Julia and I were married nine years ago. This is how I remember the day and the events leading up to it.
“Are you ready?”
Michael, my best man, stands next to me at the front of the church. My parents sit in the front pew on one side, my future mother-in-law in the pew opposite. In a few moments, Julia will be walking down the aisle.
“I haven’t seen her all day,” I whisper. “I am beyond ready.”
I catch myself shifting from side to side. I pause and take a breath.
“A little bit. I don’t want to mess up.”
I’ve never had the slightest doubt. If I had, I wouldn’t be here. I know—she and I both know—that this is right. We’ve known it for a long time, even before we were engaged.
We started talking about our wedding on a fall trip to the Oregon Coast, almost two years ago. We were in Bandon, our favorite little beach town. As we stood out on the sea wall admiring the waves, Julia pointed down to the beach.
A simple arch and a platform, just large enough to hold a minister, a bride, and a groom, sat on the sand, ringed by a semi-circle of family and friends. A small crowd gathered along the wall to watch and Julia took a few pictures.
We couldn’t hear anything where we stood, but we saw the couple kiss. We all applauded. They looked up, surprised at first, and then waved at us.
That night, as we sat in her car on the south bank of the Coquille River admiring the lighthouse across the water, I almost asked her, but I didn’t have a ring and I knew the time wasn’t right.
Julia had the ring, or at least the diamond. It sat in her grandmother’s engagement ring. Julia never liked the ring. It was a high setting that she was afraid she might damage, and her grandmother had welded it to her wedding band. But the diamond was perfect. Not yet engaged, Julia and I began shopping for a ring to hold her grandmother’s diamond.
The one we found was both stunning and klutz-proof. The diamond nestled between two branches on each side, looking much higher that it was. We ordered the ring and I began planning my proposal.
One evening, early summer as the sun was about to set, I took her on the same walk we took on our first date: down to a park along the Willamette River, and amidst the quacking ducks and honking geese I took her hand.
I didn’t kneel down. Where there are ducks and geese, there’s poop.
The sunlight glimmered off the water, drawing the deep red highlights out of her brown hair. Her eyes sparkled as she smiled.
I asked her.
She said “Yes.”
We planned every detail of the wedding together. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who showed up and said “I do.” We selected the music and the scripture readings. We scheduled the church, the reception hall, and the photographer. We set up a bridal registry, chose the wedding cake, bought the rings, put together a guest list, and designed the invitations. We took care of every detail.
Then one day in April, we sat in our priest’s office and watched our meticulous plans fall apart.
“I’ve got some bad news, I’m afraid.”
Not what you want to hear less than three months before your wedding. I felt Julia’s hand squeeze mine.
“What is it?” she asked.
“You won’t believe this, but I wrote your wedding date down in July instead of June, and I’ll be in Alaska that week with the youth group.”
“What do we do?” I asked. The parish’s other priest was going on sabbatical this summer, leaving no one to marry us.
We drove home that afternoon and were greeted by a message on our voice mail.
“Hello David, this is Marla. Call me, we need to talk.”
Marla is the organist at our church. I called her right back.
“Your wedding is the same weekend as the start of the Bach Festival. I’m going to have to cancel.”
“Cancel? What are we going to do for music?”
“I’ll get you some names.”
I set the phone down and turned to Julia. She was sitting on the couch in our living room with her computer sitting on her lap.
“We lost our priest and our organist in the same day.” I said.
“And our photographer.”
“I just checked my e-mail. She cancelled too.”
It’s a cliché when people say “God has his reasons.” It’s also poor theology. God’s got more important things to deal with than our wedding. But in this case I almost believe it.
We planned to get married by a priest. Instead we’ll be married by a bishop—the retired Bishop of Idaho—who’s filling in as interim pastor this summer. How many couples can say they were married by a bishop?
We lost our regular parish organist only to get one just as good—he’s also the Director of the Eugene Opera.
We lost an inexperienced and unreliable photographer the same week an experienced and reliable one moved back to Eugene. His schedule was wide open, and because he was trying to build up business, we got a great deal on prints and digital rights.
And through the experience, as difficult as it was, we figured out what matters the most. Not the priest, the organist, or the photographer. Not the music, the cake, or the reception menu. None of that matters.
I look up the aisle as the sound of the Trumpet Voluntary fills the church, and Julia steps into the doorway Her smile illuminates the room like the sun breaking through clouds. She walks towards me arm in arm with her brother. They stop beside me. Bishop John smiles at us and she takes my hand as her brother steps back to the pew.
Her eyes sparkle like they did the day I proposed. Time stops. The bishop’s voice brings me back.
“David, will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor her, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live.”
Looking into her eyes and holding her hands, I know what matters the most. Today’s the day, but it’s just one day.
Tomorrow, the next day, and every other day, for the rest of our lives. That’s what matters.