“Joshalyn never said yes to marrying Reagan when he proposed,” were the first words out of our officiant’s mouth. I could feel the confusion sweep over the crowd that had just been seated from watching my dad lead me down the long, green carpeted aisle. I would have face palmed if it didn’t mean disturbing the royal purple flower crown that surrounded my Afro. Instead, I gave my wedding guests a dry look and raised my eyebrows at the officiant. “What did I say?” I prompted him. He gave a wide smile. “She said of course,” he assured everyone.
He was right.
On Friday, April 22, 2016, I sat in the parking lot of the same church we were married in. I’d just gotten off of work, and my friends said they wanted to get together and worship. We’d made plenty of sweet memories in the First Christian Church of Huntsville sanctuary. I interned there during my undergraduate years and passed the baton to my close friend Janay after I graduated. She and our friend Sydney were now on their way for worship night, or so I thought. I called Reagan on my way there to let him know I’d just gotten off work. Our conversation was short; he said he was with a friend and needed to hang up. I felt a yank in my heart. I was moving to Montana for the summer in just a few weeks, and he had finals coming up. We’d talked about getting engaged not long before and come to terms with the reality that life was just full. If we could get engaged sooner rather than later, that’d be great, but if we had to wait, we would (that ballot didn’t have my vote). I knew from our calendars that there would be no other weekend besides this one. I had plans tonight, and so did he, so I let it go.
I pulled into the empty parking lot and waited a few minutes for Janay and Sydney to arrive. Maybe they parked on the other side of the church…? I pulled out the plastic bag of goldfish I hadn’t eaten at work and got on Facebook. I scrolled and scrolled and came across a video someone shared of a Family Feud episode. I clicked on it and popped a few goldfish in my mouth. I watched as a contestant who professed to be a lawyer looked from Steve Harvey to the audience and stated, “Despite being the son of a Baptist minister who always told me that a praying knee and a dancing foot don’t go together, I can get down.” I started to laugh as the audience encouraged his antics. “Gimme some hip-hop,” he said. A beat dropped, and he moved to the center of the stage with confidence. Then, he started dancing, and I started laughing. Harder. Then harder. Then harder. I threw more goldfish into my mouth and kept laughing until tears started gathering in the corners of my eyes. I looked around the parking lot and still didn’t see my friends, so I figured I’d watch the video on repeat. Twenty minutes and an aching-from-laughter stomach later, I decided to call Sydney. Janay answered. “Hey, where are you guys?” I asked. She waited a moment before speaking. “We’re on our way.” “Oh, okay. See you in a bit.” We hung up, and she texted me just a minute later. “Go inside the church.” That was fast. I got out of my car and thought of a witty way to tease them for being late and driving to the church so fast. I pulled the narthex door open and did a double take as I glanced through the window beside the doors that led to the sanctuary. I stepped onto the green carpet and watched as Reagan sat behind the piano playing our song. I immediately burst into laughter as the realization settled in.
Everyone lied to you. There’s no worship night.
You’re about to get engaged.
Reagan was here the entire time you were repeatedly watching that Family Feud lawyer twerk on stage.
And congrats, you have the breath of a five-year-old.
I placed my goldfish and purse down on a small table and rushed down the aisle toward Reagan. I was nearly halfway to him before I realized he’d created a path with our pictures on them. “Oh!” I ran back down the aisle and picked up each picture. Mountain adventures in Montana. The first picture we’d taken as a couple (again, outside of First Christian Church). A FaceTime screenshot in our year of dating long distance. I gathered them all and scurried up the miniature staircase to sit beside Reagan on the piano bench. He stopped playing, and we started laughing. I wanted to explain what I’d been doing in the parking lot that entire time but decided to save it for later. I watched as he scooted himself from beside me, lowered himself to one knee, and pulled out a red ring box.
“Will you marry me?” He asked.
The next few months were spent planning, planning, and planning. We worked hard to keep our wedding budget under control, which meant being strategic and conscientious. One of my favorite things about our wedding was that we were genuinely surrounded by people we loved. I had a close friend sing during the ceremony and two talented baking friends make our cake pop wedding cake. Our invitations and programs were all designed by people in our circle, and a group of Reagan’s kind, generous, hard-working friends kept their eye out on the food during the reception. I remember feeling anxious and overwhelmed that my wedding day didn’t look like the ones from a television show, or even the one it could’ve been as I sat across from a wedding venue owner with wide eyes from the starting price of a wedding there.
Then, I looked around and saw children running around barefoot and dancing to the music. They were the kids of a missionary family I’d gone to Europe with. They’d lived on wide, open Kansas land before moving to the urban city of Budapest, Hungary, and were used to running freely and flailing around together. Their infant sister wobbled up to me as I sat behind the bride and groom table and shot her index finger through the air with a point. “Hey!” I exclaimed as I extended my arms out to her. She was so young when we were in Europe that I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me. “Hey!” I said again as she ran toward me with a smile. I attached her to my hip and looked around for her parents. I found them at the back of the room and carried her toward them. The thought of what I looked like carrying an excited child against my bleach-white wedding dress brought a smile to my face. I decided to forget the formality and expectations. This was my life. Barefoot dancing. Joyful shouting. Pointing my index finger in amazement at the beauty in front of me. That was Joshalyn Jones, and a large part of it was Joshalyn McHargue.
Our wedding guests made their way outside for the send off around 7:45PM. Reagan and I are old souls and truthfully wanted to call it an early night. We dashed through the tunnel of excitement as our family and friends [violently] threw birdseed at us. I gave my Afro a shake and nudged closer to Reagan. I climbed into his truck and rolled down the window to wave goodbye to my bridesmaids. They waved back dramatically and sent me away laughing. “There’s birdseed everywhere!” I exclaimed. We drove the few minutes to our apartment and walked through the living room to our back patio to hang our heads over the balcony and shake the birdseed out of our hair. It worked for Reagan, but alas, my Afro had become a livable bird nest. Reagan went inside to grab a bowl from a dish set we’d JUST been gifted. I sat on the floor in my wedding dress as he picked through my Afro and dropped the seeds inside. And so began our life as McHargue.
Two years later, we are still working hard to keep our budget under control, enjoying being surrounded by the people we love, and choosing to love each other in simple, comical ways. Everyone who told me that marriage gets better every year was right. It gets better every second, minute, day, and hour, too. We love this life we live together, and the journey that brought us to it. If you’d ask me to do it all over again, I’d respond the same way I responded to my steady, patient, loving, and supportive Reagan McHargue.
Christ as my Anchor