It was a simple affair. No formal invitations. No huge bridal party. Just an announcement after the Sunday morning church service that John McFarland and Genny Cheek were getting married. Anyone who wanted to stay for the wedding was welcome.
That September 12th in 1965 forever changed the course of one man and one woman’s lives. That day they had no idea the joy their decision could bring. Or the heartache. But they said “I do” while a church filled with Sunday morning worshipers and a few friends and family looked on.
Today, the thought of a twenty-three and a twenty-one year old tying the knot would bring accusations of pregnancy or craziness. But in the ’60s, those ages didn’t raise any eyebrows. John was still in college studying to become a doctor. Genny wanted to pursue a career as a beautician. Neither would see their goals realized.
John felt God’s tap on his shoulder and after graduation continued his studies, but this time in seminary to become a pastor. That meant Genny would forego her schooling to get a clerical job to help pay the bills.
And two years later, their little family of two grew to a little family of three. Genny had wanted a child. Had prayed for God to give her this one thing. And he said yes.
They moved to a small, inner-city church and began their ministry. They loved God and were just head strong enough to commit to wanting to change the world. And many times, that iron sharpening iron that the Bible talks about caused intense sparks. But they stayed together.
John went on to pursue his doctorate, while Genny continued to work. Then later, Genny went to school to become a nurse and then a licensed therapist. And they continued to love God, serve the church, and mature.
Now retired—“happily,” as Genny states—they’ve enter a new season of life. Still together, still sharpening iron, still laughing and sharing their lives together.
John and Genny are my parents, and today they celebrate fifty years together. Not all good. Not all bad. Growing and stretching and challenging, to be sure, as all marriages are. Some days were filled with tears (when John was diagnosed with cancer and years later when Genny faced open heart surgery) and others filled with laughter.
I’m grateful to celebrate a couple’s commitment of fifty years together. I’m twice as blessed that the couple are my parents. I remember when I was in school, as other kids’ parents broke up and mine stayed together, I felt guilty, as though my good fortune was something to be ashamed of. I no longer feel that way. Every day I’m grateful that my parents chose to stick it out—sometimes when everything within them screamed to quit.
Why did they stay together? Because they made a vow. Marriage isn’t easy. But every day they take each other’s hands and declare, “A vow is a vow.” But more, I think it’s because they trust God’s plan for marriage. They don’t always understand it; they don’t really need to.
I look at my own marriage and in the times I want to quit, to run away, to be “free,” I think of my parents’ relationship and how they dug in their heels. I don’t look at their easy times—anyone can stay married when it’s easy. I look at the roughest times, when they don’t like each other and still trust God and stick it out. It’s to those times that I seek strength for my own commitment. And I inhale deeply, sigh loudly, and dig in my own heels. I can do this thing called marriage, because I’ve seen others forge ahead.
We need people in our lives who can show us how to “do” marriage—all of it, the fun times and the messiest of the messy ones. The best models? The ones who have been married forever. I’d say fifty years counts.
So thank you, John and Genny, Mom and Dad, for modeling commitment—not when it was easy, but when it was hard. Thank you for teaching me through your lives what true love looks like. I’ve learned more from watching your marriage than I could have ever learned from any other source.
Happy Golden Anniversary. I love you.
P.S. I didn’t get you a card.