On Our 40th Wedding Anniversary

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Today Noël and I have been married for 40 years.

John and Noel getting married. Noel as a bride John and Noel nowadays

My father did the wedding and we had one man and one woman in our wedding party—Jane Roney and Billy Watson.

John and Noel's wedding party

We chose to have no flowers in the little country church, Midway Baptist, outside Barnesville, Georgia. Just a scarlet velvet cross on the wall (that I made), and a Bible on a stand (that God wrote). Those were our decorations—the foundations of our lives. You can see them if you look carefully at this photo of the service in process.

John and Noel's ceremony

The photographer insisted on a funny picture with Billy and my father. I wasn’t apprehensive. There were no doubts. (Notice my fist. It was for the photographer.)

John, John's dad, and best man

I married the oldest of ten children.

Noel's family

We have only managed five.

John and Noel with their kids

My mother always looked up to Noël—in more ways than one.

Moms with Noel the bride

We were pretty traditional when it came to the reception—cake and nuts and mints.

John and Noel cutting the cake

God has been good to us. Life has not always been easy. But we did not expect it to be. We don’t expect it now. God has given us five magnificent children and four precious daughters-in-law, and ten grandchildren. I use the words “magnificent” and “precious” carefully. You will understand, perhaps, what it is to look at your own children and feel a sense of wonder. And then to feel your love flow out to the ones with whom they are now one flesh.

I waited forty years to write a book on marriage—This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. I think that was about the right amount of time. Maybe I should have waited a bit longer. I am still learning how to love. But once you’ve had cancer, you don’t put things off the same.

To accompany that book I put together a collection of poems that I wrote for Noël over these years. It’s called Velvet Steel. Part of one of those poems hangs on our bedroom wall. It’s my echo of the text that was read by my father at our wedding, Habakkuk 3:17-18.

It’s a hard-times-but-happy text. It says,

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
     nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
     and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
     and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
     I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

The poem says,

Although the fig tree blossom not,
And all the vines of our small plot
Be barren, and the olive fail,
The sheep grow weak and heifers frail,
We will rejoice in God, my love,
And take our pleasures from above:
The Lord, our God, shall be our strength
And give us life, whatever length
On earth he please, and make our feet
Like mountain deer, to rise and cleat
The narrow path for man and wife
That rises steep and leads to life.

He has been pleased to give us 40 years, and it does rise steep. But it’s worth the climb. I thank God for Noël and for these years with all my heart.