Saturday, April 3, 2021

Making Me Want to Be Better

Saturday evening, Reverend Marty Younkin, of LoveNotes, and I co-officiated Sofia and James’ wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum (in the Jonsson Color Garden), in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I got reprimanded in Starbucks because of Sofia and James. I am not making this up. Allow me to explain.

I ask each person I marry to write an essay about themselves and send it to me before my second meeting with them. One of things I ask them to address in the essay is why they want to marry their partner. It’s a pretty fundamental question, and if you can’t answer that, well, as Tom Hanks says in Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem.”

I ask couples not to read each other’s essays, because it just spices the discussion up. Seriously, though, it’s just cool to see how couples react to what the other has written about them. Take what Sofia wrote about James, for instance:

“I fell for him very fast because he was always incredibly sweet, funny, and was very close with his family…. We both just knew we were really good together, and we both saw our relationship going very far. James and I are complete opposites in many ways, but somehow it makes us balance each other out perfectly. He is quiet, so doesn’t care when I can’t stop talking, and I am anxious, so his laid-back personality mellows me out.”

Not only does that just sound cool, but it is also exactly what you want out of your relationship, that the sum total of you together is greater than each of your parts separately.

OK, I still haven’t told you how they got me a Starbucks reprimand. So, here we go. James addresses my question of “why” as follows, in a way that somewhat mirrors Sofia’s answer. I will replace half a word with “expletive deleted” just like they did when they transcribed the Nixon tapes:

“For the past three and a half years she has been my person. (Parenthetically: I thought doctors don’t like Grey’s Anatomy, but apparently, I was wrong…) She is constantly making me want to be better and I love that about her. She does not put up with my bull – expletive deleted – and will call me out whenever I am in the wrong, which is almost always.”

During our FaceTime meeting, when I mentioned that, Sofia was thoroughly embarrassed, because apparently, she thinks you’re not supposed to swear when you write an essay for a rabbi. The concept itself is however extremely important, and fundamental to every successful marriage. That’s why I said I agreed with James. With that, the barista, half my age and not an ordained clergyman to the best of my knowledge, walked over to me, and told me in no uncertain terms that they have a “no swearing policy” at Starbucks.

Sofia and James, please keep doing what you are doing, keep balancing each other out, keep calling each other out, and your bond will remain unbreakable.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Legacy to Leave for Those Who Come After Us

Saturday afternoon, Father Michael Mills and I co-officiated Carly and Aric’s wedding ceremony at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Dallas, Texas.

Carly and Aric’s marriage is an intermarriage. He’s from Dallas, she’s from Connecticut, a state that is 54 times smaller than ours. He fights fires and she studies at a small obscure school outside of Boston that you probably have never heard of. Finally, I really hate to bring up such a painful divisive subject at their wedding… he’s a cat person and she most definitely is not.

On a more serious note, if you really think about it, unless you happen to be an ancient Pharoah or Ptolemaic king who is marrying his sister, every marriage is an intermarriage. After all, every family is different, and the definition of “normal” for most of us is “how my folks do it.”

So, how do you prepare your children to be successful in their intermarriage? Honestly, the answer might be simpler than you think, which makes it a little infuriating that too few people follow the example of Carly and Aric’s parents in how they raise their children.

Carly says, “I was always very happy and outgoing. My mom is Protestant, and my dad is Jewish, so we went to church on Easter and Christmas and to temple on the High Holidays. I was able to gain an appreciation for the traditions of both religions.”

Aric says, “I started attending church when I was in middle school at Good Shepherd. I had many friends of Christian and Jewish faith when I was growing up, so I was exposed to many of the lessons and traditions of both faiths. I attended a Catholic high school and studied many semesters of theology and spirituality. The more I studied, the more I realized nobody has the answers…”

Now, you might be asking yourself, OK, that might explain why Carly and Aric will be successful in the “inter” part of their intermarriage, but what about the “marriage” part of their intermarriage? I believe that upon closer analysis you will see that what I just shared with you helps answer that too.

The number one prescription for an UNSUCCESSFUL marriage is thinking that YOU have all the answers or even thinking that there ARE definitive singular answers to most questions. What Carly and Aric are telling us is that not only do they know that this is untrue; they know this because this is how their parents raised them.

What Matthew, Natalie, Richard, and Blair teach us is that we should raise our children to be humble, to know that they do not have all the answers. If we do that, we stand a chance of not only ensuring that our children will be more successful in life, but that they will be more successful in love. I cannot think of a better legacy to leave for those who come after us.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Fairy Tale

Saturday evening, I officiated Renee and Darrin’s wedding ceremony at the Filter Building, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask each person I marry to write about themselves. No judgment, but it won’t surprise you that some people write a little better and some people write a little worse. We are all born with a diverse and diverging set of talents. It also won’t surprise you that some people have had a more interesting life than others. None of us, after all, controls our circumstances; that is left to fate. There is little you and I can do about that.

So, when in response to my request that a person write about themselves, I get a masterpiece, I just consider myself lucky. Well, friends, count yourselves lucky today too. Here is how Darrin began his autobiographical essay, to which – most people do not do this, but you will not be surprised Darrin did – he gave a title, “A Short Story”: “The year was 1990, the month was April, it was the eve of Passover. At 8:45 at night the Jewish nurse at Medical City Dallas exclaimed, “Baby Moses is born!” He even grew up speaking Hebrew like we imagine the original Moses did! You just can’t make this stuff up.

Now, lest you think the drama in this story ends there or is confined to the groom’s storytelling, listen to Renee: “Well, this is a fairy tale, LOL!” she says. “Kidding, but it is definitely fate at its finest! We were actually in the same kindergarten class at the JCC. There’s a picture of us at a cute school assembly, dressed in our PJs and I’m peeking over looking at Darrin. (Will attach pic; disappointingly she never did.) We didn’t realize this until later in life. We found these pictures at his mom’s office while dating.”

Now, in an old fairy tale, to use Renee’s term, that is all you would need, but this is real life, so even though Darrin claims that kindergarten is where their “love was built, but not truly realized until a few decades later,” and that “As you could one could imagine, our fate was sealed long ago,” that is really not why we are here today.

Fate, after all, is what happens to you, and though, again, none of can control our circumstances, we do have some choices in how we react to those circumstances. To use an episode many years after kindergarten, one cannot choose if one, Renee, almost falls at a party, but one can choose whether to sacrifice a portion of a front tooth to catch her from falling, like Darrin did. When you make a choice like this, you transcend fate and enter into your destiny.

Similarly, doing the work to continue together through a long-distance relationship and allowing it to build you, as individuals and as a couple, is not fate but destiny. As Renee says, “We were able to grow as individuals and experience one another through new seasons of life.” And much more recently, in an experience none of us will really comprehend until we have exited it, they were able to harness the forced togetherness of the earliest part of the global pandemic to strengthen their relationship even more and plan today’s celebration of their love.

Renee and Darrin, we hope that life will not throw anymore chipped teeth or global pandemics at you. Still, whatever challenges life does throw at you, continue to work together, turning your fate into destiny, and your bond will not only not break but be strengthened even more.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Meant to Be

Monday evening (3/15), I officiated Amanda and Adam’s wedding ceremony at the Rustic Grace Estate, in Van Alstyne, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The story of how Amanda and Adam met occurs at the hilariously named bar, Scruffy Duffie’s.

Adam says, “I had just arrived and was standing around when I noticed this beautiful girl standing over by the bar with one of her friends… A few minutes later… my back turned… I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the friend… She asked if I would be interested in having a drink with her friend… Amanda...”

In Adam’s telling, this is a pretty innocuous story. It is much more exciting in Amanda’s telling: “I… had sworn off men entirely. (Ouch!) I saw him across the room and told my friend I thought he was cute, and she immediately ran over to him and told him what I said. We started talking and the rest is history!” Wow. I don’t think I have ever said this at a ceremony, Adam, but thank you for restoring Amanda’s hope in our entire gender. Don’t let it get to your head.

Now, it’s not like Adam restored her positive view of half of humanity that very evening. However, that evening sparked something in her, that she was willing to, cautiously, give it a chance. Essentially, she was saying in the words of Bebe Rexha: “I don't mean to be so uptight, but my heart's been hurt a couple times... I ain't gon' lie, ain't gonna lie. ‘Cause I'm tired of the fake love, show me what you're made of, boy, make me believe.” And Adam was essentially saying to her in the words of Florida Georgia Line, “Baby, lay on back and relax… no need to go nowhere fast, let's enjoy right here where we at. Who knows where this road is supposed to lead, we got nothing but time… If it's meant to be, it'll be…”

That openness, that willingness in the words of the chorus to, “see where this thing goes,” paid off. Amanda discovered that, in her words, “Adam has the biggest heart… of anyone I have ever met. He is someone that will give you everything he has to offer and expect nothing in return. He instantly accepted my children as his own, and I know he will always have their best interest. He takes such great care of us, and I feel so lucky to have found him.”

And Adam says, “She is the girl I’ve been waiting to meet my entire life. She is sweet, thoughtful, a wonderful mother and brings out my best qualities when we’re together. We’ve dated now for just over three years, and it has shown me that no matter what we face, we always rise above it and overcome any challenges that come our way.”

I don’t know about you folks, but it sounds to me like this was most definitely, “meant to be.”

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Unbreakable Union

Saturday evening, Deacon Chris Volkmer and I co-officiated Becca and Ryan’s wedding ceremony in Wylie, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to address a few questions in writing. One of them is why do you want to get married now? Ryan, who if you have paid attention to the ceremony so far you may have noticed is Catholic, does a very Jewish thing when answering that question; he answers it with a question! Incidentally, do you know why we answer questions with questions. The answer is, why not?

Anyway, Ryan says that the real question should be, and many couples’ parents ask this all the time, why not marry sooner? He blames it on his having “galavanted to Oklahoma,” which, let’s face it, 99% of the time makes sense, regardless of the question.

Many of us have thought about time and timing more than ever before, in the past year. Our awareness of time’s elasticity has heightened. Our inability to schedule the mundane and the extraordinary has affected each and every one of us. And so that why now question I have been asking couples for thirteen years has taken on new meaning.

One of my mantras is that there is no right or wrong way to do anything in your wedding; it really depends on the couple. Similarly, to quote the writer, David Plotz, another person’s marriage is a foreign country. That said, I believe that if a couple focuses on what really matters, in their wedding and in their marriage, they can and will make their marriage rise above the constraints of time. Becca and Ryan exhibit a deep understanding of this, maybe more than they know.

Becca says, “Ryan and I have been through a lot together… We’ve been there during good times and bad times… It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. I’ve wanted to marry Ryan for a long time now. I can’t imagine a life without him, especially now, as we… create a home and family together, amidst such uncertain times.”

And Ryan says, “I want to spend my life with Becca. I’ve loved her since the moment I saw her. But marriage is more than love; it is commitment and an unbreakable union. Becca is my partner – and I want to be partnered with her forever.”

Thursday, January 21, 2021

No Small Feat

Saturday evening (1/16), Reverend Bonnie Bridger and I co-officiated Kate and James’ wedding ceremony at the Hilton Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront in Rockwall, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Strike up a conversation with Kate and James, and you will sense a maturity that belies their young age. You might say that though they may be young, they are old souls. They can be as fun as the next person in their mid-20s, but they seem to really appreciate the gravitas of the moment, literally, this moment here today, as well as the time we live in.

It is hard to judge why one person might be more mature than the next one, and this is a wedding not a psychiatrist’s office. That said, from talking to Kate and James and reading what they wrote about themselves and each other, I have discovered an answer. They have each experienced some hardship in their lives as individuals and as a couple. And while none of us wishes for hardship, there are few better teachers.

That said, hardship would be marked deficient as a teacher by the average school administrator, because though it is good at raising questions and provoking deeper thought, it is not great at answering these questions. It forces us to answer those questions. Here is the tricky part, we can hardly ever answer the question of why this is happening, though we can and indeed must answer the question of what now.

Kate and James answered this question in strengthening their connections with their religious traditions. Kate went on Birthright and became more connected to her Judaism and
Israel. James reconnected to Jesus, and in his words this helped him, “put one foot in front of the other.” Kate and James, together, chose this very type of ceremony to profess their love for each other.

More importantly, though, I believe, Kate and James answered this question, through building the relationship they formalize today. They laid the foundation for it in the world we once knew as normal and solidified and deepened it in our new normal, which is no small feat.

This is why Kate says, “I just want to keep smiling, going on adventures, and having fun with James.” This is why James says, “We love and cherish each other, and we are so excited to journey through the rest of our lives together!”

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 fiancĂ©. 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…”