[Beautiful shot captured by Minda's sister-in-law, Laura Marie Anthony, whose photography blog you can see here.]
The other night Peyton and I showed Annie the video from our wedding ceremony for the first time. One recurring thought I had throughout it was how much I wish I had had this blog back then. [Of course, another was to have anxiety about needing to back it up five different ways.] Anyway, I don't have a very good memory at all and I couldn't escape wishing I had an account of some of the tiny moments that seemed so important that day, but that I now have no recollection of. Moreover, I wished I had a diary of my emotions that day. I think that a lot about previous chapters of my life. I have to say I'm really thankful for Ellis because he remembers fabulous things about our lives together in highschool that otherwise would be lost to the past. Which brings me to this...
I never wrote about El's wedding. I meant to, but I just kept putting it off and now I'm a little disappointed because it's not so "fresh". This is why I write birth stories like a few hours after giving birth. The thought of loosing some of it is devastating to me. Well, it is what it is, but in the future I'm going to be more intentional about it. [Also: I'm working on my plethora of back-ups next week, too.] Anyway, time to get to the fuzzy details...
So, the night before the wedding I drove down to Hattiesburg for the rehearsal dinner by myself since Peyton was working. I listened to Mumford the whole way down and back and it was a blessing to have that time alone with my thoughts. I thought about so many good memories I had with El, I thought about all that marriage has brought into my life, I thought about sweet Minda. I prayed thank you a lot. Because in my biggest and best dreams, I could not have imagined this for him. My heart was full in a way I can't even describe.
At the dinner, I sat with Minda's family part of the time, but when her sister got up to feed the baby, Ellis's stepdad came and got to me to come sit with them. I couldn't stop howling the stories they kept telling (and I might have shared a couple myself). I was glad to be in the middle of things because I had struggled with not having Peyton and AP there (Graves is still a bit of a no-go for that type of thing). I seriously felt not a single bit of sadness, which was a little surreal. Surreal because, in my mind, I had pictured that if Ellis got married, even to the best girl in the world, I would deal with feelings of loss. I had prepared myself for that for years. Told myself that I might not loose our friendship, but that it would inevitably change. That I couldn't expect someone who understood our relationship the way Peyton did to come along in his life, and certainty I couldn't expect it of another woman. Of course, all my fears were in vain. That said, the night was filled with intense emotions and I missed Peyton dearly. I like to have him around when I'm feeling things deep. So, when Ellis's family made me feel so included, like part of their crazy-only Jesus-I'm the mom-you're the dad-you're the stepmom-you're the stepdad-we'll all sit together and visit like the old friends we actually are- family, it meant the world to me. It also meant more than the world when Minda squeezed my neck and told me she had read my post and her momma told me I wrote well and that she had a friendship like mine and El's herself. It all felt so natural and so perfect.
[Most of these snapshots are borrowed from and used with the permission of Ellis's step sister, Fran.]
The next day was, of course, the wedding and I was beyond thankful to have Peyton and Annie there. I'm not sure I could have carried the day's emotions by myself. Literally, there have only been a handful of times in my life when I've known the acute sense of joy I experienced that day. It was almost too much. Perhaps I was still in shock. Part of me expected El- full of anxieties and insecurities a lot like mine, but in a different place being a man- never to be able to take that step of faith. [Obviously, that's nothing against Minda. Peyton took four years and two breaks to get to the altar and I doubted that until the minute I heard "I do". So I know of these things first hand.] I told him over and over again how proud I was of him. He's say "proud of me for what, Den?" and I'd tell him for being fearless, because I know this scared the Hell out of him. [As well it should. Let's all take a minute to acknowledge the hard realities marriages sometimes entail.] And I'd tell him that. But then I'd tell him it was so worth it. Y'all. I'd been telling him this for years. That it's one of the hardest things I've ever experienced, but one of the most beautiful. So to watch it actually happen was amazing. And to watch it happen with a girl I had come to love so much myself was just perfect. These two's relationship is something I've been praying over for years. It was hard to contain.
The decorations were beautiful and so them- creative and artsy and unique and quirky. Minda had always told her momma she wanted a picnic at her wedding- basically she just wanted a picnic to be her wedding- and so there were picnic baskets with treats on every table at the reception. Annie told me later, in a moment truly surreal, that she wanted picnic baskets at her wedding. Minda also designed the programs which were beautiful and most everything was themed around books, literature and words. Of course, I adored it.
The actual ceremony was charming and meaningful and also so unique to Ellis and Minda. I teared up about three times and came near doing the crazy cry just once. They walked in and I got teary and then her dad (a pastor) said a few things and the ceremony began. One thing I loved (and always love when it happens at weddings) was how personal the ceremony was to them. Minda's dad talked a lot about God's divine creativity- something that is a huge part of both their lives. It was special to me because that is such an important theology and one we often take for granted. The next time I got teary was reading my passage by Madaline L'Engle:
Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens...Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage in itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature...If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation...It takes a lifetime to learn another person...When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of the co-creation which is our human calling.
Again more of the great work from Laura Marie Anthony. One of my favorites of myself of late.
I was holding up fine until the vows. They said the traditional stuff, but had also added their own words and they were some of the most beautiful I've heard at a wedding ever. They started out by proclaiming to each other "I love you with all I've ever known the word to mean" and finished with the commitment that on "this day, and every day, I choose you from among all others". Some of the most beautiful vows I've ever heard.
[Credit: Laura Marie Anthony}
I thought about my own vows, about how those words resonate in my relationship, and how I've done at keeping such a commitment (to be clear: I'm not talking about an affair. I'm talking about choosing silly things like Twitter over my beloved). In our wedding, one thing the pastor (one of our dear friends) talked a bit about was how hopefully our wedding would serve as a reminder and an instigator to those who were worshiping with us to be purposeful in valuing and growing their own marriages. I can't tell you how much El and Minda's wedding did that for me. At the end of the night, Minda told Peyton that they had a hotel reservation in New Orleans, but they were both just worn out (they had both had awful colds and were pretty sick the week leading up to the wedding). Apparently, El was also stressed about some papers he had to grade. Here it comes, y'all....she told Peyton that she had suggested to Ellis they just go home and she'd help him with the papers. On her WEDDING NIGHT, guys. That is a sacrificial love I did not know the day I married Peyton and to be perfectly frank, I'm sure I still don't daily embody. What a testimony to grace and love. I would have been bitter. I would have been ugly. I walked away so inspired and so overcome and so much more committed that Peyton and I would love one another well.
The ceremony ended with the two of them serving communion to all their guests. When her godfather and her new godmother served my tiny girl the body and blood of Christ, it was then that I came the closest to full on wailing. Minda told me later, when I officially asked her to be Annie's godmother, that giving Annie communion was one of the most precious moments of the night to her. At that point, in the privacy of my home, I did sob.
I can't say how much this day meant to me. But it pales in comparison to the last fifteen years of friendship with El and the last four or so with Minda. I was so blessed to have a front row seat to a beautifully answered prayer, but beyond that I'm blessed to have a person (really now two people) who understand me when I share my greatest dreams and deepest fears. I'm blessed when I see them overcome those deep fears and enjoy the reality of one of the greatest dreams that can be fulfilled on this Earth. Beyond that, I'm inspired to put aside my deep fears for another's great dreams because of the sacrificial love I saw from a wife of two hours. I have a lot to learn. Praise God for friends who teach and encourage me and call me to a deeper love and commitment.