BAXTER -- A box of pink tissues was placed beneath a chair Friday morning in anticipation of fresh tears by late afternoon.
For the Sweet and Owens families of Brainerd the anticipated tears were a combination of a large helping of joy and a hint of sadness. In between was a whirlwind of planning as a Valentine's Day wedding was moved up to the day after Christmas. At Friday's early morning rehearsal, the families were trying to concentrate on the event at hand and not think of the groom's impending return to Iraq.
"I'm trying not to think about that -- just focus on the day," said bride Jennifer Sweet.
Her sentiments were echoed by the groom, Dan Owens. "A little nerve-racking," he said of the day. "(I'm) just trying to think about today and nothing else."
The day began by 6 a.m. for Sweet and Owens. Time was compressed with the rehearsal, a brunch, wedding photos and then the wedding itself at 5 p.m. at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter. The 21-year-olds began dating about 4 1/2 years ago and have been engaged for two years.
With luck and a lot of helping hands, the wedding was pulled together in about three weeks time in a month that already boasted a full calendar. Besides the wedding, there was Christmas and the bride graduated from college. For the parents -- Tim and Jody Sweet and Steve and Kathy Owens, all of Brainerd -- the event has the usual emotions plus a few more.
"It was amazing how it worked," Kathy Owens said after the morning wedding rehearsal. "It's just been a real blessing to see how it's all come together."
Steve Owens said it is hard to have his son go back to Iraq. "But he's a Marine," he said.
Dan Owens will return to San Diego on Saturday. The newlyweds will have temporary housing. Then Owens, who has already served six months in Iraq, expects to be shipped back there in February for another six to 18 months.
"She wanted to be married before he left," Jody Sweet said of her daughter.
To accomplish that meant an attention to detail and extra help from many different areas. Everything seemed to fall into place. Dresses arrived in time. People pitched in to make the event happen. The pastor, who was on vacation, was in town and willing to perform the ceremony. The cakemaker was willing to bake the wedding confection on the day after Christmas. Lakes Printing reprinted wedding invitations.
Guests were asked to reply by phone or e-mail. Most, up to 211, of the original 250 to 260 guests were able to attend.
Church decorations of green boughs, red ribbons, red poinsettias and the Christmas tree provided a fitting backdrop for the red and ivory colors chosen for the original Valentine's Day wedding. And the moment had its own connections as the two were engaged during the Christmas season two years ago.
"Everything is falling together," Jody Sweet said in the days before the wedding. "We can do this. I just keep telling myself we can do this."
Jennifer Sweet, a Brainerd High School graduate who turned 21 Nov. 1, graduated from Concordia College with a double major in psychology and child and family studies.
"She made it through college in 2 1/2 years," her mother said. "A very determined child, very on task, very focused. ... She knows what she wants."
That focus helped transform the wedding plan.
Dan Owens, 21, graduated from Lake Region Christian School in 2001. He joined the Marines and signed up for five years. The couple planned to move back to the area. Owens wants a career as a police officer. Jennifer has plans to open her own office practice.
"It's been busy, emotional," Jody Sweet said, noting the holiday and wedding have the undercurrent of Dan Owens' departure to a war zone. "That's the main thing. I worry about that a lot. I just wish they did not have to start their life together with him gone.
"... They are wonderful kids and they know what they want and they will do fine. They will be married for a long time, I know that."
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