Love during wartime
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on October 18, 2004 2:02 PM
William Michael and Sarah Spence went to Sunday school at Rosewood Church of God as they have for the past 25 years. But this Sunday was different.
Sgt. Spence was home from Iraq, where he has been serving with the National Guard, and he had a surprise for his wife of 30 years.
As they stood in the church foyer visiting other church members while waiting for the 11 a.m. service to begin, Michael asked Sarah to renew their wedding vows.
Michael and the entire church knew about it. Sarah was so surprised that she began shaking and didn't stop until later that day.
For 30 years, Michael and Sarah's love has endured many trials -- the most recent one being separated by a war halfway around the world. But on this day, they were back together again, showing family and friends that not even a war could stop their love for each other.
The couple walked teary-eyed into the sanctuary, hand in hand, he in a gray suit and she in a black skirt and red print blouse. He wore a boutonniere, and she wore a corsage.
The church pianist played "Here Comes the Bride" as the couple walked down the aisle and everyone stood.
The Rev. Thomas McLendon officiated at the surprise vow renewal ceremony Sunday at the beginning of the 11 a.m. church service.
He noted that the Spences had "given to each other their hearts and their hands. He asked them to continue their devotion to one another as long as they live."
McLendon reminded them that for 30 years they had been faithful to their pledge to live together in holy matrimony.
When the ceremony was over and the Spences took their seats, McLendon told the congregation that "God instituted family before the church. If the family falls apart, the church falls apart."
Following the morning service, the women of the church served a homemade meal for the couple, complete with a wedding anniversary cake, which was also a total surprise to Sarah.
Michael, a vehicle maintenance soldier with the North Carolina National Guard, got the idea for the surprise while deployed to Iraq. "I came up with it by reading a book ("The Notebook") and its sequel ("The Wedding") while over in Iraq," he said.
"I'm not usually a reader. I was very touched by this story. It got me excited because the people in that book were married the same length of time as me and my wife."
Michael said that in the book, the couple were married on the steps of the courthouse. Later on the male character decided he was going to give his wife the wedding she never had.
"It was real touching," Michael said. "You better have some handkerchiefs if you're going to read that story. It will really touch your heart."
After reading the books, Michael told his fellow soldiers in Iraq that he was going to come home and surprise his wife by rededicating their wedding vows. Their anniversary was Oct. 12.
"I really didn't do much planning till I got home," he said. "First of all, I had to be sure that she was going to be off because she works a lot of weekends. Then I talked to our pastor to see if he'd be willing to do it and when would be a good time to do it.
"I got her some flowers and a wedding cake. And I invited all of our friends to the ceremony."
Michael did all this without telling Sarah.
He said when he finally sprang the surprise on her right before the ceremony, "it almost knocked her off her feet.
"She got kind of suspicious and thought something was going on. But she was surprised and I was glad."
Sarah said she was "shocked, really shocked. He usually doesn't do stuff like this."
She said she started becoming a little suspicious around Wednesday. "He would get calls from church members and rush to call them back," she said.
Michael returned home from Iraq on Oct. 6 after being there since March. He goes back Friday. The 30-year veteran was active duty with the Air Force for four years and is now with the National Guard.
The Spences have attended Rosewood Church of God since 1979. He's originally from Seven Springs and she's from Belfast.
Michael wanted his congregation, friends and neighbors in Wayne County to know that "we're making progress over there. It might be a long period of time, but the people there appreciate what we're doing. I want to be sure everybody knows that. It's hard to tell by watching the news what's going on over there."
"What we're doing over there is worthwhile," he added. "I'd rather fight them on their land and not have them in my back yard. I appreciate everybody remembering us in prayer."
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