Monday, May 30, 2016

Passion for what is Good and Right and Just

Sunday evening, Father Tony O’Donovan and I co-officiated Lacey and Zach’s wedding ceremony at the home of Lacey’s grandparents in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lacey and Zach don't use these words, but allow me to: These two are deep thinkers and spiritual thinkers. It is important to clarify what this does not mean: As they grew into their own, they found little use for sectarian dogma. Instead, listen to Lacey's words, which could have been written by Zach too: "I can sum up my spiritual beliefs as, 'we live for each other.' All that matters is how you treat, help, and care for others. ​I don’t believe that there is a 'right' religion. As my father describes it, 'there are infinite paths to Heaven…'”

And being deep thinkers often means, that you know you don't have the answers, and you are OK with that. Now, listen to Zach's words, which could have been written by Lacey too: "A constant theme throughout my life has been trying to come to a spiritual understanding of the world given my current set of experiences, and not letting my lack of complete understanding frustrate me. I don’t have any answers, I don’t think anybody truly does..."

Our shared traditions actually encourage this. One of the first acts of the mythical father of our faiths, Abraham, is stand before God and passionately and directly question him. We are told very few things about Abraham's life, and so the fact that the Bible devotes significant verbal "real estate" to this is meant to remind us that this is as a profoundly religious act.

There is, however, an important correlate to this. Spiritual contemplation and deep thinking, even profound questioning, are not sufficient. They can and must move us to act. Now, if you go back to the Abrahamic legend, he is actually challenging God's judgment on an issue of social justice. Basically, he is acting as an attorney. (Maybe, that is why lawyer is #2 on the Jewish Mother MVP - most valuable profession - list...) Interestingly, this is what caused Lacey to go into law: "Before going to law school, I volunteered at Catholic Charities of Dallas Immigration and Legal Services. I wanted to work on the cases that others avoided. The work was rewarding but frustrating. Often people who had suffered tremendously couldn’t get a visa because of a technicality and there was nothing I could do. I decided that I would have the best opportunity to challenge unjust policies as a lawyer.”

Now, though Zach is reluctant to say this himself, from Lacey's description, the way that he approaches medicine (#1 on the above Jewish Mother MVP list) is the same way she approaches law. (I adjusted this quote a little because - I am not making this up - the Counselor here wrote it in bullet points...) It is all about doing the right thing, and helping others: "He is meticulous in always doing the right thing. He always pushes himself to make the right choice, not the easy choice. He is compassionate. He takes incredible care of his patients.... He calmly handled a medical emergency on a plane during a 7 a.m. flight about a month after he graduated medical school!"
This mutual commitment to and passion for what is good and right and just, is a great source for their mutual love. As Lacey says, again in words Zach mirrors back to her regularly in word and deed, "I want to marry Zach now because he infinitely enriches my life. He has made me happier than I ever thought possible and is a better person than I thought I would ever meet."

This is why Zach speaks for both of them, when says, "I could no longer imagine spending a day of my life without her companionship. I don’t know how love exists or how it fits in the world.  Those questions don’t bother me anymore. Nothing bothers me when I hold her."

Living a Life Richly

Saturday evening, I officiated Arland and Stan's wedding ceremony at the Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Now, not to go all meta on you, but why might someone write their story in the third person, and why did Arland and Stan do this specifically? Well, meeting with this couple and reading their essays, I got a distinct sense that they really like their story, individually and as a couple. They are in a "great place" each in his and her own skin, as well as together. And so reflecting, looking back, reminiscing about their stories from the vantage point of the present, is just pure fun.
This is one of the reasons I love working with couples that are like me, seasoned. (Don't call us old. We are not. We are not young either.) These couples are by no means tabula raza, which if you are not up on your Latin means plain and boring (not really). They have had some experiences, they have lived a little, and maybe lost once or twice too. They are anything BUT plain and boring.

There is a correlate however, that must come along with the "seasoning". And that is, once again, how do you tell your story, to yourself and to others? How do you look back on your experiences, on all of that living you have done? If you can look back with a smile, and say, "What a ride!" it won't change the past good and bad, but it will enrich the present and the future beyond belief. It will make every aspect of your life better, especially if you are lucky enough to have found someone to tell that story with.

And when I interact with Arland and Stan, and when I read what they write about each other, that is exactly and wonderfully where they are! Arland, for instance, writes that Stan is, "a very kind, gentle, generous man, and a puppy rescuer (of more than one little furry animal)—but I think the cooking won me over for sure!" And Stan writes about Arland, "Stanley (yes, third person AND full name) met the most amazing woman, and fell head over heels for her. He quickly realized how wonderful she was and how much they had in common. Perfect in every way. Arland even enjoys a glass of chocolate wine... or two, once in a while."

It is this healthy approach towards living a life richly and viscerally, that enables you to write your own perfect imperfect story together. And so, Stan ends his essay, with a sentiment Arland shares too, and which speaks to a rich future: "Life is short. Stanley is looking forward to the wedding and looks forward to a happy healthy future with Arland; growing old and enjoying every minute of what their future has in store for them."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Act Justly, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly

Sunday evening, I officiated Hallie and Paul's wedding ceremony at the Classic Oaks Ranch, in Mansfield, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple to write about themselves. One of the questions I ask them to address is why they want to marry. Listen to part of Hallie's answer: "Before Paul and I began to date, I had already made up my mind that he had the qualities of the person that I wanted to marry. Had I not already decided that I wanted to marry him, I would not have started dating him."

Well, now. That is not an answer you hear every day! Of course, humor aside, this totally makes sense. But for that, to paraphrase what Paul Harvey used to say, you need to know the rest of the story.

There is certainly no right or wrong way to meet the love of your life. Perhaps there are as many as there are love stories. However, most if not all of us, get to spend time with the person who we fall in love with in short spurts of time. After all, life continues with all of its daily obligations and tasks. Though, we might be swept off of our feet, the world continues to turn.

Well, that is unless you are Hallie and Paul. Have you ever lost your job, only to say in hindsight, that it was the best thing that ever happened to you. Well, move over, because Paul has you beat. Listen to this: "As fate would have it, I was put off work for a few months... just when Hallie began establishing her practice... I would spend my days at the barn volunteering... Hallie and I began spending time together as I helped her around the barn... We really began to bond when she acquired two miniature horses for her play therapy sessions. The "minis" came in pretty rough shape, and we spent time together getting them used to being around humans and then desensitizing them to activities that could take place during sessions."

Hallie elaborates a little more, "We spent the better part of the day, several days a week, for several weeks working with the “minis.” Over time, we began to have more and more serious discussions and I knew that I had met the man that I wanted to marry. Paul was exactly the man who I had been looking for – kind, open, accepting of me, intelligent, funny, and someone who liked horses!"

What is it we look for in a mate? Our shared tradition had the best, simplest, most universal answer. In the Book of Micah, we are told that the best course of human behavior is to, "act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly". But how do you know if a person fits that bill? After all, we all put on a little bit of a show when we interact socially, especially with a potential romantic partner? How do you, in the words of the great Madonna (the singer, not the saint..), "put your love to the test?"

Now, in my days of teaching middle school and high school, I used to tell the kids, especially the girls, that when they go on a date to check how their date treats... the waitress. I mean, for you they could be putting on a show, but their true self will show from how they treat that other person, over whom they have a tiny bit of authority for a small sliver of time. That can really tell them about that person. Still, because those circumstances are limited, even that is of limited utility.

Hallie and Paul show us a better method. Unlike Dr. Sheade, I am no social scientist, not of animal nor of human behavior. However, I cannot think of a better way of really getting to know a person to the core of their being, than through working together with animals who have suffered. Think again about those very words, and now think back to those weeks Hallie and Paul spent together. They each got to observe if the other could indeed, really and truly "act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly".

I don't know if this experiment can be replicated. Certainly, most of us will never have the chance to test this theory. However, I truly believe that Hallie and Paul show us the best way possible to get to know someone, especially that someone, with whom we will then spend the rest of our lives.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Magical Spiritual and Emotional Journey

Friday evening, Father Mark Crawford and I co-officiated Sara and Pavel's wedding ceremony at The Bell Tower on 34th, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It occurs to me that Sara and Pavel exemplify the very idea of lifelong learning in their relationship. Where differences of faith and culture can be an obstacle for some, for them it presented an opportunity for learning. As Sara says, "Our religious differences are something that could have potentially been detrimental to our relationship, but we are both very respectful of each other’s beliefs and faith. We push ourselves to learn more about both Catholicism and Judaism for ourselves and for each other. We find similarities between the two and discuss the differences." These differences served to enhance each one's connection to their own faith and heritage. As Pavel says, "Meeting Sara... helped enhance my Jewish identity."
Sara and Pavel came up with a really cool idea for the readings in their ceremony, that fit in with this approach. As a sign of respect for their own and each other's faiths, they chose to include two parallel and very well-known Hebrew Scripture and New Testament readings. As a sign of respect for their families, they asked their parents to read these, in Hebrew and English respectively. The central message of these readings is in one of the Hebrew Scripture verses quoted by the New Testament, which refers to man leaving his mother and father, and cleaving to his wife.

Now, asking their parents to read these specific verses was actually not just a sign of respect. It was a sign of admiration, as Sara and Pavel acknowledge the wonderful example their parents set for them, with their multi-decade love stories. As Pavel says, "My parents... are an inspiration to me of how to live and exist together as a couple. They are very passionate about each other and about life... I hope to have a strong and long lasting relationship like theirs with Sara." And as Sara says, "My parents... have been married an impressive forty-three years... They are considerate of each other, support each other, have truly been by each other’s side in sickness and health, they are affectionate and they make each other laugh."

Now, I always say there is no right or wrong way to do a wedding ceremony, and there is no one right way to do a marriage either. In fact, the very relationships that Pavel and Sara admire in their parents are profoundly different, as is Sara and Pavel's relationship from both of these relationships. And romance and fairy tales aside, turning two people into one unit, as these verses describe, takes work. In fact, it might be said that the only true absolute about marriage is that for it to work, you as individuals and as a couple must find that harmonic sweet spot between being your own person and becoming one flesh. And because we constantly evolve and change, our relationships and where that sweet spot is evolves and changes.

It is this type of dynamic that makes marriage one of the best vehicles not only for love and warmth, but for personal growth too. As Sara says, "I knew I could be with Pavel forever, when I could tell Pavel could see me for who I truly am... He challenges me to push myself, and sees success for me, and imagines things for me, that even I am hesitant to dream. We bring out the best in each other." And that is why Pavel describes their relationship as a, "magical spiritual and emotional journey together to fall in love." And he says that like any healthy evolution together, "there were ups and downs," but they both know, "that we are happy as can be together... we are ready to spend the rest of our lives together." This why he says, what is mutually true for Sara and Pavel alike, "There is no one else I’d rather spend the rest of my life with."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Where They Are

On Sunday, Father Patrick Mowrer and I co-officiated Ginnifer and Jeremy’s wedding ceremony, at the Talking Rock Resort, in Prescott, Arizona. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I sat down to write about Ginnifer and Jeremy, I was reminded of a story from Genesis. Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael, and Ishmael's mother, Hagar, wander through the desert. In the absence of water, they are dying of thirst, and have given up hope. Suddenly, just as all seems lost, an angel appears to Hagar, and says: "Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy, where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand... Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She... let the boy drink." (JPS Translation of Genesis 21/17-19) Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, says that the entire Torah portion read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (which includes this short story) is only read because of three words: "Where he is". What is it about these three words? Scripture emphasizes through these three words, that God deals with Ishmael, indeed with each of us, not by some artificially imposed standard of where we should be but where we are.
So, why did this remind me of Ginnifer and Jeremy? Well, first of all, because this very human desire, that each of us has, to be met where we are, was what they talked about in our first discussion. That is what they were seeking. Now, I say every one of us yearns for this, but Ginnifer and Jeremy had another reason, one they may not have been even conscious of, to express and search for being met where they are. What do I mean?

Listen to their own words, first to Jeremy speaking of Ginnifer: "Ginnifer… will always go above and beyond to make sure you feel included and loved.  I love the fact that she understands the importance of family and will do anything for them.  That love and commitment extends to her close knit group of friends.  A lot of people are good hearted, but Ginnifer continues to show me how big her heart is, whether it’s helping out a neighbor, volunteering for a cause, or just helping out any way possible… She keeps me centered, and continuously shows me and everyone around her what a huge heart she has…"

Now, when Ginnifer heard Jeremy speak of her big heart, she somewhat demurred. In fact, she contends that, if anything, she learned how to be kinder and gentler from Jeremy. Listen to her words: "I know Jeremy is always there to bring me down to earth and to support me when I need it most. I desire to marry Jeremy because he is what makes me stronger, more sensitive, and an overall better person. He is my love..."

Ginnifer and Jeremy yearned for being met where they are, because that is how they treat others. To them, this is the natural, normal and routine way to treat others. Why should they not expect the same? It is this fundamental approach to others, that promises to make their marriage a lasting one. Through continuing to meet each other, their family and their friends, where they are, they just have it made…

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Richly Meaningful

Saturday evening, I officiated Anna and Aaron’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Zoo, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Our modern world allows us to indulge in the fantasy, that we control our circumstances. In fact, we constantly look for apps in the technological realm and life-hacks beyond that realm, to help us FEEL like we are in control. We even pine for an imagined yesteryear, when we think people had more control over their lives, though the evidence usually belies this thought. 

Anna and Aaron's love story teaches us to embrace the lack of control, inherent in human life, rather than allowing it to cause us discomfort. This is little ironic, since causing discomfort was one of Aaron’s chief objectives in high school... In classes he and Anna shared, he expended a considerable amount of his energy on trying to make her and others laugh. Listen to Anna: "He was an insufferable flirt and made me pretty embarrassed, but seemed funny and nice enough when he didn’t realize I was nearby... I remember our Spanish teacher often struggling not to laugh at something he said during class, because it was slightly inappropriate and she was trying not to show that she was amused. I noticed that class was a lot less interesting on days when he wasn’t there."

Now, if you don't know Anna and Aaron, you would think, ah, high school sweethearts. But no, even though Anna admits she had a little bit of a crush during high school, and Aaron was clearly interested in Anna, their lives took them on their separate, very meaningful and quite different journeys. They had only sporadic contact in the decade after high school. There wasn't an "app for that”; there were no life-hacks. Aaron emphasizes that, on one occasion, Anna even failed the door test, a cinematic love-life-hack from "A Bronx Tale". (If you don't know what I am talking about, find me during the reception and I will show you the YouTube clip...)

They were each open to their personal journeys, because they embraced their not perfectly orderly, but richly meaningful endeavors. And this very spirit of adventure, coupled with deep thoughtfulness, allowed them to reconnect years later, and rekindle a spark that was there all along. It also allows them, two people who have known each other for almost 20 years, to keep their relationship serious and fun at the same time (though admittedly, this involves a substantial amount of eye-rolling for Anna...)

This is why Anna says, "Some people just get under your skin (in a good way). Aaron makes me laugh and keeps life interesting. We have different interests (he loves death metal; I don’t), but also enjoy doing things together and are on the same page about the big stuff..." And it is why Aaron says, "There’s no friend I’d rather spend all my time with than Anna."