On the occasion of Leah and my Anniversary today, I thought I’d share with you all the story of the two of us becoming one…
This story picks up where my last story about Engagement to Leah left off… We planned quickly for my pending departure to what looked like would become war in the Persian Gulf with Iraq. My Mom and Dad were very supportive of Leah and my decision, so much so, they suggested that perhaps we should consider buying a house together rather than live in two separate apartments. I lived in a Long Beach studio at the time, and given how often I was at sea, it made sense not to keep the place while I was going to be deployed for 6+ months. So, we began to look around for houses with a friend of the family who was a realtor. We found a place near Toby Lawless elementary in Northwest Fresno and decided we wanted to make an offer on it. As we planned to buy it with my VA Loan eligibility with no money down, our realtor advised that it was going to be difficult with a lot of extra paperwork to buy a house given we were not as yet married. So after briefly deliberating about it, and with the blessing of my Mom and Dad, Leah and I quickly decided to go ahead and get the local justice of the peace to marry us “legally” so we could make power of attorney’s a lot easier to close. This had the added benefit of ensuring Leah would be taken care of if something should happen to me during the inevitable war with Iraq. So over the course of two weeks between Thanksgiving and the first week of December when my ship was scheduled to depart for the Persian Gulf, we made three major decisions one makes in a lifetime! I know this is quite a surprise to many who would go to our ceremonial wedding in October the following year. So it is clear to all, Leah and I celebrate to the latter wedding day as we both believe that is when we made a decision BEFORE GOD to honor one another in marriage. We view the legal union as exactly that, something we did as an means to expediently complete a real estate transaction. I hope those learning of this for the first time would understand and forgive us this discretion for this reason.
We both moved out of our respective apartments and while escrow closed on the house we had made an offer for, Leah moved in with my parents. This made me feel very grateful to Mom and Dad in that they not only took her in but showed that they were very supportive of her as their NEW daughter-in-law. I am very blessed for the loving support they showed Leah and me during this time of transition in our lives. To this day, I remember fondly how much my Dad showed he loved Leah and I think she too feels a great connection to him as she had lost her own father prior to my meeting her.
The Gulf War had some pretty exciting events as I’ve shared earlier in my Princeton Mine Strike story. One part of that story I’ll share again here happened as I returned back to our homeport at Terminal Island in Long Beach in May 1991. Given we had been in combat action, there was much excitement about our return. I have a very special picture of the moment I stepped across the gangway to hug and kiss Leah I share here with you in this post. To me this memory exemplifies the love I know Leah had for me and still does. I cherish this photo and the women in it dearly.
During the time I was gone, much of the burden of preparing for our wedding was carried by Leah. She chose the chapel and reception hall as well as the minister who would officiate our marriage ceremony. As most people were not aware at the time we had already gotten married, we wanted to ensure the wedding was considered the very special and sacred event it was. By providence and without my knowledge, Leah chose Northwest Church in Fresno to have the wedding ceremony. I had originally gone to church as a young teenager and in fact, I played basketball for the church’s junior high team. I also knew well the pastor and founder of the church, Buford “Bufe” Karraker as his church was one of the first “Mega-churches” in Fresno and was known for its progressive approach to making church comfortable to seekers, much like my current church, Clovis Hills. Bufe knew me as well as one of “Bob’s boys”, a reference to Bob Ennen, the man who had led me to Christ. Bufe told me during our pre-marriage counseling session that I would need to rise up and be the spiritual leader of the family, something I promised to him I would do. Little did anyone know then that it would take nearly 12 years of marriage to make good on that commitment.
Leah and I were married on October 5th, 1991 at the smaller chapel on the corner of Northwest’s campus at Barstow and West avenue. It fit roughly 200 people and that is how many we invited to the wedding thinking that not everyone would show up so there would probably be ample room. To our great surprise, everyone showed up and it ended up being standing room only. I had invited the wardroom officers from USS Princeton and they served as my uniformed ushers so we could have an “arch of swords” as part of the ceremony. I wore my Service Dress Whites for the wedding and then my Dinner Dress Whites for the reception which made for an impressive look especially rare in the landlocked Fresno area / Central Valley. Several of my close friends from high school, the Numb Boys, and my brother and brother-in-law were my groomsmen. My best friend (to this day), Mike Ringer, was my best man. Mike and his wife, Theresa, are also the godparents to our children. All in all it was a VERY blissful marriage ceremony.
At the reception, we had so many guests, I don’t remember much as it was all so much to take in. I know some people came solely because we would see them later in the pictures taken. I felt sad, but I couldn’t do much more than say hello and thanks for coming to many as they came up to our head table. Regardless, I was very grateful to all that came. It was a very joyful celebration! Leah and I choreographed our wedding dance to Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie’s rendition of “Unforgettable”. For the entire wedding day it seemed like the time flew by. To cap off the reception, the Numb Boys and I even slammed danced to REM’s “It’s the End of the World and I Feel Fine” which I’m sure made for quite a sight to my fellow Navy officers still there given I was still in uniform.
As an aside, there was an Amway convention in town that weekend, there were no hotel rooms to be found in town. Many of my Navy friends, thus, had to stay at our house, which meant I needed to find somewhere for Leah and I to stay on our wedding night in town. Through some fortunate connections we had, we got a room at the Airport Picadilly Inn and when we finally rushed away to be alone, we decided to cap off the night at the local nightclub/bar there. As she remained in her wedding dress and I in my uniform, we weren’t allowed to buy a single drink and had people buying us shots until we both knew it was far past time to go back to our room. Interestingly, I had been so busy at my own wedding, that I had not had a drop to drink. I was so joyful, however, at the wedding reception it didn’t seem to matter and many claimed I must have been drunk. It took getting back to our hotel room and a trip to their bar however for that to really happen. Leah and I exhausted by the events of the day passed out on our bed bringing a quick ending to an otherwise perfect day!
We drove out the next morning to our honeymoon which began in Napa Valley, and moved down the coast to San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and ended in Monterey. We had a wonderful time celebrating our new life together and plan some day to have a repeat of this honeymoon on our anniversary. This year, we celebrated our 24th year of marriage. Though we had to go through the trial of my reconciling my life to Christ to find true work-life balance and lasting joy later, I will always view our wedding day as when God showed me how much he loved me by allowing me the privilege to become one with the woman he designed to love me just as he does for JUST who I am and not what I do for her or anyone else.
I’m truly blessed…