Thanks to a very early bedtime I am now blessed with a very early morning to sit quietly and reflect. On this dark and soggy Monday morning, ice on the knee, a day of rest ahead of me I am filled with wonderful memories and a sense of contentment. I am missing some really important folks this morning but I accept the reality of not only my life but those of my family.
This morning my newly married daughter Elizabeth and husband Mark are preparing to take-off for a 6 day honeymoon. My only wish for them is a week of great fun in this their inaugural week of married life. My son Jimmy and wife Sara with my #1 grandchildren in tow are either arriving home in North Carolina or resting on the road before the last leg of their journey. For all my traveling family I have offered prayers for safe travels.
Many people told me, as the wedding was first announced, that I should be prepared for the "blink of the eye" moment this all would be. Every one of those folks were very, very correct. It all began last May, when on a warm Friday night, Mark proposed to my daughter on the second floor of the historic Abita Springs Gazebo. Within days, Elizabeth and Mark set the date and the planning began. The incredible organization skills of both my daughter and wife Wendy kicked in and before we even hit the best days of autumn, it seemed everything was planned. Venues were selected, plans were in place and it just seemed to smooth to me. Yet, it indeed was pretty smooth.
For me, the most important part of all this was helping Elizabeth and Mark prepare not just for a wedding but for a marriage rooted in love as Jesus intends married love. Way back in September or October, with the couple's permission, I asked a brother Deacon, Ricky and his wife Lynn, to prepare the happy couple. Faithfully, they met numerous times to plumb the depths of true Catholic life as man and wife. Even earlier than that, we discussed the church. Our home church is St. Jane's located in Abita Springs and would be the natural choice but there were some interesting factors at play. My daughter was seriously set on a Saturday evening wedding and our beloved home parish has a long-standing 6 PM vigil Mass every week. Also at this time I was assigned to Most Holy Trinity Parish and the new church building was under construction. As the plans and details of the interior of the church would look became more known, it was obvious to me that the church would be beautiful and have an incredibly inviting long main aisle. With the support of the Pastor and staff, we chose Most Holy Trinity. From the time we made that decision I learned that my daughter was doing the same thing I was doing; driving by the construction site every single week even though the wedding was months away.
The other important venue selected was the reception, a beautiful place called Palmetto's in Slidell. It sits on a small bayou and has a large indoor area as well as a covered outdoor facility for dancing and partying. Was it expensive? You bet! But by the time I signed on to using Palmetto's I understood that I would get good "bang" for my bucks.
Soon, as 2016 was well underway, all of a sudden the events starting coming together. The Church was completed on time for the January dedication and my whole family was there. Honestly, Elizabeth and Mark were drinking in the visuals, including that long aisle, and came away from that dedication Mass thrilled that the wedding would be at MHT. In fact, we would learn that this would be the first wedding of an engaged couple with all the wedding "bells and smells" of a Catholic Sacrament. In what now seems rapid succession there was wedding showers, bridal teas, and then it was upon us.
With all the plans complete and the bills paid, we arrived at the wedding week. I took off work on Tuesday afternoon and continued to work and plan. After all, Thursday would bring the arrival of my NC family and Friday the rehearsal. For over two weeks prior to this, with friends Aimee and Keith doing most of the work, we prepared everything as best we could: grass cut, trees and bushes trimmed, house power-washed, new driveway, house cleaned. When my daughter in law texted me on Thursday morning, at 5 AM, to announce they were almost to the house, I woke up Wendy so we could finish last minute details. Sadly, the mop never hit the floor before I was being greeted by #1 grandson Calvin with a big hug and we could hold #1 granddaughter Katelyn for first time since last December. My NC family arrived and I would soon be having Mark and Elizabeth at table with Jimmy, Sara and the kids. Also joining us was Sara's mom Chris who gave of herself to help Jimmy and Sara with the kids as all the wedding stuff would be unfolding.
Friday night brought the rehearsal at MHT and the celebratory dinner. Can I tell you that Fr. Rodney Bourg and his staff, notably Jane and Suzanne, were amazing! Having done a few of these myself, it was a tight and relatively quick rehearsal. My hopes for the beauty and majesty of using Most Holy Trinity were coming true right before our collective eyes. The dinner was fabulous, Mark's parents chose a Mandeville icon of a venue, N'tinis. By the way, they make a super Amaretto & pineapple!
What was most important to me was hearing the speeches, Elizabeth had both a maid & matron of honor and they delivered wonderful testimonials of my little girl through their eyes and experiences. Mark's brother Matthew, the best man, did the same for him and was sincere and heartfelt.
Saturday finally arrived, the date I've been fixated on for months, 4-30-2016!!! By the way, it could not be more rainy, even stormy day. But guess what, the rain stopped and the sun shone as the magic hour appeared. Everything on Saturday, leading up to the start of the wedding went smoothly with one notable hiccup: the limo's were late picking up Mark and the groomsmen. Thankfully, it only delayed the wedding about 5 minutes.
What a thrill to see Elizabeth all bedecked with dress, veil and flowers. Tons of pictures are taken and then it's time; before I knew it my wife and I were climbing into the limo with our beautiful daughter, on her way to the church to get married. It was a joyful and at the same time, kind of surreal ride! Then it happened; it was time; the wedding of the century began. Aunts and grandmas were escorted up the aisle, followed by parents then the wedding party and the children, two young ladies from Mark's family and my #1 grandson, Calvin. He proudly carried a sign that said here comes the bride! Then one of those truly iconic and forever memorable moments of my life; walking beautiful Elizabeth up that long aisle of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Father Rodney, and my current Pastor, Father Ken were on the altar and Mark awaiting eagerly that moment when I would put my daughters hand into his. It was perfect!
I exited stage right to vest so I could proclaim the Gospel and preach a homily to Elizabeth and Mark. I held it together, I delivered a sincere and heart-felt homily to my daughter and son-in-law. I ended the homily with the beautiful lyrics from Les Miserable as a reminder to them and all of us gathered: "to love another person is to see the face of God!" Then it happened; consent and vows were exchanged, rings blessed and given and there they were; married!
Mass continued, a final kiss shared, tons of pictures taken and then we were off to the reception. It was a party for the ages; great food and drink, awesome music, so many happy partying people. Before I knew it, the cake was cut, bouquet thrown and the reception was rapidly nearing it's end. For Wendy and I we tried so hard to get to everyone as we had family we have not seen in a long time and dear friends not seen for even longer periods of time. Sadly, there never is enough time to visit in such a setting and the focus was on making sure Elizabeth and Mark were having the time of their lives. And I believe they did! Our party was so exciting, so loud, so "legit" as the married couple told me, that we actually were shut down a few minutes early by the police. Can you believe it? Next thing I knew, my daughter and her new husband were climbing into a limo and my wife and I marveled at the beauty of it all and just how fast it was gone; believe me, it was fast!
Wendy arranged for everyone to come to the house Sunday morning for a brunch, including the happy couple, who were not leaving for the honeymoon until Monday. It was a grand party at the house and one last opportunity to visit with Calvin, Katelyn, Sara and James, along with Chris as they prepared to leave for home early in the afternoon. Can I tell you that #1 grandson was a rock star at the wedding and the reception. He must have danced for hours. But, sadly, that hour arrived when we had to say goodbye. But great memories indeed and something to talk about in future Skype sessions! Mark and Elizabeth hung in for quite some time before leaving to pack up for their week-long honeymoon.
And then, everyone was gone! And I was in bed by 8:30; only to rise this morning at 4:30.
I am one happy and pleased dad this morning. I have two days off now to wind down and reflect and of course, still run some post-wedding errands. I have pictured this grand event over and over in my mind for months. All parents dream of the day their children will marry and begin their lives as man & wife. The reality of the wedding and reception, for me, far exceeded those pictures from my mind. For me, everything was perfect. For me, I would not have changed a thing. As a dad, I was so happy and so full of joyful emotion. As the daddy-deacon, who got to preach and stand right next to the couple as they exchanged the vows and rings was spiritually moving.
Before you ask me I will tell you; was it worth it? You bet it was. My daughter had the wedding of her dreams. And I am convinced, they know they have more than a wedding, they have a lifetime of marriage that must include great faith and plenty of room for Jesus to be the center of their new one-ness!
And if you ever wonder if I really believe it's worth it, take a look at my face in this pic: