Lord, your faithful love reaches to heaven, your faithfulness to the clouds. God your faithful love is so valuable, that people take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:5;7 HCSB.
He was 21 and fresh out of the military serving his country in the Panama Canal during WWII, and she, his sweetheart, was only 18. They married on November 4, 1943. James (Jim) and Sue Partain would spend their lives raising 3 boys, answering a call to ministry, and eventually serving thousands of people in the name of Jesus. Affectionately known as “Brother Jim” and “Mrs. Sue,” they were a power team in ministry, serving together with excellence in ministry for over 60 years. I knew them as “PA” and “Granny.” They were my wife’s grandparents. Brother Jim would serve two churches as pastor during his ministry, Lister Memorial Baptist Church and the Joiner Christian Mission, but he is best known for his 28 year tenure as the director of the Cook Springs Baptist Camp. Mrs. Sue directed the kitchen at the camp cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for thousands of campers for almost 3 decades. While the camp experience left great memories in the minds of many, it might have been Mrs. Sue’s fried chicken that kept them coming back year after year. They lived at the camp in meager accommodations, but you would never hear them complain. They were called by God to serve others, and they did it with joy in their hearts, a love for people, and through much personal sacrifice. Even in their later years they were still serving the Joiner Christian Mission which included ministering to low-income families and regularly distributing food to the needy in the mobile home park next to their small mission church. A lifetime of ministry sacrifice meant they never accumulated much, but one thing they did have they cherished more than anything else. They had each other. I can hardly think of anyone in ministry I had more respect for than Brother Jim and Mrs. Sue. I was always so impressed by their infectious love for Jesus, their sacrificial heart, and how well and deeply they loved one another. Brother Jim lived to serve people in the name of Jesus, but first he lived to serve Sue, his bride. I remember as a young newly married man finding myself watching him serve and love his wife thinking, this is my example of how to love Lorrie. I would take mental notes on how PA spoke sweetly to Granny, how he parked the car, opened her door, taking her arm and walking her to their destination. He served Jesus and his wife with excellence.
Around 2005 Granny began to show signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and though he gave a herculean effort, as the disease progressed PA just couldn’t take care of her needs any more by himself. They lived independently as long as possible with PA serving his bride with compassion and sacrificial love. Eventually, however, after a few difficult situations at their home, the decision was made that Granny needed 24/7 care in an Alzheimer’s unit. Rather than admitting his bride into this unit, PA though still mentally sharp and in decent health, decided to move into the unit with her. Though his mind was above average, he would live among people who could not remember their own name. In her last year of life Sue no longer recognized Jim, but that did not matter to him. Whether or not she knew he was her husband, rest assured her husband knew she was his wife and that is all that mattered. Sue Partain died on Christmas Day 2007 in that Alzheimer’s unit, but she did not die alone. Laying next to her, surrounded by family, PA held her hand as she took her last breath, only letting her hand go with the assurance that the next hand she would hold would be nail scarred. He would not leave her for long because 64 days later Jim Partain would once again see his wife and the Savior, he had dedicated his life to serve. To this day we are convinced that PA grieved himself to death. The love story of Jim and Sue Partain is worth telling and 15 years later it still inspires me not only because it reminds me of how I am called to love and serve my wife, but also because it remains the most incarnational example of how God loves me.
Much like PA’s love for Granny, God’s love for me is faithful, sacrificial, and empathetic. The Psalmist reminds us, Your faithful love reaches to the heavens…Your faithful love is so valuable (Psalm 36: 5; 7). Paul’s prayer for the Church at Ephesus speaks to this indomitable love, I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love, that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19). I am convinced that most people either neglect the love of God or at best, underestimate it. The love of God is not a distant esoteric kind of love, rather it is close, personal, internal, and eternal. It is not the kind of love that says, “I am here if you need me,” but rather “I am going to enter into your pain, heartache, disappointment and weeping.” It is not the kind of love that stands beside or over you, but rather it lays with you, holds your hand and walks you to a better place. God’s love for you is deeper, wider, higher, and stronger than you could ever know, and that type of love deserves a response. What a waste it would be for you to live your whole life and not know a love like that. If ever you question, doubt, or wonder about God’s love for you simply look to a hill called Calvary. On that lonely hill you will find the fullest expression of God’s love for you as he sacrificed his perfect Son for your imperfect sin. It is my prayer today that you will …know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19b).
I imagine PA and Granny standing today before the throne of the one they dedicated their life to serve. Granny’s memory problems, well…they are only a memory. For today she knows and is fully known. Standing with her holding the hand that he for a short time had to let go of is PA. The love of God saves us, sustains us, and eventually carries us to a place where we will see the truest expression of love because as Paul reminds us, love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). Though often I don’t express my love for God like I should, He has once for all time, expressed His love for me. Though at times I don’t remember Him, He remembers me. I will never be loved more or less than I am loved right now. I cannot fathom that kind of love, but it is as real and sure as the day.
For now, we see indistinctly as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:12-13). Take a few moments today and reflect on all the ways God loves you and I think you will agree, it is a love story worth telling.
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