The first time I met Clark was in 1959. I was almost 11. Mom, Dad, Danny, and I had driven to Wheaton College for my sister Nancy’s graduation. We had a picnic lunch on the front lawn of the college, and Nancy had convinced Clark to come over to meet us. Clark had just graduated, too, and he was Nancy’s new boyfriend. I don’t remember much from that first meeting, other than that he was tall – 6’ 3” – and handsome. He smiled a lot and seemed pleasant.
The next time I saw him was later that summer. He drove up to Cambridge with his tape recorder to record Nancy playing some hymns on the organ. He was sometimes asked to sing in churches and he had to accompany himself on his guitar. He wanted Nancy to play a few hymns and gospel songs that he could play for accompaniment instead of having to strum a guitar. We had a small electronic organ in the living room. He was able to connect the organ and tape recorder with a cable so Nancy could play and he could sing, and only the organ music would record. He won me over during that visit by having me play a couple songs on the organ, too.
A couple years later Nancy and Clark were married. I was one of the bridesmaids – my first time in that role.
Over the years, my appreciation for Clark has fluctuated more than for anyone else I’ve known. The biggest blow up came when I was a senior in college. At that time, Nancy and Clark and their three sons and one daughter were living in Wheaton in the house where Clark had grown up, and Clark had started up a handyman business. He had gone to seminary after college, and had served as a youth pastor of a church in another Chicago suburb for a few years, but he really didn’t like the job of being a pastor, especially with the requirement to spend most of his evenings in church-related meetings. He liked doing the work that he had done to earn his way through seminary better, mainly painting houses and doing home remodeling projects.
During my last year in college, Nancy and Clark invited me to live with them to minimize my costs of going to college. Their house was about a mile and a half from campus. During that year I realized how differently Clark and I thought about many things, and how important it was for Clark to be able to control the actions of everyone in his family, including me. In my last few weeks before graduation, I was busy making plans for what I would do after college, and Clark was trying to tell me what I could and could not do. By the time graduation came, Clark and I were barely on speaking terms.
Over the next 30 years, we had many family dinners and other activities together, and we both had good enough manners to be civil, even pleasant to each other. Occasionally, we even enjoyed each other’s company. But mostly, we intentionally tried to minimize our interactions. We were both imperfect souls, trying to find our way through life the best way we knew how – and our ways were very different. But because we were family, we needed to learn how to interact with each other the best way we could.
But then everything changed. In 1999, Nancy suffered a major stroke that left her with limited mobility. She worked incredibly hard in rehab, and regained the ability to walk somewhat, but she never regained complete use of her left side. Somehow, Clark was transformed by her stroke. He became the kindest, most loving and considerate person you can imagine. Over the next five years Nancy and Clark and Mim and I, and the rest of our extended family enjoyed many special times together.
In 2004, Clark was diagnosed with advanced leukemia and he died quite suddenly, not long after the diagnosis. His funeral was on the day that would have been Nancy and Clark’s 42nd wedding anniversary. A few weeks before his death he led a small group Bible Study and prayer meeting, and someone recorded him spontaneously singing the song “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” That tape was played at his funeral. His low voice singing these words, unaccompanied, is what I think of whenever I hear the song.
Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!
I came across the song this week as I was looking over some quiet, introspective music for Lent. That’s what I’ve chosen to do for my spiritual practice throughout Lent this year – to spend time at the piano every day with prayerful music.
Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!
It was good to think about Clark again today. He was one of the most challenging people on “God’s Guest List” for my life (to borrow author Debbie Macomber’s term). But he was also one of God’s greatest blessings in my life.