Saturday, August 14, 2010

Weddings Then and Now

When my great-niece Amanda asked if I would preside at her wedding, I had no idea that on a warm, breezy July afternoon I would find myself in an enormous Oregon hayfield waiting for the wedding party’s arrival. In front of me people sat on hay bales, many folks in bright western clothes and cowboy hats of all colors and sizes, felt and straw hats, wide-brimmed and narrow, new and well-worn.

Finally the moment arrived. While country western music rang from the sound system, the mothers and grandmothers were escorted up the aisle, then came the 4-year-old ringbearer escorted by his parents, followed by four young couples. Brocade vests with western shirts and string ties for the guys and bright yellow dresses for the gals were accompanied by well-worn cowboy boots for all. Two small flower girls, flowers and ribbons circling their heads, bright as baby angels, threw rose petals among the hay stubble.

As the bride and her father stepped into the aisle, I asked people to stand. What a lovely bride she was, her simple but elegant white satin dress, long dark hair, and flowing veil. When she lifted her dress a bit to keep it from dragging, once again, I saw cowboy boots scuffed from use. As the music shifted to a softer, sweeter sound, a man sang “my baby girl’s all grown now” and that’s when Amanda looked up at her father and tears appeared on her cheeks. He pulled her a bit closer and kissed her on her forehead.

After he gave the bride’s hand to the young man waiting next to me, the bride’s father stepped back to take his seat next to my niece, fumbling for his handkerchief. The young couple stood there just looking at each other and in that moment, I knew we had once again come to that holy place where love brings us.

When love lasts even when life brings us to the waning days of our lives, that is a gift beyond measure. The morning before the wedding, my husband Zack and I went to breakfast in a local cafĂ©. The place was packed and we took the last available table. Next to me an elderly man sat alone, although there was a half-finished breakfast resting across from him. His chair was only inches from mine and I asked if I was crowding him. “Oh, no,” he said, “I’m just waiting for my wife—she’s in the ladies’ room .”

He went on to tell me that they had come to the coast to escape the 100 plus temperatures where they lived in Grants Pass. “I just can’t take the heat any more,” he said. “Besides, we wanted a special weekend—they’re gonna take my leg off Monday and it’ll be a while before we get out again. I feel real bad, though – she wanted to go to her niece’s wedding in Los Angeles this weekend and I just wasn’t up to it.” He shook his head and said, “Yep, I feel real bad—she really wanted to go.”

When his wife returned, the man struggled to get up. I stood and put my hand under his elbow and then I saw the crutch, one of those metal ones with a cuff for your arm. I handed it to him and he limped towards the restrooms.

His wife was a small woman looking some years younger than her husband. A bright red baseball cap sat loosely on her head, thick dark hair springing out from it. She smiled a bit and said “He’s such a talker, isn’t he?” She adjusted the hat, then said, “I can hardly stand this wind—it nearly blew my hair off,” and she laughed. “I’ve been in chemo for a while,” touching the wig.

She looked back where her husband was making his slow way through the crowded room, shook her head, smiled and said, “We’re lucky to have each other. He takes care of me and I take care of him.”

Zack took my hand as we watched them totter off to their car.

Of course, none of us knows what the future holds, what joys or sorrows will find us in the years to come, young couples just starting out or that elderly couple who were young once, too. But what I prayed for Amanda and Nate, what I pray for the couple from Grants Pass and for everyone is that each of us will find that partner who will help us become the people we were meant to be, who will encourage us to follow our dreams, who will stand by us through the hard times, and celebrate with us when life is good; that love will hold through whatever comes, that each of us includes God in our lives and always keeps open to the possibility of grace.

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