Young Life Lite

Vow renewal ceremonies are not uncommon. At significant marriage milestones many couples reaffirm the commitment they made to one another on their wedding day.

But these ceremonies don’t often take place on the two-week anniversary. On a Monday night. With food, dancing, cupcakes and bubbles (not bubbly) to follow. Where the guests assembled are high school kids. That’s a recipe for chaos — or just a Young Life club-turned wedding celebration.

On Oct. 22, 2012, two newlywed couples, Stephanie (Anderson) and Dustin Diez of Nashville, Tenn., and Kate (Habicht) and Nathan Quinn of Richardson, Texas, unknown to each other but sharing a love of Christ and kids, hosted wedding celebrations for their Young Life friends on the same day and each in their own hometowns. The brides wore their wedding gowns and the grooms wore their formal best. They shared their vows with their young friends as witnesses and they received the well-wishes and prayers of their club kids, some of whom had watched those relationships develop from ministry team members to partners in ministry, love and life.

Hosting friends with excellence

Stephanie is a staff associate working in the Nashville-area Young Life Capernaum ministry with kids and young adults with disabilities. Dustin was a Capernaum buddy volunteer and they met at a committee-hosted pizza-making party. Because of their shared ministry and their love for their Capernaum friends, including those same friends in their wedding celebration was a priority — but one with complications. The original wedding reception was held in the Andersons’ back yard which presented accessibility issues. And the Diezes wanted their friends to enjoy a celebration tailored for them as honored guests, and inviting their full participation without requiring the help of parents and caregivers who often accompany them. Enter Suzanne Williams, Capernaum’s Southern Division coordinator, and Stephanie’s co-leader. With the help of enthusiastic donors who covered every expense, a host of volunteers, and 10 sorority sisters from Belmont University, Williams and the Capernaum ministry team threw the Diezes and friends a wedding celebration that included a catered dinner, professional DJ and photographer, and formal invitations hand-addressed to each Capernaum guest.

“Most of our Capernaum friends don’t get invited  to weddings. They’re often treated like children. In  Young Life,” explained Williams, “we don’t do that. They get that enough. We treat them as friends. And they are.” She continued, “We wanted to host these friends with excellence, to celebrate Stephanie and Dustin and our friendship with our Capernaum friends knowing that this party has nothing on the party Jesus will one day throw for them.”

Bride and groom greeted each guest at the door, and then guests were directed to their decorated tables. After watching a wedding-day video of Stephanie and Dustin exchanging vows and rings, three of their friends joined the bride and groom up front to offer blessings. Natalie Herdon composed and read this prayer:

Dear Lord,
Thank you for Stephanie and Dustin. Please take care of them so that they stay safe. Please help them to have a good marriage. Please help them to get along with each other. I hope that Stephanie and Dustin will have fun together and will be happy. I pray they know that we love them. I hope that they have lots of friends. I pray that they have children soon. {Eliciting a ripple of giggles throughout the hall.} Help them to trust you for everything. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A picture of Christ's love

On the same night, in Richardson, Texas, Kate and
Nathan Quinn exchanged their vows (again) with nearly 100 high school kids bearing witness. They promised to love one another “unconditionally and sacrificially, so others may see the picture of Christ’s love for them through our marriage.”

What was different about pledging that kind of love to one another the second time? For one, Nate was really tired. (The two had arrived home from a Maui honeymoon at 5 that morning. Nate went to work hours later and when his workday ended, he got “re”married.) But there was more. “The second time was more about them than us — our first ceremony, we definitely shared the Gospel, but I was focused on the commitment I was making to Kate. The second time,” he said, “the Gospel was being shared. We had already made our commitment to one another, so this was about the Gospel, and our commitment to be ambassadors of Christ as a couple.”

Sharing Jesus through their wedding ceremony was natural for the couple because they have been sharing the Gospel with their lives and relationship from the very first. The two met through Young Life. Kate revealed a growing crush on Nate to her cabin of girls at Frontier Ranch during summer 2011. (The news reached Nate not long after.)

The Quinns’ relationship developed differently than the way dating and romance often play out on the screen. No games or drama; no overnights or sex before marriage. And no falsehoods about Nathan being the fulfillment of all of Kate’s dreams or Kate being the answer to all of Nate’s needs. They knew and told their kids that each would fail the other. That was a given. It wasn’t going to be easy, or even fun every day. But as a reflection of the Gospel, it would be wonderful. Pastor, author and Young Life friend Tim Keller has written: “The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved  and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Natalie Larch, Berkner High School senior and witness to the Quinns’ relationship from day one, said, “The part [of the ceremony] that stuck out to me the most was not only the adorable and loving things they said about each other, but how they always vowed to still put God first in their lives. I think in these times with so many kids’ parents being divorced this showed real hope for love in the world. Kate and Nate have given me a lot to look forward to in a husband. Instead of just having each other as the center of their relationship, God is.”

That’s all Kate had hoped for. She remembers crying on her wedding day and again on Oct. 22. The second time, though, she was overcome realizing that “after this ceremony our home is waiting for us. This is where we start real life together. With this ceremony we start our ministry together. And we want to honor the Lord with our lives as Young Life leaders in front of His kids.”

And at the two week mark, the Diezes and Quinns already had.