I love tradition, symbolism and meaning. They help me feel tethered and give me purpose. It was only fitting that my wedding would be full of the past as we celebrated the present, looking forward to the future.
Greg proposed to me with his great-grandmother’s wedding band. My wedding band was intricately designed and handmade in Ethiopia. Greg’s wedding band was originally the promise ring that my parents gave to me when I was 13. I had it melted down and hammered into his ring.
Both of our rings have “Will & Time” engraved on the inside. In Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, he talks about “everything beautiful being the creation of will and time (this is a paraphrase because I cant remember the exact quote).” Greg and I want our marriage to be, just as our whole relationship has been, the “creation of will & time.”
My mother’s mother was ill at the time and not able to make our wedding, but I wore her necklace from the Mackie Family. I wore my mother’s ring from the Jones family, my great-grandmother’s earrings from the Holmes family and I wore Greg’s great grandmother’s bracelet from the Falconer family.
Since I was small I had sat in my grandma Walt’s library and gazed at photos of her in her wedding dress and dreamed that one day I could wear her dress. I am not sure how I originally had the idea, maybe it was because two of my dad’s sisters had wore the dress and it only seemed fitting.
Before I was even engaged, I sent my grandmother an email regarding my pending engagement and the condition of the dress. I hoped another bride could wear it. A few weeks later I stood in my mother’s bathroom looking at the dress lying at the bottom of the suitcase it arrived in. It has been stored for over 30 years. I slowing lifted the dress out of the suitcase with my mom and sister hovering close. There, in my mother’s bathroom, I slipped into my grandmother’s dress for the first time. My mother gasped as my sister fastened the buttons down the length of the dress. It was almost a perfect fit. “Oh EJ. It was made for you.” We dragged a full-length mirror from the closest so I could take a look. The lace still had to be sewn to the neckline and the hem and the arms needed to be taken in, but besides that, it was a perfect fit. As soon as I turned and looked in the mirror I knew I was meant to wear this dress.
My Grandmother, Josephine Holmes Walt, was married in Memphis, TN in 1951. This was the write-up in The Commercial Appeal the day before she married my Grandfather, John Dabney Walt, Sr.
“Miss Holmes’ exquisite bridal gown is fashioned of luminous ivory duchess satin, with a shell yoke and off-shoulder neckline, enhanced by a bertha of handsome heirloom rosepoint lace. The sleeves are long and petal-pointed over the hands. The voluminous circular-cut skirt falls gracefully from a fitted bodice and ends in a full cathedral train. The veil, which was the wedding veil of the bride’s mother is of full length rosepoint lace in ivory poised over ivory imported French illusion and held in place by a demure Victorian bonnet of rosepoint lace. The bride will carry a dainty cascade bouquet of lilies of the valley.” Commercial Appeal, Memphis TN
This same dress and veil were worn by my two aunts in 1983, and then by me in 2016. And yes, you have done the math correctly; the veil I wore was my great-grandmother’s, though I don’t really think of it as a bonnet.
The day of the wedding, while slipping into that dress and my sister crowning my head with my great grandmother’s veil, I felt like I was slipping into my heritage, my history. These women that went before me were there with me. My grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, and Greg’s great grandmother would all walk down the aisle with me. Their stories were a part of me, the pooling of their prayers and covering carried me to this day.
I stood in their blessing as I walked up behind Greg in the backyard in our neighbor’s secret garden; old stone walls veiled with ivy, tall ancient tree and forgotten pathways emerging under the brush. I could hardly breathe as I approached Greg, the Cathedral train rustling the dead leaves behind me. I had been waiting for this moment for what seemed like a lifetime and it probably was. I could feel Greg smiling even though he was turned from me. I stopped. A deep breath. I raised my hand, quivering with joy and anticipation, and tapped him on the shoulder. I couldn’t contain my laughter as that tall cute man turned toward me with delight.
I was his bride and he made me beautiful. His love made me beautiful. His hope for me made me beautiful. His joy and commitment to me made me beautiful. I felt beautiful and redeemed and healed standing there laughing, crying and holding him. I couldn’t believe we made it to this day. The joy just toppled over and splashed on nature’s floor.
The week after visiting Greg in Ethiopia, April 15th, 2015, 10 months and 20 days before Greg and I married, I wrote one line in my journal: “I will marry Gregory William Spencer.” We were not dating; I didn’t even know if he liked me. I didn’t even have his phone number to text him. Just lots of emailing.
Finally, in May he asked for my phone number. Sigh of relief. In June, there was a very long cryptic text saying he wasn’t ready for a relationship. I misread it (out of my own insecurity) that he thought I was interested but he wasn’t interested and he wanted to be clear with me in regards to expectations. I began firing back one message after another letting him know how I felt, “So, fine, yes. I was liking you. There.” That was the nicest part of my rebuttal; I am too ashamed to include the other things I wrote to this sweet man who was just trying to protect me.
Somehow we recovered. All I needed to hear from Greg was, “Let me be clear, I wasn’t saying I wasn’t interested, just need some time.
“Ohhhhh you could be interested. That’s totally cool. So there’s a chance then? No problem, take your time.” I was at peace.
End of June he called me on the phone for the first time. July we met up for a date in Nashville. I cried all the way there because I was so nervous and all the way back because I was so happy. He didn’t kiss me or touch me except that when he dropped me at the hotel, he took my hand and prayed for me and for us.
Besides the facts of our romance, the most remarkable thing that happened is that we shared our stories, our vulnerability, our mistakes, our shame. I was accepted and loved and cherished in my tears and pain with Greg. This man won my love by not just accepting me where I was, but picking me up where I was and carrying me home.
I would never turn back. Until the end of time, my heart would belong to the one man who had won me on the battlefield of despair. The man who took up my story when it was lost.
August. We were still not dating, but I went on their family vacation to Lake Powell, where we slept on top of the houseboat under the stars and next to each other and Greg’s parents and the rest of his family. The night before we left for vacation, standing in his bathroom in Utah, after brushing our teeth, Greg kissed me for the first time and I thought I would melt to the floor. The next day, sitting on the deck of the boat at Lake Powell drinking margaritas, Greg said, “Well, now that I have you on our family vacation, will you be my girlfriend?” The man might as well have asked me to marry him.
14 days later, when Greg was back in Ethiopia and I was sitting on the porch at my grandma’s cabin, we decided that we should get married. I might have written a very clear email saying something like, “No need to wait on me. I am ready for you and ready for Ethiopia. Let’s do a simple wedding with just our families as soon as we can and get on with our lives and loving each other.”
There over the phone, we committed to get married. It was the craziest decision, but we didn’t feel crazy at the time. It was simplest, most peaceful way to turn.
There was a moment of silence. The matter was settled, but it was still settling into my heart. Then Greg’s strong calming tenor, “EJ, I had been waiting to say this to you in person but I think now is the right time. I love you and I have for a long time.”
I was flat out on the couch for some time recovering from the joy and his love. Even though I knew in my heart that he loved me, something broke in me as he spoke words of truth over me. The rest of the day, on my hike and sitting on the porch, the Lord was whispering to me, “With this love, I am buying your soul back from darkness and giving it to the light. My love has hunted you down and may you never forget the fierce affection & kindness I have shown you.”
Part of this idea was from a line in Les Miserables, when Jean Valjean steals the silver from the priest who had fed him and given him a warm bed. Valjean is brought back to the priest by the police and accused of stealing his silver. But the priest resounds, “Those were a gift, but you forgot the candlesticks.” The priest continues as he is giving Jean Valjean the silver candlesticks, “understand, that with these candlestick, I am buying your soul back from darkness and giving it to the light.”
This is exactly how I felt. I had stolen the silver and the Lord gave me the candlesticks too.
I told my parents the story of how I felt after Greg told me he loved me and what the Lord was saying to me. For our wedding, my parents presented us with two silver candlesticks from my grandparents, that we may never forget that we were given to the light.
The dress is back in storage. The candlesticks are in the attic since we couldn’t take them to Africa. The dance floor has cleared and the guests have gone home. Greg and I have moved to the other side of the world, but I have not forgotten that I was bought with a price. I have not forgotten that Christ died on the cross so I could live. I live with a constant reminder of that love. I wake up every morning next to God’s grace. God’s grace comes home to me in the evening and laughs with me over dinner. God’s grace tucks me in at night and holds me tight as I slip into sleep.
I grew up hearing about the redemption and grace of a Holy Father, but I knew the redemption and grace the day I married Greg. It sank into my bones and settled in my heart.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” –Ephesians 5:25-2