From This Day Forward: Final Part

Whit stood at the front of the church with Jack beside him. His gaze rested on the church doors as he eagerly waited for Jenny to arrive. His heart raced at the thought of his soon-to-be wife walking through the white doors at any moment. The realness of the moment overwhelmed him. All the waiting was nearly over. He and Jenny would be forever united as one. 

The place they had chosen for this momentous moment in their lives was a small white wooden chapel which was located in a luscious green meadow that looked as though it were taken from a Thomas Kinkade painting. The decorations were simple with baby’s breath, white ribbon, and tulle decorating the pews as well as arrangements of white roses, white hydrangeas, eucalyptus leaves, and silvery gray dusty miller adorning the room which was bathed in natural light coming in from the stained glass windows just as Jenny had wanted it. 

Harold and Fiona sat in the front row. Harold was beaming with pride while Fiona was already dapping the corners of her eyes with a handkerchief. In the opposite row, Susannah Morrow sat, an expression of pure joy etched on her face. The doors opened and the sound of Mr. Vargas playing “Here Comes the Bride” on the organ filled the room. 

Whit was overcome with emotion and his heart skipped a beat as Jenny entered the church on the arm of her father. She looked purely radiant with her beautiful red locks and hazel eyes. So hopelessly beautiful in her dress – an utter vision in white. 

Emily and Jack each glanced at Whit and then at each other. The effect Jenny had on their friend was clear for them all to see.

As Jenny came closer, Whit felt himself tear up at the sight of her. Jenny found herself also becoming emotional as she saw Whit wipe his eyes. “Don’t cry, Jenny. Don’t cry,” she whispered to herself. “It’ll ruin your makeup and there’s nothing worse than a bride with ruined makeup.”

Jenny and her father reached the end of the aisle as the song came to a close. “Wow…” Whit began in a soft voice. “You look absolutely beautiful,” he finished, a beaming smile on his face. 

“Thank you, John. You look dashing” Jenny said happily. 

Pastor Hardwick tenderly watched the unfolding exchange. He then stepped forward and asked, “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?”

“Her mother and I do,” Jerry Morrow replied. He turned to Jenny, tears in his eyes, and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. “I love you, sweetie.”

“I love you too Dad.” 

Jerry turned to Whit. “Make sure you cherish and love her forever. She’s a priceless treasure son.”

“I promise I will,” Whit said with unflinching resolve. Jerry knew Whit meant every word with his whole heart.

Jerry kissed his daughter on the cheek one final time and placed her hand in Whit’s. He then took a seat beside Susannah. 

Jenny took Whit’s arm and the two of them made their way to where the pastor stood and turned to face each other.

Pastor Hardwick spoke, “Jenny, will you now please pass your flowers, and join both hands with Whit.” Jenny passed her bouquet to Emily. Afterward, Whit took her hands in his.

Pastor Hardwick resumed, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together on this sacred and joyous occasion to witness the union of Guinevere Clara Morrow and Johnathan Avery Whittaker. On behalf of both families, I would like to thank you all for being here on this very special day. Please join me as we begin with prayer.” Everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes.

Pastor Hardwick began to pray. “Father God, we are so grateful that you, the creator of heaven and earth, love us, care about us, and listen to our prayers. Lord, we ask that you would bless Whit and Jenny today and every day in their marriage. Help them to keep you as the foundation of their lives, and to love one another in good times and bad. We ask all this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Everyone then opened their eyes and lifted their heads. Afterward, Pastor Hardwick began the homily. “Marriage is not the invention of man; it is the invention of God. The purpose of marriage resides within the design and plan of God. Your marriage is to honor God because it was created by him and for his glory.”

Pastor Hardwick turned his attention to the wedding attendees. “I would also remind those who have been invited here today, that you are not here as spectators but as witnesses. You have been invited by this couple to witness them pledge their lives to one another in the sight of God, before you, and before one another. Whit and Jenny, as you hear the charge that you will be given today and make vows to another, know that these witnesses have assembled to hold you accountable to God and one another. At this time I will invite Ms. Harris to sing All Things Bright and Beautiful.” 

Ms. Abigail Harris, a petite middle-aged woman, made her way to the front of the church. The organist began the melody and Ms. Harris’ melodious voice filled the church. 

Once she was finished, Pastor Hardwick resumed the ceremony. As he spoke, a multitude of memories about Whit and Jenny flooded his mind. “Whit and Jenny, over the past couple of years that we have known each other I’ve seen you both grow in your faith and your love for one another. I’ve seen you acknowledge both your strengths and imperfections. Be there to comfort each other and lift the other up. Inspire the other and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Even more importantly, I’ve witnessed within both of you a desire to submit yourself to God’s will and allow him to use you both in his service. I have seen your desire to live according to the truth of God’s word and reach others for his kingdom. I am honored to be here today not only as your pastor, or as a mentor, but as your friend. When I see the two of you together and the way you look at each other, I can’t help but smile seeing the love you have for each other.”

Whit offered a boyish grin while a blush tinted Jenny’s cheeks. Pastor Hardwick continued, “Now most people, when thinking about love, think about the emotion – the romance of falling in love and the desire to share every moment, and learn everything about this other person. We think of the kind of love we see in movies that usually end with a wedding like this. But love is far more than an emotion. Emotions are fleeting. They are here one moment and gone the next. Anyone who has been married longer than a day knows that the feeling of love, of butterflies in your stomach, comes and goes. Just ask my wife.”

Laughter escaped from the wedding guests as Amanda Hardwick playfully shook her head at her husband’s words.

The pastor resumed speaking, “Marriage is not easy because true love is more than a feeling. It is a choice. There may be times after an argument or a fight that you don’t feel exactly like loving each other. But it is in those times that you choose to love the way God, despite all our shortcomings, continues to love us. As First Corinthians thirteen says, ‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.’ As you walk through this journey of marriage don’t just remember these words but carry them out in everything you do. If you put the Lord first and foremost, continue to build your relationship upon Him, and commit yourselves to one another unconditionally – your marriage will grow. You will be able to weather the storms of life, handle the uncertainties that certainly will come your way, and unflinchingly brave any obstacles. Remember these things. Then your marriage will stand the test of time.”

Jenny and Whit carefully considered every word and took them to heart. “Now, as a sign of their promise to one another, Jenny and Whit are going to exchange the vows they have written for one another.”

Jack pulled a folded piece of paper from his suit pocket and handed it to Whit. Whit unfolded his vows and took a deep breath. His heart was racing as the significance of the moment fully hit him. He was now going to recite his vows to the love of his life. Several nights he had been kept awake by terrifying hypotheticals. What if he messed up his vows or stumbled on a certain word? He pushed these negative thoughts to the back of his mind. So what if he didn’t recite his vows perfectly he was getting married to Jenny. She loved him completely and that was all that mattered. “Jenny,” Whit began, “from the time I was fifteen years old I prayed that God would bring the perfect woman into my life to be my wife. When I met you I was captivated by your beauty, sense of humor, and intelligence but most importantly your love for people and God. As we got to know one another and our relationship grew stronger I knew we were meant to be together for all of our days. You have become my anchor, my companion, and my best friend. Each and every day you’ve inspired me to reach for my dreams. When I feel overwhelmed or discouraged you are by my side to encourage me. I vow to always be your protector, and confidant, responsible for making sure your every need is met, every want is reached, and every dream realized. I promise to comfort you during your hardest days and celebrate all your achievements. I vow to be the best father to our future children and to cherish every moment we spend together. It’s said that he who finds a wife, finds a good thing and obtains favor from God. From this life we have built to get to this moment, this great moment in our life, looking into your beautiful eyes, I vow to cherish you as my good thing, with love in my heart, to my last breath. I love you.”

“Whit…” Jenny began breathlessly, “that was so sweet. I love you so much.”

Harold wiped the corner of his eyes as seeing his son recite his vows to his future wife filled him with emotion. “Looks like I’m not the only emotional one today.” Fiona chuckled as she passed him the handkerchief. “Doesn’t this bring back memories of our wedding?”

Harold took Fiona’s hand. “Yes, wonderful ones.”

Emily passed Jenny her vows which she quickly unfolded. “John, today, surrounded by all of our loved ones and cherished friends, I choose you to be my husband. You love me and complete me in ways I never knew possible. In you, I have found a partner in life, a lover, a friend, a safe place, someone I can be my most vulnerable with. You support me, inspire me, and encourage me to be the best version of myself. Thank you for embracing me completely and loving me unconditionally. Most importantly thank you for being a God-fearing and devoted family man, I could not have picked a better person to be a father to my future children.”

Now it was Whit’s turn to become emotional again as he heard his soon-to-be wife’s vows. “I promise to listen to you and learn from you, to support you in your endeavors. I promise to be the best mother to our future kids. I will celebrate your successes and mourn your losses as though they were my own. I will love you in word and deed. I will laugh with you, cry with you, grow with you, and always be with you. To be your partner in all of life’s adventures is all I could hope for in the world. Loving what I know of you and trusting what I don’t yet know, I give you my hand. I give you my love. I give you myself, the good, the bad, and the yet to come. I will love you, my husband, and rejoice in your love for me for all of the years of our lives.”

Whit took Jenny’s hand and pressed it to his lips. “You are everything to me and I’m so grateful God placed you in my life.”

“And I am grateful that he gave you to me.”

“Whit, in the presence of God and these witnesses do you take Jenny to be your lawful wedded wife?” Pastor Hardwick said. “Do you promise to love and cherish her, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her, for so long as you both shall live?

“I do,”  Whit answered without any reservation.

“Jenny, in the presence of God and these witnesses do you take Whit to be your lawful wedded husband? Do you promise to love and cherish him, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him, for so long as you both shall live?”

“I do…with all my heart.”

“Whit and Jenny will now exchange rings as a symbol of their commitment to each other. May I have the rings please?”

Jack and Emily handed the rings to the pastor. “These rings are a daily reminder and a public declaration of the promise that you have made to each other. While holding the ring in the air, the pastor said, “Notice the circle of the ring has no beginning and no end. It is an eternal and never-ending circle meant to represent your life-long vow to love each other.”

Pastor Hardwick placed Jenny’s ring in John’s hand. “John please place this ring on Jenny’s finger and repeat after me, with this ring, I thee wed, and pledge to you my loyalty and love, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Whit slid the ring on Jenny’s finger while repeating Pastor Hardwick’s words.“With this ring, I thee wed, and pledge to you my loyalty and love, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The pastor passed Whit’s wedding band to Jenny. “Jenny please place this ring on John’s finger and repeat after me, with this ring, I thee wed, and pledge to you my loyalty and love, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Jenny continued placing the wedding band on Whit’s finger, “and pledge to you my loyalty and love, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

“As a sign of their commitment to one another, Whit and Jenny will light the unity candle. The individual candles represent their individual lives before they met which they are willingly surrendering in order to become one. As such, their union today is symbolized by the two flames becoming one. Just as God said when he joined the first pair in marriage, a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and the two become one.”

Whit took Jenny’s hand and led them to the unity candle. Upon finishing lighting the candle the two of them took their place in front of Pastor Hardwick.

“Join me as we ask God’s blessing on this new couple.” Whit and Jenny, along with the audience bowed their heads in prayer. “Eternal Father, we now turn to you, and as the first act of this couple in their newly formed union, we ask you to protect their home. May they always turn to you for guidance, for strength, for provision, and direction. May they glorify you in the choices they make, in the ministries they involve themselves in, and in all that they do. Use them to draw others to yourself, and let them stand as a testimony to the world of your faithfulness. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“For as much as Whit and Jenny have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and these witnesses, and thereto have pledged their faithfulness each to the other, and have pledged the same by the giving and receiving each of a ring, by the authority vested in me as a minister of the gospel according to the laws of the State of North Carolina, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those that God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Whit and Jenny gave huge smiles to each other as feelings of elation overwhelmed them at the thought of now being officially married. Each of them waited eagerly for Pastor Hardwick’s following words.

“Whit you may now kiss the bride.”

In one swift move, Whit brought Jenny into his arms. He wrapped his arm around Jenny’s waist while her hands rested on his shoulders. Whit captured Jenny’s lips in a passionate kiss. Jenny brought her hands to the back of Whit’s neck and pulled him in closer, deepening the kiss. Reluctantly, they each pulled away breathless.

Emily handed Jenny back her bouquet. “It is now my great honor to present for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. John Avery Whittaker.”

Cheers and applause erupted from the crowd. Whit and Jenny were absolutely beaming as they headed down the aisle while “Wedding March” played in the background. The wedding guests followed them outside and gathered around the newlyweds on the church steps. Rice was tossed all around them as they entered a decorated red convertible. 

The car sped off to The Mayton where the reception was being held in the hotel dining room. Family, friends, and the rest of the guests followed behind. The room was exquisite with a lovely coffered ceiling, dark hardwood floors, crystal chandeliers, gray floral wallpaper, and one wall made of glass French doors and windows which gave a view of the beautiful countryside. It was furnished with French vintage tufted upholstered fabric dining chairs and round mahogany tables set with white tablecloths, tableware, silverware, and flowers. 

The evening was spent indulging in delicious food, delightful music, and festive dancing. The highlights of the event had been Whit and Jenny’s first dance as husband and wife, them feeding each other a piece of the wedding cake and the celebratory toasts proposed by the closest family and friends. It truly had been a magical day. One Whit and Jenny would cherish for the rest of their lives.

Now later on that night, Whit and Jenny sat at the sweetheart table, completely lost in each other. “I can’t believe we’re actually married now” Jenny began speaking. “If this is a dream don’t wake me up.”

“I was going to tell you the same thing,” Whit laughed as he placed his arm lovingly around his new wife. Jenny relaxed into his touch, relishing the feeling of his skin against hers. 

“Some days it felt like today would never get here but today has been more amazing than I ever imagined. I’m just savoring every moment. Part of me doesn’t want this day to end” she said thinking back over the day’s events. 

“Yes, today has been perfect but now we have our lives together to look forward to and all that it has in store – the memories we’ll make, the places we’ll visit, and the things we’ll accomplish side by side as husband and wife” Whit responded as he took Jenny’s hand in his own. 

“As long as I have you in my life that’s more than enough” Jenny lovingly replied. 

Whit and Jenny shared a sweet kiss much to the delight of the guests surrounding them who cheered and applauded. 

After their lips had parted Whit got up from the table. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

“Where are you going? You’re not getting cold feet now are you?” Jenny teased.

“It’s a surprise.” 

“You know I don’t like being left in suspense.”

“We’ll since you’re married to me now you’ll have to get used to it” Whit playfully remarked before he walked away from the table leaving Jenny wondering where he had gone.

Meanwhile, on the dance floor, Emmy and Jack took in the unfolding scene. “Those two are definitely made for each other,” Emily said.

“Yes, they are. Just like the way we’re made for one another.”

“You’re gonna make me blush Jack,” Emily said as Jack gave her a twirl.

“I mean every word of it. You make me happy Emmy. I’m more thankful every day that you’re in my life.”

“I’m thankful for that too. I didn’t realize until we got together just how incomplete my life was without you.” 

Jack and Emily smiled tenderly, their eyes clearly showing the depth of the feelings they felt for one another. Emily laid her head on Jack’s shoulder. Jack thought back to the diamond engagement ring he had seen in Ballantyne Jewelers. He imagined herself down on one knee proposing to Emily. It would no doubt be a day they each would never forget. They had both tried to convince others and themselves that they were going to hold off on getting engaged for a little while but after today, seeing Whit and Jack so happy and in love, he knew that day would come sooner rather than later. 

Back at the sweetheart table, Whit returned to Jenny with the surprise in hand and a grin on his face. “I seem to remember my beautiful wife mentioning that she would love to have a chocolate milkshake at our reception” Whit smiled as he presented the sweet beverage to Jenny.

“You remembered?” Jenny exclaimed, deeply touched by Whit’s gesture.

“Of course. How could I ever forget anything about that day?” Whit replied as he set the milkshake on the table. Jenny and Whit thought back to the day of their engagement. After Jenny was discharged from the hospital the two of them searched for somewhere to eat. Every restaurant and cafe was closed except for a small ice cream shop that was nearly out of ice cream. Whit and Jenny split a chocolate milkshake. Jenny, a lover of all things chocolate, especially milkshakes, remarked to Whit how she would love to have one at their wedding reception.  

Jenny took Whit’s hand in hers. “John Avery Whittaker you never cease to amaze me.”

“And I’ll never stop trying.” Whit and Jenny both smiled. He placed two straws in the milkshake and passed it to Jenny. “Shall we dive in?”

Jenny eagerly took a sip and closed her eyes as she savored the delicious flavor. Whit joined in partaking of the drink. After sipping the milkshake for a few seconds Jenny stopped, leaned over toward Whit, and whispered in his ear. “I love you, darling.”

Hearing her words Whit took a break from drinking himself and turned towards Jenny. “And I love you sweetheart.” 

In that moment everything and everyone seemed to fade away as though they were the only two people in the world. Whit placed his hand under Jenny’s chin and brought his lips to hers in a tender kiss. A sweet and romantic gesture he would do countless times throughout their beautiful years of marriage. In the days to come their life together would be filled with moments of unspeakable joy and days of unbearable sorrow yet through it all their hearts would always be overflowing with love.

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