I Like Family – Family is my Favorite

In a faded, old photo album I read the words “Family makes you feel whole and strong – vibrant and needed.” The words are typed on an ancient typewriter, long gone in our travels and moves from house to house and country to country. The pictures that surround the words have lost their color and appear true vintage with no filter.

I typed those words when we were living in Islamabad, Pakistan – miles from blood relatives. I wanted to create something special for my husband, a photo album of our family at the time. We were young and had a boy and a girl. We were all quite perfect in those days. Pretty and fresh-faced, without the weathering that life brings with its hard fights and its days of no return.

The truth is that in this age where family often loses its meaning, I like family. Family is my favorite. I more than like family – I love family.

We have just returned to Cambridge from a family wedding. My niece, Allison, married Paul. Paul comes from a large Italian family and I instantly loved his mom, Patty, and his Aunt Joan. They are women I would go to war with – or at least gossip with at a family wedding.

The wedding took place outside in a rustic setting, on the shoreline of Irondequoit Bay.  Chairs were set up outside beside a small dock, while the dinner was set to be served at the waterfront lodge, with stunning views of the Bay. A sudden, and violent summer storm had all of us scrambling and rearranging the ceremony venue to take place in the lodge. It was a picture of a family willing to go with whatever happened, determined that marriage would win over weather every time. A more brilliant metaphor for marriage is not possible and I know in my gut that these two will make it.

My niece was dressed in classic vintage – lace, a netted veil, and stunningly beautiful. She walked down the unexpected indoor aisle, and the ceremony began.

Who gives this woman? 

‘Solemn vows that none of us can possibly keep without the grace and mercy of God.

Readings from the Songs of Solomon and Wendell Berry.

Rings exchanged.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The sacramental pronouncement of a union authored by God, ordained by God, kept only by God’s goodness. 

You may kiss the bride. 

And then wild cheers and the song “Will the Circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?”

A celebration followed where there wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone that we wanted to; where we enjoyed great food and amazing company; where family gathered, at one with each other and the spirit of the day. Even a nest of bright, blue robin’s eggs joined in the celebration. Not a sacrament, but a symbol of our God’s love of beauty and life.

In a world that is fearful and cynical, a world where marriage is discarded for something far easier and less permanent, a world where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have little to do with daily life, I once again bear witness to a family willing to live counter-culture. I once again witness the proclamation of the truth of marriage, once again hear vows that are humanly impossible being promised. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us and we are ushered into something even better then the best marriage possible.

I fell into bed that night in happy exhaustion.

Because I love weddings and the families that go with them. Because family does make me feel whole and strong, vibrant and needed.

So, Yes – I like family. Family is my favorite. 

Cords of Three Strands and Fortunate People

“Two are better than one.”

The woman reading scripture reads the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes with a clear voice.

“If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”

Hundreds of ceremonies through the years have used this same passage – but every time it is unique to the couple who stands before God and others, solemnly beginning a brave journey.

It is my husband’s niece, Jamie, who is getting married. Jamie who we have watched grow from tiny person to grown woman, a leader wherever she goes. In recent years our times with this side of the family have become more fun, more frequent, and more precious. When we found out Jamie was getting married we were determined to come and to urge as many of our children as possible to come. The last time we were all together like this was at my son Micah’s wedding in Chicago.

I look around and cousins are everywhere. The first meeting happens in the parking lot where we arrive at the same time as some of the cousins. The screams and hugs begin. Cousins…so much you don’t know about your cousins, yet you know you belong together.

We’re gathered together at a beautiful plantation built in the 1900s and the day is clear, beautiful blue sky overhead and colors that make a photographer’s work easy.

Like pieces of a puzzle, we’re here and in some strange way that only a master Jigsaw puzzle maker could create, we fit. Only a couple missing pieces – an amazing feat for a family this size. Grandma and Grandpa with their well-earned wrinkles mingle with the young and beautiful who boast tight skin and muscles. Those of us middle to later-aged women are still able to hide many wrinkles with good make up and happy smiles, knowing our time is coming when the wrinkles cannot hide. Yet here we are unafraid, because it all fits in this circle of life.

The hugging continues in the foyer of the building and conversations come fast and easy. People are introduced to significant others and the catching up with our lives begins. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Calvin and Susan, come to greet all of us, amazingly calm and beautiful.

Slowly we make our way to the lawn that slopes down to a small lake. A massive tree sets the stage for the bride and groom, God’s landscape.

And then we wait.

Jamie is beautiful and composed through a few tears as she walks down the pathway to Justin. They are young and lovely and full of hope, and it makes all of us full of hope as well.

In this imperfect family today feels perfect. 

Make no mistake, some of these relationships have been forged with blood, tears, and repentance. Others have come easier and more naturally. But that’s family and life is too short to not cherish each other. Through it all we are too fortunate.

The verses from Ecclesiastes seem not only for the couple, but for the extended family. You can’t do this thing called marriage very well without family. Somehow the times when you’re ready to give it all up, you realize that it’s too important, too sacred, there is too much to lose. And then life gets better and, like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, you are so glad you continued to brave the journey.

The bride and groom begin their life together with communion – bread & wine, the body and blood of Christ, a reminder of what their union will represent.

And then the solemn is over and the party begins. It is as joyous and loud as the ceremony was beautiful and quiet. “You’re all dancing fools!” says my mother-in-law, but she’s right in there with us.

We live in an age where relationships end like they are candy, gone when the sweet is over. Gathered together we rejoice in the hope this couple symbolizes, we are grateful for the longevity of the marriages of so many in the crowd. We realize that we are indeed, too fortunate.

Legs aching and hearts full, the party ends. There will still be celebrations in the next couple days, times to get together before heading out to all parts of the country, but for now we blow bubbles into the air. Clear and perfect they go up, up, up until finally they disappear in the blue sky.

As we drive away, the last words of the passage in Ecclesiastes goes through my head: “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

Congratulations Jamie and Justin – you remind us that we are too fortunate and give us hope to continue the brave journey.








On Marriage and the Mirror of Erised


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book of the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Chapter 12 in the book is called “The Mirror of Erised.” The “Mirror of Erised” is an ornate, magnificent mirror hidden away in an unused classroom. It’s as tall as the ceiling and has claw feet. But this is more than a beautiful mirror — the person who looks in the mirror sees the “deepest, most desperate desire of [their] heart.” So when Harry, an orphan cared for by a dreadful aunt and uncle who hate him, looks in the mirror he sees his entire extended family waving at him, loving him, letting him know he belongs. His dead parents smile back at him from the mirror, large as life. And when his friend Ron, just one more boy in a huge family with nothing that stands out about him other than his flaming red hair, looks in the mirror he sees himself as head of the Quidditch team and head of the house.

You see that which you long for most of all.

And for most of us our wedding days are a bit like that. The Mirror or Erised is held in front of each couple and we look inside and we see untainted love that lasts through the ages. We see bodies that will never grow old and a love that will never die. We see joy and hope, we see plenty and laughter. While we may say the vows “for better, for worse, for rich, for poor, for sick, for health….” we don’t see those things in the Mirror of Erised. The Mirror shows us that which we want more than anything – eternal love and happiness.

And then the guests go home, the cake in the top of the freezer gets freezer burn, the money from the beautiful cards given on that wedding day runs out. We want to stand in front of the mirror again, just to get a glimpse of that beauty, that glory, that hope.

But more stuff happens – kids come along and with them nightmare tantrums and learning disabilities, weight is gained and lost, houses come and go, unemployment rears its ugly head, family and friends die. Love is tested morning and night.  Sometimes there is betrayal or wounds that are so deep you think you’ll never heal; other times it’s just life – and marriage has grown oh so old. All the while we remember that mirror in the unused classroom – but it just sits there.

In the Harry Potter book as Harry goes for the third night to see the mirror, he finds Dumbledore sitting off in the shadows. Dumbledore talks to Harry about the mirror and exposes it for what it is “….this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”  Harry is sobered as he heads back to his dormitory room.

Today is my 30th anniversary – 30 years sharing my life, my heart, my bed with my husband. 30 years of so much good and so much hard that it defies description. And on our wedding day, we like so many couples before us, looked into the Mirror of Erised. And we loved what we saw. We wanted to stay in front of that mirror forever — a cute, young couple with adventure on our hearts and fire in our souls. It would never end. It couldn’t as long as we had the Mirror with us.

But like all couples, the mirror was wisely hidden away. In its place was a real mirror – a mirror that reflected back a couple that would grow and age, that would sometimes hate what they saw looking back at them, but keep on going anyway, keep on loving, keep on living, never giving up.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that….” says Dumbledore. Some of our dreams were realized, others were lost, but we have learned to live, really live. While the Mirror of Erised reflected wishful thinking, our real mirror reflects a brave marriage forged on hope, faith, and grace that could only come from One far greater than us. 

And today I proclaim again the truth of a life of commitment. I proclaim the truth that marriage is really very little about love and very much about something bigger. Today I speak against our Hollywood Mirror of Erised notions of magic and romance; I stand against a culture of quick satisfaction and selfish sex. I speak up for an unpopular view that marriage is so much more than two people falling in love.

For in 30 years never have I embarked on anything so costly and so worthwhile as marriage. Never have I faced the awful in myself so closely and so viciously, never have I needed the grace of God more profoundly. We do not have a Mirror of Erised marriage – We have a marriage born on idealism and hope, weathered by storms, challenged by crisis, tempered by love, sealed by God above.

Today I wish a Happy Anniversary to the man I said “I do” to. I’d do it again this side of the mirror. 

If you were looking into the Mirror of Erised for your marriage or your life, what would it show? It’s a very personal question – but a good one to ask ourselves. 


The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 25 “On Marriage & Being Twice Blessed”

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.*


In Shakespeare’s famous play The Merchant of Venice the character of Portia, a woman disguised as a young male lawyer, makes a famous speech about mercy in a court room. I memorized the speech because of an excellent English teacher in high school and the first four lines have stayed with me since that time. I love Portia’s speech.

And today I think of these words and how they relate to marriage. Because today my husband and I had a marriage blessing ceremony in the Orthodox church. It was the final part to our recent baptism and chrismation.

This was our second marriage – the first being almost 30 years ago in Chicago, Illinois. That first marriage took place on a bright, perfect Chicago summer day, surrounded by friends and family with 20 attendants and daisies in my hair. The ceremony was outside near a gazebo, the ‘stage’ flanked on either side by large ferns that we had borrowed from our friends’ living rooms. There were around 200 people in attendance, representing around 20 countries. We had warring countries sitting beside each other smiling  — such was the day. I wore a tea length wedding dress with puff sleeves and he wore a Pakistani shalwar, kurta. Afterward we ate little sandwiches and ate carrot cake in the shape of a globe.

We married with little knowledge of what our life would hold, the valleys and despair that would sometimes come our way, the ‘we’ll never make it” phrases that would be uttered more times than we wished. We married with little understanding of the mercy we would need to give each other.

And because of this today, as we walked toward the front of the church candles in hand with our priest invoking the trinity, I felt twice blessed. Because above all in this journey of marriage we have experienced the deepest mercy possible to humans. We have experienced the mercy of God that we can still stand, heads held high, certain of nothing but his love and grace to us. We have experienced the mercy of each other, so clear are we in knowing how much we have erred, how often we have sinned against each other. We have experienced the mercy of our children, gracious in their love and forgiveness of us. We have experienced the mercy of our families, standing by our sides through the awful and the wonderful. We have experienced the mercy of our friends who have walked this road with us.

We are twice blessed.

The service took us through four parts. The first was betrothal. We had taken off our rings ahead of time and during this time our priest had us exchange them. The second part was called “the crowning.” During this part of the service crowns were placed on our heads as a symbol of sacrifice and martyrdom, a recognition that marriage calls us to give up our rights, instead caring for the other more than ourselves. The third part had us share a common cup of sweet wine, reminding us of Jesus’ first miracle in Cana of Galilee where he turned water into the most amazing wine ever tasted at a wedding, as well as a reminder that we will share all of life together, the joys and the sorrows. The final part of the ceremony was called “the dance of Isaiah” and the priest led us and our attendants around the table three times, holding the Bible in his hands. He ended with the benediction and prayer. We heard a lot of scripture about being blessed with children, points at which we couldn’t help but laugh.

We then ate wedding cake, a gift of love from someone in our parish, and drank champagne from plastic champagne glasses. The whole ceremony, cake and all, was the greatest sort of gift.

We are indeed twice blessed. 

Because the words penned by Shakespeare and spoken by Portia are so true. The quality of mercy in our marriage is not strained, it has been, and will continue to be like gentle rain; it is indeed twice blessed, blessing the one who gives and the one who receives. And today we remember this and we rest in mercy.

* (Portia’s monologue in “The Merchant of Venice”)

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marriage table



The crowns

The Author of Life & Love

Today at 3:30pm we will witness the solemn vows of my niece Ruth Anne Brown as she marries Andrew Burke in a beautiful Episcopal church in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Before Ruth Anne was 18 months old she could form full sentences. Ruth Anne had blonde curls and deep blue eyes with enviable lashes. She made stoic men stop and pat her head when she was little, she drew you to her heart.

The 18 month old with the curls is now gone and in her place is a lovely and brilliant woman. She graduated from St. Johns in Annapolis, known for its love of books and brilliant students (who also love books). Ruth Anne will be marrying Andrew Burke and we will first witness the solemnity and then move on to the party.

Marrying into this large, opinionated, wonderful, extended family is not always easy and Andrew, like others who have come before, is brave! They both come to this place, not because it’s easy, but out of love and commitment.

As she walks down a stone aisle, to vows that, based on our human condition, are not easily kept, I will yet again be in awe of life, love, and the Author of both.

The Relatives are Coming! The Relatives are Coming!

It was in the summer of the year that the relatives came….” and so begins one of my all-time favorite children’s books about a family of relatives that comes up from Virginia “in an old station wagon that smelled like a real car…. They left at four in the morning when it was still dark, before even the birds were awake!

If I were to paraphrase this favorite book and contextualize it to this past weekend it would read as follows:

“It was in the summer of the year that the relatives came. They came over from Boston and New York; they came from Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin; they came from Japan, Singapore and Philadelphia. And they came for Tim and Kim’s wedding, some leaving at four in the morning, while it was still dark, before even the birds were awake! They came by plane and they came by caravan! They came in a PT Cruiser that smelled like Jolly Ranchers! They came in buses and in traffic, through cities and through towns. When they arrived they hugged and kissed and squeezed and hugged again from the front of the hotel to the swimming pool. This was the summer the relatives came. ”

“There were all kinds of people! Big people, small people and tiny, tiny people. There was talking and bodies everywhere. They ate all the subs and all the pizza, and they ate all the beans and rice, and they devoured the wedding cake that one of the medium-sized relatives had made. The relatives weren’t particular about beds, which was good since there weren’t any extras and the hotel was already suspicious that more than possible were being squeezed in to the rooms created for small relatives.”

The Relatives are Coming!

“When the wedding came they all cried because four important people, an usher, a videographer, and a master of ceremonies were stuck on a highway with someone else’s relatives and they missed the wedding. Everyone felt a little sick about that and did not tell the bride. But then they did arrive in time for the dancing, rice and the beans, and roast pig that were a part of the tropical fiesta to feed and entertain all those relatives. And they danced! Oh how those relatives danced! Even the men that didn’t know how to dance found themselves ‘putting their hands up! playing their song… and partying in the USA! And then the party ended, and all but a few people fell into bed. Exhausted. Happy. And dreaming about the next time….”

Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell, author and illustrator of the children’s book created and told something profound and humorous with this book. And our family created and lived something profound and humorous with this gathering. So until next time we’ll sleep in our soft beds and continue to dream about next time – which is scheduled for October.

Blogger’s Note: With great thanks to Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell for creating the best book ever!

Tea, Scones & Royalty

Tea, Scones & Royal Weddings

What’s not to love about a royal wedding?  It takes the romantic in all of us, creates a script, provides the actors , dresses all this up with cathedrals and palaces and then, with twenty-first century technology, brings the complete package into our living rooms. At the end of the day even cynics are stealing peaks at the wedding dress and watching replays, volume turned low, lest those around them call them out for hypocrisy.

4am in 1981 I dressed up in all the finery a poor, recent graduate had in her wardrobe and celebrated the wedding of the decade – Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Princess Diana, as she became that day, was a vision of loveliness for the eighties and a fairy tale bride. This year and three decades later I got up in pajamas at the normal time and curled up with tea, and (wishing I had scones to go with my tea) watched live stream as twitter announced by the second how many tweets the Royal Wedding received. Kate Middleton seems far less a fairy tale, and much more a real bride, ready to enjoy the day but not under any illusions that she is a fairy-tale princess.  Cynical as I am about monarchy, it has been a great morning.

Despite the track record of the royal family (of Queen Elizabeth’s children there are 3 divorces out of 4 marriages) the solemnity of the wedding, the beauty of the bride, and the high view of marriage that was spoken (sometimes in words I hardly understood) there is a hope for this couple. The challenge to them is no less serious and awesome as is the challenge to any couple that is saying their vows on their wedding day, but the telescopic lens that they will live under is far different.

There are naysayers at any wedding whispering in audible tones that “it will be hard” “it won’t last” “look at the track record”. Those among us who still long for marriages to succeed and believe that they are worth fighting for will hopefully cheer louder than the pessimists and enjoy the history made today through ivory and white satin, carriages and guards, a prince and a princess.

‎In a sense, every wedding is a Royal wedding.” -The Right Reverend Doctor Chartres