On falling, and staying, in love

Valentine’s Day spotlight on one couple’s commitment to walk together

On falling, and staying, in loveBy KATHRYN GARCIA COSNER

News Review Correspondent

Darren and Emily Smith sat down for breakfast at their favorite restaurant Monday morning — the same thing they’ve done every Monday morning for the last two years. This habit is one of many commitments the couple has made to keep their 21-year marriage strong and their walk close.

The long-time Ridgecrest residents and Desert Christian Center youth ministers invited this reporter to join them on one of their treasured mornings to share their story — one that encapsulates perfectly this season of love.

They met at age 12 when Darren and his family visited the church Emily and her family attended. “I found out that he lived right around the street from me,” she recalled. “My friend and I would ride bikes by his house because we thought he was cute.”

“I remember that I wore a ridiculous-looking military trench coat that day at church,” Darren added. Emily wore a long dress with purple and white flowers, her hair super long and her bangs curled under. She also sported braces and a chipped front tooth.

“I told my Dad right away, ‘that’s the kind of girl I want to marry,’” Darren said.

Though they remained acquaintances, they didn’t get close until a few years later, when Darren and his sister showed up at Emily’s house.

“I decided to hang out with them,” said Emily, “and within a couple weeks we were officially ‘going out.’ You know how it is when you are young — it was really awkward.”

“I knew I was not mature enough to have a relationship with someone,” said Darren. “I mean, if I would rather spend time playing with Ninja Turtles than hanging out with my girlfriend, you know I was not old enough to have a girlfriend.”

Emily broke off the relationship after a couple of months, but the families continued to attend the same school, church and youth group. So the two became friends and dated other people. When Emily was single, Darren would have a girlfriend. When Darren was single, Emily would be in a relationship.

“Over time, I came to the realization that I kinda liked him,” said Emily.

Then one day Emily was at Darren’s house, spending time with his sister, when he walked through the door and announced to the whole house, “My girlfriend broke up with me today!”

Emily remembers, “he walked around the corner, saw me and repeated, ‘She broke up with me today. Wanna go to the bank with me? I have to cash my check.’“When we got in the car to go to the bank, he turned to me and said, ‘Now that I’m single and I just got paid, do you want to go on a date?’

And that was pretty much the start of everything!” Twenty-one years and three children later, they’ve spent more than half their lives married to each other.

“There are thousands of things about Emily that are so, so good,” said Darren. “She loves God more than she loves me, and that really is shown in how much she loves me.”

He referenced Corinthians 13, which characterizes love as patient, kind and long-suffering. Emily exemplifies those traits, he said. “In her relationship with the Lord, I get the fullness of her love for me. She loves me even though I’m Darren.”

Emily expressed similar feelings about Darren. “I wrote this list of the things that I wanted in a husband, and the only thing on the list I remember is that he would love God more than he loves me. I still have that list.

“I remember feeling like I needed to know that was true, and Darren showed me that he was willing to choose God before me.”

The couple got engaged on Valentine’s Day, when Darren created a scavenger hunt that took Emily to some of the places in town that held significance for them as a couple.

She returned from the hunt to find a flower and a card that read, “See you tonight for our date.”

Emily figured that he was going to ask her to marry him, but he made her wait all day for it. Darren borrowed a suit from a much-taller friend for the occasion. “I remember I felt like I was a little kid in my dad’s clothes.”

A year later, they were married. Having never lived on their own, Darren and Emily began the journey of discovering together how to navigate adulthood.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” said Emily. “We didn’t even own a car the first few weeks of our marriage.”

“Our premarital counselors said we might not be ready to do this,” said Darren. “And we were like, ‘Yeah we are! We’ve got love! That will sustain us.’”

Emily saidd she felt it was an advantage that they were able to make a transition directly from living with their parents to learning how to live independently as adults together.

“All of this was new — going shopping for your own apartment, eating the food you want to eat because you get to buy what you want to buy.”

They saved the receipt for their first shopping trip. “We realized, “We can buy anything we want! All the stuff our parents always said no to!” said Emily.

Darren bought cereal with marshmallows and Emily picked out Spaghetti-Os. “I remember being so excited to buy Spaghetti-Os — and then I found out they are actually kind of gross.”

Not everything was easy. The first few years of marriage carried lessons for the two of them to learn as a couple. Emily said they came to understand that some realities differ from the expectations you develop outside of marriage.

“We fought a lot in those first couple years, but it does get easier,” said Darren. “And we both just knew marriage was forever.

“We are still learning about it, still learning how to work with each other. Each day, each season, brings new kinds of challenges for us.”

This awareness has led them to be intentional in setting aside time to spend together — which was how they came to observe their weekly breakfast date. It grew out of a mutual realization that the busy-ness of children, home, work, church and everything else left them little time to talk.

Their first breakfast date happened on a whim and ended up lasting several hours.

“I thought — ‘Wow! Getting to know someone you have spent 21 years with and what is going on in their life and what they hope for and dream for … it was so good. We wanted to do it again,” said Darren.

So they decided to keep it up. Emily said that has been one of the best decisions they have ever made.

The Smiths emphasized the importance of continually getting to know each other and learning how to fight for their connection — even in the midst of arguments — perhaps especially in the midst of arguments. Those times for them happen over breakfast at their favorite restaurant each week.

“And we can’t get enough,” said Darren.

Pictured: (Upper left) Emily and Darren Smith now with their children Emma, Ruby and Khai. (Lower right) Darren and Emily during the "King of Hearts" dance circa 1996. — Courtesy photos

Story First Published: 2020-02-14