By Norris Burkes Aug 21, 2022

As the 1970s ended, I began classes at Golden Gate Seminary as a less-than-serious student.

On a sprawling campus perched in the prosperous hills of Marin County, California, I focused on one thing – and it was not my theological studies.

I was determined to make Becky Nuckolls my wife.

Gratefully, she felt the same way about me and we announced it to the world.

My mom hoped we would wait until we were older, but we were unwavering. We’d not be deterred by her wishes, nor my full-time seminary schedule or Becky’s student teaching. The lack of jobs and the unavailability of campus housing would not keep us apart.

After a six-month engagement, we became Mr. and Mrs. and moved into a 17-foot camping trailer a few miles from San Quentin State Prison. (No connection implied by this columnist between incarceration and matrimony.)

After reaching the marriage goal, I shared with Becky that I’d like to find a student pastorate. Again, nothing would stop me, not the lack of reliable transportation, not the demanding schedule of exams and term papers, not the 1.9 grade average of my first grad school semester. Not even the joys of married life.

So I was thrilled to become the pastor of a rural congregation in Hopland, California.

Every Saturday, Becky and I drove 90 miles north from our seminary Shangri-La to stay in the “honeymoon suite” at the Hopland Motel, where the decor reflected the distressed surroundings of the town.

Each Saturday night after dinner I began calling members hoping to rally them for a record Sunday attendance. 

After some chit-chat, I’d ask, “Will we see you in church tomorrow?”

My telemarketing reflected a Southern Baptist strategy called, “Constant Contact Consciousness.”

The plan reasoned that by contacting a certain percentage of people I’d be guaranteed a pew-filling crowd of 40 parishioners.

But the congregants didn’t read the play book. Few could read at all.

Most respondents replied with one of two conditions:

 “If I wake up on time, I’ll be there, Pastor,” was their first requisite.

“If you set your alarm clock, you’ll certainly wake on time,” I’d say.  

Their second precondition was, “I’ll be there if the Good Lord’s willin’ and the ‘crick’ don’t rise.”

“I just don’t want you to miss an opportunity,” I’d say. “You have a chance to be encouraged and encourage others. Besides, I’ve checked the weather report. The creek is doing fine.”

My teasing was a gentle plea not to let opportunity drown in that rising creek.

Their answers told me that they were trying to hide their fear of commitment with expressions like, “I’ll pray about it,” or “God willing.”

In the months that followed, Becky and I began using those words, “If the crick don’t rise” as a way of spoofing our own reluctance to do things.

For instance, if I asked Becky if she planned to attend her exercise class, she would playfully mimic a tired voice, “Well, if the crick don’t rise, I’ll probably go.”

Her response told me that she had a natural reluctance to exercise, but she would attend the class because she knew it was the right thing.

As a couple of faith, we learned that the Good Lord is always willing to break through our reluctance to accomplish what needs to be done. Sometimes we simply need to be resolved that, if the creek begins to rise, we’ll build a bridge or buy a boat. If that doesn’t work, we’ll hire a helicopter.

That reminds me how earlier this year, we hired our first helicopter. In celebration of our 42nd anniversary, we flew over the bright orange lava fields of Hawaii.

 Again, no connection is implied by this columnist between a boiling caldron of magma and a happy marriage.


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