Today, August 17, 2021, is our 58th wedding anniversary! As I look back it just doesn’t seem possible it’s been 58 years since twenty-year-olds Jim
Stephens and Jean Storey got married in Othello, Washington, and began a new life together.
We spent our first married years in Richland, Washington, where Jean got a job before I did. She worked at the Bob-A-Lou Drive In cooking and serving Atomic Burgers and Cokes and Shakes. (I tried selling Encyclopedias door to door for a couple of weeks and soon learned that door to door selling was not going to be my career of choice!) Then through a recommendation from my policeman friend Walt Marsh I got a job at Wascher’s Mobil Station at $1.35 an hour (25 cents above normal starting pay!). After about two years Don, one of my co-workers, and I bought the station from our boss, and began a sweet partnership running a well-established neighborhood gas and service business. We didn’t lose any business in the changeover because our customers saw the same smiling faces every time they drove in.
Our business partnership was cut short when I was drafted into the Army in February of 1966. After basic training at Fort Campbell, KY and specialized training in Fort Eustis, VA, I was sent back to Fort Campbell to 20th Transportation Company (Aircraft Direct Support) to await deployment to South Vietnam. Jean joined me and we lived off-post in Clarksville, TN for a few months. Our daughter Stephanie was born at the Fort Campbell post hospital on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1966.
1966 was my “getting drafted and getting my military training” year, but Jean and I managed to be together for quite a bit of that year by living off post in Newport News, VA and Clarksville, TN. We were together for the birth of our daughter Stephanie in November. We were together for Christmas. We were together for our third anniversary in 1966. We were not together on our anniversary in 1967, because that was my Vietnam year. I was just thinking about that as I was writing this paragraph… August 17, 1967 is the only wedding anniversary we haven’t been together! So I guess 57 out of 58 isn’t bad!
Close to the time I got out of the army to return home from Vietnam, Jean moved back to Richland, WA and that’s where I came home to. When I first got home I worked part time at the Mobil Gas Station I had previously owned and I attended Columbia Basin College in Pasco, WA. But the gasoline and oil must have been in my blood because by the time my first semester of classes finished, we had bought another service station in partnership with my friend Walt Marsh who didn’t want to be a policeman anymore. That partnership lasted a year or so, then Jean and I bought out Walt’s share and took on the business on our own.
Those were good years! From about early 1969 to 1975 we built the business, learned a lot of lessons about business management, and felt we’d found something we wouldn’t mind doing for a long time. There were financial struggles during the fuel shortages in 1973 and after the introduction of self-service gasoline sales about the same time. I could write pages of stories about how God faithfully worked through our hard work and determination and even through the financial mistakes and miscalculations we made. By 1975 the business was solid enough that we were looking for an additional station to buy and move from being “farmers” to “ranchers” in the gas station business.
Church was a big part of our lives in those days. But we were hungry for something more and we found some of what our hearts longed for in home Bible studies with friends and in close, strong friendships with other young couples in their twenties like us. Then the Jesus People Movement came to our little corner of the world and the hunger in our hearts for more of the experiential reality of faith quickly drew us in. In our late twenties by then, we were older than most of the others and began to lead and influence. Our daughter Melissa was born in September of 1971 and at about that time we transitioned from our church to the new Jesus People church in Richland.
Life was good! Did I say that already? Marriage, kids, friends, God, our business, ministry… it was all flowing together nicely and it seemed like we were kind of in a good groove! But our hearts were still stirred and in a few years, we sold the business and became “full-time” in ministry. Then five years later we moved from Richland, WA to Medford, OR to start a new church! That was exciting and also probably the hardest and most challenging thing we’d ever done! And then four years later, God reconnected us with friends and ministry partners we’d served with in Jamaica in the late 70’s (I know, I didn’t write about that! Maybe another time!) and we moved to Linstead, a market town in Jamaica’s Central Highlands to pastor a church. That worked well.
Then we moved to Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, and helped a team start a Bible Training Centre. After a year or so, the other ex-pats on the team moved on and Jean and I stayed to develop the Bible Training Centre and transition it from a ministry by “missionaries” to a ministry of the Jamaican church. That worked well.
In the meantime we’d traveled to the UK in 1990 and again in 1991 to explore taking the Bible Training Centre ministry and concept to London. In London where we connected with heart-hungry people from Africa and began to connect with a similar need for training in Ghana and Uganda. That worked well, too!
Anyhow, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve realized that Jean and I have celebrated a lot of wedding anniversaries! We’ve celebrated more of our anniversaries in the US than anywhere else. And more in Oregon than in any other part of the US. But we’ve celebrated wedding anniversaries in Jamaica, in England, in France, and in Uganda as well.
As you can imagine, lots of things have happened in the lives of Jim and Jean in 58 years of marriage that I haven’t mentioned here. When I started typing this I didn’t really know where it was going and now that we’re here I’m not really sure where it has gone! I mostly wanted to reflect on wedding anniversaries and the fact that being married nearly sixty years accumulates a lot of them!
My blog posts are usually about something and usually include reference to some things I’ve learned through life’s successes and failures and experiences. I don’t really have “three points” of application here, but some things have occurred to me as I’ve been writing: (Big Disclaimer! These are not intended to be Prescriptive of the way to live your life and your marriage! These are Descriptive of some things Jean and I have realized about ourselves and our own life. Emulate these at your own risk!)
Divorce was never an option for us. I think the secret of our long and happy marriage is no more complicated than that we decided before we said all the “for better or for worse, and ‘til death do us part” stuff that divorce was simply not an option. We would not consider it, talk about it, or even make reference to it. Therefore, when hurts, offenses, misunderstandings, seasons of dullness, and whatever else occurred, if we didn’t want to be miserable, we had to work through the stuff. Because it didn’t make sense to be miserable!
We never had a master plan. We had values. We had interests. We had passion for things. But we didn’t have a plan for our lives other than to face each situation that arose and figure out what needed to be done and give it a shot. I remember at the end of high school, so many of the kids knew where they were going to college, they knew what career they would pursue, they had their lives sort of all planned out. I envied that! But not enough to do it. So I guess our life plan has been “do what needs to be done!”
We don’t like to see things fall apart. So when a business partnership dissolved, we assumed the responsibility, stayed with it, paid off the debt, and got it solid before moving on to the next thing. When a missionary left a mission church and moved on we assumed the responsibility, got it solid, found the right local leadership and put them in place before moving on to the next thing. When a team of expat missionaries started a Training Centre and then moved on, we stayed with it and got it solid and found local leaders to take it beyond the level we could take it. Then we felt free to move on to the next thing. We haven’t done this perfectly, but we’ve done it enough that it’s clearly a pattern.
We have never seen ministry as a job to do for pay. I know this is way outside the norm, but again, while there have been seasons of being paid a salary to do a specific set of tasks and fulfill a specific set of responsibilities, over a period of nearly sixty years our pattern has been to see a need and figure out something that addresses that need and do it whether there is pay for it or not. God has been gracious and faithful in ways it would take all day to tell about in bringing the resources and support we’ve needed to keep going. Some of you who are reading this are among the gracious, generous people God has prompted to be part of his support for us. That’s amazing to think about! Thank you so much!
So here we are on our Fifty Eighth Wedding Anniversary! We’re old as dirt! (Actually most dirt is much older, but we’re old enough.) And if health holds out, we’ll be celebrating our 59th a year from today! Grace to you!
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.