Most people don’t plan to alter their wedding due to a global pandemic, and they certainly don’t plan to save someone’s life on their honeymoon. However, country singer Karen Waldrup and her new husband, Cody Henson, encountered both situations this year.
The two married on Sept. 26, 2020, in a quaint, romantic ceremony in Folly Beach, S.C. — one that, due to COVID-19 pandemic regulations, didn’t look like what they’d originally planned, but ended up being the perfect celebration for the couple, with their faith at its center.
“We just looked at each other after talking to our priest and said, ‘We’re just going to give it up to God.’ He made it the most beautiful day — everything was absolutely perfect for the wedding,” Henson recalls.
Once the wedding bells rang, it was time for the couple to decompress. “Our big thing is, 2020 has been tough, so we’re going to go to the honeymoon and we’re going to get lots of beach time — we need some sun! Both of us are as pale as a ghost,” Henson jokes.
However, like their wedding, the honeymoon didn’t go as originally planned, leaving the couple having to make a potentially life-altering decision as fresh newlyweds. The night before Waldrup and Henson arrived in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a tropical storm had passed through, causing sea levels to rise and red warning flags to be placed out on the beach. These moments set the scene for the life-changing event the couple encountered the next day.
With large turtle float in hand, the pair were ready to work on their tans, but as time went on, they decided to take a walk to the pier to get a bite to eat and ride the Ferris wheel.
“It was about a mile walk — it wasn’t a short walk,” Waldrup recalls. “We were having this really deep thought, great conversation about God providing for our wedding — how we had endured so much.
“We’re in this really deep place, and all of the sudden, we hear this screaming from the ocean,” she recounts of the moment when their playful day at the beach turned potentially deadly. At first, they couldn’t decipher what was going on, but after two little girls ran up to the couple, they realized the girls’ uncle, Roy, had been caught unknowingly in a riptide and was drowning.
The couple had to make a quick decision: Was Cody going to risk his life to save this stranger, or would they wait for help?
Before giving her new husband the green light, Waldrup, who is also a scuba diver, knew that he couldn’t save the drowning man without a flotation device. “So, the minute I saw the flotation device, then I was like, ‘Go!’ Because I didn’t want him to be the flotation device,” Waldrup says. “But we did have that marital moment between us that we had to make that choice.”
Into the water Henson went, along with another stranger who happened to be walking on the beach with his wife. Together, they pulled Roy to shore and, with no medical help in sight, began to perform CPR.
“At this point, there’s really nothing else I can do except pray,” Waldrup recounts. “So, I’m that girl on the beach. ‘Jesus, you can do all things. Lord, you can do all things. Come on, God, save this man.'”
With a crowd gathered around, everyone was on edge as Henson and the other man worked tirelessly to clear Roy’s airways of ocean water. Two to four minutes of CPR passed with no pulse, but Henson didn’t give up; in fact, both he and Waldrup felt God’s unexplainable peace in the moment, and they were confident Roy would live.
“I knew he was going to live. It was really weird,” Waldrup notes, and Henson agrees: “It was like I wasn’t nervous at all. I looked up and I looked at Karen, and then I looked up and there was this beautiful sunset.”
Then, a miracle happened. “As I looked back down, he starts coughing up and moving a lot and I know we have a chance,” Henson states.
Once Henson was able to calm Roy down, they were able to help clear the rest of the sea water out of his airways. Then, with almost divine timing, the paramedics finally arrived.
Ultimately, the couple believes the whole episode wasn’t by accident — it was God’s timing to place them there in Myrtle Beach that day. In fact, Waldrup says that even choosing to honeymoon in Myrtle Beach was totally from the Lord.
“We had a tough time with our wedding since the very beginning because my family lives in Texas, his family lives in Tennessee, we live in Nashville. So, from the very top it was God’s plan,” Waldrup recalls. “Mom and I kept not knowing what town and so finally I just laid there and asked God in my heart, ‘Hey, where would you like us to get married?’ and I heard Him say Charleston, S.C., and I had never been to Charleston, S.C.”
The right place, right time moment ultimately left the couple with two takeaways: The first was learning to trust in God’s plan.
“For me to have been standing on the edge of the water and to have been faced with the conflict of like, okay, I don’t want you to go because you’re my husband, but I also know that I married you a couple days ago and now God’s calling you to do this,” Waldrup says. “Felt like it was the first moment of conflict a little bit in my heart of, hey, I’m going to trust God. Trust that Cody is going to be okay.”
The moment was also a reminder of how quickly life can be taken away from us.
“In my marriage, I have to take each and every day to try to enjoy it, because we don’t know how many days we have,” Waldrup says.
In addition to encouraging others to trust in God’s plan for their lives, after this event, both are passionate about water safety. Henson jokes that he regularly practices CPR on the couple’s pillows at home, but in all sincerity thinks that water safety needs to be talked about more.
Waldrup urges others to learn CPR, how to spot riptides and to take note when the warning flags on the beach are out. She also recommends to always carry some sort of flotation device with you (Waldrup and Henson now carry a boogie board to the beach).
Although the honeymoon is over and it’s back to reality for the couple, the trip was a defining moment in their marriage that they will never forget. It’s a story they hope to encourage others with, too.
Now back in Nashville, Waldrup recently released her new single, “I Go By Jane Doe.”