The Essence of Love

I don’t remember so much meeting him that first time, I remember meeting her.


She was standing, arms crossed, in their garage, awaiting her oldest son’s arrival home with his new girl. I was stunned when I laid eyes on her. Their resemblance was so remarkable I could have plucked her out of a crowd a thousand strong. It was the eyes, the same ones I was coming to love in her son. Envy-blue and brilliant.

She welcomed me like she already loved me.

That weekend is a blur, save for first and last things–initial impressions and Sunday lunch. Of course she used her fine china. She and I were the only girls at their dining room table that day; we were circled by the love of her life and the loves of their lives–a mess of boys four strong. I think the china and crystal and silver met her need for a little civility.

Hers had not been a childhood of indulgence. She appreciated nice things because they were rare and special, not because she was entitled or spoiled. Quite the contrary.

Sarah would come to teach me many things over the ensuing 30 years, so it just makes sense she’d start at our beginning.

Use your nice things or what’s the point of having them? China isn’t made to sit in a box; it’s a precious thing that reminds us that any moment around a table is sacred and cause for celebration.

She regarded lifestyle over lecture, and lessons were learned by osmosis. We’d eventually spend a lot of time in her kitchen, so it was perfectly natural for me to become a sponge absorbing everything there was to soak up.

Serving others was as natural to her as breathing. She had been saved by grace and her focus was as outward as anyone I’ve ever met. I’m sitting here trying to think of a time she was self-serving and I can’t. Unless you count how “one” she was with her husband – she was always about serving him – so maybe in a convoluted sense, she was a little self-serving after all.

Sarah managed to be about taking care of others without ever playing the martyr card, with never a complaint. There was no obvious sense of obligation or responsibility in her motives, just simple acts of service birthed in love. As if that were a small thing.

It wasn’t obvious when things changed. Subtleties are best noticed in hindsight.


One time we were talking and I must’ve been going on about how sweet she was, how she never seemed to do anything “bad.” Or maybe our conversation was about my propensity to use colorful language at times but that I had never heard a profane word come out of her mouth. Whatever the context, she laughed and told me a friend had once said, “Sarah wouldn’t call it ‘s—‘ if she stepped in it,” and I thought, “Ah ha! There’s one!” Might’ve been the only.

Sarah is beautiful and if you met her today, you’d never guess she’s 75. Her black hair is finally graying but those steely blue eyes still sparkle; that was literally what I told her a few weeks ago – Your eyes are sparkly!  In the midst of so much change, I’m thankful that hasn’t; on most days, anyway.

Tommy cooks for them now. After over 50 years as the head chef, Sarah has stepped down. I’m not sure she realizes the seismic shift as much as the rest of us, she’s rather congenial and accepting of the way things are.

This is a hard, sweet thing for all of us:  hard because, while Sarah looks the same, she isn’t, but sweet because of what I see in a 55-year-old marriage:

Deep, self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

Sweet, too, because of the evolution of my relationship with my father-in-law, my father-in-love. My amazing, 75-year-old FIL who recently got an iPad and an iPhone…and sweet mercy, uses both! We FaceTime and share recipes and talk about my children and Whole30 and taking Fish Oil supplements…and about Sarah and the Lord, the two most important things in his life.

Tommy had a Damascus Road salvation encounter decades ago, and he’s been preaching and teaching ever since. His life’s laser focus is knowing God and making Him known. He has ministered in places the likes of which I’ve never seen, and he sees every personal encounter as Divine Appointment and opportunity to share Jesus. He’s comfortable in low places because he knows the Cross is planted on level ground.

He’s had a prison pulpit for over 20 years. His parishoners are often the least of these. He’s given away most everything he’s ever owned. He knows how to work the earth, he’s well acquainted with hard labor, his hobby is raising cattle.

When he hugs you, you know he means it.

He’s an uncommon man who knows the language of tears.

The other day, after several phone calls and me coaching him on the method behind my pie crust (the best one in the world by some accounts), he sent me this picture:

Blueberry-Peach Pie

Actual, unretouched photograph, because any alteration would be photoshopping a precious love story.


If it’s true a picture paints a thousand words, this one paints a 1000-word love story.


I’m a good cook and a confident baker. I don’t have a problem in the world saying so because it’s not said with a shred of arrogance, but to pay homage to the the woman who has taught me well, much to my husband’s delight. Many of my recipes were first birthed in Sarah’s kitchen, and I can’t imagine how many hundreds of questions she’s answered over the years, some of them over and over.

No matter how many times I’ve had her explain how she makes fried chicken – even watched every step – I’ve never gotten it right.  I might’ve earned brownie points for trying, but not for fully succeeding.

Sarah’s cooking is well known far and wide, and the only reason my father-in-law doesn’t weigh 300 pounds is because of his cowboy ways. He never stops moving.

But cakes and pies? Outside of her Coconut and Italian Cream cakes, I can keep up with her. Our sour cream pound cakes are indistinguishable, and years ago I was even tapped to bring not one, but two, apple pies to all our family gatherings.

But, like I said, things are different now, and business isn’t as usual.

Tommy and Sarah are living the most incredible ministry of their lives.


They aren’t able to do some of the things they’ve done week in and week out for as long as I can remember, but they’re still devoted to serving at the prison as often as they can, and ministering to the poor living down the road a bit.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the beauty of a 75-year-old man making a Blueberry-Peach pie because his bride couldn’t, and how she looks at him when he speaks. Did you hear me? Her eyes sparkle when she looks at him. If he leaves the room, she can’t stand being apart and she’ll look for him until she finds him. Love is being lived out in patience, tenderness and understanding, even under a canopy of unanswered questions.

They still hold hands. A lot.

And when we checked in today to wish him a happy Father’s Day, we found them watching golf but mostly napping, her nestled in his arms, quiet and content to just be.

The way he is living out his faith today might not be as loud as when he’s preaching behind a pulpit, but it’s speaking volumes.

“…lifestyle over lecture, lessons [to be] learned by osmosis…”

When he looks at her he still sees that girl who stole his heart at 14.

Always and forever.

The pie was delicious.


A kiss


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