Derek Matthews isn't really sure why he stayed on the airport train that day.
It might have been exhaustion; he'd already been up for hours, rising in darkness to catch the 6 a.m. flight home to Denver. Maybe he just didn't have the energy to do what he usually did — to make the long walk across the pedestrian bridge from Concourse A to the terminal. Most likely it was his husbandly sense of duty and devotion: It was his anniversary, after all, and he wanted to hurry home to Lacy.
He'd arranged to take the day off, and he was going to spend it with his wife. Heaven knows they could use some time together. To be honest, the first 14 years hadn't always been easy. To be really honest, they'd had their share of struggles, more than a few big arguments and plenty of hurt feelings.
But today would be different. Today the plan was to grab a bite at their favorite breakfast place, just the two of them, and spend the rest of the day together. So Derek Matthews did what he rarely does. He stayed on the train — all the way to the Jeppesen Terminal of Denver International Airport, where he shuffled along with the families and fellow business travelers, up two escalators to the main level.
"As I got to the top of the escalator, I remember looking to my left, and there's a woman dressed in a wedding dress," Derek recalls. "Then it hit me, and I went numb. Is that really my wife?"
Lacy Matthews thought back to 2010, back to the day she and Derek made the hour drive south to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a Focus on the Family marriage conference. The event theme was commitment, and she can still remember how the speakers described fault lines that often appear after a few years of matrimony.
"Like most married couples, we've experienced some pretty rough patches," Lacy says, "and the advice we heard at that Focus on the Family event helped us tremendously. They explained that the years between seven and 15 [of a marriage] can be extremely difficult. When raising kids and building a career, it's easy to lose sight of who you fell in love with. That's when most couples give up."
Lacy didn't want that to happen — wasn't about to let that happen. And when her 14th anniversary rolled around, she wanted to do something special.
It was Lacy all right. Lacy in a wedding dress. Lacy in her wedding dress — the same one she'd worn 14 years earlier. Only this time she didn't have the same special shoes or earrings or a stylist to do her hair and makeup, so she made do with a pair of cowboy boots and a couple of good friends. And a sign — a really big one. At least 3 feet tall, with big, bold letters:
Derek, I'd do it all over again! I ♥ you!
Derek barely noticed the sign. He was too busy staring at the woman in the wedding dress. And running to her. And hugging her.
"I was happy," Derek says. "I was also stunned. Wow, this is for me. This is for us."
"She was — in a very expressive way — letting everybody know that she was proud to be my wife, and proud to be with me, and didn't care who saw it or who heard it. And that meant a lot."
Lacy says she reads Thriving Family magazine "from front to back cover," so when she came across an article on keeping fun alive in marriage ("A Laugh Between Us," Summer 2012), she wanted Focus to know what she did at the airport to make her husband laugh — and what she learned at that 2010 marriage conference.
"Focus on the Family gave me that message . . . to refuse to give up," she says. "The speakers were convincing when they said, ‘Don't quit on each other. You will feel in love again. A kind of love you can't understand without going through the tough times together first.' The airport surprise for my husband was my way of saying ‘I'm so glad we didn't give up.' "
Lacy's also glad Derek took the train all the way to the terminal. Otherwise he would have never come up that escalator.
"Thank goodness," she says, "or I would have been standing there forever."
Watch a video of Lacy's story. The video is also available in our iPad digital edition, available here.
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This article appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2014 by Focus on the Family. ThrivingFamily.com.