Saturday, in a small church in north Omaha, a caring community of family, friends and strangers gave a Texas couple a wedding beyond their dreams and a future filled with hope.
LaToya Sharp and La'Roderick Bullock didn't see it coming. But then, weddings never go exactly as planned.
The bridal couple's life has been filled with challenges and uncertainty since the July 13, 2011, arrival of their son, Tadrian, who was born with severe medical problems.
The family came to Omaha from the Houston area in October 2011 to seek specialized treatment for Tadrian at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and moved into the Ronald McDonald House for families of ailing children. In February, the infant had a triple organ transplant.
The demands of his illness left little time or energy for his mother to think about her future, let alone plan a wedding.
Sometime during the summer, La'Roderick proposed. “He threw it out there,” the bride said, “but I wasn't thinking about 'us.' I was consumed with our son.”
La'Roderick didn't push. They joined a church, and one day they just decided it was time to tie the knot.
“They have overcome tremendous obstacles to get to this point,” the Rev. Robert J. Hall said minutes before the start of Saturday's ceremony at Cathedral of Love Church of God in Christ. “They have been greatly impacted by their son's medical condition. We have been there to support them. And I think it has given them a new ray of hope on life in general.”
Hospital staffer Stephanie Johnson encouraged LaToya and La'Roderick to attend services at her church. The congregation, LaToya said, “embraced us like family. The atmosphere is so loving. Pastor Hall taught us how to be stronger parents for our son. I don't think I'll ever find another church quite like this one.”
The bride had arranged to have only a few of the customary frills for her nuptials. Things changed when a staffer at the Ronald McDonald House realized just how minimal the celebration was going to be and set out to shower a little love on the situation.
Within 24 hours, Lindsey Rai Ehlers, development director at the Ronald McDonald House, and friend Jennifer Tyler, an events coordinator for The World-Herald, had offers to help from more than a dozen local bridal professionals.
“I had to break the news to her in small doses,” said Ehlers, who served as a liaison between the couple and those who responded to a midweek email asking for donated goods and services.
“It was serendipitous,'' Ehlers said.
With the couple's OK, Tyler sent an email to The World-Herald's Wedding Essentials magazine advertisers asking for “any help you might be able to provide.” Replies with offers for donated goods and services — from flowers to photos, cake and music — popped into her inbox within minutes. Twenty-four hours later, a complete wedding had been planned.
“We didn't want to undo anything the bride had already arranged,” Tyler said. “We just wanted to supplement what was in place. It was wonderful seeing the community welcome the couple in this way.”
After the 3 p.m. ceremony, guests gathered at the Ronald McDonald House for a ham dinner prepared by the Hospitality Committee of Cathedral of Love.
Reflecting on the day, LaToya said: “In Houston, one door after another closed on us and on our son. We came here and all those closed doors opened. ... We've experienced one blessing after another.”
She was able to transfer to a new job with the Lowe's store at 78th and Dodge Streets, not far from UNMC, where her son has been a patient in the fifth-floor pediatric intensive care unit.
La'Roderick landed a job with Pepsi-Cola Co. in Omaha. Tadrian is showing improvement, and the family is cautiously optimistic.
“I feel like we were saved,” the bride said, her voice cracking.