MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Most people have a hard enough time organizing a wedding. For one Murfreesboro couple, they managed to pull off three wedding ceremonies — to each other — in one year on two different continents.
"We're like, 'It'd better stick,'" joked Taffy Xu, who married her husband, Shane Xu, in 2014.
Taffy and Shane first met in 2011 at a house church in China, where she was studying abroad.
"I was learning Chinese and this group (at the house church) was bilingual," Taffy explained.
Shane and Taffy were "just friends" throughout most of her time in China those two semesters. With a lot of mutual friends, they spent months getting to know each other.
Taffy said she had a crush on Shane first. It took a while before he approached her about his feelings.
Eventually their relationship turned romantic, almost too late. Their first official date was just two weeks before she was headed back home to the United States.
"We both knew long-distance relationships were really hard, but we made an agreement to keep talking," Taffy said.
And they did, but kept options open in case they each found someone on each of their home turfs. After a couple of months, Shane decided he didn't need to keep any option open other than Taffy.
"Taffy is very different. She's very kind. She's very likable. Everybody likes her," Shane said. And Shane liked her, too.
So they spent the next 10 months chatting via Skype before she returned to China for a month to meet his family.
"Then Shane came here with me ... to start school," Taffy said.
When they were "just friends," Shane had talked with Taffy about attending college in the U.S. He wasn't sure how to accomplish that. So she offered to help.
"When we were narrowing down places, he said he had a lot of friends in Tennessee," Taffy said.
She helped him picked out a major and what he wanted just so happened to fit the offerings at Middle Tennessee State University. He chose to enter the Concrete Management program to earn a second bachelor's degree.
MTSU's Confucius Institute — a cultural collaboration program and partnership with Hangzhou Normal University of China — was also another draw.
"They certainly helped him. ... They plugged him in with a lot of events that had a lot of other Chinese people ... and a lot of his friends he's made have been through the Confucius Institute," Taffy said.
The program was also instrumental in bolstering Taffy's interest in Chinese culture, which ultimately led her to meeting her husband.
"They were the reason I went to China," Taffy said. "The scholarship (to study abroad in China) was through the Confucius Institute.
Shane and Taffy dated for another year before he got the courage to propose.
"I thought about proposing at our favorite restaurant. So I called them to ask if they would play a song when I proposed to her. They said, 'Definitely,'" Shane recalled.
Once he ordered food, he signaled the waitress to cue the music, "You're the World to Me" by David Gray, which was one of Taffy's favorite songs.
"I came up behind her and I proposed," Shane said. “I'm not a guy with a lot of surprises. But she said I actually surprised her when I proposed to her.”
Their first marriage ceremony, a very informal one, happened a few weeks later. The rush was because they could get in-state tuition for Shane if they were married before the fall semester started.
"We called a friend of ours, he was a new minister. We were his first wedding. My dad works at Lipscomb (University in Nashville) and they have a chapel ... and we got married there," Taffy said.
Next there was a mountain of paperwork Taffy had to complete, and a three-month deadline to meet, for Shane to get a Green Card, which would grand him permanent residency in the U.S. She spent about a month preparing for the application.
Once the paperwork was filed, they waited for an interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Memphis. They'd heard horror stories about the process.
"We were the only ones who didn't have a lawyer. Every person who came out ... were these curmudgeon old men. I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be awful.' Shane and I said a prayer in the waiting room. Then the person who ended up interviewing us was a really chipper woman. She looked over all our papers ... and said, 'I want to see pictures,'" Taffy said.
Shane was given his Green Card.
In September, the couple had a second wedding ceremony where they invited a large number of family and friends. The third and final ceremony was held in China in December, where they had a traditional Chinese wedding with Shane's family.
Both Taffy's wedding dresses — one decidedly American, the other a customary Chinese one — are on display through March 1 at the "Wedding Dresses Through the Decade" exhibit at Oaklands Mansion, 900 N. Maney Ave. in Murfreesboro.
The following year Shane earned his bachelor's degree in concrete management and Taffy got her master's degree in English and foreign languages.
They've remained in Murfreesboro since getting married. The couple welcomed a baby last year. They also plan to continue in campus ministry through North Boulevard Church of Christ.