Today marks the day 17 years ago when Charity walked down an aisle at a small South Dakotan church and agreed to marry me. What on earth was she thinking? We both knew we were kind of signing up for a life of unknowns and we took things in stride. A missionary call. A college education to finish. Failing eyesight that would lead to blindness. Zero experience in marriage, ministry, or education. We bit the bullet and went for it.
These last 17 years have taken us to Savannah, GA, the Philippines, Northern Mariana Islands, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nepal, and Pittsburgh. Some transitions were planned. Most were not. The strand that runs through all of these years is God’s faithfulness to us and our attempts to really hear His voice and follow Him wherever He leads us. As we have gotten older pioneering new ministry and starting over in each context gets a little tougher. There are days we sort of wish we were not pioneers and God would ask us to roll into town with a nice and tidy established ministry where we wouldn’t have to make things up as we go. To date, we have never been given that assignment so we did our heels in the ground and do the best with what we have been given.
Charity has taught me what it really means to thrive in situations that are less than ideal. I remember several years ago when we lived in Minneapolis and she went to a library alone. We lived in a rough patch and some guy started yelling at her and chasing her as she approached her car. She jumped in the driver’s seat and sped away. Once she found out she was pregnant in Nepal, it was never a question of whether she would have Amos in Nepal under Nepali doctor supervision. She has watched me go full circle with my eyesight. We met and I was extremely independent, showing few signs that my vision was fading fast. The disease sucked my sight away and Charity got the brunt of my frustration, demands to complete tasks, and a bantering of excuses on why I couldn’t do things. She never suggested I get help, go to blindness training school, or anything of the sort. From independence, to dependence back to independence again – she has never complained once as I’ve made those adaptations to sight loss. She continues to thrive in less than good circumstances.
Somehow, this marriage though, has produced something in us that pushes us to do things that we would not be capable of without each other. Christ plus each other allows us to play at a level that seems impossible at times. So I go to blindness training school and obtain the independence I need. We transition in ministry and start over. We learn Nepali or move into dangerous neighborhoods because it is the most Kingdom-centered thing to do. We apologize to each other all the time. We tell each other how much we love one another every day. And man, sometimes it still doesn’t feel like that is enough. You question if you are normal, if you’ve made the right decision. . . . you even question if you drive your spouse absolutely crazy or if he/she could do better. This is the vicious cycle and tension of loving and living together in marriage in an urban ministry context.
So here we are today, 17 years in, starting afresh. We have both learned so much and are thankful for the sacrifices that we try to make for one another. This girl’s laugh is contagious. Her smile lights up the room. Her smart and sarcastic comments are way funnier than mine because they are so infrequent. Her insecurities and struggles – all of these things have made the last 17 years the most Godward journey I could have ever imagined. Often not easy, sometimes not fun, occasionally downright painful. But day in and day out Charity shows me what it means to love. She shows me what it means to serve Christ in the city. She teaches me how to raise this boy in the midst of people’s lives changing dramatically all around us.
So if you have someone out there who has lived in 4 different countries, walked with their spouse through blindness, learned another language, lived in pretty dangerous places for the sake of Christ, opened up their home night and day, taken the back seat to allow others to have more prominent roles in ministry, constantly been questioned on her devotion to ministry or Nepali language skills because she is not as charismatic as me, always sending text or encouragement to those going through tough times, is stunningly beautiful, can throw everyone off by her sarcastic humor, or surprise you by her unexpected tenacity. . . . if you find someone like that, you better not mess anything up.
Cheers to these 17 years of marriage and mission. We be having a party today! Good food, time together, and grandpa to take the boy for a while. Thanks for being part of the journey with us.