Monday, March 20, 2017

yes, ja, iye

When I made the decision to return to Uganda for a year after my first trip in 2013, I thought I was choosing to move to Africa over getting married, at least for the time being. I didn’t realize I could have both. I want to go on and on about how wonderful and unpredictable God is, but all I can do is sit here and smile and shake my head at the fact that He knew this was the plan all along. It really makes me wonder what He still has in store for us. 

When we first got engaged and started planning our wedding, we made plans like any typical couple—for one wedding. One ceremony. One reception. One celebration. One day. However, even that seemingly basic detail brought along its share of problems, the biggest being that we wanted our families at our wedding and we have family in America, the Netherlands, and Uganda and those places are inconveniently far apart. We talked about how many people would likely travel to each place and who would likely miss out, and the answer quickly became clear: It would be much easier for us to travel to three different places than to expect everyone else to travel to one. (Notice we said “easier to travel,” not “easier to plan three separate wedding celebrations.” The reality of that had not yet occurred to us.) So we set dates, booked plane tickets, and got started. 

People say planning a wedding from a distance is not easy. I will attest to that, but I am sure planning a wedding from any distance, be it three feet or three continents, is never easy. However, we had a whole poop load of people (thanks for that phrase, Dad) who were willing and (I think/hope) happy to help and go above and beyond what was expected of them, and because of them our weddings were beautiful and we were able to stay a little bit sane in the process. 

I spent hours doing Google searches and after two months remembered that Pinterest exists, so that was a fun revelation. In one Skype conversation with Aunt Debbie I tried explaining what I wanted the whole thing to look like: 

Me: I found pictures of centerpieces where you take a wooden round from a log and put the flowers and candles on that. And for giveaways we can do small wooden rounds with our names on them and magnets on the back. Powder boxes are great and we can use as much burlap as possible. I like wood, so any paneling or decorations we can find that fits with that—

Debbie: So basically you want your wedding Morton themed. 

Me: Well, the word I was shooting for was “rustic,” but yeah I guess…

Premarital counseling was also abnormal, as our sessions were via Skype with a pastor from America that I barely knew and Christian had never met. Pastor Carol and her husband are good friends of my family and had been missionaries in Nigeria for many years, so we thought she would have some relevant advice for a newlywed couple on the mission field. Between unstable internet connections and an eleven-hour time difference, we made about half of our appointments, but we had fun planning the ceremony together and getting advice on how to deal with conflict and make major decisions such as on which continent to live and raise children. 

One recurring issue in the counseling was where to keep dirty dishes. I like to keep them on the counter so the sink is available for use. Christian likes to keep them in the sink so our two-foot-long counter is available for use. Pastor Carol told us to use this as an opportunity to figure out how to resolve our differing opinions. The next week we came to her with our grand solution: “Pastor Carol, we figured it out! In the past week we haven’t had time to wash dishes at all, so now we have dirty dishes on the counter and in the sink!” I’m pretty sure that’s what she was going for. 

With school, the holiday program, the Noah’s Ark newspaper, and cantata all happening at the same time, things were beyond busy before we left Uganda. As we sat down on the airplane in Entebbe in mid-January we were finally able to take a deep breath and say, “Whew, okay, now it’s really happening!” 

One of the first things I did upon reaching Morton was to try on my sister Sami’s wedding dress. I will say, not having a dress until a week before the wedding was one of the more stressful parts of the long-distance thing. It fit, but we already had an appointment at a dress shop the next day so we still went to that to see my other options. After trying on a dozen dresses I hesitantly asked the woman who was helping us, “I have another dress in the car… is it okay if I bring that one in and try it on too?” The woman was so kind and said it was not a problem, and then confirmed that when she told me that yes, that was definitely the dress for me. (For anyone doing wedding dress shopping soon, I highly recommend Adorned by Grace, a store that gets donations of wedding dresses and formalwear to sell and uses the money to help refugees or sex trafficking victims, I can’t remember which but it’s a really good cause. The stores are located in Portland, Tacoma, and somewhere else.)

The ten days before the wedding flew by as I caught up on doctors appointments, eye appointments, making decorations, seeing family, welcoming some of Christian’s family to America, and finally…

Wedding #1  ::  January 28  ::  Morton

The two things people told me about your wedding day is that it flies by and you don’t remember much of anything. And that you don’t get to eat. And that it is hard to pee in a wedding dress. Okay, they told me more than two things. But those were the two main things. 

They were right and they were wrong. I got to eat and I never had to pee but I would imagine it would have been a struggle. Seriously, thought, the day did go quickly, but I never felt like I missed out on anything. 

In the Netherlands, it is tradition for the groom to pick up the bride from her house and they go to the wedding together. Christian came to get me from my parents’ house with his best man and brother, Thijs (who came from Europe for this) and groomsman Jared (who came from Las Vegas just for the day—we did not make it easy on people). 

Together with our photographers (my aunt and cousin) and bridesmaids (my three sisters) we went to a park for some photos and then on to the church for the ceremony. We thank God it was a beautiful January day, which means it was cold but it was sunny. 

I am not one of those girls who has had her wedding planned out since she was eight years old and just had to fit in the groom somewhere. In fact, the only things I had known for years was that my sisters would be my bridesmaids and I wanted to have foot washing in the ceremony. Instead of taking communion or pouring pink and blue sand in a jar or literally tying a knot, we demonstrated our service to one another by washing each other’s feet, a symbol of how we will serve one another in and through our marriage. Good enough, here in Uganda our feet turn red from dust every time we go out, so we have the opportunity to continue literally washing one another’s feet if we want. 

And before we knew it, we were married! 

During the reception we had our first dance ever while some of my family performed the most beautiful version of the song May You Have that I have ever heard. (By the way, if anyone has a recording of them singing it can you please let me know? I want it!) During our dances with our parents my dad informed me the song I had chosen was a funeral march, so whoops about that one. Christian’s dad made our gorgeous wedding cake and dozens of other people contributed with desserts, decorations, music, food… let me tell you, we are blessed. Thanks to all of you who were a part of it. Our only disappointment was that we didn’t get to spend more time with you that day. 

After that, we had a three-day honeymoon, a three-day trip to Iowa so Christian could meet Grandpa Tom who couldn’t travel to the wedding, a presentation at church about our work at Noah’s Ark (unfortunately it snowed that morning and only that day we realized it was Super Bowl Sunday, so we forgive those of you who couldn’t make it), I had a dentist appointment (where I got the first cavity of my life), and before we knew it we were off to the Netherlands for…

Wedding #2  ::  February 18  ::  Delft

One of my most frequent conversations with Dutch people in the last month goes like this: 

Dutch person: How do you find the Netherlands? 

Me: Flat!

I’m not kidding. I have never been somewhere as flat as the Netherlands. I don’t think the concrete floor in our house is as flat as the Netherlands. When Christian told me Iowa had hills I laughed at him, and now I understand why he said that. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, it’s just so flat. 

The main differences between Wedding #1 and Wedding #2 were that a) it was all Christian’s family instead of mine, and b) it was mostly in Dutch. Since Christian’s father, who speaks very little English, gave a toast in English in America, I thought I, who speak very little Dutch, could try doing my vows in Dutch in the Netherlands. That was the single part for which I was the most worried. But I did it, so yay for that! The pastor said I sounded like the queen because she is also not a native Dutch speaker and has an accent, but what I heard was “You sound like a queen” and I’m okay with that. 

This time we switched it up a bit and I picked up Christian from his house, then we went to take some photos around Delft before going to the church. 

When we arrived at the church we started with a “small” lunch with about eighty people, cake cutting (in which I was not allowed to smash it in his face because this was pre-ceremony—I think he planned it like that), and then Christian and I hid away in an office while the rest of the guests arrived for the ceremony. 

In the absence of my own family, Aat, Christian’s father, walked me down the aisle. He had asked me months ago and I considered it quite an honor. 

This ceremony had much more music than the first, with a range of languages as we had songs in English, Dutch, Luganda, and a Nigerian language of which we don’t even know the name. The worship team was fantastic, and about half of them were Christian’s cousins. 
To take into account the fact that we were already married (an unusual problem for a pastor to consider, he told us), we repeated our vows in the past tense and simply showed people our rings instead of exchanging them again. We didn’t want people to feel like they had missed the real wedding, but we also didn’t want to ignore the fact that this was not our first time. The pastor asked us to answer his questions/vow-things in both English and Dutch, and Christian decided to throw in Luganda for fun, so instead of “I do” we got to answer with “Yes, ja, iye.” After all that was said and done, we made our way back downstairs for the reception, which meant two hours of shaking hands and giving the traditional Dutch three kisses on the cheek and grabbing a snack or two when we had the time. 

A very generous friend rented us an apartment for the week after that so we were able to stay downtown after the wedding and finally have a bit of time to ourselves. The next week was a mix of resting and sightseeing. A highlight was certainly our surprise trip to Paris, which Christian had booked months ago but didn’t tell me where we were going until the train pulled up and said “Paris” on the side. It should probably concern me that he is so good at keeping secrets, but it was so much fun! We went up the Eiffel Tower, toured Notre Dame, walked through the Louvre gardens, almost got stuck atop the Sacre Coeur, and made a list of other things to do next time we visit. 

We got dressed up again later that week to have unlimited time for photos with Thijs. It seems as if everywhere you go in Delft it is a beautiful backdrop for a photo, but perhaps that’s mostly me noticing major differences between Dutch and American architecture. After seeing a few more things in the Netherlands and staying with his family a few days (and eating a lot of cheese and other food), we packed up our things (again) and flew back to Uganda for… 

Wedding #3  ::  March 11  ::  Noah’s Ark

With each passing wedding we got a bit more relaxed. So much so that when we met with the directors to discuss wedding plans we almost forgot to order a wedding cake. The children never would have forgiven us for that. 

Our wedding in Uganda had two objectives: Ours was to celebrate with the children, as they are the family who has surrounded us in our relationship and the ones who have seen it progress in person. Piet and Pita’s was to use our relationship and marriage as an example to their children of how these things are supposed to progress (marriage before children, things like that). 

I was blessed to have a friend from camp, Leya, come visit just a few days after we arrived, and we were so busy showing her around and going for safari together that we didn’t have a big hand in wedding preparations. Then, as soon as we came back from safari Christian’s mother surprised us with a visit and became the only person aside from us who made it to all three weddings, so we each had a representative from our home country. 

We didn’t want to pick favorite kids to be in the wedding, so as soon as everyone was in the church and we were ready, some aunties called all the boys and girls to come outside to be flower girls and peg boys (the equivalent of a ring bearer without the ring). It was the most chaotic wedding by far, but so cute to see them all walk in waving their flowers and peg boy-streamer-things. We repeated our vows, the kiss, and the pronouncement of husband and wife, and then got to sit and watch some of the children, teenagers, staff and visitors present love songs for us. I tell you, there were many talented people there that day. 

We learned that a major part of Ugandan weddings is feeding one another the cake. The pastor instructed me to sit on Christian’s lap and slowly and intimately feed him his piece of cake and glass of soda, and then he fed me mine. You know how when you take a bite and then think of something to say, it feels like it takes forever to get the food down your throat? Try having over a hundred people crowding around to literally watch you eat. 

The pastor surprised us at the end of the ceremony by having us dance again. To make Christian feel more at ease we made light of it and tangoed up and down the aisles, after which the children all got up and started dancing with us. They know how to celebrate. 

We ate supper in the children’s home and ended with singing Happy Birthday to Christian because, by the way, it was his birthday too! I got off easy this year by just getting him some candy and a wife. 

Wedding #3.5  ::  March 15  ::  Noah’s Ark

And you all thought we only had three weddings. 

The youth wanted to put on a special celebration for us, so on Wednesday we got dressed up for the last time (those of you who only had to worry about fitting into your wedding dress once don’t know how lucky you are) and went back to church for a love-themed youth service. They made us dance again, presented more love songs, another missionary couple gave a message about what love is and how it can sustain us in marriage, and we ended with a short disco that reminded me of a junior high dance—girls on one side, boys on the other, half the people just standing there and the other half in a circle around the few people who are confident enough to dance. It did not make me miss junior high. 

I want to say a gihugic (that’s huger than giant) thank you to everyone who helped make our weddings what they were. I won’t try to list all the names because I will inevitably leave people out, but specifically thank you to both of our mothers for doing the bulk of the coordinating in America and the Netherlands and for making sure those days were what we hoped they would be. We will look back with only good memories, trust me. 

So now… we are married. And we’re pretty sure we’ve had enough weddings to last a lifetime. It is our first day post-trip and post-guests and this is when we begin to figure out what this married life looks like for us. Here’s to our new normal. 


  1. congrats on 3.5 weddings in a row! and it looks like you guys gave 100% on all of them. we'll definitely get you a recording of the song. also, the Ugandan wedding looked way bigger than I expected!

  2. It was a joy reading about your three (!) weddings, and even more because it is not only a story, but really happened to you both. The most impressive about the Dutch wedding were your wedding vows, sounded so good. I wish you both all the best in your new normal. X

  3. Thanks for sharing this great story, wow you are so good with words! It was really an honor to meet you and your family in the USA. We had so much fun and I'm so glad you enjoyed everything so much. Really thankful for my new sister!

    Well, see you soon! I don't have any more excuses NOT visiting you and Christian in Uganda, so expect me to pop up soon. Love you guys!