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Laura Hunt

A Celebration of Love

Debby & Jeff Hinman
Photography: Kamran Zohoori

“The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle;
Why not I with thine?”
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley ~

For two years, we considered the idea of renewing our wedding vows. As we thought about what we wanted to say and do, a vision for this renewal ceremony began to unfold. By the early spring of 2002, we had decided that this was something we definitely wanted to do, and so, on June 21, 2003, we

Debby and Jeff walk to the ceremony


 renew their vows.

celebrated our twenty-year wedding anniversary with a reaffirmation of our vows. But there’s much more to this love story than a decision and then a ceremony – let’s review what led us to this milestone.

We met in the fall of 1980 in Connecticut, when Jeff was in his final years of undergraduate school in industrial design and I was beginning graduate study in cellular immunology. Our respective areas of academic and professional interest are pretty far apart - and in this case, opposites did, and do, attract. Our differences are equally evident in our personalities and general approach to life. Jeff is quiet and contemplative, whereas I have been described as exuberant and outspoken. Fortunately for us, our many differences have allowed each of us to see life in new ways. Over the years, we have grown to depend on each other’s strengths and have found that this often provides the right mix of compassion, wisdom, humor, and perspective so necessary in facing and embracing life’s challenges.

Jeff and I began as good friends, and over the course of two years, grew to be best friends. Realizing that we couldn’t envision ourselves spending the rest of our lives with anyone but each other, we decided to marry in June of 1983.

Of important note is that Jeff decided to marry me knowing that I had a serious, debilitating disease.

When I met Jeff, I’d had rheumatoid arthritis for 25 years. In the fall of 1982, my rheumatologist explained to us that given the advanced stage of disease and the length of time that I’d already had it, and with what he was observing in patients in his practice at that time, I would most likely be in a wheelchair within a few years. His advice to us was to do whatever fun or exciting things we had dreamed of doing because the time was approaching when I would no longer be ambulatory. The news was shattering, to say the least, and after some sober contemplation, a sense of anger and, dare I say, rebellion welled up within me. I decided that I would not “go sweetly into this good night,” no laying back and meekly accepting my fate. No, if I were going to end up in a wheelchair, it would only be after putting up a fight. Jeff, bless his heart, chose to fight along side me. I cannot begin to describe the hope, joy, and inspiration his belief in me and his kindness and faithfulness meant to me as we contemplated the next step of our lives together – our decision to marry, come what may.

Our wedding in June of 1983 was simple and sincere and we were well supported and cheered by our friends and family. After a honeymoon on Cape Cod, we settled into a small apartment and began our married life with both of us working while I finished my thesis and graduate degree. In August of 1984, a research job in southern California materialized for me, so we packed our belongings and took a two-week drive across the United States – we still remember our sense of adventure and anticipation and the excitement in settling into life in Santa Barbara, California. I often have heard the phrase “nobility in the midst of poverty” and while we were not impoverished per se, and we were too unseasoned to be considered noble, we did live our lives quite simply with the resources available to us. We were happy. I should also add that the climate in California was and is so beneficial to my arthritis. Moving here delayed the time when I needed more serious medications. All in all, we have so much to be thankful for – then and now. But, our story continues…

Over the next twelve years, we, like so many people, settled into the routine of life, working, buying the first home, getting laid off, finding new jobs, etc.

Nothing extraordinary to report here, except that our belief in and love for one another remained strong and we continued in our joy in life and each other. This peace was about to be tested – and severely.

Jeff had been experiencing an array of non-debilitating, odd, transient, and seemingly unconnected symptoms for several years at that point, and it seemed right to pursue a medical diagnosis. In January of 1997, we learned that Jeff had a spinal cord tumor in the upper portion of his spinal column. To say that I was on the verge of a collapse at that point would be kind – without our faith in God’s mercy and care, we simply would not have made it through what turned out to be the most stressful experience of our lives. Through a series of referrals (thanks to the generosity and kindness of friends), we identified the world’s leading neurosurgeon with experience in spinal cord tumors. These tumors are rare, as we would learn, and to find a surgeon with successful experience was one of the first miracles we would experience.

We spent six weeks at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. From CAT scans and MRIs, we knew the tumor was large and located in a very dangerous place. We did not know if it was malignant. That information would only be possible after a biopsy. On April 2, 1997, Jeff entered the operating room. For the next sixteen hours, the surgical team worked what would be our second miracle – they removed the tumor in two intact pieces, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the tumor was larger than depicted on the MRIs. In fact, it had embedded in the base of Jeff’s brain. It goes without saying that this area is not a place one “digs around in.” I will forever be grateful for the stamina, skill, and determination of these surgeons to provide the best outcome for Jeff that they possibly could.

When Jeff awoke following surgery, he was paralyzed on his right side. We had been prepared for paralysis as a possible outcome. Honestly, at that point, I was so happy he was alive that I didn’t care – I figured that each day with him was “gravy” as they say. Our third miracle came three days after surgery when we learned that Jeff’s tumor was benign and that no further radiation or chemotherapy would be needed. Over the next few weeks, we watched the paralysis subside and bodily functions resume as Jeff began the healing process. This healing would take the form of serious physical and occupational therapy. Eleven months after surgery, Jeff returned to work. He does have some residual effects from the surgery, but considering that he could have been permanently paralyzed, or worse yet, could have died, we are so grateful for Jeff’s recovery.

All of that seems like history long past, but it was only seven short years ago. And in those seven years we have continued living our lives with joy and blessings. We definitely would not have made it this far without all of the love and encouragement showered on us by friends and family. And this brings us to the present.


eff and I felt that we had experienced our fair share of what life had to throw at us, and, more importantly, that we also had so much to be grateful for. So we began to think about renewing our wedding vows on our upcoming twenty-year anniversary.

I have always been particularly drawn to nature, so I wanted to hold the service outside. We knew that we would resurrect our original vows and add new text as well. We would use our original classical music (performed on steel drums) but wanted to add a string quartet. This sounds quirky, but you have to hear this ensemble to know how beautiful the arrangements truly are.

Beyond that, we wanted the time to be principally one of celebration and joy-romantic, but meaningful and reverent as well. Through a series of referrals, we happened upon “Nestldown”, a beautiful property in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and were so blessed to make the acquaintance of Certified Wedding Consultant, Marcia Coleman-Joyner of A Joyous Occasion.

In April of 2002, with Marcia’s help and guidance, we began planning our celebration. We had some of the best professionals in the Bay area assisting us in making our dream come true – from the consultant to the caterer, photographer, videographer, florist, bakery, beverage service, musicians, invitations, rentals, transportation, and the magnificent setting – there simply was not one detail that was overlooked. It was like a fairy tale – so beautiful and so much love abounding. On June 21, 2003, before God and His magnificent scenery, and amongst our cherished family and friends, we gave thanks and pledged ourselves anew to each other for our future years together.

We credit our continued happiness and joy to our faith and to three small promises that we made in the beginning. These promises are alive and well today, and ones that we still hold near and dear.
Simply put, we promised never to lie to one another, no matter how painful the truth may be; never to raise our voices in anger; and never to go to sleep while angry. We continue to refine our relationship and our communication, sharing anything and everything with each other.

There is a synergy in marriage, in the ebb and flow and give and take of a life shared together, and we are blessed to be a part of that. We each have been an integral part of the other and believe that between the two of us, we make a whole person. We have also never stopped laughing. It is amazing to each of us that the other has the capacity, after all these years, to send the other into fits of hysterical laughter. In closing, we wish each of you the very best - Love Much, Laugh Often and Live Well!

Location: Nestldown
Consultant: Marcia Coleman-Joyner, A Joyous Occasion
Bakery: Susan Morgan, Elegant Cheesecakes
Caterer: Restaurant “O”
Musicians: Jasmine String Quartet, Tim Gutierrez, Steel Drums,
Hookslide, Acappella Group,
DJ: Kurt Montgomery, Choice Music
Florist: Rick James, Luxuries
Photographer: Kamran Zohoori, Picture 2000
Videographer: Tim Zahoory, Tim Video Productions
Invitations, Favors: Michele Garcia, Heart Paper Soul
Rentals: Lydia Gorvitz, Classic Party Rentals
Beverage Service: Bartenders Unlimited
Transportation: El Paseo Limousine


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