Well a man shall leave his mother, and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on their way, the two shall be as one
As it was in the beginning is now until the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again
And there’s love, there is love
And what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife
Is it love that brings you here or love that gives you life
For if loving is the answer then who’s the giving for
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before
Oh there’s love, there is love.
[From “Wedding Song,” which was not sung at our wedding.]
Everybody should have one nice, memorable wedding. Our wedding was wonderful, a nice combination of family, worship, confusion and mishap. It was one of those days that fuses life with time and space and alters the essence of our being forever.
We were considered radical for our time. We wanted a hymn and communion in the service, and we wrote our own vows. No one involved on either side had ever heard of such nonsense.
The Friday evening wedding rehearsal was a disaster. The convoy of participants driving from Cleveland, Tennessee to Powdersville, South Carolina got lost and arrived well over an hour late. A couple of our relatives, who shall go unnamed, felt free to assume the unsolicited role of wedding director. It was a tense tug of war for a while. They questioned everything we were doing. It led up to a conflict over the formation for the wedding party. One of them questioned, “why are you doing it this way? I’ve never seen it done this way.”
I snapped back, “Because we want it this way, and it’s our wedding. That’s why.” There were no other interruptions.
I took Cheryl back to her parent’s house where we processed the evening. We were the last one’s up and enjoyed the privacy. We were just talking, I promise. We were sitting at the kitchen island talking softly to keep from waking anyone. Before I left Cheryl sat on my knee and we continued our conversation (and that’s all I’ll confess). Nothing could have happened even if we were so inclined; Cheryl’s mother came in moments later, finger pointed, shaking her hand down and speaking through her teeth “Cheryl, you get up from there. Get up, I said.”
Cheryl got up and said “good night.” I went to my motel room.
The next morning I had breakfast with my family, at least I think I did. I drove to the mall and bought Cheryl’s wedding ring. We were not exchanging rings in the ceremony. Influenced by the legalism of the Church of God in Alabama, I had struggled with whether it was appropriate to wear them. I had concluded there was nothing wrong with wedding rings but resisted the pressure being put on me (not by Cheryl) to include them in the ceremony. Ah the slippery slope of liberalism. Say yes to rings and before you know it your fiancé is sitting in your lap the night before the wedding.
The rest of the day is a blur. I remember getting dressed in a classroom in the church basement and pacing nervously through the basement, up the stairs, down the hall behind the choir loft, back down the stairs and starting all over again. I busied my mind working on my wedding vows. I had thought a lot about them for months, but I didn’t have a single sentence formed. And then the time came.
I stood at the side, front entry to the sanctuary with Cheryl’s uncle, Simpson Merritt and Ken Andrews. Word came back to us the soloist, a friend of Cheryl’s from Emmanuel College who was supposed to play acoustic guitar and sing “Wedding Song,” had not arrived so that we had a different schedule for the ceremony. The two ministers were robed and ready to officiate the ceremony. We cracked the door open and looked in as the candles were lit, waiting for our cue to enter and take our places. Just before time to enter Uncle Simpson asked, “Do you have your vows with you?”
I responded, “No, I haven’t written them down.”
“You just have them memorized?”
“No, actually I haven’t finalized them yet. I’ll figure out what I’m going to say before she gets down front.” I was enjoying this, even if it was mostly true. Both ministers were about to faint.
“Here son, I’ve got my manual. You can just repeat after me.”
“It will be just fine Uncle Simpson. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, and I think it’s time for us to go in.” We entered and as I stood before the congregation, waiting, thinking, and praying, my brain raced. I finalized my vows and I prayed, “Well Father, I’ve come here by faith. If this isn’t Your will You will stop it. Either, you will speak to me or to Cheryl. If she walks down that isle this marriage is your will for the rest of my life.” Seriously, that’s what I prayed.
The bridal party entered through the front sanctuary doors and processed to their places. As the last were entering I got a glimpse of a long-haired, youthful guy come busting into the entryway carrying a guitar case. “I guess our soloist is here,” I thought. Through the door windows I could pick out Cheryl explaining to him it was too late.
And then the doors opened wide. Cheryl stood next to her father. She was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Her long velvet white gown was perfect. The veil and skull cap were the perfect complement and her face radiated. She was angelic. I was thrilled.
As she and her father walked down the isle of the McNeely Memorial Pentecostal Holiness Church, Chuck Coppler, a groomsman, kept his promise and sang a verse and the chorus of “The Church of God is right, Hallelujah to the Lamb” just loud enough for the bridal party to hear.
I had no idea what Cheryl’s vows would be. Frankly, I was surprised to hear the quote from Ruth, “whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:” But “shock” better describes my state when I heard the “o” word. “Did she just promise before God and these witnesses to obey me?” Yes she did. I knew it was for the show and had little meaning for my life, but it was a nice to entertain a momentary delusion.
My vows flowed from a very full heart.
“Cheryl, I vow unto you in essence one vow;
I shall love you as God intends for a man to love his wife.
For just as Jesus Christ is even now searching the world to find those persons without spot or blemish who shall comprise his bride, so have I searched and found in you the qualities I desire for my wife.
I will cherish you more than silver or gold or any earthly possession.
I will provide for your earthly needs to the best of my abilities even as God gives me strength.
I will protect you from all harm even with the laying down of my life if need be.
Cheryl, this is my vow to you; I will love you as God intends for a man to love his wife.”
With those words I believe God sealed my bond with Cheryl. He is witness, participant, and guarantor of our covenant. I recount my vows often and examine myself by them. I will give an account for how I have kept them. It’s the “as God intends” that convicts me. I keep learning new things about what God intends. The list is a whole lot bigger than affection, provision, and protection (Can you tell I’ve been preaching a while?). In sum, He requires perfection in devotion through all the seasons and challenges of life. I have not yet attained to perfection of any kind, but I am working on it.
June 1, 2010