Sunday, October 7, 2012

Reflections on a Saturday afternoon wedding

Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Praise the Lord, my soul;
   all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits.
who forgives all your sins
   and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
   and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
My little sister got married yesterday. Well, technically she’s not my little sister, she’s my best friend’s little sister. And my mom has known her dad since fifth grade, met her mom soon after and all four of our parents went to college together. They had six kids combined, all born within roughly six years of each other. We grew up going to the same church, had family dinners dozens of times a year and vacationed together almost every summer. If we’re not family by blood, we are by every other definition of the word.

My own siblings have not gotten married, so Saturday’s ceremony was as close as it gets for me to experiencing those emotions. Kristie and I went to a wedding of a work friend in April, and as close as she and I may be (she and her now husband came and stayed with Jack when Kristie went into labor with Max until my mom could arrive), I’ve only known her for five years now. Conversely, I was almost five years old when Emily was born. We go way back — all the way back as far as either of us can remember.

Of course I haven’t spent as much time with her as we both entered the adult world. Since her brother and I went to the same college (the family school, naturally), I was able to be plugged in with the family at home and abroad, but marriage and kids and her own college and grad school and everyone moving and changing jobs — it’s a big change seeing someone no less than once a week for 15 years to maybe half a dozen times each year. But when the roots go as deep as ours, whenever we’re all together it’s as if we still figure in everyone’s day-to-day business.

I realize now, after a wedding shower a few weeks ago, a quick, casual encounter at church last weekend and the ceremony itself, how little I actually spoke to the couple of late. I kind of existed in the same orbit, but mostly watching my kids, which is no small task. I was there, and it was important to be there to feel connected, but it was superficial at best. I don’t know what I might have said if I’d gotten the chance (or forced the issue) to have a sincere conversation. But I do know my choice to hang on the fringes was somewhat intentional. I’ll see these two soon enough at a low-key, families-only event. Better to let them, on their biggest of days, see all the loved ones who traveled from far and wide just to take part in the celebration.

Kristie and I spent pretty much the entire ceremony in outside the sanctuary with Charlie. I could look up front and see Emily and Chris. Behind Emily was her sister as maid of honor, and next in line was my sister. On the men’s side was Nick, who was my best man ten years ago and I his three years later. His wife, also a mutual college friend, was herself a bridesmaid. Watching their children walk the aisle as ring bearer and flower girl and, in that moment, seeing their special bond as siblings, brought a huge smile to my face. Jack and Max sat with my parents, along with Uncle Matt and Kim’s boyfriend, Micah, whose biggest fault is living in California which means we don’t get to spend nearly enough time together.

The happy couple exits the church. The smiles are my favorite.

For most of the ceremony I was in a perfectly happy place, just drinking in the moment. Kristie and I talked many times about how we expected the atmosphere of the day to reflect exactly how well-suited we feel Chris and Emily are for each other, and that’s exactly what we discovered. They planned a ceremony so reflective of their personalities and relationship it was if the smiles plastered on their faces radiated out and blanketed the entire room. There’s probably a better way to describe how that works, but I can’t find the words. When Nick and Alexis got married, I was probably too focused on my best man duties, as well as Kristie and Jack (then five months old), to fully give myself to the joy of the day. That was not the case Saturday.

When the wedding liturgy came to The Lord’s Prayer, it was no surprise the bride’s father rose to sing. I told Kristie I wanted to step inside the back door of the sanctuary to hear the song directly, instead of through the speakers. She reminded me she’d just heard him sing it recently. After a beat, it hit me. I had just heard him sing the same song — almost exactly two months earlier at my grandmother’s funeral.

As the notes poured beautifully through the sanctuary, I mentally juxtaposed Saturday’s joyous occasion with the sadness of the recent funeral. Tears welled in my eyes as I connected the dots in my head. There are happy days and sad days, and many others of much less intensity, but throughout them all, our truest friends are always there. Even when they can’t be physically present, they are never more than a thought away. I can’t speak for everyone, but there’s little doubt I would not make it through life without such people as part of my support system, ingrained in my very being, a walking, breathing testament to God’s love for all creation.

Later, at the reception, Kristie stood near Max as he sat, somewhere between awestruck and dumbfounded, watching the pageantry of the wedding party. She wasn’t far from the mother of the bride, and Kristie noted how easy it must have been for Chris’ mom to look at her son, fully adult, completely in love and stepping into forever, then glance over at a mother and son on the opposite end of the spectrum. How easy it must have been Saturday night for her to see Chris as the four-year-old, remembering all those days she did the things the mother of a young son must do. In 24 years will we have the chance to see Max on his wedding day, committed to the love of his life and surrounded by those dearest to him? Will we take advantage of the time between now and then to make sure he knows how important he is to his parents and family?

Milestone occasions like weddings and funerals will quickly bring such considerations to the forefront. But they’re always inside, not too far from the surface. One of the keys to a well-lived life, I think, is to tap into such sentiment on days we won’t circle on the calendar and commit to memory. When we make the most of the otherwise mundane, it’s like investing in our connection with others. And when we do arrive on those red-letter days, that investment pays off with a very real understanding of what it means to share yourself fully with other people, to love as God would have us love and to simply be there for someone else because that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

To Emily and Chris, I wish all the happiness in the world. Even without children, they are now their own family, officially starting life together in every sense of the word. God only knows what lies in store, but I trust they understand what it means to be partners, to welcome challenges and blessings alike, to be accountable to one another and to God, to comfort and protect one another and simply to love — fully and deeply. I consider myself lucky every day to have found and kept the person who makes me whole, and I pray the same is true for them. May God bless their marriage today, tomorrow and forever.

A prayer for October 7:

Lord, you are the giver of all good things. You crown us with love and compassion, and yet the love we share with one another on Earth pales in comparison to the love you have for each of us. It is the love you showed by giving us life, by allowing us to delight in each other, and especially shown through the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice. God, may my life be a reflection of that love, that all may see in me a person who knows what it means to believe, trust and hope in you. Let no one doubt the source of my true joy and peace. Amen.

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