Roots, wings, and weddings rings: like all good love stories, this one begins in an unexpected way – with the last day of track camp. Annalee and Stuart were running in the same training program, though Annalee was distance and Stuart was a sprinter. He inquired about the girl that seemed to have a certain beauty about her to a mutual friend, worked up the nerve to write a letter to introduce himself, and thank God, she responded.
Last night, five years and one day after that initial meeting, they were married.
Talking to Annalee and Stuart for more than a few moments will quickly make you realize that this couple is different than many others. They are both rooted in their love of God, made known through the person of Jesus, that allowed them to come to know and commit to one another freely. They’re also incredibly quirky and have winged spirits in a life of creativity (his instrument is the guitar, hers is the pen, and together they make beautiful love songs.)
With that picture of the couple in mind, envision this: a hazel-eyed daughter walking in step with her father, head tall and a soft glow about her face. A banner of prayer flags reading “all you need is love” covers the back wall of the small chapel, where a gathering of friends and family stand to witness to God’s gift of love in the couple’s life. The crown of the bride is adorned with hand-picked mountain flowers from the day before, harvested by bridesmaids during a rainstorm (it was totally worth it). The tune of Come Thou Fount sounds as father and daughter stride down together, share a hug and “I love you” before Annalee meets Stuart. In a solemnly beautiful moment, they both stand to face the raised cross before them. This cross marks the death of the old and a crossing over into a shared home, and prayers that they now carry together in marriage. This is cross redeems, transforms, and will uplift them with the Body to support them.
Take my heart, Lord take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above
The greatest expression of love during the wedding was not only the tear-producing exchange of vows between Annalee and Stuart, or the reading of the Beatitudes, but the love that the entire community poured into the ceremony. Friends and family created prayer flags for the couple to hang during their anniversary. Annalee’s mother rounded friends and new acquaintances alike to bake the pies and donate punch bowls and set up the tents. It was miraculous because it was a village effort that showed true generosity – exemplifying the kind of communal support that is needed to uphold the life of young couples and their commitment to faithfulness.
This wedding was a testament to the courage to love that God initiates when we are patient and willing. It takes courage to walk your daughter down the aisle. It takes courage to write your own vows at a young age and share them before the most important people in your life. It also takes courage to go up to a girl at track camp and offer her your life story, then plan your first date on a mountain and the second as a scavenger hunt across Asheville. It takes courage to stay together through storm and never-ending trial of long distance. The couple made each decision prayerfully leading up to the wedding – from the lovely mix-taped first dance to the decision to insist on an outdoor wedding when rain hovered in the forecast.
The evening ended as the story began – with running, just as it began to rain. Annalee and Stuart ran to the newly decorated car with a specially purchased rainbow umbrella over their heads to dodge the falling droplets. That rain was the first to fall since some gentle misting at the end of the ceremony. It felt like the land had baptized the evening and gave the signal for the couple to leave the dance party. Naturally, a crowd of friends gathered to run after them as they drove away. That’s the kind of love that chases the other with gladness – even in the pouring down, soaking rain, there was grateful celebration.
So, those are the wedding rings. Full circles: rain, Divine love returning two children back to their place of belonging in God’s arms, running toward life together.
Now for the roots: I returned home last week to “my people” in Maryland. I shared special time with all of my parents and grandparents, learned about my great-grandfathers (one was a football player and life insurance salesman, another was a president of a few seminaries, one owned a town store in the South and saved his extra meet for a homeless man that lived on the corner, and another was a son of Italian immigrants that lived in Little Italy, Baltimore). I learned that roots are complicated and always interwoven with others’. I learned that our life experiences are part of a patchwork that is formed by the values and vision of countless generations. I learned that I am incredibly lucky to have the family that I have – with all its quirks and many personalities, I feel more at home in myself and more appreciation for my relatives after this summer. Sometimes, it takes confronting death and talking with those who have lost their support systems to realize what a gift each person is in this world. I am glad to have roots in the family that I do.
Roots also have much to do with spiritual community; if family members are the ones who “raise” us, then this weekend I also was so grateful to have time with the family of friends who have become sources of life-giving joy and guidance. Many friends from Davidson settled into the mountains for a weekend to celebrate the joining of Annalee and Stuart, filling my friend Spencer’s home with music and late-night games and Presbyterian jokes and snickerdoodles. We sang “Rivers and Roads” on the way back from worship along a road and a mountain stream, just in time to say goodbye for awhile today. I was reminded that the roots that we choose to water become stronger, and the community in which we stake our finite lives allows us to dig us deeper into the shared wellspring that is God.
A few hours before the wedding, Annalee gave all of her bridesmaids necklaces that have a nest with three eggs in them, along with a charm. Mine was a feather, which I found to be beautifully illustrative of my friendship to Annalee – light in weight and resilient, carried by the breath of the wind. One of our favorite songs to sing is “I’ll Fly Away,” the closing song to the reception, because Annalee’s voice is perfectly shaped to proclaim our destiny as birds flying toward the heavens. Thus comes the third part of this story: wings.
As I write, all is quiet except for the hum of the air vents and the silent glow of the full moon outside of the plane window. I am thousands of miles in the air on my way to Peru, exhausted by a lack of sleep and excited for all the adventure that awaits a few thousand miles away.
Roots, wings, and wedding rings – all beautiful expressions of what it means to be bound together and liberated by God’s love. May we all have the courage to run after the One who is calling toward us, yearning to welcome us toward life anew. And may we uphold the faithfulness that binds us to Christ and to one another each day, opening like the sunflowers who say to the Light, “I do.”
And all God’s people said – amen!