As I sit down to write an introduction to this wedding, I find myself speechless. It’s just too special. It’s the kind of day that brings tears to my eyes as I remember just exactly what a wedding is. It’s the beginning of a marriage. The blending of two lives, two families, into one. For better or worse, for sickness or health. PenWeddings captured a magical day for this special couple and we’re just lucky enough to get a little peek.

Photography courtesy of the lovely Andrea Murphy Photography.

Colors
Seasons
Fall
Settings
Mansion

From the beautiful bride … Sometimes, life doesn’t go quite the way you planned it.  Sometimes, that’s the best thing that could ever happen to you.

We’d planned an April wedding – in fact, had life gone according to “our plan”, we’d be getting married next Thursday, April 18th.  We’d planned for beautiful blooming trees and gardens.  Not too hot, not too cold.   The bigger details had been completed, the venue, the dresses, the tuxes, the photographer, and invitations were printed.

Ironically, the same month that Darren proposed is the same month I started showing increased signs that something was not quite right.  In October of 2012, we became offically engaged and for the first time I was struck down in pain, literally brought to my knees.  For the next four months, I’d be planning a wedding in between work, children and the pain I would experience and come to know as a daily part of life.

January 30th, I experienced what I called a flare up and decided it was time to try again to find out what the cause was.  Most days I suffered from facial and eye pressure.  A flare up would include that but more extreme, headache, nausea and extreme light and noise sensitivity.  I’d tried five times before to see if someone could figure it out with trips to a doctor, my dentist and my optomitrest.  I went to my doctor, who, after hearing my symptoms and everything I’d done to try and figure it out, told me – “It’s time to start looking for zebras”.  He explained that in medical school your taught when you hear hooves you look for horses.  If you don’t see the obvious horse, you start looking for zebras.  He sent me for a CT scan that same day.

On January 31st, at 12:55 p.m. I got the call from him to let me know, they found a zebra.  Over the next week, we went through a rush of scans and doctor’s appointments that resulted in the final diagnosis:  I had a brain tumor, one of the more common, non-cancerous kind (whew!).   A pituitary tumor and due to the size and location, it needed to come out quickly, within the next month.

February 7th, Darren asked me to marry him again, before the surgery so he could absolutely ensure I was taken care of.  (I’d gush about how amazing this man is, but if you watch the video, I think you’ll get it).   I gladly accepted and after contacting the venue we settled on a new date, February 18th.  We put the word out to friends and family via emailed copies of our wedding invitations we’d ordered… with some slight handwritten modifications.  In my mind, I’d given up on having meaningful details.  We expected that we’d maybe have half the people we’d invite be able to attend.   I wondered how in the world I was going to do this because at this point, I was on pain medication and sleeping through most days.

Something amazing happened though.  It was the beginning of the most beautiful and difficult journey we’ll probably ever go through in our life together.  When people heard about my diagnosis and the change in date, our friends and family began to surround us and lift us up with love, prayer, and their time.    We began to learn how to be receivers, a topic that we studied about in church the months before and had struck both of us as something we needed to learn.  We are givers by nature and we are not good receivers. We needed to learn how to allow people to feel the blessing of being a giver, by accepting offers of help.

In ten days, because of the people surrounding us, every meaningful detail I’d envsionsed, they made happen.   The phrase “What can I do to help”? was heard over and overa again. There were only a small handful that couldn’t make the wedding that day.  We had numerous friends who flew or drove across the country or state to be with us.

The morning of the wedding was my first appointment with the ENT who explained how the surgery would be done.  Not what a bride wants to hear on her wedding day, how your face is about to be rearranged and where incisions would be made.  Darren and I took a moment in his office and he held me while I cried.  Once we walked out, I put the surgery out of my mind and for the rest of the day, I walked on air and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

That morning, we were incredibly blessed to get the message from our photographer, Andrea, that Sarah from PenWeddings wanted to take part in our day.  For months I had watched her work and swooned.  It was an answer to my hearts desire and what both these women created that day has become a pivotol part of the Testimony this has become regarding love, faith and the power of prayer.   They both have an incredible gift.  The video was far reaching and not only provided us with more prayer than we could have ever imagined – prayer that literally saved my life in the weeks to come.

My surgery went wonderfully.  I had surgery on a Wednesday and to everyone’s amazement, was well enough to go home on Friday.  Unfortunately, the following Tuesday I was readmitted with some complications and on Friday, was taken to the ICU in anticipation of what was expected to happen.  My sodium level dropped to what we’d later be told was an unheard of low of 99.  “Incompatible with life” was used to describe it.  My heart rate dropped to 52 beats per minutes and my blood pressure to 60 over something.  They were waiting for what typically happens when you hit 120-115… Coma, seizures, heart attack, brain swelling… death.

I’m proud to say that – to the doctors astonishment and amazement – none of those things happened.  When my neuorsurgeon said to us last week “I can’t explain why none of those things happened” it felt pretty awesome to look at him and say “I do… we were covered in prayer.”  I’m home and recovering more every day.

This journey has included our love, the love of our friends and family and the love of strangers.  Through the photos, the videos and sharing my thoughts of this journey on Facebook we’ve come to find it has been life changing in the best way not just for us but we are receiving numerous stories and seeing where it has been life changing and impacting to others as well.  Hearts are healing, marriages are mending, people are finding God… finding hope and my relationships with the people around me have strengthened.

If someone told me six months ago what would happen – all of it – and give me the option of going through it again or not.  I’d say yes…. sign me up.  I’ll go through it all again, in a heartbeat.

My name is Annalisa Neal and the best thing that ever happened to me was that life didn’t go the way I planned.

Cinematography: PenWeddings | Photography: Andrea Murphy Photography | Venue: Harwelden Mansion | Florals: Mary Murray’s Flowers | Cake: Merritt’s Bakery

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