This article is the fifth in an occasional online series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, "Young adults want to know that it's possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it." It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
Richard Wade, 71, confessed his marriage would not have lasted 52 years if he had not become a Christian.
He and his wife, Donna, celebrated their wedding anniversary on Sept. 10, but Richard, a retired Baptist minister now serving as interim pastor at a church in the eastern North Carolina community of Harrells, said he was the reason their marriage would have fallen apart: “I know me. We wouldn’t have made it, and it would have been my fault. I’ll admit it.”
Richard joined the Marines when he was 18, and he often spent weekends hitchhiking more than 500 miles from his base at Cherry Point, N.C., to rural Mingo Junction, Ohio, just to see Donna briefly before hitchhiking his way back. They married a year later, and Donna joined him in North Carolina. Richard, a Vietnam veteran, is blunt about his sinfulness before God saved him, including his selfishness and his drinking when he was with other Marines.
“If I’d a-died during those years, I’d a-gone straight to hell.”
They lived 12 difficult years together before Richard became a believer. During that time, Donna felt she was just someone to cook, clean, and take care of their son and three daughters. But she didn’t stop loving Richard or praying for him. She asked God to “keep him safe, keep him out of trouble, and bring him back home to me.”
Occasionally, Donna toyed with the thought of getting a job and leaving with their kids, but she “just stuck it out” and kept praying for God to change Richard. God did that through the persistence of their neighbor, a “walking, talking Bible lady,” Nancy de Jarnette, who quoted entire passages from the Gospel of John while Richard did yard work. “The Word of God just convicted me of my terrible state,” he recalled.
Richard said their marriage didn’t really begin until after his conversion: “I became a new person. It changed me entirely. It changed our life. I saw my wife in a completely different light. I loved her in a way I didn’t before [Christ].” Donna saw the difference. She felt valued and treated as a helpmate.
Since then the Wades have spent 40 years living as “one together.” Now, when Richard performs weddings, he wants to make sure the prospective bride and groom both profess Christ, because “marriage outside of being saved is really not a marriage, it’s a contract. It’s a covenant when you are saved. A contract can be broken. A covenant can’t.”