By Gary D. Robinson
We were on a date. I don’t remember where we went or what we were doing, though I believe we were sitting on a bench. Observing something peculiar, I looked at the former Miss Barbara Ellen Sigle and said, “Now there’s something you don’t see every day, Chauncey.”
Barb looked at me blankly. I continued, “You’re supposed to say, ‘What’s that, Edgar?’” She still didn’t understand, but I didn’t mind. Always glad to enlighten the young lady in the realm of pop culture, I explained that the lines came from the Saturday morning kids’ cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.
It’d be just a silly, forgettable moment—if not for the fact that I’ve been calling her Chauncey for 35 years.
I’d seen her around campus. I’d spoken to her, or rather, answered her. She called to me one bright spring day as I was walking by her dorm. She leaned against the open door, a tall, attractive blond with books at her breast, the breeze tossing her hair. She said, “You’re Gary Robinson, aren’t you?” Well, there was no denying that. One question from the door, one cheerful, monosyllabic response from the sidewalk, an exchange of smiles, and that was the end of it—until one evening the following September.
I was on my way to see a friend of mine in the library. He was studying, or so I’d been told. I’d never seen him perform such a feat and I wanted to watch. As I headed for the library, I saw her again. She was sitting under a tree, writing. She had a Bible with her, which I thought she was studying. Feeling an unaccustomed boldness, I sauntered over and said, “Do you know the Bible says we’ll judge angels?”
How’s that for a charming opener?
As it turned out, she wasn’t studying. She was writing a letter. Nevertheless, my query intrigued her and we hunted through her Bible until we found that part. In the damp warmth of a late summer evening, with mosquitoes strafing and diving at us, we talked. Eventually, I got up and moved on—but in a greater sense, I never moved on. The fly had put one leg on the flypaper. The duct tape was about to go round the pipe. I was on the verge of being stuck on this woman but good.
We were married in June 1977. In his book, The Pastor (HarperCollins, 2011), Eugene Peterson writes about his wife, Jan, and how her life’s ambition was to be a minister’s wife. I don’t know if that would be a completely accurate assessment of Barb’s career goal, but she did tell her mother once that she thought she’d like to be a minister’s wife. Her mother looked at her funny.
Indeed, it’s been a funny kind of life together. Now, 35 years, two children, five churches, seven houses, several cats, one little dog and one big one later, I think Barb would say that I’ve kept at least one promise to her: I told her it would be interesting!
Of course, interesting doesn’t always mean pleasant. We’ve been through some rough stretches together. Some of them have lasted years. Others were compressed into a much shorter span. In one year alone, our son got married, my mother died, there was tumult in the church, we changed churches, and I went into the hospital with chest pains (the source of which would soon require bypass surgery). We’ve dealt with schizophrenia and anorexia. We’ve faced joblessness, gone deeply into debt, and climbed slowly out. In our churches, we’ve wrestled with everything from thumb-twiddling irrelevance to throat-throttling conflict. Like the apostle Paul, at times we’ve felt the sentence of death, at other times we’ve been exalted.
Through it all, this minister’s wife has exhibited constant dedication, great patience, and undeserved kindness—and that’s just to her husband! In each of the churches we’ve served, she has stood in whatever gap gaped—teaching children and adults, directing Vacation Bible School, leading a choir, cooking in camp, acting in skits, and leading ladies’ devotions.
Again and again, people have felt the warmth of her welcome in our home. She has prayed with old saints and taken young sinners under her wing. Wherever we’ve served, in the words of an old song, Barb has thrown her soul’s glowing ardor into the battle for truth. Her weapon of choice has always been love. Through it all, she’s always been my partner and she’s always made me look good.
If Barb wanted to be a minister’s wife, she definitely wanted to be a mother. When asked what she did for a living, Tony Campolo’s wife said, “I am socializing two homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation.” While Barb never articulated her task in quite those terms, I’ve no doubt that she believed motherhood wasn’t a chore but a mission. It’s one reason she wanted us to teach our children at home, which we did.
The results, not just of the homeschooling, but of her faithful approach to the calling of motherhood, speak for themselves. Our son is a preacher, the man I most want to be when I grow up. Our daughter, an English teacher, remembering a promise she made us long ago, attends worship in Shang Hai, China.
In a letter, Alexander praised his mother for being “gentle and humble in heart.” He added, “You sacrificed so much over the years for Ruth and me. I’m sure there were times when we ignored or forgot or took for granted your selflessness. And yet you’ve always made yourself less than us. It wasn’t only when we were young that you washed our feet.”
His sister Ruth chimed in with this: “I remember the dress you made me for the first day of kindergarten. I loved that dress with the navy blue fabric and ruffles around the hem. I think I was the only girl in my class—or even my school—whose mother had taken the time to make her a new dress just for the first day of kindergarten.”
In other words, “Her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28).
About this time, my wife will arise, red with a mixture of embarrassment and annoyance. She’ll say, “Nobody is so wonderful! Certainly not me!”
Far be it from me to argue with Chauncey Mae! Yes, she’s a sinner like everybody else, as vulnerable as any woman to the temptations wives and mothers face. But I wouldn’t trade her—not for the world. She’s not only been my partner and the mother of my children, she’s been my best friend as well.
One evening, we were sitting on the couch in our basement. I was 30-something and full of doubts about myself. With my head down, my hands clasped loosely between my knees, I said something regretful and despairing. I’ve forgotten my exact words, but it was something like, “I guess all I’ve ever wanted to be is Superman.”
Her reply was as startling as it was encouraging: “I’m glad you want to be Superman. You’re my Superman.” It warmed me to my bones. I’ve never needed to hear anything from anybody like I needed to hear that from her. For a moment, I did feel as though I could fly. I felt as if I could do anything.
The Proverb says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, English Standard Version). The gift my wife gave me that night is of the famous kind that keeps on giving.
In the words of the pop song:
I can’t stand to fly;
I’m not that naïve.
I’m just out to find
The better part of me.
I’m glad that, long ago, on a warm evening in September under a tree on campus, I found her, my mate, my completer, the mother of our children, ever and always the better part of me. Brother, it’s my fervent hope you’ve got a woman like that. If you do, you’d better treat her right.
Gary D. Robinson is a Christian writer living in Xenia, Ohio.
A Call to Action for Gentlemen
A day like today that’s set apart to honor women should cause husbands, fathers, and brothers to do more than just grab a card and some flowers. You, of course, know this. Most of you are in fact going out of your way to honor the great women in your lives. You’re known for the way you treat your mom, your wife, your sister, or your daughter.
But you also know that men in our society have a reputation for being stingy with their affections, so Christian men should make a point to stand out all the more. God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church—that’s about the least stingy kind of love imaginable.
So think of one way to up your game, not just today but each week or every day.
You have unique knowledge of the women in your life. You know if your mom would rather receive a card from you, or a lunch date with her son. You know if your sister would prefer a hug, or a movie with you. You know if your daughter would rather play basketball with you, or have you as a guest at a tea party with her dolls. And, of course, you know if your wife needs a night on the town, or a night on the couch.
Use what you know and challenge yourself to honor the women in your life every day.