Companions for Life

Copyright © 1998 John D. Beckett, Loving Monday: 25-30.

THEY ARE USING THE BIBLE as a guide to business." Thus Peter Jennings summarized a small but growing trend in the American workplace. The fact that our company is part of such a trend is gratifying. It might never have happened, however, if my life had taken a different turn at a few key intersections.

I grew up in Elyria, Ohio, a small industrialized town not far from Cleveland. My parents, originally both from Canada, had moved there because my dad had been offered an engineering position with a company in the heating industry. I was born soon after, in 1938. By the mid-forties I had two younger sisters, Beverly and Susan.

Dad and Mother were very principled people who expressed their love, in part, by holding my sisters and me to a high standard. When we stepped out of bounds, they had an uncanny way of finding out. We attended the Episcopal church fairly regularly, but the hour on Sunday was largely detached from the rest of my world.

During my early teens, my parents gave me a handsome black Bible with a leather cover and gold-edged pages. I had been running with a tough group of guys, and I guess they felt it might help.

With good intentions I began reading my new Bible at Genesis, chapter one. (Isn't that how you read a book?) But when I got to the genealogies and detailed rules and regulations given by Moses, I bogged down. Before long I decided this book wasn't relevant to my world of friends, studies, dating and sports. That was it for the Bible for several years.


Then, during the summer after my first year of college, I met Wendy. It happened the day I went into the Portage Store—a small grocery outlet for campers and cottagers in Algonquin Park in Canada's north woods. My intent was to buy milk and a newspaper. But I was so dazzled by the beautiful young Canadian gal who waited on me that I left the store in a fog, totally forgetting the newspaper I'd gone in to buy.

Wendy, I discovered, had taken this summer job as a grocery clerk to earn tuition money for entrance into the University of Toronto that fall. It turned out that both our families had cottages on nearby Smoke Lake. On my first visit to see Wendy at her family's cottage, I arrived to find her sunning on the dock, reading the Bible.

Nobody reads the Bible on vacation! I thought. Though I was intrigued with her choice of reading material, that was not the main attraction. I found myself captivated by Wendy's sparkling eyes, her engaging smile and her love for the outdoors. It wasn't long before I realized I'd been smitten and was falling in love. I'm sure my parents were both amazed and amused by my eagerness to do the grocery shopping at the Portage Store the rest of that summer!

In the fall, as I returned to Boston and my second year of engineering at MIT, I found it was especially rough getting back to calculus and physics. Wendy was continually on my mind. I eagerly checked the mail each day, looking for any small clue in her letters that the feelings I had toward her were reciprocal. A visit to her home in Toronto the following Christmas confirmed that she too was falling in love, and from that point on, our relationship became the most important thing in my life.

We were together on every possible occasion over the next four years, especially during the summers. We stayed in touch through a steady exchange of letters, in which we candidly shared our thoughts and feelings (easier by mail than in person, perhaps). The growing prospect of marriage made everything else seem secondary, but we reluctantly concluded it was important for both of us to finish college first.

Working with Max

On my graduation in 1960, I took an engineering position with Lear-Romec, an aerospace firm located in my home town. There, I worked under the leadership of Max Utterback in a department that had responsibility for the design and development of guidance systems for missiles and aircraft.

Max was more than a boss; he was a mentor. He and I conferred by the hour about ways we could use very small electrical forces to position the massive booster engines used to launch spacecraft toward pinpoint targets in outer space. But our talks were more than technical. From Max's experience and wisdom, I gleaned solid insights into the ways integrity and fair dealing had their place in business decisions, large and small. Max had grown up in a home where the Bible was respected and regularly read, and I couldn't help wondering if his strong ethical values and good common sense were in some way a result of the Bible's influence.

Wendy and I were married a few months after her graduation in 1961. For our late summer honeymoon we returned to our much-loved Algonquin Park, this time for a seventy-five-mile canoe trip, paddling across sequestered lakes and traversing rugged portages.

We settled into a modest apartment in Elyria, not far from where I worked. Wendy was hired to teach French in local grade schools. We joined the violin section of a small community orchestra and attended the local Episcopal church. We lived near my parents and were able to see them often. A year after we were married, Kirsten, our first child was born. All in all, we were convinced life could not have been much more perfect. For us, Camelot had come to Ohio—at least for the moment.

That Enigmatic Book Again

During our courtship and early marriage, I noticed that Wendy continued to read her well-worn Bible. But in spite of her example, I simply was not able to get enthused about this enigmatic book. I would try now and then, dusting off the fine volume my parents had given me, but it didn't seem relevant. Again and again I would set it aside. The turning point eventually came in the form of a challenge.

On the invitation of a friend, Wendy and I attended a seminar given by a speaker who based his teaching on biblical principles and their application to everyday life. He offered seminar participants a challenge. "I want to ask you to do something," he said. "I'm asking you to make a commitment—between you and the Lord—to read the Bible every day for at least five minutes."

I like challenges, and I took this one.

At first, reading the Bible daily was sheer discipline. Occasionally I'd crawl into bed and realize, "Oh, nuts! I forgot to do my reading today." On would come the light—out would come the toothpicks to keep my eyelids up. But the dutiful practice continued. Unlike earlier efforts where I began with the Old Testament, I found it more relevant to read the Gospels and Letters in the New Testament. In time, the discipline became a delight. As I began to read the Scriptures first thing in the morning (I changed my routine to a time when I was most alert), it not only saved on toothpicks but helped nourish my mind and spirit throughout the day.

Surprisingly, the much-neglected black Bible from my parents was coming to life. I was amazed to discover how often something I had recently read would apply to a situation I was facing. Almost imperceptibly, I began looking at things differently as ideas and concepts from the Scriptures began shaping my thoughts and attitudes.

Little did I know how timely this new help from the Bible would be, for our little Camelot was about to collapse. Soon we would encounter challenges that would leave us reeling—and would leave me looking for bedrock answers to baffling questions.