It was sometime during my Junior year of high school when I first interacted with him. We were in the choir together. I couldn’t figure out why he was in the choir. He was one of those boys (pictured here in the middle at his graduation with his two older brothers) who stood out in front of the school in the mornings and smoked. And he had a reputation for being a thug who stole things from people. Choir was for good kids who didn’t skip school and were “clean cut.”
I was the choir secretary that year and class met during home room, which meant I received absentee notes to send to the school office. He sauntered in with his long, blonde hair and those purple tye-dyed jeans. I didn’t hang around with “guys like him” but I had to admit he had a great smile. When he handed me the note from his mom for his absence the day before, I chuckled.
“So you know Cathy, huh?” I smirked.
“This note was written by her; she sits next to me in history.” What mom dotted her i’s with little bubbles, anyway?
He flashed me that smile and we still disagree on what I did with the note. I say I marked his absence unexcused and he says the smile worked.
Well, if it didn’t work then it worked later. Some months later our choir director took us on a camping and spelunking trip to Franklin, West Virginia. It was on that trip that I learned Mr Tye-Dyed jeans was a sweet and kind former thug who seemed to want to see his life changed. Then he wrecked my car by hitting a 66-passenger school bus and I thought the little spark between us would go nowhere when my parents found out. Instead, his apology and offer to help Dad fix the car turned into dinner and Mom commenting to me later that he seemed sweet. Mom always had a special place in her heart for “naughty” kids.
But God was at work. A few months later he was radically converted during a revival that swept through our high school. When he started coming with me to the little Baptist Church my family attended that met in the elementary school in his neighborhood, a lady warned my mother about him, because he had robbed her house at some point a couple of years prior. Mom waited for years to mention this to me. Seems she told the lady to kindly mind her own business since, after all, God does change people. Wow. He went on to start a vibrant youth ministry that affected lots of people, including me. God’s redemptive grace and sense of humor were on full display.
40 Valentines Days, 38 anniversaries, 7 children and 11 grandchildren later, his smile still makes my heart squeeze. Mom was right. God does change people. The punk who used to steal and fight and skip school became a studious pastor who has given his life to care for God’s people for decades.
We’ve had rough times over the years. There have been numerous times I’ve had to remind myself that God doesn’t always think change needs to happen in the areas I think are important. And something really important hasn’t changed. He still loves me.
Benny, thank you for your patience with me when I’m not lovable. For welcoming more children than you thought was ideal (and adoring all the little people that wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t); teaching your family by your example and sacrifice to serve and prize God’s church; instilling into our children a love for truth; modeling humility during some really tough seasons when you wanted to give up; and loving me through it all. I am a rich woman because of you.
Happy Valentines Day to a still-cute blonde who I love getting old with. I pray we have many more years together to fall deeper in love…and to welcome more little people into our crazy life and family. Your legacy is one I love seeing pass to yet another generation.
I love you!