"...But the fruit of the Spirit is love..." Galatians 5:22
It was Valentine's Day in February of 1978. I was a seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and as they say in our part of the world, I was broke as Job's turkey. Broke and seminary student are probably redundant expressions of the same condition. One is not always synonymous with the other, but my best guess would lead me to bet that the comparisons would hold up today, if they were put to the test out on "The Hill."
Dana and I had been married for a little more than a year. We had begun our lives together on January 1, 1977. I was completing my Master of Divinity degree, cramming three years into four. I expected to graduate in May, but until then it was crunch time. On the weekends, I would put on my marrying and burying suit, and Dana would get dressed to kill and we would head out on the road. I had a spectacular, silver and black 1976 Rally Sport Camaro. It had a 350 cubic inch engine, dual exhaust, dual carburetor, flat back paint, racing stripe, smoking hot tires, and rally wheels. I miss that car. ALOT.
I knew God had called me to preach, but I was pretty sure it was a surprise to everyone else. To get some street creds, I was willing to preach anywhere to anyone who would invite me. I think Dana and I covered most of the farm and market roads in Texas, from Lazbuddie in the west to Lovelady in the east, and from Dalhart in the north to Eden in the south. We drove down thousands of miles of rural road to find those tiny Baptist churches tucked back into the highways and byways of the Lone Star State. It was great experience, and most of the time I got paid enough to buy the gas I needed to get back home. I grew accustomed to the full-time ranchers and part-time deacons walking me out to my car, and saying, "Keep at it son. We'd be glad to have you back, if you bring that pretty girl with you." Those old boys could always spot a thorough-bred.
After a weekend of handling the heavenly, Dana and I would come back to earth, and the daily grind of making a living. I was working at a military ordinance company, where I painted, packaged and shipped thousands of washers to military bases all over the world. It paid minimum wage, and it was work that a monkey could do, if he was down on his luck and out of peanuts. Fortunately for me, the monkey had too much self esteem, so they offered me the job. Every day after morning classes, I would eat a sandwich in the car, head to the office, punch the clock, and launch my ministry of world-wide washers. At the end of the day, I would head home to hit the books until late into the night. Dana worked as a hair stylist and managed a four chair barber shop in Arlington.
Between the two of us, we were living on love and the carcass of a tough, ten-point deer I had shot while preaching in Eden back in December. I had spent my last five bucks for a hunting license, and we prayed over it before I left home. If I could get a deer, we would have enough meat to get us through the winter. You can believe I had "buck fever" when I put the scope on that big boy. He was huge, but my biggest fear was going home without him, and explaining what happened to our last five dollars. One of us was going to have to die that day. It was going to have to be him. So, he went down, but every time we tried to swallow him, he kicked back. I can still hear Dana pounding that leather-like venison with a hammer hard enough to tenderize it before she could put it in a crock pot for chili.
When Valentine's Day hit, I regretted I could not do more to celebrate the day with Dana. Rent was due for our duplex apartment, and it was tough each month coming up with the $150.00 we needed. This time it was going to be really tight. Four weeks of unusual ice and snow had shut the roads down and closed churches all over Texas. What little bit I had been receiving from pulpit supply work had not been available to us that month.
I went to my study, and wondered what I could do to salvage the weekend. I found in the closet a box of art supplies Dana had collected when we both served in a church's youth ministry. I got busy turning them into a man-made expression of a Valentines' Day card. By the time I was done, I had taken 12 pieces of multi-colored paper and written a dozen expressions of my love for Dana on each one of them. I made each page an homage to what we had done together or places where we had gone that month. I attached pieces of candy, momentos, ticket stubs, poems and then bound them all together in a thick homemade replica of a Hallmark card. I made a promise to her that someday the gifts that she received on this day would improve, and they would be worthier expressions of the love I had in my heart for her.
I will never forget Dana's response that night when I came back into our small living room and handed my creation over to her. Silence. She smiled, sat on the couch, and slowly turned every page, reflecting on the year we had spent together. No fireworks. No tears. Just a smile. It may not have been worthy of a Hallmark movie finale, but it was a sweet time.
Just this week I asked Dana if she remembered that night 34 years ago, when we were so broke I couldn't even afford to buy a card to give to her for Valentine's Day. She assured me she did indeed remember. I told her I hadn't thought about that night for years, and for some reason I had a blast from the past hit me. I recalled vividly the experience of creating a card out of construction paper and giving it to her in hopes that someday it would be replaced by something better. The fact that she remembered it was not all that surprising to me. She has an incredible memory. Note: Men don't about what really matters. Most women do. But what caught me off guard was her next statement, "I still have it."
Dana's simple statement is so true on so many levels. In fact it speaks for both of us. We still have it. We hold dearer today what God gave to us over three decades ago. We still share God's gift of love to us. The love He gave us grows stronger for one another through every tear, every test, every trial and every triumph. What Dana held onto was more than paper, glitter and glue. She held onto a husband's heart. I had hoped then that someday my love could be expressed in a way that was worthy of the only one I have every truly wanted to impress. It killed me not to be able to give her something more substantial back in 1978. Her response was a huge part of the foundation for a solid marriage. Instead of treating my crude attempt at creativity with the look of disdain that can easily cross a person's face when expectations aren't met, she treated it with respect. I am so grateful she did. Like most winning race horses, the girl has a heart bigger than Dallas.
Well, once again it is Valentine's Day. The world has turned around a few times since Dana and I started out on this journey together. It is not lost on me that what goes around will always come around. In 2012 we are back on the road again. We teach a prayer conference called, TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! Among many things we share, we challenge husbands and wives to learn how to stay together by being willing to pray together. During the past 18 months of this new ministry, we have been all over the country, around the world, and in churches large and small. The one thing they have all had in common: they still want me to come back, if I bring Dana with me. The only thing missing is my Camaro. Gotta love the retro look of the new ones. Sweet rides. HMMMMMM. But I digress...
It is still a little too early for me to risk the wake up call, but I am looking forward to saying to Dana sometime this morning, "Happy Valentine's Day!" It will be followed up with my next question I know she wants me to ask, "Can you say Brighton?" I think I know what her answer will be. HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY! and by the way...TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!