As Valentine’s Day comes around, Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore brings you a series about love stories from Singapore.
By Desiree Koh
In July 2018, moments after they say their vows, the priest at St Paul’s Church on Upper Serangoon Road presents “Leon and Lyra Stewart” to their family and friends. Leon dances Lyra back towards the church doors to Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me. A honeymoon in Penang follows.
The thing is, the whole shindig was organised by their daughter Tara, 25, and their son Gino, 19. It was the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary and also – finally – their church wedding.
The two met when Lyra was just 19 and Leon, 23. He was sitting on his mother’s living room couch one day in 1993 when his younger brother’s girlfriend brought over a friend who set his heart aflutter. Just months in, the young couple found themselves pregnant.
“We didn’t know what to do, but we were dead set against abortion. We also didn’t want our daughter Tara to be born out of wedlock, so we … ended up getting married quickly,” remembers Leon, 48, and now a youth pastor. Back then, he worked at the Crocodile Farm.
A simple solemnisation at the Registry of Marriages followed on July 22. The two, accompanied by a few family members, exchanged gold bands, and then quickly got on with their upcoming role as parents. It was much harder than they could have anticipated.
Leon had to come to terms with the fact that there was “no playbook for very real moments”, like a spouse in the bathroom and a crying baby. Sometimes, he would stay out of the house just to sidestep his domestic responsibilities. It led to arguments and shouting matches.
Media producer and voiceover artist Lyra, now 44, quickly realized that the two hadn’t quite thought things through, and came close to throwing in the towel. But her mother-in-law persuaded the young bride to stick around “and pray”.
What helped was a fierce determination on her part – Lyra had come from a broken home and wasn’t keen on history repeating itself – and there was the fact that even when situations erupted, Leon was always remorseful.
“He was willing to learn how to be better. He is sincere and genuine – I saw a lot of good in him,” she says.
The two slowly learnt to negotiate marriage and their young child together. Having lived first with his mother, then hers, they got their first home together in Woodlands when Tara turned three.
Not long after, Tara began asking for a sibling, and they were more ready. Gino arrived six years to the day that Tara was born. “Two children, one birthday party!” Lyra quips.
Their relationship, too, began to stabilise.
“We had enough love for each other, one child, and one more child, and we were better parents because we weren’t as clumsy and were surer of ourselves,” says Lyra.
But they still hadn’t had much courtship time before their first child came along, much less after their second. They really only found time to date when the children were a little older and more independent. “We had to do everything in reverse,” Lyra laughs.
But they eventually did get opportunities to take short holidays together, sometimes on Leon’s Honda CRM 125 scrambler, and go for movie or dinner dates.
“We always tried to make time for ourselves and to keep the romance alive,” says Lyra.
As their silver anniversary approached, they thought about renewing their vows and doing the one thing they hadn’t had a chance to as a young bride and groom – a traditional church wedding as a symbol of how far they’d come together.
It would also be a celebration of having truly found love.
“When we were younger, we said we loved each other, but perhaps we didn’t know how to love properly,” reflects Lyra. “We aren’t just still married, we’re still madly in love. We go on dates and holidays so often that people always ask, ‘When is the honeymoon going to end?’”