Standing anxiously at the altar under a flower-adorned archway, Mark Kara is starting to let his emotions get the better of him.
Nervously wringing his palms as he takes his place at Auckland’s stunning Bishop Selwyn Chapel, he’s constantly glancing over at the spot he knows his bride, Silver Fern star Grace Rasmussen, will appear.
And as the first strains of BeBe and CeCe Winans’ I Found Love sound, Grace’s three flower girls and five bridesmaids emerge, walking one by one down the aisle. The music morphs softly into a moving rendition of Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Grace’s favourite gospel group Hillsong United and there she finally is – a vision in a custom-made ivory Trish Peng gown.
Tightly holding onto her brother Sam Jr’s arm, she meets her father Sam at the top of the aisle and locks eyes with her groom, who is now letting his tears freely flow.
“She was just beautiful. So beautiful. Amazing. Words can’t describe,” says a euphoric Mark (31), grinning at his wife of just a few minutes, who smiles back.
“This has been the best day of my life,” says star mid-courter Grace (29). “It’s been everything we’ve wanted and much more.”
It’s a slightly overcast spring day in Auckland – a blessing, given the forecast of torrential rain and gale-force winds. “I had faith the day would be beautiful!” Grace tells the Weekly earlier that morning, as a burst of sunlight filters through the windows of her sister’s central Auckland home.
The weather is the least of Grace’s concerns as she prepares with her bridesmaids, sisters Ann-Helen Nuualiitia, Rona Faga and Rachel Rasmussen, niece Nivique Rasmussen, and best friend and New Zealand rugby sevens star Niall Williams. Meanwhile, Mark relaxes in the couple’s soon-to-be-home in the city’s western suburbs with his five groomsmen, brother Tuakanakore Kara, and friends Christian Sio, Jerome Iakimo, Oti Seiuli and Halley Teau.
Sipping wine as their hair is coiffed and make-up applied, the bridesmaids practise their dance moves and rush around sorting last-minute details, while Grace takes a moment to herself.
“Do you know, yesterday I was nervous as heck,” she tells.
“I was telling the girls that it felt like I was about to play in a grand final, I was so nervous. But funnily enough, I woke up this morning really calm and at peace. I’m so excited. It’s been a long time coming!”At last, the moment has come for Grace to slip into her bespoke, intricately beaded lace wedding gown.
“I couldn’t wait to get into this!” she exclaims as she emerges, as her bridesmaids, mum Ruta and dad Sam all squeal and sigh with delight at the radiant bride. “I actually love this dress. I sat down with Trish and talked about what I wanted and my style, and she came up with this. She nailed it.”
Mum and daughter share a special moment as Ruta carefully places the beautiful cathedral-length, scalloped- edged veil in Grace’s hair, and then it’s time to climb into the three vintage cars – with Grace and her father hopping into a black Ford Mustang – and make the half-hour journey across town to the chapel in Parnell, where 180 family and friends are waiting.
Not to mention groom Mark, who is looking more and more nervous by the minute, fiddling with a keyring that has the words “Mum’s love” engraved on it, in memory of his late mother Fenuku. But when he finally sees Grace for the first time in her dress, the enormity of the occasion hits, he tells us later. “I was just like... Woah! There she is!”
Laughing, Grace adds, “And then I got emotional! I tried to hold it back, but blimmin’ heck, he didn’t help – he’s such a sookie bubba! But I just tried to focus on him.”
After Sam gives his daughter away, Pastor Steven Matai’a welcomes the congregation and leads a prayer, before inviting guests to join in singing the hymn What a Beautiful Name.
Then Grace and Mark, who are both deeply proud of their Christian faith, finally recite the vows that millions of couples have repeated the world over – with a few personalised touches.
Tauamo Grace Mitai Rasmussen and Mark Kara promise to live together after God’s principles, to love, honour and cherish each other through times of plenty or poverty, sickness or health, sorrow or joy, and forsaking all others as long as they both shall live.
After the pair exchange rings, Steven declares them to be husband and wife, and allows Mark to kiss his gorgeous bride – who bashfully hides their first smooch behind her bouquet!
Following two Bible readings by close friends and another prayer from Pastor Tavale Matai’a, Steven offers some words of encouragment to the newlyweds.
“When you step back and look at the definitions of what love is and isn’t, you can only come to one conclusion,” he tells. “Love is about being selfless. Love is wanting their highest good, not your own.
“What you have entered into is a covenant. Your love, commitment, friendship and fidelity, you give freely to the other today. Mark, don’t be fooled into thinking you have to be strong, just because you’re the man. As C.S. Lewis wrote, love is to be vulnerable. Pick each other up if you fall over – and if you both fall over, call me!”
The couple then sign the registry and light a candle for Mark’s mum. Then, as Michelle Williams’ Say Yes plays over the speaker, the ecstatic Mr and Mrs Kara dance down the aisle as husband and wife, followed by their bridal party.
“Oh, it all feels a little surreal!” says Grace.
“But I’m so happy. Words can’t even express how happy I am. I was very emotional, but it was the best feeling in the world, just magical. We’ve been waiting so long, eh, husband?!”
“That’s right, wife!” Mark replies, clearly revelling in using the word for the first time.
After taking photos in the neighbouring cathedral, as well as down at Auckland’s Mission Bay, the happy couple head to their contemporary Pacific-themed reception at a private residence in West Auckland.Guests are treated to a modern Pacific menu, a four-tier passionfruit and coconut cake, and, of course, Samoan and Cook Island dances – Grace performs a Samoan siva, while local group Drums of the Pacific provides traditional Cook Island performances.
As their joyous day draws to a close, Grace and Mark’s attention turns to the future. They’re excited to finally live together – “which is huge for both of us!” Grace grins – and to start their own traditions and routines as a married couple.
“There’s going to be lots of travel and netball – and work to pay for our travels!” the bride tells. “And there’ll definitely be some little Rasmussen-Karas in the near future!”