On what was supposed to be their wedding night, Lindsey Leaverton and Bri Houk sat in their car on the top floor of a parking garage in north Austin, Texas, and ate pizza, watched the sunset and finished off a Yeti full of champagne. “I put on a private concert for Bri and we danced under the stars,” Leaverton said.
Leaverton, 37, and Houk, 31, met through the dating app HER. Their first date was 24 hours later, on Leaverton’s birthday. “It was the middle of June in 2018. I asked her to an outdoor concert where we drank red wine, had deep conversations, lots of laughter, and a divine connection. I knew that night she was my person,” Houk said.
In that moment, though their original wedding plans had to be canceled, their hopes were far from dashed. They knew it would happen. Soon.
Leaverton says she knew as well. “In this one profound moment, she was talking about something that made her light up, and I just simply could not take my eyes off her,” she said. “I remember having the thought I have had every day since, ‘I’m going to marry this woman.’”
The two say they found in one another the kind of magic that some say only exists in movies. But for Leaverton and Houk, it could not have felt any more real, and in fact, their love would end up making an appearance on the big screen.
Not waiting to miss a moment of magic, both women wanted to propose and be proposed to. And 13 months after meeting, Houk proposed during the 2019 Austin Pride Parade, celebrating with friends, family and colleagues who joined them on a nearby rooftop bar.
Houk had revealed two details that would prove vital when it came for Leaverton to propose: She wanted to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and ride in a hot-air balloon. “I also knew that one of Bri’s favorite experiences is a beautiful sunrise,” Leaverton said. After a year of planning, they flew to New Mexico for the festival and got up hours before sunrise the next day.
“As we headed out to the field to get ready for takeoff, I couldn’t stop shaking and smiling,” Leaverton said. “Then it all went to hell in a hot-air balloon basket, or so I thought.”
The fog was so bad that all flights were grounded. “So, as we climbed out of the basket, I grabbed her hand, gave her a handwritten note that I thought she’d be reading in the air, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.”
The couple planned a small but elegant wedding for April 10 at the Hotel Ella in Austin.
But then everything changed. “We kept hearing more and more about this epidemic that was slowly but fiercely making its way across various parts of the world,” Leaverton said.
Reality began to sink in when the city issued a shelter-in-place order on March 24; it was to be in place until at least April 13.
“April 10, 2020 would not, in fact, be our day,” Leaverton said.
Then about two weeks later the couple learned that Leaverton’s father, Mark Leaverton, had tested positive for COVID-19. Mark Leaverton, 70, was still recovering from emergency bypass surgery six months before, creating even more concern for his well-being and an urgency to have their wedding sooner rather than later.
Cassie Crudo, their wedding planner and the owner of Bride’s Best Friend, came to their rescue, suggesting they marry at Doc’s Drive-In Theater, just outside Austin, in the city of Buda. They instantly fell in love with the idea. Everyone would remain in their cars, food would be served to each car, and the ceremony would be projected onto the big screens.
When Leaverton told her parents about their new wedding plans, it certainly was far from what they expected. Of course, when she came out to them — or rather was outed to them many years earlier — it wasn’t what they had expected, either. “I have learned that Plan A is totally overrated,” Leaverton said. “Usually the magic happens somewhere between Plans B and C, all the way to Plan Z.”
This has been a theme in Leaverton’s life. She once had a rising career as a Christian singer, until she was outed by a woman who had a vendetta, Leaverton said, and suddenly everything she called solid ground was gone. She lost friends, her church, her tour and her label.
There was no Plan B. “I started waiting tables at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, cleaning up breadcrumbs off the floor for less than minimum wage and just tried to be the best damn little waitress I could.”
Then, as luck would have it, everything changed for her on New Year’s Day 2010 when, Leaverton explains, “A bigwig senior VP from Wells Fargo sat in my section and she proceeded to recruit me to come work for her. I remember getting a suit from Stein Mart and leaving the tags on, because I didn’t think I would get the job.”
But Leaverton, who graduated from Texas A&M, did get the job. “I went into banking and kind of worked my way up,” she said. “For almost a year now, I’ve been lucky enough to serve as the director of wealth management services for an investment firm in downtown Austin, and I love it.”
Houk is also no stranger to life’s often blatant disinterest in the plans we make. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Louisiana, her upbringing was far from an easy one. “I am lucky to be where I’m at today,” she said. “I wasn’t necessarily going down the right road and I could have ended up in a completely different place.”
Her father was absent. “We lived in a shelter home at one point while my mom was trying to get on her feet.” Her family later lived in Section 8 housing relying on food stamps.
Houk is grateful to have left that past far behind her. She is now a surgical dental assistant at Jovan Prosthodontics in Austin, although because of COVID-19, she was recently furloughed.
Staying home did allow her time to plan their new wedding — a good thing since they only had 17 days to do it.
On April 28, in a dusty parking lot at Doc’s Drive-In Theatre, more than 80 cars, many festively decorated at the brides’ behest, arrived at dusk filled with pajama-wearing guests, another request from the brides. A small stage was set up and festooned with balloons and a simple backdrop hung behind it. The wedding was shown on two giant movie screens flanking the stage. It was also streamed live on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram Live for friends, family, and curious strangers to watch.
Just before the ceremony, Leaverton approached her parents’ car, keeping a safe 6 feet away. Suddenly she was overcome by tears. “I want to hug you so badly,” she said through the window.
Leaverton’s father was unable to walk her down the aisle. Instead, her 7-year-old twin daughters from a previous marriage, Annabelle and Olivia, did as an instrumental version of “Hallelujah” played.
Houk planned to have her son, 4-year-old Atlas, walk her down the aisle as well. But he was unable to attend as she shares custody with his father and the wedding fell on one of his nights. Instead, her younger sister, Shaye Stephenson, walked with her as their mother, LaDonna Houk watched.
Jen Hatmaker, an author and a longtime friend and mentor to Leaverton, led the ceremony.
“Today is a celebration of love,” said Hatmaker, who is ordained through Christian Global Outreach Ministries. “It’s the great unifier — our one universal truth. No matter who we are, where we’ve come from, what we believe, we know this one thing: Love is what we’re doing right.”
The couple exchanged vows they had written for one another and Houk even shared vows she specifically wrote for Leaverton’s daughters. “I am so proud to be your bonus mom,” she said to the girls through tears.
As part of her vows, Leaverton played a song on her guitar that she wrote for Houk:
“My love, I love you always, in all ways. My love, I choose you this day and all our days.
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No matter what storms may come, you’re the one. Through every season, in every moment,
our love will find a way. In every valley, on top of mountains, our love will remain.”
The crowd honked their horns and hollered throughout the ceremony, much to the brides’ delight. And as the moon rose and the fireflies began their evening dance, Hatmaker pronounced, “It is my great pleasure to present to you for the first time Lindsey and Bri Leaverton.”
There was no formal reception after the ceremony — no cake, no elegant dinner, no long, drawn-out speeches. Instead there were bags of popcorn, plastic cups of champagne and messy pulled pork sandwiches in Styrofoam containers. There were also bubbles and boots and Stetson hats and the brides donned custom-embroidered denim jackets after the nuptials. “Mrs. Leaverton” on one and “Wife of the Party” on the other.
For this couple, it was never really about the wedding itself. “You can lose every detail — the flowers, the catering, the seating chart,” Hatmaker said after the ceremony. “It could all fall away and you’d still be left with the most beautiful parts of all. Lindsey and Bri didn’t lose a thing. It felt like a real sacred space out there in that dusty drive-in.”
June bugs, tailgates, sprawling skies, honking cars and all.
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