Saturday, January 2, 2021

Such a Good Heart

On New Year’s Eve, I officiated Amanda and Brent’s wedding ceremony at the Westin Galleria in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Every now and then historians find a document and they are challenged to figure out when and where it was written. Whatever future historian digs up what Brent wrote about his budding romance with Amanda will be able to knock off work early that day.

Just listen, “We were pen pals for quite a while because I was busy coaching football. We finally met after the season…” Future historian will mark down, place – Texas. “Over the next couple of months, we got to know each other better and better and when the quarantine happened it really sped things up for us.” Future historian will mark down, time – late 2019-early 2020.

Now, in all seriousness, speed is not something Amanda’s family would have expected from her. In fact, she says, “My family and friends have always given me a hard time for being so picky, but I am so glad I was…” What was it, though, that caused Amanda, who had been - her word - “picky”, to fall for this guy so quickly?

Brent really does feel that it is the intense togetherness that the pandemic forced upon all of us, “I feel like it made us connect on a deeper level and spending so much time together was a blessing. I knew she was the one that I wanted to grow old with.”

Amanda agrees, when she says, “Brent is the guy I have been waiting for. That is why I am ready to get married… He loves me so well. He is sweet, smart, patient, encouraging, funny, sarcastic, supportive.”

Then she adds one really important detail, saying that Brent is, “the best dad to Landry, [and] close with family.” Why do I say that is such an important detail? Well, because you can fake a lot of things when you are courting someone, but you can’t fake the quality of your relationships with your loved ones. “This is why I am ready now!” she emphatically pronounces. 

Not coincidentally, this is what sealed the deal for Brent too, “She is the kindest and most caring person I know. She is a great friend and an even better fiancé. Amanda makes everyone around her feel special and welcomes everyone. She is a passionate teacher, aunt, friend, daughter, and sibling. I think one of the things that makes her so special is that she truly cares about people and has such a good heart…”

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Road to Our Full Potential

Saturday evening, I officiated Kiandra and Zach’s wedding ceremony at The Olana in Hickory Creek, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Kiandra and Zach are very clear about what they do for each other. Zach says, “I have thought about her every day since [I met her]. She makes me want to be a better person, not only for her, but for myself. No one has given me more confidence…” And Kiandra mirrors this, when she says, “I want to marry Zach because he has the kindest heart… He’s always looking out for the people that he loves and [he] wants them to feel as special as he believes them to be.”

Now, you might find what they say simple and straightforward, and it is, but there is also tremendous depth here. Essentially, what they are saying is that each helps the other, as well as others, live up to their full potential. You might think this is obvious; isn’t that what marriage and life are and have always been about?

Well, in a word, no. Until very recently, living up to your full potential in life, in general, as well as finding that partner who through marriage could help you do just that, was far from a given. Even today, though we have traveled quite a distance, barriers on the road to our full potential have not been fully taken down.

And yet this striving for reaching your full potential has always been embedded in our tradition, both regarding life, in general, and marriage, specifically. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that the wedding ceremony, specifically, repeatedly alludes to the mythical first couple in the Garden of Eden.

The Ancient Rabbis tell us that God created one couple from whom we are all descended to emphasize that none of us are inherently any better than anyone else, that each of us has a unique contribution with which we can make the world a better place, and that each of us, with our partners, if we are so fortunate to find that special person, have limitless potential to create entire worlds.  

That is what marriage is all about. That is what Kiandra and Zach are all about. We should all be so lucky.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Surrounded by Angels

Last Saturday afternoon, I officiated Arielle and Alex’s wedding ceremony at Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Alex, fittingly, writes about an important lesson his stepparents taught him: “Watching Ken and Trish treat me as their own, I discovered selflessness. The idea of concerning yourself more with the needs and wishes of others than with your own… I became obsessed with finding other examples of this. Who in their right mind would spend their life concerned with other people’s problems? Well, it turns out there are millions…”

This lesson stands out to me because too many people today seem to implicitly and sometimes explicitly be saying, “I’ve got mine, and I don’t really care if you get yours.” The words of the fictional yet all too real Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good,” seem to be celebrated rather than mocked and condemned.

How did this happen? Arielle relates a funny story that helps explain this fact: “I decided to try Match… I originally signed up for 3 months and, honestly, didn’t see or talk to anyone I even wanted to meet. It was such a waste of time! I was so glad I only joined for 3 months. However, those subscriptions auto renew, and I definitely forgot about that. So my account auto renewed and I was so pissed… [Then with] about a month left [on] my membership I got a message from Dallex. (He’s so creative, LOL!)”

Our society did not end up here by accident. We, as a society, set up systems that brought us to where we are. Many of these systems operate in the background, so we hardly notice them. Every now and then we luck out and those systems end up helping us, like they did in Arielle’s Match auto-renewal, but this is the exception, not the rule.

How do we solve this problem? The Ancient Rabbis had an idea, which builds on a verse from the very first chapter of the Torah. This verse is a popular one at weddings: “And God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”

Without even resorting to rabbinic interpretation, the last words of the verse already tell us that we can only reflect the image of God when we are meaningfully connected to another person.

Here is what the Rabbis say, which takes this to an entirely different level: “A procession of angels passes before each person, and the heralds go before them, saying, ‘Make way for the image of God!’” Think about that next time you see someone you don’t know, someone to whom you feel no connection. Think about that next time you see someone who might be down on their luck, or even someone who has not lived their life as the most upright citizen of the community. Each one of these people is surrounded by angels.

Once you understand that this truth lies beneath the surface, Alex’s original question almost flips on its head. If you truly recognize that each of us is surrounded by angels, who in their right mind would NOT spend their life concerned with other people’s problems? Now think about how cool this world would be if we really took this idea seriously.

Rabbi Michele Lenke suggested this image could be a way of understanding the six feet of distance we are supposed to put between ourselves and others. The six feet could be envisioned as making room for the invisible angels that surround each of us. When we keep our physical distance, we are not trying to get away from one another, but rather, leaving space for our angels.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Walk Side by Side into the Unknown of Tomorrow

Saturday afternoon, Reverend Ronald Vickers and I co-officiated Brandy and Ed’s wedding ceremony at the Marty Leonard Chapel, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

You would think that the story of how a couple met would have some consistency to it regardless of who tells it. If there are differences, you might expect for the differences to fit with the gender stereotypes of the teller. That would be extremely foolish of you, in this case. Check this out.

Ed writes: “We met in one of those circumstances that they make Lifetime movies about. I was invited to a party by some friends I’d met playing video games online. She walked in the door and I couldn’t think about anything else for the rest of the night. The first time we talked we couldn’t be parted for hours.”

That’s so sweet. I can almost hear the palpable regret of some of the ladies present at this guy being officially taken off the market.

Now, here’s Brandy: “Ed and I first met... in a bathroom... My dad is very proud of the fact that he is the one who sent me into the bathroom...”


OK, OK, truth be told, I did leave out the part where she explains that this was at, “a science fiction and fantasy convention in DFW called FenCon,” as well as the context that, “the bathroom was not functioning as a bathroom, but rather as a make-shift bar.” Oh, and that her dad sent her in there, “in search of a drink.”

From meeting in the bathroom, it was just a natural progression to the location of their first date. Brandy matter of factly says, “The next weekend we went on our first official date. It started at the car dealership where I was supposed to be getting routine maintenance but was instead getting a new tire...”

Ed says that there was actually something really valuable about this: “Despite this unfortunate locale, the experience was not diminished. If anything, I think meeting in mundane circumstances provided an important counterbalance to the raucousness of the previous weekend. We both had the chance to experience one another in opposing social scenarios, and we learned that we could enjoy each other’s company regardless of the setting.” As a child of the 80s myself, I think this might be what Madonna meant when she sang, “Put your love to the test.”

Ed’s description of how he knew this relationship would go the distance belies his somewhat hyper rational outlook: “When I started dating Brandy I just knew where my future would lead from that moment. It’s like the strands of our fates struck a resounding chord and created a harmony. It’s the kind of situation that makes you reconsider your belief in soulmates and destiny. Some circumstances just resonate in a particular way that tugs on a person’s perceptions, if they’re willing to accept what they’re seeing and feeling.”

Brandy describes that harmony: “I love how we work together, even when we disagree, and we have natural rhythms that complement each other. I love that we can have a lazy day together, that we can share our hobbies with each other, and introduce each other to new things. I love that we support each other, that he understands, comforts, and listens when I need; that he understands my need to go and do things and is always ready for the next adventure. I love that he trusts me and that we are always honest with each other. I love that we can talk about difficult things and work through them or talk about differences of opinion rationally. I love that we laugh a lot together.”

That why Brandy says, “I am ready to walk side by side into the unknown of tomorrow, confident that we will always strive to be better together, to lift each other up and support each other whatever comes our way.”

Ed agrees: “I have found the person I want to share the rest of my life with, and it’s the right time to let the world know that. And besides, we’ll probably throw a fun party.”

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Go the Distance

Saturday evening (11/7), I officiated Jayme and Jordan’s wedding ceremony at The Harlow in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

“I went to Kansas City on a Friday, by Saturday I learned a thing or two, but up 'till then I didn't have an idea of what the mod'rn world was comin' to.”

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself; I’ve always wanted to begin personal remarks at a wedding, with those words. For those of you who don’t recognize those words, well, shame on you. They are from Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City, part of one of the greatest stage shows, Oklahoma, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Now, everyone can and should appreciate Rodgers and Hammerstein, regardless of where they live and what generation they are from. It is, however, fascinating to reflect on the fact that for many years for many people, Kansas City was the height of culture and technology.

And some of us, like Jayme and Jordan and me, got to first experience American adulthood and become truly independent in Kansas City, many years after Kansas City was overtaken in prominence by other cities.

We don’t always stop to think about how the place we live, the place we fall in love, or the place we get married is a character in our story, but it is, and this is true no less in real life than it is in a stage show. This can be true, even when your story starts about forty miles away, like it did for this couple.

The beauty of Jayme and Jordan’s Kansas City story is that in Jayme’s words. “It just kind of naturally happened.” In fact, and I have had a few other couples who this happened to, they moved in together, first, along with Jessie, just to save on rent.

Then, Jordan says, “The dynamic of the household… changed a bit. After a few years, Jayme and I still had feelings for each other and decided to do things over again, really giving it our all. Our love for each other would grow and blossom over time. Eventually, Jessie would accept a job in another state making the townhouse just Jayme and I’s…”

Jayme feels like this natural evolution is key to their getting here today, “I think something that made our relationship so strong was that we were friends first… We have built a good foundation… It is built to last.” This is why they both felt that, in Jordan’s words, “Our love is strong, and it only felt right to start talking about the next steps.”

The strength of that love and its character, having evolved naturally, is reflected in both of them speaking of the other as their best friend. And this is where their future diverges from Rodgers and Hammerstein. They have certainly not, “gone about as fer as they can go.” This relationship will go the distance.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Sunday evening, I officiated Heather and Aaron’s wedding ceremony at The Springs Event Venue - the Ranch, in Aubrey, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Heather and Aaron chose to have this quote from Rumi read today; they feel it speaks to their relationship. “The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere; they're in each other all along.” I’m not sure how you say déjà vu in 13th Century Persian, but it sounds like Rumi is saying just that.

I find that very appropriate. Yogi Berra might even say about what we are doing here today that it is déjà vu all over again. That is because the last time Heather, Aaron, their parents, and his sister got together, it was back in May, for an even more intimate wedding ceremony at Frisco Commons Park.

I want to go back a little further, though. I ask every person I marry to write an essay about themselves and their partners. Heather and Aaron wrote their essays on the same day we had our second wedding ceremony planning meeting, March 13th. In a sense, these essays could be treated as time capsules of a world long gone.

Now, I ask every couple not to read each other’s essays before our meeting. Heather and Aaron abided by this, which makes the following fact really interesting. In these time capsules, they both independently highlighted the same fact about each other. They said that one of the reasons they so loved each other is that they found the other to be selfless.

Little did they know how important that word, that idea, that concept would become in the new world we live in. They could hardly have imagined that folks across the world, in the profession Heather works in and Aaron spent many years in, would be called on to meet the moment with selflessness. And none of us could have imagined that each of us in our daily lives would be asked to continue to this very day to act selflessly. 

I joke with couples I have married or have begun to work with since March, that I don’t envy their future children. They will not be able to complain about anything. “Oh, you’re having a hard time with cleaning your room/mowing the lawn/doing your homework, are you? Try living through a global pandemic. Now that was hard!”

In all seriousness, though, I believe that Heather and Aaron’s children, specifically, have the potential to be a little kinder, a little more patient, a little more understanding. I believe this not only because of the hardship their parents will have experienced, but because they had a head start on that idea, we have all learned the importance of, selflessness.   

A Hebrew Speaking Dog, an Austrian Psychoanalyst, and a German Philosopher

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Lily and Matt’s wedding ceremony at Sage Lodge in Pray Montana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

A Hebrew speaking dog, an Austrian psychoanalyst, and a German philosopher. No, they didn’t walk into a bar. I was just reminded of each of them, when talking to Lily and Matt. Allow me to explain.

Both Lily and Matt made an interesting choice. Many folks dream of moving out to California. Their approach was little different. Their dream was to move from California to God’s country.

You might think a Jew would find it ironic to refer to Montana as God’s country, because, you know, being His chosen people and all that, so few of us, Lily being one of only 1,395, live here. Not true. Montana more than makes up for this having had perhaps the most famous Hebrew speaking dog in America, Miky.

Courtesy of Dylan Brown/Helena Independent Record

No, he didn’t really speak Hebrew, but, like me, he did serve in the Israel Defense Force, and then, again, like me, he moved to the US. The IDF gave him to the Helena Police Department, and they had to find a rabbi to help them learn commands in proper Israeli accented Hebrew, because, unlike me, he didn’t understand a word of English. True story.

Now, let’s get serious. When I was speaking with Lily and Matt about their life journeys one concept came up again and again, meaning or purpose. Matt, discussing his evolving thinking, says, “If human beings have purpose… it stands to reason someone or something is behind those… a creator or simply nature itself.” And, Lily, who was a fan of Matt’s before she even met him says, “He sparks an intense sense of purpose within me.”

This approach reminded me of one of the most profound books I ever read, first at the age of 17, in Hebrew, and then in my 40s in English, Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, the Austrian psychoanalyst, Viktor Frankl, combines biography with an explanation of his therapeutic method. Though scientifically grounded, this method was inspired by Nietzsche’s philosophical outlook that, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

This approach calls upon each of us to do the hard work Lily and Matt have each done, individually, to discover our purpose, to find true meaning in our lives. Indeed, Frankl contends, that it is incumbent upon each of us to search for and find our own meaning.

When this type of hard work is done not only as individuals but as a couple, it makes us better individuals too. As Matt says, it helps one arrive at, “a level of honesty… that I’ve never known previously.” And, in Lily’s words, has the potential to make one want to become “the best version of” oneself and, “follow through in that pursuit.”

It is through this hard work, that Lily and Matt have been able to discover within each other and within their relationship, the truth of another profound statement, this time from C.S. Lewis, “Love is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God." We should all be so lucky.