* Lily, Counselor & John, Teacher *
My husband (wow that still feels odd to say) and I got married twice in three days, and it was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to us. This hadn’t been the plan. We had organized a morning church wedding in our hometown, with a lunch reception and an evening after-party for our bridal party and close friends. It took a lot of compromise and a lot of work, especially on his part, and we thought everything was, for the most part, done. We were excited, in the limited way that’s possible when you’ve spent the two months before your wedding in different states, finishing graduate school and internships, finding new jobs, and moving across the country. The planning was sometimes fun, often difficult, and at times haphazard, but it was done, and boy, were we ready.
Getting a marriage license was one of the last errands on our list because although the wedding was in our hometown, neither of us has lived there in years, and it isn’t exactly the kind of thing someone could stop by and pick up for us. We came the Thursday before our Saturday wedding, and thought we had everything ready to go. ID’s? Check. Cash for the fee (via a last minute ATM stop)? Check. Early morning arrival to avoid any lines? Check. But we didn’t count on finding out in the midst of the paper signing and swearing to tell the truth that our out-of-state priest had to be licensed specifically for our state. (Side note: check on this if you haven’t!) Luckily, they said it’d be an easy fix. We called our priest. We called our church. We got things in motion. Everything was going to be fine. We both set off with members of our respective bridal parties to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
We didn’t expect to see each other until the next morning, so imagine our shock when a few panicked phone calls and three hours later we found ourselves driving to the courthouse to get married. Although the license would be ready in time, our priest’s flight was landing approximately ten minutes after the appropriate office closed, and he was the only one allowed to pick it up. We were running out of options, and quickly, so we took the one that surprisingly enough seemed the least terrifying: go get married at the courthouse, and soon, before the Sergeant went home for the day.
We got married in front of an empty courtroom, with no dress, no rings, and no friends or family in attendance. The ceremony was short and sweet, and all we had to say was “I will.” But in that simple phrase we promised love and faithfulness and honor and respect, and the Sergeant pronounced us husband and wife. The Sergeant even gave us recommendations for where to go to celebrate that night (we didn’t have the heart to tell him that, unfortunately, we already had separate plans that were too late to cancel!). Afterwards we had time to go back downstairs and turn in the completed paperwork for the marriage license before the office closed.
We told as few people as possible. To this day some members of our respective families don’t know that this happened, and we went ahead with our plans for the rest of the day. If you haven’t already picked up on this, we didn’t even get to spend our first night as husband and wife together. But we knew we were married, and that was all that mattered. All the rest of stress about the wedding, the planning, and the errands that remained, started to feel ridiculously unimportant. From the very start of this whole process we had said to each other that as long as we were married at the end of the day, we would be happy. And we’d already accomplished this.
I’m so incredibly grateful that we got to experience this first wedding, but recently, I’ve been struggling to define which one was the “real” wedding, because each was so incredibly important. I was unbelievably grateful that we got married just the two of us, in that simple secular ceremony, with no fuss and no frills. It felt remarkably genuine, and grown-up, and independent. And it made sense for a girl who wanted to walk down the aisle by herself, keep her own name, and couldn’t imagine choreographing a first dance. It maybe even made sense for the husband who supported her in all of these things. Clearly, I’m still trying to define exactly what it brought. But it made me incredibly happy, because although I was fully on board with our planned wedding, it had taken a lot of compromise to create a wedding we were both comfortable with, and I will admit to a slight uneasiness about the whole thing, particularly the Catholic ceremony (at most I’m a lapsed Presbyterian). This was the wedding I had really wanted; I just hadn’t known it until it happened.
Despite my worries, the second wedding was thoroughly perfect. The religious ceremony actually felt like a beautiful chance to bring both God and our community of friends and family into the decision we had already made. In the end, my dad did walk me down the aisle, because it clearly meant so very much to him. And, well, I’d already had my wedding, couldn’t I do this for my dad? We declared our love and intentions in front of a room full of people who we know will support us for the rest of our lives. And my now-husband surprised me (and everyone else) by having the musicians play the beautiful “Ashokan Farewell,” which has meant so much to the two of us, in the middle of the service. During the reception we were surprised to find out how much that particular song, inspired by a civil war love letter and written for Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary, has meant to other people in our lives.
The reception couldn’t have gone better—good people, good food, and happiness all around. And the after-party was exactly what we had hoped for—barbecue, music, and a bonfire on a lake. At the end of the day we were both exhausted and overcome by the sheer love and support surrounding us. Because as it turns out, weddings with all your friends and family there are also pretty amazing.
During our long drive home the next day, my husband was reading aloud cards I’d received from my bridesmaids, and he started to cry. I was driving, and asked if these were happy tears, but what he said nearly made me cry as well. He told me that he had always thought that heaven would be a place where you have all the people you love in one place, and get to spend unlimited time with all of them. And then, in the most sincere and sweet way possible, he said that our wedding might be the closest we ever get to heaven on earth.
What we thought was our biggest wedding planning mistake ended up being part of the most wonderful weekend we could have imagined. It gave us the chance to get married just the two of us, in an anxiety-free, quiet, simple ceremony. And then it allowed us to relax and enjoy a day that was, in his words again, heaven on earth. The first ceremony was just for us, and the second was for everyone else, and it turns out that for the two of us, these things were equally important. Plus we got to make our vows not once but twice. I can’t imagine anything better.
The Info—Photographer: Sebastian Orr and Caitlin Morris / Location: Charlottesville, Virginia / Wedding Venue: Holy Comforter Catholic Church / Reception Venue: The Local / After-Party Venue: Montfair Resort Farm / Lily’s Dress: Made by a friend of the family, Beth Neville Evans, in North Garden, Virginia / John’s Suit: From Alton Lane, a company founded by an old friend of his / Wedding Rings: Made by Lily & John with the help of TAP Studios / Flowers: Pharsalia Farm / Cake: Paradox Pastry