A Love Story Anchored in Faith: A Eulogy to Ruby Jean Knight

The Gap Hill community first became personal for me in January of 1978.

Before then Gap Hill was mostly defined by a vague knowledge of the Gap Hill Church of God through denominational events like Teen Talent and Youth Camp.

But in January of 1978 I drove down from Lee College to attend the SCCOG Prayer Conference for the supposed purpose of booking a few revivals.  As I recall it, I didn’t get any revivals but I did get a wife.

Sonja, being four years younger than me, had never really been on my radar.  We did “date” with some friends on a group date when she and some of her friends attended Lee Day one weekend.  She was fifteen at the time.  But in January of 1978 she was 17 years and 4 months old and, in my 21 year-old eyes had blossomed into a full grown very beautiful woman. 

It was then that Gap Hill became personal for me.  Specifically a house on Love & Care Road—196 Love & Care Rd to be exact.  (How good of an address is that to find a wife on – Love & Care Road!) 

Something I later learned was that wives come with mothers-in-law, and it was during this time that Ruby Jean Knight, my future mother in law, came into my life.  Honestly she was an amazing woman.  For example, she was an amazing cook – being a starving college kid – she remedied that.  I have pounds on my body to this day that can be traced directly to Ruby’s cooking.  I’ve been gaining weight ever since I first met Ruby. 

But let me move on…

Nine months later, after our marriage in the old Gap Hill COG sanctuary, which is disguised with remodeling to my right, your left, Sonja and I were married on September 9, 1978.  It was the last wedding in that sanctuary, as plans were already in place to build the lovely sanctuary we sit in today.

After the festivities, Sonja and I jumped into our 1972 Pinto and like her older sister before her, we headed out into the wild, wide, world pursuing God’s call on our lives.

But, like the piers that dot the shorelines of the beautiful lakes that surround us in this part of South Carolina, we remained tethered to Gap Hill all these years.  It was not a tether that restricted or bound us, it was a tether that grounded us. 

Like the ranchers in the Dakotas who tie a rope from the back porch to the barn so they can feel their way to the barn to feed the livestock during a blizzard and then feel their way back to the warmth of their home, 196 Love & Care Road and later 322 Gin Shoals Road were lifelines, safe places…home and we would regularly return to be nourished, loved, and cared for.

I don’t know when it actually began, but eventually that lifeline began to unravel. All us kids became adults and had our own kids and lives and we began to drift away. 

Then began the long good-bye. 

In my memory, first it was Uncle Buddy, and then Papa Durham, and sometime later Mama Durham and that was when the unraveling really speeded up.  During this time Sam, my dear father-in-law, began his long slow descent into the wilderness of Alzheimer’s and after ten years breathed his last and was gathered to his fathers and for us who remained, the only thing we could do, as lovingly as possible and with the deepest of respect, was say good-bye. 

But Ruby, she was indestructible, forever stubborn, self-willed, and independent.

She kept cooking, cleaning, loving, caring, and chiding us – especially her daughters.  Keeping us tethered to Gap Hill, keeping us coming home.

But as indestructible as she was, eventually we began to see the tell-tell signs that even she was unraveling.  It was slow at first but slowly and sadly our final good-bye began even with Ruby and with each passing year that unraveling sped up.  Every visit and call became potentially our last one and finally the final strand of that tether snapped this past Thursday and Ruby sailed away and, like so many times before, all we could do was say good-bye.

If you will indulge me a moment longer, I’d like to make an observation and give us a final challenge as we reflect on the life that Ruby lived. 

The observation is this: The tether was not haphazardly or willy nilly created.  Sam and Ruby wove their lives together around some central values that are paramount for building a strong marriage, home, community and nation.

Things like hard work, self-reliance, honesty, paying your bills and living within your means.

But central to their lives was their Christian faith and the Church was the tether and anchor of their lives.  To really know Sam and Ruby Knight you had to know Gap Hill Church of God.  Their lives centered around their church.  A huge portion of their time and their resources were invested in this church.  Their pastors and pastor’s wives were probably more important to them than their presidents and first ladies. 

Devoted pastors like:

  • Vester Stephens
  • Earl Roach
  • Carol Ellenburg
  • John Gilbert
  • Marvin Craven
  • Thomas/Etta Madden
  • W. J. Lesley
  • Milton/Carolyn Hannah
  • Tim/Kim Kerns
  • Johnny/Denise Hodges
  • Tony/Carolyn Edwards
  • And currently Jimmy/Jennifer Perdue

…were central figures and voices of authority and guidance in their lives.  For example, nothing would stress Ruby out more than just the thought that the pastor might pay a visit.  Her already spotlessly clean house would have to be cleaned again so that even the spot was gone.  You’d have thought the pope was showing up.

But in my mind, Ruby’s finest hour – the season that she demonstrated to us what it means to live a life of commitment and faithfulness – was during those final sad years of Sam’s life when his condition became so difficult that he had to be admitted into the Richard Campbell Veterans Nursing home. 

Lenardo Di Vinci, once stated, “Vows begin where hope dies.”  For five long years, long beyond hope, Ruby drove an hour there and an hour back virtually every day to be with her husband.  Without complaint or compromise, Ruby was faithful “till death do we part” to her marriage vows.  Her message-by-example spoke louder than all the sermons her pastors ever preached on the sanctity of marriage.

Winston Churchill could have been speaking directly to Ruby as he addressed his nation during the dark days of WWII when he said: Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Those last five years of Sam and Ruby’s marriage were her finest hour.

As I conclude, I will remind us all of Solomon’s advice in Ecclesiastes 12:6, Remember your Creator before the silver cord is broken.

For the Sam/Ruby Knight family, the final strand broke this past Thursday and we are untethered.  Their daughters are now fatherless, motherless, homeless.  So what is there for us to do?  What is there for all of us to do? 

This I know, as we observe what appears to be the unraveling of much that we hold dear in our nation and its communities, churches, and families, we must pick up the pieces of the silver cord and ground our lives in the faith and values of those great generations that we called Mama & Papa and mom and dad.

And above, using the inspired words of the writer of Hebrews: that by this immutable thing that is it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, even Jesus, having become our High Priest forever (Hebrews 6:18-20, my paraphrase).