughter, an only child, was away at college and unable to be there with her. Making life even harder, she had taken very ill.
I had the time and when she needed a hand, I would drop by. She was young, alone, and very sick—too sick, of course, to want a relationship, and I was in no position to seek one. So we were safe! I was glad to help, but I was not sticking around.
Years went by, and her health remained in question. During that time she had several anaphelactic shocks that she described as out-of-body experiences in which she could see herself from a distance lying in bed. However, her faith was not in question. She too had found that relationship with Jesus that was bigger and longer than life. During this time He encouraged her with the words “In My Own Time,” meaning that He had a plan for her life and would be with her for healing and enabling until He was satisfied that that plan was complete.
Time went on, and we began to pray together. On occasion I would take a Sunday in fasting for her, and I found myself stopping by more often. The Church, of course was praying for her too, and supported her with food and company. As far as she and I were concerned, it was Heaven, not each other, which became our shared focus.
As for me, having lost my first wife, I wanted to get healed, not married. And as we talked about these things, she told me frankly that I needed “Healing, not marriage, and especially for you. You’ve already been through all this.” Indeed, but I was finding that her character, faith, and kindness were becoming an essential part of my life. More, the Master was there all along, the One to whose doorway I had gone with that awl. And the Master called.
One night He gave me a vision in which I was walking along a low mountain ridge. The path was level and gently winding. Off to the left I could see a wide and inviting valley, bright with sunshine, with green meadows and hillsides coming down to them covered in trees.
On my right, though, was another valley. This one had a heavy mist that was slow to move as the sun had not yet come over the ridge. There was no breeze to lift it, either. Through the top of the mist I could see chimneys, lots of chimneys with no smoke or fires in them. It was rather strange that though they were all very close, there was no sign of life. I stopped and looked at this strange sight, and presently the mist began to stir and I could see into a few of the nearer houses, or what had once been houses. All that was left were roofless walls and empty fireplaces—broken homes, and a valley full of them!
Suddenly I was alarmed to see that there was someone still in one of the ruins not far off, and there were three wolves or threatening animals closing in on her. Looking more intently, what was my dismay to find that the helpless woman was my needy friend. I did not notice whether there were others in the surrounding ruins.
Now I found myself presented with a major choice. I could move unnoticed down the left side of the ridge and be on my way to better times, or I could enter the ruins and make a vital difference in the life of my friend. In the vision, I knew I had been trained for this, to stand in the gap, to be a servant. I had given my freedom to Jesus: it was His, and not my own. He still owned it. Though He appeared to offer it to me, I somehow knew that today was not the day to take it back.
The woman in the ruins did not have much time. But it would not take me long to get to her and help. Yet what would be the cost? My Master, I remembered, had said, “My yoke is easy; My burden is light.” So if the burden is heavy, that just means I’m not carrying it right.
The vision over, I continued to ponder. What would it mean for my friend? A relationship in this time of poor health was risky, and she needed to be there for her daughter. A new husband would be a big development to which she was not yet willing to commit. Yet, as we continued to pray for the Spirit’s confirmation, her faith came out strong. She began to believe we could do it. Again, the common couple were in the hands of an Uncommon God, and He made us more than able! We were committed, and later we married. It hasn’t all been easy, but I am often in awe of my wife’s courage as she chooses to smile through an endless headache, fighting through weakness in a body that’s her own, but which she’s hardly able to recognize. I often feel myself to be the needy one, as I try to measure up.
Now here’s a very interesting part of the story. It has been deeply important to us and has become a weekly celebration, if you will. We married with one ring. I am an electrician by trade and do not wear a ring on the job for safety’s sake. Men have been burned, lost fingers, and even been electrocuted by sticking their ringed fingers into live wires. I had no intention of wearing a ring, and didn’t for many years.
Some time later in our marriage, I attended a three-day weekend seminar focusing on people and relationships. In one of the classes the instructor asked me why I did not have a ring since I was married. I informed him of the danger, and he asked, Do you work on the weekends? No, I do not. That was it, just a question. But I thought about it.
So later I casually mentioned to my wife that I thought I would like to get a wedding band. Why? she asked. I told her I thought it would be important for us to share two rings as a testimony to the fact that I had chosen her.
At first she thought it expensive and unnecessary, but finally we decided to do it. And now, ever since we chose that ring, it has been a weekly tradition. As Friday comes to an end, the ring is sitting out on my dresser. Then as the Sabbath begins I put it on. It is a testimony to the woman in the ruins: “I choose you again, and by this ring you can see that I mean it.” It has become a celebration of victory over poor health and discouragement, and we stand together as one—for each other, with each other.
This simple act has helped us focus together on the One who called us, who is with us today and will be there longer than tomorrow. And the best part is that the best part hasn’t happened yet!