Seventeen years ago today, I stood across from the woman that had captured my heart like no other person I had ever met to say “I do.” Seventeen years is a long time in comparison to most marriages today that crumble quickly, and I’m still glad “I did”. So I felt this would be an appropriate time to record the story of how we met so the boy rustling around in her mid section would know just how special his mother is to his old man.
I had spent three years in Springfield, Missouri attending college at SMSU, working toward a BS in secondary education. I wanted to be an art teacher. I got down to the last 30 hours and moved into the student teaching phase. As I experienced student teaching, both observing classes as well as participating in teaching exercises in front of live teenagers, I found out rather quickly that I wasn’t official teacher material. Art students, for the most part, see an art class as a blow-off class and weren’t showing a great deal of respect. I knew the salary of a teacher wouldn’t offset this level of disrespect, so I decided to end my college career and go home defeated. (I honor teachers who made it through, taught their whole careers for such horrible pay, and retire knowing they helped make a difference in the lives of many children. You folks are awesome individuals!) Now what was I going to do with my life?
I moved back home with my parents not sure of what would happen, but God did. Being back in my Mother’s home somehow compelled me to get back into church and a right place with God, as I had let our relationship dwindle through my college years. I attended a “college and career” Sunday school class led by Myrna Turner, and that summer they decided to have a class party at Lake St. Clair at the home of a family I had never met before named the Stocktons. (I suppose they began attending our church while I was away at college.) As I spoke with Myrna, I told her about my college debacle and a need for some sort of gainful employment and she said “Well why don’t you go ask Mike Stockton for a job? He owns a construction outfit in town and he might be looking for someone.” She introduced me to Mike and his foreman, Chuck Tedrow, and “helped me” inquire about a potential job with them. Keep in mind, I had never worked a day of construction in my life so I thought the likelihood of getting hired was slim, but God saw it differently. Mike took a chance and hired a stranger that day and it changed my life forever.
Through college and a year or so after I came home, I had dated and/or chased a handful of gals. For whatever reason (other than divine intervention), none of those relationships materialized into anything. So now I was a little depressed about not graduating AND not finding a gal that was of marrying potential, so I threw my hands up in the air and gave up. I was done dating… I would just continue bending nails for a living and that was it. I believe that in our times of surrender, God sees it as a time when we’re finally ready to listen to Him and He makes things happen. My foreman Chuck, who after a year or so had become a great Christian friend and mentor, started telling me about this girl at his church that I needed to come and meet. I just kept passing off his stories about this “Donna” girl, who he said “had great legs” because I didn’t believe that she would be different than any other girls I had dated to that point. Not interested.
After about six months of Chuck’s insistent badgering about this girl, an occasion arose to finally break me. Chuck and his wife Joanie were really into Southern Gospel music and had given me a ticket to a concert for a group named Gold City. Well, it just so happened that a death on Joanie’s side of the family occurred and she wouldn’t be able to make the concert. They gave this “Donna” girl Joanie’s ticket, and Chuck said it would be a great opportunity to at least meet this girl he had been telling me about. I reluctantly agreed. Chuck said I should go to Sunday school at my church and then drive over to Washington to go to church service with him and then we could leave town to go to the concert after church was over. Chuck and Joanie attended a new, small, independent fundamental baptist church that met in a rented out garage area of Franklin County Glass in Washington, Missouri. When I pulled up I honestly thought, “People go to church here?” I walked up to the tinted door of the facility, pulled it open, and as I walked through the door it took a second or two for my eyes to adjust. In those two seconds, time seemed to slow down as I looked down a long wall/hall and a girl turned the corner and glanced my way. It was sort of like those scenes in movies where a guy catches a glance of a great-looking girl and her hair blows in slow motion in the wind as she smiles at him. She was Latina, tanned, with dark hair and Chuck wasn’t kidding about her legs! I knew right then and there that this girl was going to be my wife. Hopefully, this was “Donna”. Chuck introduced me to her, but she told me her name was Dawn, not “Donna”. (Chuck could get details wrong from time to time, but his heart’s always in the right place.) Dawn Berner.
After church, the group of people going to the concert decided to go to McDonalds for lunch before we headed to the concert. Dawn and I got to talk over cheeseburgers and I liked her. Some of the little boys in the group already started teasing us about being boyfriend and girlfriend. She had a great smile. She told me that she was a new Christian and that her brother Rick and his wife Kathy had been going to this new church and invited her. She became a Christian not too long after that. It’s as if God was preparing her for me the whole time. He is so wonderful.
We went to the concert. I don’t remember a single song that had been sung. I don’t remember anything else but patting a seat next to me, inviting Dawn to sit by me. Through the concert she was touched by a song and cried. She had a tender heart too. Man, God really knows what He’s doing here! I really enjoyed the time with her that afternoon.
The next day at work, I pretty much begged Chuck to somehow get me Dawn’s phone number. He pulled some strings and worked through Joanie and called me that night with the number. I was nervous when I called her, but excited. I interrupted her watching the movie Honeymoon in Vegas but she didn’t seem to mind. We had a great conversation and I was on cloud nine.
Well, I could go into great detail… but I’ll leave that for other posts. Just some quick things I’ll jot down to get them out:
- On our first date, I took her to Mark and Patty Stockton’s wedding. A lot of people were asking us when we were going to get married. We blushed. For Pete’s sake, it was our first date! I caught the garter by the way!
- We were promised to be married two weeks later. I gave her my high school gold ring with the blue stone. It’s really all I had that was worth anything.
- She told me later that God had showed her that a tall, blonde guy would come into her life. Apparently he was preparing me for her too.
- A few months later I went to visit her Dad and asked him if I could have her hand in marriage. He smiled the whole time and the only lecture point I remember getting was about having a job to take care of his little girl. How’d I do Richard?
- Dawn constantly hinted about which ring she would like to have every time we went to the mall. She would always drag me into Helzberg to see her heart-shaped diamond. So one night we were together in the mall, I decided that I would try to get her the ring she wanted on credit. Unfortunately being a young man and new to the credit world, they refused my purchase. I made a big deal about it around Dawn and acted all disappointed. Secretly, I took my Dad back the next week and he co-signed for the credit on the ring. Thanks Pop!
- The entire time we had been dating, I kept little mementos (ticket stubs, pictures, etc.) I put them in a big, three ring binder, wrote little paragraphs about each one, and on the last page I wrote “Dawn Berner, will you marry me?” I presented that book to her at her house on October 23rd, 1993. Dawn took her sweet time reading through the memories… so I sat at her feet with the ring in my pocket for quite some time. Her Dad kept hovering in the next room trying to secretly snap pictures, almost blowing the surprise. She got to the last page, I was kneeling on one knee at her feet, and pulled out the maroon ring box. The rest was history.
- We were married the next August in 1994. I wrote her a song and sang it to her, with the help of my buddy Jeff Willard (playing guitar). Man, she was pretty standing there looking into my eyes.
So here we are today. Married 17 years. Have two wonderful daughters. Going to be parents again at age 41 in a few months to a baby boy we’re already in love with. Seen and been through a lot. More in love today then back then. God really knows what he’s doing.