Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Wedding- Small Budget, Big Joy!

5 years ago today, Joel and I were married. Our wedding day still ranks highest among the most joyful days I've ever experienced.  

From the word "go", Joel and I did not want to have an expensive, complicated wedding ceremony. However, we did want a couple of things. First,we wanted it to be a worship service and a celebration of God's good grace in our lives. Second, we wanted our wedding to be a joyful celebration open to anyone who wanted to be there with us. We both know that God brought us together and that is still a gift we celebrate and remember with much gratitude today. We wanted that celebration open to everyone. 

Photo by Jacki Harp
Having a wedding ceremony that was worship service was easy to plan, but finding a way to invite everyone who wanted to be part of this day with us without breaking the bank required a little thinking outside of the box. This is what we did. 

How to keep the Wedding Cost Low:

We did not want any presents but we did need some gifts. We asked our friends and family if they would consider giving us their gifts, as in, their talents and skills. These people gave us the gift of piecing together the details of our wedding by doing what they already love to do and making that their present to us. Our friends with good cameras took wonderful photos during the service, the church secretary made and printed our bulletins, the florist we knew made my bouquet, the gardeners in our church provided roses from their rose bushes for the tables, friends helped to set up tables and chairs, ladies made extra batches of chicken salad and rolls to make sure that our guests would have plenty to eat, a decorator in the church decorated everything, Joel's friends and family played all our wedding music, our friends read scripture, told the bible story, and DJ-ed our after-party. Each detail came together in a beautiful collage of sharing personalized, precious gifts with us and we did not have to pay for any of these services.

My BFF taking photos for us- Thank you, Kim!
We also decided that we did not want attendants. That adds costs and drama that we didn't want to put on the people that we loved. Joel asked some of his buddies to usher for us and help to park folks on the wedding day. We both asked our families to walk down the aisle with us and everyone could wear whatever they wanted to wear. On that note, Joel and I really did not care what we wore either. I bought a dress off Etsy that was simple and Joel's mom altered (a lot) for me. Joel didn't even think about what he was going to wear until the night before the wedding when his Dad asked and ended up taking him (and all the guys) shopping for khaki's and white shirts. Thanks, Rick! Did I mention that we also didn't wear shoes? This was a bigger deal to some of our family and some friends than we anticipated. Joel always took his shoes off to lead worship or play with the band. We both love that passage in Exodus where God tells Moses to remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. It seemed right that we should enter God's church on our wedding day with the same awe and respect. This also meant, we didn't have to buy shoes. 

Photo by Crosby Ignasher
In order to create a space for our ceremony where anyone who wanted to celebrate with us could, we had to figure out the food situation. We decided that since we were not asking for gifts then we could ask our guests to bring a cover-dish (as we say in south) and have a pot-luck lunch in the fellowship hall of our reception after the service. We did not send out invitations except to some family and friends who we knew would want/need such a thing to believe we were really having a wedding, hehe. What we did to get the word out there was to put a magnet save-the-date in the hands of all our loved ones, in baskets at our churches and in our offices to give to folks as they passed through. We also created a facebook event that was open to all our friends. There were no RSVP's to keep up with and no worries about who would sit where. We just knew that the people who wanted to be there with us would be. The ladies of the church also made extra food in case folks did not all bring a dish to share at the luncheon, so we were set. 

Our reception pot-luck
The night before the wedding we had a "rehearsal" which was really just Joel and me explaining that this is not going to be a wedding like folks are used to. We had our musicians and family present just to give them a heads up that the service was about worshiping God and we just want everyone to share that with us. Then we went to a friend's cabin on the lake (also a gift) and had a big meal that my in-laws cooked themselves. It was simple and delicious and ended with a chilly swim. 

Me with my Mother-in-law, Lin. Thanks fro the good eats!
We got married in the morning so our service was at 11am. It would be an hour long worship service. Following it would be the cover-dish luncheon complete with Joel's friend's playing music live. Then later that evening we would have a more intimate party on a friend's farm where there would be dancing, drinking, a whole pig and tent camping. What else could you want? For us, we just wanted people there who wanted to be there to party with us.

In the end, this is all that was paid for:
Joel and I paid for the BBQ Pig and sides for the after-party for 100 people. This was cooked by a friend who charged us $1,000 for all the food and fixin's and his time and equipment. We paid for our marriage licence. I paid $200 for my dress and $70 for Joel's ring. My ring was inherited from my grandmother so Joel lucked out. Then we paid $200 for the cake to be made by a lady in the church who makes REALLY GOOD cake. Joel's parents paid for 3 kegs of beer and whatever food they did not grow for our rehearsal dinner. My mom paid for the tent and the dance floor for our after-party and gave key helpers in the wedding some very nice pottery as a "Thank you". When it was all said and done, between the three of us (Joel's folks, My mom, and us) we only spent $5,000 for what turned out to be 3 big parties. 

Big Joy
With this formula, we found that on our wedding day, it was not about us. It became something so much bigger than that. Everyone we loved had given their time and gifts (which essentially is like giving a piece of your heart) so they were all invested in this day. We took away any of the details that make a couple think this day is all about them. The stress of clothes, makeup, attendants, etc. We both woke up with our families and got ready. My cousin did my hair and makeup, my friends brought over some Bojangles. We just laughed and danced and prepared for a really fun May 15th. It was about a community of people coming together.

When we arrived at Hopewell Presbyterian Church, all the ladies and Luke (my brother-in-law) got ready in the bridal room which mostly meant that we talked and prayed together. When I walked around to head into the church I was stunned. There were so many people in the congregation that folks were still spilling out of the vestibule. I saw my college roommate, church friends, cousins, family, all still pressing their way inside. I hugged people and greeted them and felt so much love even before I entered the Sanctuary. 

Photo by Thuy Butler
There are two aisles at Hopewell, so Joel and his family walked down one while me and my family walked down the other. When we all made it to the front of the Sanctuary, I was so overwhelmed with the turn out that I started crying. The whole placed was packed full. The Hopewell Deacons had added seats anywhere they could squeeze one. All the youth and children of our lives were seated on the floor in the front around our feet. I had asked that the Easter Cross be placed in the front of the church so that the children could flower it like they do on Easter Sunday and it was covered with flowers. 

Photo by Jacki Harp
Hopewell has a wrap-around balcony so the feeling we had standing in front of the church was one of a total envelopment in love. Everyone in the room seemed to be smiling and the joy that was present in the room was pulsating off each heart pounding around us. The joy was tangible, contagious and so holy that most of that hour I was smiling and crying and so thankful. I was also thankful for my mom giving me a hanky before I even left the bridal room.

Photo by Jacki Harp
Since my Dad had passed away during his pastorate at Hopewell and he had given so much of his life and love in these people, I wanted Hopewell to give me away. They are family to me. When that time came, Pastor Alan asked Hopewell people to stand up and and do me that honor. It was the most wonderful and touching gift. Everyone cried and we all seemed united by something inside and outside of us in that moment. It was only a couple years earlier that each of us crammed in that same room for Daddy's funeral and now we had come full circle in celebration. 

My friend Rachel read our scripture verse in her beautiful accent which brought the service back to worship.

Matthew 14:22-33

Walking on the Water

22-23 As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.
24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.
27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”
Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”
31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”
32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”
Tracey telling us the Bible Story
After she read it then our friend Tracey came up and told the story as if he were Thomas on the boat watching the whole scene. I felt like we were being transported to that moment. We were in the boat, we have the chance to step out in trust, in joy and in love. Our wedding day felt like that moment both beautiful, awful and full of mystery. We are all in the boat being beckoned into choppy seas of trust and abundance. 
Photo by Thuy Butler
My childhood friend Cameron Moore, now accomplished professional worship leader, led us in the song "Jesus paid it all". The church was just lit up in worship. People were fully engaged in the song. Joel picked all the music aside from two songs that I insisted on. I wanted to walk down the aisle to "Come thou Font" and I really wanted Sufjan Stevens version of "Holy, Holy, Holy" played during the service. This was the first time I had heard "Jesus paid it all" and I will never forget it. 

Then Pastor Alan gave us a message about stepping out of the boat and invited everyone to trust the the one who beckons us onto the sea. It was the perfect message for us, for everyone. We asked Alan to preach as the Spirit led him and he did. 

He invited our friends and family forward to lay hands on us and pray for us. People came forward, children came forward, and all I felt were warm hands pressed against me. I saw smiles, tears, and sincere intention to bless our lives and marriage. Voices prayed for us out-loud from all over, some right over us, some coming from the balcony unseen. It was like the Communion of the Saints, prayers for us coming from heaven. Once the prayer was finished, Joel's brother and friend Angela sang "Holy, Holy, Holy" and was it holy. Joel grabbed my face and started to pray for me. I just cried and smiled and we looked all around the Sanctuary at the room that was filled floor to ceiling with people who chose to be there in celebration with us, in worship, and in love. It was incredible!

Now it was time for our vows. Alan had already asked the congregation to make a covenant to stand by us in our marriage and now it was our turn. When Joel proposed to me it was unplanned. The words that came out of him truly in that moment were totally guided by the Spirit and became the words that we would use as our wedding vows. I promise to love you, honor you, challenge you, cherish you, encourage you, and follow the Lord all the days of our lives. 

Photo by Angela Lauton
Joel kissed me all through the service and we held each other in prayer, in laughter, and in comfort as we cried and sang and celebrated. It was precious and it was the most holy time I have ever felt. When Pastor Alan presented us as husband and wife, music shot over the loud speaker, a little tribute to my Daddy. Bob Dylan sang "I want you" at the top of his lungs as we made our way to the fellowship hall for a traditional Hopewell cover-dish feast and some dancing to the sweet tunes of Fruit Smoothie Trio. 

Photo by Thuy Butler
A Deacon told me later that there were almost 500 people in attendance at our wedding. Due to running out of seats and the kids sitting on the floor, we will never really know how many folks came. 

Photo by Thuy Butler

After all the photos, hugging, eating and dancing, Joel and I took a nap. Then we put on our comfy clothes and headed to the farm for the after-party. We ate BBQ pork and danced the night away. Everyone was in great spirits and we partied hard! This night ended with the most epic of toasts. It didn't really matter what anyone said because they were met with the loudest, most unified, pirate "Arrrrgggh!" Hilarious! In the end, all our friends set up tents on the property and we all camped out which is something I always enjoyed doing as kid on this farm.

Each moment was absolute joy. The whole day was saturated in love and delight. It did not feel for a moment like it was "my day" or "Joel's day". The entire time it felt like we had stepped into God's day, a day exactly the way God would have it. It was a Kingdom day. People coming together to share deep, abiding joy and gratitude for all that He has done. Thank you for choosing to be part of that day with us. Thank you for loving and supporting us. Thank you God for this marriage and all the beauty that has come from a simple, "Yes". 

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