Sharing a special moment

  • By Katya Yefimova Herald Writer
  • Sunday, October 23, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

EVERETT — Bridesmaids surrounded Kinder Holdaway when she appeared in her wedding gown Saturday afternoon.

One by one, they came up to hug the bride.

They formed quite a line, since there were about 30 of them.

Most of the women belong to Eagle Wings Ministries that serves people with developmental disabilities. After one of them asked to be a bridesmaid, Holdaway, who is Eagle Wings’ director, invited all of the women and men served by the ministry to be in her wedding party.

“Why wouldn’t a bride want people in her wedding who are examples of love, patience and compassion,” she said.

Because of their disabilities and health problems, most of them will never get married or be in a wedding party. She didn’t want them to miss out on this experience.

The bride’s chamber at the new Life Foursquare Church in Everett was full of chaos and excitement as bridesmaids complimented each other on their red-hued dresses. After each woman arrived, she was ushered in to get her hair styled and makeup skillfully applied by volunteers.

Friends Sarah Archer, 29, and Misty Shaw, 22, both of Marysville, waited with their bouquets in hand.

“We’ve never been bridesmaids. We wanted this experience,” Archer said.

The groom, Jim Smoots, 48, was getting ready in another chamber with two dozen groomsmen.

Elaine Ellis, 50, was the maid of honor. She is Holdaway’s cousin and came for the wedding from San Jose. She teared up as she remembered the day Holdaway asked her to fill the role:

“She said: ‘I want you to be standing next to me’.”

Ellis had to squeeze through the crowd to embrace the bride.

“I really want you to be happy,” she whispered to Holdaway.

Holdaway, 40, started volunteering with Eagle Wings eight years ago, a month after the death of her 11-year-old daughter, Kayla.

When Kayla was born, doctors started using a word Holdaway never heard before — “arthrogryposis.” The term describes a number of rare conditions characterized by stiff joints and abnormally developed muscles.

Every joint in Kayla’s body was affected. She could not develop muscles or move her limbs. That meant Holdaway and her husband at the time would need to feed Kayla through a special tube and care for her every minute of every day.

So began a life of surgeries, therapy and uncertain prognoses. Despite her uncooperative body, Kayla was growing up to be a spunky and outgoing girl who was intelligent beyond her years.

She taught Holdaway that normal doesn’t exist, and that love is the most precious gift.

“I watched people make fun of her, but I also watched people in the community rally around her,” she said.

Kayla died in 2003 at Seattle Children’s Hospital from surgery complications.

Holdaway’s marriage crumbled after her daughter’s death.

Just a few weeks later, Henk Wapstra, the retiring founder of Eagle Wings, approached Holdaway and asked her to help with an event. She agreed, hoping it would help her heal.

She never left the organization.

Many of the people Eagle Wings serves can’t understand the complexity of the world the rest of us have to navigate every day. But they feel deeply and without reprieve.

“People with disabilities, they know how to love, and they know how to forgive, and they know how to suffer,” Holdaway said. “They were my teachers.”

Holdaway met Smoots in December 2008 when she was speaking about Eagle Wings at his church, The Father’s House in Granite Falls.

He thought it was emotional and heartfelt.

“She believes wholeheartedly in her mission,” he said. “I could see that her experiences with her daughter carried over into her work.”

Smoots teaches physical education at Arlington High School and coaches football and wrestling.

After her presentation that day, the two discovered that they grew up in the same church in Monroe and their families knew each other. They both loved God. They both had been married before and were now raising teenage children alone.

He liked her sense of humor, sincerity and love for her family. Smoots’ son, Zachary, 18, and daughter, Taylor, 16, and Holdaway’s son, Connor, 16, got along so easily.

Their first date was on Valentine’s Day.

Last Christmas, Smoots drove Holdaway and the kids to see the waterfall in Granite Falls after church. He got on one knee and took out a tiny box with a red bow.

She said “yes.”

When Eagle Wings member Heather Anderson found out about Holdaway’s engagement, she asked if she could be a bridesmaid.

People with developmental disabilities often don’t have social filters and often speak their mind.

It wasn’t a difficult decision.

At Eagle Wings’ annual Valentine’s Day dinner, Holdaway announced her engagement and asked who wanted to be in the wedding. Hands shot up all over the room. As she walked around with a clipboard, signing up bridesmaids and groomsmen, Holdaway realized she was giving people a special kind of dignity.

“I know them,” she later wrote in a letter. “They have been let down. They have been disappointed. … They do without …”

No one had to be disappointed on Saturday.

Kenny Miller, 52, of Everett, was one of the groomsmen. He looked sharp in a suit and tie matching the groom’s. He didn’t mind that guests laughed when he rushed to kiss and hug the bride before she even stepped down from the stage.

“It was fun being in a wedding, not at a wedding,” he said. “It was great.”

Michelle King, 19, was a flower girl.

“She was thrilled to be asked,” said her father, Tom. “It’s special to her. Chances are, with her condition she’ll never get married. There’s a lot she’ll miss out on in life.”

King lives with Prader-Willi syndrome, which causes appetite and weight problems, low muscle tone and a host of other issues.

That didn’t define King, dressed in a floor-length white dress and a sparkly tiara. She carried herself with poise as she threw rose petals along the aisle Saturday.

Holdaway’s 5-year-old granddaughter, Genesis, also was a flower girl.

Smoots and the kids supported Holdaway’s decision.

The couple wanted to move in together before the start of the school year. To honor their strict Christian backgrounds, they held a small ceremony in the summer before moving to a home in Arlington.

But the real wedding, the perfect wedding every bride dreams of, was going to be this one.

“I know that someone will have a meltdown and someone will drool, and that’s OK,” she said last week. “Someone will know that they are loved because they weren’t shushed or left at home for the big occasion.”

Holdaway came to New Life Foursquare Church in Everett to ask if the church would let her use the space.

Rick Sawczuk, the outreach pastor, thought this would be a unique way to serve the community they don’t often get to see. The church already had a class for children with disabilities to allow their parents to attend worship or go out for coffee.

“It’s good for our congregation to be exposed to different people. When something is unknown, it’s a little intimidating,” Sawczuk said. “As I got to know these families, I realized their kids are normal. They want to sing, they want to play.”

With help from church members, people in the community and donations from local businesses, New Life took care of food, decorations, photography, music for the reception, and pretty much every other wedding worry a bride can think of.

Aimee Dunbar of Everett coordinated the event. The nurse has worked with children who require constant care and knows how much they want to feel loved and to belong.

Just before 4 o’clock, Dunbar walked into the bridesmaids’ room and called the women to line up. One of the volunteers issued an order: No crying. It’s just like a party, and we go to a party to have fun.

When everyone gathered, they posed on the stairs for a group photo with Holdaway.

More than 200 guests were seated in the chapel when the wedding party made their entrance. Many more of Holdaway’s friends from Eagle Wings were in the audience.

Two dozen groomsmen came through another doorway. Someone shouted, “I’ve never seen so many beautiful girls in my life.”

All heads turned when Wapstra, the Eagle Wings founder, walked Holdaway down the aisle.

He performed the ceremony.

“I believe this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “This afternoon God must be pleased, not only because of love between Kinder and Jim, but also because of their love for these beautiful bridesmaids and groomsmen.”

The audience erupted in cheers and applause when Wapstra pronounced the couple husband and wife.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452,

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