Last month, I had the great privilege of interviewing one of my heroines, Andi Ashworth, upon the occasion of the re-release of her book, Real Love for Real Life by the Rabbit Room Press. You can find the interview here, and I really urge you not only to avail yourself of the gentle wisdom of her replies to my questions (questions I would have asked her if we’d been sitting face-to-face, so this interview really was a gift to me!), but to purchase and read and share her book, as well. (And while you’re at it, check out my friend Janna Barber’s heartfelt review.) Andi has a perspective on caring as a lifestyle that is truly revolutionary. She brings the most practical expressions of love out into the light—things that might otherwise be considered mundane or insignificant—and shows the opportunity they hold to communicate the love of God to the people in our lives. Her words were such a gentle challenge—at once a cup of cold water and a bracing tonic. I’ve said this elsewhere, but the offering of this book to a weary and care-starved world is a gift of care in itself. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Reading this book and conducting this interview have both made me think deeply about the application of these things in my own life. I’ve been affirmed down to a soul level in things I’ve intuitively felt, but have received very little cultural validation in. And I’ve been challenged to remember the preciousness of the lives that so beautifully intersect with mine, and to keep thinking about how I can love them in creative, concrete ways. But I have also been reminded, in a very poignant way, of the manner in which I’ve been on the receiving end of all this practical love. I am really quite honestly overwhelmed at the ways the people in my life have communicated God’s love to me. They have literally been the hands and feet of Christ in the moments of my greatest need.
But their gifts have not only shone out in the darkness; they have crowned the happiest moments of my life, as well, the most radiant example of which was my wedding day. Philip and I celebrated our anniversary this past week, and with it always comes the yearly remembrance of the astonishing ways that our people loved us during that time.
Indeed, their gifts reached back well into the earliest days of our engagement. I think I’d had Philip’s ring on my finger for scarcely a week when we decided that we wanted to hold our reception at our soon-to-be home, the beloved old farmhouse which he had occupied up until then with a handful of roommates. To be sure, the roommates were scattering: one was going into the Reserves and one had started looking at houses almost as soon as Philip and I started dating. But they were leaving eight years of blameless bachelor living in their wake. The house was fine and sturdy, and had been generally well-cared for, but it was going to take an enormous effort to make it livable to my standards (as in not smelling like dirty socks and paring the collection of sofas and cast-off recliners down to an absolute minimum), much less prepare it for a wedding. The place needed a complete overhaul, from the tip of her highest gable to her boxwood-skirted porch. And we had less than five months in which to do it.
When the idea initially seized us, it seemed the most natural, the most beautiful thing in the world: to host all our friends on the first day of our life together in what was to be our home. It was like something out of a book, something our great-great grandparents might have done. As soon as we started assessing the situation, however, and making lists, I was completely overwhelmed—to the point that I started second-guessing our dreams. There just didn’t seem any possible way that we could pull it off.
And we couldn’t have. That’s where our people came in.
As soon as Philip’s parents heard of our hopes, they literally rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I think Philip’s dad almost lived here with him over those months, quietly going about the doing of things I wasn’t even experienced enough to have thought of. Philip’s mother threw her gifts into the reclaiming of a beautiful, well-established yard that had seen nearly a decade of neglect. And I can’t tell how many times I would come here after a long day, ready for a long night of work on some project or another, to find the kitchen—my one-day kitchen—absolutely redolent with the aroma of a home-cooked meal and my soon-to-be mother-in-law beaming at me as she drew a pot roast out of the oven. There is simply no telling how those happy little suppers around a formica-topped table fed my soul during that time, and gave me energy to tackle my to-do list with a strengthened heart.
My parents joined the effort, as well. There was hardly a Saturday that this old place was not abuzz with willing workers; the ring of hammers and power tools were the rule of the day. And my mother was incredible: in between managing my social schedule—which had suddenly erupted into a happy mêlée of parties and showers and dress fittings—and assuring herself that my trousseau met the requirements of a proper Southern girl, and basically trying to keep up with the visions of a very starry-eyed, albeit opinionated bride, she was at the house, pulling honeysuckle vines out of ancient crepe myrtles and weighing in on paint chips and helping me plant my flower garden. My Daddy took about 87 sofas to the Goodwill; my brother cut grass and cut bushes and trimmed up all our liriope-lined paths so that they would be in full, green lushness for our wedding day. Among about a thousand-and-one other things, Philip designed and built a rose trellis in the side yard, through which our guests would pass (and we would enter our reception) and a friend gave us established rose bushes from his garden so that they would have time to clamber up the latticed sides.
It was all so amazing that I really think I was unable to take it in at the time. I was overjoyed and deeply, deeply grateful. But it’s in retrospect that the lump rises in my throat and the wonder burns my eyes with tears. Friends helped us pull up carpet, helped us paint the rooms, helped us move furniture and hang pictures. In essence, they helped us make a home, which is one of the most beautiful things a person can do for another. It was like a long, drawn-out house-raising. And there, in the midst of it all, was my groom, working day and night to prepare a place, not just for our wedding, but for us. For me. Even in all that sweet tumult of work and waiting, the precious image incarnate in Philip’s labor was not lost on me.
At my trousseau tea (and, yes, I am telling you, there are still some Southern girls who have trousseau teas!) just days before the wedding, a sweet friend asked what I had left do to. I think she was expecting a litany of final fittings and bridesmaids’ gifts and packing for my honeymoon. But when I told her I was planning on making curtains for the bathroom, she was incredulous.
“No,” she said, with as firm a look as I believe her kind brown eyes were capable. “No, Lanier. You are a bride. This week that is all you need to be. I am making your curtains.”
She would not leave until the fabric was safely in her hands, and as I passed off all those yards of white muslin, I felt like a physical weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was an act of pure love, and, as such, bore the fragrance of God’s love to me. She gave me the gift of hours in my bridal week, for which I was deeply grateful. There is hardly a morning I do not think of it, as I pull back those soft drapes on the eastern light of a new day.
Philip and I are still incredulous about what happened here the day before the wedding. I had always cherished a dream that the people I loved would all have a hand in my Day of days, would each have their fingerprint, as it were, upon this most unforgettable moment of my life. But I had no idea it would be like this—folks descended on this old place from the four corners of the compass. I remember wandering around in a complete daze, marveling at all the activity, my ever-present wedding notebook hanging idly at my side. One extremely talented soul had been named artistic director of the affair, and he had taken all my Avonlea-ish visions and translated them into living reality. That day he presided over a small army of women on our back porch, up to their elbows in roses and shell-pink zinnias and hydrangeas they had brought from their own gardens. Some were arranging flowers for the reception tables; others were fashioning exquisite little nosegays of old-fashioned perennials for the wire cones to be hung on the ends of the pews at the church. I have a mental snapshot of one of my bridesmaids on the patio amid a sea of daylilies and Queen Anne’s lace which another friend had gathered from her pasture that morning, and just beyond her, a small army of teenagers throwing out fresh pine straw in all the beds around the house. I went inside and found my sister twining thyme and Russian sage into a curving letter ‘I’ to top our wedding cake, and saw one of her friends hanging over the stair railing, grasping a can of Brasso in one hand and an arm of our rather age-patinaed chandelier in the other.
Midway through the day, my mother had a meal of fried chicken and vegetables brought in for everyone, with leftover cakes from my trousseau tea, and lots and lots of iced tea. And just about the time we were all indoors and lined up to make our plates—it started to rain. I couldn’t believe it! An outdoor wedding reception was the only thing we had accounted for—there was no Plan B. I stood at the den windows watching the downpour in disbelief. I knew there was much more to getting married than a perfect wedding day. But I had never so much as considered the fact that it might rain! The faithful crew at our house, however, was undeterred. Nothing daunted, they simply finished up their lunch and plunged into a new round of tasks, trudging around in the rain as if there was not a thing in the world to worry about. My sister and another friend soaked themselves weaving ivy garlands and hanging them on the front gate; many of the women did the same, festooning the reception tent with curtains of tulle and ribbons with rain running down their faces and arms.
It rained again the next morning—June can be such a fickle girl in Georgia! I’m very much afraid that by that point I was too far gone with the joy of what the day meant to really care about the weather. (My mother knew she had lost me and my opinions the day before when she had innocently asked what I would like to put the dried lavender in, which would be distributed to our guests to throw as Philip and I left the reception. “Oh, I don’t care,” I said, with a wave of my hand. I think that was her first moment of real panic surrounding my wedding. From there on out, she knew she had to go on without me. ;)) I remember sitting with my coffee on my wedding morning, looking out at the dripping day, asking my mother rather absently why it was raining.
“I’ll be right back,” she said.
I heard her bedroom door close, and in a few moments it opened again.
“Your Daddy said it was going to be allright,” she told me with a brave smile. I little knew then how brave.
Quite frankly, that was enough for me. I floated on through the morning in a bridal haze of utter preoccupation. My bridesmaids started arriving, tripping daintily up the front walk under umbrellas, and the beloved friend that had agreed to do my hair managed to set me down before a mirror and get to work. Another dear one, who also happened to be our wedding coordinator, stopped by on her way to the church and repacked my suitcase (which was a complete mess) and the florist dropped off my headpiece. The whole house was a happy beehive of feminine industry, and there I was, useless and cow-eyed in the midst of it all. My mother came in when I was dressed, just as my sister was lowering my diaphanous veil, and her radiant face did not bear the least trace of the anxieties she had known that day.
It wasn’t until I returned from my honeymoon that I learned what went on at my house the morning of the wedding. A friend had procured some emergency cabana tents, and he and my dad and brother set them up in the rain. My mother had her work cut out convincing the cateress (a Southern maven of the old school, who had literally come out of retirement to do my wedding) that moving the reception to another site was not an option. Seeking our ‘artistic director’ for moral support, she found him on a ladder by Philip’s trellis, calmly wiring wild rose canes and blossoms over the lattice. Looking down at her with rain pouring off the brow of his hat, he cheerfully concluded that there was nothing more to do but press on and pray hard. (He actually pressed on so hard that he missed the wedding. I remember catching a glimpse of him at the back of the church when we were having our pictures made, no less dapper for his late drenching, smiling with all of us over the joy of the breaking clouds outside and the summer sunshine that was pouring in through the tall windows.)
Yes, it did clear up. The good Lord heard that host of prayers and was kind enough to part the clouds on our account. On the way to the reception, Philip and I saw a double rainbow spanning over our way. It was like a kiss from God. And when we pulled up before the house—our house—my mother-in-law greeted us on the front walk with the dearest words in the world: “Welcome home!”
So many memories from that day seem to swirl in a cloud of tulle and sweet peas and blushing organza. It was everything I had ever dreamed it would be—from the children in smocked dresses chasing each other under the trees, to the lemonade on the front porch, to the hot tea served from a dear one’s family heirloom of a silver service—because people who loved me had made it so. And in the goodness of God we danced on the lawn that day with our wedding party and sealed the vision we shared for the kind of home we wanted to establish: one that would literally overflow with the very love that had launched us into our life together. That love laid a hallowing touch on the smallest details of our day, and demonstrated to us in an unforgettable way that, indeed,
Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
…through the features of men’s faces.