This Friday marks 39 years since I stood with Linda Kankey in front of family and friends at Faith Baptist Church in Andover, Kansas as we took vows of marriage. We decided it would be meaningful to memorize the vows and declare them directly to each other without repeating the words after Pastor Bill Atkinson.
When it was time, I went first with the traditional King James Version language: “I Tom, take thee, Linda, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, to love and to cherish ‘till death do us part [or was it “for as long as we both shall live?” we’ll have to listen to the tape again] and thereto I pledge thee my faith.” Linda said her vows to me and we were married. We took off in our 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass for Garden City, Kansas on the way to Colorado Springs.
I’m not sure when it was brought to my attention that I had omitted a section in the vows. Did you notice? I left out “in sickness and in health.” It wasn’t intentional. We had no prenuptial agreement that if she gets sick, I’m out. The omission had no impact whatsoever in our seriousness about the vows we took that we were in this for life. But even with that assurance, I still privately repeated the vows to her including the missing words.
Thirty nine years later, “in sickness and in health” has been experienced in little ways hundreds of times; influenza, colds, five pregnancies, four babies, kidney stones, knee surgeries, cellulitis. Linda has stood by me in various little health issues more than I’ve been called on to help her; but nothing so serious that it wasn’t resolved with surgery, antibiotics, and time; testimony to the amazing divine creation of the human body.
But that all changed on Wednesday afternoon, March 23. I had gone home for an afternoon break in a day that started at 6:20 a.m. and would end at about 9:30 p.m. I was asleep when the phone rang. I ignored it while someone else picked it up downstairs. A few minutes later, Linda walked into our room. The breast biopsy she had undergone two days earlier was positive for cancer.
The next step was to see the surgeon. Dr. Sarah Longmire-Cook was very kind and thorough in her explanation. The diagnosis was non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), stage zero, that is, no indication of any spread, the best possible diagnosis. The protocol would be a lumpectomy followed with radiation, but virtually 100% curable.
So, we started down the necessary path; surgery on April 18; margins not quite adequate; more surgery on May 9 to improve the margins; two days later the lab results show it is still not adequate, cancer cells still present; Next, a mastectomy on June 10, waiting for lab results, weeks of recovery, trusting God for healing.
This is more than we expected. Is this going to take care of it? Dr. Longmire-Cook assures us the prognosis has not changed, still stage zero, still confident in a complete cure, and radiation will not be necessary. But the extra steps have made us more nervous.
“In Sickness and in health” – Acknowledging all the stresses of marriage; two sinners living together stirs up plenty of complications. Add financial challenges, four children, four pastorates, plus the daily complexity of life and you have a recipe for lots of problems. But by God’s grace, vows taken on June 3, 1972 that included better or worse, richer or poorer, and yes, sickness or health; and all of it surrounded by “to love and to cherish;” is a sacred covenant that stands until the day God takes one of us into His presence.
Thank you, God, for a faithful wife, for the covenant of marriage, for 39 years and counting. And maybe we’ll actually take that 25th Anniversary trip next year for our 40th.
Oh, by the way, I don’t recommend trying to memorize your vows. You might forget something important.