When I dreamed of my fairy-tale wedding, I heard trumpets. And organ pipes. And a choir singing joyfully from the balcony as I walked toward the altar in a big satin gown with a train trailing a few feet behind.
You know, your average royal wedding.
Unfortunately, the queen of England wasn’t ringing my mobile to lend the Halo Tiara, and Westminster Abbey was simply too far away for the grandmas to fly.
So, we improvised.
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Thankfully, my fiance, Michael, shared my desire to get married in a beautiful and meaningful church service — not to rush through our “I do’s” to get to a great party that looked pretty in pictures. After all, “that’s the part where we actually get married,” he’d say, followed by the (debatable) sentiment, “Everything else is fluff.”
Oh, sure, I developed a Pinterest mouse-click twitch and an addiction to TV reality wedding shows in our 10 months of planning. But we remained focused on creating a beautiful, thoughtful experience — one that would make our guests participants, not just spectators, in our special event on April 18.
Although Mike and I live in Fort Worth, we knew we’d be married in Dallas at our church, Zion Lutheran. Three generations of my family have been members there for 40 years; I went to elementary school there, and it has always been a second home. Zion has an outstanding music ministry, and the sanctuary has concert-quality acoustics and one of the finest pipe organs in the city.
It also has magnificent stained-glass windows that flood the sanctuary with light and color, which would inform the palette for the wedding. A large front window that’s predominantly blue would appear in all the photos, so the bridesmaids would wear sapphire gowns. The altar arrangements, pew flowers and bouquets would pull in colors of the windows — coral roses and calla lilies, yellow button mums, green hydrangeas, blue delphiniums and light pink tulips, among them.
Working closely with the ministers and my parents, we came up with an ambitious ceremony plan — a worship service that would start with a processional of crucifer and torchbearers, traditional “evening prayer” liturgy with chanting by the pastor, three Scripture readings (read by three of our godparents), three hymns, and the traditional marriage rite from the Book of Common Prayer (the famous passage that starts “Dearly beloved ...”)
Music would be provided by an organist, two trumpeters, a cellist and a flautist — and, in a gesture that took this day from “dreamy” to “wildest dreams,” the adult choir (in which my parents have sung for decades) agreed to sing several pieces, including a recently published one for which we purchased scores.
As we were planning it, I did worry a bit that this “super churchy” wedding might be a bit much for about half our guests, who weren’t Sunday service regulars. Would they take one look at our 12-page service folder and wish they’d had a stiff drink first? As it came together, though, I stopped fretting about being ceremony-shamed and kept in mind the words of a friend, who said, “The day goes by fast. You might as well find ways to make it last longer.” Besides, I thought, a bazillion people around the world didn’t tune in to watch William and Kate’s dinner-and-dance. They got up at the crack of dawn to watch a church service.
Twenty minutes of pre-service music ended, and the organ, trumpets and choir began the glorious processional, a special “concert” setting of a hymn called Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven. To a soprano descant on the last verse, my dad and I proceeded up the aisle that we’d walked thousands of times before but never arm-in-arm. He took great care not to step on my dress — a royal satin and lace ball gown by Pronovias that (coincidentally!) had pleats on the skirt similar to the wedding gown of the Duchess of Cambridge and a cummerbund reminiscent of Princess Grace’s, as well as a train so long that it took two people to bustle later.
After a perfect “handoff” to my groom at the altar, the music stopped and the sound reverberated through the silent sanctuary for a few revelatory moments before the words of welcome were spoken.
The hourlong service was just as we’d wanted — formal and faith-focused but with moments of levity, like when the pastor began his sermon with words inspired by, he said, “the great theologian Dr. Martin Luther ... King: Here at last, here at last, thank God almighty, they’re here at last!” (We’d dated for almost nine years.)
Two hundred people filled the church pews, and each time the sanctuary resonated with singing, I got goose bumps. Yet, when Mike and I exchanged rings and vows — squeezing each other’s hands to keep the tears from falling — we felt as though we were the only ones in the room. Mike had kept my wedding band a secret. “If I don’t get to see your dress, you don’t get to see your ring,” he had reasoned. So when he put it on my finger — and I quickly slid my engagement ring on top of it and saw the set sparkle under the church lights for the first time — I mouthed “Wow!” to my matron of honor.
Besides our rings, we both were wearing special pieces we’d exchanged before the ceremony. For my wedding-day jewelry, I’d had a custom jeweler turn “something old” into “something new” by creating my earrings and bracelet from diamond and pearl jewelry given to me by both my grandmothers. I couldn’t wait to wear these one-of-a-kind baubles. So I was shocked when, before the ceremony, our photographer delivered a box from Mike containing earrings that he had designed for me — freshwater pearls with sapphires, our main wedding color. Overwhelmed with emotion, I removed the earrings I’d had made and put his on. Now my “something new” was also my “something blue.”
I’d given Mike silver locket cuff links engraved with his initials; inside, I’d put a small tuft of fluff that we’d saved from the comb of his Persian cat, Bella, who’d passed away a few years earlier. We had long joked that if we got married, she’d be our “flower cat.” These “flufflinks,” as we called them, were a tiny way to have our beloved “fur baby” there with us.
During our unity ceremony, while the choir sang J.S. Bach’s beloved chorale Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Mike and I poured together small colored glass pieces that would be fired into a one-of-a-kind sculpture through a Lubbock-based company called Unity in Glass (www.unityinglass.com). We now have a special work of art that we helped to create that day. We also surprised our parents by presenting them with roses set aside from our altar arrangements.
When the pastor pronounced us husband and wife, he led the congregation in a “Hip, hip, hooray!” cheer before we walked back down the aisle to a double-trumpet recessional.
It was time to celebrate.
The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is one of those impossible-to-get venues in the spring. It was always our dream reception location, but we weren’t surprised when it was booked 10 months in advance for every weekend in April. My heart skipped a beat, though, when Arboretum personnel called me early enough into our planning to say there had been an April 18 cancellation; we signed a contract the next day.
A providential parting of the clouds in an otherwise torrential weekend meant that immediately after the church service, guests could enjoy an outdoor cocktail hour on the terraced plaza overlooking White Rock Lake. A harpist serenaded with tunes from Broadway to Coldplay while guests nibbled passed hors d’oeuvres and sipped Napa Valley wines, craft beers and two signature cocktails — “Blushing Bridal-ritas” (pomegranate margaritas) and “Merry Tonics” (gin and tonics) — variations on our favorite drinks.
To encourage women to kick off their heels and frolic in the adjacent Jonsson Color Garden — still bursting with tulips from the annual Dallas Blooms festival but mushy from all the spring rain — we put a big planter of flip-flops near the entrance and called them “Garden Shoes.”
No photo booth was necessary — not when folks could snap sunset selfies in front of the lake and the beautiful Dallas skyline.
The theme of our reception was — what else? — “Eat, Drink and Be Merry.” Mike and I entered Rosine Hall to the refrain, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” from the song Tripping Billies by the Dave Matthews Band. We immediately performed our first dance, to The Luckiest by Ben Folds, while a video of our proposal at a Napa winery played on a giant screen on the wall (and, we hoped, distracted about half the audience from watching us only half-remember the steps we’d learned at Arthur Murray Dance Studio).
Dinner was a buffet of “New Texas Cuisine,” with the talk of the room being the “martini mashed potato bar” offering garlic mashed potatoes and three kinds of sauces — Gulf shrimp scampi with cilantro lime butter, smoked bacon with green onions and sour cream, and julienne smoked beef tenderloin with cabernet sauce. I’ve heard some brides don’t eat; I was not one of them. Our catering team personally made sure we were well fed and “hydrated.”
Our cakes were a special joy, as my friend Catherine Ruehle, former owner of Fort Worth’s Sublime Bakery and a rising Food Network star, came out of “retirement” and created such exquisite and delicious cakes that a longtime restaurant critic in attendance went back for seconds. When we served cake — mine, an almond cake with fresh raspberries and almond buttercream fashioned to look like the back of my dress, and Mike’s — ancho chile chocolate with ancho-cinnamon buttercream that looked like a birch tree — we served Merry’s Irish Cream.
An anniversary dance to one of my parents’ favorite songs, We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters, filled the dance floor with married couples, and it never emptied the rest of the night. As a special nod to Mike’s home state of New York, we formed a kickline to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, headed by my 92-year-old maternal grandmother, who was a Radio City Rockette in the 1940s.
Guests danced the night away to a playlist that they helped create. On our wedding invitation RSVP cards, we’d asked for a song suggestion for our reception. Responses ranged from Uptown Funk and Shake it Off to Love Me Tender and Unforgettable. We’d compiled some of the special songs from the reception onto a CD-wedding favor we called “Merry Music.”
Not only did the dance floor lighting keep the mood going, but so did the lightning from an outdoor storm. The downpour stopped in time for guests to shower us with dried lavender as we exited toward our getaway car, a white Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
We waved goodbye, and as we drove away, we did the first thing all modern couples do on their wedding night — jumped on our phones to check all the photos our friends and family had posted of our fairy-tale day.
Ceremony: Zion Lutheran Church, Dallas; 214-363-1639, www.ziondallas.org. Reception: Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, 214-515-6500, www.dallasarboretum.org. Floral Design: En Fleur, 214-563-3908, www.enfleurdallas.com. Catering: Tejano Brothers, 214-647-4899, www.tejanobrothers.com. Cakes: Cat Ruehle Custom Cakes, www.catruehlecustomcakes.com. Bridal and Bridesmaids Gowns: Bliss Bridal Salon, 817-332-4696, www.blissfw.com. Photography: The Purple Pebble Photography, 817-707-7487, www.thepurplepebble.com. Videography: Lexoria Wedding Films, www.lexoriaweddingfilmsdallas.com. Music: Jenny Glass, harpist, 817-469-6709, www.texasharp.com. DJ/Lighting/Audio-visual Design: John Pollard, FX Entertainment, 817-572-6000, http://fx-entertainment.com. Jewelry: Richard’s Custom Jewelers, 817-268-0049, http://richardscustomjewelers.com, www.bluenile.com, www.cufflinks.com. Unity Glass: Unity in Glass, 806-300-0244, www.unityinglass.com. Makeup: Terri Tomlinson, 800-531-5092, http://territomlinson.com. Hairstyling: Whitney Bryner, 817-308-2656. Getaway Car: Park Place Motorcars Fort Worth, 888-626-7939, www.parkplace.com; My Private Driver, 972-245-1270, www.myprivatedriver.com.