To Have and to Hold

There was a wedding a week ago Saturday, at Thompson Road Baptist Church. Pastor Joel Stevens officiated and the bride and groom exchanged their vows in a beautiful double ring ceremony witnessed by maybe 125 people on a late winter/early spring day here in south central Indiana that brought cardinals and robins out of their winter nesting places. But, the wedding…

Because the bride’s father was deceased, and because Ellen and I had the privilege of leading this couple in Bible studies and discipleship sessions for several months, the bride asked me if I would walk her down the aisle and “give her hand” in marriage to the waiting groom. Of course, that was an honor and I was able to do so proudly, responding to the Pastor’s question “Who giveth this woman to this man?” with an “On behalf of her father and mother, I do.” I then took a near to front row seat with Ellen to watch the rest of the ceremony. But this is not the story.

As the couple, having joined hands at the altar, ascended onto the platform, it was difficult not to notice that there was not your typical wedding party with bridesmaids and groomsmen attending the bride and groom.  It was the pastor, the beautiful bride and the dazzling groom, with a pianist.  But that is not the story.

The pastor, having greeted the guests on behalf of the couple, in his opening remarks mentioned that in his counseling and communication with the bride and groom, he had asked them if there were any verses special to them that they would like him to incorporate into the ceremony. They replied no special verses but not less than 70 verses, total.  I heard that and figured it was an exaggeration, but as the pastor proceeded with passage after passage, verse after verse, I lost count and concluded that there must have been considerably more than 70, all appropriate and part of the pastor’s challenge to the bride and groom. But that is not the story.

Moving on through the ceremony, the couple having exchanged rings, at the direction of Pastor Stevens, each read a statement to the other, expressing their dreams, desires and decisions that were in their hearts as they looked to the future with hope, trusting the never-failing grace and guidance of their Heavenly Father who had brought them this far. The “vows” were heart-rending, profound, Christ exalting and tenderly touching, spoken often through tears and or a quivering voice.  But that, though, is still not the story.

The story that I want to share about this wedding and this couple is the backstory, briefly, that preceded the events of February 26, 2022:

His:  The groom was reared in a home where there was little thought given to “religion,” “church” or spiritual matters. He became pretty self-sufficient and independent, giving little or no thought to God, attending and graduating from college with a full-ride scholarship having majored in mechanical engineering and living by the motto “If it’s so to be, it’s up to me.” He met Truth at a Christian retreat in the fall of 2018 when his life was transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ. A friend was instrumental in inviting him and sponsoring his attendance.

Hers:  The Bride grew up in an Indiana home where there was seldom any mention of God and no encouragement on the part of either parent to seek after God, not wanting to “influence” their children in one direction or another. Her father died when she was thirteen and it drove her away from wanting to know God if indeed there was one. She had some tough teen years, then attended college for two years in northern Indiana majoring in chemical engineering before transferring and finishing at IU majoring in Dietetics. Her college years were at best “turbulent” and typically filled with hedonistic living even though in 2011 at the age of 19 she had married (1st time) the groom who then was 21. Neither of them had any spiritual foundation upon which to build a life, much less a home. Her personal assessment of her life at that point (she had a believing sister who had been praying for her and had witnessed to her for over ten years) in her own words: “My time at Indiana University was tumultuous and damaging to my spiritual well-being. It brought devastation to my relationship with my husband…I was consumed with feminism and defying God’s natural order of the world. I denied submission to authority (God) and to my husband.”

In 2019, her husband who had gotten saved on an intense weekend spiritual retreat in the fall of 2018, though pretty much a confirmed atheist at the beginning of that life-changing weekend, convinced his wife to attend a similar retreat for ladies, paying her way.  Guess what?  Away from all of the sights and sounds of society, the young lady now in her mid-twenties, (who once wrote “I was already convinced…that God was not real…I found the Bible confusing and unclear…there seemed to be contradictions and verses I found down right offensive. In my bitterness and hard-heartedness…I was convinced…I didn’t need a savior anyway”) was about to have the experience her own life-transforming weekend when, she, like her husband, found that peace with God made all the difference and that He would and could save her; she left the retreat a new creation too, with grace and forgiveness flooding her soul. Again, in her own words, “God worked in my heart that weekend and blessed me with the Holy Spirit. He offered me the gift of salvation and repentance. I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. I decided to publicly profess my faith by being baptized through water immersion…It was the turning point for me in my life. It was the beginning of life and a revelation of truth…there is still so much I need to learn.” The wheels for divorce had already been set in motion before the two had come to Christ and they were not yet strong enough to reverse that forward motion so the divorce was finalized. She goes on to relate that over the next couple of years the two divorcees began to search for a church. God eventually led them to Thompson Road Baptist Church where, having been reconciled to God through faith and to each other through forgiveness and grace, they were united as a married couple complete in Christ a week ago Saturday in a beautiful ceremony, leaving to begin anew their journey hand in hand, heart to heart, promising that for the rest of their days upon earth they will be committed to Christ and also to each other, to “have and to hold.”

And that, my friends, is the story.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge….” Provs. 1:7 (A verse that the new bride is immersing herself in through meditation)

“And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” (2 Cor. 3:4.5)

2 thoughts on “To Have and to Hold

  1. Pastor, this wedding was so precious and I have told others of the very few details that I knew. I am so glad you dedicated an entire blog to the real story! I love their story of what God has done in them. So precious. Thank you. I am praying for you, shelli


  2. Quite a story of the newly married couple God is God who is always able. I had something like that happen in a church where I was Couple had been divorced came and got saved and then got married again. Thank you Jesus


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