Marriage, A Profound Mystery

“… So drag me to the altar

And I’ll make my sacrifice

Love is just a moment of giving

And marriage is when we admit

Our parents were right”

Billy Bragg, The Marriage

Per the “Law Shelf” website, “Marriage is the civil status or relationship created by the legal union of two people. It imposes certain duties and responsibilities upon each to the other and to society. These duties last until the death of one or the legal termination of the relationship.” 

Per the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Ephesus:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… He who loves his wife loves himself… ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:25-32 NIV)

The legal definition of marriage provides useful benefit in this life we live here in our time “under the sun”.  This definition sees one of its common utilities when one of the two people involved in the legal union becomes incapable of caring for themselves allowing the other member of the union to make decisions for them, financial and/or healthcare related as they may be. As this definition indicates, death of either person in this legal union provides for the legal termination of the relationship.

The spiritual definition of marriage Paul mentions, conversely, extends beyond the life of either person in this union. By this standard, successful marriage leaves a lasting and meaningful legacy for generations to come both during and after the life of either or both persons in a marriage, just as Jesus left an eternal legacy in his ‘marriage to the church’ that he gave him life up for out of love for his “bride” and gave her eternal life for his sacrifice.

While, it is a profound mystery why anyone would give up their life for a life with another, marriage teaches us in time that it is for and out of Love that is the answer to that mystery.

Highlights from Elowyn & William’s Wedding Day

I finished writing this story this weekend following Elowyn and William committing to one another in marriage on Friday!   What a joy it has been to witness the journey these two have been on over the last seven (7) years.  I’m so proud to now be William’s father-in-law.  He is an amazing man and we are blessed to have him in the family.  He truly has become someone that I have come to trust not only as a loving husband to Elowyn, but also as a son to Leah and me, and a brother to my daughter, Gigi.   He has been protective of all our hearts and well being. As a father, I am comforted to know that I am able to rely on him to look out for my family now and in the future.  

Their wedding was a unique and beautiful event.  Elowyn and William are clearly loved by their many family and friends as evident in nearly all of their invitees choosing to come to their blissful celebration. It was hosted at Ziveli, a local winery, located just off the San Joaquin River roughly 7 miles west of Fresno.   I am so impressed by all the work Elowyn and William and all the many people they enlisted to help them did to make the event so memorable.  I am particularly proud of the job Elowyn did to leverage the many generous friends who run businesses in the local Fresno area that she has partnered with in the past as a local artist.  The relationships she has developed as a professional illustrator and painter, and owner of a small studio in the Mural District of Downtown Fresno, was leveraged well to make her wedding and reception all the more special.   I share the story in pictures I took yesterday to chronicle just a few of the precious moments we got to be part of with the wedding party and guests yesterday.  As the father of the bride, there were no opportunities to take pictures during the wedding itself, so I am grateful that my brother took these and shared them with me by text. I know the wonderful photographer Elowyn and William commissioned will certainly provide many more high quality pictures of the ceremony and all the rest of the wedding and reception for later but I hope you appreciate a glimpse of the event for the time being.

Clearly having good wine is a great and key feature and benefit of hosting a wedding at a winery.  Having local wines to help celebrate reminds one of how Jesus made water in wine for a wedding once too when they ran low in supply for their celebration!  Ironically, while wine was more readily available for the guests, we had to make special arrangements to have enough water in the form of ice for keeping other drink options cold or the many guests who came as well as water for cleaning up dishes afterwards due to the limited supply of water available at the winery.   It would have been far harder to make water out of wine so we brought our own supply of ice and gallon jugs of water. There were several other benefits of holding the ceremony and reception at the same location a winery allows for.  For one, you don’t have the delay typical of having a wedding in a church and the reception at a hall that is not co-located on the same campus.  When you have to get in your car to travel from wedding to reception, this is often done at the expense of losing some of your guests who can’t easily travel or wait that long particularly when you have family and bridal party taking formal pictures between the wedding and reception as most newly wedded couples do.  While we did take some pictures after the wedding, particularly of the newlywed’s parents and grandparents, most of the pictures of the bridal party actually occurred before all the other guests arrived.  Though unusually warm for late April, having a wedding at a winery provides a great venue for our guests to sit and enjoy the late spring afternoon as the sun moved behind the large shade trees on the property. 

The wedding guests got to share in some tasty hors d’oeuvres and some delicious wine and mingle between the wedding and reception as opposed to when the reception is held at a separate location and you have the awkward time that everyone wonders when the wedding party will arrive.   Speaking of hors d’oeuvres, I was so impressed with the relationship that Elowyn and William have developed with one of their business partners, Fig & Honey, who took care of all of those delicious pre-dinner snacks that kicked off the celebration so well!   

As you see in the pictures I shared here, my daughter’s artistic skill were evident in the art she personally created.  She had the help of her amazing aesthetic decor consultant, Michelle Bishop, who complimented Elowyn’s art with other items she collaborated with Elowyn on to acquire and locate throughout the reception area.  For example, you might note the shells that held each of Elowyn’s hand created name tags, and the pots and vases that contained live plants and flowers on each table.  Michelle really leveraged the best balance of art and decor to realize the vision Elowyn had for her dream wedding mixing shells and cherub angel backdrops throughout the reception area.  I was particularly impressed with the floral theme Elowyn hand painted in the backdrop where she and William exchanged vows.  She had painted these and the other backdrops over the course of the last 6 months in between all her other art commissions and other jobs she juggled in that time.  It set the tone for other adornments seen at each table, the guest sign in table, the wine pouring station, and even the shell frames of their engagement pictures.  The placemats she asked her mother to hand-make turned out great exuding the love that comes with crafting those individually and tirelessly.   In fact, most everything was hand made at the event, but I have to say it was Elowyn’s wedding invitations and rsvp cards that topped them all.   Each person received a very well designed invitation that gave each person precise directions how to rsvp on line, and by mail.  

Unique to any wedding I ever attended, yet I understand is becoming more common, as illustrated in the last of the pictures of the invitation, was their ask to assist them as newlyweds with funding their honeymoon trip to Italy rather than spending monies on things in a registry.   As they live in an apartment they had fully furnished, there really wasn’t a need nor any room to put anything new in their home so this totally made sense to me. Leah and I didn’t register for our wedding either for the same reason, and we ended up getting many of serving plates as a consequence for not giving our guests other options that may have been of more utility. In retrospect, I wish it had been option to ask our guests to fund our honeymoon as well when we were, like our children today, much more on a limited budget.  I am grateful to all Elowyn and William’s generous friends and guests of the wedding who helped make the honeymoon they are on as I write this truly a spectacular one!

While I was worried that having a wedding in a winery rather than a traditional banquet hall would be a challenge for Elowyn’s elderly and fragile grandmothers, it turned out that special arrangements could be made for them to make them comfortable. In particular, our family is blessed to have a caregiver in ‘Dori’ who works for Everlight Care to help my mom who, with advancing dementia, needs constant caregiver attention. Similarly, Leah brought one of her colleagues from her work, ‘Elida’ to assist with her mom as well.  This permitted Leah and I, and the rest of our family, who typically are the caregivers for our moms at other times, to be able to celebrate the blessed day and evening along with all the other guests without feeling that we were neglecting my or Leah’s mother.  One learning about having a wedding at a winery is the limitations on bathrooms. As there were only two available for the 150 expected guests, we commissioned a service called “The Oval Office” (an apropos name) for the mobile bathrooms that were brought to the winery so our guests would have sufficient capacity for their needs there. Our Ziveli wedding planner, Hannah Zale, did an expert job of taking care of our every detail serving as the liaison between the winery and the wedding support team, including arranging for one of the two restrooms to be reserved for our family with the other for other handicapped guests. We are most grateful to Hannah for all the good work she did to make our family comfortable and able to fully enjoy the wedding! these next pictures capture Elowyn’s extended family in and just outside the Barn where much of the food was prepared and we could use to keep my mom out of the mid-afternoon heat.

Of course one of the most amazing thing about having a wedding at an outdoor venue like a winery in the Spring months is to catch the blooming flowers and stunning green landscape that you so see only for a few short weeks in the otherwise arid and hot Central Valley.   As cold as it has been this long extended winter, our worries earlier in the month leading up to the wedding that it would still be cold for the wedding were clearly misplaced.  It actually turned out to be 96F, the hottest April 28th since the record was set at 98F in 2007.  One negative to that heat, was it wore out my 93 year old mother who while dutifully making it through the wedding and pictures afterwards, needed to cool off afterward in the enclosed air conditioned Barn.  With her wore out by this point, we eventually opted to take her home and fortunately and gratefully, Dori and my brother, Don, were able to assist her home without too much effort as they were prepared for this very contingency given my mom’s elderly condition. 

As the sun set and late afternoon turned to dusk, the higher than normal temperatures turned into perfect temperatures into the early evening as dinner shifted to dancing.  With the wine pouring and the music playing, the bride and groom, family and friends all celebrated well into the evening. While these few pictures captured that dusk time, we are all in great anticipation to see all the many other pictures from our professional photographer yet to come.

Why Wedding’s are a Profound Mystery

As I quoted earlier, the Apostle Paul called marriage the “Profound Mystery”, the willingness for a man to leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.  He was also speaking to what Christ did for his bride, “the church”.  Today, more than ever, I think it important to model in my own 31 year marriage to Leah, what Christ said and did in Love for each and everyone of us.  The rest of this story will share what our marriage has taught me.  I will also share how this points to my Mom & Dad’s marriage as well.  My prayer is that those learnings will be remembered similarly in the years as my daughter and her new husband embark on their own ‘profound mystery’.  

With all this work to make a one night event such an amazing, wonderful, yet short-lived celebration, it makes one wonder, what did Paul mean by marriage being a “Profound Mystery”?   Is does seem somewhat apropos for one to wonder (especially us ‘guys’) why so much care and effort goes into this once-in-a-lifetime event.   However, I think that Paul meant a much broader and eternal ‘mystery’ is unfolding in each marriage.   I mean after all, we live most of our lives before marriage thinking about what it is we individually are getting out of life.  What makes us now think it is time to give up that independence and now want for another more than we want solely for ourselves?   That truly was a mystery to me, because it wasn’t something I was thinking about at all went I left home and went on to my first post high school career in the Navy.

William’s journey to court my daughter, Elowyn, began when she was just 17, him being only a couple years older. While William was in his third year of college,  Elowyn was finishing her final semester in high school at the time.   William actually had met Elowyn at Dianna’s Studio of Dance (DSD) where he had become a dance teacher. Leah has been dancing for nearly 30 years since she was roughly William’s age when he met Elowyn. As it was for William, Leah’s love of ballroom dance began at DSD as well when she first started dancing with her then (and current) professional dance partner, Franco Peraza. It was William’s mother, Sherry Van Heusen, who deserves recognition for getting William interested in dance when he was an early teen. Unfortunately, Sherry is no longer with us as she passed away due to cancer 10 years ago.  Fortuitously, she chose to put William into dance lessons at Diana’s studio and he became enamored later with the idea of teaching others to dance too.  While Elowyn wasn’t really a dancer, she would commonly come to the dance studio with Leah which afforded the opportunity for them to meet.  The maid of honor of the bride, Gigi, shared how the two met in a playful and hilarious story during her planned toast at the wedding I share here for your enjoyment. 

There’s so much more to this story worth telling but that will be for them to share another time.  I entered the story when William decided he would like the opportunity to date Elowyn while she was in her final semester in high school.  Given she wasn’t 18, and because he was a conscientious and respectful gentlemen, William asked my permission to date her by first committing to go to church with us as a demonstration of his commitment to honoring our faith in doing so.   To be fair, I probably would have done whatever would have been expected of me to get the chance to date Leah if I had to first get her father’s blessing first. That wasn’t necessary, as when  I met Leah, she was 21 and her father had already passed away in a tragic accident three years earlier.  William was successful as I have to admit his strategy to go to church with us did indeed help in gaining my trust.  

Reflecting on Leah and My, and My Parent’s Marriages

Shifting back to our own marriage story and as I shared earlier, Paul wrote that “…husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”   By that I learned that means that my wife, Leah, has become through our own marriage, as important to my life as any other aspect of it I had before marriage.  I share when I first made that commitment marriage in my story, the TWO BECOME ONE and showed how that commitment would be put to the test in MY FIRST STORY. We were 12 years into our commitment to one another, when Leah felt called to remind me that she viewed the care of our daughters to be the more appropriate center of our lives than I had made it to date at that point in our journey as their father. As Elowyn was nearly ready to start Kindergarten, I was struggling at the time with a work career that I was becoming increasingly restless and disenchanted with even as it provided a significant income that we had grown accustomed to permitting us to afford living in the SF Bay Area where we had lived since we got married. So obsessed with performing in my work role, I commonly worked 12+ hour days leaving for work and returning home before it was light outside due to my long 90 minute commute (each way) often not even seeing my daughters while they were awake in the process. When I agreed to look into alternatives to that job that would permit me some more work-life balance, Leah suggested I should consider interviewing for a job in our hometown of Fresno.  I see God’s hand at work as my resume landed on the right desk (with the help of my then sister-in-law who was an RN that worked there) preceded an interview and later an offer came from Community Medical Centers to work as a manager in their IT department.   

As I share in that first blog story, I initially thought to decline the offer to work for CMC as I had felt “my life” had thrived previously in the SF Bay Area prior to the current funk I was in. So I told Leah I was considering options that would possibly bring us back to the East Bay in the Oakland area. Leah and I had lived in nearby Alameda in my last 18 months of my Navy career and I remember fondly living in that bedroom community.  Leah than gave me what I like to playfully now call “the offer I couldn’t refuse” when she said to me in response to my lack of commitment to move with her back to our childhood home. She said, “…Well, I’m moving back to Fresno, it doesn’t matter where you are at, you will will be at work anyways.”   She went on to say even more emphatically that she “would rather see [me] work at a gas station in Fresno than anywhere in Oakland”.  Ironically, Elowyn would 13 years later attend a reputable art school in Oakland for one semester before deciding she didn’t like living there either and came back to Fresno herself.  Fortunately, conflicted as I was, I listened to Leah’s heart and acquiesced to her desire to be back in Fresno where she envisioned we would have more family support for our children.   I was also influenced dramatically by the memory of how my own father’s life was cut well short by a heart attack that came in part due to the work related stress he allowed in his life that I speak to in the story A KAIROS MOMENT.   Through both my Wife and my Dad’s influences, I made the decision that has made all the difference in our marriage.  For those who have read the rest of the story, you learned that my commitment to Leah and our marriage would later drive the circumstances that would bring us to Clovis Hills Community Church where Leah would come to know Christ for the first time, and I would renew my own commitment to Christ as well in the community that raised me.  Praise God!

As these stories demonstrate the circumstances that set the stage for Christ to re-enter my life, it makes me want to share the importance of the mystery my Mom and Dad’s life together in marriage was as well.  As I share in my Dad’s story, ODE TO GMCS ROBERT A. DICKERSON, USN, and my mom’s story, THANKFUL FOR RESTORED HEALTH, they both have had challenging childhoods up to and including World War II that ultimately brought them together in marriage while my Dad was stationed in Japan in the late 1950’s.   Their marriage brought them three boys, my brothers Don & Ron in 1962, and then me later in 1966. My Dad’s assignment as Navy Recruiter in the Central Valley brought us to Fresno initially in 1972 when I was only 6 years old. Five years later, a heart attack forced my Dad out of the Navy, and so he started his civilian career which allowed our family to remain in Fresno through the balance of us three boys’ school years. My Dad worked incredibly hard to provide for his family, but years of stress and smoking took its toll.  As he knew mom would outlive him, my Dad’s firm reminder to us boys late in his life was that we had better take care of[our mom when he was gone or he would come ‘haunt’ us, something all three of would remember being told individually well beyond his death from a final heart attack in 1996.   This mandate from my Dad has kept us three boys in alignment that we are going to do all we can to make it possible for my mom to stay in her home, the one that she raised the three of us in.  So far we have been successful in this endeavor despite her advancing dementia.  Praise God! Please pray we can continue to do so.

Today, I find it serendipitous that the key blessings of having children is to get to witness both my daughters, out of respect for their father and love for their grandmother, now each individually care for my mom two days a week helping her cope with the struggles of advancing dementia that does not allow her to be left alone anymore.  That is a revolution over what I experienced in my own childhood or early adulthood as I never remember anything beyond some very brief visits of my one living grandparent, my Dad’s mother who lived in Carthage, Tennessee.  I do recall the my Dad’s three siblings having those responsibilities for my grandmother, as they lived nearby just as my brothers and I do today for our mom. Not living in Tennessee gave us a detached awareness of how much work it must have been for my dad’s family back in Carthage to care for my grandmother.   In contrast, my daughters have spent much time observing how their own parents, aunts, and uncles have treated and taken care of their mothers.  Sadly, due to a heart attack that took his life just before his 58th birthday, my dad didn’t even outlive his own mother, and thus was never afforded the opportunity to model what it is to take care of an aging parent to me.  My mother also had parents who passed in Japan long before I had any meaningful memories of either of them and whom I never had the privilege to meet in person.

This story leads me to conclude that the contrast of my parents and our own marriage experiences serve as a foundation for Elowyn & William to build on, and I pray they can stand on our and William’s dad, Bill Van Heusen’s shoulders here as Bill has similarly taken care of his own mom and dad in their twilight years while also caring for his spouse who succumbed to cancer. God willing, the three of us will live long enough for them to helping us into our own twilight years of life without hopefully burdening them or their sister significantly.  Today, the Sunday after their wedding, I had the opportunity to drop William and Elowyn at the train station in downtown Fresno, as they head out on their honeymoon trip to Italy via a train to followed by flight out of SFO. I had the privilege of taking my mother with me to say goodbye.  I feel blessed in that we get to see how our lives have set the stage now for them to start their journey of marriage together, just as my mom & dad did for Leah and mine.  

“7 Minutes” for Words of Wisdom at Elowyn and William’s Wedding

To conclude this story, I will share that Elowyn and William invited a few of us in the family to speak at their wedding as we toasted the newlyweds after dinner and before they cut their wedding cake.   I was the fourth and last person who got to speak before William would come up and thank all of those who had made His and Elowyn’s Wedding a special occasion.  William’s father Bill went first, followed by Gigi (as shared in the Video above), then William’s Uncle Jimmy Apple. All their toasts were very meaningful. Then it was my turn. The long running joke was how long I would take to share my thoughts given my well earned reputation for being verbose and chatty. I playfully introduced the fact that Bill had gone the full 7 minute allotment and longer so I felt I should equitably speaking get the same as the Father of the Bride.  What follows here are the notes I followed for my “speech” for you to review and enjoy:

Preamble to My Wedding Advice

Many contemporary poets/song writers/rockers try to explain LOVE from their generational perspective

  • In the 50’s…
    • Elvis Presley shared that “…wise men say only fools rush in… yet he “…couldn’t help falling in LOVE” anyways
  • In the 60’s,…
    • John Lennon told us we “should hide [our] LOVE away…”.
    • A few years later, Joni Mitchell told us she “…looked at LOVE from both sides now… and she concluded that she”… didn’t understand LOVE at all.”
  • In the 70’s…
    • Stevie Nicks told us her LOVE saw her “…reflection in the snow-covered hills, but a landslide brought it down”
  • In the 80’s…
    • Pat Benatar tells us that “LOVE was a Battlefield”
  • In the 90’s and later things just got darker for LOVE… 

So… maybe we need to look to more than these songs for the true meaning of LOVE??

Here is my advice for all of you using a card with prompts to help me stay on task to share this in 7 minutes or less…

Wedding Advice & Well Wishes

My advice seemed warmly received by the wedding guests and the bride and groom. Below are the Biblical verses I based my advice on In the interest of being brief, I didn’t cite this during my time speaking but I attribute this to be why the advice is timeless and the reason they were well received by the wedding guests.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13 (NIV)

I do feel somewhat vindicated that it didn’t really take the full 7 minutes for me to share all this and still be meaningful.  I should give credit to all who know me well who counseled me to be brief, but especially my wife Leah, my daughter, Gigi, and my dear friend and mentor, Phil.  That inspired me to look for a way to be disciplined about being on point. Fortuitously, I found these fill in the blank wedding advice cards a few days before the wedding while looking for some colored index cards to invite other guests to share their thoughts after I shared my own. These Hallmark wedding advice cards not only helped me be succinct, they also permitted me the opportunity to invite 120 of their wedding guests to do the same (that’s all the cards the Hallmark store had in stock). As I shared my thoughts, I asked our wedding planner Hannah and her team to help pass the cards out to each guest who wanted to share their own advice and asked them to place them into this box pictured here.   I pray this box, now full of rich (and some humorous) advice of all Elowyn & William’s friends and family will be a treasure Jesus spoke to when he said to store in heaven to refer to for their many years of marriage ahead…

I hope you have found this story as joyful reading as I have found writing it to be.   It is a cathartic experience to know giving up for one’s life for another can be so rewarding.  Billy Bragg was right… My parents were right about their choice to get married and my I pray Elowyn and William will always feel the same way about their parents!