The Perfect Wedding

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.

Joy in the Mourning

When I was in my 20s, I was a member of two singles groups in Greensboro.  The first was at Westover Church, the second Christ Community.  I first attended Westover Church when I was in my early 20s, made some of my best friends there, and then moved over to Christ Community ARP around my mid-20s, (where John Kimmons, whose parents were some of my adult friends when I was growing up, pastored) and I met some of the rest.  Both groups intermingled as we introduced friends to friends, so the numbers just grew.  Both groups were similar….full of fun people who loved God, loved people and knew the meaning of the word community.  For a lot of us, who never seemed to have any money, we used each other for things like moving, painting, eating, and cheap entertainment.  Sharing our lives and our meager stuff.  Entertainment that included dollar movies, themed parties, ballgames, general hanging out in packs, and beach retreats Memorial Day and Labor Day (50 people + 1 house = fun chaos!).  And encouraging each other.  Lots of that.  The kind of people who know you and still love you.  The kind with whom you build lifelong bonds and great memories.  Those you laugh with and cry with.  Those who cheer you on for life. 

Two of my friends during this time were Lou and Brenda.   I had friendships with each, but those friendships didn’t really interconnect.  I loved them both individually and cherished my time spent with both.  When I had moved away from Greensboro and found out that they were dating, and then engaged, I was surprised (“when did that happen?”), but ecstatic.  Had not been on my radar, but it seemed so right.  They just fit. 

With all of the moves I made over the next years, I was difficult to keep up with.  Them too.  At one time we all lived in Raleigh for a brief time….had dinner one night, a few phone calls with Brenda to catch up, but busy lives took over and contact was sparse.  Then it was onto moving around again for all of us (me back to Statesville, them to Singapore and then back to Raleigh.)

Lou and I reconnected on Facebook a few years ago.  Though Brenda was never a Facebook person (she always being someone who would prefer to look you in the eye), I felt that she was back in my life again, too.  And it was on Facebook I found out about an incident that would forever change their lives.  Brenda was driving a friend to chemotherapy (because she did things like that), and for some reason drove the wrong way on an exit ramp.  The friend she was driving realized something was wrong, and told her to pull over so she could drive.  Brenda pulled into the first place she could, got out of the car to move to the passenger seat, when she fell to the ground in a seizure.  That was the beginning of the nightmare that eventually led to her death, in May 2010….the day before her 49th birthday.

My former roommate from those Greensboro years, Nancy, and I shared a lot around that time because we had a similar reaction… shook us to our core.  We trust God, but to no longer have the opportunity to see Brenda again on this earth was a shock.  Even those of us who hadn’t seen her in a long time.  We grieved our loss.  We grieved for our friend Lou….whose heart was broken and who had so quickly lost his helpmate.  He was on our minds constantly and it was difficult to not be able to fix things for him.  We grieved for their four children, who we knew would dearly miss the woman who was maternal even before she had babies, and for whom family was second only to serving God. It was a time of sadness.

From the first moments we heard of Brenda’s illness and then death, there were prayers.  That God would care for Lou and the kids.  That all of their needs would be met.  That somehow out of all of this there would be great joy.  We believed these prayers would be answered, even when it seemed like a difficult thing for God to do.  We watched and we waited, and saw Lou’s heart heal little by little and life grown into a new normal for him.

Meanwhile, amongst that same group of single friends from the Greensboro years, was Amy.  I  didn’t know Amy quite as well as I did Lou and Brenda, but always liked her very much.  Even though she is a Duke grad.  She was smart and funny and had a great heart.  While I had not kept up with her over the years, I found out later that she had married, adopted a couple of children (a cool story in itself), but then had also become widowed far too quickly.   She was living in Arkansas…. seemingly far away.

But as God does things, Lou and Amy ran into each other.  In the midst of each of their pain, they found the support of each other.  People who share similar experiences, but also common faith.  Sparks flew.  And this weekend they were married.  A lovely gift of joy to a couple of people who have been bruised by life.  A new family of eight created.

On one of those singles beach retreats long, long ago that I remember sitting out in the sand with my Bible and finding a Psalm that has become one of my favorites.   It’s weird that it struck me so strongly at that time, since there wasn’t much pain or difficulty in my life.  Even then I didn’t quite understand why it meant so much.  But it was one I memorized and has come to mind lately as I think of Lou and Amy, as it has during some other poignant parts of my life.

You turned my wailing into dancing;
   you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
   LORD my God, I will praise you forever.
”   Psa 30:11-12 (NIV)

I believe in providence.  I believe that God sends us what we need when we need it.  I believe He directs our paths, and even between Arkansas and NC He can be the magnet that brings people together.  (Even when they are State and Duke grads, who sometimes can be really hardheaded.)  As I have said in the past, I try not to pray passively.  So now, I get to acknowledge that God not only  has answered these prayers, but He did it in such a sweet way.  Once again, this wedding just seems right.  He sent Lou another member of our family….plucked from that special group of people that bonded long ago. 

Neither Lou or Amy are the silent types….and their overflowing hearts will be a beautiful thing to behold.  I can’t wait to hear of the great things that will come out of the blending of their lives and their families.  So yea God!  Thanks again for a great picture of life, your way.  Thank you for caring for my dear friend Lou in such a special way, and for your provision for Amy.  Thank you for turning wailing into dancing. 

As verse 5 of the passage above said “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  Let us rejoice!   I know that my friend Brenda sees the beauty in it….and in heaven is doing some dancing of her own.   Because that is the type of soul she is.