Saturday, August 3, 2013

After the Storm: The Wedding Story

It’s been some months since I simply told stories on this blog. There are some thoughts too complex to put into words though, some moments we live that can’t be separated into the resulting emotional implications. So this will be told as a story-- as an honest story, a little disjointed, a little too big for the words I use to pin it down.

The morning of the wedding I woke up nervous for the first time in all the planning process, suddenly realizing how many people would be watching me. I calmed my nerves with a massive cup of coffee and time sitting in my parents’ living room, surrounded by siblings and some of my very dearest friends who had been staying with us. It was a deceptive quiet, so normal that my youngest sister Lucy’s urging to get us into cars and over to the room where we’d be getting ready seemed hard to take seriously.

We were getting ready in a dorm room we’d rented in the same building where most of our guests were staying and where the reception would take place later. I set up my iPod playing rock and roll, and Lucy (our designated hair and makeup artist) got started doing my older sister Lina’s hair. As I waited my turn, I kept updated on the crew setting up the reception, headed by my remarkably capable friend Rebekah. It seemed a shame to rent a dorm room and not make full use of its potential, so my friend Ruth and I may or may not have ended up jumping on one of the beds. Caleb, my adopted brother from college, brought us some Monster energy drinks, my usual fuel of choice.

My childhood friend and official wedding photographer, Sarah, arrived with my dear friend Becca around the time I was getting into my dress so Lucy could do my hair. It was a fantastic blur of my favorite songs playing and my dear friends talking as we finished getting ready, racing to meet the deadline of noon for starting pictures. Lucy finished my hair and makeup just in time, and Lina helped me get jewelry on (all hand-crafted pieces by Lucy) as Ruth helped me tie my converse (which I couldn’t reach due to the constraints of the dress).

Sarah and I headed over to the chapel through sheets of sharp summer sunlight. Given that usually the only dresses I consent to wear are Renaissance Faire garb, all the delicate, shining white of the dress my mother had made threatened to overwhelm me a little bit, but my sturdy black chuck taylors kept me firmly rooted in remembering who I was.

The chapel I had chosen as a wedding venue has been a kind of crossroads for some of the most important moments of my life. It’s a place where peace saturates every creaking pew, every thread of worn blue carpet. I had found refuge there countless times through highschool and college, often curled up on the floor at the foot of the cross on the front wall, claiming the sanctuary granted by those old white walls.

Sarah and I got some quick individual shots of me in the back prayer room before going out to meet with the rest of the wedding party, who had by that time gathered in the main room. Picture taking was a comforting chaos of trying to track down all six of my siblings for all the shots they were needed in, replacing some Christmas light bulbs last minute, and gulping Monster and Gatorade every time a sister shoved one of them at me with the request that I stay hydrated.

My three uncles on my mom’s side arrived just as the final preparations were falling into place, and I dashed out of the chapel to hug them despite admonitions that I should probably be laying low since guests were starting to arrive. Just before I was shooed into the back room for good, the officiating minister arrived-- my college Bible and Greek professor, who immediately could tell how nervous I was and offered kind words of reassurance before I was banished to the back.

As I waited with my sisters, they tried to get me to eat, but by this point I was too focused on thinking through how to survive the ceremony with so many people watching me. There was an old out of tune guitar in the back room, missing a string, and I picked it up and distractedly plucked out Mumford & Sons and Disciple songs as I listened to the noise of guests streaming in and reacting to the slideshow I’d made to play as their welcome.

Those last minutes disappeared incredibly fast, and then my sisters and I were following the musical cues as my dear friend Joy started playing her arrangement of Skillet’s “Yours to Hold” on the piano. We walked around the building to the entrance and lined up. I watched each of my beautiful sisters walk down the aisle, holding their glowing lanterns, perfectly timed. 

Then there was a pause as I waited with my dad, listening for the right cue. Joy transitioned gently into Mumford & Sons’ “After the Storm,” stacking octaves into a crescendo as my cue.

As I walked down that endless aisle lined with so many watching eyes I had to (somewhat unsuccessfully) remind myself a hundred times to look up from the floor. My dad’s steadying presence beside me helped tremendously.

When we reached the front I employed a tactic I learned long, long ago when I feel overwhelmed-- I narrowed everything until all that I saw was Jordan across from me and the minister beside me, the words we’d be saying and what it meant.

After the introduction and Jordan’s father’s prayer, Joy led us in singing “In Christ Alone.” To be there in that chapel with Jordan, buoyed up by so many voices, singing that song, was the most important moment in the ceremony for me. It was an admission that the day, the moment, was a deep grace-- that it was too big for me to carry, too big for Jordan to carry, but my Christ was entering in with us to meet the overwhelming immensity with His sustaining love. And in that moment I saw redemption finding yet another hollow in my heart and making its home, turning the shadows of my fear and inadequacy into the radiance of His promise: I am with you always. You’ll never be alone.

The minister spoke on 1 Corinthians 13, which is not unusual for a wedding, but he gave the original historical context of the passage, which is-- the distinction made me smile, and for just a moment I could almost imagine I was in one of his classes again, processing ideas and connecting concepts. Then he led us into the traditional vows.

These past two years, I have developed a strong habit of shrugging off commentary on Jordan and I’s relationship, even if it comes from him-- making light of our affection or outright denying it, as if it’s really not too big a deal that we’re promising the rest of our lives to each other. There are a lot of reasons I do this that are rooted in the past, but a big part of it is simply self-preservation-- trying desperately not to face the earth-shattering implications of what we’ve chosen, not even knowing how to outwardly address something so internally intense. But that day, hearing his words matched by his softened, incredibly earnest eyes, came the greatest miracle of all: I fully knew that he meant what he was saying. I might not ever understand how that could be possible, but for that moment my heart held that truth with all its mystery and weight.

The final moments were a blur of suddenly seeing the rings on our hands and knowing we’d set something irrevocably in place combined with the simple relief that the heaviest part was over. Joy played “Trade a Moment” by Disciple as we walked down the rows of friends and family and out the chapel doors into the blinding Texas afternoon.

After guests had filtered out of the chapel to go to the reception, Jordan and I met with Sarah for some shots of us (and some detour instrument playing) before we headed over to the reception. 

All the decorations an incredible team of helpers had set in place the day before were perfect-- sheet music paper stars and roses hung from low ceiling and climbed over ledges. Candles burned on windowsills and in alcoves. 

The reception food was entirely provided by friends and family, a diverse potluck spread complimented by my family’s trademark chai and my mother’s incredible cake-crafting abilities. My dear friend, former housemate, and longtime mentor Mangy was tirelessly at work in the kitchen along with a dear friend’s mom who has become a friend to me in her own right. It was incredible to watch so many details flowing flawlessly without any input from me.

The most important thing I had wanted from the reception was to know that everyone there connected, felt like a part of it, did not feel overlooked. And when Jordan and I retreated behind the guest book counter to observe for a while, I saw that was indeed how it ended up-- friends and family in groups and pairs and at tables, vibrant and human and living, all with the soundtrack of the playlist my brother Spencer was carefully DJing from a corner. 

There are so many moments from that reception that were treasures for me personally, things I carried away from that day and always will hold close: escaping the crowd with my CleanPlace family for a group picture (after all, this story is their story also). Sharing hugs and tears with the friend who knew best what that ceremony in that chapel meant in my story. Watching Spencer quickly pull up a playlist of nostalgia-inducing songs by The Beatles once my pre-arranged playlist ran out.

A moment that I shared with many was the speech that my sister and maid of honor Mercy gave at the reception. She offered words gilded with the brilliance of her graceful heart, words that offered gentle assurance of redemption in places where I have known the greatest fear of failure. As the sibling who has seen probably the most of me (and definitely the worst of me), she had every right to let that time be slanted by the selfish heart I have been, to present only reserved and polite nothings. Instead she offered up the deepest, most compassionate parts of her heart with an earnest honesty that left the room breathless-- and left me broken by the grace that has made me her sister.

By the time I thought to ask someone what time it was, already it was an hour later than my upper estimate of when I’d initially planned on leaving. So bubbles were passed out and everyone lined up. Jordan and I were unsure whether to exit in a stately manner or run, but one of my uncles came up behind me with a mischievous grin and pointed out that with my shoes I really had no excuse not to run. So we went for it.

Various miscreants (who have yet to reveal their identities) had covered our van in soap and toilet paper. Fortunately, driving that kind of vehicle in my rather classless neighborhood is actually not that conspicuous. The only real hitch in all my planning came when we got to my parents’ house to get our luggage, and I realized I had forgotten a key. After calling 6 family members and having the odd experience of sitting nonchalantly on my parents’ front lawn in a wedding dress, my brother Spencer came to the rescue, and he and my youngest brother Jasper saw us off.

That whole day was a rare case of the veil of the ordinary, the tiredness, of life being rolled back to reveal hints of the light underneath. It was a day of seeing that more people care more about me than I had ever dared dream, of being surrounded by those who had shared in and endured my bitterness, my brokenness-- now getting to share in light. It was a day of reclaiming a piece of the pure innocence that says joy is still more than an idealist’s fantasy, that the incarnation of Love Himself still lives as His redemption works its way out in a thousand details: in our hearts that are still beating strong after all the storms they have weathered, in a sacred promise sealed with rings and the removal of a mask. It was a day of knowing that beautiful things are still real, even if (especially if) it has cost us everything to reach them.

As Jordan and I drove down the familiar tarmac of I-20 towards Dallas, the sunset glittering in the soap smears over our windshield, I played again the song that I began clinging to as a promise from the time we first started this journey together-- the song that had welled up in my wounds and sealed them with the gentle balm of hope:

Well, I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before.
But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears
and love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there
with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
{Mumford & Sons}

- Elraen -

All photography by the incomparable Sarah Chapin


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to your wedding, your family, and your friends!! This was truly inspirational, Mary. May the two of you always find a way to come to agreement during the differences that will show up in life, may you take care of the small disagreements that come in any marriage(for it is small things that undermine), and may you always look at one another with the same love you looked at each other with on your wedding day! God bless you. Sarah Gray

MangyCat said...

Absolutely magnificent reselling of your wedding day. I am so thankful that God made a way for me to be there and share in some small part of this monumental event in your life.

I love you both dearly, and I know God has been and always will be at the center of your love.

I am so proud of you, for how far you have come. Never forget your journey--the good and the bad--because it has made you who you are.

Love, Mangy

NarnianWarHorse said...


*hugs* I love you, dear heart.


Eclectic Elegance said...

*hugs* :3 Very, very lovely. And thus I catch up on reading your blog. :6: *glomps*