Karaña Walker looked at her friend’s face and knew something was wrong. Laura Danser and her husband, Dale, were walking toward her. They were among thousands of couples streaming out of the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City after attending an I Still Do marriage event…..

Laura was weeping and Dale’s face was flushed. When the two women met, Laura embraced her friend, hesitant to let go. Between sobs, she whispered into Karaña’s ear, “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?” Karaña asked.  But it wasn’t until later that Karaña learned what Laura meant.

How did you know how badly we needed this?

Hidden struggles

A few days before I Still Do, a one-day event sponsored by FamilyLife that encourages couples to commit to a lifelong marriage, a couple in Karaña Walker’s church realized they wouldn’t be able to attend. So they asked Karaña and her husband, Butch, to give away their two tickets.

Karaña asked Laura if she’d like the extra tickets. At first Laura declined the invitation, saying that she wouldn’t have child care. But when Karaña told her, “We have that taken care of,” the Dansers agreed to go.

At the time, Karaña and Butch did not know that Dale and Laura’s marriage was in trouble … that Laura had been searching through library books for help. “I knew we couldn’t afford professional marriage counseling,” she says. “I didn’t know who to go to.”

Like many people, the Dansers believed that marriage problems should be kept private. Already divorced once, Dale wasn’t about to admit that he was again failing in marriage. Yes, he and Laura held hands at church, but that was out of habit. No one had any idea that their marriage was broken, that they were living in parallel universes.

Dale usually worked 70 or 80 hours a week; he and Laura saw each other only an hour or two each day.  He felt like Laura had time for the kids, for church and home school activities, but little time for just him.

And Laura felt alone, raising the children by herself.  Laura says Dale constantly found fault with her. And she regretted what she said during one argument: “Just get a divorce attorney.” Even though she had not meant those words, soon afterward Dale told her that he didn’t love her any more. She cried all that night.

Back in 2002, if someone could have looked beyond the Dansers’ veneered exteriors, they’d probably wonder: Is there any hope for this marriage? Or is it already dead?

Something happened

Dale agreed to attend I Still Do even though he didn’t expect his marriage to work out.  In fact, he had been hiding some secret money so he could leave his wife and the kids. He kept it in an envelope in his car, and as he and Laura drove to the marriage event that day in 2002, she was actually sitting above that money.

I Still Do did not begin well for the Dansers. They even got into an argument. “He reads faster than I do,” Laura says. While sharing a booklet during I Still Do, Dale turned a page when Laura was still reading it. So Laura reached over his hand to go back, “and he threw the book at me,” Laura says. She almost walked out.

But at some point late in the event, something happened. “There was something about what this speaker said … or it was just the hand of God turning our hearts,” Laura says, “and something just clicked with both of us.”  They began to see the need for God’s direction in their lives.

About that time the speaker pointed to huge containers filled with freshly cut, long-stemmed roses. He invited the audience members to come down and get a rose to offer to their spouses, and then renew their vows.

As Dale walked down countless rows of seats, he joined thousands of others. When he returned with a rose for Laura, he had a determined look in his eye—he was fighting for his marriage.

Dale grabbed his wife’s hand. They both began to cry. What was God doing?

Real work

The day after I Still Do, Laura visited Butch and Karaña Walker and explained why she had appeared so upset after the event was over.  She explained that she and Dale had been on the verge of divorce, and told them how Dale had confessed everything to her—that he had been hiding money, and that he had even quit wearing his wedding ring because he didn’t want to stay married.

Karaña was speechless. “You never even told us.”

After years of struggles, the veneered exterior of the Dansers’ marriage had been peeled off. Now the real work of transforming their relationship began.

They joined the Walkers’ small group and began going through FamilyLife’s marriage Bible studies. With other couples they learned how to grow together in Christ, communicate, manage conflict, and much more. “We’ve done almost all of [the small-group Bible studies] now,” Laura says.

Dale’s father died in April 2003, and with his passing Dale began to rethink his own life. Suddenly chasing materialism didn’t seem to be such a good race. So he requested, and was given, a demotion at work. Although this increased the financial pressures, fewer hours at work gave him needed time at home.

Then, in November 2003, Dale’s mother died.

Years of smoking, long hours at work, and the death of his parents had taken their toll on Dale’s body.  In 2004 he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and a year later had triple bypass surgery “at the ripe old age of 41,” he says.

Life has taken many twists and turns for the Dansers. “Our marriage is totally different,” Laura says: Dale now uses a wheelchair because of his arthritis, and he needs Laura’s help more and more.

But their marriage is strong because they are committed to one another for a lifetime—for better, for worse … for richer, for poorer … in sickness and in health.

Grateful for the dark time

Over the years, Laura has kept special keepsakes in a cardboard box. In it are not only her children’s first shoes, but also a plastic bag with the Oklahoma City I Still Do program and a faded rose.

And on a wall in the Dansers’ home hangs a framed, signed marriage covenant; they received it at I Still Do. Seeing it reminds them of the day God transformed their marriage: October 26, 2002.

Today Laura is grateful for the dark time in her marriage and compares it to words in Psalm 23:4. “It talks about walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” she says. “Well, our marriage was dead and the only way we could get through was to walk through together.”

Like many couples, the Dansers have learned a lot about marriage the hard way. They want to help others not make their same mistakes. That’s why they mentor young couples today.

Laura says it was worth going through the dark times. “We truly have a partnership [today] … and now we see the impact we are making on other couples.”

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