This year I attended two exceptionally meaningful and inspirational weddings. One was my brother’s and the other was my best friend’s. They both have powerful, God-filled stories behind them that leave me with a deep respect and immense love for both couples. Here they are as brief as I can possibly make them — and then a Spotify wedding playlist:
Chris & Wendy
At the beginning of this year my brother, Chris, found out he had cancer at age 29. After examining a growing lump, his doctor sent my family into a spiraling nightmare when he said it had gone into Chris’ chest and he would like to open him up by the end of that very week.
He sought a second opinion and found through biopsies that he has lymphoma and that chemotherapy was the recommended treatment, not surgery. Chemo was to begin a short time after.
Chris is extremely funny, tall, and handsome. He is young, otherwise healthy and strong — not someone who would cross your mind as sick. He had his whole life ahead of him. In fact, he was engaged to marry his sweetheart, Wendy, this month.
Like most brides, Wendy had Pinterest boards and piles of beautiful wedding ideas for their big day. They had reserved a round, red barn in the Indiana countryside for their summer wedding. She envisioned candle-lit lanterns in the trees and a big party for all their family and friends.
But when they got Chris’ diagnosis, she said all those things suddenly seemed unimportant. She just wanted to be married as soon as possible so she could take care of him. Instead of giving her cold feet, cancer drew her even closer to her fiancé.
As a couple, they decided they would marry before chemo treatments. That gave them two weeks for planning! They hustled and bustled and got it done with lots of help from both families.
Instead of a large crowd, there was just family in the church where they met and serve on the worship team. Instead of a warm summer day, it was a chilly February afternoon. Most winter days in Indiana tend to be gray and dreary, but on this day God provided a stunning backdrop. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue, and white snow sparkled on the ground and trees.
The bride and groom were a handsome couple, but they directed the attention to Jesus. They skipped the traditional wedding format and began the ceremony by offering guests their personal testimonies of how Christ has impacted their lives.
Through tears, my brother stated that he was grateful for his cancer. He said he and Wendy had prayed for God to show them how to grow closer to Him. He believed this was the answer, and though he was shaken, he trusted the Lord.
No one escaped tears during that ceremony. The gravity of Chris’ health and their heartfelt vows and commitment to God and each other were powerful. (Personally, I was a gloppy mess — 7 months pregnant, stuffed in a pretty purple bridesmaid dress, trying not to interrupt with my sobbing.)
Chris underwent chemotherapy six times in five months. Our dad told me several times that Wendy never left his side during the all-day treatment. She curled up in the chair next to his and stayed put, only leaving to go to the bathroom.
It was hard on him. It was hard on both of them. Wendy said the hardest part for her was watching him fall sicker and sicker and not be able to do anything to make him feel better. They couldn’t do fun newlywed things together or have much of a social life because oftentimes Chris couldn’t get out of bed. His daily uniform became a robe and wool socks because he was always cold.
Our mom tried to prepare me for Chris’ appearance before he and Wendy visited Florida a month ago, but I cried when I saw him anyway. He was so very thin and pale, with all of his hair and even most of his eyebrows gone.
He still had the same easy smile though. And even though his energy was a fraction of what it had been, he still hid in our treehouse to surprise the boys. Those boys are crazy about their uncle. (Who, by the way, was playing in the snow with them the day of his wedding. And their Aunt Wendy, in the fury of planning a ceremony in a matter of days, wasn’t too busy to think about borrowing snowsuits and boots for these Florida boys.)
Chris is now finished with chemotherapy and, as of last week, he is cancer free! This couple has only been married a matter of months, but they have already honored their vows to support one another in sickness and in health. They have already made sacrifices for each other and been down a road where no one belongs.
Even toward the end of his treatment, Chris repeated that he was grateful for the cancer. He said it made him more compassionate than he could have been otherwise, drew him closer to his new bride, and fixed his eyes on our Heavenly Father.
This is what he said on his Facebook page: I want to thank Jesus Christ, who has taught me to trust in Him with everything. I don’t always have the right plan in my head, but He never fails to lead me to where I should go. He has taught me so many lessons with this. 1 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Ashby & Dominic
Ashby and Dominic met on a blind date. Although Ashby didn’t know she was going on a blind date, she thought she was just going to friends’ house for dinner! Instead, she met her future husband.
He was an answer to prayer — many prayers from many people technically, though I imagine the most powerful ones came from Ashby’s four-year-old son, Trooper. He lost his dad and Ashby lost her husband, Spencer, when she was five months pregnant due to complications of an enlarged heart.
Several months before Ashby and Dominic met, Trooper started praying, unprompted mind you, for a daddy before every meal without fail. Nothing else, just a daddy. Amen. He even prayed this simple prayer in front of Dominic and a table full of people on their second or third date! Ashby said she wanted to hide underneath the table.
Not coincidentally (because there’s no such thing when God is involved), Ashby had started praying for a husband not long before her son began his campaign. It wasn’t something she expected. Spencer passed away when she was just 27 years old, but she didn’t think she would ever remarry. The desire grew slowly, years later, as she began to heal and as she watched Trooper grow.
Spencer met and hired Marcello when he barely spoke English and they washed windows together. (Their stories of how they got into gated communities without passes and abandoned each other on rooftops are ridiculous.) My favorite story Marcello tells is from their first week working together. Marcello and I were pretty broke and so he asked Spencer when he would get his first paycheck. Knowing it would probably be three weeks before he saw any money, Spencer told him they got a tip that day to split, which of course wasn’t true. He took all the cash out of his wallet and handed it to Marcello.
The four of us grew close over a short period of time. Marcello and I had been trying to have a baby for over a year with no luck. When Spencer and Ashby decided the time was right for them, she became pregnant after a short time. Fortunately, it didn’t strain the relationship. Spencer started praying before all meals that we shared together that Marcello and I would expect a bundle of our own soon.
Then the unthinkable day happened. I couldn’t even understand what Ashby was saying over the phone through her weeping. We were just with them the day before. He seemed fine — mischievous as ever. His family was visiting and they were all staying at a hotel with a fun water park. Ashby and I were floating down the lazy river and Spencer went ahead of us and jumped out of the bushes, making us scream (as well as the couple ahead of us). We couldn’t wrap our minds around it. How could this happen to such a young man so full of life, ideas, and vibrancy?
Ashby moved in with Marcello and I during that difficult time. It was emotional and sometimes very dark, but there was a bright spot. I became pregnant with Luca the month after Spencer went to Heaven. We figured he was up there pestering God until it happened! I knew immediately it was a boy and we would do this together, which we have to this day. (So poor Marcello was living with two pregnant women, and our neighbors were very confused with one man and two pregnant women across the street!)
It has been a long and arduous road for Ashby since Spencer’s death. I’ve been with her through many unimaginable circumstances — when she woke up the next day and remembered what happened, finding out they were having a boy, picking up Spencer’s ashes, sorting through his things — and I am astonished by her integrity and faith.
In her deepest despair, she did not self medicate. She did not fall to addictions or vices. She didn’t look for anything to fill her black hole of a void other than Jesus. She poured out all of her anger, pain, confusion, sadness to him. She worked through her grief, not around it. Of course she’s not over it. She’ll tell you she never will be, but now she has the faith of a warrior. She has a fountain of wisdom and passion within her that can only come from where she has been and her long walk with Jesus on the way out.
In her words: We don’t stop missing people. It’s actually beautiful that way. It’s a testament to the love that you have for one another. It’s ok to still miss Spencer. Meeting Dominic doesn’t change that because Dominic isn’t supposed to replace Spencer. Dominic is exactly who he is supposed to be in my life and Trooper’s life. He was always meant to take up this role at this time. In fact, God has been preparing him for it his whole life, starting with the loss of his father at a young age. He once told me that he felt Jesus gave him the privilege of watching Trooper and I because he got to see what his mom went through raising him alone before she met his step-father.
As Dominic was an answer to Ashby’s prayers, she was an answer to his. Shortly before Dominic met Ashby, he began praying for a family. He even prayed for a future bride who already had a child so he could give a child what he had been given. His father died when he was two years old and his step father accepted him as his own.
He had hardships that aren’t my story to tell, but he had the experience and depth to identify with Ashby and treat her with tenderness.
Dominic and Trooper had a special relationship from the beginning. They played legos and talked about tools. It was a natural fit for them, something real that can’t be forced. Dominic considered him in all decisions. He even planned putt-putt for their first date so Trooper could come along.
Ashby and Dominic said nothing of their relationship to him. He didn’t know they were dating or considering marrying. They waited to see what God would do with his little heart.
Here’s an excerpt from Ashby’s blog: Dom was on the phone to someone and mentioned his girlfriend. Trooper said, “Who is your girlfriend Dom? I want to meet her!” Dominic said, “Troop, your mom is my girlfriend.” Without missing a beat he said, “She can’t be your girlfriend Dom! She’s my mom!” We let it go with a chuckle but about a month later, he drew another connection. We were dropping Dominic off at his truck after dinner with friends and as we were saying good-bye, Troop said, “Hey guys! If you are boyfriend and girlfriend maybe you should get married and then Dom could be my daddy!”
They were married in May in southern Florida. Thunderstorms swarmed in from across the water, but allowed just enough time for their ceremony. The purple blue sky was beautiful and thunder rumbled in the distance. Its intensity reminded me of God’s power, might, and sovereignty.
If you look in the pictures of Ashby walking down the aisle in her beautiful gown, you mostly see people with slightly contorted faces, crying but trying to hold it together. It was emotional. Their personal vows from their own hearts offered love, commitment, gratitude, and desire to put Christ in the center of their marriage. Dominic stole the show by offering to love Trooper as his firstborn. And Ashby quoted Ruth 1:16 in French, Dominic’s native language: Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Here’s a Spotify wedding playlist I created in their honor: