Thirty-three years ago today, Dayna and I stood before God and a congregation of family and friends and said, "I do." I don't remember a whole lot about the ceremony. I was nervous and rather out of my element. But it was one of the best decisions I've made in my life.
It began one summer Sunday evening in 1972. I was working at Ken's Pizza in Branson, Missouri, when about three or four families came into Ken's around 8:30 or so. Dayna was the teenage daughter of one of those families. I learned it was their ritual: go to Sunday evening church; head to Ken's Pizza afterwards. Even though we lived in a small town, even though Dayna and my little brother were in the same grade, I had never seen her before (or at least I had never noticed her before). But when I saw her, she took my breath away: blonde flowing locks, cute face, pretty smile. Even though it's been 38 years, I can still see her walking outside of Ken's in front of the window after she had eaten and was killing time waiting for her parents to quit visiting and take her home. I think she was walking so I would see her. I felt something for this girl I didn't know. Though no words were exchanged, I think she felt something for me too.
In time, I found out all about her: she would be a freshman when school started, she was a good girl, a Baptist church-going girl from a Baptist church-going family. And I heard her parents were pretty strict: they wouldn't even let her go to a dance. I also heard she was pretty shy. No problem there: so was I—around girls anyway. I would be a junior in high school that September and had never been on an official date.
I finally got up the nerve to talk with her at Ken's. I called her a time or two. But there would be no dating, said her parents, until she was sixteen. Bummer. But we found some other ways to be together in groups. And then I stumbled upon a way to see her that her parents couldn't object to: I started visiting her church. I can honestly say that those visits were more about teenage hormones than Jesus, but I think Jesus was okay with that.
And what do you know? Her parents soon relented and let her date me before she turned 16. Those were good times. We went to movies. We went to the Dairy Queen, ate a little, and listened to music from the juke box. We eventually did a little parking out by the lake (but did nothing out of bounds in the process). I was taken with her—my first real girlfriend. I would sometimes drive by her house in hopes of catching a glimpse of her in the window. Later I gave her my class ring when we officially decided to "go steady." It was nice.
But it didn't last. For the next three years or so we were off again, on again. She knew how to break my heart. One of my friends even called her "ruthless." She wasn't really, but you know how teenagers have a penchant for making melodrama out of everything. To make matters more difficult, I had started attending her church faithfully, got serious about my relationship with God, and began to go there for Jesus instead of Dayna. But I saw her there every time, and that always hurt a little. I dated another girl for a while. Dayna had interest in another guy for awhile too. Teenage stuff, you know.
But after I headed to college and was gone for a year, I guess we realized that we really did love one another and wanted to have a future together. We wrote a lot of letters back and forth. I wrote her some poems and played my guitar and sang love songs for her. Before long, we started talking marriage. And that's where it all gets a little weird. I never officially proposed. I was too afraid to ask her dad for her hand, and I never did. For some reason he let me get away with that. As to the proposal, all I remember is that one night we were sitting on her couch (a couch that once gave way while we were making out after her parents went to bed—but that's a whole other story), and she pulled out a calendar, and the next thing I know we've got a date for a wedding: October 8, 1977. I did have enough wits about me to make sure we set the date on a Saturday the Razorbacks weren't playing. From there it was a whirlwind: get the rings, get the invitations, select the wedding party, make the plans, get some counseling, rent the tuxes, and "get me to the church on time."
I don't remember much about the ceremony. It seems like it was brief. I do remember she looked beautiful as we stood at the altar. We were married in First Baptist Church, Branson (when it was downtown). We had the reception there too. And then it was off to Tulsa for a big weekend honeymoon. Yeah, what can I say? I'm a big spender. Some grooms take their brides to Hawaii or Jamaica or New York City. I took mine to Tulsa. We only had Saturday night and Sunday. I did take Monday off from school but was back at it on Tuesday. We were poor. We did the best we could. I did spring for the Honeymoon Package at the Tulsa Hilton. It was a package deal. We got our choice of a bottle of champagne or a fruit basket. Since neither of us drink and since Dayna wasn't even legal drinking age yet, we opted for the fruit. What a disappointment. It was little more than a couple of overripe bananas and a bruised apple or two. And to make matters worse, our room was full of fleas. Having stayed in a hotel maybe twice when I was growing up, I didn't know to go demand another room, so we endured the fleas. We went to the zoo on Sunday. We ate at Casa Bonita. And before we went home, she left her purse at McDonald's and fifty of our few precious dollars were stolen from it. Good times!
And so began our 33 years together. They've been good years for the most part. Like any couple we've had our ups and downs, our seasons of passion and our wintry seasons too. We've even sought counseling a couple of times along the way. Coming from a broken home, I had nothing to go on as far as being a husband, no models to learn from, so I was kind of winging it. Sometimes I did pretty good, sometimes not so good. Dayna grew up in a hugging family; I didn't. Believe it or not, after 33 years of marriage, I'm still uncomfortable holding hands with my wife in public. Honestly, when the pastor said, "And you may kiss the bride," I'd have been a lot more comfortable if we could have just shaken hands on the deal. Dayna also grew up in a family that took care of one another; I didn't. That's why I have always had a hard time in any close relationship. It's hard for me to invest much beyond the surface. It was easier for me to just be married to my work—a work Dayna has always supported 100%. And like my two brothers, I have always been fiercely independent and therefore, even to this day, have a very hard time letting people in and letting people do for me. I don't like this about myself, and I try to work on it, but I'm still pretty much the same old me.
And yet Dayna has persevered with me through thick and thin. I've wondered over the years if I had made the right choice to marry Dayna. I've wondered if I made the right choice to get married at all. But I can't imagine my life without her. She has loved me unconditionally and with much patience. She could have done a lot better than getting stuck with me, but she would never say it. I guess as much as anything, she has taught me grace. Though I don't talk much, she listens when I need to talk. She gives me good counsel. And she keeps our scattered family connected. She has always been a good mother to our kids, and there is no better grandmother on the face of the earth.
And that's why we're not together on our anniversary. That's why I'm writing this blog instead of celebrating with her in a night on the town. Our daughter just had a baby a few days ago and Dayna is staying with her a little longer. I was down for a couple of days, but had to come back what with Sunday and all. The picture at the top is from our time together yesterday. We've talked a couple of times today, but there will be no celebration for a few more days. Thus the title of this blog. It comes from the opening line of Little River Band's 1970s hit, Happy Anniversary, Baby. I've got you on my mind today, Dayna.
And I want to say thank you for sticking with the one you're stuck with for these 33 years. How you've done it, and how you've done it with such grace is beyond me. When I think of all the marriage sermons you've heard me preach, there were any number of times you could have shouted "Ha!" in the middle of them. And you would have been right too. But you refrained. Thank you for that. And thank you for your faithfulness and support for all these years. You deserve a medal or something. I wish we had the money to buy you a new diamond or a precious stone that you would love and that you deserve. But unfortunately, all you get is more years of me. Some reward, huh? And yet I know what you would say about it. You'd say, "That's enough for me."
The wisdom writer in Proverbs said it well: "Many women do well, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceiving and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Happy anniversary, baby. I've loved you for more than 33 years, and I will love you till I die.