“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NASB).
It’s time to “spill the beans,” say my friends.
Bertha Fagan is her name. She is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and lives nearby in the community of Pearl where she teaches English at the Rankin Center of Hinds Community College.
Bertha is the widow of Dr. Gary Fagan, a seminary classmate of mine. But even though Gary and I knew each other for fifty years, and at one time we all belonged to First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, we did not know one another’s families. Gary went to Heaven in May of 2014.
My wife Margaret died the following January.
Bertha and I met for the first time on February 15 of this year (2016). Within days, we both knew the Lord had done something special here.
We have assured our families that “even though this started quickly and got up to warp speed in record time, we’re not rushing into anything.” Only recently, after six months, did we become engaged.
After Gary and Bertha left seminary in New Orleans, they returned to Jackson where he directed the work of Youth For Christ. Later, they moved to Atlanta where he led the YFC work there.
They pastored churches near Monticello, MS, in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, near Boston, and in Melbourne, Florida. Gary taught and served as chaplain at Barrington College in Massachusetts. They served as IMB missionaries (under the “Masters” program) in Malawi and Brazil, before retiring to Jackson where Gary served Southern Hills Baptist Church until his homegoing.
Through the years, Bertha has taught English and English literature, online as well as in high school and/or college. She has a bachelor’s from Bob Jones (she was a classmate of John MacArthur and knew Bob Jones Senior, Junior, and III) and a masters from Rhode Island College. (Interestingly, both she and her sister Laura were homecoming queens at Forest Hill High School.)
They have a son and a daughter and six grandchildren. Jeff lives in Hattiesburg and Lari in Deltona, Florida. He is career military and she teaches school (and is married to a minister).
After a marriage of 52 years, Gary’s death devastated Bertha. She would journal that she would never marry again and would come up with a long list of reasons. After the greatest guy in the world, “the kind of marriage every woman dreams of,” she would say, nothing and no one could ever compete with that.
Meanwhile, a year after my Margaret’s death (written about on these pages at the end of January ’15 and early in February), my son Neil announced his family would be moving to Mobile, Alabama, to be closer to his job. Since I would be left with no family here–son Marty lives in NC and daughter Carla in MO–I began telling the Lord, “If you have someone for me, as ‘the love of the rest of my life,’ here is what I would like….”
Is this presumption, telling the Lord what you want in a mate? I don’t know, but I did it. Each time, I would end the prayer with, “But Lord, You know best. Thy will be done.”
“I would like someone intelligent and godly. Sweet and humble. Attractive is good, but it’s number 5. And Lord, let her not have a lot of complications in her personal life–like grown kids who lay around the house smoking dope or something. (Marry her and your life is all about dealing with them.)”
Then, I thought of one more.
“And Lord, whoever she is, let us both know it up front, so we don’t play a lot of games.”
One day I thought of Bertha.
We had never met, but we each knew who the other was. When Gary had been stricken with an aneurysm in May of 2014, a friend asked for prayer online. I went to his wife’s Facebook page and left a note, then clicked on to see a few photographs. At first, I was puzzled. How could this young thing be his wife? Wasn’t she our age? We were all in seminary in the 1960s. And yet, that has to be her.
Bertha wasn’t on social media often. But anything she wrote, usually a comment on someone’s post, was always gracious and encouraging, classy and positive. She was clearly someone worth knowing.
I sent her a note. “Would you ever be interested in meeting for lunch or coffee? If not, I understand. But if so, I’ll come back and tell you the next time I’ll be traveling through your area to preach.”
Since Gary’s death, mine was the first invitation she had accepted. She had turned down many, including one at the funeral.
We met for lunch at the Corner Bakery in Flowood, Mississippi, just east of Jackson. She said, “I thought we would talk about Gary and Margaret.”
We did, but for two solid hours we talked about them and life and children and careers and God. (She never touched the tomato basil soup in front of her.)
Now, I was exhausted.
I had been in five churches that weekend in the Mississippi Delta. Late Sunday night, I had driven to Jackson and checked into a hotel. Monday, I sketched for over three hours at the retirement celebration of Dr. David Michel from the state Baptist office. Then, Bertha and I met for lunch.
After our two hour visit, we gave each other a little hug, and I drove to New Orleans.
Bertha sat there in her car for a while, she told me later, wondering what had just happened to her. “I was completely discombobulated,” she now laughs.
Something had happened.
That was Monday, February 15, 2016. I drove back to Jackson the following Friday. And it’s been steady ever since.
A friend who heard all this said with a laugh, “Joe, with all those trips to Jackson, just remember you’re not 25 any more.” I said, “You’re right. I’m not 25. I’m 15.”
I’ve put my house on the market and we have found a lovely house in north Jackson (Ridgeland, actually) which we expect to buy. As with everything else, we look to the Lord for leadership and guidance in these matters.
We’ve not set a date yet. At this point, we’re thinking the wedding will be a small thing with just the immediate family. We’ll walk into the chapel at First Baptist Church Jackson, say our vows, and then hug everyone and get on with life.
How much life will God give us together? He’s in charge of that. My parents lived some 20 years past my present age, so I think, “Wouldn’t that be nice, for us to have two more decades to serve the Lord together?” But, our times are in His hand.
Bertha is still teaching (online at Hinds and for Taylor University in Indiana and two classes at her local center) and I’m still traveling to preach and teach. (Next month, I’ll be in Enterprise, AL, Chattanooga, TN, and Baton Rouge, LA.)
We feel so blessed.
We laugh a lot. Early on, she said, “What would be a deal-breaker for you in this?”
Ever the comic, I said, “Well, three things. Do you smoke? Were you ever a man? Do you still work at the roadhouse over on the highway?”
I love the tiny pause between my saying something and the moment she realizes it is a joke. She is quiet a full two seconds, then bursts out in laughter.
Longtime friends reading this will tease that they need to tell Bertha the facts about Joe! Not long ago when Bertha accompanied me to the board meeting of a local ministry, I told them. “To those of you who know me slightly, please tell this good woman nice things about Joe. And those of you who have known me well for many years, keep your cotton-picking mouths shut!!”
I’m so grateful for the Lord’s goodness. He is indeed “marvelous in our sight.”
Congratulations! God’s blessings! Happy for you and Bertha!
Blessings on you both…
Congratulations, to you and Ms. Bertha, Joe… the good Lord has truly blessed both of you… may you both continue to be covered in His grace, and with His mercy, and may you enjoy many, many happy years together…
And we both thought you were just doing Valentine’s banquets in those five Delta churches that weekend. Romans 8:28 is still in effect. We are so happy for you. P.S. …Especially Celeste.
That weekend makes you part of my Bertha-story. 🙂 Thank you.
I had already figured that! Congratulations Joe.
I am so happy for both of you!! May God grant you both many years of joy!!!
I am so proud you have each other. I feel I had the best, so why would I want anything else, but if God shows me that in his ultimate will, he wants me to spend the rest of my life with someone else, I hope I listen. I’m certainly not looking. He did send one guy and we dated a few times, but we called a halt to it. He claimed I was too good for him, which I denied. He rephrased it and said my values and standards superseded his.
Sweet love story and again God’s provision when we seek Him in all things. Excited for you both. ?
I am so happy for you and Bertha, sounds like a marriage made in heaven.
Joe……What a cool story of God’s goodness & graciousness! Thanks for sharing! God bless you & Bertha!!!
I do not know you well but I treasure the revival time we shared together at Double Springs. This story reminded me of mine and my wife’s love story, and reminded me to be thankful for God’s goodness. It also made me laugh. Praying for a lovely wedding and a rich, beautiful marriage. Congratulations.
How exciting Joe. We enjoyed meeting Bertha. She is as sweet as she is beautiful. And you will be such a great joy to her. You are a Godly man who knows how to love and “show a girl a good time.” We are very happy for you.
How lovely! May the Father richly bless you with many years and a sweet life together. Several similarities to mine and Ronnie’s story. We were in our mid-forties when God said our union was His path. Thirty-three years last month and still following His path.
Good for you both! God’s Grace and Peace be on you and Bertha!
Wonderful story enabling emotion to be felt and expressed for your joy and excitement. May the Lord continue His blessings on you and Bertha!
God is so good to us — providing His best gifts always at the perfect time. May you both continue to see His hand of healing, hope, and faithfulness as your love for each other deepens. Congratulations on your engagement!
Wishing you much joy! And you’re right – she’s much too young for you!
Ha. As of yesterday, Mignon, we’re the same age. I’m five mos her senior. (I’ve thought how Margaret would get a kick out of that. She was always irritated by the way men want to marry a women 20 years younger than themselves. Wonder how she would feel if she knew I’m marrying one two years older than she! ha.)
I am crying HAPPY tears! You are such a special person, and I pray God provides many wonderful years for you two to serve together. She sounds like a perfect match for my dear friend, and I’m thankful God lead her to you! Much love and prayers! ❤️?☝️??
Joe! Such JOY and gratitude comes to heart and mind as I read what God has done and what He will do for you and Bertha! Two missions will soon blend into one as God continues to work His plan for the two of you. Nancy and I make the trip back to Jackson a few times a year and I hope one day to meet her. We are so happy for both of you! God’s blessings as you plan ahead! ONWARD!
Joe Love L.H. and I are so happy for you . We will be praying for y’all as you continue your journey with the Lord together!
Thank you. Sure would love a visit with you two.
I’m thankful to God on your behalf. It sounds so very good.
Mrs. Fagan is one of my favorite people! So happy for you both! You had better treat her right!
I promise, Robin.
I love your story. Nancy and I wish you “God’s best” as you make your way down life’s Happy Trails.
Please note: Everyone is waiting for your sketches of the Honeymoon
What honeymoon? Bertha hasn’t told me we’re having one!
Right now the plans are to get married and ask the wedding party to all stop at Wendy’s for frosties and then go our separate ways.
Heartiest Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you and Bertha! Prayers for each of you as you continue this new journey of love. She is a beautiful woman and sounds like a perfect match for you. God bless.
Thank you, Hazel. Thought of you yesterday as B and I worshiped in Jackson alongside Mary (Hill) and Larry Glass. Wonderful in every way.
What a go!!!
Congratulations! Praying that house sells soon so you don’t have quite as much driving! Best wishes to both of you!
With all the sweet-nothings dripping off this page, I think it is time for some serious thinking I think the first boy should be named Ed in memory of our uncle. Don’t give me the age stuff….Abraham and Sarah were both older and I need a new nephew or even a nephine. Now, I mentioned several times on Joe’s page that he needed a casserole and evidently, he got one. I told ya….
It’s not often someone can write something on here and leave me speechless, but you come as close as it’s ever been done. lol. I read your comments and honestly can’t think of a thing (printable) to say!! ha.
Congratulations Joe, and thank you for sharing your story. God is good. Blessings
Don’t put it off when you are ready. I’ve had 23 great years with my second love. By the by don’t preachers get beautiful gals???
I’m smiling at that last remark, Brother Vander. Maybe seminaries ought to use that as a ploy to get more students volunteering for the ministry: “You get the prettiest girls!” ha.
Bro. Joe! This is such grand news.
I am so happy for you both ! Uncle Joe she did GOOD ! Blessed beyond measure LOVE is a BEAUTIFUL thing ! Best wishes ! Love to you and Ms.Bertha!!
So proud for you, Bro. Joe, and for Bertha, too. So many of us walked through the pain of loss with you (via social media), especially those of us who had experienced the loss of our own dear ones. Now we get to share in your joy! My prayers for you and Bertha, are that you will have many years of health and happy marriage. I still cherish the sketch you did, in color, of my precious Jerome, from a photograph, when you came to Lanett, Alabama. Rusty Thomaston was our pastor then. God bless you and your bride-to-be!
I am so excited for the 2 of you! I loved Bertha since she and Gary served at McElwain Baptist Church and have followed her since Gary’s death. I have always wished there would be someone very special that God would place in her life to enjoy life with and keep her from being alone! You obviously met that in Bertha’s life and I am praying for your happiness and to God be the Glory!!!
Congratulations, Joe and Bertha. I’m thrilled for you. May the Lord make your next years your most enjoyable!
I am so thrilled!I thought something was up!!So happy for you.Saw this lovely lady and she is a perfect match!!Gods blessings on you!!!Bettie & George Jeffords
This is wonderful news. I am very happy for BOTH of you. Bertha knows this, but she is marrying an incredible and talented man. I join all the others in congratulating you, with a promise to pray for you and Bertha as you write this next chapter. God is good and His grace often takes ones breath away – just as you’ve experienced. (Giving both of you a standing ovation as I conclude this note.)
It’s been so long since I’ve had a standing O, Larry. Thank you!! 🙂 (You were at NOBTS when Gary and I were there. I’m confident you knew him then.)
Blessings on you both. I know you’re excited and blessed…a godly, beautiful lady. But my friend, this sweet lady is blessed as well. You are a godly, inspirational gentleman whom this pastor learns much from. It looks like a “God thing” to me.
What God hath joined together let no man put assunder….isn’t God good. I look forward to the time you’ll be back at Oyster Bay and we can meet and love Bertha like we do Dr. Joe McKeever.
Jerry Peebles, OBBC
Congratulations Joe! You hold a special place in the hearts of my family! Wish you much happiness ! ???
Congratulations! If I meet her, I will make up some nice things that I’ll say Presbyterians in Columbus said about you, if you buy my lunch one day! And. . .I will welcome you to Ridgeland.
Joe – I do not know you but I know Bertha. You have found a treasure. Bertha is the sweetest, kindest and sincere woman that I have ever known. I am so happy for her because she has a lot of love to share and I know that you will be happy together in your lives while working for the Lord. Joy! Joy! Joy!
AWESOME! GOD IS GOOD INDEED.
Wonderful! Congratulations! The only thing wrong with this story is that it doesn’t end, “and we’re moving to the north Georgia mountains.”
Joe, your story is so much like Jennifer and mine that I had to let her read it this morning. Congratulations my friend! I wish you both the very best in the next 20 or so years together. My first wife Debbie was a cancer victim and after 18 years she went to be with Jesus in September of ’84. Jen and I met while I was in revival in May of ’85 and married at Central Park Baptist Church in Birmingham in September of the same year. We have had almost 31 years together and 2 more sons in addition to the son and daughter that Debbie and I had together. Loneliness is a terrible thing but our Father has an answer for it as you have well discovered. Next time you’re in North Alabama come by and see us with your new bride.
Joe and Bertha,
How wonderful that God has brought you together….he’s a great Matchmaker. Enjoyed your piece on welcoming visitors to church, Joe, and your comics as well; your sense of humor shines through. Now about Bertha: you have found the sweetest, most godly woman, I have ever met (and I’m as old as she is). She is beautiful both inside and out. I am so privileged to have such a friend as she, the quintessential godly woman. May your union be blessed beyond your imaginations.
Love & prayers,
Bro. Joe, congratulations to you and Berth on your upcoming nuptials. Loved your story how God answered your prayers and brought you two together. God is so good. My prayers for a long and fruitful ministry together.
JOE, Nutie and I are so-o-o happy for you!!! You and your family always meant so much to our family!! Blessings to you and THANK GOD for second chances!! Our daughter Wendy and her hubby, Chip Chudy and boys live in Ridgeland. They own and operate Motor Cars of Jackson. Nancy Landrum who has recently married again lives there also.
Joe, you are a great guy and we all love you and are very happy about your news!
Congratulations, Joe! My father married after my mother died. It has been a wonderful blessing. May God richly bless your time together.
Thanks, friend. Appreciate the encouragement.