As I write this, it is just before 7:00. I have already read our daily readings and practiced a centering prayer with my wife, Amy. When I came downstairs to take my place in front of my computer to start the workday, I found a pink envelope standing up on my desk addressed to “My Husband, Ray.”
Amy had written a card celebrating our one-week anniversary, snuck down to my office, and placed it there. The card opened with, “Happy one-week anniversary! What a wild ride it was to the ‘altar,’ yes?”
And that is the story I would like to share with you today; about the blessings I became aware of during this crisis. Amy and I were well into the process of planning a wedding to be held on June 27, 2020. The date was meaningful because it would be the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Franciscan pilgrimage to Assisi during which we met. We hoped to have many of our fellow pilgrims join us for a reunion at our wedding. It seemed, from the messages we received after sending out Save the Dates, that a fair amount of them would be able to attend.
Our wedding was going to be fairly simple, but our guest hotel rooms had already been booked, deposits had been made, and invitations printed. As the pandemic found root here in Ohio and the restrictions escalated, we felt increasing stress about our event. Still, we kept telling ourselves that June would certainly be far enough away for things to return to normal.
But it didn’t. In fact, it got worse. Sitting in our living room after dinner, Amy addressed the elephant in the room. “Should we cancel our wedding?” We then discussed the factors of our decision.
We’re in the COVID-19 high-risk age group, as are most of our friends. Would it be safe, even at the end of June, for our 80-year-old parents and others to travel and attend a gathering of 100 people? Despite our desire to have the wedding we planned, we didn’t want to risk the health of family and friends. We decided to cancel our wedding. That night, we went to sleep feeling so much better.
We still wanted to get married, but what would that look like now?
As government offices started to close, we went to the courthouse to secure a marriage license. Certificate in hand, we started to think about how and when we might get married. We called our friend, Matthew, who had planned to be our celebrant, and said that we might go to a justice of the peace. We were very disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to perform the ceremony. Then Matthew said, “I’d be willing to meet you halfway or even set up a virtual meeting.”
We hadn’t thought of trying to have our wedding via Zoom. Nervous about the complications of coordinating web connections with too many people and perhaps losing the focus on our marriage vows with technology difficulties, we decided to treat this as an “elopement.” Our son here at home could be our witness, and Matthew could preside from Columbus. We would set things up in our backyard, which happens to be the Cuyahoga Valley National Forest.
Wednesday morning, amid juggling our work meetings, we started to pull things together and get the computer set up and tested on the patio.
Nice weather in March is not something Northeast Ohio is known for, but we were gifted a beautiful sunny day. Despite our short notice, everyone showed up virtually. Our daughters dressed up. Our grandchildren gave us lots of encouragement—and confetti! Our sons watched from near and far. Even a couple of neighbors (on lawn chairs a good distance away) were in attendance—with champagne and bubbles!
Matthew didn’t just breeze through the ceremony. He took his time to select Scripture passages, blessings, and prayers. He made sure to recognize God in our union.
The greatest gift for me that day was the realization that the saying, “The important things in life aren’t things, but relationships” is not just a cliché. I have a partner who models this. Despite all the things that were cancelled and altered, Amy thought our wedding day was perfect. Amy’s responses to all of this made it very clear that she will fulfill our vows no matter what life—including a pandemic—sends our way.