We laugh, we cry, we run scared and we stay to the sparkler-end hoping against hope to see the bride and groom get away hitched and happy, and stay that way.
Weddings touch our tender side, but they can also bring out our lurking fears or hardened cynicism or even unspool it all together into a tangled mess. Weddings we may love or avoid or think ours will never come, but marriages, marriages often break our little hearts.
We want so much for them to keep all of their full-of-hope promises and wide-eyed dreams. Summer has a way of making us think they will.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are smack dab in the middle of summer and summertime is the height of wedding season. A friend to my Kate told me he had been to eight weddings this summer. Eight!
We saw him at wedding number eight last weekend at the foothills of Mount Hood among the cherries, apples and pears that grow there, more than fifty varieties ripening in the orchards along the Columbia Gorge.
Mike and I were just saying that before we moved to Oregon, all we knew of apples were Red Delicious and Granny Smith. If you are like us in that, then go on a hunt for a Zestar, a Fiesta, an Oregon original called Hudson's Gold Gem or my favorite, a Honeycrisp.
The bride and groom requested it be an unplugged wedding - put all phones and cameras away and be present in the moment. We were off to a good start. I wanted to feel the weight, the wonder and the joy of this wedding.
The bride stood with Mount Hood draped in clouds behind her, they were alike in certainty and a Spanish veil fluttering wildly in the wind that cuts a sharp path through the gorge. The mountain had a say that night.
Here is what I wrote later in our little rented chalet,
I saw Spain and America wed tonight. I only understood half of the wedding vows but even then, when I heard "pinky swear", I got the gist of their love across the oceans. My favorite part of their heart-written vows, 'the mountain needs the valley and the mountain is better for the valley', flung me back thirty-something years to Austin, Texas and my own wedding vows.
That's the thing about weddings, they take you back to your own for better or worse. If you're still married, you can remember all the love you saw back then, and how blind you were to the faults of your beloved. You can truly appreciate how far and through what lands you have travelled together. Now you love many striped years later, knowing all the faults in both of you, and how Gospel-love covers it all if you choose it.
I sat at this ceremony knowing that for some of my friends both near and across wide waters, marriage has been the big betrayal of their life. I also knew the two who stood at the roots of the mountain underneath a lace and rough wood canopy had seen their share of that same sadness, but somehow held trust and hope in saying their vows aloud and among friends, their eyes locked onto each other.
We were there, the cloud of witnesses, in the background while they shared a light between them that refracted onto our laps.
Love does bend around corners and spill over edges.
I guess what I am saying is whether you are still married to your first love or you have lost love somehow, may weddings remind you of all the possibilities in marriage, not only the hurts. From what I have seen, all marriages hold hurts and disappointments. Some even survive outright betrayal. Don't ask me how. I only know I've seen it happen.
Maybe you'll say that's why I can afford to be a romantic, to keep believing in love despite how it can be traded away. But every marriage has cracks and flaws, every marriage faces ruin, or you haven't gone far enough in with your heart wide open. No one ever knows how it will all work out or if it even will, though we believe it will with all our might.
Two do not become one without death and life, and life and death, and life again washing over their hearts in waves. If we really give our hearts away, then our marriages are the precise place where we can be cut to the bone.
"A diamond cannot be cut with a tin saw, and neither can a hawk fly with a butterfly. A person, to grow keen and shining and real, needs love, which is to say, needs another person:
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).
And sharpening is a painful process: extract the pain from love, and there is nothing left."
Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage
I have friends who know first-hand all about their hearts being wrecked and still remain trusting, hopeful and forgiving. I do not pretend to understand all the mysteries of what makes some marriages work while others, with as much solid concrete promise or even more, somehow can't stay together.
I think every wedding has two languages coming together, colliding even, sparks aflying. It is perhaps one of our common mistakes to think otherwise.
All I know even after thirty one years, is that there is no formula that keeps a marriage together, not date nights or dinner around the table or even church family, though all that is deep wisdom and connected living and might give you your best chance. There may not be any guarantees, but there is concrete hope for us all.
We all need more than wishful thinking for we waste our wish on perfection, or maybe it's just me. Instead we get broken in the process of becoming one. We need the language and grit of another realm and a sacrificing heart. We desperately need the grace to receive broken love in return for all the broken love we give.
To say it another way, there is water that must become wine.
Only Jesus can do that. That transformation was his first miracle and that makes Him the the Best Wedding Guest Ever.
A few summers ago, just after all of our youngest whippersnappers went back to university classes, four of us mamas were all tucked in around a bistro table when, before the tea was even poured over ice, my friend Anne asked,
"How come no one tells you how good marriage gets after so many child-raising years?". We all nodded around the table in a moment of profound silence. We felt that truth settle in with the clink of cracking ice beneath fresh-brewed tea, steeped together, swirling and mingled.
We counted one hundred and twenty years between five marriages and the four of us. It had not been perfect or even always smooth; between us there had been a life-hanging-in-the-balance motorcycle accident, one divorce and remarriage, several job changes, one heart surgery and a heartbreaking move to another state on the near horizon for one of us.
We all agreed. No one really did tell us marriage could be richer, stronger, truer and deeper than on the day it all began. Usually the message is, "Just wait until the gloves come off."
People always say your wedding day is the happiest day of your life. Oh it is a happy day on a shining hill for sure, but, now don't freak out on me, not THE happiest. (Gasp!)
What I mean is, the wedding is extremely significant, promises are made, sacred vows too, vows that should be kept. We may even call on another realm to participate, another language is needed, but the wedding is just the start, the exterior view of a very interior commitment, one that has yet to be measured in any real way.
The marriage is the what unfolds next, layer after layer full of surprises and in desperate need of sandpaper to the grain, the part when the hard work and shared bathrooms begin.
At first I wasn't very good at the little things that make oneness work, and that's true sometimes even now. We were happy despite my stubbornness, but I was particularly poor at apologizing, the real kind without defensiveness or exceptions. On top of that, I was slow and sluggish with my change of heart when I should have been quick and timely.
Thankfully, Mike was way better at it and patient with my willful heart.
When it came to vows, I was quicker and better at the silent and the ridiculous ones made under my breath in the heat of the moment, ones like I will not ask for help ever again, I will not need you or I will not tell you where the turn is even if we never get there.
You might say, "OH GROW UP!" and thankfully, I did (well, I am working on it), and Mike gave me time, patience and the gritty love in which to do it.
We are working more together these days than the divide-and-conquer ways we found necessary when I was home with the four young Whippersnappers and Mike was a surgery resident working around the clock. Still somewhere in those years is just an undeserved blessing. We are not better or smarter or kinder than anyone whose marriage did not last, maybe in the long view, it turned out we just kept wanting the same things, not the same old things, but the same things together.
I am not saying throw up your hands for it is all chance anyway. What I am saying is hang in there, give your marriage time, give it mercy, give it grace for both the mountains and the valleys. And give it iron sharp Jesus.
What I am trying to tell you and may not be saying very well, is good news. Marriage has the potential to get better over time, seasoned or weathered like an old barn with stories to tell, light through the boards and frisky love in the hayloft.
It turns out, going to a wedding recently was good for my soul. I snapped one photo at the reception, a kind of behind-the-scenes shot. Ahem, I was deeply present in the moment.
If you look closely, you can see a small arm around the bride's waist. That's the son of the groom cozied up between them and filling the space natural-like. He snuck it in around her waist and was smoothing the buttons with his fingers ever so tenderly like our Whippersnappers did their "lovey" so many years ago. Soothing. Peaceful. Content. Home.
That moment reminded me of all that marriage can bring together and make complete - better, richer, fuller and deeper. That wholeness can find ground when we invite the Best Wedding Guest Ever to the ceremony and to the married life that comes next.
(Getting married is) not a narrowness but an unimaginable breadth of possibility. For a person is the single most limitless entity in creation, and if there is anything that is even more unlimited and unrestrained in its possibilities than is a person, then it is two people together.
Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage
So next time you are invited to a wedding, say "I do" and look forward to it with all the passion and butterflies of your own wedding day. Give the most meaningful gift you can think of whether it is on the registry or not. Pray for the bride and groom and while you're at it, pray for your own marriage or that of your whippersnappers, your parents or your neighbors.
Our faith has the groundbreaking power to move the most solid mountains, but without love we are nothing.
This kind of sacred yes said at the next wedding your are invited to could be good for your soul too.
You can water your soul by saying "I do" to a wedding.
My wedding prayer for us all is to reclaim hope for love and marriage and real trusting togetherness, with eagerness to overlook faults. I am convinced that my own marriage is stronger when yours stays together. I can learn to love better by seeing how you love better. And we are all stronger when we each forgive and fight to make one out of two as best we can.
I know it doesn't always seem to work out. But even if you have a failed marriage, please know you yourself are not a failure. I have seen all the forgiveness in the world offered to a betrayer and still they have traded love away for less and burned it down to the ground on their way out. Then said they had to go because there was only ashes. They wanted to go and sometimes we let them.
But the Best Wedding Guest Ever makes beauty from ashes and all things new including love lost, trust betrayed and hearts hard. Let's all keep believing in marriage, despite some evidence against its value, even what you have seen with your own two eyes.
There is hidden joy at weddings and for the marriages that follow in the years. Look for it. Expect it. Encourage it. Pass it along.
There is another language spoken in sacred and everyday married hearts and it starts at a wedding or water would never have become wine.