31 May 2008

Big Blue Eyes and a Heart of Gold

The amazing whirlwind of the past two days has finally stopped spinning. I've been wound up like a top, myself, but now I am completely spent. I knew that I'd be tired at the end of this day, but I had no idea just how exhausted I would be. It's a good thing I have a couple of months to rest up before Zachary's wedding in August. In the meantime, all the people who have wondered whether I dropped off the face of the earth can watch for me to reemerge from the thick fog of the past month and resume my normal routine.

The four weeks that have flown by since I returned from Siberia are too much of a blur for me to remember most of what has happened, so I won't even try at this point. I've got several blogs in my brain that I may or may not eventually post; the world can wait with bated breath for those, if it likes (or not). For the time being, it'll be all I can do to recall the last forty-eight hours before they slip into the past like a dream that has come and gone. Actually the first six hours of those forty-eight were easy enough, since I was sleeping then; now I'll pick it up from there.

I got up at 4:30 a.m. on Friday. Or, rather, I started the process of dragging myself out of bed around that point. I think it was closer to 5:00 a.m. when I finally managed to get that far. Then everything commenced moving considerably quicker. I left the house with Frederick and Gerhardt shortly after 6:00 a.m. in order to pick up Anna and transport her to Fort Wayne in a timely fashion to begin working on the wedding cake (a simple but elegant masterpiece). That early itinerary made for a great arrangement, as it gave me several constructive things to do with myself and my time, whereas I would otherwise have been a basket case all day. I spent several hours with my two littlest boys and, as it happily turned out, also with my biggest boy, Zach, who had already arrived from Texas. We boys had brunch together, then kicked around the seminary campus until it was time for me to take my Beanie Belle out for lunch.

We ate at Smokey Bones, which may not be formal dining, but it is good food in a comfortable atmosphere. I was delighted to learn that it survives in Fort Wayne, because our family was pretty disappointed when the Smokey Bones restaurants in both Bloomington and Mishawaka closed this past year. I took DoRena to the one in Bloomington on more than one occasion while she was going to school there, and it was at the Smokey Bones in Mishwaka that LaRena and I told the children we were expecting baby number nine, who turned out to be Gerhardt. Now I can add the special memory of taking my eldest daughter out for lunch at Smokey Bones in Fort Wayne on the day before her wedding. I was amazed, again, at how lovely and happy and grown up she is, and every breath I have taken these past two days has been a prayer of thanksgiving.

After lunch DoRena took me by the wonderful little house that she and Sam were able to find, which is now all ready to welcome them back from their honeymoon. It's perfect for the two of them, and also has a fantastic backyard, which DoRena's younger siblings will no doubt enjoy on visits to Fort Wayne. We'll have to make such visits some kind of routine in the coming years.

By that point in the day, LaRena and the rest of our children were at the seminary, and the rehearsal only a couple hours away. DoRena went on with her list of errands, while I did my best to help get the family situated in the guest dormitory. Once that was more or less accomplished, LaRena could get busy on her big task — the flowers — and I could return to working on my sermon in earnest. Thankfully, we had our own big boys and several other young friends on hand to assist in caring for our littlest people, so we parents of the bride could give our full attentions to serving our firstborn "baby girl." It is such an odd thing to reflect upon her growing up years, and how she used to be our little person, but now she is a competent and capable adult establishing a household of her own. I took Oly'anna out for breakfast on her eighth birthday earlier this week, and I was powerfully reminded of my once-upon-a-time little DoRena. Big blue eyes and a heart of gold, that's my Beanie!

I've never been so nervous about preaching as I have been in this case. I've been telling myself all week that it's really no different than preaching any other time; my task remains to proclaim the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, unto repentant faith in Christ. Yet, my feelings and emotions have been particularly resistent to logic, and nervous I have been. By last night and this morning, I really felt as though I were going to unravel with anxiousness. It wasn't fear, but I suppose a fervent desire to preach "the perfect sermon." Of course, that's not the right way to look at it, and I do know better. I reminded myself, as I would have counseled anyone else in a similar situation, that it is simply a matter of preaching the Gospel, the Word of Christ; there's no adding to that, nor any improving upon it. When it came down to it, despite my anxiety, I was resolved to stand up and speak the Word of God to my daughter and to leave it at that. I was still more nervous than I should have been, but less tied up in knots about it than I was.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. The rehearsal was both interesting and helpful. Pastor Petersen did a nice job of it, and I was appreciative of his guidance. It was a little odd being involved in a wedding that I wasn't officiating, but I have focused on being the father of the bride and doing those things that I was specifically given to do. In any case, I am very grateful for the good pastor that DoRena and Sam have at Redeemer in Fort Wayne. Thus, it has been no problem for me to defer the plans and preparations for the wedding to him. A lot of people have assumed (I've lost track of how many people have commented today) that I must have been the one to plan the wedding service. I guess I'll take such assumptions as a compliment, but I really can't take any credit. Sam and DoRena worked everything out with Pastor Petersen, and that was just as it should be. I was glad to be asked for my opinion on a few incidentals, but I am a big believer in respecting office and vocation, and the fact is that I had no God-given office or vocation to plan this wedding. As the father of the bride, it happens that I am also a called and ordained servant of the Word, which allowed me the special honor and privilege of preaching today; in its own way, though, that was no different than Sam's Dad making the beautiful prie-dieux that was used in the wedding and will serve in Sam and DoRena's home.

Anyway, the rehearsal was well done and helpful. Not everything in the service was quite the way that I would have chosen to do it, but that's okay. Nothing violated my conscience, and, if anything had seemed problematic, I was given every opportunity to speak my piece. The end result was stunningly beautiful, appropriate and reverent, and I have only gratitude for that. I especially appreciated the words that Pastor Petersen offered at the beginning of the rehearsal, in which he pointed out that Sam and DoRena wanted to begin their life together in this way, as a confession of their faith in Christ, and as a forthright testimony to the primacy of His love. Pastor Petersen asked everyone present to honor and respect those intentions, and, so far as I could tell, everyone certainly did. There could be no denying that Christ and His Gospel were the clear focus of the wedding. I know for a fact that my Beanie would not have wanted it to be any other way; just one of those things for which I am most profoundly thankful as a father.

The rehearsal dinner was perfect, featuring Jimmy Johns subs (a favorite treat that DoRena introduced to me in Bloomington over the past few years). Unfortunately, I was pretty restless to keep working on my sermon, which made it difficult for me to relax and enjoy the evening. I left relatively early and found my way to Ruby Tuesday for the next few hours. Normally, I would have had a margarita, but I stuck with ice tea last night. I really just needed to concentrate and focus my thoughts. Gradually, everything that has been chasing circles in my head for the past week or more settled into place, and I was able to write out an entire sermon (not that I would end up preaching from a manuscript, but it was helpful to have it in writing).

Family and friends were arriving throughout the afternoon on Friday and late into the evening, but I barely got to see or talk to any of them. That was the most frustrating and disappointing thing about this weekend. I guess it is to be expected, but it has driven me crazy to have people here from all over the country, and yet to have no time with them. Thankfully, LaRena's side of the family is spending the next few days with us, so there will be opportunity to visit with them at least. And we happily have Zachary home for the next two weeks, which is outstanding. But it broke my heart to see other loved ones so briefly, and then to say goodbye.

This morning began early, though not as early as yesterday. I got up at 7:00 a.m., showered and dressed, and made my way to Panera for a few hours of further sermon review. I debated back and forth all week, as to whether I should preach from a manuscript or from an outline; I was still undecided as of this morning, so I was reviewing my sermon from both sides of that dilemma. Pastor Grobien encouraged me to preach from my outline, and I'm very glad that I did take that approach; at the same time, I'm also pleased to have a proper manuscript to share with Sam and DoRena (and anyone else who may be interested).

By 10:00 a.m. I needed to be getting myself ready for the wedding, and helping to get the rest of my family ready for the wedding. From that point on the passage of time seemed to accelerate. Pictures began for me (with the other pastors) shortly after 11:00 a.m. Photography altogether continued pretty much up until 12:30 p.m. The wedding was scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. Pastor Petersen and I went to check on DoRena a few minutes ahead of time, and she was "still ready," as she put it. She's always been well-organized and efficient, but I've never seen her more ready or better prepared for anything than she was for this day and this wedding. She is a poised and confident young woman, but genuinely humble, unpretentious, easy-going, and charmingly feminine. All of that shone brightly in her today. She was eager and excited, to be sure, but calmer and more relaxed than I was at that point. In fact, I think it was her steady demeanor, more than anything else, that finally put my own heart and mind at ease. Everything fell into place as I walked her and Naomi across the seminary plaza to the narthex of the chapel.

When I asked DoRena, then, whether she preferred me to preach from my manuscript or from an outline (as I was intending at that point), she simply replied that it was up to me, and that she was sure it would be fine either way. It's seems a very simple thing, but she also said that she had confidence in my preaching, and it was especially that little comment, spoken from her heart, that carried me through (not discounting the work of the Holy Spirit, to be sure, but I believe my daughter's confidence and reassurance were surely among the ways in which the Spirit sustained me in this particular circumstance). As far as I could tell, up until that point, pretty much everyone was expecting me to get choked up and emotional during the sermon. People kept asking me if I was okay, and whether I was holding up alright, and then consoling me, as though I were dreading my daughter's wedding. I know that all these folks meant well, but most of them did not seem to understand that my chief concern was not with my emotions but with the faithful preaching of the Word of God. Pastor Grobien knew what I was after, because he knows me pretty well; which is why I solicited his advice on how to approach my preaching, whether from a manuscript or an outline. But somehow I think it was DoRena who understood her Daddy best of all, and she trusted me to preach the Word of God. When she made her little comment just before the wedding, it dawned on me that she and Sam hadn't asked me to preach because I'm her father, but because they counted on me to speak Jesus to them. Sure enough, that's what I had been aiming at all along, but knowing that DoRena trusted me to do just that was such a precious reminder to me as I walked her to the chapel.

The wedding began, probably a few minutes late (I have no idea, because I took off my watch and paid no attention to the time), and it was positively regal. The music was gorgeous. The ceremony was reverent. The occasion was magnificent: the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord, on which day, twelve years ago, I was ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry. How better to celebrate than by giving my daughter in marriage to a fine young man aspiring to that same Holy Office? Walking my Beanie Belle down the aisle was awesome, in the fullest and least trivial sense of that much abused adjective. The wedding gown she borrowed from her dear friend Emily became her beautifully. Seeing her so composed and smiling with that marvelous smile of hers beneath the veil was breathtaking, but it also helped me to relax and to enjoy the privilege of giving such a daughter away. This is one of those rare defining moments of fatherhood. I wore Pastor Petersen's cope, the appropriate liturgical vestment for my office in the Service, and I was very glad for that added solemnity to accompany the bride down the aisle. Everything veritably shouted the Christological significance of holy marriage.

When asked who gave this woman to this man, I answered clearly and correctly, "Her mother and I" (which, during the rehearsal, I had managed to confuse). I lifted her veil and gave DoRena a kiss before placing her hand into Sam's and entrusting her to him. From that point onward, they were together, soon to be seated with their attendants like the kings and queens of Narnia in the high back sedalias on the lectern side of the chancel. The Service of the Word proceeded smoothly and comfortably according to its usual fashion; and then my own bride, LaRena, was squeezing my hand as I got up from my seat with her in the front pew to ascend the pulpit and preach.

The thing I remember most vividly from our wedding, now almost twenty-three years ago, is my Dad preaching to us. It has therefore seemed such a poignant thing for me to be given that same profound privilege today. One of my young parishioners, Sarah, told me that she's never heard me sound more confident than I did in my preaching today, but the truth of the matter is that I was still feeling more nervous than I ever have before in the pulpit. Nevertheless, I did know what I wanted to say, and I was resolved to say it for my daughter and her groom, and for all those people (whether married or not) who had come to celebrate their wedding with us. So that must be where the confidence came from; it wasn't from myself, but from the Word of the Lord that I was given to speak. It was a bit odd preaching across that big chancel to Sam and DoRena on the opposite side from the pulpit. At first, I tried turning back and forth between them and the rest of the congregation, but I finally settled into looking at the two of them. That would have been more difficult if I had attempted to preach from my manuscript. As it was, I only looked at my outline once. As I had predicted more than once ahead of time, the sermon was completed only in the preaching of it; everything else up until then was preparation.

My son tells me that someone timed the sermon at 30 minutes. I guess I'm not too surprised, though I would not have guessed that it ended up that long. At that, it comprised a third of the entire Service. I suppose it was being timed because of the bets that were placed as to how long it would take before I got choked up, but nobody ended up winning that wager. I am grateful for the many positive comments on my sermon, but it is mainly a relief to have fulfilled my office faithfully. Apparently there were some pastors in the congregation who were disappointed that I didn't say anything new. We shall have to wait for their daughters to be married for the proclamation of brilliant insights. For my part, I was glad to say what I know to be true.

It was immediately following my sermon that we sang the magnificent Gerhardt wedding hymn, "Oh Jesus Christ! How Bright and Fair," which was one of the true highlights of the day for me. Having fulfilled my preaching responsibility, I was fully able to revel in that glorious confession of the faith. In addition to the profound theology of the words, in which DoRena also took the greatest delight, she and I both enjoyed the subtle nod to her brothers, Gerhardt and Nicholai, who are named for the writer of the hymn (Paul Gerhardt) and the composer of the grand chorale tune for which it was written (Philipp Nicolai). Sam's best man, James, made some beautiful comments concerning Gerhardt and his hymn at the reception later in the day, for which I was very appreciative. I should also say, while I am thinking of it, that Sam and DoRena were surely blessed with a most outstanding best man and matron of honor in James and Naomi.

Gerhardt's powerful hymn led us directly to the wedding rite itself at the center of the Service. It was simple and relatively brief in the midst of so much grandeur, but powerfully moving in its traditional simplicity. I know that LaRena and I were caught up in that moment with rapt attention, and few things in my life have been so poignant as hearing the words spoken to and by our daughter. She and Sam both spoke their vows and solemn pledges with the same clarity and confidence that marked their demeanor throughout the day. The "Amen" that we all spoke together at the end of the rite was one that resounded from the very depths of my heart.

We moved swiftly and smoothly into the eucharistic rite and the Holy Communion. Nothing else so demonstrated the convictions of the bride and groom than that celebration. Their union to each other is one that finds its place within the "Communion of Saints" in the Body of Christ. To have the Sacrament of the Altar at a wedding (or, better to say, to have a wedding at the Divine Service) presents a pastoral challenge, but Sam and DoRena worked carefully with Pastor Petersen to ensure that all was done responsibly and appropriately. Of course it is a heartache that a number of our family members (on all sides) and many of our friends do not share with us the same confession of the faith, which also prevents us from communing together. However, Sam and DoRena were eager to confess their faith in this way, and above all to be strengthened and sustained in the faith by the Body and Blood of Christ, together with His Bride, the Church. I am proud of them for proceeding in the conscientious way they did, even as I was especially grateful to receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of my sins and the strengthening of my faith unto the life everlasting.

The wedding reception afterwards was a lovely celebration of the joyous occasion. Everything seemed just right, so far as I could tell, and I think that for most everyone it was comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable. The live music by our longtime friend and fellow Emmausite, Dave Seyboldt, was both classy and fun. The food was perfect, including the cake, adorned with decorated strawberries (dressed up as little brides and grooms; too cute!). The toast was great fun, too, though my hand was shaking so badly with excitement and adrenaline, I thought I was going to spill my champagne. I hope my toast made sense (Zachary told me that he got it, and presumably DoRena did, too, if nobody else). I remarked that Beanie's theme song as a baby was "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. She was, I am sorry to say, a sometimes disagreeable child. But, I said, it now seems clear to me that she was simply waiting her whole life for Sam to come along, and what I see in her now is nothing but joy and the sweetest contentment. "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." So, there you go, James referred to my hero Paul Gerhardt in his toast, while I resorted to the immortal wisdom of Mick Jagger. Still, I know my daughter rather well, and she always has had a rock and roll heart. At least I didn't quote the Rolling Stones in my sermon.

Apart from the toast, I spent most of the reception keeping track of my children, making sure that none of them were falling into the fountains on the seminary plaza (or into the artificial lake, even if it was the place where Sam proposed to DoRena on the Fourth of July last year), and changing diapers as duty called. Poor Frederick ended up having to wear little Gerhardt's pants, but I suppose neither he nor anyone else noticed. I did manage to miss the cutting of the cake, as it happened at one of the many points when I was tracking down the ever elusive Justinian. I'm glad that I took a moment to peek into my little nephew Logan's car seat, where he was sleeping exactly like a baby, as I would otherwise have missed my first chance ever to see the little guy. I was able to share brief snatches of conversation with a few of our friends, but the most of my interaction with guests had come in the receiving line as they came out of the chapel. One by one, dear friends said goodbye and took their leave, and I suppose that is my one regret. It seems that is simply the way that it goes. There were family and friends spending the night in Fort Wayne, but there was no practical way for us to enjoy their company and fellowship, as we desperately needed to get our tired selves and our children back to South Bend for the night.

The Kodak moment came (and me without a camera) when we bid the bride and groom farewell. LaRena and I kissed our daughter and hugged our new son-in-law and sent them on their married way. It was a grand scene, worthy of a movie (I'm not biased, no, not at all). The two of them descended the long stairs from the upper to the lower plaza, flanked on both sides by so many loved ones showering them with flower petals, and then they walked hand-in-hand off into the sunset (well, the sun would set eventually in that general direction). I doubt that riding off on a horse could have made it any more romantic or beautiful. From this proud papa to the two of them, cheers, and all of my love. Here's to the beginning of a marvelous adventure.


Jane said...

It was a wonderful wedding and a wonderful day. I'm surprised the sermon was 30 minutes. Whatever the length,it was good. :) I really didn't expect you to get choked up while preaching, and certainly not from sadness. I'm a "happy crier" and Saturday was SUCH a happy day.

And that exit *was* movie perfect.

sarahlaughed said...

{nodding vigorously} Yes! Yes! My observations tally exactly - at least in what could be observed from my limited angle of observation - with yours. It was above beautiful! And I AM relatively unbiased. ;-)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your nice comments, ladies. I'm not sure what it is that makes me cry, Jane, but I'm not sure I'd call it "happy crying." Maybe. I do remember getting pretty choked up at Naomi's wedding three years ago, and those sorts of emotions (for me) are like a category all unto themselves. Perhaps it was happiness; I was certainly very happy for Nick and Naomi, and very happy to have a part in the whole thing; and one could hardly look at the two of them and not feel the rays of happiness coming from them ;-) Of course, there was also that "wailing wall" of weeping ladies in waiting sitting behind Naomi, and that just about did me in! (Just kidding.)

To be honest, I think the tears that sometimes come too easily to my eyes are due to a combination of things: strong emotions for the people I love and care about, and maybe some happiness, some bittersweetness, and, frankly, some sinful selfishness that people are slipping away from me. I'm sure that part of what got to me at Naomi's wedding was thinking about my own DoRena growing up and getting married and going away. Which is why I would not have been at all surprised if I had gotten choked up and teary-eyed at her wedding this past weekend. Such things are often incomprehensible, but I think it didn't happen for a variety of reasons; among them, the fact that I was mainly concerned about preaching faithfully, and the fact that I am delighted for Sam and DoRena.

If I can speak from the heart a bit, it is also the case that I've been able to develop a closer relationship with my Beanie, even while she's been away at school, and that has made the prospect of her growing up and getting married less "threatening" to me. It has made me regret the years I was too distracted and less attentive than I should have been, but one can't turn back the clock. Rather, in the meantime, I've learned that it's not "too late" to have a good and close relationship with my daughter, even from "far away," and even as she is now an adult woman with a husband and household of her own. Such things can touch the deep emotions inside of me, of course, but there is more peace in that than tears on the surface.

Finally, Jane, I can't thank you enough for everything that you and your dear family have done for my DoRena. In my prayers of thanksgiving, your friendship and kindness and tangible assistance for my daughter have regularly been close to the top of the list. It isn't adequate, but "Thank You!"