“If there was ever a meeting of broken-equals, redeemed and renewed partners and assured futures, this was the meeting.” –Dear friend in reference to our marriage & wedding.
Greg and I started talking about getting married the same week my parents moved into a new home in North Carolina. We were engaged a few months later on Christmas Eve. I knew the engagement was coming, but I was still utterly surprised and overcome with joyful tears as Greg knelt under me and put his great-grandmother’s wedding band on my figure.
Greg’s parents had just arrived to celebrate Christmas with my family in North Carolina and our house was busting with cheer and baked goods, with a big pot of chili brewing on the stove. While Greg and I were on a walk as evening approached, our families were inside by the Christmas tree praying for us and for our future together. It was the simple moment, in the dark, next to a tree covered in tiny white lights, that Greg dropped down on one knee and asked me to spend the rest of his life with him. I don’t remember a word of what he said; I couldn’t stop weeping.
That moment changed my life in the most profound and simple of ways.
Our engagement was simple, just like all of our monumental moments. The first time he kissed me, we were brushing our teeth. The first time he said he loved me, we were on the phone can ocean apart. It was just us and our love and that seemed profound enough. The fireworks weren’t exploding in the air, but they were exploding in my tiny heart.
Following the engagement and Christmas festivities, I stood on our front porch and looked with my parents out unto our lawn. My parents had a small farm and we wanted to have the wedding on that property in 2 months and 10 days to be exact. The ceremony would be in the yard near the small brown barn and the reception would be in a tent with food trucks parked outside.
It was an ingenious plan, except that since my parents had just moved in and finished a massive remodeling project, the yard was a pile of mud. I am not joking.
Not to worry though, we were banking on fescue grass growing.
But the rains came, the cold came, the snow came and then more snow came and three weeks before the wedding there was no grass growing. I stood with my father on the porch of the ranch style cottage to hatch a new plan. We would move everything closer to the house, then lay sod where the ceremony and reception would be, and the food trucks would have to go on the gravel driveway.
I need to stop my wedding story to explain something about my father. He is the most sacrificial man in the world and if you need to get something done, he the man to make it happen. My dad spent endless evenings after work the two weeks before the wedding, laying sod for our big day. In the rain and in the cold, my dad laid that sod. One of my favorite memories leading up to the wedding was laying sod with him at one o’clock in the morning on a Friday night in my knee length feather puff jacket and Uggs. My Uggs and jacket were never the same after the mud set in.
10 days later, my dad walked me down a burlap aisle positioned over the same sod we arranged in the middle of night by the light of his truck. It was perfect.
My mom made all the decorations. She planted succulents in little containers she found around the house; she collected brass candlesticks and old afghans that someone’s granny made from Goodwill; on our hikes near the property she gathered pinecones and vines and Lord only knows what else to use for centerpieces.
Two days before the wedding, sod still needed to be laid. My brother, and uncles, and Greg, and his friends and family all laid sod, hung lights, and set up chairs. My mom’s friends helped her lay the decorations on 30 tables.
All of the preparing and planning took part in the making of our covenant.
I stood on the sod my father and our family and friends had laid. We danced under the lights that we hung. We sat at tables with succulents my mother planted in her small garden shed. Our friends sat under afghans made by someone’s granny. The day was perfect because it wasn’t.
The day was the sum of everything. The sum of hard work, love, covenant and communion.
I couldn’t believe how many people flew from the other side of the world for our homegrown wedding. People that had cried with us on our darkest days now witnessed and celebrated with us on the happiest of days culminating in covenant.
George and his wife Carol were some of the friends who were there for the tears and then there for the joy. When I was in a mess, I sat with Carol and George next to their stone fireplace in their den and cried with desperation. After Greg and I were engaged, we asked George to marry us and then we both sat next to their stone fireplace in their den and cried with joy as we talked about our forthcoming nuptials. It was fitting that they were there to usher me into my new life with Greg.
It was fitting for everyone that was there. All the prayers and hope and calls and love sat in chairs watching us get married.
Our first act of marriage was taking communion together. My dad had built a wooden kneeler with logs from our yard and placed a handmade afghan that my mother bought secondhand over the top. After the exchanging of vows and rings and making a covenant with each other, Greg and I stepped underneath a Chuppah to take communion and make a covenant with our Creator.
A Chuppah is a Jewish wedding tradition that we adopted for our wedding. The Chuppah represents a presence of God over the covenant of marriage with cloth canopy draping over four poles honoring that institution of marriage has divine origins. There, under the Chuppah, which was also made from sticks and branches from our yard, Greg and I knelt before God.
It seems to be the only way to start a marriage, humble, on our knees, breaking bread and making a covenant with our Creator. Our friend Lauren sang “Lead Me to the Cross” and George and Tekle served us communion.
I couldn’t help but cry as George raised the cup and softly whispered to Greg and me, “This is my blood poured out for you, drink this in remembrance of me.” I can’t even put my finger on what it was about that moment. It felt like the culmination of the years, the joy and the pain were both sealed to the journey of redemption and I honored them both as I renewed my covenant with my everlasting Father and made a new covenant with Gregory William Spencer.
After communion, my sister sang “Benediction,” another song by Josh Garrels, while our parents laid hands on us in blessing, sending us out as a new family. I couldn’t stop crying; joy and relief and hope flowed down my face.
“And if you find true love, one day marry; Bear a child from your seed. Help it to grow into a tree. As the days unfold, hold your breath to see-life is a mystery. And joy, it is severe, when the way is rough and steep, but love will make your days complete.” –Benediction, Josh Garrels
When George pronounced us man and wife, “Mr. & Mrs. Gregory Spencer,” I was still in shock that this day had come. It had been the shortest and longest journey of my life. The journey was filled with so much hope, but I was forced to deal with myself and my pain if I wanted to be the wife that Greg needed me to be and the woman that God had created me to become.
Our relationship started like any old fashion romance does: letters. Well, okay, emails. We later confessed that we both knew from the start of our emailing that there was something special between us, but neither of us were confirmed in the suspension that the affection was mutual. Greg wanted to do these intentional “table questions” via email where one person asks a question for the other to answer and then they must answer the question in return. They were deep and thoughtful and fun and funny. I couldn’t believe he was interested in my life and in what I thought. One of my personal favorites was, “What would you do for the rest of your life if you knew were single?” I remember thinking, "Well, I am not going to be single because I am going to marry you, but for the sake of the question, ‘I would adopt a little girl (from Ethiopia of course) and buy an airstream and write endlessly.’”
Emails lasted for a number of weeks with about 3-4 days in between each. Each time I got an email from Greg, I panicked and couldn’t open it. When I finally mustered the courage, I would quickly open it and scan for signs of rejection. Sigh. Then I would reread every word, meticulous about each sentence and comma, trying to decipher the greater meaning. I would reread that email a million times until I decided what I should say in reply. I would read the email when I woke in the morning, while I sat on top of the mountain, while I cuddled on the porch with a blanket and then that email would tuck me into bed. I did that until I received another email which I quickly scanned before slowly enjoying. In one such email, Greg just mentioned in closing, “If you are ever coming through Addis (Ethiopia), let me know.” Now, remember, I am in the North Carolina mountains for a self-reflective sabbatical and Addis is not really on the way to anywhere except, of course, Malawi, where I used to live. Fortunately, I was going there anyway and I would let him know I was coming through town.
I convinced my brother John to go on this scouting mission to Ethiopia to visit Greg. We drove to D.C., then hopped on board a D.C. flight to Addis Ababa. My heart raced. We went through immigration. My heart beat faster. We loaded our bags on a trolley and walked toward the exit. Totally pounding.
There he was, towering over the crowd. Short blonde hair. My heart leaped into my stomach the moment our eyes met. I knew he was my husband, but I had no idea how it would ever happen. We were both such a mess.
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