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Amber & George

*Amber, Wedding Photographer & George, Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland*

Here is the story of Amber Wilkie’s wedding. When things just stopped working, she ditched everything. They stopped joking about Vegas, and they actually went to Vegas where they got hitched in the Valley of Fire. The interesting thing about this post is that Amber says that she failed at wedding planning, but I read it with my eyes wide, thinking that she’d won at wedding planning in a way few of us are really able to. And while she’s not able to see the Grace in her wedding, as mentioned in her wedding toast, it shines through at every point in this post. Not grace as in graceful, but Grace, the big one: This wedding lives in a state of Grace.

My husband and I got married in Vegas. Like many in the throes of wedding planning, we joked about it whenever we got frustrated. And then our venue canceled on us. Demoralized, we considered places way above our budget. Around this time, I started seriously looking into the “Vegas option” and I found a surprisingly comprehensive set of choices. Sure, there were the Elvis chapels, but also hotel chapels (at various stages of super-cheap to insanely expensive), drive-throughs, strip weddings, helicopter weddings and on and on and on. And somewhere in there, I found out there are companies that will take you out to the desert and give you a wedding that would be beautiful, simple, and—perhaps best for us—cheap.

So that’s what we did. We took our measly $5,000 budget and spent it in Vegas on our immediate families and best friends. Our wedding package (from Scenic Las Vegas Weddings) cost just $1300 and included: limo transportation for 17 people out to the Valley of Fire (about an hour from Vegas), officiant, photographer, bouquet, and boutonniere for the groom. Frankly, it was a little unnerving to send my money off to Vegas ahead of us and not have a single bit of control over whether or not the limos would show, we would actually have someone to marry us, or where we were going!

But in the end, the limos did show, and we all carted out there so my husband and I could get our wed on. When we got back, we bought each one of our 15 guests a big four-course steak dinner with champagne and cocktails. It was the wedding we would have liked to have thrown for everyone we knew, but only for our nearest and dearest, and with the money we were willing to spend on nuptials.

Because I work in the wedding industry, I end up telling this story at nearly every client meeting, and I continue to have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I failed at wedding planning. We got overwhelmed and turned to Vegas in desperation and found an easy out. On the other hand, we more or less stayed in budget, we showed our very most important folks an incredible time and we actually had several meals with our family.

We did have family get mad (some very mad) that they weren’t invited to our wedding. After years of attending the weddings of our cousins, friends, neighbors, we were shunning all of them and inviting only our parents, siblings, and one friend each. We’ve finally mended all those relationships, but our wedding was not held without strife. (Is any wedding?)

I think it was the right decision for us. We didn’t have to go into debt to finance our wedding. We actually hung out with all our people and I’m pretty sure they all had a kick-ass time. We had a built-in honeymoon in Las Vegas (we saw the Hoover Dam and went to see the Bodies exhibit—yes, the day after we married). Keeping with our $5,000 budget, we could afford a fatty suite at the Venetian.

My Second-best Man (that’s what we called my Man of Honor—my best friend is a dude) gave a little speech at our steak lunch reception that it has taken me a while to fully appreciate. He said our wedding was full of “grace.” At the time, I was sort of embarrassed. Nothing about our wedding was graceful. Not the generic bagels and cream cheese we fed our guests in our hotel suite before we got in the limos; not the slightly-painful hour-long drive out to the desert; certainly not the boombox playing the wedding processional music so I could walk up the hill to my waiting groom… but I think I get it now. We took everything we wanted our wedding to be and stripped away all the pieces that didn’t absolutely have to be there. (Yes, we had to have steak.) At the time, we were just doing the best we could with what we were willing to spend.

I do sometimes regret not having a big celebratory bash for everyone I know. We talk about doing something big for our 10-year anniversary. In the meantime, though, we look back on our wedding with fondness. And sometimes we whisper to each other that we “did it right.”

The Info—Photography: Scenic Las Vegas Weddings and Amber & George’s friends / Venue: Valley of Fire / Amber’s Dress: St. Anthony’s Bridal (an awesome charity bridal store in Bethesda, Maryland. Every wedding dress on the racks is $150!)

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