Where This Meets That
Next week, my wife and I will celebrate our thirteenth anniversary.
Most married couples fondly recall their wedding day. Fewer describe it as a spiritual experience. And even fewer still might consider it “holy”. I will always cherish my memories of our wedding day as one very spiritual and holy occasion.
If you look back at your life with the right set of eyes, you can probably recall certain instances where God touched your world in a very personal way. Our wedding day was one of those days. In fact, looking back, God was all over our wedding from well before Christy and I even knew each other.
To begin the tale, I go back to 1988, a full decade before we married, when my grandmother “Babba” died. Babba was a holy woman. She was a devoted wife and mother of nine, including one son, Paul, with severe Down syndrome. Nearly the last decade of her life, she watched my grandfather “Pappaw” drift into the mental abyss of Alzheimer’s disease. Armed with inspiring faith and incessant prayer, she cared for him to the best of her abilities down that spiral.
Just before their 60th wedding anniversary, she was diagnosed with very late stage cancer. She died less than a week before their anniversary, leaving Pappaw and Paul to the care of their other children.
Not long after Babba’s death, one of her many great-grandchildren had an amazing experience. The girl was three years old and was supposed to be napping when she burst into the room where her mother was and said, “Mommy, guess where I’ve been!”
The little girl then followed with a tale that she had just been to Heaven. At first, her mother was understandably incredulous, but the little girl’s answers to her mother’s ensuing questions gave pause.
Mother: “To Heaven, huh? Really! How did you get there?”
Daughter: “There were lots of steps to climb, but Jesus was with me and held my hand.”
Mother: “Jesus? Wow! And what did he look like?”
Daughter: “First he was white, then he was black. Then he was red. Then he was yellow . . . “
Mother: “Wow. Now, tell me, was this Jesus or was he God?”
Daughter: “Mama, don’t you know they’re the same thing?”
The little girl then went on to describe playing with many children and that Babba was there. She even went a step further and said she saw Pappaw, too. Her mother countered that, pointing out, “Ah, but how was Pappaw there? He’s still alive.” The little girl answered that Babba told her Pappaw comes there sometimes but wasn’t yet ready to stay.
Perhaps another blog on another day will discuss the many blessings hidden behind Pappaw’s condition that his children unearthed over time, but for now it suffices to say that Pappaw survived many more years under the personal care of his children.
In March 1998, nearly a decade after Babba’s death, I asked Christy’s hand in marriage (she refused but married me anyway). As we began planning our wedding, we knew we wanted to marry on a Saturday that summer. There was only one Saturday that our priest would be available to marry us: June 20. We immediately said, “book it!” and kicked our planning into overdrive.
When we informed my parents of the date, they recognized it as my grandparents’ anniversary. We all thought it was a very cool “coincidence” but nothing more.
As we got into the detailed wedding planning, we began planning the music. I felt strongly drawn to include the hymn “On Eagles’ Wings” during the ceremony. The music coordinator blinked and responded that it was typically considered a funeral song but then quipped that she supposed it could work just as well for a wedding. I explained that I’d heard it only once before and couldn’t remember where or when, but that it was very powerful for me.
We went with it and continued planning.
A week before our wedding, my family had a big reunion in Mississippi. It gave Christy a great opportunity to meet a large part of the family she would soon be joining, including Pappaw. Of course, Pappaw had long since been near vegetative. He wouldn’t recognize me and probably wouldn’t even acknowledge our presence, but as my last remaining grandparent, it was imperative that we took the opportunity.
When our moment arrived on June 20, we were joined by a fantastic turnout of family and friends. All four of Christy’s grandparents were even in attendance.
That morning, I stood alone in my parents’ hotel room buttoning up my tux and putting on my vest and bowtie when the phone rang.
A torrent of thoughts ran through my mind as I made my way outside to tell my father that his own father was gone. Was the wedding still on? Should we postpone our honeymoon to instead attend the funeral? What a crazy coincidence that after all these years he should die on our wedding day. And on his and Babba’s anniversary!
My parents did a wonderful job of refocusing us on the celebration at hand. At the photographer’s suggestion, Christy and I had shed superstition and posed for our wedding pictures before the ceremony. Before that, however, we shared a few quiet moments together in the sanctuary; centering, tender moments I will always hold dear.
During the Prayers of the Faithful of our Nuptial Mass, my sister said a special prayer for Pappaw. In it, she phrased that he was “rejoining his bride on their 70th anniversary.”
Seventy years. I hadn’t calculated that this was a decennial anniversary, but that realization added even more power to the moment. The emotional zenith came with the opening words of our Communion hymn, “On Eagles’ Wings”. It was only in that moment and context that I realized when I’d heard it before and why it was so powerful for me: I’d heard it at Babba’s funeral.
Amazing. Everything had suddenly come full circle.
Like a wedding ring.
As time has passed since our wedding day, I’ve often reflected at how God was all over that day. My memories are woven tightly with the affirmations he blessed us with, reminders that our union delights him. After all, he even gave me an entire new set of grandparents, with Pappaw having been my last of blood.
Some time after the wedding and funeral, my dad expressed to me how genuinely touched he was by the whole experience, saying, “Next year, when you and Christy celebrate your first anniversary, in some ways it will almost seem like your seventy-first, to me.”
For me, it seems like God had planned it for even longer, and I’m eternally grateful that he did!