This is the quintessential picture of Wendy and Clay, taken just a month after we met in the summer of 1978. We were old souls in young bodies. We were each at crossroads, ending one phase of life and looking forward with great anticipation to the next. Wendy, at 17, had just moved to Indiana, graduated high school, and was looking forward to heading off to college. Clay, at 19, was back home in Greenwood, Indiana after his first year of college and preparing to serve a church mission for 2 years.
But what happened? The world stopped for us. Suddenly, instead of focusing on our next big adventures, our eyes refocused on the here and now. Falling in love was not on the agenda, it was not convenient for either of us, and it was not in either of our playbooks. But we fell, and we fell hard. Now, for a few months, before we parted on our unique journeys, our focus was brought to the present.
How can I describe the feelings we had for each other? Our souls longed to be intertwined, focused at an sub-atomic level. To be one. We knew the synergy of that chemical bond would create more than we could even imagine.
I studied Wendy. And I became fascinated and awed. Being with Wendy brightened my entire life!
You may find this particular post an abrupt departure from our usual topics of travel adventure, investing, etc. But this blog is really a journal and our primary audience consists of our grand children and their grand children — on and on through the ages. In short, we write this blog so that our descendants can have a glimpse of who we are. To help them find courage, wisdom and perhaps a new understanding about themselves. To help them on their life journeys. And we do it to show our love for them (even though they might not yet have arrived on planet earth yet and we will have long since departed when they finally read it). So to our descendants, we hope that you too can feel our love through our words.
The summer of 1978 was the best three months of my life — June, July and August. Wendy and me, our first date, our first kiss. How do I describe our first kiss. Impossible. Let’s just say that it was a moment never to be forgotten. In that exquisite experience our spirits sparked and aligned.
We became enveloped in each other that summer. The more time we spent together, the more we longed for each other.
And then it was time to part. We each had our path. Wendy was headed for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Clay was headed for Ventura, California on a two-year mission. Parting was agony.
In my head, I calculated the odds that Wendy would still be unattached in two years. Slim to none. BYU is a marriage factory. Coeds typically don’t last two years, it just doesn’t happen.
So I struck a deal with God. I committed to the Lord that I would focus my entire being on doing His will for the next two years. Not half-hearted, but all in! Whatever He wanted, however I could help in His work. In exchange, I hoped that He might consider producing an impossible miracle: “When my mission is over, could I please have her as my wife?”
When you propose a bargain with God you don’t know if he will accept it. So you work on hope and faith. Those are different from covenants which He defines and you accept. With covenants (like baptism, the Sacrament, and eternal marriage in the temple), He defines the commitments on both sides. His commitments we call blessings. Anyway, with my “bargain”, all I could do was work hard and hope.
Two years is a long time. Especially when you’re young. Especially when you are having completely new experiences every day. My missionary service those two years took me to Studio City, North Hollywood, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, San Fernando Valley, Santa Maria, Lake Isabella, and Ridgecrest, California. In each of these communities I was invited into the homes of families and individuals to teach them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the process, they became a part of my life and I theirs. They shared with me their life’s challenges and together we applied the principles of the Gospel to help them find their way through life.
This was intense work. It was full of joy, sorrow, success and sadness. Each week was a lifetime of intimate experiences with people I came to love and it completely absorbed me. It changed me. I learned about life and the amazing variety of difficulties people face. I learned of the suffering that can come to people through no fault of their own, but from choices their parents, spouse or children make.
But more importantly, I witnessed the miracle that can come, the complete change that takes place, when a person turns their life over to God. When they hand over their guilt to Him, when they hand over the right to judge another to Him, when they turn their focus from being a victim, from being hurt, from seeking pleasure in doing things they aught not, when they work from a new understanding that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings —- it is a miracle to behold. They become a new, happier, glowing, delightful person– full of love, completely changed.
They really should create a half-way house for returning missionaries. The work is so intense, you’re just not ready to re-enter the normal world. Two years of complete focus also means two years of no TV or radio, and certainly no dates, no dancing, no kissing … you get the idea. It’s a strange lifestyle. And then one day they ship you home in your white shirt with your nametag, suitcoat, tie, and black leather shoes. The real world is like being on Mars without a life-support system.
I remember my parents and family picked me up at the airport. My youngest brother, Jonathan, was 11 years old and already taller than me — on his way to 6 feet-something. I can still remember the look in his eye as he looked at me like I was a Martian. I could see his mind saying, “This cannot be my brother. This guy is too strange for words.”
But they were weirder than me by a mile! My father had thought it would be a brilliant idea to get a perm. He looked quite incongruous as a Superior Court judge in somber black robes and a kinky hairstyle. He had also become enamored with Volkswagens of all types. He had a stable of VW Bugs, a Karmen Ghia, and the ubiquitous VW Van with carpeted benches on the sides that converted into a big bed in the back. So these alien lifeforms picked me up at the airport and stared at me in the van all the way home.
Home. I sat at the kitchen table in my suit and looked out the window at the neighborhood and thought “I really would like to knock on all those doors and share the Gospel” while my mother sat looking at me, wringing her hands, and finally insisted I change into casual clothes. I obeyed my mother, but I felt completely out of whack in jeans and a t-shirt. I needed a halfway house!
But there was not time for a transition. Life was happening. I needed to leave for BYU in a few days.
Wendy — well, let me backtrack. One of the most awesome things while serving in California was that I received letters form Wendy that were just spectacular. Spectacular, you say? Oh yeah. First off, they smelled good – perfumed. Not fair! And Wendy is an amazing writer. In her letters, always uplifting and encouraging, she was able to reveal more of who she was. If you know Wendy, you likely realize that she is incredibly intelligent. A very quick mind.
Wendy is scary smart and it truly was frightening at times. After we were newly married, I remember the first time we read in bed. She was reading a novel and I was reading a history of Winston Churchill. Suddenly I became annoyed. What was it? Oh, it’s her page flipping. Why was it annoying? Well, first of all, she was turning three or four pages to my one page. How is that possible? Is she just messing with me? So I look over and watch her. She is completely unaware of me. And what I see is terrifying! Wendy is reading with an intensity I had never witnessed before. It’s like watching a laser beam consuming the typeface. Fast and furious! And when she flipped the page it was with force! That was the second annoying thing. And it all scared me very much. So what did I do? I kindly asked that she turn her pages more quietly as I sat trembling at the intellect I had married.
Wendy’s letters to “Elder Smith”, as I was called, were fantastic. But over the months and years, we drifted. We each had our own worlds and we were each focused on our own worlds. And then my long-time friend, Chuck Brown, sent me a letter notifying me that Wendy was dating someone I knew. Well of course she was dating. But, dang, that was painful. And so, to minimize any further pain for either of us, and to make sure she did not feel she was betraying me in any way, I suggested we not write any more (or something to that effect).
So when I arrived home in Indiana, I hadn’t had any contact with Wendy for at least six months. I knew she wasn’t married but I didn’t know if she was attached to anyone. She seemed like a long ago dream.
And quite frankly I didn’t know what I would do with her if I saw her again. Let me emphasize, no dates and no kissing for two years. That will mess you up! I had no idea what to do with a girl. Before my mission? Oh yea. I was ever so suave, ever so confident. Now? I was lost.
What to do? Time to man up and face the music. If she was engaged, it would be a relief in one small way because I was in no shape to have any kind of relationship or even hold hands. Slightly terrified here. So I called Wendy and she invited me over.
I knocked on the door and Wendy opened it with a baby in her arms. Oh. Hmm. A lot can happen in six months, but . . . Wendy laughed and told me the child was her niece. Funny girl. Smart girl. Clever ice-breaker.
Wendy was absolutely gorgeous, poised and confident. She glowed! But I instantly saw that she was not the same woman I had dated two years ago. She was more mature, less immediately trusting, more savvy, and somewhat wary. And did I mention she was scary beautiful?
I was a mess. Completely uncomfortable in these jeans and t-shirt, talking to a girl with the intent of — what? I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it.
Wendy had mercy on me. She never placed any expectations on me. I asked if she would like to accompany me to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. A strange first date, but I didn’t know if I would survive the experience, so the graveyard seemed convenient, in case she just wanted to leave my corpse there. And by my grandparents’ grave we began to talk. And we talked and talked like we had two years before.
Next day my parents informed me they had asked Wendy if she would like to ride with us to BYU. This was coming from the Dad who wanted me to explore my youth, take my time, date lots of women, delay marriage as long as possible.
Huh. I guess I’ll have some more time with this woman creature, trapped in a van with no escape.
We departed and then the realization of what was happening started to crystalize in my mind. Remember the VW love bug with the fold down bed in the back? What the …? I’m supposed to lay down in this bed with her all they way to Utah? What the…?
Yep. I needed a half-way house. But no time for that. Man up and transition. You’ve got weird parents with strange ideas and you’re in the Hippy Love Van for the next several days with a beautiful woman. Deal with it.
So off we went laying in the back of the van, staring at each other — and we began to talk, just like we had two years ago. I was entranced and fascinated by this intelligent, beautiful creature. What a delight! And how crazy and terrifying. Especially when we had to camp in one tent and stay in one hotel room for the four of us along the way (with two double beds… girls in one bed, guys in the other). What the…??? Gotta love those sweet parents, who never noticed how uncomfortable we young people were with the situation.
My parents dropped us off at BYU and I half figured Wendy would fold back into her life and forget about me. But Wendy had mercy on me. My last area during the heat of the summer was in Ridgecrest, which is in the Mohave desert. It’s inhumanly hot there in the summer. Mission rules require you to stay indoors from 1pm to 3pm during the summer months. People who live there have what they call green rooms. It’s a special room with no windows to the outdoors, typically with murals of lush green flora. They usually have tiny waterfalls burbling and cascading. Anything to cool their skin and heal their mind from the heat.
Well, my body had been seared by the desert sun in that last area of my mission and I had lost the ability to eat much. I was a physical wreck, and I had lost weight. Skinny, burnt, dehydrated, malnurished, and I couldn’t eat. So Wendy proposed that we split the cost of food and she would cook dinners for me. Not that I could eat much, but, that sounded great.
Transition to college life again was fun as far as academics were concerned. I loved my classes, but the social scene was — well. Let’s do a flash back to the September 1977, my freshman year. Freshman orientation included a week of the best bands on planet earth. The dancing was outstanding! Girls everywhere! It was a party! Disco was in full swing, and I was in heaven!
By September 1980 something had happened to the music. They did something called slam-dancing to New Wave music. It was murderous! Revolting! I needed more than a halfway house for the dance scene — it just wasn’t going to happen.
As for the social scene, flashback to 1977, my friend and I had a contest to see who could have the most dates in a weekend. We were each in the double digits. 1980? Not so much. I was not ready to deal with that yet. Life had moved way too fast and I wanted my slow, steady, thoughtful transition, thank you very much.
Dinners were awesome and slowly but surely I was getting my appetite back. And Wendy was just amazing to talk to. Okay, mostly to listen to as I’m not much of a talker. I’m great with questions though, and so I listened and learned and observed and marveled.
You know where this is going. We fell in love again as we ate together, talked together and went on simple dates. Once again that desire to be together as one soul increased into a yearning. Problem was, dagnabit, I needed my transition time! Life was moving way too fast! I’m thinking marriage and I’m also thinking I need to run away!
Logic was my only way out. So I suggested we make a spreadsheet (this was before computer spreadsheets, but I was already doing them manually). On one side we would list all the reasons NOT to get married. On the other side, the reasons TO get married. Well, it was a lopsided list. I had written down all sorts of logical reasons NOT to get married on the left side of the chart. On the right side was only one reason, and it outweighed all the others. We could be together.
We could be together, our souls intertwined. There has never been anything more powerful in my life. It’s like Wendy was made for me and I was made for her. Yes, we could wait. Until I completed college, got a graduate degree, established myself as a provider. But could I wait?
A part of me saw that the miracle I had prayed to the Lord for was now being delivered. It was up to me to accept the gift, not on my timeframe but on His. A woman like Wendy was not going to be single long. And for some reason I could not fathom (still can’t all of 41 years later), she loved me. How was that possible? I had no career, a part-time job, no car, and I no longer had any charisma.
Time to man up! No time for transition. Life is moving and it’s time to jump in and do it! So, during Thanksgiving break I proposed and Wendy said “Yes”. The plan was to get married in April, after the Spring semester. But why wait? So then the plan was December 30th, near the end of Winter break. Who needs a transition? A five week engagement is totally do-able.
Truly, once the decision was made, I was completely and totally ready to move forward. We could be together, our souls intertwined. Forever. I’m in!
After finals in mid-December we hurried back to Indiana where the women furiously planned the wedding stuff and Wendy suffered through a severe bout of strep pharyngitis. December 29th both families drove to Washington D.C. where we were to be married. We had several cars loaded with people. Wendy and I had been given my parents car as an incredibly generous wedding gift, so Wendy and I drove by ourselves to the temple early in the morning of December 30th, 1980, trailed by all the families in their cars. It was quite an experience.
On the way to the temple from our hotel with that wagon train of cars behind us I was very quiet (and Wendy was very beautiful). She looked over at me and said, “Are you all right?” Truth be told, I was barely breathing. It was such a big moment. So Wendy said, “Well, if you die of fright, there’s the funeral home.” as she pointed to a funeral parlor. Next she pointed to a jewelry store. “And, if you forgot the ring ….” My eyes got really big and I spluttered, “I forgot the ring at the hotel!” I immediately did a U-turn in Washington D.C. traffic and hit the gas, passing our wagon train full of people with their mouths falling open.
We finally made it to the Washington D.C. temple. It is ethereal. In that temple, special men, known as sealers, can bind husband and wife together, not just ’til death do you part, but for time and all eternity, so long as you live your life equal to the special covenants you make in the temple.
Walking out of the temple, hand in hand with Mrs. Smith was the most wonderful feeling. I cannot express my joy, to be intertwined, soul to soul with Wendy.
Now, at age 62 I am so grateful that the Lord accepted my bargain. I now understand that He knew all along what He wanted for me, what was fore-ordained for me if I lived worthy of His blessings. He knows best. And He has a way of putting into our hearts what He knows we need so that it becomes our desire as well. It is a powerful thing!
So that, dear children, is how Wendy and Clay became one.