Friday, June 24, 2011

A Bride Most Beloved


"There is something about a wedding gown prettier than any other gown in the world." ~ Douglas Jerrold, 1859

Six-thirty. Candles flicker softly, casting a warm glow through the chapel. Handsome and confident in his dark tuxedo, the groom stands before the congregation. One by one bridesmaids glide down the aisle to the strains of Pachelbel's Canon. The ring bearer makes his way to the front of the chapel -- the mischievous twinkle in his eye a charming contrast to his cherubic face. Behind him, tiny beribboned flower girls tiptoe down the aisle, sprinkling flower petals along the bridal path. When all the attendants are in place, the music fades. The maid of honor exchanges a poignant look with the mother of the bride, and all eyes shift to the back of the chapel. Loved ones gathered to witness this union collectively hold their breath as for a moment time stands still -- all eyes fixed on the doors at the back of the chapel. Waiting for Her.

Here Comes the Bride
For most wedding-goers, the high point of the ceremony is the dramatic reveal of the bride. All details of her appearance -- from the cut of her gown to the coiffure of her hair -- are shrouded in secrecy for months leading up to the ceremony. When the groom bids his bride-to-be goodnight on the eve of the wedding, the pair are traditionally separated throughout the remainder of the wedding day preparations. Bridesmaids stealthily guard the bride's privacy as she is adorned for the ceremony, choreographing her comings and goings to avoid spoiling the blessed surprise.

Anticipation builds as friends and family fill the chapel before the ceremony. The rest of the wedding party steps into place, the music reaches a crescendo, and bells toll to signify the bride's arrival. And at that grand moment, the bride appears in all her splendor.

His Beloved
Although the most dramatic moment of a wedding ceremony occurs when the chapel doors open to reveal the bride, my favorite moment actually happens at the other end of the aisle. While most eyes are fixed on the door waiting to see her, I cannot resist shifting my gaze to watch him. I want to catch the look on his face when the groom beholds his bride for the first time.

The most touching moment I ever observed during a wedding ceremony happened many years ago. The year was 1993, and nearly 20 years later I still remember the love that filled the chapel that brisk February day.

Just a few years before, Candy Miller had nearly given up on finding true love. Diagnosed with lupus in her 20s, maintaining her health was a delicate balancing act. But despite chronic fatigue and pain, Candy found great fulfillment in caring for children at the daycare center she owned in her East Tennessee hometown -- relishing the children's new discoveries and cherishing each little hug and giggle. Still single at 28, she says she assumed that all the "good and decent" men her age were taken. She poured her heart out to God in prayer, telling Him that she would accept His will for her life. If a husband and children were out of reach, she would be content to be a nanny for the children at Candy's Land.

Less than a month later, the great love story of Candy's life began. She met Alan Templin at the bank where he worked, and from their first date she knew he was special. Candy laughs remembering that the night of their first date, she had already promised two 2-year-olds from her daycare center that they could spend the night at her house. Without batting an eye, Alan took Candy and her two little house guests out to eat. He charmed all three girls on the date -- entertaining them during dinner and even helping them with a quick grocery run before taking them home. Watching Alan push the toddlers in a buggy, Candy couldn't help picturing herself going through life with this handsome man by her side. By the fourth date, she knew he was the one. Within months, they were engaged.

Going to the Chapel
Due to Candy's fragile health, the couple planned a long engagement to minimize the stress of planning the wedding. Over the next two years, Candy and Alan planned a beautiful celebration. Their wedding would take place on her parents' 35th wedding anniversary, and Candy planned to surprise them with a table in their honor at the reception. Music, flowers and food were chosen, and loved ones from far and wide saved the date. All the details were falling into place, and Candy and Alan couldn't wait for their wedding day to arrive.

The day before the wedding, Candy awoke with a headache. Determined that nothing would spoil the weekend, she pressed on with her schedule. She began the morning with a manicure and pedicure, but by lunchtime her head was throbbing. She asked a cousin to drive, and Candy remembers trying to navigate around town stretched out in the back seat of his car. By this point, the pain was so intense she could not open her eyes.

Candy was unusually quiet at the wedding rehearsal that evening. Noticing her agitation over little things, Candy's mother thought her daughter must be angry with her. But the evening progressed, and the family enjoyed a rehearsal dinner at a nearby hotel. After the meal, Candy asked Alan to see their guests off and she lingered in the dimly-lit dining room. She remembers her sister asking what was wrong with her eye, but at the time Candy dismissed her concern, hoping a good night's rest would ease her throbbing head.

Before going to her parents' house to spend her last night as a single woman, Candy had long before planned to stop by the house she would share with Alan to exchange wedding gifts. Candy had carefully selected a beautiful leather Bible for Alan, marked with scriptures she wanted him to read in his quiet time before the wedding. She had also purchased a pocket knife with a mother of pearl handle. She hoped he would carry it always and one day pass it on to their son. Candy opened Alan's gift for her, embarrassed that her eyes could not focus on the delicate pearl earrings he had chosen for her. The pounding in her head was just so intense. She needed to get home.

The events of the next few hours remain a blur. ... She is on the bathroom floor of the new house, but how did she get here? ... Has she been throwing up? ...  "Candy. Candy. Sweetheart, can you hear me?" Her mother's voice gurgles in the distance, but she can't reply. ... Her mother slips tennis shoes onto her feet; her father lifts her off the floor. ... And then nothing.

Candy was unaware of the activity that swirled around her through the night. She has no memory of the trip back to her parents' house or their frantic phone calls to the doctor. By this point, Candy could not sit up, undress herself or speak. Her regular physician was out of town, but the doctor on call assured the family that Candy was probably experiencing an exaggerated reaction to a virus because of her lupus. Her parents eased her onto their bed, assuming she was finally sleeping after a tumultuous day. Little did they know, Candy was unconscious.

Daybreak found the Millers weary from a restless night of worry. They could not rouse Candy and did not know whether she would be able to go through with the wedding. Ripples of fear spread through Morristown as word spread about Candy's condition.

Candy has only a few fuzzy recollections of the hours leading up to the ceremony. ... She is still in bed when a cousin comes in to tell her they distributed her gifts at the bridesmaids luncheon. ... "Why didn't you wake me?" she tries to cry out. "How could you let me miss it?" But the words are lost in the fog. ... Her father is weeping, saying that he can't lose her. Not on her wedding day. ... Her father and sister join the minister at her bedside. It is late afternoon, and they need to know what she wants to do. Should they postpone the wedding?

Honoring Candy's wishes that her groom not see her on their wedding day, Alan stayed away from her parents' house. He was on the phone throughout the day, updating groomsmen on plans for the ceremony. "Wear your tux. We are going ahead with the ceremony." ... "Put on a suit. Greet the guests at the church to let them know the wedding has been postponed." ... "Meet us at the house. We will get married there."

Late in the afternoon, Candy's parents were surprised to see Alan, dressed in a suit, walking up their driveway. "I'm here to marry Candy," he announced. "And I'm marrying her today."

"Oh, no," they replied. "She wants to marry you at the church." He turned on his heel to leave, ready to meet his bride at the altar.

Even in her fragile state, Candy was determined that come what may, she would make it to the church building to marry Alan. She had no motor skills, so her sister and a friend bathed and dressed her. The family acquired a wheelchair, and friends met at the church building to do her hair and makeup. Despite the uncertainty of the previous two days, the ceremony was only delayed 30 minutes.

Will You Take This Woman?
Six-thirty. The church building is full. Friends have poured into the pews -- their love and prayers carrying Candy to the chapel to meet her true love. As a little girl she dreamed of this day; as a young woman she dared not believe it would ever come. And when she had all but given up, God blessed her with the love of a lifetime.

And on the eve of Candy's wedding, it almost slipped away. You see, what no one knew that brisk February day in East Tennessee was that Candy had suffered a massive stroke due to a blood clot on her brain stem. An MRI several days later would reveal the true seriousness of her condition.

But today, February 20, 1993, wedding bells ring. Bridesmaids glide down the aisle, taking their places with the groomsmen at the front of the chapel. Children from the daycare center follow -- their enthusiasm bubbling up as they skip down the bridal path. The bride's sister, and maid of honor, exchanges a poignant look with their mother, and all eyes shift to the back of the chapel.

Behind the closed doors, the father of the bride looks lovingly at his daughter. How many years has he pictured this day? Looking into her eyes, he remembers the infant he carried in his arms, the little girl he swung onto his broad shoulders, and the young teenager still willing on occasion to sit on Daddy's lap. Today he will carry her to the man who now holds her heart. He asks her if she is ready. Then he tightens his grip on the handles of her wheelchair and nods to the ushers standing at the door.

As the doors swing open, I shift my gaze to the front of the chapel. There stands Alan, standing straight and tall in his tuxedo. Tears stream down his face, and his countenance radiates love. He didn't know that Candy would be in a wheelchair during the ceremony, but he doesn't see it. Her cognitive abilities and motor skills have been dramatically affected by the stroke, but he doesn't fear it. Recovery will be long and slow, and Candy will face numerous health issues in the years to come; but he doesn't waver.

Turning back toward the double doors, I see Candy through Alan's eyes. She isn't a woman struggling with lupus who has just faced a medical crisis.

She is his bride. And she is the most beautiful woman in the world.

I (Still) Do
Candy and Alan Templin have been married for nearly 20 years, and each year on their anniversary they reflect on their journey together. The day of the wedding, Candy's father told Alan he could marry Candy, but only on the condition that the newlyweds move in with her parents afterward so they could assist Alan in Candy's medical care. Alan agreed, and the couple spent their first three months of married life livng with the Millers. Coming back from the stroke was difficult, but Candy made great strides over the next two years. Although she never fully regained the degree of health she enjoyed before the stroke, over time she was able to learn to walk, drive and even go back to work again.

Candy continues to suffer from the affects of lupus, and three times in the past 17 years she has been hospitalized with a 50 percent chance of survival. But despite numerous health challenges, Candy says Alan has never made one negative comment or complaint in all these years.

Candy and Alan have faced heartbreak as parents, having to bury their precious son John-Alan when he was only 3 years old. But they have found joy again in the birth of Isaac, an unexpected gift of love.

Candy says their marriage has withstood life's ups and downs because Alan has such love for God. Both have tremendous faith, and through the years they have grown together. "God is good," Candy says as she reflects over her life's journey.

Candy and Alan's enduring marriage stands as an example of faithfulness to all who know them, but the truest testament to their abiding love comes in their private moments. Often they talk about their journey together and the unexpected turns along the path. In these moments of quiet reflection, Alan takes Candy into his arms, looks into her eyes and tells her, "And I would do it all over again."

"So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;  for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh" (Ephesians 5:28-31). 

Photo from Bigstock Photo. Used with permission.

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