Just the other day, it seems, I was a young farm boy growing up in Greenleaf, Idaho. I had just graduated from the 8th grade. That was the summer I first saw her, a really cute girl, just moved to town. It was at a summer youth event. I tried to get close enough to get her to notice me. She did! She thought I was a pesky little 6th grader!
Near the end of our freshman year at Greenleaf Friends Academy, however, she actually smiled at me! By the time we were sophomores we were becoming good friends and began to do things together. That might have been the winter I walked her home after a basketball game with temperatures well below zero. I wore a light jacket with no head covering, and before I got home, one of my ears was frost-bitten. The next morning, it had turned big and red and sore and, wouldn’t you know it, I had to go to church! Everyone teased, “Duane, how come the other ear didn’t freeze?” I was totally embarrassed!
In the latter years of high school, that girl, Sherrill Hull, and I began to think about our future and to make some decisions that have influenced our lives through the years.
Two of those decisions were: 1) we wanted to be a Christian couple; and 2) we selected Psalm 48:14 KJV as our life verse, “For this God is our God forever and ever. He will be our guide even unto death.” We marked that verse in our Bibles and wrote beside it “our verse.” Often when we were together we would review it, talk about it, and dream about the future. We liked the idea of God being our God and our guide. We talked about how, if we wanted him to be our “guide,” we would have to be willing to learn to follow him whenever he spoke to us. It sounded so easy at the time!
We dated all through high school and decided to attend George Fox College. We were engaged during our sophomore year. Then the test came!
I began to feel like God was telling me I should not marry Sherrill. I was broken hearted and didn’t want to even think about giving her up. I prayed and struggled until I finally decided to discuss it with her. She was really surprised and assured me that she had not sensed any leading of that kind. We prayed together, asking God to give us both the same leading and to guide us into his will. After that my unease disappeared and we both felt clear to go ahead with our plans. Could God have been testing us to see if we were willing to let him be our guide? So we married and we have had 54 wonderful years together!
About the same time, I struggled to decide what my major should be. I had already said, “I will never be a teacher.” I knew I didn’t have the skills to be a pastor or missionary. What I really wanted was to be a potato farmer in Idaho! The school counselors were pressing me to declare a major, and it was agonizing for me. I had prayed and prayed, asking God to guide me into his will.
One night I dreamed I was standing outside the tabernacle at the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Idaho (I had gone to camp there as a kid). I was leaning against one of the large Ponderosa pine trees, pondering which of the two doors to go in. Above one door it said “Teaching.” I can’t remember what was above the other, but as I stood there, an angel came along, took my elbow and led me in the door that said “Teaching.”
When I awoke the next morning, the dream was clear in my mind, and I had a sense that God had spoken! Even though I had said I would never be a teacher, I believed God’s leading was clear. So I finished college with a degree in elementary education, even though I dreaded the thought of teaching. On the first day of my teaching career, however, as the first kids came bounding into the classroom, God did a great miracle in my life! He filled me with a love for those kids and gave me the desire to be the best teacher possible.
After teaching for six years, I began to sense God speaking to me about becoming a missionary. The more I thought about it the more excited I became, but Sherrill didn’t warm to the idea. We prayed about it and asked God to guide us as we considered it. Several months later, we were talking to my brother and his wife who were missionaries in Bolivia. We talked into the night, and the more they talked about working with the Aymara Indians in South America, the more excited I became. After going to bed I sensed God calling again. I laid there arguing with him about why we shouldn’t go to South America, bringing up several arguments. At each point, he gently assured me he would take care of that and gave me a sense of peace and a strong sense of his calling.
The next morning, I told Sherrill what had been going on in my mind all night. I was shocked when she told me she had the same experience. As we discussed it, we had both come to the same decision—that we should be open to going to South America as missionaries. As we talked, we noticed we were both saying “When we go…” not “if we go….”
There are other stories of how God led and guided us through the years. At this stage in our lives it is fun to look back and realize how faithful he has been, just like he promised in “our verse.” Now, in retirement, things have gone differently than we had planned. Sherrill’s memory began to fail, and in February 2015, she had a stroke. As a result she fell and broke her leg and has not been able to live at home since.
Our life verse, “For this God is our God forever and ever. He will be our guide even until death.” continues to be our foundation. He has been so faithful over the years, we are sure he isn’t going to quit guiding us now, so we continue to follow our guide “…even until death.”