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HOUSEwife

By John W. Kennedy

She is one of only 75 women in the United States Congress. She is at the center of a raging national debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment she sponsored that declares marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. In a recent two-week span, in-depth reports on the soft-spoken but tenacious lawmaker appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times as well as on ABC World News Tonight.

Yet Marilyn N. Musgrave doesn’t consider her political career to be the pinnacle of her 55 years on earth.

“It’s wonderful to pursue this stage of my life, but the earlier part of my life was more important,” she told Today’s Pentecostal Evangel in a phone interview from her congressional office in Washington, D.C. “Then I was shaping four little human beings. It’s an awesome responsibility to mold a child’s life.”

Musgrave, a first-term representative from rural eastern Colorado, knows the importance of a godly heritage. She credits her Christian mother, Birdie, and grandmother, Noma, with shaping her values while growing up in a poor home in the Centennial State. Her stay-at-home mother made sure Musgrave and her two brothers attended church and heard the gospel preached.

“I always knew my mom and grandma loved me,” Musgrave says. “Dad did, too, for that matter.” Her alcoholic father, now deceased, worked off and on in a slaughterhouse.

As a teenager, Musgrave worked as a babysitter, housecleaner and waitress. For the past 36 years she has been married to Steve Musgrave, whom she met at a Bible camp at age 14. Their early contact consisted only of letters; she lived near Greeley, north of Denver, and he lived on a farm outside Fort Morgan on the northeastern Colorado plains. Even after Steve obtained his driver’s license at 16, the couple saw each other infrequently because of the 90-minute distance between their homes.

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After finishing her first year at Colorado State University, Musgrave wed at age 19. She went on to become the first member of her family to graduate from college when she earned a bachelor of arts in social studies.

For several years there always seemed to be a newborn and toddler in the house. “The days my children were born were the happiest days of my life,” Musgrave says.

The Musgraves have two sons and two daughters ranging in age from 23 to 33. Marilyn has tender memories of raising them, even on the daunting days.

“I remember feeling overwhelmed as a young mother when the children were sick,” she says. “When you have three on antibiotics and you’re sleep deprived, it can be difficult. But we need to try to savor every moment because it goes by very quickly.”

As the children grew, she faithfully attended the Little League games and wrestling matches of her sons. She gave interior decorating advice for the backyard playhouse hangout of her daughters. The Musgraves went several years without owning a television set, which contributed to their family togetherness.

“The worst thing for the kids to say was, ‘I’m bored,’ ” Musgrave recalls. “I would take them to the garden and have them weed two rows. Early on they learned how to play creatively.”

Musgrave is grateful that her husband worked two jobs so that she could stay home with the young brood. She says none of her children ever mouthed off to her because each understood Dad would be home at the end of the day, and no one wanted to tangle with him.

Steve taught math and computer classes during the school year, but in the summer the family operated a custom hay-baling business. Here the children learned a strong work ethic, which included the sons driving bale wagons and the daughters helping out with the business.

“We tried to teach the kids to work hard,” Musgrave says. “We taught our children that whatever they have is the result of somebody working for it.” In the family car en route to the agricultural business, Steve read stories aloud as Marilyn drove. All the children learned how to drive in a hayfield.

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