It was about this time of year in 1977 that I returned to Mercer University for my senior year. A girl named Debra Johnson returned for her junior year. She came back to Macon wearing the engagement ring I’d given her the month before as we’d stood beside the Towaliga River below High Falls.
I’m not being arrogant when I say I wasn’t concerned about whether she’d accept the ring. After all, she’d picked it out. Even though there was no mystery surrounding the proposal, there was much mystery surrounding the future. Nobody really knows what lies ahead, do they?
We had nothing but good intentions. We truly believed we were supposed to be together. I’d go so far as to say we believed God was calling us together. But lots of our friends believed that too, many of whom are long since divorced. By God’s grace we are still married. We also still love each other. We even still like each other!
Somewhere along the way we had the setting on Debra’s ring grafted onto a different band. One day a few years later, she realized the diamond had gone missing from the setting. Finding a large diamond would be hard, so finding this one was impossible. I kept saying, “We need to get you another ring.” She kept saying, “We’ll see."
Eventually she made a decision. She said, “I’d like to have your mother’s rings resized so I can wear them.”
My mother died before I met Debra. It’s a shame. They would have done a good job ganging up on me. But I thought Debra’s choice to wear Mama’s rings was sweet. I also confess to being pleased that it was inexpensive.
Debra had for years hinted around about something she wished I’d give her. Not being a mind-reader, I’d more than once asked her to just tell me what it was. She’d say, “It won’t mean as much if you don’t think of it yourself.” Did I mention I’m not a mind-reader?
When we picked up Mama’s resized rings and Debra put them on, she said, “You know that thing I’ve wanted you to think of giving me? This is it.”
Eventually I decided that Debra should have a new ring of her own. So I put one on layaway at a local jewelry store and paid it off over a couple of years. I gave it to her while we were spending a weekend at Callaway Gardens, where we had gone on our honeymoon twenty-four years before. It was in August, around the twenty-fifth anniversary of my giving her the original ring. As we sat beside the lake, I tried to tell her what she means to me. She cried a little. We had a very nice seafood dinner that night.
She’s been wearing that ring for fifteen years. Maybe it’s the last one. Maybe not.
As for me—well, I’m still wearing the simple gold band she slipped on my finger on June 10, 1978 as we stood at the altar of the Baptist church in Leary, Georgia.
I don’t remember what the preachers (we used two, because we wanted to make sure it stuck) said that day. Over the years I’ve presided over a lot of wedding ceremonies. At each of them I’ve held up the groom’s ring and said something like this: “The wedding band is a circle, which symbolizes the unending nature of the marriage relationship.”
We went into our marriage believing that. We still do.
No, you can’t know what the future holds. When I gave Debra her engagement ring forty years ago, we had lots of hopes and dreams and absolutely no assurances. But we went into it in faith, trusting that God would help us keep growing, learning, and loving.