By Katie Ginn

For our Marriage Issue, Katie interviewed two wise and witty power couples: Joel and Peppi Sims, senior pastors of Word of Life Church, and Felix and Rashida Walker, broker and realtor at W Real Estate. This was one of our most fun interviews ever, and we had to cut a LOT for space! To hear the full interview, listen to MCL’s “A Closer Walk” podcast by searching for “Mississippi Christian Living” on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Katie Ginn: I’d like to hear from each couple, how did you meet your spouse?

Simses wedding

Peppi Sims: I was living in Birmingham … and (his mom, who went to my church) set us up on a blind date. He was living in Jackson, so he drove over. It was a train wreck. (laughs) We were certain we would never see each other again. We were on a date with his parents, amazing people, but …

Joel Sims: This was not my idea.

PS: And his sister and her husband … But two days later, we went to Cracker Barrel, just the two of us, and three months later, we were married.

KG: Joel, how did you family wind up on the date?

JS: My mom (suggested) I come up for my brother-in-law’s birthday, we’ll do a little birthday party, and then we’ll all go to the house. So they’re supposed to be my wing-men and women. And my sister the whole time is giving (Peppi) the snake eye because she’s so protective of me. … Then my stepfather was (talking) about the Rapture, the return of Jesus – all the things you would talk about on a first date … (laughs)

(Afterward) they’re like, ‘Are you going to call her back?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not going to call her back!’ And then I start correcting all of them on what they were doing.

The next morning, I woke up, and I was doing a one-year Bible-reading plan. … My passages for that day were the story of Isaac and Rebekah. I could not find my Bible. All I had was my mom’s. I kid you not, the only thing highlighted on that page was, ‘They called her to see what she would do, and she became his wife.’

JS: I (called and left Peppi) a voicemail and put the ball in her court. By God’s grace, she called back, and when we went out just the two of us, it was obvious we were made for each other. Our personalities just clicked.

Felix Walker: How old were y’all when you got married?

JS: I was 21.

PS: I was 18.

Rashida Walker: Wow.

PS: I always wanted to get married at 18, I’d said it since I was little, because my sister had gotten married at 18, and she was my idol.

RW: That is amazing. Well, our story is a little bit different. (laughs) I was very shy … I knew of Felix when we were 13. (He) was kind of the elite of the school. … So I didn’t pay much attention to him, other than the fact that he was just so popular.

Walkers wedding

(When we were 16) we were set up on a blind date with his cousin. His cousin was dating my best friend … And I couldn’t get my look right – I was just so overwhelmed. I remember having the biggest butterflies.

Back in the day, Char (restaurant) used to be Shoney’s. So we went to the buffet (and) I probably ate everything on that buffet.

A couple days passed by, and he called me, and this was back in the day when they would call you and say, ‘Will you go with me?’ And I was like, ‘Yes!’

Felix Walker: She saved my life, literally, God bringing her into my life at that time – because I was really, really, really wild … not that I came from a bad home, because I came from a very good, structured home. We sat down and ate dinner on Sundays, and I would invite her over. She really helped me to slow down.

RW: Because I was the oldest of four children, and my mom was a single parent. She was a fantastic mother. I was always a nurturer.

FW: We got married at 21.

RW: We had no money, and my mother put together a beautiful wedding.

KG: So you all got married young. What were y’all least prepared for in marriage?

RW: We had to learn to communicate really well, and just the art of marriage itself. (Also) we had a relationship with God … but He was not a part of our day-to-day marriage.

FW: Learning each other and learning the needs … (because) my interpretation of loving my wife was providing. If I’m doing that, then you should feel loved. But later I would find out that that’s not necessarily the case.

JS: Like y’all were saying, you’re young and having to figure things out … Six months into marriage, (Peppi’s) pregnant. … How do you budget?

Simses family

This is a funny story: I had a credit card. I think the monthly limit was $750. So I said, we’ll just put all the bills (and groceries) on this. Then one month I noticed there’s all this stuff in the house, and I go, ‘What’s going on?’ and she’s like, ‘It hasn’t hit the limit yet.’ OK, just keep going … Then I get the bill, and they had raised our credit limit! By a lot of money!

PS: I sobbed when he told me.

KG: Word of Life has four campuses, and W Real Estate is doing really well. What was the biggest challenge for each of you as a couple before you were this ‘successful,’ and what’s your biggest challenge now?

JS: Our biggest challenge before … (So) many young couples are operating at 40 percent because they never get any rest, and they think that’s them. I need to give (Peppi) space to recharge. And (she needs) to see, oh, he’s tired. A lot of young couples would say, he’s angry. … We’ve been married now 19 years. (We’re) better at reading each other.

Now, our biggest challenge is … we have this myth of balance, and this myth that in all these things (marriage, family, work), I’ll be perfect every time. As I get older, I see that that’s not true. I have to sit down with the Holy Spirit and say, this week, what am I not going to give myself to? (If) one of my kids needs more of me this week .… I’ll make it up (to the other kids) next week.

RW: We’re just going to let them talk and just get ministered to while we’re here. (laughs)

Probably 15 or so years ago … we were going to divorce. (Our) pastor was out of town with convention, and my (uncle’s) pastor agreed to meet with us immediately … We met with him once a week for probably eight weeks. We discovered so much in that.

(Then) at the very minute that our marriage was getting back on track and God was restoring the marriage …. we were in real estate, and the market crashed. This was in 2008 or 2009. We went through a severe, when I say wilderness period, for seven full years – where you lived solely by the grace that God gave you every single day. … He got our attention so vividly, we surrendered to His will.

Today, we operate so different … The challenges we have today are just normal challenges. Making time for each other. (God taught us) to prioritize each other. We had never been taught that it’s God, (then) us, (then) children, then everything else.

FW: And it took (marital and financial struggles) to get us here. Because just one thing happening, that wouldn’t have been enough. We were raised in the church and would run to the church when something bad happened, throw $500 at the Lord and say, ‘There You go!’ We didn’t understand the relationship. Now, it’s a relationship I insist on not ever losing.

KG: What’s it like working together as spouses?

PS: I (was) a stay-at-home mom our whole marriage until three years ago. We had a need on our staff (for his) assistant. That’s an area that you really want someone safe.

Our personalities actually meet up very well. He’s (very) strong, opinionated, (and) I actually love to kind of be behind the scenes. … We were actually good until, there was this one night I had made a mistake, and he talked to me as a boss, which was so fair.

JS: We were meeting a missionary (for dinner). I said, I’ll get Pep to contact your wife … So they picked Aplos. Well, (Peppi) meant the one that just opened here in Ridgeland, (and they went to) the other one. … I said, ‘Maybe when we tell them the restaurant, if there are two, we really clarify which one.’ And she’s like, ‘You don’t think I thought of that?’

PS: I took that too personally. That night, he was like, I will never let the work, the ministry, come between us. So by the next day, we had rearranged some things so that –

JS: You are no longer my assistant. (laughs)

(But) now we do work together. (When) I’m preaching, I can’t see what’s going on in other areas and departments, but she can. And she sees it through the lens that I would see it with, and she can come back and speak to those things. And ministering to the ladies, she’s got a gift for it.

FW: (Working together) works for us because we have the same goal. So if she’s working a deal and it’s 9 o’clock at night, you get a little (concerned), but then you’re like, well, OK, it’s fine. But you’ve got to feel each other out with that. (But working together) works because we have the same goal, and we have the same drive.

RW: If you’re unequal in that (drive), someone might get resentful, because ‘You’re doing so much more than me.’ (But) we always try to operate out of oneness. I tell people all the time, it’s hard to be mad at each other if you start the day off in prayer together.

But you also have to have boundaries. I’ve always been a workhorse. (Felix) used to say, ‘Rashida is like an old lawnmower. If you get her crunk, she’ll cut grass all day.’ (laughs)

FW: Might take her awhile to get crunk – but once she gets going …

RW: (And) years ago, if he (worked late), that was our normal course. But when Brooklyn went off to school and I found myself by myself (if he worked late and I didn’t) … we had to sit down and go, OK, here’s some boundaries for our business.

Walkers family

And he gets up very early in the morning. He’s got 15 questions ready (when I get up). And he’ll say, ‘Honey, is it time for me to ask a few questions?’ (laughs) Sometimes I’ll say no, and he respects that, and he’ll call back later.

But one thing that I think makes us successful in business is, we don’t take ourselves seriously. (Even) on our way here today, (Felix) said, ‘That hair on your head is going to be 15 times this size by the time they take that picture. You need your umbrella.’

KG: What’s the biggest way God has grown each of you individually through marriage?

PS: How to forgive and live a life of love. It’s through the way (Joel has) treated me and how well it works. Early on … each of us would handle disagreement or confrontation differently. He’s one of those people who wants to talk through it right that second. (But) I want to come to a place of peace in my mind (first). So we actually learned how to have the conversation right now …. with respect and love.

JS: For me – my father died when I was 17. (Then) I started preaching at 18, and pastoring at 19. And my life just became serious. … When we got married, I didn’t own a pair of shorts or blue jeans (because) I never wanted to walk into a grocery store and have anyone be ashamed to introduce me as their pastor.

Peppi has this magnetic joy and life and energy. So she would make fun of my clothes, remind me I was 21, we went and bought blue jeans – she showed me how to laugh.

We had family movie night every Friday night. (It) was always cartoons. So at the end of every one of these cartoons, there’s music (over) the credits … (and Peppi) would always make every member of the family get up and dance. I am every bit as white as I look. (raucous laughter all around) Watching her laugh at me, and watching my kids laugh at me, made me learn to laugh at myself.

RW: I agree with Peppi … I have learned the true meaning of forgiveness. … I was raised in a single-parent house, so going into marriage, I put a lot of that baggage (from my absent father) on Felix that he didn’t deserve. (That) was something I had to deal with.

I was always seeking love and validation from my father that I never got. (But) before he died, I had forgiven him truly. (When) I forgave my dad, it’s as if (God) pulled us out of the wilderness. Like He was waiting for me to take that step.

FW: For me, it would be my marriage to Him – being in relationship with Christ. That allows me to love her, to forgive her when she’s acting out. (laughter all around)

By being in relationship with God, I’ve gotten so many good attributes, like patience. (And) the Holy Spirit allows me to listen and know, OK, she’s going through something.

KG: Biggest piece of advice for newlyweds?

FW: If both parties are seeking Him, you’ll meet there. If you don’t have an individual relationship with Christ, it’s going to be hard.

Ten years in, we were going to file for divorce. … I would say, ‘God, can I trust her?’ and God would say, ‘You need to trust Me.’ (Now) we’re 27 years in.

RW: Don’t go to bed mad … Division in a marriage gives the enemy an opening to destroy your territory. (Sometimes) you’ve just got to call a truce. Maybe you’re still mad, but you say, I’m going to pray about this … Then you wake up the next morning and fight for your marriage.

PS: Close the gaps in your marriage. Unforgiveness, having two different visions for the future … Be a gap closer. (And) learn how the other one wants to be loved. I know the love languages are overcommunicated, but I don’t think they’re overdone.

JS: Pray with each other. You get a heart for Who you pray to, and you get a heart for who you pray with. If you’re not praying for your spouse, you’ll never get a heart for them.