How To Stay Sane While Planning for Your Wedding!

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Thanksgiving Memory

Thanksgiving.  I’m sitting at a long table, filled with deep-down good people.  Anthony & Melissa have gathered us into their home.  Across from me is a beautiful Indian woman.  She has a disarming smile and a hearty laugh.  She turns those clichés into something real.

She asks me what I do and when I say that I’m a wedding officiant, she becomes excited and asks: “What do you think is needed to make a marriage a success?”  I hesitate because I sense her question comes from a place of disappointment.

So, I tell her: “listening.”  It’s both a true and safe answer.  Although I believe this is the key communication skill, somehow, when I give her this answer, it doesn’t seem adequate.

I glance at Anthony & Melissa.  I flash on other couples who nourish me and I wonder—what makes each of their marriages a “success?”  These couples constantly support each other, but that, too, seems like a worn-out answer.

And then I flash on a moment Anthony & Melissa shared earlier.  They’d just finished setting-up this Tuscany-like family style table.  I came into the garden and glimpsed them in a warm, hugging embrace. 

Exhausted from the preparations, they simply fell into each other’s arms—and smiled.  It was not so much a sexual embrace as it was intimately confirming that: We did it.

My grandmother once  told me that real love is not those champagne moments filled with fireworks.  Rather, real love is a reassuring whisper in the dark of night.  And that is what I witnessed in the garden—the intimacy of a reassuring whisper.  This is our feast.  In our home.  Built on all the moments you helped me and frustrated me. Built on all your surprises that both delighted me and puzzled me.  This night is our gift to these wonderful and wacky people, who, for better or for worse, are a part of our home.

As I looked down the table, with all its mismatched chairs and mismatched guests, I thought: if we can’t give thanks for this moment, what can we give thanks for?

And then, the woman again asked me, “Is that all that’s needed for a successful marriage—listening to the other?”

I look around the garden and think—no, listening is not enough.  Rather, here, this table, this is what makes for a “successful marriage.”  This table is the gift of two people dedicated and pledged to creating a life—a life-giving life—that rises above the rituals of their individual pasts.  Pasts filled with dysfunctions and secrets and questions.  A dedication that lets this day swirl with good, hearty questions: “Do you have enough?  Do you need more?  Eat up.  Don’t be shy.  Are you sure you’ve had enough?”  Questions asked while serving and laughing.

What makes for a successful marriage?  In that moment, as I flash on my family of couples, I’m reminded that it is the generosity with which two people juggle the hundreds of little things that go into the routine of daily life.  For it’s the sum total of those tasks and interactions that allow my coupled friends to make their home in each other, and there to find comfort and safety in the reassuring hospitality of each other.

As the table is cleared by all of us who want Melissa & Anthony to relax I remember the movie, Babette’s Feast.  It’s the story of two pious sisters living in a stark and dreary Denmark of the 19th century.  When their young maid wins 10,000 francs in a lottery, she puts on a French feast.  The sisters invite their elderly friends, each of whom is resistant to the overwhelming smells and tastes.  And at the very end of the evening, the General, a former suitor of one sister declares, “I now know in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.”

I look around and wonder—are all things possible?  Tomorrow we wake with our familiar demons.  Melissa & Anthony return to the routine of kids, pets, and work.  But this meal reminds us of what is possible.  And without each other, this feast would not have been possible.  No table.  No food.  No nourishment.  Not like this.  Not here.  Not with these people.

Is it too little to say that here—in this night of reassuring whispers—here can be found the answer for what makes a marriage successful?

Your wedding is like this Thanksgiving meal and its “perfection” comes not merely from all going “smoothly.”  No, it comes from all your guests leaving feeling nourished.  Feeling full from the reminder that life is good and worthy of all that is good and true within us.

You take each other as husband & wife and in that taking you give to family and friends a “loud,” reassuring whisper that all is possible, as you urge them on––eat, have more, don’t be shy!  In the doing of this you become an “I.”  And in the becoming of an “I” you are able to do the giving of your  “I Do.”

Your “I Do” 
celebrates your commitment to being a generous person.
Happy Thanksgiving! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris – Today and Always

“Try as you will, you cannot annihilate
that eternal relic of the human heart – love.”

Victor Hugo

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What I Want Your Guests To Remember From The Ceremony

Last Saturday I officiated the wedding of Stephen & Monique, a couple who are friends of Steve & Katie, a couple whose wedding I officiated last year.  Stephen had been one of Steve’s groomsmen and now Steve was one of Stephen’s.  In fact, Stephen’s other three groomsmen had been groomsmen for Steve, as all the guys had been in the same fraternity at LMU.

I wanted to make sure that at Stephen and Monique’s ceremony I didn’t say any of what I had said at Steve and Katie’s wedding.  But not only could Stephen and Monique not remember what I had said, not even the groomsmen could remember! 

Each reassured me that although they couldn’t remember my words, they’d been touched by the ceremony and my sentiments.

After the ceremony, I asked Katie, last year’s bride, if I had repeated what I’d said at her wedding.  She laughed as she, too, couldn’t remember what I had said.  All she knew was that she felt as refreshed at this wedding as she had at her own.

When I coach professionals in public speaking, I remind them that all sorts of studies confirm that after a presentation people forget 50% of what they heard by the time they get home and they will forget 50% of the 50% by the next day.  I stress that before giving a presentation, a speaker needs to know what it is they want their audience to remember.

A wedding is a unique type of presenting and this weekend I was reminded of what I sometimes lose sight of – family and friends will not remember my exact words, but they will remember the feeling and tone I create – they will remember the experience I create.

I recently met with a couple who are getting married next year.  When I asked them if they know what they want or don’t want in their ceremony, they told me about a boring wedding they’d attended.  While they couldn’t remember what the officiant had said, they remembered how the ceremony had a disjointed feel about it, how nothing that was being done or even said made sense.  They felt like they were simply observers, onlookers at an odd event.

Another couple I recently met with originally were going to marry last year but with less than a month to go they called it off.  They’re now at a place where they know they are necessary in each other’s life and are ready to marry in a way they were not the first time.  To my surprise, they told me that they couldn’t stand the officiant they had hired, but they didn’t care as he was cheap and that was their priority. 

The bride shared that now the ceremony is the most important part of their wedding day, but she doesn’t want to be the center of attention and she doesn’t want the ceremony to be long.  She does, though, want it to be meaningful.

So what is this “thing” we know as a wedding ceremony?
Strip away the clichés, religious and civil, strip away the pomp and circumstance, and what you’re left with is – an exquisite moment in time.

A ceremony is the acknowledging and affirming and blessing the simple and lovely miracle of these two persons, alive on earth at the same moment, pledging to live all the remaining moments of life together.

Despite its power, or maybe because of its power, a ceremony is a fragile experience.  It’s not a vehicle for lecturing or venting, rather, it’s a moment in time in which everyone present does something out of the ordinary – they give thanks for the brave generosity of two people.

Maybe it’s because it is so simple that a ceremony is so tricky to execute.

Last month, October, I officiated eleven weddings that together had over one thousand guests.  Given the opportunity to speak to a thousand people was a privilege I cherish.  But, now, I wonder about all those wedding guests.  What will they remember of the ceremony?  What do I want them to remember?

While I’ll never know what they remember, here’s what I hope they will remember:
·      That they were part of an invited group who witnessed something extraordinary – the pledging of love between two people – love faithful, protective and sturdy.
·      That despite the fact that life can be exhausting – life is good and worthy of our best – and because they joined in the feast, they will continue to live life and not slog through it.
·      That we need one another – whoever that “another” may be, so that we can live with generosity and courage.

Maybe, though, all I need them to remember, all I want them to remember, is this –
that they experienced a moment where they felt valued and appreciated because they valued and appreciated a couple who said “yes” to life in all its messy, uncertain glory.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Marriage Can Look Like After 26 Years

I’ve been friends with Anne and her husband, Rob, since they were first dating – and this past August they celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary!  A while ago I sent out to married friends an email with a list of ten questions regarding marriage.

Most of you reading this blog are in the throes of planning for your wedding and I thought it would be interesting and fun for you to hear what can happen after you’ve walked down the aisle.

The following are Anne’s answers and I hope you’re as moved by them as I was – and as soon as Rob gives me his answers, I’ll post those, too!

1.  What do you know today about marriage that there was no way you could have known before you got married?

How FUN it is! It is just nice to know that there is someone out there who not only has your back but is actually fun to be with! We laugh a lot.

2.  What three words do you think of when you think of your wedding day?


3.  Why haven’t you gotten divorced?

Really? Why would we ever get divorced? We love each other. Laugh hysterically with each other. Have fun together. Understand each other. We always joke that neither one of us would ever be able to have an affair because we would have to come home and tell each other all about it. Plus- who has the energy?

4.  What three things are you grateful for in your spouse?

So many more than 3 things but if it had to be 3:
·      His complete generosity of spirit. He ALWAYS puts me first (to the point where I have to tell him not to sometimes).
·      He is patient with me.
·      He shows me and tells me that his love for me is unending and grows deeper everyday.

5.  One sentence advice you’d give to a couple planning to get married?

Be each other’s biggest fans. Never put your spouse down to someone else. Talk about problems in private. And forgive each other when things do go that way. The world is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder for each other.

6.  What has most surprised you about being married?

How fast it has gone!

7.  How has your partner helped you become who you are today?

This is a really hard one because he has shaped who I am more than anyone in my life. He has given me confidence in myself and given me my strongest identity as a wife and a mother.  Those two jobs are by far the most meaningful experiences of my life. He has supported me in everything I have ever wanted to do and encouraged me to do things I was too afraid to do.

8.  Are you happy you had the celebration you had – or do you wish you had eloped?

Very happy. Except that we didn’t have the celebrant we really wanted. When I see some really great ideas of weddings today I think that it’s cute but we really enjoyed having all of our friends and family together to help us celebrate. That was most important to us.

9.  What did you experience at your wedding that you hope other couples experience at theirs?

LOVE. All kinds of love. Our family and friends and the whole day was filled with love.

10.  In no more than 140 characters sum up your thoughts on marriage!

We have always told our children, “The most important decision you EVER make is who you marry.” They roll their eyes at us because they have heard it so many times. But I think it is the truest thing I know. Rob makes everything in my life better. 

Life has thrown some doozies at us. We have a special needs child who is now an adult. We have had that call from the police for our most mischievous child. We have dealt with illness and death. But there was never a single moment when I felt like we were not a team. Coming home to Rob is the best part of my day and I thank God everyday that He brought him into my life.  (This is more than 140 characters! )

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Your Vows – Your Story!

A human life is not a life until it is examined;
it is not a life until it is truly remembered and appropriated;
and such a remembrance is not something passive but active. . .
the creative construction of one’s life.
Oliver Sacks

Occasionally, I like to offer a post that isn’t directly related to weddings BUT is kinda, sorta wedding themed and THIS is one of those “odd” postings!

Earlier in the summer I was an instructor at a three day college essay writing boot camp for seniors at a private high school here in the Valley.  As you may know, part of the college application process requires at least one, sometimes two essays.  The prompts are common to all schools.  Now, I know you’re busy checking out Pinterest and Instagram accounts, but, for a moment, check out some of the prompts that my high schoolers wrestled with:

1.     Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

2.     Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

3.     Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you and explain that influence.

4.     Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

5.     Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

6.     The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.  Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?

7.     Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act?  Would you make the same decision again?

So why am I sharing these prompts with you?  Well, it occurred to me – I wonder if you and your fiancé know each other’s answers to one or more of the above prompts?  And if you don’t, now may be a good time to share some stories you’ve not told each other before.

Couples come to me wanting a personalized ceremony.  THE way in which to personalize your ceremony is to write your own vows.  I can guarantee that if you know each other’s stories to the above prompts, you will be able to compose vows that are as authentic and as genuine as vows can be!
Happy story time!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Are You "Cute" or Are You "Ugly" ?!

true story
Years ago, when Meredith, one of my goddaughters, was just four years old, I playfully asked her if she was “cute” or if she was “ugly.”  She proudly told me that she was cute.  I then asked her if she was “cute” or if she was “very cute.”  Even more emphatically she told me that she was “very cute.”  And then I asked her how she knew that she was very cute.  Looking at me as though I had just asked the stupidest question she’d ever heard, she said, “my momma told me!”

The one aspect of relationships that we often overlook is this: the words we offer to each other are some of the most precious gifts we can give.  Over time we become the words we receive and give.  

Remember when you and your partner first started dating—how awkward it was in those early weeks when you weren’t sure how to introduce him or her?  “This is my___?”  To have said, “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” after just a month or two of dating would have seemed a bit too much.  Do you recall, though, the first time you referred to him as your “boyfriend” or you referred to her as your “girlfriend?”  Didn’t something happen in the way you saw each other?  And again, when you were able to introduce each other as “fiancé?”

SANITY SAVER activity:
I’d like you and your partner to take a few minutes, apart from each other, and jot down a list of all the words that describe who you are individually (not who the other person is): physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  Don’t censure yourself.  The good, the bad, the ugly, and the exceptional.   Time yourself for just ninety seconds.

When you’re done, look over the list and consider:
·      How do these words make you feel?
·      How do you know that these words are accurate?
·      How deep down fair are your words?
·      Are there words you didn’t put down?  Why?

Now I’d like you and your partner to swap lists and review.  What is your reaction as you read over your partner’s words?  What surprised you?  Is there any word on your partner’s list you think should not be there?  Any word that should be there and they haven’t written it down?  How many of these words do you say to or about each other?   Do your words build each other up or tear each other down?

Never say anything about yourself you do not want to come true.
Brian Tracy

Friday, September 18, 2015

Living In the Light Of Your Partner

The Sunday edition of The New York Times is known for many wonderful sections, including its Weddings section.  Each week they profile a couple with a unique or whimsical angle to their story.

This item is one that I was utterly charmed by. . .the last sentence is what got me. . .and I think it will get you. . .!

The New York Times
July 13, 2003
Cheryl Kleinman and Frank Palombo

Featured in Vows, July 25, 1993

Before Cheryl Kleinman married Frank Palombo 10 years ago, she was a wedding-cake maker living in Greenwich Village with her beloved cat, Betty. She was single, footloose and artsy. He was a practical divorced electrician with two young daughters. She had grown up in a small Jewish family in New Jersey, while he belonged to a large Roman Catholic Italian clan on Staten Island.

On their 10th anniversary this week, she expects that he will give her something like a power saw or glue gun. For her birthdays, he has built her a screened-in back porch and a marble fireplace.

Ms. Kleinman said, "There were times when I thought: `what was I thinking? I should have married a nice Jewish boy who knows I want diamonds for every birthday.'" She then added: "But I'm really glad we're so different. I don't know how to screw in a light bulb. Without him, I'd be living in the dark."

Monday, September 7, 2015

Why Does Your Partner Love You?

true story
Maura (names changed) shared with me that she loves her fiancé, Micah, not because he “is” her life, but rather because he “gives” her life.  He gives her the courage to embrace her self—her life—and invites her to dare and create a life with him.

In the early days of dating Maura wondered why Micah wanted to be with her.  A year ago, when he proposed, she quickly said “yes,” and then more intently began to wonder why he would want to spend his life with her, of all people!

Maura told me that as she navigated through her self doubts, the great gift Micah gave her was to help her see that those doubts were just lies she told herself.  He helped her to see more clearly and freely the person she was in this moment in her life.  He helped her to envision who she wanted to become.

Micah couldn’t live life for her.  He could, though, help her embrace life with confidence—a confidence that comes from recognizing strengths and acknowledging weaknesses.

And in learning to see herself with new clarity, Maura has been able to see that she, too, gives Micah life—in ways that he had never experienced before.

SANITY SAVER questions:
·      What do you most like about yourself?
·      Which of your partner’s character strengths help you be a better person?
·      Which of your character strengths help your partner be a better person?

Please understand that I’m not asking you to consider what you’re going to do for your partner.  Rather, I’m asking you to consider what it is about you that you prize so much that you want to share it with your partner.  

Do these questions make you squirm?  Good! 

When confronted by questions like these, most of us do squirm.  Often times we feel uncomfortable reflecting upon and naming the good that we are BUT name it you must. 

The more you understand and appreciate what makes you unique and what you bring to your marriage, the more confidently will you say “I do.”

To love your partner and to respect and love your relationship,
you must know how to learn to honor yourself.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The "Promise" Too Many Couples Forget To Make With Their Vows

My brother Peter and his wife, Beth, have been married for twenty-five years – and they are twenty-five years that they’re grateful for!  Last week I was talking with Peter and out-of-the-blue he remarked, “I can’t believe how many people I know are getting divorced.”  Sadly, I was surprised that he’s surprised.

His shock, though got me thinking about weddings (something I do a lot of).  Almost every weekend I officiate a wedding and every weekend I encounter people who are dressed to impress and ready to party – selfie-taking people who are palpably excited for “their” couple.  In light of Peter’s comment, I’ve been wondering – what is it that people are celebrating?  Is it the “forever” or is it the generosity, the courage and the hope of the couple?

Each week I stand before a couple and bear witness to their vows and as they pledge some version of “for better or for worse” I wonder if they understand what they’re actually saying.  I think most couples don’t  understand.  How could they?  We can only understand the future by living it.

Couples often ask me for advice on how to write their vows.  While I did write an earlier post on the “how,” that technique doesn’t really address the deeper question – what are you’re vows “vowing”?

In order to write your vows I think you need to reflect on these four questions.  You don’t need to say aloud in your vows the answers to these questions BUT your answers will inform what you write:
·      What would be the hardest thing that would pull the two of you apart?
·      What would be the ultimate joy you could experience as a couple?
·      What is your greatest fear for the two of you?
·      What is your greatest hope for the two of you?

The playwright Thornton Wilder, in his play The Skin Of Our Teeth, has one of the characters make this observation: “I didn't marry you because you were perfect. I didn't even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them; and it wasn't our love that protected them--it was that promise.”

And so I come back to that earlier question – what is it that we’re celebrating at a wedding?  I think it’s that “promise” – the rough and tumble rawness of that promise a couple makes to each other. 

But maybe what is just as important is for each person to also take a promise to her or his own self because if you don’t make a promise to yourself, how can you make a promise to another?  
Here’s what I hope you promise your self. . .that you will. . .
·      Let no one treat you as ordinary
·      Let your home be the gateway to the world and not a hiding place
·      Feel – and not let your feelings make you a victim
·      Learn to make bold mistakes AND
·      Tame your regrets over those mistakes so that they do not overshadow the gifts of the choices you made

The poet Emily Dickinson maintained,
“That Love is all there is is all we know of Love.”
Trusting in that truth, may the world be a better place because you loved each other!