words: Marla Cantrell
Images:courtesy of Roebuck Media
Jim Walters met Lynda Springfield on December 14, 1962, at a Christmas party in Dallas. Jim, a Yankee from Hershey, Pennsylvania, was attending Dallas Theological Seminary, and Lynda, a homecoming queen from Siloam Springs, Arkansas, was working for Texas Instruments. Two months after their first meeting, Jim invited Lynda to work at a church camp. “We didn’t talk in between,” says Jim as he laughs. “I’d forgotten her name.” But within a month, Jim and Lynda were dating. “The rest is history,” says Jim, who’s now seventy-eight. “Little did I know what the privilege of loving Lynda would mean.”
Jim tells the story like it was yesterday. “Initially, it was her beauty, her personality, her smile. She was introverted and calm. I ran down the hallway of the dormitory and said, ‘I got two dates with Lynda Springfield!’” But after their third date, Jim told Lynda they needed to stop dating because he felt differently. “I thought she was out of my league,” says Jim. “But then she smiled and said those magic words—‘I feel differently as well. I don’t think we need to stop.’” That night, Jim held Lynda’s hand for the first time.
Within a year, Jim and Lynda were married. They moved to Connecticut, where Jim worked for several churches and painted houses to supplement their income. In 1967, they had their first son, Scott. “We lived from hand to mouth,” says Jim, “and we left without any money, but God always provided. That time taught us simplicity. It taught us that you have to wait a bit before you decide if something was a good investment.”
In 1968, Jim and Lynda moved to Siloam Springs. The next year, they had their second son, Kirk, and Jim started teaching biblical studies at John Brown University, a place he stayed for forty-five years. While Jim worked, Lynda kept busy raising the boys, teaching Sunday school, and playing the organ. Life was ideal.
However, there were times when Lynda’s arms wouldn’t move. She’d start to pick her leg up, but couldn’t. She’d experience double vision. And then things would be fine for weeks or months until it happened again.
The diagnosis came in 1977 after a week of tests. Lynda had a demyelinating disease that would later be called multiple sclerosis. Jim says, “Our nerves are covered by a myelin sheath of neurons, like an electric cord that’s insulated by rubber. When that covering breaks down, muscles and organs stop functioning properly because they can’t receive signals from the brain. So the disease is neurological as well as autoimmune.”
By the early eighties, the disease was taking its toll emotionally. Jim says, “The signs still weren’t severe, but it was affecting our bedroom. We had a king-sized bed in those days, and one night, Lynda reached out to touch me, and I pulled away. I stayed there all night. I can still hear her sobbing.”
It took some time, but that night was a turning point for Jim. “I told myself, ‘Walters, you are a selfish man. How could you be so insensitive to her feelings? The opposite of love is not hate, it’s selfishness.’ And that only happened one time. That was it. I never did it again.”
In 1987, Lynda was still able to move around, but had a double-vision attack one night while driving. “I came home, and she was frozen behind the steering wheel. It scared her to death,” says Jim. After that incident, Lynda stopped driving forever.
“Everything was gradual. We’d come to certain plateaus. Okay, this is where we are. We’re in a wheelchair now. Then ten years later, we really can’t get into a car anymore. We’re going to need a van.”
Still, life continued. Friends and family raised money for a van. The boys grew up, and Jim and Lynda attended school games, concerts, and church. They went out to eat. Jim says, “I felt it was my responsibility to make things as least intrusive as possible in her life. So we did everything we did before, but it took more time.
“What’s funny is that tardiness used to be the biggest point of pride in my life. I was never late. Lynda was never late. Well, low and behold. She’d have an accident, sometimes as many as three a day, and I learned it was pretty important for me not to shift back and forth, not to let her know I was impatient.”
Despite the challenging circumstances, Jim says their love for each other only grew. He says, “You may think it sounds impossible, but there was a profound connection, something that goes beyond physical bodies.
“People often say that love is a decision, and that grinds my coffin,” says Jim. “Love is character. God is love, and we are made in his image. Loving is the action, the choice, but it flows out of character.”
In this way, Jim loved Lynda while she had multiple sclerosis for thirty-five years. For twenty of those years, he dressed her, fed her, and put on her makeup. He laughs and says, “Yeah, sometimes it was pretty successful.” And whereas a lot of people see Jim as a hero, he says, “It takes more grace to be Lynda than to be Jim. All these things were taken from her. She is my hero because she only cried twice, both times because ‘It’s so difficult for you.’ Next to her, the boys are the heroes,” Jim says, and then he tells the story of how, when their sons were teenagers, they did everything they could, including helping their mom make her way to public restrooms, when the family ventured out.
People have suggested that Jim could have put Lynda in a nursing facility, and Jim has known others in similar situations who did, or had affairs, or got divorces in order to pursue a different life. But those things were never options for Jim and his character.
“My philosophy for a happy marriage is simple—love your spouse more than yourself. It’s easier said than done, but there’s satisfaction and delight in seeing your spouse happy,” Jim says, as he reflects on what life was like with Lynda. “I’ve given up a lot, but I have Lynda here, this woman who smiles and laughs. Nothing could take away her deep sense of joy.”
On January 18, 2012, with Jim, Scott, and Kirk by her side, Lynda died from complications of her disease. She was seventy years old. “If there’s such a thing as a beautiful death, she had it,” says Jim. “She was active right up to the end, attending our grandchildren’s events. She passed away so quietly, we didn’t even hear her take her last breath.”
Four years later, Jim still misses Lynda, the girl he met on December 14, 1962, at a Christmas party in Dallas. Their story is being featured in an upcoming documentary entitled Loving Lynda. The film is being produced by Roebuck Media and is directed by one of Jim’s former students, Jacob Roebuck. In response to all the attention, Jim says, “It never dawned on me that people were noticing.” His reaction shows once again that love gives without expectation of receiving or praise. And although it sometimes takes a bit to decide if something was a good investment, love is its own reward, as simple and deep as a smile.
For information on release dates and locations for Loving Lynda, visit lovinglynda.com or find Loving Lynda on Facebook.