Listen to “Labor and Grace”:
When Emily first asked me to sing at her wedding in August of 2010, I struggled to find a song. And of course, my love for songwriting led me to consider writing one for them instead. I wasn’t sure if she would go for that, so I asked her, and she was fine with the idea. Due to the busy wedding planning stress we were both under at the time, we never really had a chance to sit down and talk face-to-face about she and her now-husband, John’s, relationship, so I was forced to “wing it”. Lyrics for the first part of the song came from how they met and their proposal story, both detailed on their wedding website.
I’ve known Emily for almost a decade. When we first met, it was easy to see how full of life she is. Her smile will light up a room, and as soon as she starts talking, the party officially begins. The couple met in 2005 through mutual friends, and, though it’s not directly stated on their website, I’m willing to bet John instantly saw the same fire in Emily’s eyes that I had known for four years at that point. After striking up a conversation, He worked up the nerve to ask her out.
Her hair was strawberry blonde
And when it caught the light it was almost as bright as the fire in her eyes.
He knew it wouldn’t be long
Till his heart would take flight and everything would be right with her by his side.
According to their website, “John soon realized Emily could easily match his sense of humor.” (Emily was my roommate for three years in college, so I am well aware of her amazing and unique sense of humor. She is certainly blessed to have found someone who can match it.) He proposed to her in December of 2009 with two dozen roses and a ten-minute video collage of photographs of them with their friends and family over the years, that he had put together on his computer. “Towards the video’s end, the words ‘will you be my wife’ appeared [on the screen]and John was down on one knee.”
Baby your smile matches my laugh;
We look so happy in this photograph.
I’m down on one knee; don’t you agree
That you and me forever should be?
I wrote the first part of the song, and then I got stuck. Beyond how they met, and how he proposed, their website didn’t say much else, and I hadn’t had the pleasure of spending much time with them after we had graduated from college, so I didn’t know much about their relationship. I was also in the middle of planning my own wedding, however, so I had many thoughts running through my head about marriage and what it’s supposed to look like. I knew from my own relationship with Jereme that it gets better every day, as you learn more about each other and your level of respect and love for each other grows deeper. It ages well, just like fine wine.
Our story has only begun,
And I know that we’ll find that like a good wine, this will only get better with time.
A few weeks before I wrote the song, my husband, Jereme, and I had been at a pre-marital counseling session, during which, the couple who was counseling us – Rich and Jenny Robles – prayed for us. At the end of the prayer, Rich said he got the sense that I was afraid of screwing things up and that I felt like I had to do all that I could to make sure this relationship and marriage were perfect in every way. Essentially, I was laboring too hard, and I needed to rest in the comfort of God’s grace. No matter what happens, He has my back. After I wrote the first part of the song, I prayed and asked God to tell me whatever he wanted to tell me about Emily and John or about marriage in general. A few minutes later, I randomly got the urge to look up the meaning behind their names, and what I discovered sent chills down my spine ~ you know, the good kind, the kind that give you goosebumps all over. “Emily” means “to strive, or to labor.” And “John” means “one who is gracious.” This discovery took me back to what Rich had said during our counseling session and I realized my prayer had been answered…
This is a place where all things are beautiful
And in all her labor, his grace is enough,
Where the dirtiest feet walk down bright golden streets
And He washes them clean with his love.
I was so thrilled with that set of lyrics that I think the adrenaline rush made the rest of the song come easy. I knew it would be performed during the lighting of the unity candle at their ceremony, and the second and final verse reflect the symbolism behind this simple wedding tradition.
What once was two now becomes one.
Our light will shine as bright as the sun.
Now we can see; together we’re free,
You and me, forever will be.
Thank you, John and Emily, for giving me the opportunity to write and sing this song at your wedding. The process taught me all about labor and grace and their place in a healthy marriage, and my prayer for you is that your relationship will embody these lyrics, til death do you part.