Demystifying Your Wedding Ceremony: The Wedding Address

Parisa and Jeremy at Nature’s Point. Photography by Anahi Navarro.

No, no . . . not the physical address. Although that is important (see my previous post on welcoming words). This is more about the message to the bride and groom. You know – dearly beloved,  marriage is a new way of life created, ordered, and blessed and must not be entered into carelessly, selfishly but responsibly blah, blah, blah [wake me up in 10 minutes for the kiss].

Now, I could get in some hot water for dissing the traditional wedding address. And honestly, there isn’t anything overtly wrong with it.  Twenty-five years later, I am here to say it has worked quite well for my husband and me. It’s just — well — it’s outdated, impersonal, and frankly, it’s boring. Everyone has heard some version of it. So all that work of gathering your friends and family together in attention and intention? Gone. They’ve all just checked out.

That’s why we spend a lot of time with our couples figuring out how to personalize the message. Sure, marriage is universal, but it’s also unique. We like to embrace both sentiments at once. We are drawn in for a universal ceremony, but we mark the particulars of each couple as they enter their own, unique marriage relationship.

I’ve talked before about a couple’s DNA, or their watch word and spirit animal, or a theme that really resonates from the two of them. For some of my couples, it may be about family. For other couples, it’s about telling a story.  It might be love, or companionship, hope, laughter, or adventure. Part of the fun of crafting the marriage address is digging in deeply with our couples to uncover just who they are as a couple. Hopefully, the gems we uncover (even if it takes a few tries and several meetings) are gems that they carry forward for the remainder of their marriage.  Hopefully, the words we share engage and inspire the friends and family gathered around our couples. And hopefully – and usually – even we , the officiants, learn more about what we do, and about this amazing, intimate relationship we are helping create.

What themes would you want to hear about you and your beloved? What ways would you imagine capturing the spirit of who you are as a couple?

Next week: consent. It’s a hot topic word these days, and guess what? It’s part of getting married (but maybe not the way you are thinking)!

Demystifying Your Wedding Ceremony: Gathering

Gather in, gather ’round. It’s the opening strains of a good story.  And the first words, the first notes, the first movements matter. They will either hook the listeners or lose their interest. Think of all the amazing first lines of great books: Genesis, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A Tale of Two Cities. And can’t you hear the opening notes of “Star Wars”? Or “Stairway to Heaven”? Or Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”?

Weddings are no different.

The opening words gather the guests into a single purpose – to join together in creating a marriage between two people. It’s a joyous occasion, so those opening moments should set that happy tone. The guests are not just there to while away some time passively watching and waiting until the reception begins. No way – the guests are special people. They’ve been invited to be present because they matter to the couple. They create the community that will surround the couple during the wedding, and also into their marriage.

Additionally, those welcoming words should gather the couple into the sacred space of marriage. Walking into the wedding is always the most emotional moment. The anticipation, the entrance of the wedding party, and finally the bridal entrance with beautiful music. It is important to center the wedding couple after all of that – center and focus on each other.

One of the biggest jobs of the officiant, then, is to not just show up. And it’s not to emcee an event.

Your officiant is more of a narrator.

In those gathering moments, they should be gifted in delivering the opening notes of your marriage. They should be gifted in creating a warm, comfortable, and welcoming space for you and your guests to relax into the unfolding love story being told.

There might be one other funny purpose of those opening lines, as well!

One of the funniest stories I have ever heard about a gathering is from a couple friend of ours. They had traveled to a friend’s wedding in another state. Miscalculating travel time to the church, they missed the processional, but slid into a pew in the back of a church just in time to hear the pastor’s welcoming words. Within three sentences, they realized they were in the wrong place. When the pastor welcomed the bride and groom, my friends did not know the names. Looking around, they realized they knew none of the guests. They’d gone to the wrong church. So, while I think the gathering does all of the above, it also, humorously, serves as a double-check — did you show up at the right place?

Next week I’ll talk about moving from the welcoming moments into the message, sermon, or homily.

 

Demystifying Your Wedding Ceremony: A Series

Because who doesn’t want to have a blog (or blog series) with the word “demystifying” in it?

Well, here we are chugging straight towards one year of blogging. And wow, have I learned a lot. I hope you have, too.

Time to tackle new things . . . like a blog series! Over the next few weeks, we are going to unpack the wedding ceremony structure for you. Our hope is that it helps you better write and customize your wedding ceremony, as well as better understand what is happening in any wedding ceremony (and even your actual marriage).

There is a basic structure to almost any wedding ceremony no matter the cultural or religious background.  This serves several purposes. First, people function better when they aren’t trying to figure out what is going on.  That goes for the bride and groom, as well as the guests. And when there is a flow and structure, people focus on what is happening, and are far more vested in the moment and the ritual . . . which is actually pretty important and amazing!

A basic structure also helps provide a framework from which to edit. It is much easier to edit and customize a document when you know what you are editing and customizing. A great example is adding a reading. Readings function best as a compliment to the marriage address. Occasionally they can help close out a ceremony. Sticking them in the welcome section can seem jarring and disjointed.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, the overall structure of a wedding should always have one goal:  to unite two people in the bond of marriage. Keeping the end goal in mind keeps weddings from digressing into other messages or platforms, or shifting focus away from the couple. With the goal always centered on the couple, the wedding ceremony structure can equip the couple to do just that – remain centered in their own marriage even as life throws along its inevitable, for better or worse, curveballs.

Next week? We’ll talk about the opening moments of a ceremony: the introduction, welcome, and gathering of the ceremony.

Getting to “I Do” with Wedding Reviews

My mission is to create families through marriage.  It’s fun, meaningful, and truly my vocation. My preference, of course, is to spend all my time with my couples writing ceremonies, talking about marriage, and getting to know each other.

But, as is true in every job, there are things we are required to do to keep our companies running. In a world driven by social media and reviews, gathering these reviews is a requirement. It’s a must. I find this less than exciting on several levels.

First of all, sales are not my strength. I’ve figured out over time how to sell who we are, but I am thoughtful and meticulous when I need to be speedy and responsive. Fortunately, I come from a faith tradition with a motto of “reformed and always reforming.” We are, as a business, always looking at adding systems and services that are helpful for our couples.

Secondly, chasing down reviews often feels like a game to me.  It is not a game I enjoy playing. I know it’s required, but to me, it doesn’t serve my clients because weddings aren’t a game. I take officiating at weddings very seriously. It’s my calling, my vocation, my passion.

What worked for years in my business (a list of references), is no longer enough with the importance of sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot. What seemed easy and obvious in the past is now mysterious and shifting. And interestingly, marriages are the same.

Time, circumstances, and even the players in relationships change. While a marriage without pets, kids, and mortgages can click along nicely, the addition of any or all of these requires negotiation and renegotiation. We are required – yes, required, to revisit what we do, and why we do it. It does not mean it is easy, we want to, or we like it. But, it is a sign of growth – good growth, I think. And that is almost always a good thing. So, okay, I’ll go get some more reviews like my marketing director wants me too! 😂

*P.S.  So, now that I’ve admitted that getting reviews is not my strong suit, would you help us by sharing your experiences with us online? Did we marry you? If so, would you take a few moments to review us on WeddingWire, The Knot, and even Yelp?  We sure would appreciate it. Thank you!

 

Sanctuary on the way to Church

Cedar Cabin at Homestead Cottages, Canyon Lake, Texas. Photo credit to Doug Gaidry III

My work has me all over the city and surrounding hill country marrying couples from all walks of life. And I provide other services for folks, as well. I preside at baby naming ceremonies, funerals and memorial services.  I teach, listen, pray with and for people. I preach for my colleagues. In fact, this Spring, I spent two Sundays with Reverend Chad Lawson’s delightful church and congregation in Canyon Lake, Texas. Now, it just so happens that Canyon Lake holds more than his church. It also houses my church.  Or maybe better stated, it houses my sanctuary.  Canyon Lake is where my little cabin retreat hide-away lives.

Now, I am taking liberty with the word “my”.  I do not own this cabin*. And it’s always “we” when it comes to this cabin.   This cabin is where we – my husband I – go to reconnect, rest, and nurture our marriage and our selves. Finding time and space to visit our little cabin was not always easy. Sometimes I didn’t want to hang out with my husband. Sometimes it was difficult to find babysitters or family to stay with our young children for a weekend. Sometimes it was hard to simply find a weekend of time that worked in our busy schedules. Lately, though, in a sort of bittersweet way, it’s been easier to get away. Our children are growing up quickly and we find ourselves at a threshold moment. We see empty nest syndrome coming at us fast and furious!  But that cabin?  That cabin has journeyed with us through parenthood, marriage, careers, births, and deaths.

When we realized I’d be preaching in Canyon Lake, we were able to arrange one of the weekends to include a stay at our cabin.  Our sanctuary . . . on the way to church.  Happy serendipity. These sorts of sanctuaries are vital to a marriage. I often describe marriage as the invisible, silent space that sits between spouses. It is very easy to attend to myself, to my husband, even (or especially) our children. But to our marriage? How do you attend to something you cannot see or touch?  Something that has no voice?   It requires particular attention and focus. It requires space and even time. Sometimes it isn’t even clear what to do with the space and time together. That’s part of the mystery of marriage, I think. It’s also counter-cultural.  Who, after all, really has time and space and money for such ethereal ideas (says your calendar and iPhone and chores and bank account)?  But, my husband and I just do it, and often we aren’t always quite sure why.

Sanctuary in a marriage is not always a favorite cabin, though.  In fact, given life, it most often isn’t. It may be a cup of coffee (or tea!) together on a Saturday morning. Or a walk after dinner. Maybe it is journal kept of ongoing conversations with each other. After seeing one of my sweet couples post a picture of the two of them together in a Lowe’s store one evening, I even think it can be a chore accomplished together.

Do you have sanctuary in your marriage for your marriage? Is there a sanctuary for your relationship? Would you be willing to suspend your expectations, your schedules, your routines to try something a little unknown for the sake of the two of you?  I hope the answer is yes, and if it isn’t? I know some great cottages in Canyon Lake.

* It is worth giving a shout out to the delightful Jean and Justin Robinson and the sanctuaries they’ve (perhaps even unknowingly) created at Homestead Cottages and Lakehouse Bed & Breakfast in Canyon Lake, Texas.  Visit them!

The Kind of Love I Wish

“I have heard people say marriage is hard, but it hasn’t been for us. It’s been so easy and such a joy and we wish the very same for you.”

Some things are said at weddings that just stick with you. This was one of them –and it’s nothing I said. Upon hearing these well-wishes from a mother to her daughter and son-in-law, I was struck with a series of emotions: awe, disbelief, shock, admiration. In that moment, I was the perfect example of holding many emotions all at once.

Many years later I am still thinking about that phrase. I wonder – was it a true statement? Or one made true? I mean, I don’t think the mother was lying. But was her memory flawed? Because let me tell you a truth about me: my marriage has not always been easy. I don’t think that statement would come as a surprise to my husband, nor do I think he’d disagree with it. We have had many ups, but we have also had downs. We have had wide lanes and smooth roads, and we’ve had speed bumps and detours. There have been awe-filled moments that wonderfully taken our breath away, and there have been gut-punches where we gasped for air. I think this is the truth of marriage. It’s not “happily ever after.” At least it isn’t for me.

Or is it?

Because I, too, wish joy and ease for my children when their day to marry arrives. An ease and joy like what I believe Joe and I have in our marriage. And so I wonder about that mother’s turn of phrase. Perhaps “hard” is not the word I would choose. Instead, I say “Love transforms.”

Because in the end, that’s what it is all about. It’s about love. And not some mushy, emotional sugar rush of love. That’s a great part of love, but that’s not all of love. In fact it’s hardly any of love. Love is the energy operating between two people – in this case, married people – that transforms. It transforms our bodies, our souls, and our minds. It lifts the joys higher. It creates.  It makes grief bearable.  It’s sap that glues people together when they begin to peel apart, or the salve that heals broken trust. It’s butterflies, grit, tenacity, laughter, long distance running, and deep sleep. It is at once stormy as it is calm; bitter and sweet; angry and placid, hot and cold. I think it is a space and place rather than a feeling or emotion.

Like all of humanity, I can’t explain it really. But I do think it’s what the mother of my bride meant. It’s what I mean. It’s certainly what I have experienced. And I hope it for you.

Happy Pride from Austin Weddings Unlimited

Love is Love.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the riots at New York’s Stonewall Inn, Austin Weddings Unlimited celebrates the legalization of same sex marriage by the Supreme Court just four short years ago.

Long before our ceremonies held any legal status, Austin Weddings Unlimited was entrusted with ritualizing the covenant of love with our same sex couples. That is because we’ve always known that love doesn’t discriminate. Not now, not twenty years ago, not ever.

We wish all of you a happily ever after with the person you love.

 

Three Tips for Customizing Your Wedding Vows

The vast majority of our couples come to us wanting to personalize their ceremonies. This is a hallmark of the millennial generation, and I, for one, love it. It allows each couple the opportunity to express, in their own words, what the covenant of marriage means to them. Because while love and marriage are universal, they are also each unique expressions of the particular people making up the covenant.

Part of our job is equipping our couples – not just in writing their own vows, but also in living into their particular covenant.   So, when our couples tell us they want to write their own vows, we welcome it as a chance to unpack what vows are, and offer direction in that customizing.

Here are three tips for you as you consider customizing:

1. Vows are just that – vows. They are the promises on which you will build your marriage. We like our couples to think of vows in three ways: what you vow to do for yourself, your partner, and for the marriage. Most often, couples know vows to be the “for better/for worse; for richer/for poorer . . .” section of the ceremony. While these vows are old and traditional, they’ve also stood the test of time. These classic vows say “I will be there for you, and only you, through thick and thin.”   We’ve also seen some really fun variations on this theme building on particular aspects of a couple’s relationship. We had a fashion stylist marry her longtime love, a musician. She promised to listen to all his songs at all hours, and he promised to indulge in her stylish shopping from time to time. Both concluded their customized vows by stating that all of these promises, in the end, pointed to loving each other now and forever. Those vows are still one of our favorite examples of customization.

2. Personal exchanges are often what couples mean when they say they want to personalize their vows. What they really want is space to speak to each other in meaningful ways at this beautiful moment in their lives. We like personal exchanges because they are not bound by a need to promise anything. So, they can be free flowing thoughts, poetry, song, or even rituals. You may remember the blog on my sister’s ritual “konking” (Konking and the Secret Language of Marriage). This ritual was their version of a personal exchange, and it was truly one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed in my many years of being involved in weddings.

3. No “winging it.” We don’t have a lot of rules at Austin Weddings Unlimited, but one we do have is not allowing free form to be free flowing. The vows and the personal exchanges are at the heart of a wedding ceremony. This is not a time to just let your mouth and mind wing it. We instruct our couples to put some time into these moments. These words and rituals are deeply meaningful, and instruct marriage and life. By allowing us to review them, we can ensure that these statements are balanced, appropriate, and accessible. Even if our couples have memorized them, we require that we have a copy. That way, if anyone freezes up in this moment, we can whip out our copy and help you along (this alone, is a metaphor the role of community in healthy marriages).

One of the best parts of our jobs is seeing what results from these three suggestions. We not only hope this helps you craft your thoughts and ideas, but we can’t wait to hear what you will say!

Five Things Every Wedding Ceremony Needs

You are engaged. Now the work begins, right? The dress, the colors, the music, the food, the venue, the photographer. Then there is transportation, makeup and hair, guest lists, save-the-dates, invitations, seating arrangements. Oh! And a marriage license! And hey – probably someone to sign that license, too.

We get it. The actual ceremony, the officiant, and that pesky license to make it all legitimate aren’t at the top of your list. It’s ok. We aren’t insulted. But we are glad you found this blog because this is your reminder that while it may not be top of the list, your ceremony can’t be last on the list either.

Here are five things your ceremony should include:

1.The Legalities

This varies from place to place, but generally speaking, you will need a marriage license to make your marriage legal in the eyes of the government. (Why you may want to do this is a different blog!)

The marriage license is most often issued by a county within the state you are marrying. These days most county offices have websites, and as marriage licenses are among one of the most common documents they handle, you can easily locate details on how to obtain the license, the fee for the license, any waiting or “cooling off” periods, and filing deadlines. If not, pick up the phone and ask. It’s worth the few minutes it may take you to puzzle this out. Otherwise, all that planning may not yield an immediately legal marriage.

2.The Consent

Most licensed and ordained ministers and officiants will agree: consent and vows are a necessary piece of a wedding ceremony. In fact, I will suggest the consent and vows are at the very soul, the very core and root of the marriage. What exactly are the consent and vows? Well, you probably think of them as the “I do/I do” part followed by the “for better/for worse/for richer/for poorer” (and all its versions) section.

Why is this necessary? Well, first and foremost, the consent is exactly what it sounds like. You consent to the marriage contract, understand what you are doing, and are entering it with a sense of acceptance and agreement. The vows that follow are the promises you make around your consent to marriage. The vows are what you promise to do for yourself, for your spouse, and for the marriage.

3. A Spirit Animal/Intention

A spirit animal? You bet! As in, what is the intention you are setting for your ceremony? It should be present and articulated. Why? Because while marriage is a universal covenant, each marriage is also unique. Some people marry with the intention to always be kind to each other. Others marry because of connection. Others make their spirit animal the wandering wildebeest, always traveling and seeking adventure. Others couples have tenacity as their marriage’s DNA. More than any theme you might choose for décor, understanding your marriage and articulating your relationship for yourselves and your community makes for a meaningful wedding ceremony and sets you off on your marriage path with a compass.

4. A Joyfulness

People, this is a wedding, not a dirge. Have fun! Celebrate! Sure, this is a momentous and weighty moment, but it does not need to be solemn. In fact, please don’t let it be solemn!

5. Boundaries

I mean several things here. First of all, logistically create boundaries within the ceremony. The ceremony should be long enough to honor this joyous (see #4) occasion, but not so long everyone has checked out or is falling asleep. Secondly, create boundaries around your relationship. This is not your mother’s, nor your best friend’s, nor your in-laws’s marriage. This marriage is yours.  There are wonderful ways to honor where you come from, your traditions, and your culture without compromising your relationship. Finally, and building on that thought, learning to set boundaries around your marriage ceremony is a great skill for your marriage. There will be many moments in your marriage where boundaries will be important for your health, your well-being, and the life of your marriage and family. Learning how to do that at your wedding ceremony, even in the smallest way, is a great way to develop that skill set.

Cheers to both of you as you embark on this marriage adventure. And don’t forget . . . we are here to help you both now, and throughout this journey!

A Love Note to my Uncle on Mother’s Day

Uncle Tracy in the kitchen. He took up cooking as a hobby in his retirement.

When my Mom died suddenly in 2012, many other things died too. That is the nature of death. It is a compounding energy: death reveals other deaths, or (ironically) births other deaths, or plows up former deaths. In a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, death begets death.

Long before my mother’s death, I had developed a deep, meaningful kinship and love for my uncle (my Mom’s brother) and aunt, and my cousins. There was a time when I would have said this relationship was merely the result of proximity. In 1988, I’d arrived in Austin to attend my mother and uncle’s alma mater, The University of Texas. My aunt and uncle lived in and loved Austin. So, naturally, they were my parents-in-a-pinch. I house-sat for them, took care of their (awesome) dogs, shared UT sporting events with them, called on them if I was ill or had a question about a particular local need or issue. They were present in my life, but never intrusive.

Over time, they met my boyfriend who became my fiancé who became my husband. They were there for our wedding, when we had our first child, and again for our second child. Somewhere in the midst of sharing our lives, we began to spend summers together in Laguna Beach, California where my aunt had grown up. My cousins became like siblings to me, and my children grew up with “Matcy and Doc” as grandparent-type elders, and my cousin’s children became their cousins. Even now, our time in California is sacred space; an annual touchstone greatly anticipated, rich with memories, and something far deeper, and far more difficult to articulate.

It’s that “something far more difficult to articulate” that has become so glaringly obvious in these past months. For on February 20th this year, my uncle died. The chasm, the gaping space, the silence has been staggering. You see, as my cousin pointed out, he defied death so often that when he did finally yield, we found ourselves in a state of disbelief. Perhaps that is why I’ve struggled to speak about him, or his death. And yet, after silence there is the whisper of sound. After dark, there is light. After disbelief there is dawning recognition.

Any dog who got to hang out with Uncle Tracy was one lucky dog.

My uncle was an amazing man. He was truly many things: an accomplished and respected psychiatrist with a long, illustrious career, a pilot, a sailor, a photographer, a gardener, a vintage car collector, a traveler, a runner. He had a wry sense of humor, and could pull off some pretty awesome pranks. He was a son, a brother, a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, nephew, cousin. He was a native Texan but loved Washington State. He was an excellent listener, never the first to talk in a group conversation. When he did speak, we all listened. He loved his dogs something fierce. He was patient. Endlessly, faithfully, purposefully patient.

Only in hindsight have I seen this. As you can tell from the list, my uncle was a lifelong learner. And his gift to us? The greatest lesson I believe he learned, he taught us. And he taught us not just in life, but in his death: the love of family. For in his absence I see now my relationship was not proximity at all. The trips to California were not casually created. They were seeds he planted in each of us. Seeds that now have fully born fruit, as we find ourselves woven tightly together in the journey through grief. We are heirs of his great love of us, bound now to each other even as we are bound to him across time, space, and even death. “Whatever you do, stay in touch,” he would say. “Whatever you do, stay in touch,” he says now.

Uncle Tracy, I love you and I miss you. And most of all, I understand. We understand. Thank you.

My beloved cousins and me.