AN UNCOMPLICATED ROMANCE
Theirs has never been a complicated love story.
She was a city girl, straight from the bright lights of Milwaukie, Oregon. He was a country boy, raised amidst the moonlit hay fields of Enterprise.
She got a summer job working at the Wallowa Lake Lodge. A chance to earn some dough and play the tourist, too. His mama, a cook at the lodge, arranged for him to take the city chick horseback riding on the family farm. The car wreck was something nobody planned on.
The family joke is that, in retaliation, the city gal demanded that the country boy marry her, otherwise, "She'd sue his pants off."
That's probably not at all how the wedding came about, but that's the story my husband recounts when he's asked how his parents hooked up.
Gene and Gwen Zacharias have been married 50 years. On a Sunday soon family and friends will gather at the First Baptist Church in Haines and witness these two renew their vows. Some of us missed it the first time around. Gene pastors the people of the church. Gwen teaches their children, and sings a hymn of praise from the pulpit now and then.
They entered the ministry decades ago. The call came when Gene was a student at Judson Baptist College, atop Portland's Rocky Butte.
After two years of intense training, Gene and Gwen left for the mission field in Lemoncocha, in the eastern jungles of Ecuador.
There Gene taught the natives how to breed and raise cows in a tropical region. Gwen ran the commissary and served as the literacy support person, printing and binding materials for educational purposes. And tended to her own two children and the baby-in-the-making.
It's likely they'd be there yet, had it not been for that nasty viral infection that settled in Gene's respiratory system and forced them to return to a dry climate for health's sake.
Like most any 10-year-old, my husband, Tim, loved the jungle life. Reading by flashlight under the covers. His pet monkey, Judy. The channel catfish they caught. The lizards they ate. The avocado branch that served as their Christmas tree. Showering in the warm rain storms. Hunting with the blow gun.
He never worried about his parents divorcing. Not one single day or night of his entire life. Gene and Gwen found the grace to hold fast to the covenant they made with each other. Not perfectly, mind you, but, yet, they managed.
Tim's favorite memory of growing up doesn't involve any sort of material gifts at all Â— no shiny red bikes, no surround-sound stereos, no souped-up pick-up. What Tim cherishes most was his parents' nightly routine: "I'd lie in my bed and hear my parents across the hall in their room Â— praying."
Throughout their marriage, Gene and Gwen have been devoted to serving others and to serving each other. Recently, Gene asked his bride of 50 years what could he do to bless her each day?
"Help with the dishes after supper," she suggested.
Should you ever be fortunate enough to dine at the parsonage of the First Baptist Church in Haines, you'll likely find Pastor Gene with his Bible in one hand and a dish rag in the other, because while praying together is good, creating a life-long marriage means working together, too. The way Gene and Gwen Zacharias continually strive to do.
Theirs is not a complicated love story, but the tenderness is as real today as it was 50 years ago when a curly-haired city girl swept a country boy off his boots without so much as a rope.
Just a tearful smile and earnest promise of "I do" and "I will."