Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Forty years today. . .and more

Forty years ago today, I married Brenda Erwin.

Hard to believe so much time has passed by so quickly. It feels more like 15 years. She likely would tell you something different!

We met in Sunday School around 1958--second grade scene. For years she didn't think much of me. By the time we were freshmen in high school we were "going together"--not sure where since neither of us could drive until over a year later! We dated all through high school. We attended Richardson High School back when it was the only show in town. She was involved in the drill team. I played football. Our senior year the Eagles made the football playoffs and advanced to the semi-final round where we were soundly trounced by Abilene Cooper. Exciting times, indeed.

After high school, I followed Brenda to Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas. Yes, I had a football scholarship there, but I had other options along those lines, including Tulane University. I went to Harding for one reason and one reason only: she was going there.

We were married at the ripe old age of 19! Harding had that affect on lots of young lovers! No need to go further on that one. I have to thank her for leading me to Harding. In spite of its "issues" (theological, social and political), I received a great liberal arts education, even if by reaction formation, and was set on the path that leads to where I am today.

We had final exams that didn't wrap up until Saturday noon at the end of that first year in college. After exams, we drove back to Dallas, had a rehearsal dinner and wedding walk-through on Sunday evening. Our wedding was on a Monday night. Ever hear of anything that weird before? We chose Monday because we both had jobs starting the following week.

We honeymooned in romantic Galveston! Of course, we were broke! But, it didn't seem to matter at all. She should have known what she was in for when we found time for an Astros baseball game on this first week together (Astros-Pirates, as I recall--our first big league game)!

I'm sure many people thought we'd never make it. Nineteen-years-old, three more years of college, so young. You know the conventional wisdom.

But, we did make it. And, I'd give her most of the credit. Brenda has sacrificed a lot to live with me all these years. I remember well our first apartment on the campus at Harding College: $55 a month, including utilities. The place was a perfect square divided evenly among four rooms. Our bathroom was the same size as the living room and the bedroom and kitchen were identical to the other two rooms. We used masking tape to keep our refrigerator closed!

When we married, I was a history major headed for public education and coaching or, more likely, law school. By the time undergraduate school was over, she found herself the wife of a minister! No easy assignment to say the least.

Through all of our travels and travails, Brenda provided the support I needed to do my work, to be a dad and to find my way through the maze of life. Ask her, it wasn't easy. And, I know that she gave up many of her own dreams and desires to help me with mine and with those that became ours.

Our "first church" was out in the woods north of Searcy on the highway to Pangburn and Heber Springs. The church members literally appeared on Sundays at a building surrounded by forest. Soybean farmers and common laborers, the people were great, funny and loving. We worked with these good folks during our last two years in college. One of the high honors of our life came when they offered to supply us a mobile home and a free piece of land if we would stay on with them after college. We think of them often.

Then, we were off to Memphis, Tennessee (for a year of study and an MA); Shreveport, Louisiana (two years and forty-five minutes with a church--long story, plenty of racism! I had worked as Youth Minister in the summer after my sophomore year in college at this church; we livedin a rent house deep in the "hood" next door to drug dealers; our house had holes in the floor; I remember Brenda crying when she first saw the place, er, dump!--what was I thinking???); New Orleans (five years with Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ and an MDiv from seminary and an MA from Tulane--finally made it to Tulane! This church and the city were amazing and wonderful, worthy of a future post. . .) and then, back home to Richardson where we served our home congregation for 14 years. All along the way, Brenda worked hard, served well with great patience, class and grace, no matter how hard it was for her.

Then, in 1994, I received the invitation from my dear friend, Jim Sowell, to come to Central Dallas Ministries (known as Central Dallas Food Pantry back then). That move was "over the top" compared to all of our other ones. We had no plans to ever leave the church, but this offer was intriguing to say the least.

I struggled to decide--lots of factors.

In the end it was Brenda who pushed me over the edge to take the very uncertain offer. She looked across the den one night as I was in a fit of agony and said very simply, "If you really believe all the stuff you've been saying for years, you don't have a choice, do you? Take the job!"

So, I did.

We started at CDM in 1994, moved to the neighborhood in 1999 and are still at it today. She left her all-time favorite house in Richardson where our two girls grew up because I wanted to be in the community. For the last decade she has driven to her job in Richardson, about a 35 mile round trip every day. I drive all over the city, but my office is about 5 blocks from my driveway here in East Dallas. The drive is hard enough, but it points up her commitment to me.

Brenda has been an all-star mom! Her imprint on our children is very clear. Jennifer and Joanna have brought us great joy beyond my ability to really describe. Included in that joy are two great sons-in-law, Brandon Toombs and Jordan Frazer (don't tell them I said this!). And, of course, the best ever: Gracie, Wyatt and Owen, our three grandchildren!

Brenda is the ultimate granny to these three little ones. She loves them more than life and they love her back big time!

There is so much to say, to tell, to recall.

We've enjoyed our conflicts! We've worked hard at not going to sleep angry. We've laughed an awful lot.

She has been a loyal, faithful and supportive partner to me in ways that I am not sure I could have matched had the roles been reversed. I wish I had the time to tell and to recall all of the stories!

I am extremely grateful for her. She wrote the book on consistency, commitment and real, down-to-earth love. I've never had a better friend. I've always wished to be as fine and good a person as she has always been.

Forty years. Two-thirds of our almost 60 years spent together.

Happy anniversary, sweet Brenda. I love you.



Dean Smith said...

Happy anniversary, Larry and Brenda! You are an inspiration to all of us.

Jeremy Gregg said...

Larry, you are one lucky dog. And here I am nearly crying as I am reading this! You guys are an inspiration to me and Natalie as we work on our own marriage and family.

Many blessings to you for forty more years!

rcorum said...

That is one of the best tributes to a wife I have ever read. I knew all along that you couldn't be as passionate about your work without a great wife. You are such a gifted writer. If you don't write a book someday it will be a shame. Happy Anniversery.

Anonymous said...

What a powerful testimony.

Jarie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jarie said...

Happy Anniversary Larry and Brenda! What a lovely tribute, I am wiping tears from my eyes as I type this. Thank you for allowing us to walk down memory lane with you and be inspired along the way.

Johnice said...

Larry, you know I love you and Brenda and your family so much. Happy Anniversary. Also, just want you to know we have been paying Brenda under the table for the last few years to stay with you (joking)!!!

Anonymous said...

Neat story. Thanks for sharing. May God grant you many more years together.

Waymon Hinson and Steve Wing said...

That was an awesome post, Larry, about your wife, anniversary, and adventures. It was personally very, very moving.