Tuesday, April 24, 2018

First Impressions


Saturday evening, I officiated Erica and Jonathan’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum (Crape Myrtle Allee), in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

They say first impressions are pivotal. Erica says about the first time she met Jon, “I honestly do not know whether I met Jon at that first party or on one of the subsequent get-togethers.” Well, maybe first impressions aren’t all they are cracked up to be...


Seriously, though, for most of high school and college, this bride and groom were just friends. What really counts as a first impression as individuals came much later, with a twelve hour road trip to Emory University. Erica says, “Before this, we had not spent a lot of time one-on-one. It was usually in some kind of group situation. So, it surprised us both how easily the conversation flowed for the entire twelve-hour drive from Dallas to Atlanta. We literally did not stop talking the entire time.” 

Jon, in turn, says, “I can’t remember any particular topic or discussion, but I can distinctly remember how comfortable it felt. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a break in the conversation for twelve hours.”

This time the impression stuck. Listen to what Jon says retrospectively: “Now, it feels as if we have always been together.  It is nearly impossible to imagine my life without Erica. That doesn’t just mean imagining a future without her but also the time before we were together.” Erica, it seems like you have disrupted the time continuum for this guy. Good job!

This type of paradoxical affect is mutual. Erica says, “Jon challenges me and encourages me. He makes me want to be better, even while making me feel like I am already enough... He’s equally willing and able to be completely silly or to have an intellectual debate... He defies my expectations and surprises me constantly.”

What Erica and Jon show us is that there are first impressions and there are first impressions. Sometimes, your soulmate is hiding in plain sight, just waiting for you to discover them, perhaps on a twelve-hour drive to Atlanta

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Sum of All Loves


Saturday afternoon, Rev. Mike Spitters and I co-officiated Cassie and Corey’s wedding ceremony at the Expedition Church, in Frisco, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:


Have you heard of the sum of all fears? Now, if you could see my notes, you would see that I didn’t capitalize these words. That would tell you that I am not referring to the excellent Tom Clancy novel or the abomination of a movie based on it.

I am referring to the original phrase uttered by one Winston Churchill: "Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together - what do you get? The sum of their fears."

Churchill’s concept of adding up emotions is fascinating. Each of the three at his table come from a different vantage point, a different military culture, and thus contribute to a sum of those emotions. There is great power in that sum, which may be greater than its parts. Since it is fear, Churchill sees it as a problem to overcome.

What if, however, we found a situation, which involved a sum of a different more positive emotion, love. What would a sum of loves look like? Well, I dare say you may be looking at one, and it is the creation of Cassie and Corey, here today.  To paraphrase the old prime minister, “Why you may take a West Coast Buddhist bride, an East Coast Jewish groom, a Disciples of Christ minister and a Rabbi, put them under a Chuppah in a Texas church. What do you get? The sum of all loves.”

Now, humor aside, this is really how Cassie and Corey have lived their lives. They have both, as individuals and as a couple, followed the maxim of Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish sages and philosophers of the Middle Ages, “Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.”

This might sound obvious, but it is not at all so in our world. Frequently, and this may be one of the greatest causes of our problems, we judge the truth of something by where it comes from. Is it from my “team”, my “tribe”, those who look exactly like me, those who think exactly like me?

This is not how Cassie and Corey approach the world. (Except if we are talking about the New York Mets. I mean, there have to be some limits!) Cassie has a deep connection to her Buddhist roots, but she has mostly found spiritual sustenance, through volunteering and other good works, in Christian churches. Corey has a deep connection to his Jewish roots, but he has mostly found spiritual sustenance not through any classical texts, but through more universal ideas of deep connections to loved ones, both past and present.

And, together, Cassie and Corey have nurtured their bodies and souls, through cycling, and not just because they cycle with the pastor standing next to me. They even, and for me this a first, have a theme or motto for this wedding. This really says it all, and I think even old Winston might crack a smile at hearing it: "Bridging two worlds together, one pedal at a time".

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Compassion, Joy, Humor and Gratitude

Saturday evening, Rev. Bruce Buchanan and I co-officiated Stacy and Jared’s wedding ceremony at the Trinity River Audubon Center, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

You know what stood out about Stacy and Jared? Their compassion, joy, humor and gratitude.


Compassion has served as clear guide to Stacy and Jared. This attracted them to each other, and is key to their relationship. It is the commitment to compassion that led Stacy to social work and working in hospitals, as well as to her involvement with The Stewpot. It is the commitment to compassion that led Jared to work in the home health care world, and to, for years, organize holiday parties for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Listen to this little snippet from their very first date. Stacy recounts how, “Jared showed me a video of a mother wildebeests and the herd saving her babies from predators. He was quite taken with the sweetness of that, and I realized from that and many other things he said that night that he had a huge heart.” Jared saw the same thing in Stacy. He too could tell from that first date, that Stacy, in his words, exhibited “big hearted empathetic compassion for God’s creatures.”

Joy has served as a clear guide to Stacy and Jared. Jared says, “When I reflect on being with Stacy for the rest of my life, I am so in awe, because I never realized that a relationship could be so wonderful and special. This has enabled me to experience a level of joy and fulfillment like I never have before.”

Stacy finds joy in this relationship that is reminiscent of the joy she saw in her parents’ love story. They had always told her that she would know when she met her soulmate. “My heart and soul danced when I met Jared. I just knew, this is it, he was the one,” Stacy confesses.

Humor has served as a clear guide to Stacy and Jared. Stacy says, “We are constantly laughing together. I absolutely love his sense of humor and I know that he’s so appreciative of that.” And, Jared’s favorite line from the song to which Stacy walked down the aisle is, indeed, “Let me drown in your laughter.”

Last but not least, gratitude has served as a clear guide to Stacy and Jared. Jared says, “I have a deep sense of gratitude for the vast number of blessings of family and friends and fortunate circumstances in my life.” Stacy shares this sentiment, and finds it to be at the very core of their love connection, “We each feel so blessed to have found each other.”

Well, there you have it folks: Compassion, joy, humor and gratitude. Excellent ingredients for a great relationship.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Comfort


Monday night, Rev. Glen Reddell and I co-officiated his daughter, Debbie and Mike’s wedding ceremony at Huckleberry’s, in Comfort, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay. What a joy it was to read the essays of Debbie and Mike. They have both lived rich lives and have a wonderful capacity for self-reflection.


Debbie reflects on the upbringing she had, and how it taught her the importance of love. She writes that her parents emphasized this through word and deed, “through their love for each other and their love for us, (and most) importantly (to) show God's love for others by the way we treated people. That lesson still resonates with me daily... I agree with my dad's philosophy that at the end of the day we are ALL God's children...”

Mike can attest that this PK (preacher’s kid) practices what she preaches: “I’ve found a partner in Debbie who will keep me centered, well focused and committed to all that true love provides. I’ve found my best friend and I’ve found my heart in the process.”

“I’ve found my heart in the process.” Isn’t that a fascinating statement? We think of love as finding something or someone who is external to us. But what if love is about finding ourselves? Because if you listen to Debbie and Mike tell their stories, as individuals and as a couple, and if you watch their story continue to unfold, that is exactly what they are all about.

This idea that in finding your true love you find your true self is beautifully reflected in a parable related by the great Rabbi Nachman of Breslow, a great mystic who lived around the time of our own Founding Fathers.

A man living in Prague, an Austrian possession at that time, had a recurring dream, that there was a treasure buried under a bridge in Vienna. He traveled to the capital city, found the bridge, and discovered it was right outside the Austrian monarch’s castle. Digging up the treasure was going to be a problem. Indeed, a castle guard approached him asking him to state his business. The man came clean, and explained his dream.

The guard started laughing, and he explained that he too had a recurring dream that under a specific house in Prague, which he carefully described, was buried treasure. However, the guard said, he is not foolish enough to drop everything and go dig under some house in Prague.

The man politely thanked the guard for steering him straight, and left. What he did not tell the guard was that the latter had described the man’s house to a “t”. He returned home, and dug up the treasure.

He found the treasure. That is exactly the language that Debbie uses about Mike, “I feel so blessed and fortunate to have found him at this stage in my life. He is my treasure.”

There’s another specific part of Debbie and Mike’s story that reminded me of Rabbi Nachman’s parable. Listen to what Mike writes about the first time he and Debbie visited the town we are gathered in today: 

“Neither one of us had ever been to this small town. From the moment we arrived, I was overcome by a sense of calm and tranquility. We shopped the small town, drank wine, spoke to those in the stores and just had a wonderful time – among the best that I had with Debbie to that point. We had a blast and we both committed to returning at another time. It dawned on me a bit later that the town was not the reason, it was the person that I was with. Our visit to Comfort brought comfort to me on many levels and I can say that being there that day opened a new chapter in my relationship with Debbie. That experience is an integral contributor to who I am today and the kind of future that I want to share with Debbie.”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Very Very Lucky


Saturday evening, I officiated Simone and Ben’s wedding ceremony at the New Orleans Museum of Art, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Simone and Ben met years before they began dating. And, friends, I need to warn you, you may be overwhelmed by the emotions you will feel regarding their descriptions of that time; so romantic and touching they are. Keep in mind, these two are trained writers. First, Ben says, “It wasn't earth shattering or so memorable, except in retrospect.” Talk about damning with faint praise! Simone continues, “I met (Ben) in a required course called ‘University Writing’ in 2007 during one of the first days of college.” Ben elaborates, “We were assigned to a mandatory small seminar for introductory writing. The class was, frankly, terrible and there wasn't much to get out of it. The professor was a PhD student who was finishing up in the next semester and was already completely checked out (and it showed).” Like I said, folks, this is a real bodice ripper.


Don’t worry, though, it gets better. Simone seemed to be quite smitten, “I couldn’t take my eyes off his gorgeous head of hair, and wavy locks are apparently something that I find irresistibly attractive. He was kind, sarcastic and handsome, and I remember thinking that I would have been eager to get to know him better...” And the attraction was mutual. Ben says that the second reason to still attend the class was, “that from the back row you could have a decent view of a cute blonde girl (she was a little over-enthusiastic about the class, but it was forgivable).” The first reason was fantasy football with a classmate. A guy must have his priorities in order, after all.

Now, stories at weddings usually don’t take a turn to the macabre, but hey, there’s a first time for everything. “We even worked on a mildly disturbing project together about images of death that entailed looking at lots of pictures of dead Civil War soldiers,” Simone relates. Somewhere, even Ken Burns is shaking his head.

Ok, now let’s really get serious. How we meet our mates can be a fascinating subject to dwell on. Many ancient traditions say that the person we choose as a life partner is predetermined by God. The Ancient Rabbis talk about this happening in utero, in fact. And if that works for you, you should roll with that. Why not?

But what if you have deeply considered not just where you fall on the question of religion, which both Simone and Ben have, but have also rejected such notions of divine interventions in the minutia of the lives of individuals? Where does that leave you when you reflect on your initial meeting? Where does that leave you when you reflect on your next chance meeting three years later, that sparked what both people assumed would be a short term end of college fling? Where does that leave you when you recognize that against the odds, those chance occurrences brought you here today? 

In a very special place, that’s where it leaves you. And this depends not so much on your cognitive abilities, but on how you were raised to view the world around you, and what occurs to you and others along the way. If you were raised to think that everything you get you are entitled to, because your own innate talents and work ethic are superior, you might not “get it”. However, if you were raised to think of what you have with gratitude for your good fortune, even chance occurrences may be retroactively enriched with deep meaning.

You see this gratitude in how Simone and Ben describe how hard their parents worked to put them through private school. You see it in their recognition that not everyone had such an opportunity. You see it in how lucky they both feel to have been raised by such parents. With that type of recognition, when something great happens to you, you feel thankful and fortunate and lucky.

With that type of upbringing, it is not surprising that Simone says, expressing a sentiment that Ben embraces too, “I am so very excited to be able to declare how much I love him in front of all our friends and family. I’m so happy we have an occasion to celebrate that we found each other. We are very, very lucky.”

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Right Time

Saturday night I officiated Courtney and Luke’s wedding ceremony at the Belo Mansion, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Let’s, Stephen Covey style, begin with the end in mind. Courtney describes Luke proposing, in a way that not only hints at how far back their relationship goes, but how naturally Texan it, regardless of where they may currently live: “Luke proposed... on the 50-yard line of our high school stadium, which we had so many great memories tied to. We were back home... for a college friend’s wedding and got to celebrate with family and friends afterwards. It was a very exciting day, one we both will always remember!”
 
 
Now, I say this HINTS at how far back they go, because these kiddos actually did not meet in high school. Don’t be crazy. They met in 5th grade.
 
They didn’t date then, though. They waited until the ripe old age of 9th grade. From then on, Courtney says, they “dated other people off and on but after the last home football game of senior year, we told each other how we felt about each other and dated from that point on. However, in early August, the night before I left for sorority rush at OU, we decided to break up, so we could both enjoy our college experiences. He was going to Clemson and we knew how tough that distance would be.”
 
The word “we”, which Courtney uses in the phrase, “we decided” is, shall we say, an interesting choice. Here is how Luke remembers it: “While Courtney may say this was mutual, I was never truly onboard for breaking up.”
 
Uh oh.
 
Don’t worry, though; he knows she was right: “In hindsight, this was the best decision we could have made, as we were much too immature to have lasted “long distance”. We went our separate ways for several years, though we remained friendly and spoke often. I returned to Dallas for medical school, and she to teach, and one day during my second year we went out and have been together since.”
 
In this, I believe they teach us an important lesson. It’s not only important to be at the right place, be it the Belo Mansion or the J.J. Pierce 50-yard line. It’s not only important to be with the right person, no matter when you met them, be it in the fifth grade, high school or medical school. In fact, those two variables might be comparatively easy.
 
It’s important that it be the right time. And, sometimes, you might think you have hit the right time. You might be utterly convinced of it. You still need to take a step back, be objective, reassess the situation, and not be afraid of where that reassessment takes you. And, if you do it right, you might just end up, like in the fairy tales, happily ever after.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Lucky

Saturday evening, I officiated Ashley and JP’s wedding ceremony at the Asia Society, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the unwritten but quite explicit rules of our American society is that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. And, Ashley and JP are really hard workers. The event industry, where they met, is defined by very hard work, coupled with extremely long hours.

 
This is not only true of Ashley and JP, in their professional lives. These two, like most smart couples, have never taken their relationship for granted. They have carefully nurtured and cultivated it, and it shows.
 
What is important to recognize, though, is that that is not enough. The comedian, Conan O’brien’s phrasing of the unwritten rule I began with acknowledges this. He says, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” Talk to Ashley and JP’s friends, and you will know they have this one covered too.
 
Still, hard work and kindness are not enough. The whole quote from Conan clarifies this, “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
 
What else do you need, then? Well, it helps if you have a little bit of luck. For instance, and I’m just spitballing here, if you want to find your soulmate, it helps if you work in the same industry. It helps even more if your employers do business with each other. It certainly helps, if through that, you end up spending many hours together by necessity, and get to know each other really well, as friends first.
 
Luck can be extremely humbling. Now, I know, when you think of JP, humble is not the first word that comes to mind... Listen, however to what he says about how he feels about having Ashley in his life, “I can’t say enough how lucky I think I am to marry her. As I told her dad when I asked him for permission, ‘I always thought I would marry my dream girl physically, my soulmate, or my best friend. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would be able to find all three of them in one person.’”
 
And Ashley feels the same, “Everyday, I cannot wait to wake up next to JP, and know that I will be in the same place together when we go back to sleep. He is my best friend, my #1 pest, my prince charming, and the highlight of my day... I feel like I am... the luckiest girl for winning his heart.”