December 30, 1961
“Do you, Joel Whitaker, take Grace Hudson to be your wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward?”
I said, “You better believe I do!” I didn't really mean to say anything beyond, “I do, ” it just came out.
There was a loud chuckle as our guests watched me blush and smile at my bride. There were thirty people present. Most of them were friends of Mom and Dad and a few church members.
Grace would have liked her mother to be with us, but sadly, it wasn't possible. Even sadder was she'd never know Grace had a little boy and that she'd found him. She'd never know Grace was marrying her childhood love. She'd never know the joy God brought into our lives. We wanted to make sure she knew, and we would tell her, but chances were she'd only remember for a short time.
My sister, Millie and her husband and family, came home for Christmas and our wedding. It was a family reunion. I hadn’t seen Millie since Karen’s memorial service over three years ago. Millie’s daughter, Dottie, was now fourteen. She was the flower girl at Karen’s and my wedding. Her little brother, David, was seven. He and Billy were close in age and had a great time together during Christmas.
I saw Mom lean over as she whispered to Dad, and then she waved and smiled. Whatever she said made Dad laugh, and his big belly jiggled.
Millie mouthed. “I love you, Squirt.”
Grace and I stood facing each other. I was lost in my thoughts of how much I loved this woman. How often do you marry your best friend? We had vastly different journeys to this altar, but the same loving God led us here.
I'm twenty-nine, and Grace is twenty-seven. Grace said there was never a time she didn't love me, but she believed it was never meant to be.
I never had any romantic feelings for Grace...um...until recently. There was no attraction, sexual or otherwise. She wasn't pretty. Karen, on the other hand, was beautiful.
Grace wasn't pleasing on the eyes. Those who don’t know her would say she still isn't. To me she's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.
She was born with an ugly birthmark on the left side of her face. She has a lazy eye that still acts up when she is nervous, and she has a noticeable limp from an undetected congenital hip defect.
None of this ever bothered me as a child and over time we became best friends. But for me, that was all we were—best friends.
It's amazing how God works. If you asked me two months ago I would have told you, “It's great to have my best friend back in my life.”
Two months ago, there was still nothing there—no spark, nothing. Then, less than a month ago, that all changed. In the twinkling of an eye, so to speak.
For Grace, our relationship was twenty years of unrequited love. Hers was a life of feeling rejected by everyone. All of her hurt and suffering led to many bad decisions and poor choices. One decision culminated with the hardest choice she ever made.
At twenty years of age she gave up her son so he could have the life she could never give him. And with it, she gave up on her life.
At the Plum Island lighthouse, God had me listen in on her prayer. It felt like I was eavesdropping, but God knew I needed to hear. She told him she knew I could never love a girl like her. I wonder, did God cry when she spoke those words, or did he laugh because he had a plan?
Growing up, I lived a life that was blessed. I might add, undeservedly so. It didn't always seem that way to me, but hindsight is a powerful tool.
I married Karen, my childhood sweetheart. I achieved success at a young age because of a grandfatherly benefactor, and we lived in a house on the beach at Plum Island. Life was good. Then my world came to an end in August of 1958. Karen died in a sailing accident.
It's a shame that we have to look back at how our lives have unfolded to see what God has done. It would be so much easier if we learned early that God has a plan. It's amazing how he works.
Take Grace and me for example. Two broken lives—seeming to be irreparably damaged. Then God entered, and said in Jeremiah 29:13, “When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me.”
Millions miss God's plan because they never seek him with all their heart. Grace and I sought him, because for each of us there was no place left to turn. Yet, neither of us knew what God had in store for us.
At some point, in every life, God reveals this promise. Unfortunately, most don't listen. He arranged that Grace and I receive the promise on the same day in the same church. For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11). Now to some, that might seem like a coincidence, but I'm going to tell you there is no such thing.
He may use a preacher, a friend, or someone he brings into our life for only a short season. He may even bring a loveable old man, or perhaps a Cocker Spaniel. He might even use a seagull. You never can tell because he is God.
The pastor continued with the ceremony, as I held the hand of a nervous, visibly shaking bride. She anxiously awaited the words she never dreamed she’d hear—I now pronounce you husband and wife.
Billy Joel looked up at his mother and me and smiled, his front teeth missing. Today he was our ring bearer, my best man, and Grace's man of honor all in one.
Five days ago he had the most exciting Christmas a child could have. God reunited him with his birth mother, and today she was going to marry the only father he’d ever known. We were about to become a family. A real family.
Next to me sat the other important member of our family. His tail was wagging. You had to look down to see him. He was sitting at my feet staring up. His head kept shifting back and forth from Grace to me and back again. Finally, he glanced at the preacher as if to say, “When are you going to get to the kiss part?”
The first Beasley had rescued Mr. McCreedy and was the ring bearer in Karen’s and my wedding. Even now, I wasn’t sure that the second Beasley wasn’t the first Beasley.
You see, Beasley knows things. Beasley one and Beasley two both understand things that humans don't seem to understand. Looking back, I'm sure Beasley was part of God’s plan for our life.
I placed the ring on Grace’s finger, repeated the vow, and added, “And I will forever and always.”
That is the way we would sign every card and letter we gave or sent to each other—forever—and always.
The pastor said, “I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no man ever separate. You may kiss the bride.”
Grace had a look of relief on her face—it finally happened. She relaxed in my arms. Her dream became a reality. She was married to her childhood sweetheart.
I gently lifted her chin, and our lips met. Our kiss lingered far longer than what most would consider “church appropriate.” The organist tried to get our attention by hitting the high crescendo signaling the recessional. We didn’t budge.
Ours was a love born out of circumstances difficult to explain to most, and the kiss was the kiss of God. Billy stretched his arms as far around us as he could, which wasn’t very far.
Beasley jumped up and placed his paws on my right leg, and barked—twice. Beasley never jumps up, and Beasley never barks. But when he does, you need to listen. By now, you should know it’s a God thing.
I forced myself to separate from the kiss and reached down to pick up Billy. Beasley whimpered, and Grace picked up the fifteen pound Cocker who immediately licked her face. He had never done that to another woman. Was he giving her God’s seal of approval? Was it the fulfillment of his plan for our lives?
No, it was not. God is never finished. “For I know the plans (plural) I have for you. Plans (Plural) to give you hope and a FUTURE!” Jeremiah 29:11.