Last weekend I had the honor of officiating my sister’s wedding.
Let me tell you, this was not an easy task.
Well, logistically, it was ridiculously easy. The process of becoming ordained in the great state of California was about as easy as subscribing to an email newsletter. Name, email, and voilà! (For the curious, I used American Marriage Ministries).
The real challenge, of course, came on the day of the deed.
I’ve given many talks and workshops, but this emotionally and mentally stretched me the most. I knew I was in trouble when my mother started walking down the aisle and I could barely keep it together…then my sister with my father… then starting to share my opening words.
But I did it. Heart exploding and all.
Nothing forces you to clarify your beliefs about love, marriage, and commitment like marrying two people. And nothing forces you to succinctly sum up the relationship of two people than having less than thirty minutes to do so.
I chose to tell the story of Lea and Max using the two threads I thought tied them together best: 1) Lea’s and Max’s love for the natural world, and 2) Max’s traumatic cycling accident in November 2016, which stretched them both individually while pulling them closer together.
Below are some of my words from the ceremony.
* * * *
It’s almost impossible to talk about the union of Lea and Max without talking about what happened two and a half years ago.
I won’t rehash it in detail here. Because if you’re here, you know. Whether you’re a friend, a parent, an aunt, an uncle, a sibling, a cousin, a friend, a parent of a friend, a friend of a parent… We ALL went through something a couple years ago, didn’t we?
But I would like to share my experience of the ordeal.
I can count on one hand how many times when my heart has truly felt broken. I mean helplessly broken into a million pieces kind of broken. Cracked open, exposed to the elements, experiencing new depths of pain, meaning, loss, and love.
One of those times for me was November 2016.
My dad and I were in Florida together. We heard Max was in a bike accident. We didn’t realize the magnitude of it until days later. Things were getting worse. We made the decision to to fly to San Francisco to be with Lea, Max’s family, and to see Max.
It turns out the weekend we went there was possibly the low point of the whole ordeal. Max had drifted into unconsciousness and things could go either way: possibly better, but likely, much worse. In great myths and stories, this is known as the “all is lost moment.”
The part that broke my heart was seeing my sister in so much pain. And for me, the thought, just the thought, that this might be the new normal for the man she loved, that this might be her and Max’s new life together, brought me more pain that I knew what to do with.
In my work, I meet people who want to find their “passion.” In work, in life. Well, what most people forget is the origin of the word passion: from the latin pati, meaning “to suffer.”
What one loves enough that one is willing to suffer for –– now that’s true passion. Passion isn’t about what’s exciting. Not what gives you endless happiness or joy. Passion is what breaks your heart. When you find that which breaks your heart, that which you’d fight for — well, you’ve found passion. The pain of love is where true passion is found.
When I saw this passion, this pain of love in Lea, I knew Max was someone truly special to her.
And yet amid such pain herself, somehow Lea stepped into a new role. She became a rock for both families, for this family here. Lea became superhuman. “Lea the Angel” they called her. They say all superheroes have an origin story. Well, this was Lea’s.
Max would have his superhero moment too. Word-by-word, step-by-step, week-by-week, we watched Max build himself back up again. What drove him? All of our love and prayers pouring into him, perhaps. But I have a feeling it was his love for Lea, a chance to bounce back onto his feet and to take back the girl he loved. The passion of his love was greater than any physical or mental challenge he might face.
One year later, back to normal in what surely was a miracle, Max would propose in Iceland. And the rest, they say, is history.
Writer Anne Lamott** says there are really only three prayers:
Help is a prayer of guidance, assistance, and strength through suffering.
Thanks is a prayer of gratitude for the grace that’s given to us, thanksgiving for everything and everyone in our lives.
Wow is a prayer of awe. To be amazed. To be astonished with wonder.
Together, we prayed the prayer of Help through the accident.
Next, we breathed a collective sigh of relief in the prayer of Thanks a couple months later as we watched Lea and Max’s relationship resurrect for a second act.
Today is the celebration of Wow.
It’s rare in life that we’re given second chances. If there is proof of God, evidence of a great spirit, some deep mystery, something greater than any one of us, that connects us all – we were graced by that spirit a couple years ago.
And so if Lea and Max’s story isn’t the story of love, I don’t know what is.
Lea and Max decided to hold their wedding in an ancient setting — in nature, amongst the Great Mother Earth herself from which all of us come, enclosed by majestic redwoods, accompanied by deer, surrounded by loving human beings.
Standing here among the redwoods, it turns out they have something to teach us about love and marriage. From writer Herman Hesse:
“Trees preach the ancient law of life. Nothing is holier than a beautiful, strong tree. One can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.”
And so, my wish for both of you is this:
I wish you a beautiful, strong marriage, with many rings on your tree. No matter how thick or narrow as the years pass.
May life’s challenges be met together with courage and optimism, and may your days be filled with laughter, trust, friendship, and love.
May you continue to move through life together as growing individuals, each helping the other flower, within the great journey of your marriage.