The earth spun slowly, turning a hazy morning face to the blazing sun. Light billowed in torrents of orange and lavender across the sky. Somewhere far away, on the back side of that sunrise, was somebody else’s sunset. That thought has always fascinated me: dawn here is dusk somewhere else. The sun is perpetually rising and setting in graceful simultaneity, and God’s painted skies are not only achingly eloquent, they are uninterrupted. We, of course, have to wait our turn.
It was the day of my church’s biannual garage sale for missions, and it dawned cool and clear, one of those breathless mountain mornings rich with dew, with the early summer smells of pine and jasmine mingling in a perfume that would sell for millions. Julie McDonald and the Women’s Missionary Fellowship, dressed in khaki shorts and combat boots, arranged second-hand goods on tables, stuck a optimistic price tag to each piece, and prepared for a day of impressive sales.
A car full of sleepy young women eased into the yard. I climbed out of it, wearing a pajama top, a sweatshirt, old corduroys, and a bright pink baseball cap shoved over my unwashed hair. My college roommate, Leeann, followed close behind, in baggy shorts, her much cleaner hair wrapped in curlers and tucked inside a scarf. Grace, Charlene, and Laura looked only slightly more put together, and all of us were clutching large café lattes from the White Dove coffee shop. We began browsing leisurely. Julie, in the act of convincing a slightly harried looking man to buy a bicycle tire, stopped and stared at us.
“You!” she said, “what are you doing here?”
I smiled serenely, “Julie!” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, “This is the biannual church garage sale for missions!” I casually fingered a rattan rug. “You didn’t think I would miss it, did you?” The other ladies were staring at me too.
“But isn’t this,” said one of the ladies, “aren’t you…”
“Getting married today?” I finished, afraid the radiance inside me would burst all over the sparkling grass, “yep!”
Grace sidled over. “And we can’t stay long,” she muttered. “Somebody made us all jump into Lake Mary in the middle of the night in the freezing cold and the pitch dark.” She shook her head. “Some bachelorette party.”
I snickered at Leeann.
“We have got a lot of repair work to do.” Grace said, glancing at her watch.
I walked dreamily back to the car. “See you ladies later!” I called softly.
Six hours later I stood in one of the upstairs Sunday school classrooms, Makeup and curling irons and pantyhose and shoes and discarded jeans and crumpled paper towels and q-tips and bobby pins were strewn around the room. My six bridesmaids looked stunning, each one dressed in a 1950s style afternoon dress in sparkling red, not a hair out of place. I was in the middle, draped in white, a veil firmly pinned to my head. Linda Jerome, my wedding coordinator poked her head through the door.
“Just thought you would want to know,” she whispered, “there’s not an empty seat in the house and every last program has been taken.”
“Oh,” she said, “and the garage sale ladies have arrived!”
I smiled weakly.
“And now,” she said with a warm smile, “It’s time!”
The girls gathered around me, patting my face, touching up my mascara and helping lift the many layers and long train of my gown. One by one we traipsed from the room. One by one my bridesmaid’s walked down the stairs and down the long hallway into the sanctuary. Little crowds of “flower children,” my ten nephews and nieces, had already made it up the aisle, handing out roses as they went. Dad was standing at the foot of the stairs. He took my arm and led me into the sanctuary as the beautiful strains of Jonathan Cain’s Wedding March filled the air and the pastor said, “Please rise.” It was my turn.
It had been the longest nine months of my life. At the end of my summer in Asia, when autumn was just beginning to breathe over the mountains, Gary had picked me up in the morning and carted me off to Sedona. We spent the day hiking and swimming, then, tired and sunburned and with the smell of creek water clinging to our skin, we descended on my grandmother in Cottonwood and took her out to dinner. My grandmother, the author Ellen McClay, is a truly brilliant woman with sharp, determined opinions and an inestimable reservoir of knowledge. We had a diverting evening listening to her stories and pouring over her library, and by 8pm I could feel my head beginning to spin. We left my grandmother waving from her porch, and the memory of the hot sun and the dusty trail wrapped itself in the cool brightness of the stars and the earthy smell of the creek as we drove home. I fell asleep.
I heard the gravel crunch as Gary pulled into the driveway in front of my house. The motion-sensitive porch light came on, and he nudged me.
“Princess, you’re home,” he said softly.
I tried to shake the sleepiness from my limbs. We pulled hiking gear, food, lawn chairs, and wet clothes from the cab and sorted them into piles on the porch—stuff for him, and stuff for me. The activity woke me up enough to be coherent when I said goodbye.
“Goodnight, Gary,” I said sleepily, “I had a wonderful day.” I waved my arms to turn the motion-sensitive porch light on again, and turned to stumble into the house.
“Wait, Ann, there is something I wanted to show you.” Gary’s voice sounded tense.
“Oh, sure!” I mumbled.
“Sit in the rocker,” he said, as he pulled something from behind the driver’s seat.
I sat down. Gary pulled a chair up next to mine, breathed deeply, and handed me a paper. It had a perfect APA cover page and the title: “Excerpts from my Heart.”
Slowly I began to read. It began with a story about a princess. She was the daughter of a Great King, and had traveled alone to far-away nations to tell the people how much the King loved them. In spite of many hardships and the ache she felt at leaving her family, her Father’s love compelled her to go. For many years she traveled alone, and then one day, the King sent someone to help and to lead her, a loving man whose job was to take care of her.
I turned another page and found myself reading the first emails Gary and I had sent to each other the previous fall, emails about Mexico and coffee makers. The girl who had written them, so distant and so unsure, seemed like a stranger to me.
A sense of something enormous enveloped me as I read on:
I love how you trust me.
I love to hear your voice singing hymns in the house.
I want to understand you and know how to love you in every way.
I want to know what you are feeling.
I love to honor you and tell others about you
I love how you take care of me after you’ve given me food poisoning
I love to pray with you.
I’m so proud of you.
What’s important to you matters to me…
I turned the last page. There were five words on it.
“Will you be my wife?”
A thousand thoughts and feelings swamped my head with tsunami force. I stared at him. He waited, his heart thudding. Sliding off his chair he knelt in front of me and held out a ring. I looked into the infinite tenderness in his eyes, and felt a smile welling up inside me.
“Ann,” he said, in his rich, quiet voice, “will you be my wife?”
After that, everything blurred. I remember him sliding the ring onto my finger and pressing the palm of my hand to his lips for a long moment. I remember hugging him goodbye and feeling the soft fabric of his shirt against my cheek.
But it was the beginning of a grueling year of doctoral studies, and we could not get married till summer. I had to stay in Flagstaff, but Gary had gone to China. He took a teaching job at a university in Dalian, and returned only a few days before our wedding. There had been just enough time for him to recover from jetlag, just enough time for us to gather our friends and family together, paint his little house in Phoenix and decorate the church. And finally the last day of those long, nine months had ended. The sun had set on our engagement, and dawned on the first day of the rest of our lives.
My father placed my hand in Gary’s, kissed my cheek, and sat down. I felt my hand soft and small inside of Gary’s, and knew the loneliness inside my heart was banished forever, washed away by the blood of Christ that had purchased this moment for me. I could tell by the firmness of his hand, the strength in his powerful arms that what he was holding onto was precious to him, and that he would not let go.
Hours later, the sun sank behind deep, forested hills as Gary and I dashed through the crowd of friends and family pelting us with birdseed. I laughed as I ran for the car, looking up to see the many faces that had peopled my life: Grace and her husband Andy were there; Heather and Carlos holding their little son; Ryan Lester; Jeremy; my brothers; Aimee, and my parents, together with a beautiful mosaic of faces from China, South America and Africa—students from Gary’s Bible study. They were all glowing with the happiness I knew was radiating from my face. Gary helped me into the car and we drove into the darkness of the soft mountain forest, the canopy of starlight overhead mirroring the light in my husband’s eyes.