Anyone who views my Facebook page will know that I have a hobby fascination with trains. My first encounter with a steam engine occurred at 7th and Penn Street, the main drag through Reading, PA. I was about six years old at the time. That engine was a Reading class G1sa Pacific built at the Reading shops from 1916-1922. Baldwin built another five in 1925 with 74″ drivers, the same as the Reading shop. I’m not sure which version it was that day, but those driving wheels were humongous at my age. While it was breathing steam, it was as if it was breathing fire. I was hooked on trains.
It was likely the following Christmas that the proverbial Santa Claus delivered a Lionel set down our chimney. During my teen years and college, trains were overshadowed by planes as I had my first flight on a four-engine commercial flight. At eighteen, I took my first (and last for another 12-15 years) flight lesson in a Piper Cub J-3.
At twenty-three, with a college degree in hand, Pam and I joined hands and life for what on September 01 will be sixty years. We embarked on not only our marriage journey but also our ministry journey. Life was full of seminary and youth ministry. For every paper for seminary, Pam typed two. One for me and one for my friend. Obviously, he was not married. Summers were filled with painting houses, coaching, and playing fast pitch softball with my teens. We planned retreats from scuba diving to skiing and Bible study. Trains and flying hobbies were dormant. Our hobby was our youth, and we did it all as a team.
Pam covered the discipleship of the girls. I taught the Scriptures and discipled the guys. We coached and counseled together and separately. We cried with some. We encouraged them often and confronted them when needed; she and I prayed together with them and for them.
At age 29, my world changed again, and I had a new “hobby” to learn how to engage. It is called parenting. I had no experience with children being an only child and growing up on an isolated farm. Pam became my mentor. Oh, I knew what the Bible taught (Deut. 6:1-10), and I had child psychology in college but no personal knowledge. My sweet wife taught me. For example, the first time to hold Tammy, Pam smiled and said, “Honey, she is not a China doll; she will not break, relax, and enjoy your baby girl.” Thank God, He gave me the sense to be teachable.
At age 31, I became a senior pastor of a church plant. Pam did a public speech minor at Bob Jones University. From her pew, she would signal to me when I needed to pick up the volume. On the way home from church or over lunch, she would sometimes remind me, “You not lecturing in a seminary class. Bring it down a few notches.” Again, the Lord reminded me that she was my helpmate, which was part of her role.
The first Sunday lunch after we combined households with my parents, my mother cooked Sunday dinner and had it on the table when we walked in from church. She had “invaded” my wife’s new kitchen. Pam was quiet through lunch. Later I came up from behind her, wrapped my arms around her, and whispered in her ear. “Babe, please understand you have just experienced my mother’s sweet, helpful spirit. She has no designs on taking over your beautiful new kitchen.” She was very still and quiet for what seemed like an eternity, then she relaxed and said, “Yes, I should know that. Thank you.”
During this stage of life, I had the opportunity to fly for about three years and logged 100 hours in my flight book. My friend, Bill, pushed me to solo. I decided not to do so because I did not have the funds to fly often enough to become and stay proficient. Sometimes we need to let a hobby go for the benefit of our spouse and family. It was fun while it lasted. One fond memory was the day I flew around the Lady on Ellis Island and looked her in the eye from about 100 feet (that predated the towers). Today it would bring scrambled warriors all over me.
Our son, David, arrived nine months before we moved into this new house with my folks. The next seven years were filled with many happy experiences and some very stressful experiences. After five years, there was the death of my mother, followed by the realization that Pop was developing Alzheimer’s disease. I got involved in a doctoral program and did some college teaching alongside being a senior pastor. I transitioned from the pastorate to working in Philadelphia (a 45-minute drive) at the counseling center. Many demands fell onto Pam’s shoulders. Lots of opportunities for misunderstandings on both sides of the relationship. While we both felt those tensions, our daily walk with the Lord informed our emotions, enabling us to walk with one another in a forgiving spirit.
Several years later, Dr. Jim Baird and Granada Presbyterian Church extended a call for me to initiate a counseling ministry at the church in Coral Gables, FL. While a stressful process to get there, those four years were the best years of our children’s growing up. Pop was still with us, and his condition continued to descend into non-functionality. Many of the horror stories you read about the disease were our experiences. They provided many opportunities to practice our communication skills for Pam, me, and the children. After three years in Miami, Pop died. David’s comment summarizes things well: “Mom, I loved Pop-pop, and now he is gone.”
A year after Pop’s death, we were on the move again. Long story, suffice it to say, the best part was I was given a scholarship for a sabbatical. We were off to UGA for a year, and our roles changed. We loaded two U-Hall trucks, mine with a trailer behind it and Pam touring a car. Pam went to work, and I went back to school. Tammy had been accepted to UGA about a month before I was accepted. She got to do her first year in college, living at home and riding with Dad. Again, opportunities for personal skill development in communication, caring, patience, and …
Other stressful occasions that Pam and I have walked together have been the building of four houses, having multiple different folks live with us for months at a time, and approximately fifteen overseas mission trips, the last of which was a six-week tour living in someone else’s home dog sitting and pastoring the church. This last trip, at age 78/76, included driving on the “wrong side of the road” and weekly trips of five hours out and five hours back.
I retired at 78 and became self-employed in counseling, writing, supervising counselors, and writing. And, finally, the opportunity to return to my trains and build an extensive layout. Over the years, Pam has joined me on antique train rides and an occasional train show—but not able to talk her over the line to become a modeler.
Why am I writing this personal narrative in which there could be much more detail? My goal is to highlight the importance of a personal relationship with Christ, the importance of a common biblical value system, the importance of the multiple life instructions that God has provided for us in His word, and to give, to some extent, a vivid testimony over 60 years of marriage of the wonder of a marriage rooted in the God of the Universe.
To God be glory for the great things He has done!