Love, marriage, and a mission trip to Phoenix, Arizona

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Cor. 13:4-8a

It was the spring of my freshman year at Texas A&M. It was a difficult time all around the world. Iraq kept launching missiles into Iran, an avalanche at a Swiss Ski resort nearly killed Prince Charles, Mike Tyson and Robin Givens were going through a nasty divorce, and, somehow, inexplicably, Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up made it to the top of the pop charts. (Go ahead, click on the link if you don’t remember it. I dare you.)

Just a few seconds into that music video, and you can see why I wanted to spend my spring break on mission with other college students from my church. I had to get away. Okay, I’m kidding about that, sort of. Maybe Rick and his extra high waisted pants and groovy dance moves didn’t have any impact on my decision to go. But that had to be one of the worst songs to climb the charts in the entire decade. Anyway, we loaded up and headed to inner city Phoenix, Arizona. We were young and passionate about serving God. We weren’t singing with Rick Astley. We had better taste than that, and we had another song on our hearts and minds, anyway – Steve Camp’s Run to the Battle. We wore t-shirts printed with the lyrics, a quote Steve borrowed from C.T. Studd, who was a missionary to China, India, and Africa. He said, “Some people want to live in the sound of chapel bells, but I want to run a mission a yard from the gates of hell.” And that we did. We stayed at an inner city mission, The Church on Fillmore, where we fed the homeless, did light construction, held revival services each night, and told everyone we met about Jesus.

There was this guy I ended up sitting next to on the van on the way up to Phoenix. His name was Clay Hopkins. He was a junior at A&M, he was going into ministry, and, even though he wore those Ocean Pacific corduroy shorts that had gone out of style when he was still in high school,  he was really good-looking. He was “hott,” if we had used that word back then. For the first night of revival services, Clay and I were each asked to give our testimonies. He suggested we meet beforehand to go over it together and to pray for the service. Maybe that was a pick up line, I don’t know for sure, but that’s where it all began. Each time we passed each other the rest of that week, Clay would whisper, “dump him,” because I had a date lined up with someone else when we returned to College Station. I did dump him. And two years later, on May 19, 1990, Clay and I got married.

That was 22 years ago, tomorrow. In those 22 years, we’ve had some really fantastic high points. We’ve also had a few really unfantastic low points. Most days are somewhere in between. And I’m so thankful that God planned for the two of us to go through every single one of those days together.

I have some great memories from that mission trip, and, since it was where Clay and I first met, those memories speak to me about relationship and marriage. Maybe they can do that for you, too.

The cactus. I think it was somewhere around 5:14 a.m. on the way to Phoenix when our driver said, “Hey, guys, do you think we should pick up that hitchhiker?” Turns out, it wasn’t a hitchhiker at all. It was a cactus. It was also clearly time to change drivers.

We’re all a little bit like that cactus. The closer people get to us, the more they understand how prickly we can be. That’s especially true in marriage. Marriage isn’t about the silhouette in the distance, it’s about seeing the real deal. Love is patient.

Duct tape. The parsonage needed some work. There were things that had to be repaired. Maybe the guys were unskilled at fixing most of those things, but they knew how to use duct tape! And they used it a lot. I hope that whoever invented that stuff got some sort of award, because it’s amazing. At the very least, it deserves a better name. Come on, it’s every bit as super as super glue. It’s big, it’s thick, and it holds things together.

From time to time, things need to be repaired in marriage, too. We may not be all that skilled with fixing those things, but forgiveness is the duct tape of any relationship. It covers it up, and holds it together. When both broken people allow forgiveness to rejoin them, nothing can pull them back apart. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Tent City. There was a place in Phoenix where homeless people could set up tents within a large fenced area. To say it was a rough place is putting it mildly. The guys in our group got to walk around inside tent city and talk to people, but the girls had to stay up by a trailer that housed security. Outside the walls of tent city were hundreds of other homeless people. I saw things that day I’d never seen before and have never seen since. It was dangerous, and we didn’t stay long because our leader was worried about our protection.

Statistically, people who get married are looking at about a 50/50 chance of making it. Sure, that’s partly because we’re selfish. But it’s also because we’re not protecting ourselves from Satan’s attacks. We allow evil into the walls of our homes, and ignore it or aren’t aware of its power and desire to destroy. You don’t have to be paranoid to be wise. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects.

The potato room. The night before we left Phoenix, Clay asked me to meet him in the potato room so we could talk. Romantic, right? In his defense, there weren’t many choices…the sanctuary was probably too much, too soon. Plus, there were guys in banana costumes with offering plates on their heads in there. So we met in the potato room. It was the potato room, because there were boxes upon boxes of potatoes there. He wanted to talk, because he wanted to know if he could take me out on a date when we got home.

We had a good talk that night, and many more in the days and weeks that followed. We really got to know each other, and we shared our pasts, our present, and hopes and dreams for the future. Honesty breeds trust. But it works both ways. You usually have to trust somebody to talk with them openly and honestly. The times when Clay and I haven’t communicated that well have been the times we’ve struggled the most. Lesson learned. Love always trusts. 

The drive. It was about an 18 hour drive from College Station to Phoenix. That’s far. But the thing about traveling long distances is that, whether you’re headed there or headed back home, you keep your destination in mind. You put up with the smells and the foot in your ribcage because you have high hopes for what will happen when you get there.  

We have word art on the wall in our bedroom that says, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” It’s from a poem by Robert Browning. I like it. I like it a lot. No matter what is behind us, no matter what we’re going through now, we know that, in Christ, what is ahead is best.  Love always hopes.

Truck stop restroom. A few of the guys on the trip were especialy intense about evangelizing. Their view was that we shouldn’t stop at McDonalds to get a hamburger; we should stop at McDonalds to tell people about Jesus, and get a hamburger while we’re there. One guy even took the Gospel to a truck stop restroom. The story goes, Cliff was physically ill from something he had eaten, and took time to get rid of the offending food while standing next to a trucker in the men’s room. But Cliff wasn’t there to throw up. He was there to tell people about Jesus, and to throw up while he did it. So he wiped his mouth, turned and asked the burly man, “Do you know what would happen to you if you walked back outside and got hit by a truck and died? Where would you go?” The trucker turned to face him and replied, “How ’bout I throw you in front of one of those trucks right now and we fnd out?” Aah, college. Good times!

Say what you want about Cliff’s methods, but the guy had uncanny focus. He knew his purpose and didn’t let circumstances keep him from it. It’s easy in marriage to forget your common purpose. Two careers get going, life gets busy, and we sometimes start feeling like roommates instead of teammates. That’s messed up. We didn’t get married to share a house. We got married to share a life. Sometimes we need to refocus to accomplish that.  Love always perseveres.

So there ya’ have it. Love, according to 1 Cor. 13 and a college mission trip to Phoenix, Arizona. Happy anniversary, Clay. You’re still hott. Also, shout out to my mom and dad who celebrate their 50th this summer! And to everyone else who’s chasing God’s best in marriage.

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Jamie Skaggs

Thanks for bringing all those details of that mission trip back to mind! One never knows what God will use to be a turning point in our lives when we are obedient to what He asks us to do. I am thankful that you and Clay were obedient then and continue to serve Him and listen to His voice. Your marriage is a clear picture of His love for us and gives Him the glory that He deserves!

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