Saturday, May 19, 2018

You Do You

Sunday night (5/13) I officiated Jorie and Ryan’s wedding on the roof of their building in the Knox Henderson neighborhood of Dallas. It was just them, a photographer and a videographer. Oh, and their canine tuxedo clad ring bearers, Sammie and Zoe! Here are the remarks I shared with them. (Honestly, Sammie and Zoe could have paid better attention…)

Jorie and Ryan, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning, and learning from everyone. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what lesson are they, consciously or maybe even unconsciously, teaching?

I always preface my remarks with that short intro, because I really believe in this idea with all my heart. You, though, Jorie and Ryan, really stand out in this regard, because this idea has been central to your relationship. You may have been together for just five years, since 5+8=13, but you have packed more experiences, more learning, more personal growth into those five years, than other couples might in ten years.

It would be difficult to cover even just the most important lessons you learned, but one lesson really stood out to me. This is not a bad lesson for others to learn, either, though it is by no means an easy one. I’ll go a little further in saying that this might be the most important lesson for the broken world we live in today.

You decided to celebrate this milestone in your life your way, without any judgement towards others who do it their way. This is right for you. Here is how you put it, Jorie, and, wow, I hope I can get through this, without my voice cracking: “I’m so excited to have a special day that is JUST Ryan and me, I can’t fully explain it. There’s a lot of ways to justify it, but ultimately, we are going to leave this world alone together, so it feels fitting that we should start our journey alone together.”

Interestingly, there is something “very culturally Jewish” about this. What do I mean? Well, while our two main daughter religions believe that everyone should join their “club”, even traditional Judaism does not share that sentiment. If you’re not Jewish, even an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi will tell you, that you are just fine the way you are. If you’re Jewish, though, he’ll tell you that you have to do things his way.

Secular or cultural Judaism takes that original Jewish sentiment, and applies it across the board. It might sound simple, almost simplistic, but its message is revolutionary: Not just do unto others, as you want done to you, but also, you do you. As long as you are being moral and ethical, it’s all good.

I remarked to you in one of our meetings, that something Ryan wrote sounded like poetry. There was no way I was going to leave this out, because it sets the course for where you go from here, as you continue from 5+13=18, to do you:

“It has been a wild five years and it is incredible to think back on just how much we have experienced together. All of those experiences have brought us extremely close and strengthened our relationship immensely. Because of the challenges and obstacles and experiences we have already been through together, I know that this next chapter of marriage will be a successful one. And I can’t think of a more beautiful or perfect woman to do it with.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Embrace Difference

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Nicole and Mike’s wedding at the Pearl Hotel, in Rosemary Beach, Florida. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the last adjectives that might come to mind regarding Mike is “indecisive”. This man knows where is going, and how he is going to get there. It kind of comes with the territory when you do what he does for a living.

So, it might strike you as that odd that he says, “When it was time to move on to college, I was unsure of what to do.” This led him to do what many people in other developed countries do, but Americans don’t do enough of, spend a gap year abroad. Like many who do this he calls this a “life changing experience, introducing me to new people, new cultures, and gaining new insight into myself and the world around me.”

Nicole also experienced the eye-opening education that only travel can bring about, as an Air Force brat. In fact, she owes her existence to it! Here are the places she has lived: Guam, Michigan, Colorado, Alabama, South Korea, Washington, Azores, Illinois, North Carolina, Illinois (again), and now Texas. She treasures what she calls, “the opportunity to travel to different countries and states while learning and growing up with various cultures.”

Isn’t that interesting? Where others might see hardship, these two saw opportunities for growth. Where others might see threatening differences, these two saw diversity that was to be embraced.

That kind of outlook prepares you very well for one of life’s most exciting adventures, marriage. Our Ancient Rabbis pondered what God busied himself with, now that he is no longer parting the Red Sea, raining down fire every now and then, and other assorted heavy lifts. Their answer, matchmaking. Because marriage is about taking two very different people and turning them into one unified entity.

Nicole and Mike recognize this. They told me so: “We always tell each other that a relationship is not all sunshine and rainbows and isn't a given or an obligation. It is a choice and it is something you have to work at...” It’s worth working at, because, it is through marriage that you can become what Nicole calls, her “complete self”.  That’s probably why the Rabbis imagined God spending so much time on this endeavor.

When you have lived your life in a way that embraces difference and diversity, you are able, like Nicole and Mike to say, “We embrace and utilize each other's differences to make us a stronger team...” This is why Nicole says, “He is who I choose every single day... I have never been more sure about something or someone in my life...” this is why Mike says, “I always knew she was the one...”

Sunday, May 6, 2018

I Just Want to Be Happy

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Jamie and Ty’s wedding ceremony, at Cascade Village, in Durango, Colorado. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

“Where should we get married,” is one of the first questions a couple might ask, following their engagement. Knowing Jamie and Ty, this question was probably addressed while drinking a green liquid, wearing skis, or both. To some couples it’s pretty simple; they get married in their hometown, and if they are from different locales, the bride’s hometown. So, we could have ended up, please contain your excitement, in a little town called Seminole. Others choose to have a destination wedding, which means going somewhere beautiful and fun, to which the couple have no real connection. I’ve not run any data analysis on this, but those two options probably cover most couples. 

So, I am always intrigued when a couple chooses a third option, a place that is meaningful to them, personally. That is the choice that Jamie and Ty made. Neither one of them is from Durango, and though beautiful to visit and fun to hang out in, Durango to them is much more than just a destination. It is central to their relationship. 

Listen to Ty, and you can really hear his calming voice come through even in the written word, when he writes about himself in the third person: “Durango is... home...  There is no place one (would) rather be. Life changed on April 7, 2015.  In... (a) health food store, Jamie... arrived looking for a green drink; they were popular that day... As a gentleman, Ty helped Jamie with her groceries to her car and received her digits. Jamie was bound for Texas and who knew if she would ever be seen again. Kept in contact here and there. Couple weeks down,  Jamie decided to come back to town. Luck was on Ty's side. First date was a hit. Found out both were Aquarius; great sign. Had a magical weekend to (form) a great bond.” 

Jamie agrees, when she says, “I think it was love at first sight for me. I came back to see him a few times and we spent some time together and really had a deep connection.” Durango was part of the reason for that. In fact, when I told her how impressed I was by her résumé, and I asked if should ever get back into banking, she said no, because living in Durango was more important. 

Now, you might be asking yourself, where is the lesson here? Well, we just passed that, but let me spell it out through a story, which Goldie Hawn told about her childhood: “Happiness was always important to me. Even at the young age of eleven, it was my biggest ambition. People would ask, ‘Goldie, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘Happy,’ I would reply, looking in their eyes. ‘No, no,’ they’d laugh. ‘That’s really sweet, but I mean . . . what do you want to be? A ballerina? An actress maybe?’ (I would insist) ‘I just want to be happy.’” Guess what Jamie says about her mom, who is here with us in spirit? She channels Goldie, when she says so simply, “When I would ask my mom what she wanted me to be when I grew up, she would say she just wanted me to be happy, and Ty makes me very happy.” 

This should not surprise you. After all, that profound message and cool vibe, so beautifully expressed by an eleven year old Goldie Hawn, is “so” Jamie and Ty, and also “so” Durango. Don’t take my word for it; just walk down the street. Need further proof? Where did they film the ultimate movie about the power of a place to reshape your life, put things in perspective, and enhance your happiness, City Slickers? That’s right, Durango, Colorado. 

Ty says that Jamie, whom he would have never have met if not for Durango, is “the love of my life I have patiently been waiting for.” In this it is Ty who channels a scene at the end of that legendary film, not far from Ty’s hometown. One of the heroes of the movie, Mitch, has returned from Durango, his family has picked him up at the airport, and he is hugging his children as his wife, Barbara, walks up. He points towards his broad smile and says, “Hey, look what I found.” She responds “Ooh, that looks nice. Where did you find that?” And Mitch, feigning exasperation, says, “Colorado! Isn't it always in the last place you look?”

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nothing Can Stop You

Saturday afternoon, Father John Hiers and I co-officiated Whitney and Sam’s wedding ceremony at the Church of the Ascension, in Clearwater, Florida. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I love origin stories of any kind, but particularly of couples’ relationships. With more than 375 weddings in the last decade, I have heard quite a few. This one, though, is a doozy!

See if you can keep all the characters, twists and turns here straight. “I knew I liked her immediately...” writes Sam, “I was dead set on getting to know her. Whit, however, had other plans. Through a mix up of who’s who, Whit thought that I was my friend Adam, who liked one of her friends. With that in mind, Whit gave me the cold shoulder most of the night, which only made me want to talk to her more! When my friends left the bar and Whit’s friends moved on to another locale, I asked for her number in the hopes of tagging along. When Whit let me know where her friends had decided to relocate, I made my Uber drive turn around immediately and drop me off where she was. I was making progress. At the end of the night, after I had used my secret technique of wearing her down with questions until she could no longer ignore me, Whit and I grabbed a late night bite to eat. As luck would have it, Adam strolled by the restaurant as we were walking out. I promise it wasn’t planned. I exclaimed, “THAT’S Adam!” I’m still not sure if she believed me right away, but it was enough for her. And the rest is history.”

This origin story becomes even more significant, when you realize that a short time before that Whitney had written, not said, written, “I am done with dating.” And, Sam? Well, he had given up on the dating game too.

With that set up, it might surprise you, and I don’t say this often at weddings, I know this one is built to last. No doubt. How do I know? Just listen to how they speak about marriage, how they conceive of it, and what it means to them.

Whitney says, “I never wanted or expected the fairytale, I want a partnership. I feel so acutely aware of how difficult and simultaneously rewarding marriage can and will be and it has never discouraged me from making it happen with Sam. I love him for who he is and who he isn’t. I love how he pushes me to be better, while always allowing me to be myself. I love our ability to have fun and communicate about the really difficult things in life... I am eager to build a life that means something with someone who will push me everyday to do so. I can honestly say if I had to do life without a romantic partner, I could do it. The thing that makes me most confident about this decision right now is I do not want to do this without him. I know our marriage will not be perfect and I know life will challenge us, but I really feel like I am at a point in my life where I am ready to share everything with someone and I am so happy that person is Sam.”

And, Sam says, “I desire to marry because our relationship brings a wholeness to my life that I couldn’t experience alone. I am the best version of myself with Whit. I also desire to marry because I understand the challenges that accompany life as an adult and I believe that the right partner can help weather life’s storms. Similarly, marriage makes the best experiences in life all the better because you experience them with someone else that you care deeply for. Marriage provides an unparalleled opportunity to tether your existence to that of another, and with the right partner, your relationship is greater than the sum of its parts. So is the mark that you leave on the world... I am aware of the risks and challenges of marriage, yet I am committed to pursuing the rest of my life putting “we” before “me”, compromising for the benefit of our relationship and our family and taking on life as a unit.”

This is why I believe that what Whitney and Sam have is built to last. They understand what takes many couples years to understand. It’s not about you, it’s not about you, either. It’s about recognizing that in marriage there is a third entity that needs to be cared for just as much, the marriage, the we. And, if you put that first, like Whitney and Sam do, nothing can stop you.

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.