Twenty-Four Years of Marriage:Lessons Learned


July 30th, 1984 a twenty-three year-old man and a twenty-one year-old women joined hands in a bridal shop in Caribou, Maine and a notary public, wearing a red, white and blue dress, married Mark Hardgrove and Sun Chi. I wore my Air Force dress blues and Sun wore a white dress she purchased from a mall in Canada. We couldn't afford a wedding dress, but ironically there were mannequins all around us wearing wedding dresses. Only my mother, my step-father and Sun's good friend Shirley were there to witness the occasion.

We were two people who could not have come from more diverse backgrounds. I grew up in West Virginia; she was born in Seoul, Korea and lived in Los Angeles, California. She was a city girl and I was a country boy. She is Asian and I was a white hillbilly. We had known each other for a little over eight weeks, but there we were getting married.

Frankly, we barely survived our first year. Two years later our first child, a son, was born and our common focus kept us together. For the next four years I worked all night and went to school all day working on my M.Div. Sun was home alone a lot with our son. Two years after our son was born our daughter was born and Sun was now home with two babies and not much of a husband. I finished my degree, we took our first church in Junction City, Kansas, saw God do great things, moved to Lawrenceville, Georgia to work as an associate pastor, and in 1996 our youngest son was born shortly before I became pastor of the Suwanee Church of God. For the past eight and a half years we've served the Conyers Church of God.

What are the lessons I've learned from this twenty-four year odyssey? First, I've learned that there will always be ups and downs in a marriage. Enjoy the highs, learn from the lows, but as Winston Churchill said, "Never give up."

Second, I've learned that people can change. My wife has developed a wonderful sense of humor that she did not appear to have when we first met. I have learned not to take every disagreement as the end of the world.

Third, I've learned that time does fly. I went back to Maine with my oldest son this past June and we visited the old Loring Air Force Base where he was born 22 years ago. So many old memories came rushing in upon me. I was grateful to be there with my son, but I was wishing that my wife was there as well. I took a picture of the barracks (dorms) where she and I first laid eyes on one another. We had no idea that a seemingly chance meeting would change our world.

Finally, I've learned that God does have a plan, even when it appears that we have done everything wrong, God has a way of making all things work together for good.

As I wrap up my Ph.D. studies and I look ahead at the prospects before us, of the future that God still has for my wife and me, I live with the anticipation of a wonderful adventure ahead. Twenty-four years from now (should the Lord tarry) I'll be 71. I have no idea what lies ahead, but I fully anticipate that Sun and I will be together celebrating 48 years of marriage. Perhaps we'll have grandchildren by then, maybe I'll be retired and writing my memoirs, but oh the stories we will tell.

What does this have to do with leadership? I read a study that found that, with few exceptions, most great leaders had been in a committed relationship for many years with a supportive spouse who believed in them. I don't know if I'll ever be considered a great leader, but I have a supportive spouse who believes in me and together we have done more than I would have ever done alone.