My goddaughter Shannon got married May 22nd, in a beautiful and sweet ceremony in Lafayette, Indiana. She was gorgeous, he was handsome. Neither seemed nervous or overwhelmed with what was happening. They seemed ready to enjoy the day, but also understood that while this was fun and special and sacred, it was just a step towards the reality of a successful marriage.
Shannon’s grandfather Swenson officiated and was the perfect blend of warm humor, words of wisdom, and sweet encouragement. He delivered the homily and prayed for them. They spoke the vows they each wrote especially for the day.
Their siblings Susan and Jonathan, were their only attendants. Both made wonderful speeches that I think captured the most important point of the day – their families were being expanded and a new family made. And they, and all of the others in attendance (and some who were there in spirit) were going to support and encourage them.
I had attended the wedding of Shannon’s parents, Barb and Steve, in Lafayette over 25 years ago. A caravan of our friends traveled through the night from Greensboro to get there, and we were warmly welcomed when we finally arrived by family and friends of the Swensons. They put us up in their homes and fed us, much appreciated by our crowd of perpetually broke 20-somethings.
That same sense of hospitality reigned this time, not just with Barb’s family but also with Spencer’s. I stayed in the hotel with many of Spencer’s family, and didn’t seem to scare the mother-of-the-groom Sherri when I saw her in the hall and said “Aren’t you Spencer’s mom?” (I’m a Facebook stalker. I know everyone. Almost.) His dad, aunt, and grandmothers were all as equally friendly as I met them. Because of listening to Shannon over the years, I felt like I knew them.
There are few families I adore as much as the Swensons. Barb has three sisters and one brother, and incredible parents. Having been friends with Barb and Steve for so long, I have gotten to know many of them. They are funny and kind and accept me as if I were a member of the family every time I am around. This trip I not only got introduced to the next two generations, but also got to meet three of Barb’s uncles and their wives. I got to hear stories, full of affection and laughter. Dinner conversation was lively and enjoyable and easy.
I got to meet Steve’s cousin Tony and his wife and girls, who I have heard about for years but had never met before, I got to spend time with Major Jim Capers, who has become family to the Bradys (and they to him) and is known affectionately as Grandpa C. He is an interesting person, represents the best of career military folk, and as someone who has lost his wife and son, chooses his own family….which includes the Bradys.
I share all this because I think that a great predictor of the success of Shannon and Soencer’s marriage is the love that has surrounded both of them all of their lives. They have seen real love, not just party manners or relationships based on only feelings. They have seen people who respect each other and honor each other and are loyal to each other. They have seen people of genuine faith, who live it well. They have seen people who are truly kind, not just to each other but to strangers. They have seen friendships that become family, and relationships that span many years. They have seen strong relationships of all kinds….imperfect people who love perfectly. OK….not all of the time, perhaps…but in a way that exudes grace and graciousness.
Shannon and Spencer will have an unusual first year of marriage. He graduated from college and was commissioned into the Army the weekend before the wedding, and will soon be leaving for the first of quite a few training schools. Shannon will head for Zimbabwe, for a summer program sponsored by their college (William Jewell.) She will come back to finish her senior year there, where she will student teach and graduate before she joins Spencer at their first duty station in Kentucky.
I remember walking around the neighborhood with Shannon when they were stationed in Kansas for a year when she was a young teenager. We started talking about dating and marriage. I was never the usual godmother, so when she told me of plans to not date in high school (a vow she made with her group of girlfriends) I questioned her about it, as her parents had. Not that we wanted to force her into serious relationships young, but we thought dating at an appropriate age should not be taboo. We felt like making it forbidden fruit may have the opposite effect on the goal and she would not learn the fun of casual dating.
Shannon met Spencer during that time in Kansas (I believe she had already met him at the time of that conversation) and the interest piqued towards the end of their stay. Through the rest of her high school years they maintained a long distance relationship,me still in Kansas and she in North Carolina. When it was time for college, she made the decision to attend William Jewell with him. It wouldn’t normally be what I would advise a young girl, but for them it made sense. (Even if she would never be a Carolina alumnus like me and her dad.) They needed to live in the same city to see if the relationship could work….and not tie up many years of their young lives if it was just a romantic notion.
Obviously it worked, and though young they have already endured both togetherness and separations. They have thought about what it would take to build a life together and changed their paths so they would better converge. They have shown more maturity than many adults, but they also retain the youthful spirit of possibilities.
A fairy tale wedding deserves a happily ever after. We know that often it doesn’t happen. Like most marriages they will go through the better and the worse. How they maneuver those times together will determine their success.
The perfect wedding does not guarantee the perfect marriage. But it also doesn’t mean you can’t make yourself a fairy tale life.
God’s best blessings, Shannon and Spencer. You’re not in this alone. Grow good.