A few weeks ago I found myself at a wedding experiencing something entirely different and new. You have to understand, I’ve been to 100’s of weddings in my lifetime and I’ve officiated a good number of those. Just a few days ago I performed my 5th ceremony of the year.
Weddings are not new to me.
I’ve helped people say “I do” in a variety of locations.
Indoors. Outdoors. At community centers, historic chapels and colonial homes.
I’ve married people who were standing on a staircase, and those standing in their own living room.
I’ve been part of ceremonies in schools, lobbies and even movie theatres. And then there are backyard weddings – theirs, their friends, and even my own.
Some people have wanted a 10-minute ceremony while others have chosen the 70-minute version.
I’ve seen people make their special day memorable in different ways too.
Lighting unity candles. Pouring sand. Washing each others’ feet. Taking communion or having their kids involved.
I’ve seen some really interesting things over the years.
I’ve had family members make a scene.
I’ve heard excruciating solos and I’ve been part of corporate worship.
I’ve helped a once married couple, marry each other a 2nd time.
I’ve had dogs bring the rings down the aisle. And I’ve married people on horseback. Not me. I wasn’t on horseback. Just them. Yeah, it was a little strange talking to two horses.
And then I had the privilege last year, to perform the wedding ceremony for my own son.
I’ve seen a lot of different things over the years when it comes to weddings.
And I’ve experienced a lot of different things too.
But here I was at a wedding a few weeks ago experiencing something entirely different than anything I’ve ever been part of before.
You see, rather than asking the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”, I was the one answering it.
I was the father of the bride.
I walked my oldest daughter down a very short aisle out onto a rooftop deck overlooking downtown Raleigh. There was a small crowd of 30 people but what I really noticed most were 4 people in particular.
When we came to a stop, after walking forward, we were standing right next to my wife. We were so close to her that she and I were literally human bookends on each side of our little girl, making a joint presentation. As I’m just trying to soak it all in, not listening at all to the pastor – I catch the eye of the Maid of Honor. It’s my youngest daughter, looking all beautiful, grown up and mature. Then my eyes turn to the pastor officiating. It’s my son.
I had such a unique and inspiring perspective as we all stood together in different places, yet united in the same moment. I had my family at 360 degrees. All in sight.
And I thought to myself: “How did I get to be so lucky? Who really deserves this?”
I had another thought too. I know that I should probably have been paying better attention, but it just came to me from who knows where. I thought of something I’ve heard Andy Stanley say:
“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God
may not be something you do,
but someone you raise.”
That’s how I felt in that moment. Each one with their own particular story and journey to this point in their lives.
But this day belonged to that little girl on my arm, now a woman.
Just before our big moment to walk down the aisle, she says to me: “”Daddy, are you going to cry?” (She still calls me Daddy.)
“I think I’m good,” I said.
At least I am now.
It was the days and weeks leading up to this moment in which I had my share of emotions. I had a lot of time to think about what brought all of us to this moment. And all these thoughts and emotions were being juggled in my heart and my mind, and yet they were under control.
And here’s what I was thinking and feeling….
“YOU WERE FULL OF LIFE”
The last 21 years went so fast. It really seems like only yesterday that we came home from the hospital. You had those chubby, pinchable cheeks. You were such a beautiful baby. And from an early age, you were very mischievous.
It really does seem like only days ago I was nursing hamsters, teaching bike riding 101, going to Girl Scout dances, and navigating the perils of a first boyfriend. Of course, I love all my kids and each is an edition 1 of only 1, but you had an especially adventurous track.
You were the one we always knew who would have to carve your own path, learn your own way, and test everything by experience. Even when you knew the consequences of your choices, you didn’t care because you were going to do it your way.
“LIFE WAS TAKEN FROM YOU”
I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a rough road for most of your life.
You had your first sinus surgery at the age of 6. There were 3 more of those in the next 12 years. Throw in an emergency appendectomy (that turned out not to be an appendix problem).
Then there were the 3 concussions in 2 years. Car accidents, sports accidents and boating accidents. They all led to a deep depression and some erratic decision making.
You were still beautiful – but you lost some of that life you had.
And you went to a deep, dark place and took us with you on many occasions. We had to carefully navigate the minefield of a child who hurt so deeply that you hurt yourself. Together, we walked the road of a dozen therapists and numerous prescription medications, while I maintained a locked toolbox of every sharp object we could find in the house. We barely graduated high school. I say “we” because your mom and I both felt like we earned part of that diploma. And then came college. It was just too difficult at that point in your life and you came home a month into the semester.
Then life got really hard. Maybe it was a cumulative effect of all this difficulty that piled up, but the little girl I knew was hijacked by an imposter. I started praying more. I even prayed, “God, give this kid a break.” And about that time you were sexually assaulted.
I’m not going to detail that period of life here. That’s your story to tell.
But that was an excruciating season of life for everyone – obviously, mostly for you.
I’m sure some dads come to the wedding day and reflect, “I knew this day would eventually come…” Not to be overly dramatic, but I’m not sure I can say I had that confidence.
This is where I say, “But God…”
But God poured out grace upon grace. People prayed hard. Even people you’ve never met were praying.
And you did the work.
You decided not to hide, but to heal.
You did everything you could – counselling…therapy…got a job and worked your way up…you renewed your faith – you did that. You didn’t give up, but you dug in. Every day you did the hard work to take another step forward.
“LIFE AHEAD WILL BE FULL AGAIN”
It’s been a hard journey, but through the grace of God and some wonderful people surrounding you and praying for you, life will be full again. You’re just now seeing a small part of it.
I don’t mean that it’s going to be smooth sailing ahead. There will be more hard times in your life. Marriage itself is hard. But you already know you can handle anything that comes your way.
You are strong. You are confident. You are still beautiful.
There was one more thing that caught my attention standing there that night. You chose to have the centerpiece of the ceremony be a 7-foot cross. There’s a song we sing in church that always makes me think of you:
“By your spirit I will rise, from the ashes of defeat
The resurrected King is resurrecting me
By your name I come alive, to declare your victory…”
I think it perfectly describes what’s happened in your life. And I know that in the years ahead you’re going to be telling a great story. It’s your story. And your story is going to inspire so many people and invite them to live fully and embrace the moments that they have. I truly believe your story is going to change people’s lives.
You were a 12-year-old girl who once thought you could do anything God asked. You even prayed that dangerous prayer: “God use me.”
He has. He is. He will.
When we stood for the Father/Daughter dance and took our place in the center of the room, she asked again, “Daddy are you going to cry?”
“No”, I said. “I didn’t practice my dancing but I listened to the song enough to build up my resistance.” (The people in Starbucks think I have some issues though.)
I had some tears for sure. They came before the wedding and not during.
I’m sure some Dads have a fear about what this moment means and the unknown that accompanies it.
I’m sure some Dads are afraid of the change that will take place. Maybe that their role is changing.
Or maybe the tears are there because they’re realizing the clock has struck midnight and this day signals the end of a childhood.
There could be lots of reasons for tears I suppose.
Tears are emotions.
But not all emotions are tears.
I may have felt some of those things at some point, but walking you down the aisle, seeing the family all together in this moment and sharing a Daddy/Daughter dance – all my tears and emotions can be summed up by one single word.
I’m so thankful to God. The ride has been crazy and unpredictable. And full of laughs.
I’m so proud of my family. I love who we are.
And I’m so eager to see what’s next for each of us.