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Joy for the Journey

Four decades…that’s how long we have been married! WOW, when you say, “DECADES”, that sounds like a really long time, and in today’s society, it is. In fact, it is rare. Has it been easy? I wouldn’t say that. Has it been eventful? DEFINITELY! In fact, the way we met was really quite EVENTFUL!

I will warn you ahead of time. Our story is not necessarily how I would encourage anyone…in fact, I’ve always told our children…THIS IS NOT HOW YOU GO ABOUT MEETING SOMEONE! With that being said, Gary and I met on an interstate highway because of CB radio. I call it “old school internet.” For those of you too young to know what a CB radio is, I will explain. The CB (Citizens Band) radio was very popular back in the mid-to-late 1970’s. The use of CB radios in 1970’s films such as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Breaker, Breaker (1977), and Convoy (1978) established CB radio as a nationwide craze in the USA. When the CB craze was at its peak, many people invented their own nicknames known as “handles”. Gary’s “handle” was “Thunderbird”, and mine was “the Brown Eyed Blonde”.

The CB radio usage especially gained popularity with travelers. With the U.S. government-imposed, nationwide 55-mph speed limit, and fuel shortages and rationing, the CB radio was used, especially by truckers to locate service stations with better supplies, to notify other drivers of speed traps, and to organize convoys. Also, CB’s allowed people to get to know one another in a quasi-anonymous manner…similar to internet chat rooms. So, here’s our story:

Gary was on his way home from spending the weekend with his mom and dad in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. He had taken his 3-year-old daughter to live with his parents temporarily as he finished out his teaching contract in Texas. He had endured a divorce and found himself a single dad trying to navigate caring for his daughter, teaching full-time, and coaching after school. He realized he would need help, so he took his daughter to live with his parents with the understanding that he would drive from Texas to Oklahoma every weekend.

On this particular day in January, he had just left his parents’ home, heartbroken and in tears, trying to come to terms with returning home without his daughter. As he approached the interstate, he glanced over and saw a “long legged blonde” (those are his words, not MINE!) get out of a 1974 Blue Maverick (hands down, the ugliest car I ever owned). His attention was “apparently” distracted for a moment. Several miles down the road, though, feeling like his heart would break from the sorrow of leaving his daughter behind, he picked up his CB Radio when he heard a young man asking for directions to Dallas. Since he was headed that direction, he thought that it would break the silence and help keep him company on his way home.

So, as he engaged in conversation with the young man on the CB, he found out that there was another car following the young man. The two of them decided they would stop at a Truck Stop in McAlester, Oklahoma, for gas. As they had hoped for, the car following the young man stopped also. (That car was ME). I did not have a CB Radio; however, I had decided to travel behind this car that did have a CB radio! (I hope you are following me…it’s not as “sordid” as it seems…I was just simply trying to stay under the radar of the highway patrol, also.)

At any rate, Gary realized I was that “long-legged blonde” he had seen before. So, although I thought I was being totally inconspicuous, Gary approached my car. I rolled the window down just enough to hear him. He said, “The guy you are following and I noticed you have been following us for some time now, and we want to know if you would like to join us for a Dr. Pepper (yes, he has ALWAYS drunk Dr. Pepper) or coffee and pie”. I said, “YES”. And that began the wonderful journey into FOUR DECADES of marriage.

Both Gary and I were NOT running away from God, but neither of us were running TO Him either. Gary had been devastated by a divorce and disappointed with a church that did not embrace him through his difficulty, and Debbie…well, I was just single and having fun. I had no intentions of getting serious with anyone, let alone getting involved with someone that had been married and had a child. However, from the day I rolled down my window to accept an invitation to have coffee and pie, I knew there was something different about GARY PRATT, and I wanted to get to know him.

...we have experienced the raw, the good, the bad, the ugly, and have still found pure joy, fulfillment, and contentment...

To say that our marriage has been perfect would be far from the truth. To say that our marriage has been EVENTFUL would be more accurate. You see, along the way, we have discovered so many things about life because we have experienced the raw, the good, the bad, the ugly, and have still found pure joy, fulfillment, and contentment when God is given the opportunity to take what the enemy meant for bad and let Him use it for His glory. That is truly our story in a nutshell. For everything we have been through, we have determined that God, in his love and mercy for us, would be glorified as we continue to live out this EVENTFUL life of love and marriage.

In August of 2009 Gary was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In December of 2010 I was diagnosed with throat cancer. For us, this was a defining moment of TRUSTING God with everything we are or hope to be. One morning, I was experiencing an unusually difficult and painful day. I had lost my hair, I had lost my voice, and I weighed less than 100 pounds. I asked Gary to help me take a shower. He was very hesitant because I was so weak, but he agreed. As he placed me in the shower, he ran to put a towel in the dryer so it would be warm to wrap me in when I was finished. By the time he returned, I was too weak to stand. He scooped me up with the warm towel and carried me to the bed. As he stood there holding me, I looked up at him and said in my gravelly, whispering voice, “Gary, this is what 34 years of marriage looks like.”

In that moment of embrace, we were once again reminded that in spite of the struggles, our love had endured.

Today, we don’t let a sunset pass us by. We take long road trips and never take the love and four decades of marriage for granted. Today, we spend time on the deck, take long walks together, and are very grateful for the years of marriage and the beautiful family that we have. We are trusting for many more EVENTFUL years, and, if you know Gary…you know that we are going to continue to have FUN!


"A BETTER YOU: Joy for the Journey" is ENTRY FOUR of Sanctuary's January blog series, A Better You. Need to catch up? Begin with ENTRY ONE, The Other Side of a Better Choice.

Debbie Pratt serves Lawton First Assembly (Lawton, OK) as Pastor of Women’s Ministry/Pastoral Care. She and her husband, Gary are also the Directors of the LFA Compassion Ministry and the NAME (National Association of Marriage Enhancement) Center. Gary and Debbie have been on staff at LFA for 22 years. They have been married 40 years and have three married children, one grandson, Cinco and four granddaughters, Megan, Neely, Leighton and Anistyn. Debbie is passionate about LIFE. After her journey through cancer she established the TRUSTING Ministry. When a Girlfriend is diagnosed with cancer, this ministry comes alongside them to support and pray for them, so that they are not on their journey alone. When she has free time, Debbie enjoys being with her family and LONG ROAD TRIPS with her boyfriend!

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