What Is Your Definition Of ‘LOVE’?

I recently read a blog post in the Weddings section of The Huffington Post titled “Do We Really Know What Love Is?”

It’s a provocative title and an even more provocative entry. Vicki Larson begins by saying:

Love is why we marry, or at least that’s what many of us believe. . .That’s fine except, what is love? Many of us are stumped to define it, and even those of us who can define it often find that others may not agree with our definition. Yet we all have an idea of what love is.

A friend, a college professor who teaches a class in love, says her students are terrified of having to define love, terrified by the idea that love should even be defined. Hate, narcissism — they have no problem agreeing on definitions for those. But love? They shrug, a defeatist shrug, and say, “Well, it’s different for everyone.”

Is it? If love is different for everyone, then what love are we talking about when we’re building a marriage around it or divorcing because we no longer have it? What love are we talking about when we insist people marry “for love”?

 

It got me thinking––what is my “definition” for love?

Hmm. . .one of my favorite reflections on love comes from the writer Marguerite Yourcenar who described her ideal partner as:

Someone who bolsters our courage and approves, or sometimes disputes, our ideas; who shares with us, and with equal fervor, the joys of art and of living, the endless work which both require, never easy but never dull; someone who is neither our shadow nor our reflection, nor even our complement, but simply him/her self; someone who leaves us ideally free, but who nevertheless obliges us to be fully what we are.

 

What is your understanding of love?

Your partner’s understanding?

Can you put it into words?

 

Let how you understand love guide you in the creating of your ceremony!

The “Promise” Too Many Couples Forget To Make With Their Vows

My brother Peter and his wife, Beth, have been married for twenty-five years – and they are twenty-five years that they’re grateful for! Last week I was talking with Peter and out-of-the-blue he remarked, “I can’t believe how many people I know are getting divorced.” Sadly, I was surprised that he’s surprised.

His shock, though, got me thinking about weddings (something I do a lot of). Almost every weekend I officiate a wedding and every weekend I encounter people who are dressed to impress and ready to party – selfie-taking people who are palpably excited for “their” couple. In light of Peter’s comment, I’ve been wondering – what is it that people are celebrating? Is it the “forever” or is it the generosity, the courage and the hope of the couple?

Each week I stand before a couple and bear witness to their vows and as they pledge some version of, “for better or for worse” I wonder if they understand what they’re actually saying. I think most couples don’t understand. How could they? We can only understand the future by living it.

Couples often ask me for advice on how to write their vows. While I’ve written posts on the “how,” that technique doesn’t really address the deeper question – what are your vows “vowing”?

In order to write your vows I think you need to reflect on these four questions. You don’t need to say aloud in your vows the answers to these questions BUT your answers will inform what you write:

  • What would be the hardest thing that would pull the two of you apart?
  • What would be the ultimate joy you could experience as a couple?
  • What is your greatest fear for the two of you?
  • What is your greatest hope for the two of you?

Thornton Wilder, in his play The Skin Of Our Teeth, has one of the characters make this observation:

“I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.”

And so I come back to that earlier question –

what is it that we’re celebrating at a wedding?

I think it’s that “promise” – the rough and tumble rawness of that promise a couple makes to each other.

But maybe what is just as important is for each person to also take a promise to her or his own self because if you don’t make a promise to yourself, how can you make a promise to another?

Here’s what I hope you promise your self – that you will:

  • Let no one treat you as ordinary
  • Let your home be the gateway to the world and not a hiding place
  • Feel – and not let your feelings make you a victim
  • Learn to make bold mistakes AND
  • Tame your regrets over those mistakes so that they do not overshadow the gifts of the choices you made

The poet Emily Dickinson maintained,

“That Love is all there is is all we know of Love.”

 Trusting in that truth, may the world be a better place

because you love each other!

Go Ahead – Cry!

christinebentley.com

true story

Lindsey had been engaged for ten years and sobbed so hard during the ceremony she wasn’t able to complete her vows. She said enough of the vow so I moved on as I didn’t know what else to do. After the ceremony, Lindsey was annoyed, wanting to know why I didn’t help her stop crying!

Couples often tell me that they hope they won’t cry at the ceremony. Why? Why not cry? And if the groom cries, guests will slip an extra $50 in the envelope as they feel they got their money’s worth!

Your wedding is one of the most emotional moments in your life, for reasons you can name and some you’re not able to name.

I assure couples that I will remain strong for them. And I usually do, though there have been exceptions. I cried at my brother’s wedding. I cried at the weddings of each of my close friends. And I’m not someone who cries easily.

I cried under a Chuppah nestled in the courtyard of a four hundred year old Catholic chapel. It was in a town about an hour outside Mexico City. The bride was Mexican Catholic and the groom was Jewish, from Philadelphia. Underneath the Chuppah, along with the three of us, was a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. After exchanging vows and rings, as the couple presented their mothers with roses, the bride’s cousin, a Mexican actor, sang Ave Maria. It was a teary-eyed, goose-bump moment. Why?

The sheer beauty of these good people was exquisite – Jewish and Christian, coming in faith and hope and love, to a remote village, to transcend all that could pull them apart.

How can you not cry when life is so deep down good?

I cried in a vegetable garden (trust me, I really still haven’t seen it all). The wedding took place in a funky desert resort owned by the bride’s aunt. The ceremony was in the vegetable garden.

The bride’s father escorted her down the dirt path. She wore a veil that every bride in her family had worn. The air literally shimmered from the desert heat. The DJ played “The Blue Danube.” The bride and her father looked like they were walking on water. And under a mulberry tree the couple gave their word to each other.

How could we not cry at the earthy simplicity and sheltered trust of it all?

 

Why do we cry at weddings?

I think it’s because of the intense sweetness of the moment – and the sheer audacity of the couple’s hope.

Ultimately, I think it’s because our tears are the surest way to honor the truth and goodness of the moment.

 

How Not To Waste Your Partner’s Love!

photo: RyanBrenizer.com

 

What my marriage taught me is that real love is only what you give. That’s all. Love is not “out there,” waiting for you. It is in you. In your own heart, in what you are willing to give of it. We are all capable of love, but few of us have the courage to do it properly. You can take a person’s love and waste it. But you are the fool. . .Love is joy. Those who love, no matter what indignities, what burdens they carry, are always full of joy.

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage

 

I recently came across this quote and presumed it was another sappy sentiment on love and commitment, but I stopped when I read the phrase, “You can take a person’s love and waste it.” I’ve never really thought about how I could “waste” someone’s love. I suppose I’ve focused on how a person could waste my time (and love) but not how I could waste theirs.

What does it mean to waste a person’s love?

Kind of a no-brainer question, but still I’ve been reflecting on it. The dictionary definition for “waste” is: to use, consume, or spend thoughtlessly or carelessly; to pass without being put to use.

If you think about it, at the heart of your vows is the promise not to waste each other’s love – not to treat each other thoughtlessly or carelessly and to always put the love your partner offers you to good use.

I like that notion of actually putting each other’s love to good purpose.

While love makes no demands, in order to experience love fully you have to believe that you’re worthy of love. And to receive the love of another person is to feel energized.

If you feel loved, then you have to feel energetic in wanting to do some good, to make less bruised this crazy world of ours.

Love is always offered in a spirit of hope – hope that despite whatever messiness there is in the beloved’s life, she or he, because of our love, will be able to make sense of it all and create a meaningful life.

To believe in your partner’s love is to believe that their love speaks truth to any of your fears.

If you waste your partner’s love, you’re wasting an opportunity to become more fully you and so it is true for your partner and your love.

I think that in this exhausting world of ours, to love mindfully and generously is a wildly brave thing to do.

 

Go wild!

What Was Your Favorite Wedding Ceremony?

photo: diannahenderson.com

 

When I meet with a couple, one of the first things I ask is:

“Is there anything you know you do want or anything you know you don’t want in your ceremony?”

Brad and Darlene (names changed), the couple I met with today, told me they weren’t sure what they wanted, even though they’ve been to over a dozen weddings in the past two years. They said that they all had become just a blur.

But then Brad excitedly turned to Darlene and reminded her of the wedding of their friends Jared and Kathy. Darlene in turn got excited and agreed that the ceremony had been beautiful.

However, when I asked what about the ceremony they liked, they drew a blank – they couldn’t remember anything specific!

They just remembered that the celebrant offered words that touched them and that spoke to their own relationship.

As they chatted a bit longer about the wedding, it became clear they couldn’t remember much of anything – just that it was a wonderful experience. I laughed because they proved what I have always maintained.

People don’t remember details so much as they remember the feel and tone of your celebration.

I’m sure Jared and Kathy put a lot of thought and care into the planning of their ceremony and reception, but what Brad and Darlene remembered was the joy and love that went into the day and not the particulars.

I think this is vitally important to keep in mind as you plan your celebration.

So ~

  • What was the most moving ceremony you’ve witnessed?
  • What made it memorable for you?
  • If you can’t recall the particulars, why do you think that is?

Let your answers to these questions help guide you in your own planning.

Saying “Yes!” To Who You Could Become

photo: jasmine starr

 

I saw that I would love him,

and that loving him would mean

saying yes to the self I would become

by loving him,

and no to the other selves

I would never become by not loving him.

 

I don’t know who made this observation – but, I’m deeply moved by the truth expressed.

I think the truth of this quote speaks to why making a vow to another person is such a profound act.

In a real way, you’re vowing to become the person you could only become through the loving of this particular partner – and no other.

 

Now that’s deep.

And courageous.

And generous.

 

What I’m In The Business Of –

The other day I was on line at a Starbucks when a man tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and had no idea who the guy was. He smiled and asked if I was “JP”. He then told me that I had officiated his wedding 9 ½ years ago in Westlake Village. Suddenly, I recognized Fred and certainly remembered his wife, Rosanna. I was blown away that he remembered me!

Fred told me that he and Rosanna were grateful that I had been a part of their day and that they still smile when they look at photos of their ceremony.

I was very moved – and I share this, not to give myself a pat on the back BUT to let you know that Fred reminded me that I’m really not in the business of marrying people.

Rather

I’m really in the business of creating happy, life-giving memories.

 

And for that, I’m grateful. . .

 

2

End Of Summer Thoughts On Marriage

Anyone who knows me knows that I love officiating weddings.

I love celebrating a ceremony for a host of reasons – and one of those reasons is that I get to be a part of one of the most intimate moments in a couple’s life.

Throughout the summer, I looked at brides and grooms, straight and gay, and I marveled at what I saw.

I saw people who are downright daring in their embrace of life – no matter how nervous or whack-a-do they may appear!

It struck me this summer with a new found force that when two people enter into marriage, it really is a

Big

Bold

Brash

Confounding and generous pledge.

Here’s what I think you’re pledging (and what I’m helping you to celebrate):

 

You’re pledging. . .

To be the witness of each other’s life

To help each other make sense of life’s surprises

To create a legacy together

To be steady for each other in the midst of randomness

To find peace in the routine of everyday life

To give each other life but not be each other’s life

To trust you will be valued even when you’ve forgotten how

To be brave in sickness

To believe “we can” and “we will” in all those WTF moments

To make yourself necessary to your spouse

To believe that together you’re smarter than any smart phone

To believe that friends and family deserve a place at your table laden with good food, good drink and good story

 

And in pledging all this, I think you’re also admitting that neither of you really understand the true meaning of what you’re vowing BUT that you are committed to understanding it more clearly day in and day out – all the days of your life.

The Groom Who Said: “I Knew This Was Going To Be A Mistake!”

 http://jophotoonline.com

By his own admission Wilson (names changed) is a tech nerd. He was a sweet groom who worked hard at being involved in planning the wedding with Miriam, but, he really was a bit clueless about it all. Which was fine because in Wilson’s case, it really was the thought that counted. . .

Wilson and Miriam decided to compose their own vows and, as always, I encouraged them to write out their vows. Your wedding is a surrealistic experience and on the day-of you should wear name tags so as to remind your partner who you are! I know, you think I’m kidding, but just you wait!

So, it’s their wedding day and I arrive at the venue a full hour ahead of time. I happen on Wilson and ask if he has his vows. He smiles, taps his head and says, “It’s all up here.” I smile back – as my stomach tightens because I know there is NOTHING in this dude’s head!

The ceremony proceeds and soon it’s time for me to introduce the Exchange Of Vows. I then turn to Wilson and nod since, as the groom, he says his vows first. He gives me a nervous smile and I groan inwardly. Dear God, what is he going to say?

Wilson looks at Miriam. He looks down. He looks up to the sky. Ohdeargod I can’t take this. And then says these immortal words. . .

“I knew this was going to be a mistake.”

Time really did stand still as we all tried to process his words. And then I snapped back to the moment and hurriedly reassured all, “He means his vows. Not his marriage. He didn’t write out his vows.” The guests roared with laughter and so did Miriam.

Wilson was endearing as he told Miriam how much he loved her, though at moments I wasn’t sure if he was asking her out on a bowling date or accepting an Oscar! And then he just stopped talking – without ever having said the word “wife.” I looked him in the eye and asked, “You are taking Miriam as your wife, yes?” Wilson was so nervous that he grabbed her, kissed her and asked, “Will you be my wife?” (Yes, so now the vow has turned into a proposal!)

Of course, Miriam had written out her vows and they were funny and eloquent and moving.

Here’s the thing – in the whack-a-do-ness of it all their vows very much reflected them as a couple BUT that doesn’t mean I am going to stop telling couples that if you’re going to compose your own vows then they MUST be written out!

Trust me – Wilson wishes he had!

What Those Vows Really Mean

I ____take you ____to be my wife/husband.

I promise to be true to you

In good times and in bad,

In sickness and in health.

I will love you and honor you,

All the days of my life.

This is my solemn vow.

 

I recently ran into Danielle – her mom, Becky, is a good friend of mine. Danielle’s youngest child, Declan, is six months old. About six weeks ago Danielle noticed that Declan wasn’t using his left hand and was overcompensating with his right hand. She took him to the pediatrician and so began the most hellish 24 hours of her life.

Making a long story way shorter, within the span of 24 hours, Danielle and her husband Ryan were told that Declan might have a brain tumor, then they were told he might have cerebral palsy until finally they were informed Declan had had a stroke while in the womb. His left-side motor skills were impacted.

While the prognosis is good for the long haul, for Danielle and Ryan it has been an indescribable roller-coaster of emotions.

And yet Danielle told me that she and Ryan are stronger now than at any point in their relationship. They know they will survive – and thrive.

I’ve said it here in this blog many times before – it is always such an honor to bear witness to a couple’s vows. I’m in awe as I witness a couple make that leap of faith. BUT, I also know that no couple fully comprehends just what it is they’re vowing. How could they?

How could any couple truly appreciate what those bold words mean, “in good times and in bad; in sickness and in health”?

Danielle and Ryan didn’t fully understand what they were vowing. BUT they are grateful they made those vows BECAUSE it is those vows that are giving them the strength they need now for Declan and for each other.

My hope for each of my couples is that their vows will be

that wellspring of courage – and joy!