Today’s lesson from my 20s is more of a memory…It’s about the time I planned a wedding for a stranger in South Africa in a matter of hours. Enjoy.
Here is a pic from my wedding. I spend more than an afternoon planning it.
When I was a junior in college I went to South Africa. One of the small groups in our church was taking a mission trip. These were families with little kids, so Jady (who I was engaged to at the time), Stephanie Johnson Koegh and I went along as childcare workers.
We stayed at this lovely country house outside of Cape Town. The owner was a very strange man. Stephanie and I woke up several times in the middle of the night to the guy blowing his shofar on the hillside. He told me he was calling down fire on the mountainside. I told him he was waking me up. The host was nice, but very strange. We will call him ‘Tim’. Tim had a wife and a few kids.
One of the days we were there Tim’s friends came to visit. The girl, who we shall call Nancy, had been friends of Tim & his wife for years. Nancy & her fiance ‘Will’ were getting married a few weeks later but were stopping by to see Tim’s family since they weren’t going to be able to go to their wedding.
During team meeting that morning we find out that Will wanted to surprise Nancy with a wedding here at the farm. Will said that Nancy had been really sad about Tim’s family being unable to attend their wedding in a few weeks. So he decided to solve that by getting married at Tim’s farm. Today. And he wanted our team to make it happen. Right. Or maybe that’s a horrible idea? We were all trying to convince Will & Tim that surprising Nancy with a wedding isn’t going to go over well. The girl has a real wedding – the kind with guests, a dress, cake, a photographer- in two weeks.
Well, Will & Tim wouldn’t listen. They insisted that Nancy & Will get married that day. Gulp. Fine. Fine. We can plan a wedding. Immediately we broke into teams.
Our leader was an ordained minister. That’s good when having a wedding.
Another lady had take photography classes so she was the photographer.
Jady could play the guitar. He was the musician.
The children were the flower kids.
Some ladies had done a dance at a women’s conference a few months prior…so they would perform.
…and then came my part.
I had the honor of being the one to get her ready. I haven’t ever had a conversation with this person & yet I have to get her ready for a wedding without her knowing that is whats going on…this wasn’t in our mission trip prep meeting.
Steph went into a field to collect flowers & came back with some impressive arrangements. Then she helped me trick this poor unknowing woman. We came up with some story about how we would love to give them a gift for their upcoming wedding. A photographer on our team is going to take bridal portraits as a present & we are going to do your hair and makeup!
I suggested she take a bath. Not only should you take a bath, but make sure to shave your legs. I am not sure if you have ever told a strange lady in South Africa that she should take a bath & shave her legs. It is awkward. Nancy didn’t feel like it. No, no. I insist. You really should shave your legs. I couldn’t have this lady going on her surprise honeymoon with hairy legs. Its just not right.
Brace yourself. It gets worse. While Nancy is bathing, Will & Tim come in to the front yard where we are trying to throw the quickly approaching wedding with some news. Well, this is a really big day. Nancy is about to get married & she isn’t going to have any friends or family here. It might be a bit difficult for her. Yes! Yes! We already told you that. Just wait for 14 days and her friends & family will be there. At her actual wedding. That she planned. So, we would like for you all to find a meaningful gift to give her as a wedding present. Something that is really significant. Grrr…You must be kidding.
So now we are all scurrying trying to find a gift. Trolling the farm & staring at our sparse suitcases we eventually each found something to give her. Not sure if they were meaningful, but she did get gifts. Back to Nancy. She had gotten out of the shower. Stephanie & I were doing her makeup and fixing her hair. Then the other ladies came in with some old boxy white dress they had found somewhere & a curtain from the guest room that was white lace.
A handful of us women worked some magic & Nancy actually looked like a lovely bride. The rest of the team was gathered out in the front yard finishing up lighting the candles so I could bring Nancy out. She wanted to go ahead and leave the room to go into the kitchen. I said the photographer was trying to find the best light and we needed to stay inside to wait for her. No, no. We can’t go out with the photographer. I think this old dress you are wearing is an heirloom. We want to minimize the sunlight and dirt that is going to get on it. We need to wait until she is ready. More lip gloss?
I had to keep her in the room for 10 more minutes. She must have thought I was a loon. How do you make small talk with a stranger who doesn’t know that you are about to take her to her secret wedding? Finally the time came. I walked her to the patio & then stopped at the door. Tim wanted me to tell her what was happening before I opened the door & the music started. That is the kind of news you want to hear from a stranger.
I know you must have noticed that I have been acting pretty weird these past few hours. Well, the surprise isn’t bridal portraits. You are actually getting married! Tim & Will thought it was a great idea and so our group of Americans set up a wedding. On the other side of this door is the aisle and everyone is waiting out there. What do you think? Then I smiled really big to make her think that I thought this was the best idea ever.
Nancy was overjoyed. To her it was the most romantic thing ever. Tim & Will were right. Nancy loved it. I walked her to the isle. Kids who she didn’t know threw flowers. A guy on a guitar sang some songs. Two women she never met danced to a song she had never heard. Than a pastor she didn’t know married her.
We had a reception of little sweets. Opened our unusual wedding gifts we put together & sent them off on their honeymoon. Which was a broke-down camper that was parked in the back yard. Two weeks later they had their regularly scheduled wedding. If I remember correctly, they didn’t tell their parents or friends about the first one.
My lesson I learned is that love and romance can look so many ways. It was an odd wedding. Martha Stewart would never have featured it in her magazine & people wouldn’t have pinned it on Pinterest. It was simple and as basic as you could get, but it was beautiful. We celebrated God. We celebrated love. I shared a meaningful moment with a lady I will never see again. Love is beautiful no matter how it comes.