words: Marla Cantrell
image: Freckled Fox Photography via Kindred Barn at Essie Lane Farm
Jesse Keyton and Hannah Marrone sit at a table inside Fort Smith Coffee Company. It’s mid-morning on a chilly Saturday, and rain is tugging at the edges of the sky. The weather has been volatile this spring, snow coming in like a perpetually late guest, thunder on its heels, showers swelling creeks and rushing across roadways.
Even now, Jesse and Hannah know the weather could complicate their wedding day, March 31, 2018. They shrug at the idea, though, knowing that whatever happens in the sky cannot touch the oasis that lives in their hearts.
More than that, they believe God is watching over them, directing their steps. The two smile across the table at each other, and Hannah’s long brown hair falls across her shoulder. She has the kind of beauty you see in bridal ads: dewy skin, rosy cheeks, dark eyes that emit as much light as they take in.
Jesse brings up the subject of Kindred Barn at Essie Lane Farm, in Mulberry, built by Hannah’s father, and where the two plan to marry. “I was invited to the barn dedication in 2016. I’d known Hannah for a while then. I have this memory of her doing dishes and singing. She was joyful and had a heart for the Lord. I just loved the way she was. On the day of the dedication, I remember thinking, I want to marry someone like Hannah.”
That same year, at Thanksgiving, Jesse talked to Hannah’s father, Joey Marrone, to see if he and Hannah’s mother, Stacy, would allow him to pursue Hannah. Jesse, who’d come to the state four years ago to earn his Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Arkansas, was sweating that conversation, but it turned out well. “When we were finished talking,” Jesse says, “we prayed together.”
And, so, the courtship began. Well, sort of. At the time, Hannah was doing missionary work in Thailand, with an organization called Youth with a Mission, which meant the two spent a lot of time using video calls. On that first call, they talked about what was important to them, what they wanted to accomplish. After the call ended, Jesse thought about what was crucial to him—a partner he could pray with. “And then the phone rang, and it was Hannah. She said, ‘This may sound weird but will you pray with me?’
“It was like confirmation that we were on the right path.”
Hannah grins. “I liked him from the moment I met him. He makes me better. He’s always encouraging me, saying, ‘Hannah, you’ve got this.’ I used to be so independent; I encouraged myself. I didn’t need help. I’ve been so humbled by how much I need him. He’s one of the kindest people I know. He thinks about others before he thinks of himself.”
From November to March of 2017, the two kept up this long-distance relationship. Which led to an epic first date. Hannah was flying from Thailand to Pennsylvania, and Jesse drove there to bring her back home to Arkansas.
The first night, Jesse and Hannah sat on a bench on the banks of the Susquehanna River and watched the sun set. It was an important setting and would become even more important in the months to come.
Driving home, they passed through four state capitols, stopping at each. They nodded off at a rest stop. They talked about what they wanted from a relationship. Not long after, Jesse began planning the moment he would ask Hannah to marry him.
That moment happened in September of last year. The two found themselves sitting on the same bench at the Susquehanna River after Jesse made a surprise visit to see Hannah, who was at the Youth with a Mission in Pennsylvania. In ten hours, Hannah would be leaving for a mission trip to Nepal. The sun was dropping low in the sky, the water below reflecting its glow. Jesse had the ring with him, and he asked Hannah to be his wife.
Since then, the two have worked toward the moment when they would say their vows, which was complicated by the fact that Hannah spent four of the six months between the engagement and wedding serving in Nepal. Having parents in the wedding business was a great help to Hannah, who trusts her mother’s taste and judgment above all else. “She made sure all the choices were ours, that the wedding made us happy.”
March 31 arrived soggy and with rain in the forecast. Family and friends, 270 of them, from across the country and from other continents gathered to wish this lovely couple well. Six bridesmaids donning blush-colored dresses flitted around Hannah as she slipped into the strapless wedding gown she’d bought as soon as she saw it.
The day was perfect. The rain held off, a blue moon rose, and there was more crying and hugging than you can imagine. During the father/daughter dance, Hannah and her dad, Joey, sang “It is Well,” to Jesse, his favorite hymn.
Hannah’s mom, Stacy, called it the best day ever, filled with laughing and dancing and eating and fellowship and prayer and worship. Kindred Barn at Essie Lane Farm, a jewel of a wedding venue, was bedecked in beauty and flowers and music, the lights twinkling. Outside, there was a feast and wine made just for the wedding, and so much love it felt like something supernatural.
The celebration started at 5:30pm and the last guests left around 11pm. And somewhere in there, Hannah and Jesse Keyton slipped far enough away to dance alone in each other’s arms on the night they’d hoped and prayed for.
Later, Joey Marrone would say that he’d gained another son that night. Stacy Marrone would say that she didn’t recall a single stressful moment. It was a beautiful way to start a life together, there at Kindred Barn, where two years before Jesse had looked at Hannah and realized he wanted to marry someone just like her. Turns out he didn’t want someone like Hannah. He wanted only Hannah. And she only wanted him.