#GoingWildElopement (sort of…)

I am so excited to share some of the photos taken from our e-shoot (usually Engagement… but we did a semi-Elopement one instead).  I feel I need to leave a little disclaimer that I am definitely more comfortable behind the camera… so please understand I totally get the nerves during a photoshoot!? A HUGE thank you to Kristin Swan for blessing me with my hair and make up and Rezana for being our photographer (and friend who we love dearly and are so grateful for!)

Any way, here are some photos of our time together on the beach…

Isn’t my hubby a hottie???

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Going Wild

changed my surname and relationship status yesterday.

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According to the South African government and Home Affairs, I am legally Mrs Wild. It was a simple process: we met in the church office with our two witnesses, answered two simple questions and were pronounced husband and wife.  And yet, we do not consider 20 December to be our Wedding Day – that’s happening next week Friday, the 28th.  Why? Because as Christians, we believe that marriage is not a legal piece of paper declaring my name change, but rather a covenant between ourselves and God – it is a holy commitment to love each other, be faithful to one another and keep God at the centre of our relationship.  And until that covenant has been made and celebrated with friends, we are spending the week ‘un-married’.

But that didn’t stop us from enjoying yesterday…

Before the meeting (we use this word deliberately, because it was not a ceremony or special event), we went for a walk on the beach – yip, the same beach where it all began.  We had to marvel at how much has changed in 8 months; how many tough challenges we have had to face, how much we have grown – both relationally and spiritually… its been a season of huge acceleration for both of us.  We then got married, enjoyed coffee with friends and went home – to wash dishes and pack away my laundry.  You know, married people things… and then I was blessed abundantly by Kristin Swan, a super lovely make up artist in the city: she did my hair and make up as a ‘blessing from Jesus because He wants you to celebrate’. I cannot adequately express how special that was or how much I needed it – that in the midst of our unconventional and difficult engagement, I would be given such an amazing gift.  And obviously, G loved the transformation… which we embraced with a photoshoot on the beach (photos to hopefully come soon once they’ve been edited etc). And then we got to celebrate with a couple who God has blessed us with – we love our new friendship with them and have been able to share the highs and lows and lessons learnt through our season of marriage prep; it made sense to get to share our celebrations with them last night.  God is so good.

Instead of focusing on the change of relationship status, Holy Spirit reminded me of something else – the significance of a name change. I’ve always loved my name and God has used it time and time again to remind me of my Identity in Him – that no matter how much credit my parents may take, He named me. And the meaning of my name has had such significance for me.

Lauren Joy Vercoe.

Lauren means ‘crowned with laurels; victorious’ and well, Joy is pretty obvious.  My surname, apparently coming from French heritage can be split into two french words: Verite (truth) and Coeur (heart).  I’ve always loved that – ‘being true to one’s heart’.  And for me, it meant being true to my heart after God.  On the way home from my SOZA session last month, Holy Spirit explained how I was stepping into a new season and how significant my name change would be.  Although my ‘foundation’ will always be ‘true to my heart’, a new season of Freedom and Reckless Abandonment (in God) was on its way – that I have been granted permission to be Wildly, Joyfully Victorious – living in the Fullness of Jesus’ Victory, Freedom and Healing – His Grace.

I don’t know the details of this New Season, but I am expectant of God doing great things – to His glory.

Showers of Blessing

I have been blessed with the most amazing women in my life – I am literally surrounded by faith-filled, joy-filled, friends who have sown seeds of Joy and Celebration into my wedding (when G and I were unable to do so ourselves).  And for this, I am grateful. Extremely so.

I am also a bit of a brat – but we all know this – and with all the storms we’ve had to weather over the past several weeks, couldn’t risk any unplanned events (and by that I mean anything I have not had sufficient time to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for – I have a very bad habit of not always being suitably ‘ready for public appearances’ if you know what I mean…)  and as an introvert who has been stretched thin recently, social engagements exhaust me at the best (worst?) of times. So… being the brat that we know I am, I asked that my bridal shower not be kept a secret – at least, allow me to know the date and be vaguely prepared (as in, make sure my hair is washed).  I didn’t need to know the details, but appreciated time to prepare myself for a potentially exhausting event (and save everybody from a not so pleasant version of me if surprised at a really, really bad time).

On Friday, my bridesmaids arrived with a rather big box – my Celebration Count Down Box.  Inside, were envelopes for each day leading up to the wedding.  Some days include a letter, others are instructions and a gift.  Its amazing.  Each morning I get to experience another seed being sown towards the Celebration of our Love Story.

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And of course, most appropriately: there are unicorns everywhere.  (At the start of 2017, Holy Spirit took me through a process of trusting Him for Unicorns – prayers that were almost mythical they seemed so far from possible.  Read blog.) One of those ‘unicorns’ was my future husband and I always find it funny how G simply associates me with ‘sparkles and unicorns’ but doesn’t realise that he, in fact, is my unicorn… the evidence of God’s faithfulness to His promises.

But I digress.

Saturday was filled with an amazing day of celebration – spending time with precious friends who have walked an incredible path with me over the years. Each of us have stories and memories that range from sitting on couches (or counters) drinking tea and sharing hearts, to adventure-day road trips, to moments of extreme joy and extreme sorrow – we have shared Life together. It was truly an incredible experience to take time out and simply appreciate each one of them; to be grateful for the role they have played in my life and how God surrounds us with people who speak Love and Life (but also don’t shy away from the occasional Rebuke and ‘Toughen Up, cupcake’).  So many wedding sites push the concept of Bride Tribes, but honestly, I think they’ve gotten it wrong: we need more that that – we need to surround ourselves with Women of Faith (and Courage and Joy and Wisdom and Passion and Silliness and Prayer) who will continually hold up our arms when we no longer have the strength to do it ourselves – women who remind us of our Identity in Christ and the Freedom (and Healing) which He died for.  Women who will speak Truth and Encouragement.

If one counts wealth by the value of relationships in one’s life, truly I must be one of the richest people alive.  Its good to be reminded of what matters most and how blessed I am. Thank you ladies.

Choosing Celebration

I never release a blog post until I feel the timing is right – that I feel a ‘permission’ has been granted and I can bear witness from a place of authority and ‘overcoming’.  Consequently, I have been a little quiet lately while we have had to deal with (yet more) ‘stuff’…

Firstly, let me share several key factors:

Before we were even engaged (but definitely dating ‘with intention of marriage’), we received a prophetic word regarding our relationship – that God had a purpose for our marriage beyond ourselves; that He would use it as a platform to minister to others.  This was nothing new to us, and in fact, it merely confirmed what we already had felt Holy Spirit say. Fast forward a few months and an engagement ring later, I felt Holy Spirit say we needed to prepare spiritually for our marriage, and go for a SOZA session. SOZA is an amazing healing ministry where a facilitator leads one in a prayer session – in a nutshell: its a personal and very intimate conversation with Jesus, Holy Spirit and Daddy God. My session was incredible. Through the course of this session, I received several prophetic words regarding my relationship with Garth – that (again), our relationship has a higher calling and will be used to minister to and encourage others; that there is a Redemptive Grace upon us and God will use our story to bring healing. (Again) this was not news to me, but merely confirmation of what I had already felt Holy Spirit say weeks earlier.

I shared a photo on the Facebook group the other day of the accessories Holy Spirit had lead me to choose for the ceremony, as well as the unusual choice of gold for my nail polish.  The colour gold has begun featuring strongly in my current walk with Holy Spirit (He uses colour to minister to me on a regular basis).  Obviously it is known for its Biblical connotations of faith being refined like pure gold, as well as the associations of Victory and God’s Righteousness. When looking to create my veil, I asked Holy Spirit to help me pick out hair pins and he did: two beautiful golden leaves.  It was only a little later when I made the connection: my name literally means ‘crowned with laurel’ – laurel being the leaves worn by victors.  And now my veil too, will be a golden crown of laurels. Once again, Holy Spirit has reminded me of the Victory we walk in, in Jesus’ Grace and Glory.

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So what’s been the problem?

Through the course of our (fairly short) engagement, neither Garth nor myself have been particularly focused on the wedding planning.  Instead, we have approached this season as preparation for our marriage; seeking to grow as a couple and work though as much spiritual preparation as we can.  As we have grown stronger spiritually (and relationally) together, we have faced the predictable spiritual opposition. I have been accused of being pregnant, Garth has been asked whether he was being forced into the wedding (if I had THAT measure of influence I would have used it on a man years ago?!) and we were both recently challenged on whether we were even ready for marriage.

Ready for marriage? You bet we are!

Having struggled through a fog of anxiety and stress caused by this negativity and many, many tears later – Garth and I are stronger than ever.  When faced with such opposition, we chose to draw closer together in Unity and grow together in Strength.  Today, Holy Spirit gave me this revelation: the Bride of Christ does not need to distract herself with inconsequential irritants – she simply locks her eyes on her Groom, Jesus, and stands glorious in His Victory. The enemy has already been defeated, and as Christians, we’re called to walk in that Freedom and Victory established at the cross. Its an incredible honour.  The Bride does not give way to Fear.  I do not need to give way to Fear – and I have been doing that for too long; its time to end it.

Two things I am fully convinced of: one, this relationship and marriage is a God-thing covered in His Grace and Redemption and two, Garth and I love eachother unconditionally, having made a commitment to do so for the rest of our lives, hoping that God may be glorified through us. We have withstood the storms, chosen to honour and extend grace and compassion, remained firm on the convictions placed in our hearts and been obedient in everything Holy Spirit has said we need do – we have been faithful through the Season of Fire; our faith and relationship has survived the Refining.

And now… for the next two weeks, we intend to Celebrate: we plan on embracing the Victory Christ has bestowed upon us, walk in His Redemption and Celebrate the Love Story He is busy writing. Every other ‘distraction’ or ‘opposition’ will now be laid aside as we focus on Jesus. This is no longer a time for Fear, but a Time for adjusting my crown, realising whose daughter I am and walking in that Identity – crowned not only with (golden) laurels, but with His Righteousness and Deliverance.

 

The moment I removed my ring

To say the past week has been challenging, is an understatement. Its been rough. Hell, its felt like a hurricane of emotions and struggles. But the worst has past and we’ve caught our breath.

As I mentioned in my previous post, our wedding planning has had a few potholes and despite it being a very Holy Spirit inspired and co-ordinated event, we have had to face just a little human interference… and although I sought to respect and honour and make amendments where I could, eventually it became too much and I began to realise how ‘not well’ I was coping.  Every time I drove my car on a route out of my normal routine, I began experiencing mini panic attacks.  They weren’t major and I brushed it off and carried on. On Thursday, things happened that caused me to have a somewhat more noticeable (and public) attack in the staffroom at work. I finally took notice and realised we needed to address the issues. On seeing Garth later that day, I had another attack in front of him and it opened the door for a necessary conversation… and if I ever doubted how perfectly God times things – we had our final Q&A session of marriage prep sprung upon us for that evening. I arrived raw and a little apprehensive.

We won’t lie, the evening was tough and we’re both really grateful that we’ve had these honest conversations between ourselves, before having to address the issues with Chris and Louise. I think Garth took the worst of it, and was given some pretty direct instructions of things he needed to do – for the sake of our relationship.

By Saturday, I was beginning to struggle again.  He had not appeared to have done any of the things Chris had suggested and his silence on the matter was suffocating. Saturday afternoon we addressed the issue and it was tough; he was unhappy and I was anxious. I went to lie down and have only experienced that kind of crying once or twice in my life before – when the tears come from your spirit and no longer just an emotional reaction. I broke. And he watched me. It was painful to say the least.

And then Holy Spirit began to minister: He reminded me of a passage from a book I had actually asked my friend to lend Garth (Wild at Heart by John Eldridge; phenomenal read!).  In this passage, it explains how just as every man’s underlying question is ‘does he have what it takes?’, so every woman’s question is ‘am I worth fighting for?’.  And in that moment I realised we were both facing those very questions – I desperately needed my future husband to fight for me and his hesitancy looked like reluctance.  My continued meltdowns made him question his own strength. We were facing a battle that suddenly seemed very important – for each of us. And then Holy Spirit told me to remove my ring – not break up or even pause the wedding, but make a symbolic gesture of stepping out of the situation while He did the necessary healing.  I knew I would wear it again once Garth had been obedient and stepped into everything God had instructed, but I had no idea how long that would take. If removing it hurt, watching Garth’s face as I did so, was so much worse.

But we both had something to fight for.

Sunday morning I saw the book sitting beside my bed and noticed the sleeve was being used as a bookmark. Curious to see where Gabi had apparently stopped ready, I opened it. It was the exact chapter referring to the question with which every woman struggles. I read it and Holy Spirit once again began to minister: I thought I had found healing in this area years ago… only I hadn’t; I had simply learnt to live with the pain. I asked Garth to read the chapter and he graciously did, while holding my hand.  It was a long, vulnerable (for me) experience. When he was done, there was a new understanding of my pain in his eyes – but he still struggled with being obedient.

And that in turn made me struggle. I have lived by the principle that ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’ – that if you hear God give you an instruction: do it. Don’t delay and try ‘process’ or consider the potential consequences – obey the Father. While delaying obedience, one is simply being disobedient. And it concerned me seeing that in my future husband. So I brought the issue into the light and we began to communicate.

And something incredible happened.

As we became deliberate in establishing unity between us and reaffirming the connection in our relationship, suddenly we found ourselves encouraging one another to face the challenges ahead, even finding creative strategies to tackle the issues. It would take me a series of posts to begin explaining what happened yesterday – and maybe one day when everything is truly in the past and resolved, I will – but all I can say is I love a God who values Redemption; He alone can redeem the ugliest mess and turn things around for His good and glory. We didn’t do anything special. We simply focused our attention on Him, sought His heart in the battle and positioned ourselves under His covering – He did the rest.

What I have learnt is this: when a couple is unified under Christ, the enemy (in whatever shape or form) has no foothold. And the storms pass – and we find ourselves stronger, together. I’m wearing my ring – and don’t intend on removing it again. We’ve learnt the answers to both of our questions: God has given me a man who considers me worthy of fighting for, and he has the strength to step into the battle, with Holy Spirit (and me) beside him.

Esther Season

Shortly before we got engaged, Holy Spirit told me to approach the upcoming season as a ‘Esther Season’ – Christian talk for a season of intentional preparation. Immediately my girl mind went to the details of her beauty treatments in the lead up to her meeting the king. Boy, how wrong I was…

In reading the book, I was actually a little surprised to see how the whole year of beauty treatments and special diet is summed up in one verse. One. I began to think Holy Spirit had something else in mind. The book of Esther is probably most well known for a verse in chapter 4, “…who knows but that you have been given this royal position for such a time as this?” And yet, it is merely a question that forms a vital catalyst for everything that happens next. Being positioned royally does not seem nearly as glamorous as fairytales and instagram like to portray – you only need to spend 5 minutes on social media to see how the world has a new obsession of everything “Queen”; its as if being a Queen means deserving extra-ordinary respect and a life of luxury. Um, if Queen Esther is anything to go by, the world has gotten it just a little wrong… yes, I am sure she had a fairly comfortable life, but when she (and the jewish people) were threatened with a death sentence, she couldn’t stamp her foot and demand things be changed. She had to approach the king. And if he didn’t want to see her: she would die. Not exactly glamorous.

But as Queen, she had a responsibility to stand up for those around her. Even if it meant facing a very real danger. Reading how she faced the threats before her, made me realise that she models something worth learning for marriage: before she took on the threat of the enemy, Haman, she fasted for three days – she took her problem to God. Secure in His peace and grace, she found courage to approach the king. Here’s where she really gives us girls some great pointers: she put on her royal robes. She didn’t just dress pretty; she put on the outfit that not only spoke of her royal position as Queen, but also reminded the king that she was his wife and subtly reminded him of the responsibility he carried as her husband. Sparing her life and welcoming her into his presence, he asked her what she wanted. Again, this girl was good: she didn’t ask for anything except to spend time with him – she sought his heart and not his hand. She did this three times. Each time, drawing him closer to her, deepening their relationship through intimacy. And in the midst of this intimacy, when the enemy came in close, she simply identified the threat and her husband stepped up to protect her. She didn’t point fingers, nag or complain; she simply directed his eyes to an enemy and he did the rest.

That was the first lesson I learnt.

The next was a bit more hardcore. Being a Queen like Esther is not all beauty and banquets. After the king steps up to save her (from a death warrant he had initially signed), he again asks her what he can do for her. She doesn’t hold back and promptly starts a war against the enemy. She didn’t just defend her people or fight for justice; she opened the way for their victory. Being positioned ‘royally’ was never for her – God had a purpose to use her for the benefit of those around her. To be a Queen in God’s Kingdom means not only wearing a crown of Grace, but also carrying a sword – and not being afraid of the battles that loom.

To be honest, I still don’t know how this relates to me directly, but I know that the next 72 days will be spent focussing more on the positioning for marriage, than all the beauty and glitz of the wedding.

When Holy Spirit plans a wedding…

Shortly before we got engaged (as in the Saturday before…), I was sitting with Holy Spirit and felt challenged about the wedding details.  Yes, I am going to get very personal and real here for a moment: I am one of ‘those girls’ who has a secret wedding board on Pinterest. There. Confession made. It’s out in the open. Label me if you like, even dare to judge me, but let’s be honest – I am not alone. That morning, I felt Holy Spirit say we need to review all the images I had pinned and He began to question my choices – what was significant about each image.  Slowly but surely I started deleting pins, admitting how much significance I had placed on trendy concepts. Eventually I paused and simply asked Holy Spirit how He would style a wedding; I felt Him smile and pull in closer…

He showed me all the images I had kept of the flowers/ decor and kept using the word ‘Garden’.  I asked for a Scripture about a garden (no, my mind did not even think about the Garden of Eden) and He reminded me of a verse in Song of Solomons 4, where the Lover describes the Beloved as a ‘enclosed garden, a sealed fountain’ and then proceeds to describe several fruit and spices found in its midst.  This isn’t the first time Holy Spirit has led me to this scripture and He used the phrase ‘garden of intimacy (with Jesus)’ – that a Kingdom-marriage can only be built on the foundation of one’s First Love in Jesus; that we need to walk daily in that refreshing presence and intimacy with Him first… giving us strength and capacity to love our spouse. I knew instantly that this would form the foundation for our wedding… I just didn’t know how. Yet.

Cue Sylvia; my wedding floral decor creative genius (and amazing friend who has walked a path not only similar to mine, but has encouraged me and inspired me for a good 15+ years).  I had already felt I needed to ask her to create my bouquet prophetically, allowing Holy Spirit to guide her, so when Holy Spirit extended the idea to approach the whole wedding design from the prophetic, I was all in.  And so was she. I simply shared my heart (Pinterest Board), scripture and several key symbols Holy Spirit had said to include (totally another blog post all in itself), and left the decor aspects of the wedding in their (more than capable) hands. How very unlike me to give over creative control for a day I have spent years play-planning. I cannot begin to explain the freedom and joy it has given me – I know my wedding will be beautiful, but I don’t need to worry about a single flower colour or availability as I lift my eyes beyond the wedding to Forever with my (future) husband.  I get to become Marriage Minded, while Enjoying the Engagement.

I took Sylvia to visit the venue yesterday and we spent the afternoon/ evening sharing our Heart Journeys and allowing creative ideas to flow.  She had had a Holy Spirit revelation about a ‘Covenant Carpet’ – a literal mat upon which you pledge your vows that is custom created to tell your Love Story.  This then becomes a daily reminder of that day when we stood before God and friends and promised to give the best (and worst) of ourselves to eachother. I loved it. We spoke through various elements and symbols and colours that Holy Spirit has instructed to include in the wedding, while also including special details that tell our unique Love Story.  This morning we played.  And by that I mean, I moved furniture about and watched Sylvia do her thing: create floral magic. And then it was my turn to take the photo and play a little too…

Nope, I am not going to share the final product (yet). G gets the first preview… but I am so excited to stand upon our Love Story – in the Garden of Intimacy with Jesus – filled with Promises and Hope for our Forever Future.

And this is just the beginning of the wedding planning – I can’t wait to see what Holy Spirit has planned.