Friday, February 11, 2011
“You will live three months--not more than a year.” My bride was just learning to live at twenty and the doctors said she was ready to die. Their cautious words exploded all hopes of the baseball team she wanted to raise and left no hope for a normal marriage and family.
I was a lowly Air Force Corporal awaiting reassignment from Tech School. We spent my furlough in Oklahoma, a place I had never been, and reported for duty at Kelly AFB, San Antonio. She was still recuperating from emergency surgery with Pete Lamey in Anderson and we knew her health was fragile, so she continued her post-surgery care.
One day she boarded San Antonio transit and headed for Fort Sam Houston on the north edge of the city. I had no permission to accompany her so she went solo and passed out en route. The bus driver fortunately remembered her from a previous trip and delivered her to the right building in a semi-conscious condition.
When her doctor, Captain Vann, called in his superior, the Colonel called my Langley Field Wing Headquarters and requested immediate discharge for me. “We call men home from overseas for less than this! He said, “Cancer in the last stages.” This was her introduction to her diagnosis.
Captain Vann also demanded to know where I was and why I did not accompany her. When she told him I had been refused permission, he called my CO and chewed on him, an AF B25 pilot named G. I. Poole. Demanding to know why I had not accompanied my sick wife, he learned I had been shipped overseas “a week ago.”
When Captain Vann asked why she had not told him I was gone, she informed him that she had breakfast with me at home that morning. It turned out that I was AWOL--unbeknownst to me--lost in AF bureaucracy. They thought they had shipped me, yet I was working everyday as a temporary clerk typist, awaiting shipment to Japan.
Meantime, Tommie was told the most humane thing she could do was go to the Cancer Institute in Chicago. They would take good care of her as long as necessary and would provide work for me.
We had moved onto the Highland Park Church Campus, in rooms vacated by Sister McNeil, a pioneer pastor’s wife. We were right off the back door of the parsonage occupied by Robert and Alta Bowden. Although we had planned to enter pastoral ministry, it had not occurred to us to ask “Brother B” for special prayers. We did pray ourselves, and Tommie’s prayer was very simple: “God, if my life is to be taken, I’m ready. But if you have yet a task for me to do, with your strength, I’ll do it. Just please stop the pain.”
We tied a knot in our prayer rope and held on for all we were worth, probably not realizing the full impact of what we were doing. When my discharge arrived, we boarded a Greyhound bus headed for South Haven, MI. Somehow, we failed to stop in Chicago, choosing rather to cling to a murky faith that held us through five miscarriages, including the loss of twins, and saw me graduate from Pacific Bible College in 1951.
Six weeks prior to graduation, Tommie delivered a 5# 2 oz preemie that seemed normal at the time. Later we learned of complications related to her mother’s health The morning after her delivery, the top gun at Portland San came to see her. This kindly old Adventist doctor seated himself on her bed and gently informed her, “I just want you to know, this baby is God’s gift to you.”
Earlier, her pediatrician requested the privilege of examining her with some other doctors--16 in total. Afterward, she learned they could see where she had had cancer (and he showed her), but the examination revealed she was cancer free--almost four years after her death warrant and my discharge.
Bible College in Portland introduced us to 45 years in pastoral ministry (1951-1996) mentored by the likes of A. F. Gray, O. F. Linn, D. S. Warner Monroe, Irene Caldwell, et al. Our second child (D. S. Warner) arrived in 1952 in San Angelo, TX, the Wool Capital.
By the time we had been married 39 years and had given up hopes of grandchildren, we had a grandson, Dakota Scott W_ now preparing himself for some kind of Ministry. A Second grandson, Austin James, followed Kody, and they now bless our lives.
We have now been retired more than 14 years, 6 of which I spent driving up and down the State of Michigan preaching in UM Churches, and others, working with Michigan Interfaith Council on Alcohol Problems (Micap). The past 10 years I have been a volunteer at Reformation Publishers of Prestonsburg, KY serving as Archivist, Editor, Author, Customer Service Rep, and you name it.
When Wednesday arrived this week at 43 New England Avenue, we celebrated it as a day that we were never supposed to see--64 years together. It is a record these days. It didn’t come easily. In fact, there were days we were nearer failure than success, but we survived. I have been the caregiver since June 2005, when I lost her several times, according to Dr. John Bradley, then in ER at BC Health Systems.
I haven’t yet forgotten that summer of 1964 when I prepared the children for the loss of their mother after her first heart attack (and other complications). That was the year she knitted 27 sweaters in excruciating pain, trying to avoid the loss of her hands from Rheumatoid Arthritis (She succeeded too, with a lot of tears!)
It was bitterly cold the day we married in St. Louis, MO, 2-9-47. February 9, 2011 was impossibility for us, according to the doctors, but then they do not know everything. V. Ray Edmans, former Wheaton Chancellor wrote a small book called But God. The lesson seems to be “But God!” Things that remain impossible with people are, nonetheless, still possible with God.
From Warner’s World, (The top picture shows us ten years into ministry; at bottom we are at home, New England Avenue) ...