Thursday, June 18, 2015

For Sarah, on her wedding week

Summer 2004.  I went to church and sat in my usual, near-the-front row with my sister.  There was a family sitting in front of us—a dad on one end, a mom on the other, and five precious kids between them.  There was a redhead with freckles cuddled up with the dad.  The youngest was a cute boy with a cowlick cuddled up with the mom.  The oldest looked like she might be student ministry age, so at the end of the service, I introduced myself to the family.

And the rest is history.

summer mission trip--where hair and makeup don't exist
That week I took those oldest two girls to ice cream at Friendly’s.  They talked nonstop, interrupting each other, fighting for the floor...and it reminded me of my sister and me...and I may have grown to love them that first day. 

They were in Powhatan, because their family was facing all sorts of changes and challenges.  And I will forever be grateful, not for the challenges they went through, but for the fact that God worked through those challenges and brought them here, to Powhatan, and to my life.

I was in seminary at the time.  There was one course I was most worried about—Basic Pastoral Care.  I just knew I would be awful at that.  But it turns out, God had created me for that kind of ministry, and those two girls would become two of my first victims of pastoral care.  They needed a pastor, and even though those were plentiful in their family, they needed a safe person outside the family.  I needed to learn what it meant to be a pastor—not just a leader or teacher or event planner—but a real pastor.

In the last eleven years (11?!  Really?!  I’m getting old...), a lot has changed.  I’ve gotten married, moved back to Powhatan, and had two kids.  That redhead with freckles has gotten married.  That boy with the cowlick is 16.  And that oldest girl gets married on Saturday.

Sarah.  The oldest.  The one who sometimes knew too much, too soon, because that’s what happens with the oldest.  The one who sometimes took on too much responsibility, too soon, because that’s what happens with the oldest.

Sarah.  The artist.  The one whose voice stills my body and catalyzes my tears.  When I watch her worship God, I am reminded of that broken little girl who sat across the booth from me at Friendly’s, and I am overwhelmed at His goodness and grace in her life.  He has gifted her with an abundance of voice, passion, and creativity that overflows out of a tiny person.

Sarah used to take lots of photographs.  She once told me that when she takes photos of other people, she tries to help them see the beauty within, the beauty she sees that they don’t.  I wish I could give Sarah that gift.  I wish I could help her see the beauty I see when I look at her.  But I think, I trust, that God has sent someone else to do that for her—the love of her life, the man who becomes her husband in a few days—Max.

I am so grateful for this man I barely know who loves Sarah, who’s seen her at her best and worst, who shares her artistic zeal, who points her to God, and who grounds her.  And I trust that he sees just as much, maybe even more, beauty when he looks at Sarah as I do.

Sarah and I have been through lots of seasons in eleven years.  We’ve seen each other excel, and we’ve seen each other fail.  We’ve shopped, traveled, ministered, eaten ice cream, drunk lots of coffee, cried lots of tears, shared lots of hugs, and talked on the phone at all hours of the night.  At times I’ve disappointed her, and at times we’ve had hard conversations—some of the most heart-wrenching I’ve ever had. 

But a few things have never changed—my love for her, my pride in her, and my hope for her.

Sarah, you are a beautiful woman of God who deserves the full richness of his blessings.  He has uniquely created you to be who you are.  I am better for having known you, loved you, and served God with you.  Thank you for entrusting me with your secrets, your fears, your hopes, and your story.  Being your pastor and friend has been an honor, and I'm grateful for the blessing of knowing you.

Last Summer's Brawley Wedding

(Yes, this post will be followed by one about THIS year's--this WEEK'S--Brawley wedding:)

Last summer I officiated a wedding with my husband.  It wasn’t the first time we’d done that, but it was the first time we were officiating the wedding of a couple that we had counseled—together—not just in a few pre-marital sessions, but over a period of years.

The previous summer Travis Wagner had proposed to Shannon Brawley, and there was a celebration at her mom’s home that evening.  I was there.  I got to pray over the newly engaged couple.

Sammy and I got to meet with them as they worked to get as ready as two people can get for marriage.  They took that work seriously.  They dug in, had hard conversations, cried, laughed, and prayed for their marriage.  Despite their ages, they were as prepared as any couple I’ve worked with.

And then I got to stand with them before God as the God of creation created a new family.
I cried then, and I cry now, at the holiness and awesome opportunity of that moment.
I started from scratch when I wrote that wedding.  It was no ordinary ceremony, and these were no ordinary people—five-foot-nothing girls who fell in love with men whose heights are only surpassed by their IQ’s, couples who believed in the purity of the wedding night. 

As I prepare for another wedding with this family this weekend, I’m also thinking back to the worship we shared a year ago.  Here are some words I got to share that day:

Shannon and Travis, you are standing before two pastors who love you…and who know a bit about those long-term, long-distance relationships that begin at Powhatan High School, continue across separate college campuses, and culminate in marriage.  We know the maneuvering and posturing required for a simple kiss between a giant and shrimp.  We know how annoying it is to hear, “Long distance relationships don’t last,” and, “Nobody actually marries their high school sweetheart,”…and we also know the pride of proving those people wrong:)  We know the frustration of fighting for purity, and the blessing of protecting it.  We know the fear and chaos of getting married in grad school with no money.

We know a bit about the road that’s brought you here.  We’ve spent time with you preparing not just for this day but for the marriage that awaits you.  And we tell you again—We are proud of you.  You have worked hard, prayed hard, sought wise counsel, and put God first.  You may be young and poor, but you have a rich relationship, one that you’ve invested in heavily and wisely...

“You are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.  Therefore, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  ...

Shannon, when Travis is weighed down with studying, exams, long hours, budgets, and bills, respond with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  He carries a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders—responsibility that he craves.  His dependability, responsibility, and stability are essential to your relationship.  Remember that you love those qualities in him; remember that he carries that responsibility, because he wants to take care of you.

Travis, when Shannon is crying and talking at mach speed and there’s not a rational argument to be found in all the words and tears, when she’s begging to take you out on a date, when she wants to push aside the books and bills to carve out her spot beside you, respond with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  She brings joy, energy, passion, and love into every relationship and every room, and she wants to lavish all of that on you.  That red-headed fiestiness and love of life and people are essential to your relationship.  Remember that you love those qualities in her; remember that more than anything else in the world, she wants to be with you.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and…patience.”  You have proven to each other and to all of us that you can be patient.  You’ve waited for this day for six years.  You’ve waited for college degrees to be earned, for internships to be completed.  You’ve waited to make sure this relationship was God’s plan for you.  You’ve waited for the morning when you could wake up beside the love of your life. 

You’ve waited for the end of the goodbyes.  Your summer and Christmas breaks, your weekends at home, your dates have ended in “goodbye” for six years.  The last “goodbye” has been spoken.