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Zack and Judy Guess (Handout)

Lifestyle

Blessings by the dozen

Zack and Judy Guess raised a large family, but the task came with challenges

(Ninth in a series on long marriages.)

Zack Guess’ mother died when he was 19. His father died five years later. With his parents gone, he developed a close relationship with an older couple at his church and often visited them at their home.

One day, he noticed that the couple’s teenage daughter, Judy, was growing up. Zack fell in love and told her he planned to marry her. Startled, Judy at first avoided him, but over time her heart changed as she observed his passion for the Lord. They married in 1969, when Judy was 17 and Zack was 28. A few years later, Zack became a pastor at Grace Chapel Primitive Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

The couple chose to let God decide how many children they would have. God ultimately gave them 12, though one died as a baby. They discovered that raising so many children while working in the ministry was no easy feat.

The family had a two-bedroom house: They put two sets of bunk beds in one room, two sets in the other, and one set on a closed-in front porch. Judy creatively kept everyone organized. Instead of always cleaning up after the kids, she confiscated things the children left on the floor. To get their shoe or pencils back, the child would have to wait until Saturday and do an extra chore. But Judy also made things fun: She had the children draw names to see who would be their “secret pal,” a sibling to secretly serve that week.

With such a big family, finances were often tight. Zack remembered one occasion when the family was squeezing into a station wagon and couldn’t afford a new van. Judy told the children they would eat only cornbread and milk for breakfast and save the money and pray for a new van. The Guesses said God always provided: In this instance, several people donated a used van to them.

Parenting was difficult, especially when the kids misbehaved. Once, two children ate the candy they were supposed to be selling. The kids denied it persistently, but Judy could see chocolate around one child’s mouth. Zack and Judy prayed that the children would choose to confess, and after a few days, they did.

In 1991, the Guesses struggled when their 11th baby died a month after her birth. Zack had recently preached on the resurrection, and Judy remembers her 4-year-old son insisting they buy baby food at the store. She explained that the baby was in heaven and wouldn’t need it, but her son said that when Jesus came back, the baby would be resurrected and need food. Judy bought the baby food. 

The Guesses remember the pressure their baby’s death put on their marriage. “I’d read that when parents go through the death of a child, they are vulnerable to divorce,” said Judy. Instead of pulling away, the couple worked to stay close to each other. 

As the children grew up and started their own families, having so many siblings has provided opportunities for mutual support. Judy said that when their oldest daughter Hannah became pregnant with twins, lost one in utero, and developed a terrible infection, a carload of family members drove 13 hours to Virginia to be with her for the weekend.

There are fun times, too, especially on birthdays and holidays. Thanksgiving traditions for the Guesses include games, singing together, and a family talent show. In 2019 they had 82 people attending, including a few friends. Every other Sunday, Judy has the whole family over for a meal. “We try to keep a lot of togetherness,” she said. 

After 50 years of marriage, Zack is 78 and Judy is 67. Zack still pastors Grace Chapel Primitive Baptist Church in Memphis after 44 years. One of his sons, Isaac, serves as an associate pastor there. The couple is enjoying their children, most of whom live nearby, and their 35 grandchildren.

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Dennis and Margaret Guth (Handout)

Lifestyle

Learning to wrestle pigs

Farmers Dennis and Margaret Guth fought often—until they learned to understand and appreciate their differences

(Eighth in a series on long marriages.)

Margaret Guth grew up as a missionary kid in Puerto Rico. Her husband, Dennis Guth, grew up on a farm in Klemme, Iowa. They met in high school and married in 1978, a year after Dennis graduated from college. Dennis was quiet and hardworking. Margaret was very relational. 

But a few months into their marriage, Margaret remembers crying frequently: “We weren’t connecting emotionally.” She felt increasingly distant from her husband. 

Dennis, though, thought things were fine. “I didn’t realize there was a big hole in Margaret’s life,” he says, “and she was looking for a friend. And I wasn’t being that friend.”

Meanwhile, Margaret had failed to anticipate the realities of farm life. Dennis sometimes became frustrated with her mistakes. She failed to stop the tractor when oil leaked into the cabin, and she did not realize she had to look at a pig’s eyes while chasing it. She wasn’t aware of how physically taxing farm work was and thus underestimated how much food Dennis needed. Plus, in Puerto Rico, her mother employed a maid, and Margaret hadn’t learned to cook.

The small differences led to big disagreements. Eventually, Dennis says, “most of our conversations ended up pretty heated and in an argument.” Eleven years into their marriage, the two were sleeping in different rooms of the house, Dennis downstairs and Margaret upstairs. At that point, Margaret despaired, thinking things would not improve, despite their attempts at counseling. 

But in August 1989, the couple attended a friend’s wedding, and Margaret found the beginnings of a solution: “I felt God telling me, ‘It’s going to be OK. I’m going to work a work. Stay with him.’” Without a plan but with new hope, she reconciled with Dennis and moved back downstairs. 

After that, the Guths’ relationship gradually improved: Margaret stopped mentioning her need for emotional connection and expecting Dennis to meet it. Instead of getting upset by Dennis’ logical personality and comments, she turned to God in prayer—and saw Him provide opportunities for her and her husband to grow closer. 

One such opportunity came in their difficult adoption experience: After having four biological children, the Guths adopted a girl from Brazil. During the seven-year process, Margaret and Dennis realized they could not nurture little Anna until they first learned to support each other. 

When Anna and her siblings grew up, their parents experienced another time of growth. Now an empty nester, Dennis decided to run for the Iowa Senate. He did, and won. Margaret acted as his clerk. Seeing him in a different environment showed her his giftings in a new light, she says: His logical mind and problem-solving abilities enabled him to lead confrontational meetings without getting upset when people were critical. As Margaret’s perspective changed, Dennis was also learning to understand his wife: He began giving Margaret hugs when he came in the house and building bonfires for them to make s’mores and relax together in the evening.

After 41 years of marriage, Dennis, 64, and Margaret, 62, say they are still learning to understand and appreciate each other in their differences. But through patience and perseverance, they have seen God work. 

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Greg and Robin Reynolds (today) and in 1973 (inset). (Handout)

Lifestyle

Married to the minister

Greg and Robin Reynolds both embraced the gospel, but could Robin also embrace being a pastor’s wife?

(Seventh in a series on long marriages.)

Greg and Robin Reynolds were high-school sweethearts, but after graduation, they went separate ways.

Halfway through college, Greg became disillusioned and dropped out: He realized the Zen Buddhism he’d adopted didn’t deal with the problems of sin and death. Searching for answers, he moved into a commune and, through reading the Bible, became a Christian in 1971. Later that year, Greg moved to L’Abri Fellowship, Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer’s study center in Switzerland. 

Back in New Hampshire, Robin could not deny how her mother’s life had changed after she became a Christian: She displayed a new contentment and joy. One weekend, Robin came home from college and asked, “Mom, what do you have that I don’t?” In February 1972, Greg returned from L’Abri and was “instrumental,” Robin said, in helping her understand and accept the gospel. The couple married the next year.

But when Greg decided he wanted to attend seminary and become a pastor, Robin felt intimidated: She supported his dream, but her reserved personality and New England independence did not match her idea of a pastor’s wife—extroverted and involved in everything. When Greg began pastoring a small Orthodox Presbyterian Church in New York, Robin prayed, “Lord, I’ll do my best.” 

Robin felt the pressure of the congregation’s expectations. “There are perceptions that you have to be perfect,” she said. “Even though people don’t really believe that, it’s still there.” She struggled not to overcommit out of a desire to please everyone, and Greg reminded her the Bible does not describe the perfect pastor’s wife. Over time, Robin took on the tasks she could manage and tried to serve quietly behind the scenes. One of her biggest challenges, she said, was hosting presbytery: At the couple’s second church, she hosted five, coordinating multiple meals for 90 visiting pastors and elders. Though tempted to focus on people’s expectations, she tried instead to concentrate on what God expected.

Greg also felt the pressures of ministry. “We really had to rely on the Lord just to survive,” he said. Robin encouraged her husband when he felt stuck in counseling, and she affirmed his preaching. He told her his troubles without gossiping about church members. The Reynoldses stuck together throughout their 40 years of ministry. Today Greg says ministry is such isolating work that he doesn’t know how men do it without a supportive wife.

When Greg retired last summer, the church ladies asked Robin for a list of her responsibilities. It was longer than anyone realized, including “everything from making sure the flowers on the front porch were always there in the summer to hosting presbytery,” Greg said. It took eight people to cover for her.

Now Greg is 70 and Robin is 68. They live in New Hampshire, enjoying time with their grandchildren. Greg edits a journal for officers in his denomination, writes, and preaches frequently. The couple remains busy, but being free of ministry burdens makes a big difference. Looking back, Robin said the mark of a good pastor’s wife is faithfulness: showing up and sticking with the tasks she takes on.

In the end, Greg said, “Robin made a better pastor’s wife than she will admit.”

—This story has been corrected to reflect that Greg and Robin Reynolds spent 40 years in the ministry and now live in New Hampshire. Greg continues to preach frequently.

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