Monday, December 28, 2015

Keeps You on Your Toes

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Dear and Ian's wedding ceremony at Benedict Studio in Bangkok, Thailand. (Saturday morning, Dear and Ian had their Buddhist ceremony.) Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
This may come as a surprise, but most couples standing before me at moments like these do not describe their first date like this:
Ian - "When she finally said yes to going out with me (the date)... failed epically..."
Dear - "Our first date, to tell you the truth, was a train wreck..."
Wow! And they say Thai FOOD is spicy!

Now, if you know the rest of the story, you know why this happened. Ian received some very bad advice, reminiscent of the advice the all too real fictional corporate boss, Jack Donaghy, on 30 Rock once gave his employees: "Remember everybody, just DON'T be yourselves!" Ian followed this advice, and if not for Dear's friend imploring her to give him another chance, well, I would be back in Texas right now...

Isn't it fascinating how sometimes we think putting our best foot forward means trying to be someone we are not? And, in fact, in most professional situations, it is probably better NOT to be yourself. Jack Donaghy is actually, irony of ironies, totally right! Abiding by certain agreed upon social conventions lubricates our professional lives. I don't put my bare feet on my desk, even though I would really like to, and you show up to work wearing pants. We all conform. It's not a bad trade off!

However, in matters of the heart, this just does not work. In fact, it might be true, that some relationships stumble BECAUSE people don't let down their guard, and shed all masks of pretension, and are comfortable with - this is key - the other person's differences. This means, of course, that you need to know who you are, what you believe in, and where you want to go.

This is an area, where, excluding date number one, Dear and Ian excel. I can hardly think of two people more confident in who they are, than these two, without being over confident. (OK, maybe Ian is a LITTLE over confident, but still...) They both know themselves, their personal areas of strength, and the areas they need to work on.

This enables them to know each other, appreciate each other, and love each other on a very deep level, not only despite, but even due to, their differences. Ian is able to say, "Dear is an extremely unique woman filled with contradictions, frustrations, and happiness..." And, though, as most guys, he is not as complex, her complexity makes him love her even more. Dear is able to say, "Having been with Ian for over 3 years, I have found that Ian has a dog-like personality (this is a compliment though)..." (Pause) OK, I admit, I still don't get that one... Listen to this one, though: "Another characteristic of Ian that makes me love him... is his passion. I have never seen anyone in my life (that) has (such) massive passion... (for everything) they are interested in. He has a passion for politics, his job, and (really) anything he does," and here's the kicker, "which is the exact opposite of me." And that enhances, rather than detracts from her love for him.

And so, Dear and Ian teach us a lesson well worth remembering for our romantic relationships. As Ian puts it, "Since we only have one life, why not spend it with a person that always keeps you on your toes..." Why not indeed...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

When You Call Me

Today I officiated Lauren and Alex's wedding ceremony at Piccolo Mondo in Arlington, Texas. Here is what I said about their Chuppah:

This chuppah is extra special, as it was made by Lauren’s great uncle, Marty and his son, Gary, for Gary’s son Jordan’s wedding. They made it out of cedar and cypress to evoke an ancient custom. We are told that long ago, upon the birth of a daughter, her family would plant a cypress, and upon the birth of a son, his family would plant a cedar. When a couple planned to marry, a branch would be taken from each of their trees to make their chuppah to symbolize their unity.

I was honored to officiate Lauren’s sister, Alex’s wedding to Brian Marques under this very chuppah. Lauren and Alex are honored to continue what has become now a family tradition of marrying under this chuppah, which is fittingly inscribed with the words of the Song of Songs, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first questions I ask every couple is, "What are your expectations of your wedding?" However, before I even ask the question, I ask the couple to imagine they work in the creative side of an advertising agency. I ask them to imagine they have a marker and a whiteboard, and that they are brainstorming about a new campaign. They are putting whatever words come to mind on the board.

When I thought of Lauren and Alex's relationship, I found myself going through the same exercise. The words and phrases I wrote down were:




Being yourself like you can with no one else

Letting go

OK with being needy

If you think about it, that is not a bad list. Sure, marriage is about love and passion and fireworks, and being swept off your feet. But, really what we are doing when we commit to marriage is so much deeper. The person I am today is not the person I am tomorrow. The same is true with each of us. So, not to discourage any of you, but marriage if not a gamble, it is an educated guess. Now, hopefully, it is a well educated guess, based on solid evidence, but still it is a guess. It is a guess, that I of tomorrow and you of tomorrow will make the same choice we make today.

Do you know what you need, to be able to take that leap of faith? You need to feel safe, and comfortable, like you do with no one else. You need to have the type of trust you have in no one else. These qualities can then allow you to relax, and shed all pretenses, so much so that you can truly be yourself, like you can with no one else. This feeling, which has no equal, can then allow you to do what our hyper competitive American life almost never allows us: to let go, to be vulnerable, to be needy, and to know that your lover is there by your side, through it all. And to know, and to cherish the moments, when you will do the same for him or her.

Now, if you paid attention, you will notice that I just used all of the words from my brainstorming list about Lauren and Alex's relationship. That is no mere coincidence. I believe this is exactly what they have. And I find the idea of this type of relationship beautifully described in the quiet words of Regina Spektor's song, The Call:

"It started out as a feeling, which then grew into a hope. Which then turned into a quiet thought, which then turned into a quiet word. And then that word grew louder and louder, til it was a battle cry: I'll come back when you call me; no need to say good-bye. I'll come back when you call me; no need to say good-bye."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Led to Each Other

On Saturday I officiated Sam and Matt’s wedding ceremony at the Stonebridge Ranch Country Club, McKinney, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Albert Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn't there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn't find it.

The conductor said, "Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it."

Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

The conductor rushed back and said, "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one."

Einstein looked at him and said, "Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going."
Now, it would be difficult to contend that Sam and Matt don't where they are going. You don't get to be the executive chef of ten plus restaurants, if you don't. And, most of us would find it easier to be the executive chef of ten plus restaurants, than teach school kids. Beyond their professional lives, just interact with Sam and Matt for a minute or two, and you know you are dealing with folks you can count on. (I would have said folks who are serious, but that definition does not really apply to one of them. Hint: The word serious only applies to the one that ACTS older.) Humor aside, Sam and Matt, clearly tend to know not only where they are going, but how they will get there.

That is why I find the origin story of their relationship so intriguing and edifying. That night, a few years ago, when the chef, Matt, needed some help from the most competent servers, of course, he chose Sam as one of them. The next part was not part of the plan, but as Sam says, "Throughout the evening, I could not help but notice that he and I seemed to have a connection that I couldn't really place or describe. I just felt drawn to him." And Matt agrees, when he says, "During our down time at our function, the group of us were talking and my answers and Sam answers seemed to match. We both felt a click, spark, match, or cosmic intervention that night." Sam says emphatically, "I do not fully believe that I chose Matt, or he chose me...I believe that we were led to each other."

As time progressed and this encounter blossomed into a full-fledged love story, what both Sam and Matt found, is what many of us discover, when we find that special someone. You are finally able to admit to yourself, that in that area of your life, love, you weren't really sure where you were going. Consequently, you did not really fully know yourself. As that spark of a relationship develops into a carefully tended flame, you uncover where you are truly going, because being with your partner uncovers new directions to go. You discover new aspects of yourself that you did not know existed, and everything just seems to fall into place. THAT is the inherent gift of true love. THAT, my friends, is what Sam and Matt have with each other. THAT is why they stand here today.

Monday, November 16, 2015

I Choose to Love

Saturday, I co-officiated Jamie and Christian’s wedding ceremony at Alamo Heights UMC, in San Antonio, Texas, with Reverend David McNitzky. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Being a man of few words, here is how Christian describes a full two month span of the birth of his relationship with Jamie: “Her beauty made it difficult for me to act normal and formulate complete sentences at times but nevertheless we quickly formed a close relationship and started dating within a couple months of meeting ... “Of course, that irresistibility was and is to this day mutual. Jamie says that then and to this very day, “his eyes make me melt.”

Their personalities really mesh well together. There is something to the idea of opposites attracting, but way more to the idea of each of us needing someone to complement our essential qualities. Indeed, Jamie says, “My close friends always tell me that Christian is perfect for me. I need a chill, laid back guy, that lets me be me, and keeps me grounded and calm.” And, Christian, not surprisingly says that what he most loves about Jamie is not just that, “She is smart, funny, caring, and a loving person,” but also that, “One of her strongest qualities is the ability to fight and stand up for what she wants and believes in...”

Of course, not surprisingly, but also not to be taken for granted, is how much parenting their daughter has brought her mom and dad even closer. As Jamie and Christian put it, “We are not your typical soon to be newlyweds ... We have been through ... trials and tests, not only as a couple, but also as a family unit already ...”

What this love story, which we celebrate today, really has going for it is that both Jamie and Christian recognize what rock solid couples recognize: Love stories in real life, take work. They each not only recognize that, but mutually admire and appreciate that recognition in the other. They each day to say each other, not only in their own words, which I quote, but especially in their actions, “I choose to love you every day. I choose to put our family as my priority. I choose this great life we have built together.”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Not Indeed…

On Saturday I officiated Allie and Kyan’s wedding ceremony at the Rockin Y Ranch in Austin, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
I ask every couple to write about how they met. I get a variety of answers. Some people meet through work, some meet through friends, many meet online. Allie and Kyan met in line. Now, with Kyan’s background at Blizzard, you might think I just said online. No, no. They met in line, and yes, Arkansans, they met at Walmart. Now, when they met, Allie was still studying in medical school. In Poland, of course. (Like you do…) So, it took a little while to shift the relationship into high gear. Still once she was back in Austin, they were pretty soon inseparable.

Here is what happened next, in Allie’s words: “We knew that I probably wouldn’t stay in Austin for residency and would have to move away for at least 3 years. We sat down and talked about our options, Kyan told me that he wanted to be together even if that meant quitting his job and moving.” Now, guys, remember, Kyan was not working at a law firm or a bank. This guy’s work was at a company, nay, THE company that makes video games! Now many guys having left a job at a video game company to support their future spouse would rest on his laurels, justifiably just wondering where he should put that fiancé of the year award on the mantle. Not Kyan. Allie continues, “Having Kyan with me is easily the best part of this place. He brings me out of my slumps and makes me realize how lucky I am. Everything is more fun and exciting with him around so when he proposed I had no hesitation. I know we want the same things in life and if he can make Pine Bluff tolerable, I know that whatever else we do together will be an amazing adventure and a ton of fun.” I suspect the head of the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce was not on the guest list tonight…

Now, the cool thing about Allie and Kyan’s relationship is that it exemplifies how each of us should think about and treat our lovers. Why do I say that? Well, because each of them seems to see the other as the one who not only do they love, but who made them and their life better. Can you ask for more?

Listen to how Kyan expresses this: “I guess I knew Allie was the one because she was the first woman I let in… I never thought it was worth taking a shot, until I met Allie.  I never saw myself settling down because of this…  I always wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. If that meant not doing dishes for a week or going to the movies to watch the same movie three times, then that’s what it meant.  However after getting to know Allie and really enjoying our time together I began to realize that life does not move at my pace. She showed me that when more than one person is involved life tends to speed up and is much fuller.  I decided to get off the slow train and run and catch hers. It was worth the run. She makes me want to be a better man and she has made me so much better already. With Allie I see a partner, a teammate, and my best friend.  Why not spend the rest of my life with such an amazing person?”

Why not, why not indeed…

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Good Metaphor for Life and Marriage

Sunday evening I officiated Megan and Zach’s wedding ceremony at the Hickory Street Annex in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Zach beautifully describes the birth of their relationship, what he loves about Megan, and one of the interesting behavioral commonalities they share:

"I knew I had found someone special. From the first date... I knew she was the one. She's so funny and quirky... She's beautiful, smart, and extremely giving and gracious... We're both pretty clumsy... we always have to warn each other when there's a bump in the road coming up to make sure we don't trip... I... think this is a good metaphor for life and marriage."

Now, at first blush, you might actually disagree with his premise. I mean, would it not make more sense if the clumsy person found a non-clumsy person. Would that not be a better way to avoid tripping over the bumps in the road? Aren't you almost guaranteeing MORE falls if you are both clumsy?
Megan actually gives the perfect answer to this question. I am not sure she even realizes how perfect it was when she wrote it: "I met the perfect guy at the perfect time. I got very lucky!" (Pause.)

Now, at this moment you might feel underwhelmed by that short quote. You need to understand what happened before Megan and Zach met. You see, they both were extremely methodical, careful and deliberate in the run-up to meeting each other. They only met with those whom advanced algorithms told them they should. On top of that, Megan had drawn up a detailed list of qualities she wanted the choices of the algorithm to meet. And she states that she, "had a lot of first dates, no second dates..." So, on a superficial level, you might think that this couple would be justified in saying that luck had nothing to do with arriving here today. So, why does Megan say what clearly both of them feel, that they got lucky?

Because, Megan and Zach recognize that even if you methodically plan, and carefully execute your plan, there are factors you can't think of. So much in life is beyond our control. Now, when you are the clumsy type, you learn this lesson very quickly. You understand that smart and methodical as you may be, luck plays a large part in your existence. This, in turn, helps you develop a sense of empathy for others' failings and stumbles. This sense of empathy helps you develop perhaps one of the most important qualities for life and love: being non-judgmental.

Being non-judgmental means you understand you need to gently warn others from time to time, and that's OK. Being non-judgmental means you understand that even when you warn others, from time to time, they may fail, and that's OK. Being non-judgmental means you understand that even when people fall, it does not mean that they are any more flawed than you, and you can and should help them back up.

When we look at society around us today, I am not sure there is a better lesson for life. When we look at marriage, there can be no better recipe for a long lasting union. This is the important lesson Megan and Zach teach us here today.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Saturday evening I co-officiated Michelle and Melanie’s wedding ceremony with Reverend Aaron White, at the couple’s home in Colleyville, Texas. Here are some of the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Infectious. That sounds like a weird word to begin your personal remarks to a couple with, right? Allow me to explain.

I have each person I marry write an autobiographical essay. I ask specifically why they want to marry. I read these essays, and I take little notes. I try to do this as close as possible to my second meeting with them. That way I remember what my little notes mean. I actually read Michelle and Melanie essays the night before our early morning meeting. Now, I had met them once before, and we talked quite extensively. However, what they wrote about each other - wow! So, even before our second meeting, I was kind of overwhelmed. Listen to this.

Melanie writes:

"What do I love about Michelle?  The list is long. I love how fiery and passionate she is. I love how goal oriented she is.  She is a wonderful athlete who is fueled by setting goals and achieving them.  She is a wonderful mom... She is my best friend. I have never wanted to spend all of my time with someone before like I do with her.  I love how affectionate she has become with me... Anyone that spends time around us, can see how genuinely happy and good we are together.  Fact is, I cannot get enough of Michelle. I get sad when the weekend ends, and I know I will not see her during the day.  Michelle is the best part of my day."

Not to be outdone, Michelle writes:

"Melanie is the most interesting person I've known and even in a short amount of time, I've grown to love her deeper than I've ever loved anyone else in my life. On our toughest days, it never feels like work. She makes me want to be a better person and strive to be the best life partner... She is very protective of me and I know she will always care for me in sickness and health. She is fiercely loyal to all people that she loves... Melanie has taught me that it's okay to let my guard down and be vulnerable. She taught me to love fiercely and never make a decision out of fear. She has shown me how to love unconditionally and lead with my heart not my head."

Wow. How do you even follow that? I mean, I could talk about how interesting parallels and commonalities in the biographies of this Southern lady and New York gal have added color and flavor to their relationship. I could talk about their similarities and how they bring them together. I could talk about their differences, and how they have not only not impeded, but have actually enhanced their relationship. I could talk about what great moms AND daughters they each are. I could probably just talk about their sacrifices and work ethic in all areas of their lives, and how this has brought them closer.

I don't know about you, but to me all of those important points just don't seem to measure up to the infectious nature of the love they share. And so, all I can think of are the simple yet perfect words of Jess Glynne (a young British singer who is both Jewish like Melanie AND a redhead like Michelle), in her song, Real Love, as she conveys my thoughts about Michelle and Melanie's relationship: "You've got the feeling that I want to feel, you've got the feeling that I know is real. This IS real love."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Actions Speak

Saturday evening I co-officiated Jennifer and Noah’s wedding ceremony with Father Milt Raybould at the Hilton Park Cities, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I love origin stories. If you think about it, some of the greatest stories ever told from the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Christmas story to the American Revolution. So, I was intrigued by Jennifer and Noah's origin story, the origin story of them as a couple. How did they arrive at the place they are today, where Noah's words ring mutually true, when he says: "I want to marry her because I love her, she is my best friend, and I can’t imagine my life without her. I love the way I feel about her and the way she makes me feel." It sounds pretty extraordinary. So how DID they get there, or if you will, here?

Noah writes: "I remember our (initial) email conversations and eventual phone conversations – I enjoyed talking with Jen and we had a lot in common. I felt a connection with her instantly – I joked, but it is true, that after our first date, I cancelled my other dates!" Humor definitely adds to an origin story, and Noah has that in spades!

I really love the literary aspect of their origin story. I think our grandchildren will find it shocking that most of us, in our generation, did NOT  begin our romantic relationships like Jennifer and Noah. (I can them say, "What? You just met by accident? You didn't email, text, tweet, Facebook etc. first?! That's so weird.) Anyway, listen to Jennifer describe the beauty of this:  "I waited for his responses with great anticipation each day and savored reading every one (even multiple times)..."

It is this type of origin story that allows you to get to know another person on a much deeper level. So, not surprisingly, Jennifer writes what she discovered pretty quickly: "We have many of the same values and life goals which made the first, sometimes awkward-getting-to-know-you emails lots of fun and enjoyable."

And what did they discover about each other during that time and as their relationship developed? Well, Jennifer claims the following is true of Noah, but again, I am pretty sure he would say this is equally true of her: "What we wrote at that time is as true today as it was then, which only makes me love him more. I can easily say he is kind, honest, enthusiastic, etc. and it is all true. What exemplifies it to me, though, is how he conveys it to his friends and family. (Actions always speak louder than words.) He takes the time to make people feel special and to let them know he is thinking of them in his own unique way. This is true for both friends and family, new and old. This sign of loyalty and love he shares with me, too."

Wow! When I taught high school and middle school, I would always advise kids to not look at just what the other person says to them. Rather look at how he treats the server. Look at how she treats the valet. That can tell you a lot, because actions do speak larger than words, and in these actions a person shows their true self. When they do, their words either become, to borrow a phrase from today, richer or poorer.

So, for all of us married couples, present and future, let's keep Jennifer and Noah's message in mind. Actions do speak louder than words, and go ahead and make the other person feel special. Because that is not a bad recipe for a happy marriage, is it?!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fateful Moments

Saturday evening I officiated Sarah and Jeff’s wedding ceremony at Stonebriar Country Club, in Frisco, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The beginning of the story of Sarah and Jeff is amusing, at least the way Jeff tells it: “My sister persuaded me to try one more of HER single groups which I had attended before and most of the women where frankly much older than me and not very attractive. So I decided to try it one more time and saw a new face, and that face belonged to Sarah. I am typically very shy but moved right in to rescue Sarah from some disgusting older Jewish men who were hounding the “fresh meat”. We began to talk and I made her laugh and most the night centered on her furry boots she wore that night. We went out on our first date and the rest is history.”

This is especially interesting, when you take into account what Sarah felt about the institution of marriage up to and even after that fateful encounter: “I’m actually someone who never gave marriage much of a thought when I was younger.  I didn’t particularly have an urge to have children – so it was fine if I got married – and fine if I didn’t.  I’ve been in other relationships in my life, but never felt as though they had to result in marriage.” Isn’t that interesting? Neither of them was looking that seriously for a partner for life, but here we are today.

How did that happen? The fact is that we all have these fateful moments in our lives. We probably have them more than we realize. All too often, we just let them pass, without harnessing their power to turn fate into destiny. What Sarah and Jeff show us is what can happen when we use these moments properly. They can change not only our lives, but our perspectives on life, and the lives of others too, like Sarah tells us: “When Jeff… ask(ed) me to marry him, a real feeling of excitement AND calm came over me.  I feel like with marriage, I will always have someone in my corner – as I will be for him.  We will become a united front…  Jeff is someone who accepts and loves me as I am – and I feel the same way about him!”

And the potential these moments bring? Well, they bring with them a potential for that elusive quality we all seek, not just calm and acceptance, but renewal. As Jeff says: “I finally found someone who loves me for me… I have a partner to share things and experience life all over again.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Much Better Place

Saturday I officiated Danielle and Rob’s wedding ceremony at the W Victory Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
I get to ask every couple a question that if anyone else asked it, it would seem downright rude, "Why do you want to get married?" Danielle gave me one of the best answers so far, "No one will mispronounce or misspell my last name anymore!"
Seriously, though, this is a question that was an easy one for Danielle and Rob to answer. Here is a multi-faceted statement that Danielle gives: "Rob is the most encouraging and supportive guy I have ever met. He ALWAYS puts my feelings and well-being before his own and would drop anything to make me happy. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t make me smile and feel like the luckiest girl in the world."
Wow! Gentlemen, whatever this guy has, can we bottle it and distribute it during the reception?!
Now, in Rob's description, Danielle is no slouch in this territory either, "I love absolutely everything about her. She makes me happy every day. If I am having a bad day, it only takes a moment with her to make me smile. I can’t stand being away from her even if it is just for the day. I have so much fun when I am with her and no one else understands how to make me happy."
Not exactly the stereotypical response you might expect from a hardened veteran turned cop, huh? I think the ladies may try to bottle some of what Danielle is selling too!
How do they do it? Well, at the risk of giving a simplistic answer in matters of the heart, I think the answer may lie in something innate in the personality of these two. Let's examine again one important sentence from Danielle's words above, "He ALWAYS puts my feelings and well-being before his own and would drop anything to make me happy." Now, spend just a few moments with these two, and you will understand that this sentence could have come out of Rob's mouth about Danielle too.
I don't remember if it was on Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street (the only two programs my late mother let me watch when I was really little), but I do remember a discussion of what true love meant. The answer was reminiscent of Danielle and Rob's mutual feeling. You know you are truly, totally and helplessly in love, when the other person's happiness is more important to you than your own.
Perhaps, I don't know, and we can certainly think of examples that belie this idea, this has something to do with what they decided to do with their lives. They have both gravitated towards lives of service. I mean, a nurse practitioner and a cop who is also a veteran of the national guard - can you be more service-oriented than that?! And what is a life of service about? It is about putting others' needs at the forefront.
So, let us all heed the lesson Danielle and Rob teach us today. Let us all learn to put the needs of others before ours, especially the needs of our soul mates. If we just do that, imagine what a much better place this world will be.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Best Blessing for a Parent

Yesterday, I officiated a double header baby name for Allison and Bryan's cute twin baby boys, at their home in Plano, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their family:

When I met with Allison and Bryan a few weeks ago, I came away with a really warm feeling. We talked about how life changing having a child was, and how this changes your perspective on life, in a way that no other event does. They seemed, obviously, very tired. However, there was such a sense of contentment and love for each other and their children. It was almost overwhelming.

I don't know why, but it got me thinking about a fascinating biblical tale. David is in the twilight of his reign. He is about to crown his son, Solomon. One of his men gives him an interesting blessing. He expresses his hope that Solomon's kingdom be greater than David's.

Now, at first blush this might be puzzling. Is this not disrespectful to David? Our Rabbis say no. They point out the obvious to any parent. חוץ מבבנו, בכל אדם מתקנא. One can become jealous of anyone, except his or her child. The greatest compliment you can get, is that your child should be so great and successful that he eclipse you. In fact, one of the sweetest moments in any parent's life is the moment you are called not by your name, but by your affiliation to your child. Oh, you are His mom. You must be their dad. It's like hearing music for the first time. Hearing that your child has surpassed you, is even greater.

I asked Allison and Bryan what they hoped for their children's future. Kind of a big question, almost cliche. But I loved the answer. They said they hoped that the closeness in age of all three of their children would help them remain close, and stick together. I found that really interesting, especially as I have been reading a lot about "collective impact." Social scientists are finding that there is real evidence, that something many of us suspected is true, really is. For true and lasting and powerful social change, you don't need the next bright idea or silver bullet. You need different people with different talents and variant roles to act together. That is where greatness truly lies.

If you think about it, that wish that these kiddos stick together, that the next generation learn the power of collective impact, is how the blessing of Solomon materializes in the real world. The best way to see the fulfillment of our dream that our children surpass us, is through Allison and Bryan's wish, that they stay close, and stick together, cooperate with other. That is the path of greatness.

So, Allison and Bryan, our wish for you is similar to the one given to our ancient king: May yours kids indeed stick together, and through this may they be so blessed, that they be greater, greater than you.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shared Destiny

Saturday I officiated Julia and Jeremiah’s wedding ceremony at The Venetian Terrace in Las Colinas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests, some of whom came all the way from the Promised Land:

Math was never my strong suit, and geometry... Let's just say if I am never in great shape in that area... (See what I just did?) That said, I do remember one fact in particular, don't ask me why. Two parallel lines on the plane will never ever meet; no ifs, buts or maybes. The thing is, because we don't live on this theoretical mathematical plane, we can't really draw totally parallel lines. What looks like parallel lines to the naked eye, are in fact not; at some point they will meet.

Now, you might wonder: what on earth does any of this have to do with Julia and Jeremiah? I am glad you asked. The fact is that if you "roll back the tape" just a few years, Julia and Jeremiah, to the naked eye, would seem like those parallel lines on the plane. You would have been forgiven for thinking that this Jewish Russian artist financier would come together with this American Southern truck driver writer. But come together they did... Not only did they come together, but they came together at exactly the right time for both of them. The table was set for great things to come.

Now, moving away from mathematics to philosophy, what happens next is what really matters. You see, call it God, luck or fate, once you come together, you have a choice to make. Luck only takes you to that point where you could just be ships passing in the night. As the Ancient Romans said, the gods help those who help themselves. You need to seize fate, which is what happens to you, and transform it into destiny, which is what happens when you act upon random fate, and imbue it with meaning.

This is exactly what Julia and Jeremiah did. Now, my first draft of the end of the last sentence read, "destiny, which is what happens when you act upon random fate, and imbue it with action and meaning." Then I reminded myself that really sometimes fate can look active, while forging your destiny can seem passive. Destiny is more about imbuing what happens through action or inaction with new meaning. Julia and Jeremiah were not inactive in the choices they made or the places they went in life, before and after their lives intersected. It is, however, at the moment that Jeremiah contends they stopped acting (in more ways than one), that they were able to find their true selves as individuals and as a couple, that were able to find new, deep and rich meaning in their lives, that they were able to seize their shared destiny. There can be no better place to be in life, right here and right now.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ready to Begin

Today I officiated Sammi and Mike’s wedding ceremony at Sammi’s parents’ cottage on Wellesley Island, New York. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the fun facts about Sammi and Mike is that they met through their love of and involvement in team sports. Sammi takes sports very seriously. She majored in sports management at UCONN, and she worked for the UCONN men’s basketball team, even winning a national championship in 2011. And Sammi and Mike did not just meet through some random team playing some random sport. They met through their jobs at the Boston Red Sox.

Now, having grown up in the Middle East, I don't really get American sports, neither the games played, nor the fact that a large part of going to a college happens to revolve around sports. That said, having lived in Texas, where the majority religion is a faith called "football", I have managed to learn a thing or two. (Admittedly, not much more than that...)

Earlier this year I officiated a wedding between the Dallas Cowboys' assistant defensive line coach and a Cowboys front office official. The bride asked me to introduce a little surprise for the groom into the vows, and add the phrase, "in winning and in losing football seasons". The bride happily repeated this, but the groom refused to utter the word “losing” in front of his boss. Interestingly, during the reception, the head coach, Jason Garrett (had to Google that one!) told the bride, that actually adding those words made perfect sense, based on his experiences in his marriage! Still, he wasn't endorsing losing seasons or even games; he was just admitting that in all likelihood they would happen and put a strain on any couple involved in the game.

Now, at the risk of not being allowed off the plane at DFW tomorrow, I would like to posit a view that disagrees. I think loss can be one of the most valuable experiences a person or couple can have. None of us tries to lose, nor should we, but many times loss contains many more lessons and insights than winning does.

These lessons and insights do not come from loss itself, and not from trying to figure out its source or why it happened. They come from the meaning we give to the loss, the meaning we invest in what has happened which can elevate it beyond recognition. It is meaning that takes us from "why", which can be debilitating to "what now" which can only be empowering.

This vital lesson is central to and weaved through Sammi and Mike's stories as individuals and as a couple. I believe this approach is what taught them in Mike's words that, "It’s the simple things in life that matter to us. Not money, fancy items, or crazy adventures. It’s the quality time we spend together that truly matters."

This very place we are in is replete with this understanding, and reminds them and us of that very pure truth. It is a place with many memories. Almost every spot around the cottage reminds her of her grandfather, who she called Poppa, and the quality time they spent here. Indeed, she believes he is here by her side today, and Sammi has a heart made of one of her grandfather’s shirts sewn into her dress. Sammi's beloved dog, Jake's, ashes lie next to the water, where she feels he still watches over them while they enjoy the river. And this very boathouse came out of the fight Sammi's Dad faced with colon cancer. He used the building of the boathouse as a distraction from his battle, always keeping this beautiful wedding in mind. It was something the family had to look forward to, during a very trying time.

Mike talks about struggles and losses during his adolescence, something we are all familiar with, but of which he seemed to have an extra helping. "In some ways," he says about one of the most difficult times for him growing up, "I look back at this as a defining moment for me as an individual. I believe I learned a lot... and that has helped shape the person I am today. I narrowed down a focus of what I wanted to achieve in life and... set out to become that person and develop the skills necessary to be successful."

It is though, through a life altering challenge, that Sammi and Mike experienced together, Sammi's diagnosis of Crohn's disease in 2012, that their relationship was not only solidified, but also imbued with deep meaning. Listen to Sammi's words; this is gold:

"Sitting in hospital rooms on those dark days, makes you realize what is important in life and what is not such a big deal. In those hospital rooms, Mike and I realized that our relationship and our love were what were truly important. If our love can stand going through that, I am confident that it can stand anything that life throws at us."

This makes Sammi and Mike's mutual belief at this very moment understandable, "We are so in love and so ready to begin our life together that there is no time better than now."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Way That Love is When It is Pure

Saturday evening (8/1) I co-officiated Ellen and Nate's wedding ceremony with Father Richard Thibodeau, at St. Mary's of the Assumption in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask each person I marry to write about themselves. Now, Ellen and Nate, this might surprise a poet and a fiction writer: Writing, like anything else, is something some people are good at, and some people less so. So, I was excited to read the essays of a trained poet, Nate, and a trained fiction writer, Ellen, who I was impressed to find has a long list of publications, available on Amazon, by the way!

I ask each person to write about a few different points. One of these is how they met. Here is how our poet describes the place they met: "Lake Charles is a small city on the north-east shore of the eponymous lake. Because of the unique geographical situation of South Louisiana, Lake Charles contains a port that can accommodate ocean-going vessels, but it is nevertheless separated from the Gulf of Mexico by about two thousand square miles of salt and freshwater marsh. For this reason, living there can sometimes feel like living at the ends of the Earth." He's not that bad at prose either, is he? And yes, this is the first of some 600 essays like these I have read with the word eponymous...

Now, you may protest, that I left out the part about how they met. Wasn't that the point? Well, no. The point was to describe the setting, because to Ellen and Nate the setting is integral to their story. Once again, here is Nate: "Ellen, from Chicago, and I, from Roanoke, both moved to this strange and romantic clime sight unseen. I’d like to think that this really rash life decision shows not utter foolishness on both of our parts, but daring and a willingness to discover our destiny. As it turned out, our destiny was to meet one another and fall in love.​"

Now, why do I use the word "setting" and not the word "place". Well, I feel that if you just keep Nate's poetic description in mind, you already have the answer. It wasn't about a place, it was so much richer than that. They were at the ends of the earth, in a strange and romantic clime. That is a setting. And I belabor that point because Ellen says that growing up, like many writers and romantics, she "always had trouble feeling connected to people and rooted to a place." With Nate in that setting she discovered, in her words, "there is no time or place, it is just us in a vast, beautiful world with so much to learn and experience."

This desire to connect and find peace has led Ellen to her deeply spiritual practice of Yoga. "When I move with my breath," she says, "I am able to quiet my mind and exist in a place of just be-ing... I have learned that I can just be and that I am not my thoughts." But once again, the partnership with Nate is key: "Off the yoga mat, it is a lot harder to remain unattached from your thoughts and anxieties. In so many ways, Nate has taught me how to be in the moment and experience more divine-ness every day."

This purity she describes, where feelings become so real, you can almost touch them, is something that Nate echoes when he speaks of his feelings for Ellen, and what they share. This should tell you all you need to know about their love story, and these words need no commentary: "We have a love that feels palpably real and true, and that becomes richer and more complex with each passing day we spend together... We are best friends and a great team. Our time together has almost exclusively been a time of laughter, trust, and unadulterated satisfaction and joy. This is, I am very sure, the way that love is when it is pure."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Six Roses

Sunday evening (7/26) I officiated Leah and Sebastian's wedding ceremony at La Caille in Sandy, Utah. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lifelong learning means cultivating the ability to live with ambiguity, cherishing the willingness to question, and treasuring the courage to change your mind, when warranted.

Leah gets this, and in fact ties this type of thinking to her Jewish identity: "My Jewish identity," she says, "has taught me to ask “why” a lot, and question matters in my life, not just to believe in things I am told, but to find the reasoning behind that belief. Judaism has taught me that I can’t follow people or matters blindly, and when I work with within a system, I believe it is extremely important to have your own moral compass. My Jewish identity taught me that it’s important to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do... It's okay to see the ambiguity in life, and life’s questions that arise and to sometimes debate and not be sure about the answer to every question."

Sebastian too has followed this type of journey in seeking out his spiritual path: "I mainly asked myself" he writes, "what were the needs for my spirituality and I came to the conclusion that no one religion could answer my needs. What I found most important were broader concepts which transcend any one religion, and which are common values and morals shared amongst all people of good will."

It is this flexibility, this willingness to live with ambiguity, the openness to changing one's mind, that allowed Leah and Sebastian to come together. Leah says: "I always thought because I was so picky, fiercely independent, and my standards were so high, that I wouldn’t get married until I was at least in my late thirties, and I had found peace with that realization, but that’s because I didn’t know a man like Sebastian existed. "Sebastian echoes and augments this, "I was never in a rush to marry and I didn’t really have a timeline per say to getting married, it was always about finding the right person." So, even though Leah says that first she said, "I told him that he seemed like a nice guy, but that I was done with the dating scene," she was willing to question herself and change her mind, when the right guy arrived.

The interesting and somewhat ironic fact about a willingness to question, change and live with ambiguity, is that it actually can clarify and cement the few really important things at the core of your being. This is perhaps why Leah's mom told her, “I know you’ll be okay once I pass away because you’re a good person with a good Jewish heart." Sebastian echoed this thought on his first date with Leah. Listen to her tell it: "He bought me a bouquet of roses. When he handed me the bouquet of flowers, he asked me how many there were and what I thought the significance of that number was. I saw that there were six roses and I had no idea what the significance was of the number six. He told me he bought me six roses because the Star of David has six points on it. He wanted to tell me that he loved me and who I was. He loved and accepted my Jewish heart."

When we recognize life's many ambiguities, and the few ideas that form our core, it clarifies another important idea. It clarifies, in Sebastian's words, the imperative to, "Seize the moment and seize the opportunity... I did that with Leah because I love her with all my heart." Leah underlines his words beautifully: "Because I understand the fragility of this life, it has made me realize that I love Sebastian with all my heart and he loves me all of his heart... When you have that type of relationship and connection with someone, it is only right to start your lives and journey together as soon as possible as husband and wife."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Began with a Salute

Sunday evening (7/19) I officiated Reba and Justin’s wedding ceremony at the Poetry Springs Events in Terrell, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Fortunately for Reba and Justin, they met while serving in the National Guard, which does not prohibit fraternization. When I first spoke to Reba and Justin, I couldn't help but playfully ask if he had in the past, when they met and started dating, saluted her due to their differing ranks, and her commission. (He had, most of the time, at least...)

I recently considered though how a what a salute conveys might be really apt for dating, and deciding on a mate. You have to look back at possible origins of the salute to see what I mean.
According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Historian in Fort Lee, Virginia, "One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight's gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another even more fantastic version is that it symbolizes a knight's shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament."

Now, take one look at Captain Villanueva here, and the second explanation does not seem fantastical at all. Also, Justin implies that the first reason might not fully fit their relationship, as officer and airman. He says that Reba was first interested in him, BECAUSE in their very first interaction he spoke confidently, bluntly and plainly to her, in a way that most Staff Sergeants don’t speak to Captains. However, if we delve a little more into the essence of the first reason, not deference, but revealing your identity, it really does fit well.

Military life may be renowned for its camaraderie, but it can be lonely too. As Reba says, "I loved traveling in the military, but I think it was spending a New Year’s Eve in Paris without a date, that made me feel alone. I guess I finally had the need to want to share my life with someone." It was, perhaps this realization that led Reba to open up (to reveal her true identity or essence, if you will) to Justin, when they subsequently met at a party. "Reba and I," says Justin," ended up off in a corner in deep conversation for several hours, ignoring everyone else at the party." Reba says that she was, "really impressed not only by how innately intelligent he was," but by his character. As Reba adds, "I ended up really liking him at the end of the night and wanted to talk to him more."

As Justin tells it, in short order, he and Reba became inseparable. And as time went on, and with more experiences and challenges that military life throws at a couple, they not only revealed their mutual identities in the spirit of the salute; they found their own and each other's essences, and with it a deep and wonderful connection. And so, Justin could state with surety, "Reba is my best friend and confidant, and there is no other woman I would ever want in my life." And Reba could echo that, saying, "With Justin, I feel like I am finally home."

And so today, what began on a faraway military base with a smart salute, today they will make official under the Chuppah, which symbolizes coming home. Reba and Justin, may you continue to enjoy the deep connection you have built, and may your home be a true  בית נאמן, a faithful home, to you both and to the family you establish here today.

Lose Yourself

Saturday evening (7/18) Reverend Allen Grant and I co-officiated Rachel and Robert’s wedding ceremony at the Perot Museum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Some might think that our general views about the world, would have no impact on our chances of success in the marital game. Common sense tells me otherwise. If, for instance, you think that you have an absolute monopoly on the truth and innermost thoughts of the Creator, will you possibly carry that understanding to spousal differences?  

This is why I love this cosmopolitan couple's shared observation that Robert puts so well: "I was exposed to a large number of religious views during my time on ships and found that almost all religions, be it Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Shinto, Hindu, Buddhism, or anything else all preach a similar message-be good to others and yourself." In this Robert states something very deep at the core of Rachel and his understanding as an interfaith couple: neither of them has a monopoly on the universal truth, and so certainly both are far from having a monopoly on any truth related to their relationship.

The last part of that statement, though, might be the most important. If there is any universal truth out there, one we could even ground in science, it is this: “Be good to yourself, and be good to others.” If you listen to Rachel and Robert talk about each other and their journey together, you know that challenges they have faced together have helped them hone this ability to be kinder and more loving to themselves, as well as to each other, and to the rest of their world.

Rachel puts the degree of their mutual love resulting from this journey of learning so well. Listen up, this is really something: “It is a little cliché, but I... know Robert is the person I want to spend the rest of my days with because he makes me laugh. Saying that doesn’t really do justice to what I mean when I say he makes me laugh. I mean he makes me completely lose it when we need that escape from the stressors in life. I have noticed at times when I am very frustrated with something he actively finds ways to make me bust out into a rolling-on-the-floor, clutching-my-stomach, tears-rolling-down-my-cheeks laugh, and to be able to completely lose yourself in a laugh like that is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world."

I would disagree with only one thing - I don't think it's cliché at all. Though Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," true love should be the one exception to the Bard’s rule. True love means you can shed all pretenses; you can take off all the masks that hide you from the world, and throw your head back and laugh. When you have that one person who can help you do just that, well, that is THE most wonderful thing in the world, indeed.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

One Plus One Equals Way More Than Two

Saturday evening I officiated Ashley and Tim’s wedding ceremony at the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Most American Jews come from Eastern Europe. One of the most fascinating slogans in the fight for freedom in the region Ashley's ancestors hail from was "Two plus two always equals four", a popular slogan in the Polish Solidarity movement. You see, the core of Communist doctrine was that the party was always correct, and so if it said that two plus two equals five, than that was true. Solidarity set out to counter that.

Now, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and finding your soul mate can be an instance, that defies math. If you read between the lines of Ashley's description of Tim's affect on her, you see that one plus one equals way more than two.

"When I met Tim," she says, "I had never met someone who I knew just worked so well with me. He was handsome, funny, intelligent, driven and so outgoing and well liked. Most importantly, Tim makes me feel my best. I had never been dating someone who made me feel like my best person before. Even my family noticed how he made me a better person." Forget the total, her one grew exponentially, because of him!

In fact, as Tim reminds us, in speaking of Ashley, we, our essence, our happiness, grows because of our relationships with all who we love and who return that love: "Besides all of her gleaming qualities (she’s hilarious, beautiful, one of the most admirable dentists in the entire field, a great friend, sister and daughter, she literally has dozens, if not hundreds, of people who would gladly give the shirt off their back for her, among other items), she loves her family and she loves being with my family... I think that her knowing that her family is happy, in turn, makes her happy."

Both Ashley and Tim speak movingly about their mutual feeling of having found their match, as Tim puts it, what Ashley calls their Beshert. This Yiddish word means match or match made in heaven. However, it can also mean lucky. So Ashley's use of this rich multi-layered word echoes Tim's confidence that in finding Ashley, he feels like, "the luckiest guy in the world."

But how do you know you have found your match, your Beshert? How do you know that you are indeed that lucky? I believe that if we look closely at what Ashley and Tim say, we find that answer hidden in plain sight. You know you have found that special someone, that Beshert, that match made in heaven, when your one plus one equals way more than two. You know you are truly the luckiest person in the world, when each "one" grows exponentially, and when in turn the combination of your potential, your growth, and your happiness, becomes simply and purely immeasurable.