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January 24, 2015

a faith-based wedding

This week was the two-month anniversary of our wedding (and, dare I admit, the one-year anniversary of our first in-person meeting!). As I write, our striped bedspread is piled with 4x6 prints of nuptial bliss; wedding garlands and pine cones still adorn our flat. There are some thank you's left to write, but the list is growing shorter. Mentally, I need to wrap up wedding projects and move my concentration to building a godly marriage. But at the risk of filling this space with too much wedding-related gibberish (male readers, be duly warned), I want to share how I believe that people of Faith should have Faith-filled weddings. We live "by faith from first to last". I want to record some of the faith-based decisions we made for our wedding, however counter-cultural, before I forget what I learned.

Weddings have boomed into a huge industry in the West. During the last few years, my day job was directly related to that industry and was constantly reminded of what a production our weddings have become. The perfect satin chair covers. The handmade origami wall decorations. The professional make-up artists. The $200 groomsmen gifts (and the ten-groomsmen-strong wedding parties). The fashion-inspired photography shoots, with pre-wedding and day-after sessions included. The Facebook groups full of brides selling bird cages, candelabrasand yes, the dress tooonly days after the big event. None of this is wrong, per se, but weddings have become extravagant, costly...and overwhelming. Why?

In Asia, weddings are multi-day, over-the-top affairs, but North American weddings were traditionally more straightforward, perhaps due to our history of pioneering and homesteading, valuing good old-fashioned hard work and what we now call DIY. Our forefathers had left their extended family or their homes to strike out somewhere new. Unlike Asians, who may have inhabited the same land or even home for hundreds of years, North Americans were more accustomed to "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps" and paying their own way.  

North America's founders also had, overall, a generally B!blically-based concept of a wedding is, and built their events that way. They knew that no matter how big or small a fuss was made, at its core, a wedding was solemn occasion, established and ordained by God. But as the West has less understanding of true marriage before God, and more emphasis on self and defining our own truth, weddings are less built on Faith. Weddings then become self-centred ("It's my day!"), imprudent ("Let's take out a line of credit..."), and proud ("Look how beautiful we are!") affairs.

As people of Faith, our weddings should be distinctive. We need to look away from the world's form of marriage (after all, it's being constantly redefined anyway) and return to purposeful weddings as seen through the lens of simple, pure Faith in that One who says that "without Faith it is impossible to please Him." No matter our style, our past, our status, our traditions, weddings of believers should have this in common: our weddings should be full of Him.

Our dating, engagement and marriage are by no means normative or perfect. We were engaged on July second (in America) and married on November twenty-second (in Canada). Between those two dates, I finished my job in Asia, dropped by Europe briefly to see where I'd be moving, then hopped back to Canada for the last pre-wedding month. Despite these unique circumstances, I think I can share some perspective on redeeming the wedding season as a person of faith.

It was helpful for me, in the midst of so many voices and opinions and decisions, to establish  priorities and order our plans accordingly...just like in the rest of life. A friend once commented that you learn a lot about someone from their wedding. I think that is generally true. Our weddings display our (or our families') values, and here were ours:

We wanted a short engagement. People will tell you that you need at least a year to plan a wedding, or over six months to order a dress. Don't believe them. We had God's peace that we were better together, we had our family's approval, and we saw no reason to delay marriage. Some complained that we planned a November wedding in a Northern city; others assumed that I always dreamed of being married in the winter. One friend said I was "brave" to marry in the snowy season. But the fact was, we just wanted to be married. Winter or no winter. We confirmed that date with immediate family, a few friends, our speaker, our photographer, and our venue...and went with it. God blessed us with mild temperatures and a gentle, fresh snowfall on our wedding day. A week later, the -30°C temperatures reminded us that God had smiled on our date, chosen months before in faith.

We wanted the greatest focus to be on the good news. Our marriage and our lives would be nothing without it. To this end we picked our speaker deliberately (and planned our wedding around when he could come), made special requests regarding what he'd speak about, and handed out booklets our speaker had written, to our guests.
Our wedding purpose statement,
printed in the wedding program

We wanted to emphasize what marriage is, not what it is not. I feel there is a lot of confusion about what a wedding is: a showy party? a stupid decision? an outdated tradition? all about me? We printed a purpose statement in the front of our wedding programs, which literally explained why marriage, and why a wedding. Although in our culture, ceremonies have become quick affairs, and the emphasis is on the reception or party to follow, to me it was important that the ceremony be the big deal. I wanted the ceremony to feel like the real event (that's where the covenant happens!), and the lunch the add-on. (I think I got that idea from this book, which I found a somewhat helpful).

We wanted to be serious about what was taking place. I see a lot of playful wedding invitations or programs, and I tried, at first, to make a playful one, too. We did make a funny engagement announcement, that told the story of our relationship in an entertaining way. But in the end, for the ceremony invitation itself, I veered back to both serious wording and design, because of the nature of the event. We invited our guests "to be our witnesses as we join in the covenant of marriage before God." Covenants are serious. I am not usually a "classic" person, but I felt that our wedding almost needed to be so: we didn't invent marriage; this covenant is nearly as old as time. In the end, we used a pre-made wedding liturgy with traditional vows, and printed it word-for-word in the program, which also lent to the traditional feel.

We wanted it to be distinctly Chr!stian. Maybe that seems obvious. But for us, it was an opportunity to tell everyone where we stood as individuals and as a couple. One thing I've realized is quite distinctively Chr!stian is joyful, corporate singing, so we included two participatory songs in the ceremony.  Especially for our Asian friends who attended or watched online (via live stream), the clear, practical counsel offered to us from the pulpit would be very different than the unintelligible mantras chanted at their traditional weddings. We wanted the ceremony to be faith-filled and were careful about the instrumental songs we chose, the wording of the bulletin, and more.

We wanted prayer to be foundational to our wedding (and marriage), so we spent time together and separately, praying much for the big day, for our guests, and for our marriage. At our rehearsal dinner, we ended with a time of prayer. We gave out one prayer request each to about twenty different people, and each one prayed a one or two sentence prayer about the wedding day or our marriage. On the morning of the wedding we prayed together in the sanctuary before getting ready.

We wanted our wedding to be an expression of hospitality and community. We wanted to include as many people as reasonably possible. Too often I hear of people who plan their dream wedding, and then try to fit people into it. Or who say it is too expensive to invite a few more people, but, if the meal were less extravagant, could accommodate more guests. We planned our reception around the people we hoped to include, not the people around our dream reception. In particular we wanted to invite people who don't know the Love we know, and have them see and experience real Love. One such friend wrote to us and said he felt "immediately welcomed" at our wedding; this is what we were going for.

We wanted to honour our families, especially our parents, and make our wedding something they'd remember with joy. We tried to do this in small and big ways, like consulting them on decisions, including all our immediate family's names in the wedding program, creating a family tree for our guests to see, and emphasizing that our families (not just us as individuals) were being joined at our wedding.

We wanted our wedding to be meaningful, even in the details. I searched for hours for wedding jewelery, and felt rather exhausted by the search. In the end, I decided I would wear simple pearl earrings that had been a gift from a precious friend in Asia. To me, the pearls were a reminder of the "pearl of great price". Whatever following J'esus costs me, or her, or whatever sharing this Faith costs methat pearl is worth selling everything to have. I like having this truth embedded in my wedding day pictures in a way that is meaningful to me.

Our wedding was also meaningful in that so many people celebrated with us and helped us in practical ways. Having friends' and family's help with anything from decorating and food preparation to knitting and driving was not only a money-saver, but it made our wedding more meaningful. Showers and parties were other extensions of grace and especially meaningful in that I was moving away (both from Asia and Canada), after our wedding, and time with those friends was limited. 

We wanted our wedding to be memorable for us and our guests...even if that meant a bit more money spent. While we don't need over-the-top weddings, weddings are very special and unique occasions. I would never go into debt for wedding expenses, or spend all our savings just for our wedding, but since we were blessed with a little margin and many friends who offered help, we sprung for a few "unnecessary extras" because there's nothing wrong with making your wedding a day to remember! We serve an artistic, creative God who created a world with an infinite spectrum of colours, textures, words, sounds and patterns...for our enjoyment and His glory. I think He smiles, when He sees creativity and appreciation of beauty used in faith, to celebrate something so marvelous as a faith-based wedding.

There is no realm of our lives that is outside of the influence of our faith walk, and when we celebrate our marriage to another like-minded person, that too should be an expression of faith.
Do we believe that every aspect of our lives is to bring Him glory?
Do we believe that God wants purity and encourages marriage?
Do we believe God has brought us together for His glory?
Do we believe that He will work out all the details?
If so, how do our weddings reflect our beliefs?

It's not so hard to determine what a successful wedding looks like: if your wedding honours Him and honours others, you've hit the target.

We're still enjoying telling people how newly wed we are, and maybe we'll forever count how many days we've been married (after all, isn't that what smart phones are for?) and celebrate little milestones. But as we write those last thank you notes and watch winter soon melt into Europe's early spring...on to marriage, our current walk of faith. 

January 08, 2015

so dark, so shine

It's so dark. Have you felt it, closing in around your Light? All the fallen flights, heightened security, dropping oil prices and eurozone deflation? The noose tightening around freedom of expression? The shrinking of our world and clashing of our ideologies? Last night my husband and I were peacefully rolling vegetarian sushi, but in Paris there were mourners, blood splatters and a manhuntcartoonists and magazine editors left dead to shouts of "Allā*u Akbar". The murderers are still on the loose. Paris is not so far from us. Darkness is not so far from us. 

All is not well in our world. As children of the Light, the darkness that surrounds us can appear overwhelming. Some days this little Light of mine seems ineffective in a world with gargantuan problems. We don't know where to start.

That's when I thank God that there's something good about the night: darkness makes Light more obvious. It reminds me that little people can make a big difference, when they serve a big God. Darkness makes Light stand out. Even this little Light of mine.

When I left Asia, an employee gave me a carved wooden box. Inside, her note read: " are the only person who has ever understood me, and allowed me to be myself. I will never forget you...." I don't tell this story to praise myself. One would think I must have done something monumental for her, but I hadn't, really. I listened to her boy problems. I ate lunch with her. I worked alongside her. I corrected her. I brought her a snack sometimes, but not as often as she brought a snack for me. I did her a favour once a in a while, but not as often as she did a favour for me. In summary, I did nothing particularly incredible or significant for her. And somehow those interactions were incredible and significant to her anyway. This is the grace of God.

The news depicts horror scenes, and as real as they are, most of us live ordinary lives. We don't grapple with large disasters daily. We're rolling sushi, doing laundry or commuting to work while others are wiping up blood in Paris.

When I was in Asia, a potentially dangerous election occurred, and I received an email in my inbox from North America, giving dire warnings the "radical" leader of our Asian nation. Reading that email outside of Asia, I would have felt concern. But there I was, waking up in the state where the "dangerous" new leader came from, and everything seemed the same: my daal was still oily, the neighbour's daughters still met me in the lift, and the auto drivers were still honking. Yes, it was right to be concerned about the new leader, but for me, the more important task of the day was to smile and thank the cook. To ask the neighbour girls about their day. To pray for and be patient with the driver while he drinks his chai before transporting me. Because I'd probably never meet the president, but in my home, in my neighbourhood, and on my street were people dying for lack of Light.

It often surprises me how little things that to me seem normal to me are unexpected to people in the dark. Little things like
remembering someone's name,
helping clean up after a meal,
making that needed grocery stop,
taking chocolate to a sick friend,
asking to pray with someone,
being genuinely interested in your friend's friend,
cooking for your coworkers,
inviting someone lonely to your home.

Little things that shine big Light.

Maybe you can't go to Paris and weep with those who weep. You won't likely solve global racial tensions. You probably won't smuggle the Good Book into a hot spot, or write a motivational bestseller. Maybe no one but your mother will ever "like" your Facebook posts, or you'll never be good-looking enough to garner some role in the public eye. You might not have the cutest kids or the most stylish home. But, as you live your life, as a
good employee,
good boss,
good student,
good sister,
good wife,
good husband,
good friend...
as someone "given to good works",
your Light will shine.  
His Light will shine.

"Sometimes truth is like a flash of lightening on a dark night. For just a second, a split second really, everything becomes visible. And then, just as quickly, the flash disappears and the darkness returns. Still, one doesn't forget what one has seen when the lightening flashes." (Source: Kate McCord) We can thank God, even for the darkness. "Let your light so shine."