It was on this day in 1974, exactly 42 years ago, that two 18-year-olds married in a very simple and modest wedding ceremony held at the bride’s home in Hope, Arkansas. That bride was my wife, Janet.
We took a brief honeymoon trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in a borrowed car and then settled into our first home, a tiny duplex apartment on Caddo Street in Arkadelphia, where I was a student at Ouachita Baptist University. We shared the apartment with another OBU couple and paid $40 a month, which seemed overpriced at the time! It had been built in the early ‘20s and it’s still standing---and so is our marriage.
God blessed us with three children. We lost a child between our firstborn and second child, but all three are miracles indeed. That’s because during our first year of marriage, Janet developed symptoms that for months were diagnosed as “a textbook case of slipped disc” until it was determined to be something far more serious—a cancerous tumor in the canal of her spine. The initial prognosis for her cancer was not good. “Unlikely to be treatable or operable, and if so, will render her a paraplegic.” That was the best we were told to hope for. I watched her soldier through surgery followed by weeks of brutal radiation therapy that we were told would leave her unable to bear the children we would ultimately have. Then I stood by her as she regained her ability to walk again, step by step.
Life hasn’t been easy, nor is it supposed to be. She has put up with the intrusions experienced from a very public life of ministry, politics, and media exposure. When I first ran for office and lost (after putting in our retirement funds, the equity in our house, and all our savings), she took a job working overnights at the local hospital to help pay the bills until we could get back on our feet. Many of our “friends” abandoned us, but she never flinched nor wavered in her support. She later would become the First Lady of Arkansas, and she threw herself fully into a job that came without a dime of compensation but with lots of criticism and ridicule. She handled it with dignity and class.
She went back to college in her 40s, completed her degree and even served on the board of the school from which she had graduated. She built houses for those without homes in her role working with Habitat for Humanity. She has literally traveled the world to physically drive nails and saw boards, all to give to total strangers something we were always blessed to have—a roof over our heads.
She has endured not only vicious criticism of me, but of herself and her family in the nearly 30 years of political life I’ve pulled her into.
After all these years, we are still together, now enjoying the five delightful grandchildren that God made possible through our union.
Marriage is never easy. It’s hard work. It’s not always fun, and there are tough times along with the good. But marriage teaches us to love unconditionally and sacrificially, and she has more than met that challenge.
On the date of our wedding 42 years later, I’m still glad I said “I do.” I’m even more glad she said it, too. And she still says it, every day, with the way she lives and loves.