One a hot muggy August afternoon in Myrtle, Mississippi a young couple stood before God and their friends and families to make promises of love. The sanctuary was filled. The windows were open so a hot breeze could stir the air while funeral home fans provided some relief. Tears creased the faces of the mothers on the front row while sweat beaded on the brow of the young man who stood looking into the smiling face of his bride. Rev. Percy Ray filled the room with his booming voice as he spoke of God’s institution of marriage, and called for a lifetime bond of love between these two young people who knew little of what the future held. Their promises of love would be made in the very place where their love was born.
I suspect as the preacher waxed eloquent the young groom’s mind raced back to the first time he saw her face. He had traveled with a group of friends from the hills of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee to a little town nestled seventy miles east of Memphis in Elvis Presley country. He was gladly joining a movement to call America back to God in the last 1950’s lead by Percy Ray and a band of fundamentalist preachers whose prophetic voice spoke of the demise of this once great land if this generation did not get on their faces and repent. The meeting was called Camp Zion and annually this preaching marathon would fire the hearts of young and old alike to seek the face of God.
I doubt the groom remembered much about the preaching or music of the service that changed his life. As he and his buddies sat on the second row and trio of young girls stood to sing behind the pulpit, it is hard to know if it was her voice, her smile, or the twinkle of life in her eyes that captured his heart, but this young stoic mountain preacher boy was smitten. In a sly attempt to cover his intentions, yet to accomplish his mission he befriended the young girl’s mother, who was the organist of the church, and went by the nickname “Dootsie”. He asked permission to write her, but everyone with half a brain knew whose address he was seeking. Though he had a couple of brief conversations with his love before his departure for home soon the post office in Myrtle was pestered with letter after letter from East Tennessee. This was long before the days of email and instant messages but without a doubt his letters were ever bit as effective.
The letters led to visits, and then one fateful day sitting on the porch on a swing this young romantic said to his love, “If I ever go to China as a missionary, I want to take you with me”. Not exactly the kind of proposal that Shakespeare might have written, or the Browning would have composed, but powerful none the less. He never took her to China, but their journey did lead to West Texas which compared to Mississippi is truly a foreign country in which it appeared she spoke a foreign language with her Southern accent.
There before God and their friends, D.L. and Alice Lowrie made their promises of love. They vowed for “better and for worse, for richer and for poorer” that only death would separate them. On August 1st looking out over the lava shores of Kona Hawaii, my parents will celebrate sharing fifty years of love and ministry together. I suspect it will only be in heaven that I will fully understand how much of my life, and the world I have been given was shaped that fateful day when these two young adults in a leap of faith said yes to God and to each other.
Those words spoken in the garden God created with his own hands have become a reality before my eyes:
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Gen 2:24 (KJV)
The mystery of this love and “oneness” will continue to be an inspiration to me all the days of my life as I too seek to love my wife with all my heart, body and soul.