We were friends before there were cell phones or internet or any form of social media. We wrote love notes and talked on phones attached to the wall with long (and sometimes not-so-long) cords. We socialized at the skating rink and the town basketball court and the drive-in movie theater. And sometimes the media even showed up at these “social” events to take pictures for our local paper.

We played marbles and rode bikes and took walks and watched stars. We weathered the jokes quite well from our pestering junior high friends — “You’re gonna get married ‘cuz you have the same last name!” (We’d roll our eyes but secretly, I hoped — even in 7th grade.)

You told me you loved me for the first time while playing a game of Scrabble in an upstairs room at your Aunt Debbie’s, and I think I fumbled on the words — those three single-syllable words that we use so liberally now. “I. LOVE. YOU.” The phrase seemed to be stuck behind my retainer, but I finally managed to say it back — and even then, I know I meant it.

People said we were too young. That we didn’t really know what love was. That we should date others. And although their reasoning wasn’t true, we did date a few others along the way. Just to be sure.

I remember once, while we were broken up for a spell, reading in a book these words, “I love you a bushel and a peck… and a hug around the neck,” and I instantly thought of you. You’d said those words to me, and my heart missed you. Little glimmers like this all along the way reminded me that, no matter what, somehow… some day… we’d be together again.

When you finally proposed in November, 1988. I was a Freshman at Asbury College in KY and you were a Sophomore at Wright State. You came for a visit and took me to DeShay’s in downtown Lexington. We ordered dessert, and a red velvet box came in one goblet dish, an ice cream sundae in the other. You asked, and I said, “Yes!” with tears of joy. I don’t remember eating the sundae. But I remember climbing stairs that same night — at Rupp Arena? — and singing a duet, our voices resonating in the corridor — “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…”

And so, after all those years — from 7th grade until just prior to my Sophomore year of college — we took the plunge and said “Yes!” to a Lifetime, echoing the officiating pastor, “I do…” to all the future might bring. “I do” — in both sickness and health. In times of hardship. When the going isn’t easy. When the way is unclear. When faced with other options. When tempted to walk away. When faced with the death of dreams. When selfishness raises its ugly head, screaming to separate what God brought together.

I do.

Those two, single-syllable words mean everything. They mean choosing. Protecting. Fighting. Returning. Transitioning. Relinquishing. Staying. Assisting. Listening. Resisting. Persisting. Loving (though perhaps not always liking). Yes, always, always loving.

Our 28 years of marriage are the result of our living out a commitment to “I do.” Not without fault. Not without close calls. Not without bumps and even mountains to traverse. But we’ve always held to the belief that our love is worth fighting for. That peace returns. That there’s sunshine behind the clouds. That joy abides, even when it’s resting beneath a blanket of sorrow for a season. Like the psalmist promised — “Though weeping endures for the night, joy comes in the morning” (30:5).

Yes — that!

Good morning, Bill! Today we wake up and pull back the covers to the start of a new year and another reason to celebrate life and love, even though we’re not blind or deaf to the harsh truth that hardships happen and struggles surface.

But we can rest in the greater truth that each is just another opportunity to practice “I do” again. And… what is that saying? “Practice makes permanent”? Yes!

Our love — our life together — is, though not perfect, PERMANENT. And that brings so much security to my days — unknown though the future may be. Until death do we part.

Thank you for always choosing me. For always protecting me. And even when you don’t always like me (for good reasons), thank you for always, always loving me.

I love you — “a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…” You’ve taught me so much, and I am forever grateful. And I can even say those three words with my night guard retainer, because — like many parallels of youth and old age — I’m wearing one again. Just wait for the diapers! Perhaps I’ll need to remind you that your “I do” was for then, too. And I can hear you now, with your quick wit — “Hmmmm… ‘I do?’ Well, that ‘depends’!” (Ha!!!) But what I really know is that what we have NEVER depends on anything more than faith, hope and love.

And, well — “…the greatest of these is LOVE” (I Cor. 13:13).

Yes, I DO…