Last month, my parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary…and the occasion caused me to realize that although my dad has never been a religious man in the traditional sense of the word, he was a picture of Jesus and the church, for me. The most succinct way I can say this graciously is that he endured my mother’s grief for decades without ever complaining. He was/is a radically flawed man, yet he patiently endured my mother’s strong-willed temperament for years…without retaliation. I never saw him put his hands on my mother. He never left our family. To my knowledge, he was never unfaithful. And he never criticized Mom…well, unless you count his advice to my older brother one Sunday afternoon at a local smorgasbord: “Son, play the field…you’re too young to settle down right now. I played the field…until I fell into a pothole.”

When Mom had a stroke about 15 years ago, he took care of her every need, despite 35 years of dealing with the challenges and difficulties of living with what were for all intents and purposes irreconcilable differences. Though his own health is failing, he continues to serve as Mom’s caregiver—even at times to her frustration, as well-intended reminders to use the c-pap machine often incur arguments.

My father mirrors his own father who, being from the Great Depression/World War II era, maintained a more conventional, yet antiquated husband-wife dynamic with Granny… This was a man who, on at least one occasion that I know of, had a plate broken over his head when his wife discovered an extramarital romance. But Papa cared for Granny sacrificially after dementia claimed her in the early 90s. He tore up the living room carpet to make a path for her hospital bed and changed her urinary bags daily when she could no longer perform her most basic functions. He never slept, never bathed, never went anywhere or lived life outside of literally caring for her around the clock. And when he reluctantly moved her to assisted living, he literally passed out one night due to exhaustion… Now, I’m not big on the ‘third use of the law,’ but if there was ever a fulfillment of ‘husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church…,’ it was this extremely broken and imperfect man who once quipped that his greatest life achievement was leaving the Jim Crow South.

I stand in the shadows of egregious sinners who have yet shown me pictures of the grace of God. Both men have enjoyed at least fifty years of commitment in marriage. And I look at the 10 I feel I have barely survived. The young man at Walgreen’s who assisted me in finding a frame for an original 1968 photo I sneaked out of Mom and Dad’s house asked me, “Are you married? You think you’ll make it to 50 years?” All I could honestly say was, “I don’t know.”

I have my father’s blood…his insecurities, his inconsistencies, and the older I get, his paranoid anxieties. I have my Grandfather’s contrarian disposition and proclivity to complaining. And I have Jesus, the lamb who was oppressed and afflicted, yet…opened not his mouth. I have Jesus, the Lamb whose bride has made herself ready…for the marriage supper has come.