Richard Exley Ministries


Forty-two Years and Counting
Posted on June 16, 2008

002_2_00 On June 10th Brenda and I celebrated forty-two years of marriage and along the way we have learned some things. Maybe the most sobering thing we have learned is that marriage isn’t all fun and games. Once the gala wedding and the romantic honeymoon is over the real work of marriage begins. No matter how much you love each other there will be times when you can’t stand each other, times when it’s hard to imagine spending the rest of your life with this person.

I tend to agree with the man who told me that there are only two kinds of marriages:  bad marriages and hard marriages. At first I was offended. I wanted to tell him that Brenda and I had been married more than forty years and that we have a good marriage. Some days I would even call it a great marriage. But then I thought about it and decided he was right. We do have a good marriage but it has been hard work. God gives us each other, the gift of love, and the covenant of marriage, but it up to us to work the soil of our relationship all the days of our lives.

And no matter how hard you work there will be the inevitable conflicts, little hurts and not so little hurts, bitter quarrels and haunting fears.  Pressures too, which pull at you, causing you to drift apart. Silence beneath your words, and loneliness which only those who have known the blessed oneness can imagine. But that’s not the end of the story. With God’s help there will be holy moments too when forgiveness gives birth to intimacy, when the silences and the separation are put behind you, and once again you know who you are and where you belong. She is your only wife. You are her only husband.

Category: Marriage

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How Does Anyone Stay Married for 50 Years?
Posted on November 08, 2007

During the closing months of WW II, the man who was to become my father began exchanging letters with a beautiful, but timid, eighteen year old girl named Irene. They could hardly have been less alike. She was a true innocent, having never traveled more than ten miles from her birthplace in Northeastern Colorado, while he was a Navy man having spent much of the war stationed in Hawaii.  As the war was winding down in the fall of 1945 he was transferred to the Naval base in Corpus Christi, Texas, and given a two week furlough. Making his way to Sterling, Colorado, he determined to find out if that dark-eyed beauty was as pretty as her picture

  Not surprisingly it was “love at first sight” and after a whirlwind courtship they were married on November 7, 1945. For sixty-one years, three months and one day they remained completely devoted to one another -- a devotion that seems all the more amazing given the social climate in which we now live with its throw away marriages. When it became impossible for my father to leave his bed during the last week of his life mother remained by his side, taking what little food she ate sitting up in bed beside him. Hour after hour she lay beside him, propping herself up on one elbow so she could look at Daddy. Although we urged her to take a break she refused, saying over and over again, "I promised Daddy I would never leave him and I'm going to stay right here." And that's where she was when Daddy took his last breath and went to be with the Lord.

Had Daddy lived, today would have been their sixty-second wedding anniversary and I can't help but marvel at the love they shared. Following their fiftieth anniversary reception the entire family returned to their home where we shared memories and family stories late into the evening. Finally my nine year old niece snuggled up on the couch beside her grandmother and when there was a pause in the conversation she asked, "Grandma, how does anyone stayed married for fifty years?"

Her question was raw with the pain caused by her parent's recent divorce and an uneasy silence settled over the room. Pulling her close my mother said, "Honey, Grandpa and I were able to stay married all these years because we could always talk about everything."
That's the key isn't it?  Communication -- the ability to talk about everything. Not just the easy things but everything -- your secret dreams, your hurts, your hopes, your disappointments and even your fears. By talking things through instead of blaming each other and retreating into silence they kept the channels of communication open and strengthened each other and their marriage.
Don't think theirs was an easy marriage for it wasn't, but it was a good one. During their sixty-one years they had some tough things to talk about, the kind of things that would have done a lesser marriage in. Things like financial pressure. Shortly after the folks married Dad went into the water well drilling business but he could never make a go of it.  He was under capitalized and his ancient equipment was badly worn and kept breaking down.  The thing that finally did him in was a job related injury that laid him up for weeks.  Without insurance or worker's compensation it put him out of business. Refusing to declare bankruptcy, Dad and Mom spent the next several years digging out of debt.

Just weeks before their tenth anniversary Dad and Mom suffered their most devastating blow. Their fourth child, our long awaited baby sister, was born severely hydrocephalic. At birth Carolyn's head was larger than the rest of her body. She wasn't expected to live and even if she did the Doctor's said she would never be normal.

It seemed each day brought some new disappointment. Soon we realized that Carolyn was both blind and deaf and her head continued to grow more and more disproportionate. With a pain that lingers still, I remember watching Mother day by day as she bathed Carolyn tenderly, then carefully measuring her head to see if, by some miracle, it was any smaller.  It never was.  Mama would bit her lip then, while silent tears ran down her cheeks as she carefully put away the cloth tape measure.

Carolyn died in her sleep, at home, early one morning. Our family doctor and Aunt Elsie arrived at about the same time.  He, to make the official diagnosis, and Aunt Elsie to cook breakfast, which no one ate, and to see after us boys. A short time later, the mortician came and took Carolyn's tiny body away, and the gray December day passed in a maze of necessary activities.

When a child dies it often sounds the death knell for the marriage. Not so for my parents. Although their grief was unspeakable it did not drive them apart. Instead they clung to each other, finding strength in their love. I was reminded of this in the weeks following my father's death. As you might imagine Mother grieved terribly. Once she told me that she didn't think she could make it. In an attempt to encourage her I asked, "How did you make it after Carolyn died?" Without a moment’s hesitation she replied, "I had your father to help me. He listened when I needed to talk and when my grief was too deep for words he held me."
Eighteen months after Carolyn's death God blessed Mom and Dad with another child, a beautiful little girl, healthy in every way. But their troubles were not over and in the summer of 1959 Dad severely injured his back while working for Baker Oil Tools, Inc. When it became apparent that the damage was permanent the company gave Dad the choice of transferring to the home office in Houston, Texas or being terminated. That may seem like a no brainier but complicating things was the fact that mother was an only child and the sole caregiver for her elderly mother who was crippled with arthritis. How could she move a thousand miles away and leave her?

Dad suggested that Grandma sell her place and come to Texas with us. A suggestion Grandma quickly vetoed saying, "Dick, there's no house big enough for two women."
To mother she said, "Your place is with your husband. Go to Texas with him. God will take care of me."

So Mom and Dad headed for Houston on a Sunday afternoon in December, 1959. That tearfully parting is forever etched in my memory. I see Grandma standing by the gate, leaning on her two crutches as she watches us drive away. Dad's back injury is so painful that we have made a bed for him in the back seat of the Buick so he can lie down. Mother is driving and depending on me to help with the younger children.  I am only twelve years old but I am the oldest so I must carry my share of the load. I can only imagine the things Mom and Dad talked about late into the night as they prepared to make the biggest move of their lives not knowing what the future might hold.

There's more. In the years ahead Mom and Dad would suffer as two of their children endured the trauma of divorce and all that entails. Dad would undergo two open heart surgeries and suffer from fibrosis of the lungs. Mother's hearing loss, first experienced when she was barely thirty years old, would continue to deteriorate until she could barely hear at all. Because of the fibrosis Dad could only speak in a whisper. They had always talked about everything but now Daddy couldn't talk above a whisper and Momma couldn't hear so they gave up talking for touching. Anytime Momma was within reach Daddy reached out to touch her and she was always caring for him. Truly theirs was a marriage for the ages and an inspiration for those of us who are following in their steps.

When I come to the end of my life I want to have a marriage like that, I want to be more in love with Brenda than ever before. But it won't just happen. A marriage like that is almost always the culmination of a lifelong series of smaller, daily decisions. And as such, it challenges each of us to examine the choices we make each day and the way we relate to each other.

Richard Exley Ministry
PO Box 54744
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74155
(918) 459-5434
www.RichardExleyMinistries.org

Category: Marriage

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With Pen in Hand
Posted on March 15, 2007

Like a silver ribbon disappearing into the darkness the highway stretches before me, deserted at this late hour. Beside me Brenda is asleep, her head resting against the widow on the passenger side of the car. Driving with one hand on the steering wheel, I fiddle with the radio dial, searching for a station. What I find is mostly static, not an uncommon occurrence in this remote region of Southeastern Colorado. Finally I locate a 50,000 watt clear channel out of New Orleans and I settle back to enjoy the music and the DJ’s late night patter.

The highway is straight and I push my 1968 Dodge RT past 90. It’s dumb, I know, but I am only twenty-two years old and I feel immortal. Brenda and I have been visiting family and we are returning to Holly, Colorado, where we serve a small congregation.  With Sunday less than forty-eight hours away I try to focus on my sermon but my mind keeps wandering. I catch myself humming along when the DJ spins a familiar tune – Glen Campbell singing “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or Johnny Cash belting out “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Beneath the music I hear the whir of the tires on the blacktop and the rush of the wind past the windows. Unconsciously I tap my fingers on the steering wheel, keeping time with the music. The song ends and the DJ’s voice intrudes on my thoughts. After some nonsensical patter and a weather update he says, “Here’s a new release from Vikki Carr, recorded live at the Persian Room.” Almost as an afterthought he adds, “You might want to get a tissue. This one’s a real tearjerker.”

Category: Marriage

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