When Keshia Patterson approached her husband Jarrod with the idea to renew their vows for their 15-year anniversary, he was not really feeling the idea. "Initially, I was a little skeptical because I thought that vow renewals generally happened at year 20 or 25," said Jarrod. "This was my first time hearing of doing a 15-year vow renewal. But as time went by, the idea grew on me and I began looking forward to the ceremony."
Several people questioned why they chose to have such a big celebration at the 15-year milestone of their marriage but the couple was convicted of the importance of living in the moment. "I choose to live and love today," was Keshia's response to the inquiring minds. "So often we invest in other things, but not in our relationships. I wanted Jarrod to understand the extent to which I would go to show him how much he means to me. I also wanted others who are married and those who want to be married one day to see that marriage is worth the investment of a couple's time and effort. It's important to be purposeful about marriage," Keshia said.
And the reason investing in their relationship comes easy for them now is because they have endured some tough times and value their unity above everything.
"One major hardship that we have had to overcome was the loss of our home. Three years after we got married, we were blessed to be able to purchase our first home. We were proud of that accomplishment. We began making memories, including bringing our newborn twin boys home there, followed by our third son, not to mention, family dinners, birthday parties, game nights and bar-b-ques," said Jarrod.
The challenges that come with having a growing family became overwhelming," recalled Jarrod. "And after several failed attempts to resolve the situation, we ultimately had to walk away from our first major accomplishment, the center of all of our family life, and the source of many memories. It hurt. At a different point in time, it probably would have broken us."
"We prayed and prayed and prayed that a miracle would happen and that we could stay in our family home. But over the course of the days, weeks, and months of this trial, our prayers further cemented our faith in the fact that God had us. The proof that He had us was that God had already provided a place for us to move to."
Even in face of a trial so great, the couple experienced indescribable peace; and what was intended to break them, only made them stronger.
"There was no pointing the fingers, no sadness, no real disappointment," said Jarrod. "Because of the foundation we built at the very beginning of our relationship, this experience only brought us closer together as a couple, not only spiritually but emotionally. We really adopted a “us (and God) against the world” attitude. We learned that there was a silver lining in the this loss. because it caused us to lean on God to undergird every aspect of our marriage and family life. We have come to understand that you have to lose some things in this life in order to understand what your relationship is made of. This whole experience actually brought us together like never before and it is our hope and prayer that our transparency can be a blessing to someone else’s marriage."
Renewing their Vows
On Saturday, July 29, at 2:00 p.m., Keshia, and her three young sons gathered in the lobby of First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, AL. Keshia peeked through the doors anxiously to make sure that everything was ready for her entrance. She was radiant in her custom African gown, made of authentic Ankara cloth, accented by a beautiful birdcage veil. Her sons were dapper in their blazers, slacks and matching Ankara cloth bowties.
As she peered into the sanctuary, she saw a sea of bright colors that showed a united village. Not only was the bride donning an African dress, but the couple asked their guests to dress in African garb as a show of support.
"I wanted to experience what I already to knew to be true," explained Keshia. "As African Americans, we place a high standard on marriage. So I decided to contact everyone in my village and invite them to the celebration of life and love. Lately, my husband has been on an African movie kick. And from some of the movies and other African vlogs, we saw Africa as such a bright and colorful place and I wanted to incorporate that in our day."
Now that everything was set, Keshia was settled and ready to switch back into bridal mode. She stepped back into the lobby, took a deep breath and released her son's hands, as they prepared to precede her down the aisle. She was ready to say "I do" again.
The couple chose the song "This is Why I Love You" by Major as the song Keshia would walk down to. When it began to play, Jarrod and the pastor walked out onto the stage. The boys walked in, still holding hands and took their seats with their grandparents.
Now it was time for the beautiful bride to walk in. As she crossed into the sanctuary, she lit up the room. Her smile as she gazed into her husbands eyes quickly turned into happy tears as she made her way to her man.
"I was thinking this is what true love is all about," said Keshia when she reflected on the emotions that surfaced as she walked down the aisle. "I have such an amazing man that loves me. He has never made me feel anything less than his best friend. My husband has taught me how to love unselfishly, and he makes me his priority. I was thinking how honored I am to be loved by him. He is living up to everything he promised my parents he would do when he asked for my hand in marriage the first time.
Jarrod couldn't take his eyes off of his bride as she walked toward him and later admitted that he was holding back the tears.
"Seeing Keshia walk down the aisle with our children was my favorite memory from the day," said Jarrod. "It brought back memories from our original wedding day when I stood in the front of the church and watched her walk down the aisle the first time, realizing that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. The same feelings that I experienced that day came rushing back. I was awed at how beautiful she looked. In my mind, I replayed scenes of her evolution from friend to girlfriend to to wife to lover to mother. It was at that point that I got caught up in the emotion of the moment and I started to tear up. If I had not caught myself, I would have started crying like a baby. The only explanation for that almost-emotional outburst is that I love her so much!"
Jarrod escorted his bride up to the podium. Their pastor, Debleaire Snell, affirmed and encouraged them in a moving homily and then the couple exchanged vows they had written to each other.
Keshia read her vows first, after an emotional pause, she was able to continue to share her promises with Jarrod. Soon she took everybody from crying to laughing when she vowed to "keep the Chicago-side of Keshia on stand-by when needed."
After the prayer, the pastor told Jarrod to salute his bride. Jarrod gave Keshia a modest peck on the lips and was done but Pastor Snell, said, "Jarrod, I think you need to do that again!" Everyone cheered and laughed as Jarrod and Keshia kissed again!
In keeping with African tradition, the couple jumped the broom at the end of the ceremony. Jumping the broom was used as a marriage ceremony in the 18th and 19th century American South among some slave populations. It served as an alternative to courthouse or church weddings, which were prohibited by race-based laws and customs until the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution enforced blacks' rights as citizens [source: Washington, Sambol-Tosco].
After the ceremony, the guests went to the reception hall, while Keshia put on her second gown, a custom dress made by Canadian-based African designer, Ofurre. The matching Ankara cloth headwrap matched the dress perfectly and Jarrod and the boys had bowties and a lapel pin to match Keshia's gown.
It was very important to Jarrod and Keshia that we capture images of the entire family to show that the boys were present to witness this recommitment of their mom and dad. "I want my children to understand that love is a choice, not a feeling," said Keshia. "I choose to be in love with my husband and I wanted to show them what black love looks like."
After the photos with the boys, I got to spend time just capturing Jarrod and Keshia. Keshia is the jokester and Jarrod is more laid back, but they complement each other perfectly! It took Jarrod a little longer to warm up in front of the camera but as soon as he got his arms around his bride, we got to witness some magic.
A beautifully decorated community table with seats for 60 people stood in the middle of the hall. There seemed to be a genuine bond between the couple and each person present.
"I prayed over my guest list," said Keshia. "The people that were at the ceremony were not there by chance. I believe prayer changes things in any situation. Most of my guests, at some point in my marriage, have prayed with me or for me, or I have prayed for and spoken positive words into their marriages or lives at some point in time."
Having made it to 15 years of marriage is truly beating the odds and this couple knows that without their village, this would not have been possible.
"Every couple needs people in their lives that can serve as support system to help their marriage to succeed. I know that this an overused phrase, but it’s true...No man...no couple is an island," Jarrod said. "Marriage is a serious commitment. Married couples need to know that they are not alone in this life journey. It meant a lot to see the faces of not only family but also friends, co-workers, close acquaintances who love and support us."
Congratulations to Jarrod and Keshia! Your story is an inspiration. Wishing you many more years of love and happiness!
Photography by: Gianna Snell & Kimberlie Langford