On the pilgrim way: ‘We promised to love and honour’
Sheila Maxey looks back over the years
On 3 August 1962 Kees and I promised before God to love and honour one another (we omitted ‘obey’) until death parted us. As I look back over 60 years I imagine the loving and honouring as a kind of elastic holding us together – sometimes close, sometimes not so close – adapting and responding to our changing lives.
We began close, hand in hand, and very serious. We wrote down all our daily expenses as our marriage guidance course recommended. Soon we had to let go our hands to enclose our three children, our jobs, the Church and politics – still firmly held by the loving and honouring elastic.
Fifteen years later my eldest sister died and her children and my parents came to join our now extended family. It seemed as if Kees and I were trying to make an arch with our arms under which all these people could shelter. The elastic of love and honour seemed too weak for the task but looking back I think God must have reinforced it for the purpose. We coped – and we were enriched.
All the children grew up and we both changed careers. Our paths diverged and the loving and honouring elastic lost some of its zing. Now a minister, I found renewal and refreshment for my soul through silent prayer and a Catholic spiritual guide. Kees was bemused, uncomprehending. He was now working with African refugees and later with the pastoralists in the Horn of Africa. I found his complete absorption in the ins and outs of refugee status and the details of funding applications boring. We separately made new friends who shared our current passions.
However, the faxes and emails to and from various parts of Africa continued to flow and Kees cared for my parents while I had a sabbatical in Switzerland. Then I was elected Assembly Moderator and Kees put his Africa work on hold for a year to accompany me – once more hand in hand.
With the slowing down of semi-retirement the loving and honouring elastic began to recover its zing. I got to know Kees’ African colleagues, even attended some meetings, and did some editing of documents. Kees became an elder and a committed regular at our weekly Sacred Space.
As our 80s approached and Kees’ health declined we became even closer. We went hand in hand – or my hand on Kees’ shoulder on the scooter – to a coffee shop, a nature reserve, interesting cruises down the Dnieper and up the Volga.
And now? As in a three-legged race, the loving and honouring elastic now hobbles us together. While we struggle along, trying to find our new pace, we are surrounded by such a loving ‘cloud of witnesses’. Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices…
And thank you, Kees.
Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
This article was published in the July/August 2022 edition of Reform