Today--at sunset--I got to witness perhaps the most amazing event of my cousin's entire life: his wedding! A few years ago he told me he wanted to get a girlfriend. I actually giggled (not to be rude)! He and I laugh and joke about a wide variety of topics, and with the way our conversation was going at the moment he disclosed this idea to me while we sat in his group home for the disabled, I actually thought he was joking. But he was dead serious. As time went on I truly began to understand that one of the greatest afflictions associated with his cerebral palsy was loneliness - in every facet of his life. I wasn't about to shoot all his hopes down, but I did try to warn him that he could face some disappointments. The chances that he would be able to find someone who was willing to see past his physical handicaps was going to be an uphill battle, even though he has no mental disabilities. I for one, had never heard of or seen anything of the sort happen before, and knew it would be difficult, especially because he is not able to talk and can only communicate through pushing one key at a time on a key board. He wasn't happy to hear these things, and he truly did experience disappointment as he began the process of on-line dating. I would receive texts where he would ask, "Do YOU think I'm a nice guy?" It seemed rough for a while, but Jilliam is not a faint-hearted spirit. He may have physical handicaps, but he has a SOUL OF FIRE! He forged on!
About 9 months ago, a miracle happened. He found Jewel!
That's when Cupid's Arrows surely began to fly!
Teddy bears and hearts showed up all over their facebook pages... They even used their names interchangeably - Neil N Jewel and Jewel N Neil. Love was in the air! He was worried to tell his family - what would they say? I told him it wasn't a secret at all - his family had probably already seen his facebook pages & knew he had a girlfriend!
These two started to dream about riding off into the sunset together, and they started spending hours on Skype together every day.
A little over a week ago, Jewel flew into town, and brought all of her things. In a matter of days Jilliam gave her a ring and they announced their engagement on facebook. I felt like I needed to talk to them on Thursday night, and when we connected, I was shocked to hear that they were going to get married at the Justice of the Peace the very next day after they got their marriage license. I told them they simply couldn't do that. That was not allowed! I wanted to be there, and I needed some time to at least alert the in-town family and send out announcements. Our wise friend, Dallas reminded us that we didn't have to meet at the JOP, so we started trying to track down the Bishop's phone number. Jewel & Jilliam moved their date to MONDAY - which would be Jilliam's 43rd birthday. It's a good thing that became their new plan, because on Friday, the anxious pair walked a few miles just to ring the bell at 4 pm & find that the office was closed. On Saturday, they assured me that their plan was still on for Monday, so we moved forward with faith, even though they didn't have the marriage license in hand.
Our cousin, Greg stepped up & secured a beautiful location that also had meaning to Jilliam - a special oasis in the neighborhood Jilliam has lived in for the last several years. Greg called me Saturday evening and told me he found a perfect grassy knoll overlooking the pond. I was so relieved! I created an E-vite to announce the wedding that would occur 48 hours from the time I sent the email. At church on Sunday, my Aunt Karla, and cousin Tracy helped me plan the wedding details. My former mentor & piano teacher, Chris Gray, "just happened" to see a post I wrote, and happened to have all the things I had pictures of in my mind - such as bubbles, decorations, battery powered candles, etc. She loaded up the back of my van with all these wonderful things. My sister in law, Ashley, agreed without hesitation to make a cake for the couple. My mom helped me make a banner, and my husband found some simple, but elegant ideas on the Internet. He called me into the computer to check out his research and explained: "If we're going to do a wedding, we're going to do it right." That made me cry. He's always so supportive of my hair-brained ideas...or in this instance, Neil & Jewel's hair-brained idea!
This morning after I dropped Tyson off at school, I called the two. They were getting ready to go get the marriage license. At 9:45 they were trying to get Jilliam loaded up in his wheelchair. At 10:35, they were at a bus stop & needed to know where the bus routes were going. That's when I began to worry that they'd get off at a wrong stop & lose all the time we didn't have to lose. At 10:50 they were on the bus and didn't need the info anymore. At 11:05 they were getting off a bus and planning to walk perhaps 3 miles. I have no idea what happened in the next hour and a half, but somehow they made it to the courthouse and were walking in the doors at 12:15. "You have your identification, right?" I asked. I twiddled my thumbs. I worried that the courthouse would be on lunch break - because that would just be our luck. I worried that they wouldn't approve his marriage license, even though he's his own legal guardian. I never heard anything from them. I finally called. It was 1:20, and their DETERMINATION finally paid off! The document was purchased, and Jilliam was currently signing the papers! That's when I heard his familiar happy sound and we all realized that this was REALLY happening! What a birthday!
The whirlwind ensued - calling everyone to tell them it really was going to happen, reminding people about assignments, rescheduling piano lessons, getting dressed, loading the car, making sure the song-list was ready, picking up the cake, picking up & meeting the bride, setting up like a crazy person, people running late, calling my in-laws to make the can trail & sign to hang on the wheel chair that I forgot, double checking that my mom had the leis, setting up chairs.... Before we knew it, 5:30 had arrived and we had something that was more beautiful than any of us could have imagined:
Jilliam chose his former caretaker, Scott, to be his best man & help with the wedding rings. Scott has always cared about Jilliam in a way that fills my heart with gratitude and love.
"Take, take my hand, and I will show you a world without sadness - a world of love!" - Translation of Toma mi Mano, from the Gilbert Temple Cultural Celebration songs
Yes - that would be a wedding ring on his finger, and lipstick all over his face--this was even after some had been wiped off. He is one happy man! So priceless!
Bishop Weston & The Happy Couple
Lalovi & Jared & kids, Jacob, & The Happy Couple
Jacob thought that the text this morning about his brother Jilliam getting married TODAY was a joke. It's a good thing someone explained to him that it wasn't so he could be there!
These are the elders that have brought the Sacrament each Sunday to Jilliam for the last several years.
Would you look at this crowd? It's a good thing we only had 48 hours to plan the wedding. With the kind of love that is in Jilliam's heart, and with the way he has affected people throughout his life, if we had more time to spread the word, the size of this group would have been incredibly big, and we wouldn't have had enough chairs! But Jilliam was ready to move on to the next phase of his life - waiting 43 years for a day like this had been long enough! In fact, not only is he ready to move on with his life - Greg pointed out that today he took a short-cut. On the same day he got married, he also became a grandpa to Jewel's grandkids. How's that for catching up?
Making the marriage official!
Jilliam chose me & Lalovi to be the witnesses of his wedding! It was one of the greatest honors of my life! I have never been an official witness at a wedding until today!
James focused on the more important things while the documents were being signed - like hanging a Just Married sign & cans to the back of Neil's wheelchair!
The Tenney Family with the newest Mr. & Mrs. Tenney!
Everyone in this picture was so supportive & helped set up or take down, make things, drive through rush-hour traffic to get there, etc. My mom made the leis herself (that was perfect, because both Neil & Jewel are from the islands!), my dad was invited by Jilliam to say the opening prayer, we were lucky to have Uncle David & Aunt Linda in town...they are usually in Utah, and Aunt Armeda drove like crazy to make it. When the celebration was all said & done, we all felt like we were so glad that we didn't miss this - it was a once-in-a-life-time experience, and even when it was official, we still had some shock that it's real!
Miles is acting like the DJ, but Mitchell really did all the work!
These are current & past members and caretakers of Jilliam's group home. These people are larger than life to me for all the things they have done and continue to do to take care of my cousin, because they care for him both ON & OFF the clock! I feel the love of God when I am around them and they make me want to be a better person because of the kindness they exemplify.
Ryan, James, Neil, Jewel
Cutting the cake!
This quilt is the most meaningful gift Jilliam & Jewel received tonight. It is a blanket of all his Samoan family that was given to our Grandma Tenney when she was still alive. It used to hang in her room over her bed so she could see it, and feel of their love - especially during the days that she was sick & dying. I have several pictures of Grandma in her bed with this quilt behind her. Aunt Diana has felt for a while that she wanted to give this to Jilliam, and today was the perfect day of all, so her daughter Tracy picked it up and brought it with. I feel like Grandma Tenney was behind this on the other side - looking out for the one, and that she is part of this gift to Jilliam, too. Perhaps she was more involved than we know in helping all the little miracles work out that made this day so incredibly special! Perhaps she was next to me, giggling with joy every step of the way as I planned the wedding. What a trip!
I am so happy for these two, and wish them the best of luck! What a privilege it was to see them "riding off into the sunset" together! Now the real journey begins! I feel like God helped bring these two together, I feel like He was in the details, and I believe He will be there no matter what life brings as they embark on this journey together.