I have written a series of articles comparing marriage to an Aztec battle where Hernando Cortéz and his army burned their boats to give themselves no escape. They must have victory or perish with the enemy.

Marriage is like that. We must burn our boats at the altar and give ourselves no escape. It must be an eternal commitment if the marriage is going to be successful. It is simply a “do-or-die” situation.

Now, I say that, but I know there are extenuating circumstances where a marriage must be terminated for the welfare and safety of spouse or children. The Lord doesn’t expect His children to live in abusive circumstances. That said, I believe that many divorces could be avoided if both spouses understood the depth and breadth of the commitment necessary to make a success of it.

After the marriage, couples must work together to make new boats to travel the waters of calm and storm they will encounter in their married lifetime. I can promise it will never be all smooth sailing. Life is not intended to see if we can stay afloat in placid waters.

It is designed to show us that, with God’s help, we can weather the violent storms of life and keep on going. It is designed to make us strong enough to endure to the end. Even the best of marriages will encounter difficulties, no matter how well prepared they are.


On August 4, my life was shaken in a violent storm of epic magnitude. I had just started school, we had a wonderful orientation meeting with a motivational speaker, and I was ready for the year. I was going to be the best teacher in the whole school.

Not one of those little first-graders would leave my class without knowing how to read and do math. The ideas were flowing, and my ocean was a sea of glass as far as the eye could see. About three o’clock, I got a phone call from my sister. In a tear-choked voice she said, “Chester is dead.” Everything in my world changed in that second.

Chester was my older brother and my hero. I could not believe it, but it was true. He had gone out that morning on a pleasure ride. His horse, which had never bucked before, unexpectedly threw him off. At first, everyone suspected foul play because he was an Arizona state senator running unopposed for a second term.

Some did not like his conservative views and his efforts to bring the state to fiscal responsibility or his educational views. No foul play – the Lord just called him home. As days went by, we came to see the quiet indicators that it was God’s will, but that didn’t help. Chester was still gone, leaving a hole in our hearts and in our lives.

Chester had one of those torched-boat-at-the-altar marriages. He and his wife, Alice, were married for 47 years. They had nine children, and they are all happily married with children. Of course, it was not perfect, but the way they lived their lives made all the difference.

I had insisted, in 1988, that Chester sit down and give me his life story because I think that everyone’s story is precious and needs to be told. He was reluctant and stubborn, but I kept bugging him. One Sunday afternoon he obliged.

For two hours we talked about his life. We laughed and cried, and finally at the end, I asked him what his philosophy of life was. He said, “My favorite scripture is ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all else will be added unto you.’”

That two-hour cassette tape recording was his epitaph, and he left a legacy to remember of the thread of purpose woven through his life.

Chester and Alice began their marriage with the attitude of building the Kingdom of God, and they never let that goal slip into the background. Alice became the mother of her children. She never left them to the babysitter or day care. They grew at her feet learning her and her husband’s united philosophy of “Seeking the Kingdom of God.”

Chester was extremely successful in building the Kingdom of God. He taught elementary school for several years; then he taught agriculture in the high school. He was never the kind of teacher who handed you the textbook and said, “Read chapter five and answer the questions.”

No, he was the kind of teacher who handed you a hammer and said, “Let’s build our greenhouse. Let’s raise our own steers. If we do this, what do you think will happen?” He loved his students and taught them to be thinkers and to be productive. Students all over the country mourn his loss because of the legacy he left.

Chester moved from the classroom as he saw greater opportunities to bless lives. He helped design a partnership between the high school and the local college. He helped many students to obtain two years of college while they were still in high school. Students graduated with two years of nursing, certifications in welding, heavy equipment or fire science. He was the superintendent of that program for many years.

He thought he could serve educators more effectively if he ran for public office. He became an Arizona state representative. Many of his ideas were too conservative and were misrepresented by his opponents.

I was horrified when I heard a commercial on the radio: “Don’t trust your funds to this Jesse James of the West.” They did not know the man of complete integrity that I grew up with. They didn’t know his heart like I did. Chester just laughed when I told him.

“That’s politics.” He talked many times about the corruption in the government and didn’t know what he could do to stop it, but he would try one more time.

Chester never really wanted to be in the public eye. He always wanted to be a cowboy. He had a dream and worked on that dream every chance he got. He owned a small ranch in conjunction with my parents. He loved to ride, rope and care for his cattle.

He was building his dream ranch house, and getting ready for the fall sale, when he took his morning ride. The morning after he passed away, I lay in my bed pondering my loss when this poem came to me. It says so much about Chester’s choices.

The Cowboy’s Final Ride

In the sunny light of morning,
he saddled his horse,
Put his boot in the stirrup and faced his thoughts toward the west.
It was good to feel the breeze
on his weary face.
The smell of the pines and the clink
of the horse’s hooves were soothing.
He missed the open range.
There was too much of the city
and problems left unsolved.
This ride would be restful
and in the evening he would sleep.

Suddenly the clouds of heaven parted and the Savior stood before him
With the light of heaven shining ’round.

“My son, it’s time to come home
to be with me a while.”

“Oh no” the cowboy cried.
His face grew ashen white.
“My work is not finished here
upon the earth.
I have calves to sell tomorrow
and the winter feed to get.
My ranch house is only a foundation and my barn is almost done.
My wife and kids are waiting.
My loved ones will be alone.
There are things down in the city
that I have left undone.”

“Come my son, look at all
that you have done.
There are golden threads of testimony woven into a thousand hearts.
They will bless your name forever
for showing them the way.
Eighteen sons and daughters stand
as proud witnesses
of all that you have taught.

“Their little ones will follow
in the straight path that you have laid.
The Arizona flag flies a little prouder because you gave your all.
You will leave a cavern of sorrow
in many silent hearts,
But my son, I will fill the crevices with love and they will come to understand.
Your earthly ride has ended.

“Please come, my faithful one,
and do the work I need for you to do.
There is a ranch house among my mansions that I have built for you.
There will be many peaceful rides
in heaven in the glorious morning
of celestial skies.”

The Savior opened up His arms
and the cowboy, like a child,
flew into his embrace,
Just as he had always done.
Earthly dreams are set aside
to finish Heaven’s work.

—Love, Yevet Crandell Tenney PD

Photo by Mike Dixon.