Saturday, August 17, 2019

Slow Dance with Me

Saturday morning, I officiated Chris and Ari’s wedding ceremony at BRIO Tuscan Grille, in Allen, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I made a false assumption about Ari. I assumed that his Hebrew name was Ari, which means lion in Hebrew. He corrected me, and said his Hebrew name was Avraham or Abraham. That, actually, made more sense to me. 

Why do I say that? Well, one of the things the Ancient Rabbis tell us, by reading between the lines of the biblical text, is that Abraham was a doer, not a talker. And, in the short time I have known Ari, that seems like a good description. 

(By the way, I say this as someone who is rarely accused of being too quiet. This might be a generalization, but clergy do usually like the sound of their own voices...)

When you are a doer, not a talker, that allows you to slow down a little, take the world in, and even notice things others don’t. More than that, you can have a profound effect on those you love. 


Just listen to how Chris describes Ari’s effect on her: “He makes me smile, laugh and makes me think. I am a feeler and hate to think. He slows me down, when I am mad or lost he doesn’t have to say a word he just hugs me and kisses my head. My whole demeanor changes in seconds.”

Now, we are “package deals” most of us, and so those of us who are quieter and take things slow, sometimes need a nudge from our loved ones. Ari gets this. He says, “I have many endearing qualities; my hesitancy is not one of them...” 

This makes Ari appreciate the passion that Chris brings, not only to their relationship, but to the way she lives in the world:  He says that, “she has become my best friend... I love her smile, how she dances around me, and her spirit of generosity and love to help others less fortunate than herself...

What Chris and Ari show us is the importance of balancing each other out, and complementing each other’s differences, which is core to any lasting relationship. 

This is why Chris says, “I love that no matter where we are or what we are doing, Ari grabs me and starts to slow dance with me and we are dancing to a song that is not playing but we hear.”

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wonder Woman

Saturday evening, Cory Reinhardt and I co-officiated Steph and AJ’s wedding ceremony at the Blue Dress Barn in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things I ask every person I marry to tell me about is how they met their beloved. Some of the answers I get are downright vivid. You might assume that especially these ones would be consistent between the two people. This is not always the case, especially with regard to the ongoing internal monologue we all have going on in our heads. 

Just listen to Steph: “My second semester of grad school, I had a Disability and Physical Activity class that I was so excited for because that’s literally my niche in the field I work in... I have a tendency to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, and I was coming from my assistantship on a different floor, so I came into the class a few minutes late. I remember I was wearing my work uniform and cheetah headband, and I came into the room hurriedly and saw AJ and thought, ‘Oh wow, now he’s handsome.’ He was wearing all white and a hat.” 


Now, listen to AJ, and do keep in mind – and I hope you can hear the disappointment in my voice – that this professor did not have a copy of the Oxford University Press Dictionary of American Family Names in the classroom. This page turner clarifies that some names are shared by those of Germanextraction, not only those of Jewish ancestry. This will become highly relevant in just a moment: “Dr. Rowland, our professor, began roll call as she did at the beginning of each class. Sure enough, when we got down to the S’s, the name Stephanie Steiner graced my ears. And in that moment, the door swung wide open and in came Steph, in her disheveled frantic manner, stated ‘Present! Sorry I’m late,’ and took her seat. It was in that moment in looking at her, dressed in her Adidas capri leggings, Chicago Athletic Clubs employment shirt, Nike shoes, and a cheetah headband tying the ensemble together, that I knew that I was in trouble... I had found my Jewish Wonder Woman.”

AJ, this might be the worst time for this, but I think you need to know something... 

Seriously, though, I actually like the fact that that was his thought, and not only because that and Black Panther were the only comic book movies I have liked in the recent onslaught of comic book cinema. It is because the characters in that movie sound like Steph’s description of her and AJ: “AJ and I are a case of opposites; furthermore, we come from opposite worlds.” 

And, yet, the movie’s message is that if you are willing to take the time and do the work, the payoff can be unparalleled. Two people coming from two entirely different worlds can not only work together but thrive, make each other better as individuals, and together make up a team in which together they become even stronger than the sum of the team’s parts. 

That is Steph and AJ’s story, in its essence. 

That is why AJ, who still maintains Steph is his Wonder Woman, says, “She gives me the drive and purpose to be a better man and to wake up every morning with the intentions of doing Godly work that will have lasting effects.”

That is why Steph says, “He’s the best person I know. He’s made me a better person and encourages me in all aspects of my life. He’s my number one teammate and I’m lucky he’s on my team.”

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Fundamental Truth of This World

Sunday evening, I officiated Rachel and Rosendo’s English-Spanish-Hebrew wedding ceremony at the Monroe Pearson in Denton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Patience is one of the most important virtues in life. Why do I say that, specifically, now? Without patience, we would not be standing here. Listen to Rachel: “Rosendo and I met online... I was actually about to give up on that site until he messaged me. I responded and we messaged back and forth for a couple weeks until we exchanged numbers and then messaged some more and then finally ended up meeting and [we] have been together since our first date.” Like I said, patience, my friends, is what brought us here today…


What was it that kept Rachel from giving up on that site? What premonition did she have? I like to think that Rachel recognized deep in her soul that Rosendo was out there, and that through meeting him she would discover that in the words of the Indian Nobel laureate, poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, “Relationship is the fundamental truth of this world.”

Rosendo certainly had this premonition, and he agrees with Tagore. He says, “I feel like I have found my better half… Rachel makes me be a better man and she’s the one I have been searching for.”

“Relationship,” tells us Maria Popova, “is what makes a forest a forest and an ocean an ocean. To meet the world on its own terms and respect the reality of another as an expression of that world as fundamental and inalienable as your own reality is an art immensely rewarding yet immensely difficult — especially in an era when we have ceased to meet one another as whole persons and instead collide as fragments.”

Relationship is what brings ultimate happiness. That is why Rachel says, “Three years later and we are now engaged, and I couldn’t be happier.  I want to get married now… because I’m so excited and ready to start this next step in life and start a family with Rosendo.”

Rosendo agrees, “The reason I want to get married is [that] since I met Rachel, I’m the happiest man on the face of the earth, and I could have never been in this happy if it wasn’t for Rachel being in my life. I want to spend the rest of my life with the person that I love the most.”

Sunday, June 16, 2019

New Purpose

Saturday night I officiated Melissa and Nick’s wedding ceremony at the Joule in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I realize this is going to sound cheesy, but if you can’t be cheesy at a wedding, where can you be? One of my favorite songs is You Are the Reason, by Calum Scott, specifically, the duet version with Leona Lewis. I have listened to it/watched it on YouTube numerous times. Thinking about Melissa and Nick, their relationship, their journey, their unbelievable growth, I couldn’t help think of this song.

                                      
The song fits them on so many different levels. Just listen to a few words from the crescendo of the song, which I will read, not sing (don’t worry):

… I'd climb every mountain
And swim every ocean
Just to be with you
And fix what I've broken
… Cause I need you to see
That you are the reason…
(I don't wanna fight no more)
(I don't wanna hurt no more)
(I don't wanna cry no more)
(Come back, I need you to hold me closer now)
You are the reason…
(I need you to hold me tonight)

I want to ask what might seem like an odd question: Who is the, “You”, in “You are the Reason”? You might scoff at the question. You might say, it’s obvious. The “You” is the person’s romantic partner.

On one level that is true, and you can see this in what Melissa and Nick say about each other, in a fashion reminiscent of the song. Nick says, “We have had one heck of a ride the past six years. We have been through so much together… We put everything aside and forgave each other, and figured it out… I really see what’s important to me in life, and I understand more… now than ever what it is to be married to someone you love.” And Melissa says, “Nick and I had a picture-perfect relationship on the outside, but for many years, we really struggled... Nick stuck with me through the worst…  I will be forever grateful for the way he has loved me through my darkest times... He is a true example of unconditional love.”

Melissa and Nick, however, clarify that there is another level here, another You, if you will. Nick says, “A wedding (now) means something totally different than it did before… We have God in our relationship guiding us, and with that there is nothing we can’t do.” And Melissa agrees, “I believe that God put us together for a reason… God has re-invented our relationship. Today it is better than I could have ever imagined.”

Still, if you just stay at that level of understanding, you are missing something extremely significant. After all, we have all seen some version of the t-shirt I saw once in the French Quarter, with these words: “God loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re not a really nice person.” (That’s not really what it says, but you get the idea…) And we certainly have seen folks that we wanted to gift that t-shirt to...

In the Ethics of Fathers, Rabbi Hillel, the Elder, clarifies the highest level of You, “If I am only for myself, who am I?” The highest level of You, the best way to find your purpose, is through making others people’s lives just a little better. As Melissa says, but really as we all should say, “Today we live for giving… We have found a new purpose in life, helping others.” That is the highest level of purpose in life. And both Hillel and Melissa use the present tense, because you should be doing this, not just have done this or commit to doing it sometime in the future. Because as Rabbi Hillel adds in a final admonition that Melissa and Nick do not need, but some of us may, as we follow their example, “If not now, when?”

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Patience

Saturday afternoon Father Mannie Pierre and I co-officiated Danielle and Mikey’s wedding ceremony at the Waterville Estate in Sante Cruz, Trinidad and Tobago. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple not only why they want to get married, but why now. I emphasized to Danielle and Mikey, that I ask every couple to address this, just so they wouldn’t take this question as an indictment. Because I’m sure they have heard the question, with just that in mind. 

I say, let’s indict the question, not the couple. I think there might be something to learn there. And I think this speaks to a larger phenomenon in our society. 


One of the most pernicious phenomena in my nation, the United States of America, is our lack of patience. We want it now. And now has become such a standard that we have come to assume it to be the norm. Naturally, I am writing this in a Starbucks, and the barista literally apologized three times, because they were low on blonde roast, and I had to wait five minutes for my coffee. It’s six weeks later, and I have only begun to recover...

Unfortunately, we have exported this pernicious phenomenon not only to our neighbor to the north, but to our neighbors here to the south. Just listen to Marissa Williams, a Trinidadian writer, whose family was very close to the great Trinidadian poet, Anson González: “We have become a society that seems to reject beautifully crafted prose and lyrics in lieu of attention grabbing headlines and one paragraph sensationalized stories and pictures. Our voracious informational appetites has (sic) us almost addicted to ‘Google’ searches and social media outlets, spending more time skimming headlines and pictures and less time appreciating and digesting well written prose and poetry.”

This is why I appreciate the fact that Danielle and Mikey have taken their time, and carefully crafted their love story. Listen to how Danielle describes the result of this patience:

“Our relationship is one that has been built on communication and mutual respect. We work at listening to one another... We bring out the best in one another. We work as a team. When one of us has a success, the other shares in it and when one of us is saddened, the other shares in this burden. We offer each other support, comfort, laughter, and tough love when it’s needed... We share the same values and strive daily to embody these. We give each other space to grow and to evolve. We know and appreciate one another’s vulnerabilities.”

Mikey highlights the fact that their relationship was long distance for much of those ten years. He emphasizes how much it was worth the wait:

“We had... to make it through the long distance, keep doing what was best for us individually... and be patient to allow our relationship to succeed for the rest of our lives and not just for a couple years. It was not easy and we both struggled... But we never gave up because we couldn’t; she was everything to me and continues to be.”

This patience makes today so much more meaningful. As Danielle writes: “Now, after nearly 10 years, after having seen each other through so many life phases and so many highs and lows, I have never been more sure of anything… he is the love of my life, my most treasured gift, and the greatest life partner I could ever ask for.”

And Mikey sums it up: “I am ready to commit to her, her parents, her family and friends that I will be there for her and support her for the rest of my life.”

Monday, June 3, 2019

More and More Every Day

Saturday evening, Reverend Steven Fricke and I co-officiated Samantha and Riley’s wedding ceremony at The Joule, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

We almost didn’t make it here. Not because of something that happened recently, but because of what happened 12 years ago. Listen to Riley:

“Back when we were growing up, we would ride our bikes around the neighborhood in the summer for fun. During the summer of 2007, Samantha and her friend were riding bikes in the neighborhood and stopped by my parent’s house. I was playing basketball outside with a friend and noticed these two girls ride up on their bikes. They looked young so I went inside and grabbed my little brother and told him two girls were out front for him.” Wow, so this whole story almost never started!


Fortunately, Riley realized his mistake, and he course corrected. As Samantha says, “Fast forward a year, and we started hanging out... I thought Riley was the COOLEST boy in town because he was 16 and could drive a car. The rest is history.”

Now, you might think that this is but a meaningless anecdote. I don’t think so. This is emblematic of an important quality these two people possess, adaptability. There is great evidence of this, in how each of them has lived their scholastic and professional lives. They are better and happier for it.

In fact, they have harnessed this quality to enhance their relationship. As Riley says, “We have very different personalities and I think that makes us mesh together even better.”

Adaptability may be the most important quality for any lasting marriage. Because, it is not only the “I” of today that is making a commitment to the “you” of today. It is more importantly the “I” of tomorrow who is committing to the “you” of tomorrow. Those two people will be very different from the two people standing here. It is the ability to adapt, which will not only bind them together, but further enrich their marriage.

Samantha sees this in Riley, which is why she says, “Riley is the perfect life partner and is going to be the most incredible dad. He is patient, kind, funny, understanding, loving.”

This is why Riley says, “I grow to love her more and more every day... no matter what happens... we want to be together.”

Monday, May 27, 2019

Life, Love and Joy

Sunday evening, I officiated Emily and VJ’s wedding ceremony at Winfrey Point, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Many a romance novel, a play, even a movie, involve secret, even forbidden, relationships.  Emily and VJ’s relationship began this way. Emily writes:

“David and I had found new employment and were both thinking of moving. I asked David if he would move into an apartment with me, and he said that VJ had already asked him. I responded and told him that was fine, that rent was cheaper 3 ways. He said he thought VJ might decline, because he thought VJ might have feelings for me. I replied that that was just stupid, that we were and always had been friends... David talked to VJ, and, voila, we all moved in together.

Things went well for about 6-8 weeks... (Then) VJ and I began seeing each other discreetly. Our connection and affections grew strong quickly, and by the end of February, we told David that we were together. David was simultaneously overjoyed and terrified that his two best friends were romantically involved, and serendipitously declared that if we were going to date, we couldn’t break up, and so we would have to get married.”


Now, actually, their mutual feelings began long before that period of forbidden love. They were not based on any shallow interactions, mere looks, or random attraction, either. VJ writes:

“I met her three years before we would, actually, start dating. We were both seeing other people at the time, but I remember meeting her for the first time in front of a Cinemax movie theatre, and experiencing a moment that took my breath away. This story has always been one of my favorites of ours because we both experienced it similarly simultaneously. When I first met Emily, what blew me away the most about her was not her beauty, or smarts, or cleverness. It was how clear, it was that she had lived a life without a veil like me and that we were alike. Also, how focused she was on the interactions she was having with others.”

When Emily and VJ share their stories of growing up, you understand what VJ is referring to. They have each had challenging experiences, and have used these very experiences to build a life full of meaning. They first did so as individuals, and in recognizing in each other kindred spirits in this regard, have continued to do so, as a couple.

Their connection is so deep, that it leads VJ to say, “I feel like me and her coming together was decided long before I came into existence, because whenever I make a choice to further my life with Emily it has always felt like I was remembering a time that already happened. The want to try to live a life with her was something already so purely real in my mind.”

Is it any surprise, therefore, that Emily writes: “Wherever we go, and with whatever life brings us, I have endless confidence that we will find immeasurable happiness and solace in difficult times... I could not have been blessed with a greater love. VJ has made the impossible possible. He gives me strength and confidence to embark on our greatest adventure. I know I’ll never be alone. I’ll always have a safe place in him when dark times find us. I know, more deeply than I’ve known anything before, we will build a life and home full of love... I’m eternally thankful that I get to share the rest of my life, love, and joy with him.”

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Profoundly Lucky

Saturday afternoon I officiated Elizabeth and Edward’s wedding ceremony at the Myriad Botanical Gardens (Lower East Lake) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I was thinking of Elizabeth and Edward, I was reminded of an interesting linguistic quirk in the first creation story in Genesis. The text says, “And God created man (adam is the word in Hebrew) in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created THEM.” Them, not him. So, adam refers to both partners.

The second creation story completes the picture. We are told that God removes not the adam’s rib (that is a mistake in the King James Version), but one of the adam’s sides. He basically split the adam in two.


The ramifications of this story are multiple. First of all, it clarifies that men and women should be treated equally, something we conveniently forgot for most of history. However, and this is why I thought of Elizabeth and Edward, the idea of Adam and Eve coming from one being tells us that seeking out an identical partner would be folly. Adam has his own personality and Eve had her own personality. They were different people.

Elizabeth and Edward are different people. She’s a nurse, he’s an attorney; she’s from Oklahoma, he’s from California; he went to parochial schools, she went to public. And those are all good things, because, if we play our cards right, like Elizabeth and Edward did, our differences have the potential to greatly enrich our relationships.

For that to work, each person has to be comfortable in their own skin, and still have a desire for self-improvement. It’s a delicate but vital balance, and Elizabeth and Edward had and have it. They each had developed themselves into their own independent personalities, before they met each other. Still, they were able to become even better people, through their knowledge of each other, and as their love story progressed.

It is this threading of the needle that has allowed them not only to become even better people, but also provide comfort and support for each other in difficult times. That is why they feel profoundly lucky to have found each other. We should all feel pretty lucky that we get to witness this next step in their relationship.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

It Will Only Get Better

Saturday evening, I officiated Diana and Damian’s wedding ceremony at Prospect House in Dripping Springs, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes the temptation is just too great, that one must succumb to it. After all, there is no guarantee that I will ever be able to say this again: We are here today, because of what sounds like the set up to a joke: An Argentinian Jew and a Vietnamese Buddhist walk into a bar...

Seriously, though, roll back the tape, and one could hardly predict this. After all, Diana says, “You typically can’t find me at a bar during the week.” And, as a rabbi, you’d be kind of disappointed if I didn’t look for the deeper meaning of that chance occurrence bringing us here today, five years later. You would definitely expect me to go a tiny bit deeper than Damian who says, “I went to Marquis II to get a Long Island Ice Tea and met the love of my life. The moral being that Long Island Ice Teas are good for you!” You would expect me to agree with Diana who says, “I believe fate brought Damian and I together.”


Well, disappoint you I will. I will also do something you usually should never do: Disagree with a bride at her own wedding; at least somewhat. It’s not that I take Damian’s ice tea related lesson to be true; it’s that I feel that fate is not enough to explain what is happening here today. I think Diana is being too modest.

Something she says not about that original meeting, but about their shared life since, is instructive, “I feel like I have been on the best roller coaster of my life and it will only get better from here, as long as I have Damian by my side.”

Not to engage in pop explanations of a 2600 year old religion, but I believe that there is something “very” Buddhist about that depiction of life. Life is a roller coaster. There are ups and inevitable downs. Sometimes your world turns upside down, and the only thing holding you in your seat is the inertia of life and a safety bar. That’s life as fate. That is going to be true regardless of what choices you make.

However, and this may be more existentialist than Buddhist, you can still choose how to relate to that ride, and one of the smartest moves you can make is to find someone you can experience it with. That is what this couple did. They did not just accept their fate; they chose their destiny, to hold on to each other on this roller coaster ride.

Damian is pretty explicit about this: “Diana is my support group. Whenever I had a bad day or when I need to make a tough decision at work or life, she is there for me.”

Diana says this is mutual: “Damian has been my pillar of strength for the past 4 years. He is constantly rooting for me and my biggest supporter. He has been there for me during low and high points in my life.”

This is why Diana says, “It will only get better from here, as long as I have Damian by my side.” And this is why Damian says, “I cannot wait to have my best friend with me every day for the rest of my life.”

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hineni – I’m Ready

Sunday afternoon, I officiated Rachel and Will’s wedding ceremony, at the 1899 Farmhouse, in Princeton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Spend enough time with Rachel and Will, and you might forget their age. They have a level of wisdom, that seems beyond their years. You might say they are old souls. For me, this is particularly disconcerting, since I taught Rachel in high school! Don’t worry, though, just ask them where they met, and you snap right back, well conscious of their age cohort. That’s right, Jasmine’s Hookah Bar. Damn millennial hipsters…

Seriously, though, what really stands out about Rachel and Will, what makes me think of them as not only old souls, but kindred spirits, is the level of self-examination they have engaged in. Their honesty in following their minds and their hearts to where that self-examination took them is noteworthy and commendable.


I always try to be mindful of Alice Roosevelt’s description of her father, Teddy, of whom she said, “He was the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral”. I try to keep it about the couple. However, one of the reasons that I admire Rachel and Will and feel like we are kindred spirits is that I, too, went through a journey that has many similarities to theirs. They are just a little smarter than me, since they went through similar philosophical transformations much earlier in life than I did! Apparently, unlike them, I’m just a little slow.

Why is this important? Many people go through life, accumulate degrees, titles and prestige, but never really get to know themselves. They are too busy running the rat race, acquiring that one additional shiny object, reaching for one more brass ring. Try to have a meaningful conversation with them, though, and there is no “there” there. It’s all surface deep. And they keep running and running and running.

Then, one day they hear a voice. The Bible imagines such instances. Abraham hears a voice. Moses hears a voice. Notably, they are 75 and 80 years old, respectively, which is fine if you live to 175 and 120, respectively. In the world of reality, however, it’s a little too late. In this world, you may have won the race, acquired the shiny object, and the brass ring is firmly in your grasp. Meaning, however, has eluded you.

The Bible imagines Abraham and Moses using a specific single word, to signify that they understood what the voice was calling on them to do: “Hineni”. It’s difficult to adequately translate that single Hebrew word. In its most simple translation, it means, “I am here.” However, the context tells us that this not simple, but simplistic. In his haunting song, You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen is more accurate, in his translation: “I’m ready.”

Hearing that song, and those words, I could not help but think of Rachel and Will. They each heard a voice, an internal calling, and they each said, “I’m ready,” embarking on a journey to think, contemplate and probe their truth. This journey took each of them to some uncomfortable places. Through this, though, they each found themselves and their meaning in life. They know themselves, deeply and thoroughly.

And, as these individual journeys proceeded, they embarked on a journey together, trying, along with their individual truths, to find their shared path in the world. Not surprisingly, this shared journey, which could not be separated from their individual journeys, was a little more complicated, and took a little longer.

They stand before you today, having completed their individual journeys and their shared journey. They know themselves and each other, as very few individuals and couples their age do. Now when they say, “I’m ready,” It is a very different, much deeper, much more mature statement.

Rachel speaks for both of them, when she says: “I know the person I am and the person I want by my side. The same person who stole my heart ten years ago… He is my knight in tin foil, my gentle giant, my companion, my best friend, and so much more. Words cannot do it justice. There’s no one else I’d want to go with on this adventure called life… We are ready to take that final step forward in solidifying ourselves to one another.”

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Value of Balance

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

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay. In all the 800+ essays I have read, only one has included clearly demarcated subsections, as well as clearly demarcated italicized asides. She did not -- and I hope you hear the disappointment in my voice -- include footnotes, endnotes, or citations. I prefer APA style, for the record.

Now, you might think I mention this, just to get a laugh. How dare you?! I promise, I do have a point. This level of detail and order in writing about oneself indicates a high level of self-awareness. Self-awareness, wow. That may be one of the hardest to find commodities in today’s world.


There is a Hasidic tale about someone you might not expect to show up in a Hasidic tale: Napoleon. Bonaparte, not Dynamite. It is said that early on in his martial career Napoleon decided he would conquer the world. Then he says to himself, I should probably make sure I control Europe first. After thinking about it a little more, he decided it would be wise to make sure he thoroughly controlled all of France. He kept thinking, and he realized, that absolute control of Paris was vital before he tried to take possession of all of France. Finally, it hit Napoleon: He needed to make sure that he was in full control of himself before he went any further...

This logic is true not only for 18th-century revolutionaries, seeking to upend the world order. It is true for every relationship; and most of all for marriage. However, there is one big difference, aside from the fact that in marriage you don’t have to violate the Treaty of Westphalia. If you find the right person, you can become more self-aware through your relationship, and you can have an effect on your partner too.

Rachael illustrates this effect in her essay as it has played out in their relationship. She tells us that, “Antonio has a very straightforward approach to problems and situations, [which] helps him make quick and effective decisions, a skill which I admire and respect as it is not a skill I have myself. I am very concerned with making sure that no details or nuances are forgotten when making a decision. These approaches are complementary; when we make decisions together, I can help him slow down and think things through, and he can help me to reach a decision or resolution.”

Antonio seems to agree, as he tells us: “I will most often... jump into fixing [an] issue without thinking too long over it. Rachael, on the other hand, thinks about many different outcomes. We play off each other well.” Interestingly, these quotes side by side, illustrate, in their form, the very dichotomies they discuss: Specificity vs. brevity, accuracy vs. efficiency, and the great value of a balance between these qualities.

That’s why Rachael says: “Antonio is the person that I want to share the rest of my life with. I want us to approach our goals and challenges together, and share celebration in our successes, and raise the next generation of our family together, and when we’re both old and blind and senile, annoy the nursing home staff together.”

That’s why Antonio says, “I love adventuring with Rachael, exploring new places and... experiencing new things together. The joy on her face when she finds something she likes perfects even my worst days.” We should all be so lucky.

Friday, April 12, 2019

And You Shall Love

Tuesday afternoon, I officiated Wynter and Eric’s wedding ceremony, at Eric’s parents’ ranch, in Weatherford, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I sat down to write these remarks, I could not help but think of a fascinating passage in the Talmud, the foundational book of the Jewish faith. What the Ancient Rabbis of the Talmud often did was interpret or even reinterpret a biblical verse, and find in it additional meaning.

In this passage, they discuss a verse Jews recite twice a day: “And you shall love the Lord your God.” Now, on its surface, the verse seems pretty straightforward and simple. Love of God is foundational to the faith. One would expect devout adherents of the faith, like Wynter and Eric to love God. And, I think those who know Wynter and Eric, can attest to their love of God.


The Rabbis say that it has an additional meaning, “that you shall make the name of Heaven beloved.” How should one do so? One should do so, “in that he (should) read and learn.” OK, those are really important in Judaism, but how does that help make God beloved? The Rabbis continue, “And he should be pleasant with people...” OK, that sounds nice, but how does that make God beloved.

Simple, say the Rabbis. Whether justified or not, people connect your faith to your behavior. If you are an unpleasant person, they say, “It must be his faith.” Conversely, if you are a pleasant person, they say, “It must be her faith.” So by behaving well towards others you cause your faith and by extension your God to be loved or conversely not so.

When Wynter and Eric contacted me, before I even met them, I knew they were the type of devout people who cared for others, and it showed. They were planning their wedding, but they were thinking not just of themselves, but of others too.

While it was important to them to have a Jewish wedding, it was as important to them to have a wedding that their guests would feel comfortable attending. This is how you make God beloved.

What we hope and wish for you, Wynter and Eric, is that you continue to make God beloved, not only today, but throughout what we pray will be a long and love-filled marriage.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Wasabi

Saturday evening, I officiated Ramsey and Lorens’s wedding ceremony, at Sanders Hitch, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry, not only why they want to get married, but why now. Lorens’s answer is, um, interesting: “To me Ramsey is like Wasabi.” This may be the first groom of more than 400 to analogize his bride to a condiment. Stick with him, though. He explains that what he means is that she has a spicy nature, which keeps him on his toes, and “makes things interesting and joyful... Her kindness and genuine heart, and joi de vivre would win any man over.” And then like every good Jew he answers a question with a question, “Why wouldn’t I want to marry her now?”

When I asked Ramsey to write about herself, she did so in a way that very few people do. She wrote in the third person. To me this is very telling. I believe that it says that the person is able to step outside of herself, see the world from others’ points of view, and understand that there is something greater than what meets the eye. That type of thinking is crucial to a successful marriage, because central to marriage is the understanding that it’s not all about you.


Lorens embraced this wise idea early on, and it strengthened inside him, as he matured: “Since I was a kid, I always questioned why things are the way they are... I always enjoyed talking with men of science or of faith – especially Rabbis, trying to figure out why something was the way it was. I always felt the presence of God, but when I went to engineering school, I... had a new-found appreciation of existence.”

It is this shared deep consciousness that moves Ramsey to say, I didn’t seriously date for years because I was sure it was impossible for me to find someone a quarter of the man my dad is. I was lucky enough to find this in Lorens.”

This is why Lorens says, “I always tried to figure out who the right one was... life guided me to the answer I couldn’t have dreamt of.”

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Extraordinarily Lucky

Saturday evening, Reverend Barron Bell and I co-officiated Renee and Jake’s wedding ceremony, at Parker Manor, in Weatherford, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have a split professional personality. I officiate interfaith weddings, and I work for a nonprofit charged with ending homelessness. In the latter role, I spend much time thinking about the idea of luck and privilege, and recognizing that you have it.

This is why I love what Jake says about you, his family and friends: “I have lived an extraordinarily lucky and blessed life. (I have) amazing friends and (a) loving family. I have so so much to be thankful for. (Pause for affect) Actually… so do they, because I am pretty great myself.”
           
Renee recognizes how lucky and blessed she is too. I got to see this with my own eyes, since the first time I met Renee and Jake in the flesh, as opposed to by FaceTime, Renee’s parents joined us too. You could tell from watching and listening to Renee, how appreciative she was of her parents, and how much she values them and her family.


Recognizing your privilege and your luck in life is tremendously important in any relationship, but especially in marriage. Marriage is the most intense relationship we have, and raising a family makes it only more intense, especially if your idea of a family is Renee’s. I am not making this up; here is what she wrote: “I can’t wait to be his wife and have 4 kids and a ranch with horses and cows.” Jake, I don’t know if her not mentioning the number of each animal is good or bad news. I won’t be around to find out… You will!

Fortunately, Renee and Jake recognize the privilege and luck they have in having found each other, and have formed their unique relationship that today they take to the next step. To wit, Jake says, “I love Renee. She is beautiful, smart, fun, kind, and generous. She inspires me and makes me better every day. She’s the life of every party, even though she always gets there late.”

And Renee says, “He can always turn my frown upside down. He has always been there for me. He supports me, teaches me, encourages me, and most importantly, loves me with all of his heart.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Experience Every Moment

Sunday evening, Reverend Ernest Myers and I co-officiated Lindsay and CJ’s wedding ceremony, at The Springs McKinney, in Anna, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Something Lindsay wrote really caught my eye. I think she expresses a feeling, that is not at all uncommon: “I have always been one of those people who feared ‘adulting’ and growing up because there is no way for me to predict what will happen.” 

Lindsay not only highlights this challenge, however; she addresses it too: “Knowing that I will get to be with CJ for the rest of the life, I am excited for the unknown because I know that I will get to experience every moment with my partner, my soul mate, my best friend – my husband.”


That phrase, “experience every moment,” reminded me of something CJ, in turn, wrote about Lindsay, “It has been amazing experiencing life with her. She is everything I have ever wanted in a partner. The years we have been together have only strengthened my belief she is the only person for me.”

Lindsay and CJ touch upon something really deep here. The best way to address the feeling of precariousness that today’s world sometimes induces is to slow down a little. Live a little more in the present. 

This is the basic idea at the core of Curtis Mayfield’s immortal song, It’s Alright: “It's all right, have a good time… We're gonna move it slow… When you move it slow, it sounds like more…” Curtis assures us, “When you wake up early in the morning, feelin' sad like so many of us do, hum a little soul, make life your goal, and surely something's got to come to you… It's all right, have a good time…”

And Lindsay and CJ speak to the fact that one of the best ways of doing just that is when you find that perfect person to experience life in the present with you.

Old Curtis agrees, so he ends his song making that exact point: “Someday I'll find me a woman, who will love and treat me real nice, then my woe's got to go, and my love, she will know, from morning, noon and night… It's all right, have a good time… now give yourselves a chance…”

That’s why Lindsay says, “Being with CJ makes me a better person… I used to be so cynical about love, but I know now that real love really does exist… When I am with him, no matter where we are or what we are doing, I am home…”

That’s why CJ says, “I can’t imagine my future without her… I am ecstatic knowing I get to spend the rest of my life with my soul mate, and I cannot wait to tackle the challenges of life together as a team of husband and wife. I want to be the best husband I can possibly be to cherish and support Lindsay for the rest of our lives together as a couple.”

Strong Foundation

Saturday evening, I officiated Natalie and Corey’s wedding ceremony, at the Warwick Melrose Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

For our wedding, twenty five years ago, we still received a few telegrams. Note to my fellow non-millennials: You may need to explain to the Millennial and Generation Z guests what those are, during the reception. Anyway, do you know what the classic Jewish parent telegram says? Start worrying now. Stop. Details to follow. Stop. Of course, when I tell this to Catholics, they tell me that is the Catholic parent telegram. 

Now, I believe that one of the last things Natalie and Corey’s parents need to do is worry about these two. Why do I say that? Allow me to elaborate. 


Here is what Natalie says: “I am in love, planning a wedding, moving in with Corey, and I’ve never felt more relaxed… I think it’s a good start. (Everyone said it would be stressful… They don’t know him like I do.)”  How often do you hear that from a bride? Is that cool or what?

This calm that Natalie and Corey have felt with each other has been a theme of their relationship. Corey attests to that, when he says that at the beginning of their relationship: “We found that it was easy to talk with each other and never had any awkward silences.” And Natalie agrees: “I remember feeling like I was talking too much, but he was talking a lot too, and then I realized that I just felt so comfortable.”

And this was not just a fleeting situation. It has manifested itself so deeply, that Corey says, “Natalie gets me like no other person has or ever will.” Natalie agrees, when she says, “It just works, it’s effortless to be with him.”

And what is that made them feel so comfortable? What is that made this wedding feel stress free? Interact with them for even a short time, and you will know. It is the strength of character both Natalie and Corey possess. As Natalie says, she early on realized that Corey, “was just the kindest, most honest man I had ever known. The strength of his character is definitely one of the reasons I fell in love with him.”

When you realize that strength of character is what really matters, other things can fall into place. This is why Corey says: “I could not see myself marrying anyone but Natalie... I truly now know that Natalie is the only person I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

This is why Natalie says: “I know we will build something very strong together... I know that Corey and I have what it takes to make a strong foundation.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Happy Every Day

Saturday evening (3.16), Father Alfonse Nazzaro and I co-officiated Anna and Tom’s wedding ceremony, at The Filter Building on White Rock, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Anna and Tom’s story starts back in college. Anna says, “I remember seeing him walk through the door and thinking he was really cute and later in the evening we got to talking…”  Tom similarly recalls, “I do vividly recall seeing Anna standing in the corner of the room when I walked in and her being notably beautiful.”

Now, many stories start this way, and don’t go anywhere. So, what causes some couples to start this way, and at some point say, in the words of Jason Mraz and Meghan Trainor duet, “I wanna be more than friends…”

In Tom and Anna’s case, it might sound prosaic, but I believe it is anything but that. Just listen to Tom: “The day that my love for her really hit home was when we were just lying on the couch at her parents’ house on a Saturday afternoon. I noticed that I was just as happy doing absolutely nothing with her as I had been going out… and being constantly busy with friends in college.”


Love at first sight, if there is such a thing, infatuation, the flying of sparks, the crashing of lightning can be interesting, but that is not what love is all about. True love is being content with just being in each other’s presence, with nary a word spoken.

And what brings about such deep feelings, that make you want to spend the rest of your life with that person? Anna tells us: “I am confident I want to marry Tom because he is a genuinely wonderful person and truly cares about others. That kindness is evident all the time in our relationship because of how he tries to make me happy every day.”

Is it any surprise that Tom says, “I cannot be more thrilled to have the opportunity to get married… and start a life with the woman that I love.” And, perceptively he adds, “She’s way more attractive than me, so I know I have to lock it down soon.” Nuff said!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Make Others Happy

Sunday evening (3.10), I officiated Miriam and Steven’s wedding ceremony, at the Westin Dallas Downtown, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have every person I marry write an autobiographical essay. Generally, the groom’s essay is not as detailed as the bride’s, certainly not when it comes to feelings. Steven is no regular groom, though. Not only was his essay long and detailed, it touched on some pretty deep ideas.

Check this out: “Before Miriam I did not believe in falling in love. I am a very realistic person and my… (hope) at the time was (to find) someone I like who doesn’t get on my nerves. I am so lucky now too admit how wrong I was and how lucky I am to have never settled…” Wow! Not only did Miriam cause him to fall in love with her; she changed his perception of the very idea of love.


Now, Miriam may not have needed convincing of the very idea of falling in love. Still, she came to their first date, with eyes wide open, prepared for all eventualities. This part may actually make you hungry too: “Steven and I have a lot in common, but a big thing we have in common is food. We both really, really love food. So, it’s only fitting that the night I met Steven for the first time, I told my sister that I would text her in the middle of the date to let her know how it was going and would do so in code words related to pizza toppings – pepperoni meant good, green peppers meant neutral, and anchovies meant bad. Steven immediately earned a rating of 100 pepperonis – and the rest was history…”

What did Miriam do to change Steven’s mind about love? He tells us: “If you took everything in a person that was important to me, sweet, kind, generous, smart, funny, emotionally intelligent, hardworking, trustworthy, understanding and beautiful, she exemplified (it) all.”

And what caused Steven to earn so many cured meats, and to keep that coveted rating? Miriam admits that at that first date his good looks and charm did play a part. However, she quickly discovered that he was, “the most generous and thoughtful person I… ever met. He truly cares about other people and really wants to make others happy.”

What seals the deal for Miriam is this: “We have the same fundamental values, matching visions for our future, and love and respect for each other, and that is what is most important to me.” It is no surprise, therefore, that Steven says, “I’m so lucky to have her in my life and (I) feel so fortunate… (to have) the relationship that we have.”

An Even Better Love Story

Saturday night (3.9), I officiated Jessica and Matthew’s wedding ceremony, at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, in Irving, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Roll back the tape to right before their first date, and you probably would not predict we would end up here tonight. Just listen to Jessica and Matt’s descriptions going in.

Jessica says, “I had been extremely unsuccessful in the dating world, so I had little expectations walking into the coffee shop.” She adds, “I had recently been on a trip to South Africa and loved it, so the fact that he was South African was intriguing. I knew even if the date was bad, I would enjoy the accent.” Talk about damning with faint praise!

Matt recounts how he had ended a relationship, and so he was not interested in, “anything that could resemble a long term relationship.” Despite that, Matt says that they, “seemed to click immediately in the messages that we sent.”


Even after their first date, Matt says, “I had told Jessica that I wanted to keep things casual early on and she agreed.” However, this is where things began to turn, because Matt admits, “the amount of time that we were spending together did not show that this was a casual relationship.” Jessica sums it up well when she says, “By the time we got to New Year’s Eve, despite insisting that we were very casual, it was evident that we had a real connection.”

Ronald Reagan once said, that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Jessica and Matt might agree, that in their case this was true. One bright day when Matt was told by his company that his services were no longer needed, the added coda to that from our government was, “See ya!”

Fortunately, Jessica stepped up to the plate. As Matt says, “Jess did everything that she could to try help me. She offered to let me move in with her since my lease was expiring and sell whatever I had accumulated in the US (she seemed a little too eager to sell all of my stuff) while I tried to figure out what my next step would be.”

Still, leave he had to, and Jessica says, “He left, and our relationship was rather undefined as we figured the distance would make things impossible.”

Then, something pretty incredible happened.  Jessica says, “It was that distance however that sealed our relationship. As hard as the past two years have been living apart, it is what has cemented our lives together. The distance made us both realize how much we loved each other and wanted to spend our lives together.”

Matt agrees: “I would not have realized how important she was to me to me or the depth of our love without leaving the US. Now, all I want is to be back with her and to start our life together, to make her laugh and to see the expressions that she makes, in person, when I rile her up.”

Now, though Jessica and Matt talk about these circumstances as the cause for their deepening love, I believe they are being a little too humble. None of this happened automatically. The deepening and cementing of their love story is due to Jessica and Matt making a choice. They would not allow their love to end. They would rise above their circumstances. They would harness their adversity to write an even better love story. And, that is a great lesson for all of us.

I Choose You

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

The bond and connection these two share with one another is genuinely unique. Despite coming from very different places and backgrounds, the term bashert really conveys it best: They undoubtedly are meant to be. Don’t take my word for it, take theirs...

Brittney shared with me that, “From the first time I met Marissa, I knew, instantly, this woman was unlike any other: Always genuine, caring, and honest, beautiful, kind, funny, and just so intelligent. I could honestly list adjectives describing how incredible a person she is all day. It’s such a great feeling to be with someone who is always so true, someone who is so compassionate and gentle, someone who really does share the same ideals and morals as me. I don’t take this for granted, as I believe it is quite difficult to find!”


And Marissa shared with me: “When I think of the ideal person, one that we as individuals are supposed to emulate, each and everyday, I think of Brittney. She isn’t just patient, determined, hardworking, and honest; she is the kind of person that I really strive to be more like every day, and I truly believe that if people were more like her, our world would be so much more peaceful, beautiful, and easy going. She is my comfort, she is my family, and she is my home.”

These two are different in many ways. They come from different cities and different backgrounds. They have different hobbies, and different tastes in fashion. But they share what matters most: their passions, their dreams, their hopes, and their unrivaled love for one another. Destined to be together, Marissa and Brittney are living proof that love can always find a way to bring two people together and that love can and will conquer all!

There is a song that both Marissa and Brittney love. They believe that these lyrics sum up their relationship best:

And I'd choose you
In a hundred lifetimes I'd choose you
In a hundred worlds I'd find You...

And I'd say, "I do"
For the rest of my life
With all that I have, I do
And I will
When the sky is falling
I promise you I'm all in,
No turning back.
Every day, every moment, Every breath you take... I choose you.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

You are IT

Saturday evening, Father Milt Raybould and I co-officiated Veronica and Michael’s wedding ceremony, in the Crystal Ballroom, at the Rice Hotel, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first things I ask each couple is how they met. Here is an atypical answer to this question, given to me by Michael here, “Veronica and I disagree as to when we first met.” Oh, well… He continues, “My first memory is her sitting right behind me in our property exam first semester of law school. She was having computer issues and I was trying to lighten the mood. Apparently, I failed as she does not remember this interaction.” Ouch!


Now, especially, in light of Michael failing to make that memory stick in Veronica’s mind, what she says next might surprise you, “I knew I wanted to marry Michael very early into our relationship. About 4.5 months after we started dating and after a few too many drinks out with friends, I was at his apartment and I remember telling him over and over again, ‘You are IT Michael Gross. You are it for me.’ I knew THEN that he was special, what we had was special, and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.” Michael also says, “I have wanted to marry Veronica for years.”

What was it that brought these two together, and caused them to know so early on that they were destined to be together? Surprisingly (not really), Veronica puts this into words a little better than Michael does, but I believe that she speaks for both of them. From interacting with them, you can see that the feeling is mutual:

“He is an incredible person. He is kind, smart, funny, caring, selfless, giving, thoughtful, intelligent, confident, energetic, and incredibly attractive. He has an infectious energy. He is always putting the needs of others before his own. He is the first to offer help if he sees someone needs it, and goes above and beyond without thinking twice about it… He respects me, he listens to me, and he supports me. He makes me want to be the best version of myself, and he helps me be just that. I have never had to question the love he feels for me and his commitment to me. He is truly my partner and I know that I am his.”

When you feel so strongly about someone, when you know that this feeling is based on the caring and devotion that person shows not just you, but other people, when that person makes you want to be the best version of yourself, is it any surprise that you know early on, that they are the one? Not at all. With that said, let’s catch up to where they were 4.5 months in, and make that law school dream a reality…

Saturday, February 2, 2019

We Fit Together

Saturday morning, Father Tony O’Donovan and I co-officiated Jenny and Dan’s wedding ceremony, at Wildwood Inn, in Denton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

There was something mysterious about the first time Jenny and Dan met. Here is what Jenny says about that encounter: “When I, actually, first saw Dan and he smiled at me, I felt like I had known him before, and my heart was happy that he had come back to me.” This is what Yogi Berra would call “déjà vu all over again.”


There is, in fact, a Jewish tradition, that likely stems from an earlier Greek tradition, that contends that meeting that special someone is not meeting someone new, but returning to an original partner. The Ancient Rabbis argued, based on specific linguistic choices in the creation stories in Genesis, that the original human was created as one being, both male and female. Then, God put this being to sleep, and separated it into two beings, one male and one female.

Dan tells a story that illustrates this complementary wholeness Jenny and he bring to one another: “Jen and I would often have conversations about the future and I would tell her how important I think math and science are for kids especially in the current digital age. I jokingly told Jen that instead of teaching our kid letters and numbers we should teach them the binary system.” Now, Jenny does, actually, work with kids; she has for her entire career, in one way or another. The binary system, I suspect, did not come up often, in that work. She could not have been blamed for gently pointing this out to Dan. That is not what she did. Here’s what she did do: “One day, I discovered that Jen had created a Pinterest board for me and our future child, complete with science and math books for our future child to read.”

In this Jenny illustrated the proper understanding of the ancient tradition. It does not contend that the two parts of this original being were identical or even symmetrical. That would actually be rather boring, and would contain it very little potential for mutual enrichment. It tells us something very different. When we find that true partner, the one we were separated from, we realize what Jenny did, “I had never felt anything like that before… It just seemed that we fit together, and that he was the one that I had been waiting for, for so long.”