Two weeks ago, about 50 guests stood on the beach in Avalon, N.J., to witness Bryan Rowley and Temecia Stone get married.
Cherry Hill, N.J., Stake President Ahmad S. Corbitt officiated in a simple ceremony. The Rowleys asked that my wife, Keala, and I stand with them as ring bearers. We were deeply honored. Ten-year-old Sage Rowley served as a flower girl and 5-year-old Rogan Stone stood next to his mother, when he wasn't playing in the sand, to give her away.
Bryan Rowley, of course, is the former Utah All-American who still holds most of the Utes' receiving records. After college, he drifted for a decade or so from his childhood faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We were connected about six years ago when he moved into our LDS ward because by happenstance, his ex-wife grew up in our area and she had returned to her New Jersey home with their daughter Sage after they divorced. His ex-wife's mother had grown up in New Jersey.
Bryan followed her east because he wanted to stay close to Sage. It was our mutual friend, Chad Lewis, who connected us. Slowly, over time, through a multi-pronged effort of many, many people, Bryan returned to activity in the church.
A few years ago, mutual friends introduced Bryan to Temecia Stone, an executive with the liquor company Jim Beam, who lived in Harrisburg, Pa., and also was recently divorced. They dated off and on for awhile, then slowly their relationship deepened and for the past year, they became exclusive. In November, Bryan baptized Temecia, and a week later, Temecia asked me to confirm her, with Bryan at my side.
As their relationship developed, it became increasingly obvious to each how vital the other was. Their divorces were difficult and left them scarred. Bryan lived in New Jersey to be closer to his daughter, Sage, and Temecia lived three hours away in Harrisburg so her ex-husband had access to their son, Rogan. How would they work these issues out?
I encouraged Bryan and Temecia to marry civilly while they prepared and waited for the requisite time for Temecia to be LDS before they could be sealed. If they truly loved each other, they would draw more power from each other in facing their challenges together rather than alone.
The Lord's hand in Bryan's return to church activity is best illustrated in our initial meeting. We had had several conversations on the phone before I asked Bryan to meet me at the stake center on a night that I was chaperoning a youth dance. When he walked in, he wore loose jeans and a long, oversized coat, his head was basically shaven, he sported a goatee and reeked of cigarette smoke. He looked a little menacing. I'm around menacing-looking pro athletes every day in my job so I wasn't really intimidated. So I asked him to remove his coat and help me chaperone and when the dance was over, to join a group of us putting away tables and chairs — the normal routine that happens at every youth dance.
Unbeknownst to me, Bryan had a very visceral reaction as we folded and put away those metal church chairs with the stake or ward name stamped on the back. Apparently, since childhood, Bryan had grown up helping his father, Doug, put away chairs at every ward function or pot luck. It was one of those things that Doug Rowley insisted he and his son do together, regardless of how many or how few stayed to help. Their Orem ward could always count on Doug and Bryan Rowley to stay after activities to put away chairs.
The sight and sounds that Bryan experienced this particular night, of fathers and their sons working side-by-side, folding and stacking chairs, had an impact on Bryan Rowley. It was unexpected. When he returned home that night, he decided he'd been away from his faith long enough. He was divorced. He was confused. He was broke and living far from home. He was lonely. Truly a prodigal son.
Over time, Bryan had created a network of friends in our LDS ward that included his current and former bishop and various families throughout our stake.
Bryan and Temecia's wedding was evidence of the many people that love them. President Corbitt officiated. The president of the Cape May Branch, Matt McCallum, and his wife, Kristen, offered their home and backyard for the reception. Relief Society sisters from several wards helped with the food; another sister, Candy McNaughton, photographed the wedding and reception; a well-to-do family in the stake lent their beautifully appointed pool house for the Rowleys to stay in as they honeymooned for a few days.
Sadly, Temecia's father, Marlin Flinchbaugh, was the only parent who attended. Both of Bryan and Temecia's mothers were too frail to travel and Doug Rowley passed away a few years ago.
But Betty Lou Rowley sent the following email to Candy McNaughton, the wedding photographer, after McNaughton sent photos of the wedding to Bryan's dear mother.
"How very much I appreciate all of you … It touches my heart the great kindness you have shown Bryan and Sage and now Temecia and Rogan. Our Heavenly Father has heard the pleas of my heart and answered them through the outstanding hands and generous members of the Church in New Jersey. I thank you for your love and support to give them a beautiful day filled with special memories of their marriage celebration. Thank you for the pictures."
Thank you, Doug and Betty Lou, for raising such a wonderful son. We have all been blessed by our association with Bryan and Sage and now Temecia and Rogan.
We answer each other's prayers.