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Sunday, January 29, 2012

"...for my love is of Christ."

The following anecdote was written a few years ago (and recently revised.)  I'm posting it in fulfillment of a promise to Zoe (sister of the groom in the story).  Also, it makes a nice follow up post to the last one on singleness.  It's another long one.  (I'm finding it impossible to keep posts very apologies.)

The Photographer’s Daughter
                My parents own a small photography business.  And like all our growing up experiences, this business affected my brothers and me in ways I didn’t come to realize until much later.  Dad’s dream always involved being a wedding photographer and Mom went to great lengths to help him achieve it.  The work started out more of a hobby than a profitable investment, since it only took up a few nights a week and two or three weekends a month in the summer.  Dad never did learn to charge enough for his services and took financial pity on poor couples just starting out.  Still, the money was enough to supplement both full-time incomes and paid for my brothers and me to stay in a Christian school.  Somehow we always managed to save just enough to buy food for my growing brothers to inhale. 
                Needless to say weddings became a common occurrence for our family.  Before I entered junior high school, I had seen enough pictures to have an extensive list of ideas.  Colors, flower types, seating arrangements, music options; soon I had accrued myriad suggestions that I put into the mental box marked ‘wedding paraphernalia’ and shoved into an often-visited corner of my mind.  Unfortunately, the extensive experience with weddings became something of an over-exposure.  By my  17th year, I was a rather jaded young lady when it came to weddings.  Beautiful weddings, like paperback romance novels, were a dime a dozen and most of them ended in divorce.  In the 15 years that my dad worked as a photographer not many of the couples he photographed remained married.  Of those that divorced in later years, over half of them were coming to dad asking for services for their second or third marriage.   That means that we could count on one hand the number of first-time and lasting marriages we had witnessed in 15 years.
                If my view seems rather cynical you must understand that I was attending ceremonies celebrating the marriages of people I did not know.  Though occasionally Mom and Dad shot a friend’s wedding, the vast majority were ceremonies of people I had never met before.  To make matters more impersonal, the tiny bit of information that I learned about their love stories were riddled with late-night bar scenes and living arrangements that tainted the beauty of a physical relationship as it was meant to be.  These sin-laced stories were a big factor in my disillusioned attitude toward marriage in general.  I just didn’t see a lot of them retaining the beauty of the wedding day.
                  Perhaps the biggest discrepancy I found with these weddings goes back to my idea of the dress.  Like all little girls, I had dreamed about the dress since I was old enough to walk.  The bride always wore white, that was a given.  And before I reached my teen years, I had seen enough bridal portraits to know exactly what I wanted my own wedding dress to look like (of course, as a nine- or ten-year-old the dress seemed vastly more important than the groom.)  At first, my childhood dreams were enforced by the scenes I witnessed, a fairy- land of sparkles and ruffles and lace.  The bride became a princess and would float down the aisle in a dreamy haze of purest silk to meet her forever true love.  They sealed the deal with a kiss and then everybody partied!  But I was in for a rude awakening.  Somebody, probably Mom, informed me that most of the brides were not first-time brides and those that were had lived with their fiancées for a year or two before the wedding.  When I was old enough to understand the full implications of it, I was shocked and appalled.  Brides still insisted on wearing white, regardless of what went on before they were married.  I thought of it as a shameful misuse of the symbolic white gown.  I felt somehow deceived…offended.  Like I had been ripped off.  Maybe it’s not a rational emotion, but it’s true.  I had a deep sense that Justice and Beauty were being marred.  It gnawed at me every time I critiqued another bridal portrait.  How dare these brides steal the emblem meant for those who waited and honored God with purity?  Of course, most of these brides weren’t believers so it simply wasn’t a consideration for them.  Love began to look a lot more like lust.
                Since I could do nothing to change it, the custom of the dress was a small irritant next to the second trial of being the photographer’s daughter.  It was this problem that perhaps  first incited in me the self-conscious emotions that besiege most pre-teen American girls.  Until we were old enough to stay home alone, Mom and Dad had either to find a babysitter, or tote us along to the weddings they photographed.  Since we had just moved a few months earlier and because our money didn’t come from overflowing coffers, my brothers and I usually had to find something suitable to wear and trudge along with them.  This produced a new kind of awkward feeling.  New, because my parents have always lived as normal, down-to-earth people. Aaron, Adam, and I generally felt at home wherever we were because our parents had taught us to be personable, friendly.  Also, my naturally talkative personality had rescued us from many uncomfortable situations before.  But weddings, I found, created an entirely different setting.                
                When we arrived I always felt like an uninvited stranger knocking on the door of the wrong house (probably because I was, in fact, an uninvited, though not necessarily ill-received, stranger).  Generally, we were welcomed warmly by the host or hostess (since Mom and Dad always asked if we could come before showing up with us at the door.)  Still, only so much can be done to make a stranger feel welcome at an occasion as intimate as a wedding.  Aaron, Adam, and I learned to love big weddings where we could hide in the crowd and pretend we were invisible, while still trying to enjoy a slice of stale wedding cake with that horrible crusty frosting that I’ve since come to detest.  Much more stressful were smaller weddings where we would huddle together in a remote corner and watch fancily- (and often times scantily-) clad people get drunk while my parents documented the traditions of the evening.  Those traditions proved to be another wedding-facet that was quite taxing for us.  We never knew proper etiquette.  (They don’t write books on how to behave as an uninvited wedding guest.) I was always unsure whether to join those shoving for a chance to catch the bouquet  (I was often encouraged to, though I learned to position myself far from prime catching locations.)  Should we clap when everyone else did or was that a privilege reserved for the invited guests?  I felt wrong refraining but I didn’t feel right fully participating either.   The frustrations of it were endless.
                Occasionally, interesting people would engage the three of us in conversation, but their attempts at making things seem more relaxed only served to highlight the fact that we were, indeed, rather ill at ease.  Most of the time we kept to ourselves, ate just enough to survive and not enough to seem rude, and threw longing looks at my parents who would encourage us with smiles and gestured countdowns of hours left before we could go home.  We waited obediently, if sometimes impatiently, and hoped we had gotten our punch from the right punch bowl. 
                Even as a girl the sparkle and glitz of weddings very quickly faded leaving only the torture of bored hours on the sidelines trying in vain to focus on whatever reading material I had managed to smuggle out of the house.  As unobservant as I tried to be, I realized quickly that the existence of a ‘Perfect Wedding’ was about as common as a worthily-worn white bridal gown.  Something always seemed to glitch the plans.  The mother of the bride found fault with the mother of the groom.  A recently disowned cousin showed up without invitation.  The bride was, more often than not, a selfish spotlight-hog and if one thing could be depended on, it was the lateness of the limo.  I started learning to see the plastic under the table cloths, the metal bars under the trellis, and the wires that held the flowers together.  Again I felt cheated.  It wasn’t magic!  There’s no such thing as “Happily Ever After!”
                I guess for all those reasons and many more, the first ‘real’ wedding I attended had a remarkable impact on me.    I call it my first real wedding because it was the first time I attended a wedding of somebody that I really knew and loved.  The groom, Nick, was a family friend of ours.  He was a close friend of my brother’s and our families had grown close over the past 8 years or so.  When we were introduced to Karyn before their engagement we loved her immediately.  I’ll never forget the moment that I found out about their plans to be married.  Nick had taken her for a romantic walk on the beach.  As they collected shells, he found one with two sides and a hinge.  With a swift, secretive move he slipped the ring inside the shell and exclaimed,
                “Here’s a pretty one, Karyn!”  When she took it from his hand, the ring fell out just as Nick fell to his knees to beg for her hand.  I remember my heart skipping a beat when I heard the story.  It was simple, sweet.  No expensive restaurant, no frills, no fake pretenses.  She was truly surprised, he was truly creative.  It was just Nick and Karyn, completely in love.   
                I also remember the day we got their wedding invitation.  This time, it was personal.  My name was actually on the envelope!  They apparently wanted me there!  Finally!  I could eat wedding mints without feeling guilty and I could sit in the ceremony without that odd sense of waiting to be caught. 
                The day finally came and we piled in for the hour ride to the church.  The familiar photography equipment packed out the back of the van, but it felt different this time.  I cared about how this day went.  I was involved in what happened even though I wasn’t even part of the selected bridesmaids.  I had an even better position!  I was an invited guest!  I determined to keep my eyes wide open, soak it all in.  Maybe, just maybe, some of that sparkle would be there.  The magic I had stopped believing in as a teenager.  I was not to be disappointed! 
                This being my first real wedding, it was probably for the best that it was so traditional.  From the candles, to the order of service, to the reception, these people didn’t miss a beat.  Karyn’s dress was tailored with promises and dreams.  Sequins, crinoline, brocade flowers - she looked like an angel.  I smiled to myself when the groom arrived with his groomsman.  I’d seen a lot of grooms, but few as sharp and noble as Nick.  But he hadn’t escaped pre-wedding jitters!  He dashed around in his tux, looking alternately sick with happiness and nervousness.  He could hardly stand still and his friends laughed good-naturedly while trying to help him bear it.
                Like other weddings, I had to wait a very long time for everything to really begin.  Being the photographer’s daughter meant that I was there about three hours early.  I read and sat and walked around and waited and slept and read.  It was hopeless to try to make myself useful since people were always designated to take care of whatever might have been forgotten.  I was thankful that it was a church wedding.  (Outside weddings have fewer comfortable sleeping places.)  I waited, wondering if it was all going to be too good to be true.
It wasn’t a perfect wedding by any means.  Tension mounted when one of the bridesmaid’s dresses popped a zipper and had to be fixed about half an hour before time to go down the aisle.  Things were further delayed when Nick’s grandparents were late.   But despite these hiccups the ceremony turned out to be the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. 
Tears welled up in my eyes when the music started.  Karyn had chosen two songs:  a traditional wedding song and The Prayer (a love song popularized by Josh Groban).  Both were sung by long-time friends with meaning and emotion.  The candle lighting synchronized perfectly.  The attendants marched in. The room fell absolutely silent.  Every corner and crack seemed to be waiting…
                 Then the moment of moments when Karyn graced the back of the auditorium and began her regal stride toward the arch where Nick stood waiting.  It was at that moment that I found the culmination of enchantment.  The world stopped for the couple as their eyes met in a tender yet glowing joy.  Nick’s face lit up like a star and tears filled his eyes.  Karyn glanced at her parents, then down the aisle at the friends and family gathered to witness this day.  Then she settled her gaze on Nick and he won her full attention from that moment until the end. 
                The glory of God was present there.  And I learned a serious lesson about marriage.  The beauty of the wedding wasn’t in the decorations.  It wasn’t in the flowers or the plans or even the music.  Much to my surprise, it wasn’t even the properly pictured purity of the stunning white gown Karyn wore ( though it did thrill my heart to see the couple marry for love instead of lust.)  It was in the bride and groom and ultimately, the source of their love.  I knew them and loved them, and they knew and loved God.  That’s what made it so special.
                I had never seen two people so happy just to be together, to belong to one another.   Karyn didn’t scream when things went wrong.  People weren’t fighting over plans.  Nobody threw things and nobody got drunk.  It was all reality and sincerity adorned with grace. And the loveliness of it floored me.  As they held hands and darted for the getaway car through a maze of bubbles, friends, and family, I felt like I had just finished a really good book…”and they all lived happily ever after.”  For maybe the first time, I saw a wedding for what it was.  Not the momentous occasion that sealed love.  But the public declaration of a commitment to continue a love already sealed.  It wasn’t so much the day of the wedding.  Like any other day, July 11th came and went.  But these two were forever united before God as a testimony to His grace and a picture of His glory. 
                Nick and Karyn ended their vows with these words:  “I will love you forever, for my love is of Christ.”  That’s what brought tears to my eyes,  True Love- Sacrifice- Commitment.  I was stricken with the realization that it wasn’t magic.  It was so much more than magic, it was divine.  

And that’s how the photographer’s daughter learned the truth about weddings.  

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