You Are So Beautiful

They met at a honky tonk. He was fifteen. She was fourteen. And he married her only one year later.

Most stories that begin that way don’t end well.

And for a while, it didn’t look like this one would be any different. He had a drinking problem that landed him in jail repeatedly.

The couple had no money and the young wife found it increasingly difficult to bail her wayward husband out of jail. The only way she knew to get money was to ask her husband’s dad for a loan.

But even his own father was losing hope that his son would amount to anything and one day he told Lucy that was it. It was the last time. He would never again pay to bail his son out of jail. Don’t even ask.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Willard was out working on a water well drilling site (where he would be for weeks at a time) and he got to drinking…and fighting…and once again landed himself in jail.

Lucy had no money. She had no way of making any. She didn’t even know anyone who could lend her any. Except one person: her father-in-law. And he had told her never to come back.

With fear and trepidation, she approached her father-in-law again. And he was furious. When he found the words, he told her, “Lucy, I told you I wouldn’t give you any more money to bail Willard out of jail. And I won’t.”

But he wasn’t quite finished. He said, “But…you deserve better than this. I’m going to give you some money, but not to bail him out. It is your money. You can do whatever you want with it. You can take it and go back to your family if you want. It’s your money and your choice.”

Lucy took the money.   And immediately went to the courthouse and bailed Willard out. Even though she didn’t know then that it was going to be the last time.

But while drying out in a jail cell away from home, Willard had realized his need for a Savior. He trusted Christ to change his heart and his life. He purposed never to touch another drop of alcohol. And he never did.

That didn’t necessarily mean that life was easy from that point on. Two uneducated teenagers living in the hills of Kentucky. Three of their five sons died in infancy.   And there would be plenty of other bumps and bruises, ups and downs. But they faced life together—both bright, hardworking, and willing to take risks—qualities that paid off at first in small ways as their entrepreneurial spirit provided jobs for many well-deserving Kentuckians…and even a few undeserving ones.

And that was only the beginning.

In fact, another thing Lucy never could have foreseen the day she scraped and begged enough money to bail her delinquent, teenage husband out of jail—was that he would one day be one of the richest men in Eastern Kentucky. Fortunately, not only one of the richest, but also one of the kindest, most generous, and most unpretentious.

In fact, I had the privilege of being there on their sixty fifth anniversary. They celebrated by eating bologna sandwiches with some friends in the lunch room of their drilling company. He wore his usual khakis and a collared shirt; she wore jeans and her signature long, blond ponytail—I never saw her without it.

And I’ve seen them give millions of dollars to schools, colleges, performing arts centers, and one of her favorite causes, Hope in the Mountains—a home for young women overcoming addictions.

That’s not to say they gave it all away. They spent some of their earnings on themselves and their hobbies. Any they had the right to. They earned it. It was theirs to invest as they chose. Fast cars, fast jets, or bologna sandwiches.

As the years ticked by, she began to have some aches and pains that slowed her down more and more. It was hard—even with her chipper disposition—for her not to show pain. But when someone would comment on how beautiful she looked, she’d give a mischievous grin and say, “Well, I can’t help that!”

I was also privileged to know them when they celebrated their seventieth anniversary. Yep, seventy years together. They celebrated by going to church and then to a local restaurant with their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Because they were rich in ways other than money.

This week, Mrs. Lucy Kinzer was laid to rest and Willard planned her service. The church was packed for the celebration of the life of this remarkable woman. At the end, a soloist sang, “You are so Beautiful.” The music box Willard had bought her for her last birthday—only a few weeks ago—plays that song. “You are so beautiful to me…”

As the last notes faded, Willard kissed her gently on the forehead for the last time. “The last ten years of our marriage were the best!” He had told us. And in that moment, I believed it. If you had been there, you would too.

It was seventy one years since he had first seen her dancing in a honky tonk. And the last decade had been the best. Because God redeems and rewards some of the least expectant lives.

So that’s their story.

Humble beginnings. Rocky moments. Bad days for sure.

But “You Are So Beautiful” was a fitting summary of the life of a young mountain bride sporting a blonde ponytail and an unquenchable loyalty—and a fitting climax to one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever heard.

After seventy one years, he still thought she was beautiful. But even as I type those words, I can see that sly grin and hear her fun retort, “Well, I can’t help that!”willardandlucy

Lucy, the Kangaroo

Due to a series of events, I was elected to babysit for the weekend. Joseph dropped off Lucy and her bag of formula, bottles, and other doodads for the proper care and feeding of a baby kangaroo.

I just acknowledged my new charge with a wave—I was in the middle of an intense conference call with two other parties—one in Arizona and one in Pennsylvania. I was the official note-taker and trying to focus on the conversation. Lucy was in a little harness clipped to a tether fastened to the deck where I sat taking advantage of the outside cell reception, the spring sun, and the only clean secIMG_8845tion of the pollen-coated table.

Lucy has to be bottle fed every four hours. It is possible to mix kangaroo milk and take notes at the same time. Just FYI.

It was a few hours—yes, hours—into the telephone call when I looked over to see Lucy go hopping into the hedge. Dismayed, I noticed that the clip had come off her harness. Just a few hours and I had already lost my charge.

I did my best to make it seem like my head was in Pennsylvania helping solve the problems facing our clients when in reality, my head was in a hedge with one hand pressing my cell phone to my ear and the other feeling its way through the branches in effort to locate one small marsupial who blended perfectly with the sticks holding up the leaves.

If they could see me now…

I had read somewhere that if you overfeed a baby kangaroo they will get diarrhea. Well, Lucy and I were on the five-hour drive to Jacksonville later that day when she jumped out of her pouch onto the passenger seat.

It was then that I discovered that I had been over-feeding Lucy.

And before I could figure out what to do, Lucy had dragged her tail through the mess and jumped onto my lap.

I saw a cop slyly parked by a break in the trees and checked my speedometer. All I needed now was to try to explain to an officer why I was speeding through Georgia with a stinky kangaroo on my lap.

My car smelled like you might imagine it would smell under the circumstances. We had 100 miles to go. 

Needless to say, I was questioning the wisdom of my decision to take the little girl on a little adventure. If there isn’t a law against taking these things across state lines there should be.

Things got worse when I arrived to learn that my grandpa had a medical condition that would require an immediate visit to the doctor. I could just picture myself sitting in a hospital waiting room with my 96-year old grandmother bottle feeding a wallaby. Grandma hates attention.

But I didn’t have many options. Lucy tends to make friends rather quickly—and I had expected she would there at the retirement community—but the novelty wears off in a hurry, and…well…there was that overfeeding thing we were still dealing with.

My latest babysitting attempt was turning into a disaster.

But Lucy did charm my grandpa when I gave him her in a bag and a bottle—being very careful not to give her too photo (4)much. It got his mind off other issues temporarily and that was some redemption anyway.

And thankfully, we were able to get by with a fairly short doctor’s visit.

And the over-feeding thing did start to resolve, which seemed to give her a little bit more confidence.

While my grandparents napped, I saw one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. One elderly gentleman in a powered wheeled chair, pushing his wife—in a wheel chair of her own—around the courtyard. He was singing aloud a song I didn’t recognize. I suspect he might have written it himself. As he was singing it. “I love you…” he was singing, “…from the bottom of my heart.”

I took a picture, but I was at such a distance it you couldn’t really see it. Not really. And a picture just didn’t do it justice anyway. It was one of the sweetest things I ever saw. Especially since it didn’t look like his wife was the least bit conscious of what was going on.

It was a few hours later when I saw the same gentleman outside in the parking lot. I wanted to meet him. And I had an idea. I had something that he might like to meet too.

I introduced myself and Lucy. He introduced himself as Dean and told me about his wife, Mary. She had suffered from Alzheimers for the last fifteen years.

Fifteen years.

And for the last ten, she hadn’t even known who he was. Her mind was gone but her soul was still trapped in this earthly body. And as long as it was, she was still Mary. And he still loved her. And he was going to serve her just like he had in the happy days when she had known and appreciated him.

Dean enjoyed meeting Lucy, but I don’t think she made as much of an impression on him as he did I me. I was just glad Lucy was there so I would have an excuse to meet this faithful man.

And, I suppose, if he can take of his sick wife from a wheel chair, I can bottle feed a wallaby.

Just not tophoto (5)o much.

Life Given

ceb family c and j small
Jenny & Curtis Bostic

I’ll never forget what attorney Curtis Bostic said to me on our first meeting.  “Wait until you meet my wife.”  He said proudly.  “I smacked that one out of the park.”

And when I met her, I knew instantly that he was right.

She was beautiful.  Not in a fake “Hollywood wanna-be” sort of way, but in a classy, contented sort of way.  She radiated a joy that was mature and gentle.

Two weeks later, I packed my suitcase and moved to Charleston.  My job started Tuesday and when I left the office Friday, the weekend stretched out in front of me and it hit me that I was in a new city.  All alone.

That was B.C. (before cell phone) for that matter, there was no internet or TV in the little home I shared with Miss Sandra—who worked all the hours I didn’t.

I don’t know why I checked the answering machine when I got home—no one I knew had the number, much less a reason to call.  When I did, however, I heard Jenny’s cheery voice inviting me to dinner.  She also encouraged me to bring “a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush” and spend the night.

I hesitated.  This was my boss’ family.  As to spending the night—I didn’t really know the Bostics and I was a little old for slumber parties.  But after piddling around the empty house for a few minutes, I found myself pulling the pajamas and toothbrush out of my suitcase.

I’ve often wondered since then if Jenny would have still invited me if she had known that I would stay the next five years.

But Jenny was gracious and hospitable.  She went out of her way to make me feel welcome in the family’s double wide which was neat, clean, and tastefully decorated.

The more I got to know Jenny, the more amazed I became.  She was intelligent, educated, and gifted—an excellent musician, fantastic cook, organized home-school mom, amazing housekeeper, and devoted wife.  She jogged faithfully and ate healthfully; yet didn’t criticize those who didn’t.  She worked hard; yet didn’t make others feel bad about taking time off or having fun.  In fact, despite her many strengths, she didn’t come across arrogant at all.  She always treated other people like she had all of the time in the world. Though she didn’t.

I remember one time shortly after that the she took me to downtown Summerville just for the fun of it.  She bought me a milkshake at the drug store even though (for health reasons) she could not have one herself and showed me some of her favorite stops and shops.

Jenny was probably up until the wee hours of the next morning making up the lost time on a Saturday—folding clothes and doing all the things that keep a household functioning.  But the pressure of those chores had not kept her from taking time with me.  It is humbling to think about even to this day.

Perhaps that is what I find so incredible about this dear friend.  Some people give from their surplus—not Jenny.  Some people give until it hurts—not Jenny.  Few people give until they have nothing left to give.  Even fewer still give beyond nothing left—but that is Jenny.  You’ll never know when you exhausted her limits because she won’t show it; she will just keep giving.

After getting to know her some, I thought I wanted to be just like Jenny—always joyful, always patient, always selfless.  But I wasn’t.  Not even close.  It frustrated me, but the more I tried the more hopeless it seemed.

Gradually it sunk in to me that the spiritual maturity is not inherited or won, it cannot be had for the asking.  It is earned.  Even a tree planted by streams of water will grow undetected—slowly, painfully, quietly.  Jenny had persevered through some storms in life—choosing joy over depression, forgiveness over bitterness, meekness over her own way.

Over the last ten years that I have known Jenny, my respect for her has continually grown. We have been on many trips together and at first it surprised me that she would bring along a book about being a godly parent, an excellent wife, or a better Christian.  She could have written all of those books and then some.  But that wasn’t her mentality—she was still growing and learning.

In fact, she hasn’t written any books that I know of; doesn’t have a full speaking schedule, a TV show, or even a blog.  From what I’ve seen, much of Jenny’s time during this season of life is filled with the thankless tasks of loading the dish washer, teaching reading, solving math problems, grocery shopping, scrubbing bath tubs, and driving kids to karate.

When I thought about her life, I was reminded of Mary and the costly perfume that she spilled on Jesus’ feet.  Many criticized the offering as resources wasted—a year’s worth of labor gone in a few short seconds benefitting no one but Jesus.

But Jesus saw the act of selfless worship as a great gift—so much so, that the God of the universe took the space to write it down in His short book so that her life and action would be read and remembered for years to come.  Her perfume was not wasted; it was given.

Likewise, a life given in simple, selfless ways is not wasted.  It is invested.

Jenny’s daily routine is not wasted to the five kids who call her mom or the husband who calls her “sweetheart.”  And it is not wasted to the hundreds—perhaps thousands of people whom she has taken time for, listened to, and encouraged.

I know many who would say that they are a better wife, a better mom, or a better Christian for having known Jenny Bostic and I would count myself in that number.  Her gentle, quiet spirit convicts and motivates me on an ongoing basis.

And I can’t wait to see the incredible things that are to come for a life so freely given and so gently sustained as Jenny Bostic’s.

Two Become One

My hairstylist tells me that there are 2,500 weddings a year in Charleston. I’m sure the month of June claims a disproportionate share of that number…My parents were married in June. All three of my sisters we married in June. It’s just the month for weddings. School’s out…Spring’s hanging on… Love is in the air.

And no where do I sense the love more strongly than during my frequent trips to Penney Farms, Florida.   That’s where my grandparents live. They are now 95 and 98 and their lives have been simplified accordingly. They live in a two-room apartment. Their kitchen is the size of my closet and boasts only a hot plate, a microwave, a refrigerator and a small sink.

Their bed swallows the bedroom, leaving room for an 8” TV. Grandpa will pull his wheelchair next to my Grandma and they will watch the Andy Griffith show. And when Andy isn’t “sherriffing,” they will watch the goings’ on around their retirement community on closed circuit TV.

My grandparents weren’t married until they were in their 30s. But that still leaves a lot of time—65 years.

They are both from the Philadelphia area, but met at Wheaton College. Grandma—Frances she would have been called then—was a student there. And George, my Grandpa, met her when he came to pick up his sister one weekend.

It wasn’t really the beginning of anything although Frances was later invited so spend some holiday time with his family. And when she stayed for a few summer classes after her last year, George was there too and she remembers some long evening walks in the cornfield affecting her grades.

But they didn’t stay in close contact and when she went to Florida to teach at a Christian boarding school, he went to seminary in Texas, and later, to the South Pacific on an aircraft carrier.

I haven’t heard too much about the seven years Frances spent teaching except that Elizabeth Elliott was one of her students. And that she loved it.

As World War II came to a close, George wrote to Frances and asked her to marry him. She wrote back and said yes. That’s how it was told to me, anyway.

When the school found she was leaving, an angry headmaster had her pack her trunk and dumped her off at the train station during a chapel service. She had nothing. She got to say goodbye to no one. Seven years of investing in students ended abruptly, and suddenly, she was alone in the world with one trunk and a fiancé that she had hardly seen in years.

“But,” she told me, “perhaps it was for the best. Because I never looked back. The next few years were not easy. But I never looked back.”

Six babies came in rapid succession, starting with my aunt, Christine, less than a year after their wedding.   George and Frances were practically living in their car while doing deputation around the country but by the time my mom was born, they were trying to plant a church in the war-torn country of Japan. Of course, between those two was a three month boat ride—the only means of transportation between here and there.

They started from scratch in Japan. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t know the culture. They didn’t have a way to communicate back to friends and family. They didn’t have a lot of money. But they had each other. And they put their whole hearts into their new life in Japan.

After about 35 years, my grandparents retired from the mission field and took jobs in Florida. They used to travel to California to see us for one week every summer. Grandpa would take us on bike rides, buy us ice cream, and let us blow on his trumpet. I remember sitting on his lap while he read “101 Dalmatians” to my sister and I.

Meanwhile, my grandma would take over the laundry and for a week nothing could hit the bottom of a hamper before it would be snatched out; and nothing came back to you without starch in it.

They were both hard working, frugal, and godly. That isn’t to say they always agreed. Grandma would try to discourage my grandpa from buying so much ice cream, for example. Nonetheless, they complimented each other well. Grandma was good with the check book, but she didn’t operate anything with a motor it. Grandpa not only could operate a vehicle, but he was adventurous.

They could eat at Wendy’s for $2. They would order one baked potato and a cup of coffee. Grandpa liked sugar in his coffee and Grandma did not, so they would put one pack of sugar in, but not stir it. Grandpa would put his straw on the top; Grandma would put hers on the bottom, and everyone was happy.

They seemed timeless to me.

But old age creeps up even on the most stalwart of people. I took my grandparents on their last plane ride out of Florida last year—Pushing Grandpa in a wheelchair and waiting on a skycap to come get Grandma. I remember waiting at the gate in Atlanta for a flight and getting hungry. Grandpa, who is always hungry, agreed to go with me to find food. Grandma, who is never hungry, preferred to stay at the gate. “Don’t get me anything.” She called after us.

As we placed our orders, Grandpa was quick to ask me, “What are we going to get Grandma?” I opened my mouth to remind him that she didn’t want anything, but shut it again. I repeated this. “What do you think she would like?” I finally asked. And when we headed back to the gate, we were carrying three Styrofoam boxes.

He did the same thing a couple of weeks ago when my grandma wasn’t feeling well. Although the doctor couldn’t really find anything wrong, she had been in bed the better part of the week, and Grandpa was as frantic as I’ve seen him. At this stage in the game—they heavily rely on each other. She has the legs to get up and find things, he has the arms strong enough to dish the ice cream. She has good enough ears to hear the TV, and his eyes are still able to see well enough to read her magazine articles, her Sunday School lesson, or whatever else.

When she was sick, he was rattled. It wasn’t just like having a sick family member. It was like part of him was sick too. I could tell he wanted to “fix it,” but he couldn’t. So when she insisted that we go to the dining hall without her, he agreed only when he knew there was no changing her mind.

She said she wasn’t hungry, but he picked the entrée and sides that he knew she would like best. He ate half of each, dutifully saving the rest and carefully arranging it in a “to go” box. He didn’t say so, but I think he knew that she wouldn’t eat it, but she would know he cared.

He did care. He does care. In fact, I suspect he is holding on to life because of her. Because if something happened to him, who would dish the ice cream? who would read the Sunday School lesson? who would operate the golf cart?

Conversely, she is holding on for him. She is still trying to find things—even though her eyes are bad—because he can’t seem to find them without her help. She is still trying to move money from one account to another to get a little better interest rate. Still picking his laundry out of the hamper and making sure it comes back to him with starch in it. Still washing his ice cream dishes. Still discouraging him from buying ice cream.

They’ve never owned a home, yet they’ve built a beautiful family. They’ve never been famous, but they have touched many, many lives. They’ve never written a book, yet theirs is a beautiful love story. And as of yet, it’s still not all told.

Of the 60 weddings this weekend in Charleston, I wonder if even one of them will stick together enough to know the kind of simple, faithful love my grandparents know.

I’ll always remember the image of my 98 year old grandfather, after 65 years of marriage, saving half his dinner in a “to go” box. Because half of him was still at home. The half that he loves most.