Can happiness be written in the stars? Rustin Cassels and Chris Britt believe it can, particularly when the stars get a helping hand from heaven.
Rustin and Chris’ story began in May 2014, when Rustin’s brother, Toby, died unexpectedly. Chris’ brother, Brandon, had been Toby’s college roommate and best friend since third grade, so Chris came home from Atlanta to be with his brother and attend the visitation and funeral. Though Rustin had known Chris most of her life, the two had not seen each other in several years. “Chris made a point to speak to me at the visitation, which I appreciated so much,” recalls Rustin. “When he called to check on me later in the week, I was grateful.”
Two weeks later, Chris made another trip to Columbia — but, this time, it was to visit Rustin. “We went to Terra for dinner and had a wonderful time,” she says. “I knew immediately that he was incredibly special.”
Before long, Rustin discovered just how special. “I was terribly depressed after Toby died and went through some very dark moments where I literally felt helpless,” says Rustin. “Through all of it, Chris lifted me up with support and love. He was always there for me.”
Pat Cassels, Rustin’s mother, was impressed by Chris’ steadfast support of her daughter. “We didn’t know Chris as well as we knew Brandon, but he came to everything in honor of Toby and became a great source of strength for Rustin. When they started dating, they became serious quickly. It was a sweet union of two people during a very tough time.”
With Chris by her side, Rustin slowly worked through her heartache. “We asked God to help us in our journey, and He gave us the love and guidance we needed to move forward,” says Rustin. “During this time, so many of our friends came to Christ and joined us on the path that we ended up forming a Bible study. It was another example of how Toby’s death allowed us to better understand the wisdom behind Romans 8:28, which reads, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’”
As Rustin and Chris became closer, it began to occur to them that, perhaps, Toby had had a hand in bringing them together as well. “I never thought that the worst tragedy in my life would bring me the man I would marry, but it did,” says Rustin. “The comfort and companionship that Chris offered right after we lost Toby turned out to be a strong platform for love. I knew I could always depend on him.”
Rustin and Chris spent the next few years in a whirlwind of love that included new jobs, Chris moving back to Columbia from Atlanta, and slowly the family beginning to find bits of light in the darkness left by Toby’s death. Throughout it all, they continued to look to God for guidance.
A November morning in 2019 dawned like any other, but it turned out to be a day that would change Rustin and Chris’ lives forever. “Chris was going to propose, and he wanted to do it at the lake, where Tobin and I live,” says Pat. “I knew Rustin would want to look cute in the photos, so we told her that we were going out to dinner. As I pretended not to be able to get it together to leave, I suggested they take a boat ride and told them I’d be ready when they returned.”
As Rustin and Chris headed towards the lake, Pat and Tobin, Rustin’s father, quickly gathered the 30 or so family members on hand to celebrate the happy occasion and, once the boat was out of sight, led the group to the dock to wait for the couple to return. Rustin, who had been secretly wondering when Chris would propose, didn’t think anything was strange about the boat ride … at least until Chris fell uncharacteristically silent after he cut the engine to the boat off. “I turned around and he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him,” she says. “Before I knew it, we were almost back to my parents’ dock, where everyone was yelling and holding sparklers. It was wonderful!”
Eager to move to the next stage of their relationship, Rustin and Chris decided to marry quickly. The large, festive gathering would take place at Shandon Baptist Church and include their wide circle of friends and large families.
Like many brides, Rustin turned to the internet to gather ideas for decor, food, and other details of the upcoming event. But it wasn’t long before she began to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the choices. Fortunately, Rustin had support from two good friends, Kendall Gibson, her maid of honor and Bailey Wolfe, her matron of honor. Kendall suggested that instead of trying to recreate someone else’s ideas, she should go with her own. “Getting engaged is a dream, but planning a wedding is totally overwhelming,” Kendall says with a laugh. “It got a lot easier when we realized that telling their love story was the only thing that mattered.”
Within a few days, the duo had not only created a list of objectives but had also sketched out ideas about how to implement them. First on the list was Chris. Rustin wanted to be sure that their wedding reflected not just her, but Chris as well. Toby, whom Rustin still misses every day, also needed to have a place at the wedding as did the couple’s growing relationship to God. Rustin and Chris also wanted, somehow, to include the affirming words they whispered to each other many times a day: ‘I love you to the moon and back.’
“I knew that was going to be a tough one,” says Rustin. “We didn’t want to actually have it as a quote anywhere but instead as a subtle reminder to each other.” Rustin had also chosen her colors (pink for her; blue for Toby), gathered a list of 60 or so flowers, and decided that she also wanted to highlight some of the things she and Chris loved best about Columbia.
Ideas committed to paper, Rustin and Pat met with Sara Eaves, a lead event planner with Cricket Newman Designs. “From day one, I was so impressed with Rustin’s organization, creativity, and enthusiasm,” says Sara. “I was so glad that she brought her sketches too. It helped us visualize exactly what she was looking for so we could bring it to life. She was a joy to work with.”
As the CND team began their creative process, Rustin and Kendall continued with theirs. One of their first big successes was finding Jessica Peddicord, a Dallas-based artist who creates custom watercolor crests for couples. Using fanciful icons and decorated with flowers and a stylized version of the couple’s monogram, the crests are a unique and beautiful pictographic of the couple’s history. Rustin also worked with Jessica to paint a watercolor map of Columbia that depicted some of the couple’s favorite places around town as well as the location of various wedding events. Both pieces were filled with such gorgeous imagery that many of the individual icons were used as artwork on some of the personalized pieces used at the wedding and reception.
Though Toby’s absence would be heartbreaking for the family, Rustin included him in many of the loving details she created for friends, family members, and herself. One was a set of handkerchiefs she gave her parents prior to the ceremony, which had been embroidered in Toby’s handwriting with excerpts from letters he’d written to each of them. She also had her bouquet wrapped in a ribbon from which hung a locket with his photograph and, for her something blue, had a message to him inscribed in blue on the hem of her gown. Groomsmen sported suspenders — a look Toby had loved — as well as custom pocket squares embroidered with Toby’s monogram. “She poured her heart and soul into so many of the details,” says Pat.
Everything seemed to be going as planned until early spring 2020, when COVID-19 began its deadly spread through South Carolina. Assuming, as most people did at the time, that the pandemic would be under control in a few months, the couple made the tough decision to postpone the wedding until August. But as the summer continued and the crisis grew, the couple was again forced to change their plans, this time cutting the guest list down to just family and closest friends. “We thought about postponing again, but Rustin and Chris were ready to start their lives,” says Pat. “We looked at so many options but finally realized that the best plan would be to hold a much, much smaller wedding.”
While most of the vendors were able to accommodate the date change, the Cassels family realized that the sanctuary at Shandon Baptist was simply too large to hold a small, intimate wedding. Undaunted by the challenge, the team at CND turned the problem on its head and transformed Forest Lake Club’s sunny Lakeview Room into a flower-filled chapel highlighted by a gorgeous cross softened with roses in ivory and pale pink, with pale blue accents and silvery green vines. “We ended up saying our vows before God and those who mean the most to us,” says Rustin. “It was incredibly special.”
Unfortunately, one of the people most important to Rustin, her grandfather, was, due to COVID, unable to attend the festivities. Not wanting to marry without seeing her grandfather, Rustin set up a private first look. Bill Cassels, ever the gentleman, showed up for the five-minute event dressed to the nines in his white dinner jacket.
To keep the now-intimate wedding from being overwhelmed by Forest Lake’s expansive ballroom, Sara and Cricket Newman Designs created distinct seating areas using sofas, upholstered chairs, and tables to break up the space. Tall arrangements, lush with garden roses, blue delphinium, and eucalyptus gave the room a garden-like atmosphere, as did a hedge of white hydrangeas that spilled over the stage.
Throughout the wedding weekend, tiny details made the wedding incredibly personal. Hung over the cake was a golden fingernail moon, which had been inscribed with the words, “To the moon and back.” On the dance floor, the couple shared their first dance atop a large decal of their intertwined initials. Framed signs describing the evening’s special cocktails, which were named for Rustin and Chris’ dogs, featured watercolor images of the two much-loved pups. Swizzle sticks, pillows, and koozies featuring the couple’s crest were available in addition to a neon sign announcing the Britts and, in a nod to COVID, custom masks.
As the evening began to wind down, Rustin and Chris realized that though they hadn’t had the wedding they’d originally wanted, they wouldn’t change a thing about the one they’d had. “We’d originally planned to have a post-COVID reception in 2021 where we could celebrate with those we’d been forced not to invite,” says Rustin. “In the end, we realized that the weekend had been so perfect, we didn’t need to have another event. What we’d had was more than we could have ever imagined.”