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Sophia's World

My wonderfully strange wedding

It was nothing as we had planned and hoped for—and it was beautiful

Last week, on Good Friday, I married my best friend in his tiny backyard. It was just David, me, and our church pastor all standing about 6 feet away from each other, with about 150 people from all across the nation and the world watching us exchange our vows through a livestreaming platform. When the pastor asked our online witnesses if they would promise to help uphold our marriage, people typed out an enthusiastic “We will!!” in a chat box. 

This is how we got married in the midst of a historic pandemic: I had no bouquet, so instead I carried a pair of wooden mandarin ducks wrapped in a yellow silk cloth, which in Korean culture symbolizes fidelity, love, and harmony, because these ducks are known to be monogamous creatures that mate for life. We had no wedding aisle, so we lined a concrete walkway in the backyard with lit lanterns and houseplants. We had no podium, so we stacked a bunch of wooden crates together and draped a white bed sheet over it. We had no photographers, so friends took screenshots of the livestream video.

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Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes

A Whole Foods store in Los Angeles (Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes)

Sophia's World

Alone together

The common grief of COVID-19 draws us nearer to each other—and God

The month of March felt like it went by slower than an entire dreary winter. Has it really been less than three weeks since the governor and mayor ordered everyone in Los Angeles, where I live, to shelter-in-place?

The story keeps changing: At first, officials told us the coronavirus was under control; then we heard healthcare workers freaking out because the sick were filling hospital beds. They told us only elderly people or those with underlying medical conditions died from the disease; then we learned that people of all ages had severe and sometimes fatal symptoms. 

Here in LA, they told us the shutdown of nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic would last until April 19, but now Mayor Eric Garcetti says to prepare for at least two more months of closures. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has talked his voice hoarse and looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks, will not even give us a deadline for when the state will ease back to normalcy. 

We don’t know what’s happening, and we’re dealing with a collective grief that we’ve not experienced before. A giant sponge inside us soaks up all the dark news and stories, sinking heavier and wetter with the loss and pain and anxiety and fears. Who will come wring this wretchedness out of us—and when?

I hear that cry from a lot of people around me. One friend texted me over the weekend that she had cried all day. She’s a social butterfly who loves dining and drinking out with friends until the moon slides into dawn, and now she’s cooped up inside her parents’ house with no one to distract her from her loneliness, her lack of self-worth, her unmet desires. “I’m trying to not be selfish and grateful that I have a job,” she said. “But I’ve just been sad and can’t help it because I just can’t deal with it.”

Another friend, a single mother who’s now unemployed, texted me, “I think I am more depressed than I thought.” She said she was avoiding even social media interaction and wanted to hide under her bed covers all day. Yet another friend, a speech therapist at a rehab center, sent me panicked texts asking for prayer almost every day, terrified she would catch the coronavirus while working. It didn’t help that she lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment with no roommates, no pets.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t seem to find the space to grieve my own personal loss of a wedding. With all the groans and moans of this world, my mind clinked and clanged all day with noise—and shame. What’s the loss of a wedding compared to the loss of a loved one?

I also felt thrown off. My fiancé and I made Plan B for our canceled wedding, which gave us some initial comfort, but that quickly fell apart. As the restrictions in Los Angeles County expanded, Plan C and then Plan D crumbled, and now we don’t even know if Plan E will happen.

Everything is too uncertain to plan anything, and that’s something everyone can identify with right now. This virus took away our immediate future—our ability to plan, to look forward to something, to seek security in the world we once knew. Yet I believe God is doing something through this global disorientation and grief.  When else have so many people all at once lamented the realization that we don’t have as much control over our lives as we thought? When else have so many people, all trapped inside their silos of isolation, had to sit and listen to the cries of their heart, the pain and longings that we let our busy, hurried lives sweep into the deepest crevices of our souls? Now our souls are stretched out bare, and all our ugly thoughts and emotions are popping to the surface.

The gospel opportunities are full and ripe. Just like when the Israelites cried out to God during their slavery days in Egypt, God hears our cries of affliction (Exodus 3:9, Deuteronomy 26:7). He can redeem something glorious and beautiful out of these tumultuous times. God was not silent then, and He is not silent now. He offers freedom and salvation, not just for us Christians, but for the entire aching world.

Though we no longer congregate for church services and community groups, the urge for fellowship and prayer beats stronger than ever in our chests. Zoom Bible studies and prayer sessions fill my evenings. Our communities have a level of empathy I haven’t seen before, a recognition that we are swaying inside the same boat, hoping we somehow reach the shores OK.

Recently, that first friend I mentioned, the social butterfly, invited a new friend into our weekly Bible study group. That woman is not a Christian, but she wanted to join a Bible study just to see what it was like. She comes from a dysfunctional family and cradles many wounds. To drown the pain, she said, she would go out drinking and partying. But now that she can’t do that, she’s stuck inside her room, unable to escape her torments.

“I now realize that I’ve only been numbing that pain with alcohol, but I need something more,” she told us. She was raised nominally Catholic and has a Bible that she rarely opened. Now she hungers to read it and understand it. She’s reading the book of Psalms.

We all prayed out loud for her over Zoom. We also shared the individual struggles we’re going through and prayed for each other to seek the still, small voice of God during this season of silence and solitude—a forced season, yes, but a sweet one nonetheless. By the end of this pandemic, may we all stand transformed, and may many more voices worship the name of Jesus. 

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icholakov/iStock

(icholakov/iStock)

Sophia's World

When a virus kills a wedding

COVID-19 shows us how little control we have

On Sunday, my fiancé, David, and I sent an email to our wedding guests and informed them that we are canceling our wedding on April 25. The last few weeks, we had been watching the increasingly alarming news about COVID-19 with dread coiling in our guts, wondering how this virus will impact what’s supposed to be the happiest day of our lives. We, like the thousands of other engaged couples across the nation, faced an agonizing dilemma: Do we cancel or postpone our wedding and potentially lose tons of money, or do we continue with our plans and lose valued guests? 

For us, it began with disheartening calls from my relatives in South Korea. The coronavirus pandemic had just hit my mother country, and my aunts and uncles and cousins, who had all already bought their plane tickets and booked their Airbnbs, worried that they might not make it to our wedding after all. Come late February, things continued to get worse as new cases doubled each day in Korea. My relatives canceled their trip. We were bummed, but it never crossed our minds that we would have to eventually cancel our wedding. 

Then inevitably, the epidemic hit our country. It began on Jan. 31 in Washington state, and then continued to scatter like baby cockroaches across state lines. New York and my own state of California are hit particularly badly, and as I write this, the virus has infected people in every state except West Virginia. As of March 17, more than 4,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 85 people have died from it in the U.S. The news kept getting grimmer and grimmer: The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. We were planning to go to Berlin and Auschwitz for our honeymoon, but President Donald Trump put a travel ban to Europe. Then he declared a national emergency. Los Angeles (where I live) closed down all schools in the district through April. Most churches canceled their services through March, including ours. 

David and I went from discussing whether we should postpone our honeymoon to whether we should postpone or cancel our wedding. If we postpone our wedding, then when to reschedule? Who knew when this outbreak would blow over? Should we cancel our wedding and just have an intimate ceremony with our local pastor? We were possibly looking at tens of thousands of dollars wasted. And what if things got better before April 25? That would be maddening, if we had gone through that chaotic trouble of canceling or rescheduling dozens of vendors, only to realize things are fine after all. As we agonized over this, any excitement we had for our wedding started draining away. Each time I saw the boxes of stuff we had bought for the wedding, I felt my heart tighten.

Meanwhile, on social media groups, other brides and grooms who had weddings scheduled from March all the way through October were weighing the same undesirable options. At the time, most vowed to press on no matter what. One bride with a mid-May wedding wrote, “I refuse to move my day. We have planned too long and worked too hard to make it happen.” Many were willfully optimistic: Surely things will brighten up in a few weeks? Surely this is just overblown panic from overexcited media and overly anxious folks?

We too were desperately hopeful. Until last Friday, we were both convinced we can still hold a wedding, even if some guests couldn’t make it. Though we got messages from a few guests saying they might not be able to make it (pregnant friends, a cousin who is in danger of losing his job because of how the virus has affected the cafe he works at), we also got reaffirming texts from most guests saying they were planning to come no matter what. I was to be a bridesmaid to a friend’s wedding on March 22, and they were posting #stillgettingmarried hashtags on their Instagram stories. Yes, the show will go on ... but must it? 

Then last weekend, I went to that friend’s bachelorette party. As I drove down to the resort hotel where all the bridesmaids would be staying, I cried the entire way, yelling at God for answers: What do I do, Lord? Why are you so silent right now? I can’t even hear you! Yet even as I talked to God, I knew that I couldn’t listen to Him not because He wasn’t speaking, but because my desires were louder than His voice at the moment. At the resort hotel, I was surprised to see people still swimming in the outdoor pool, even as they were discussing the pandemic. These people included older white-haired folks in their 70s or 80s. I feared for their lives. Throughout the day, my friends and I sprayed hand sanitizer on each other’s hands. 

That night, while tossing and turning in bed, I dreamed of my wedding. It looked exactly how I had planned it—lots of warm-lit candles, twinkly string lights, bright-colored wildflowers in mini clear vases, ivory chiffon table runners—but it was the lamest wedding ever: I couldn’t see a single face I recognized, including my future husband’s. All I saw were strangers eating the Korean tacos and churros we paid for, drinking the wine we bought from Costco, sitting at the tables I decorated. And all I felt was deep unease and sadness. Nobody was celebrating. 

I woke up feeling depressed and texted David, “I had a dream that we had the lamest wedding ever.” He texted back, “I had a dream the world was ending.” 

“We need some quiet time today,” I told him.

My bride-to-be friend had a restless sleep too. She woke up at 4:30 a.m. unable to go back to sleep. That morning, we sat in the hotel room worrying about what this virus might do to our guests. In both our cases, all our family would be flying out of state or the country. Several of them, including our parents, are in their 60s. “I just don’t feel comfortable putting people at risk,” my friend told me: “It just isn’t worth it.” As much as I didn’t want to, I agreed. My friend cut her bachelorette party short. She just wanted to go home and call her fiancé. Their wedding date was next weekend. They had a heavy decision to make. And so did David and I. 

That Sunday, we went for a walk. By the end of the walk, tears rolled down my cheeks, and David was looking wretched. We read the signs that the pandemic was only going to get worse, not better, in the next couple of months. We simply couldn’t put our beloved guests at risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Is the wedding worth my parents infecting the older, sick people in their church? Is the wedding worth David’s parents infecting his ailing, 96-year-old grandpa? Is the wedding worth forcing our friends to self-quarantine for 14 days and impacting their jobs and families? No event, not even a wedding, is worth putting anyone’s health or life at risk.

Then we saw a tweet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending no gatherings of more than 50 people in the U.S. for the next eight weeks. I cried harder. That was it—we absolutely had to cancel. It was simply the wisest thing to do: We wanted to start our marriage right not by throwing a perfect wedding, but by honoring God and others. 

“I’m sorry,” David said quietly, putting his arm around me. “I’m sorry too,” I choked out through my sobs. We walked back home holding hands in silence, each struggling to accept the fact that this stupid coronavirus had killed our wedding. We both called our parents to tell them the news.

I cried all day in the bed before I was able to climb out, dry my swollen eyes, and write an email notifying our guests of our decision: We would cancel our wedding and do a small ceremony at David’s house. Instead of my father flying in to officiate as we had planned, we might have our local pastor do it. We didn’t want to wait another year or so in uncertainty. We can have a party next year instead of a wedding.

My bride friend texted me that evening: They were postponing their wedding as well. Online, many other brides and grooms had made the same decision, either by choice or by force because their venues canceled on them. Others had their bachelorette parties and bridal showers canceled or postponed. “More than a year of planning gone,” one bride mourned with a crying emoji. Another cried, “Tears ... all the freaking tears.” One bride with the same wedding date as me wrote, “I just broke down into a full emotional meltdown about an hour ago. I’m so glad I’m working from home so my coworkers didn’t have to see my sobbing face.” 

Today as I write this, I’m also glad I work from home. David and I have already exchanged flurries of emails and phone calls with our vendors to cancel and beg for refunds that some businesses are reluctant to give, because everyone in the wedding industry is financially suffering right now. This afternoon we went to the courthouse to pick up our marriage license, only to find out all courts in LA County and Orange County are closed indefinitely. 

Ha! Even our Plan B is combusting into ashes! All because of one spiky virus. All because one person in China got sick, and we human beings live in the same broken world and share the same flesh-and-blood body—no matter how divided we may seem right now, what with our politics and stereotypes, and no matter how advanced we may be, what with our rockets and robots. “We just have to accept the fact that this is completely out of our control,” David told me as we came back home from court empty-handed. 

At the time, I hated him for being right. Now, I feel at peace: What a wonderful thing that we are not in control, for we—as our response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown us—botch so many things when we think we are in control. What a wonderful thing that we know that someone righteous and compassionate and all-knowing and all-powerful is in control instead: Our heavenly Father God, who created every cell in our body, every blade of grass, and even the infamous bat that may have started this whole global chaos. And what a wonderful thing to start our marriage (whenever that is) with that glad submission, knowing that we’re not even in control of a wedding, let alone the rest of our life together.

Dear brides and grooms out there who are in the same boat, I feel your disappointment. But hey, what a valuable lesson to be gifted so early on, just for the price of a wedding. Some would say that’s a mighty fine bargain. 

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