What Is Good?


My husband and I are separating today. I’m headed “up the branch” to celebrate dear Anna’s wedding to Robert. Curt leaves tomorrow for Washington to celebrate dear Lori’s wedding to Gunnar on the same day. These brides are treasures to us: radiant, glorious jewels. I love to witness a wedding with my hand firmly gripped by Curt’s, but I am up to the rim with joy that we can each take part in these concurrent weddings.

When I need only a few minutes of reading material, I often go to Alphabet Juice for a quick fix. On this double celebration week, I was astonished to discover what “good” means.

from root ghedhto unite, join, fit. Other derivatives: together, from the Old English togaedere, from the Germanic gaduri, in a body; gather, from the Old English gad(e)rian, from the Germanic gaduron, to come or bring together.

When we hear the words, “We are gathered here today to witness the joining of two lives,” it will all be good.

Wedding Glory

The Grand Occasions of my life are never complete until I’ve written about them. Zack and Addie’s wedding was certainly a Grand Occasion.

Tuesday, June 26, 4:30 p.m.  Zack’s family (minus Zack and his best man, Rex) arrived at our home in Oregon. We talked and laughed around our table, the mood buoyant with anticipation. After dinner, we got busy. Di, mother of the groom, measured out bushels of flour for bread dough. John, father of the groom, got his guitar out to practice a song he had composed for the occasion. Reunited sisters and girlfriend set up their camp in a spare bedroom. Brennan, youngest brother, did what he was created to do: shoot hoops.

Wednesday, June 27, 7:10 a.m.  The family, coffeed and victualed, loaded into the van.  I love the next five words: Di stayed at my house. It was the day to cook, bake, combine, marinate. Her three-ringed binder had all the recipes. We zested lemons, chopped garlic, thickened berries, boiled pasta, cut basil, diced prosciutto, quartered artichokes, blended lime dressing. We did all the prep work that’s doable the day before a dinner for 55 people. And we talked, filling in the back stories of our lives. We sat down once for a think session. When the moon was suspended in the sky, we stopped.

Thursday, June 28, 6:30 a.m.  My husband Curt helped us fill every space in our coolers and cars the next morning. With walkie-talkies on the same channel, we embarked on the drive through bedazzling mountain passes. We stopped in Enterprise, Oregon, so Di could hold baby Solomon and to pick up Anna, for whom in twelve hours I would be thanking God about every minute.

Thursday, June 28, 6:15 p.m.  Rolls on the table, drinks in the dispensers, salads on the buffet, candles lit, places set: hurry up chicken and be done! Near disasters have been averted; several times Anna, the red-headed wonder, and I have locked eyes over the kitchen work space and said, “What are we going to do?” Addie and I share a hug, the first time we’ve met in person. The dinner looks, smells and tastes delicious. Murmuring voices, ice tinkling in glasses, forks clinking on plates, giggles forming a double helix in the air: these are the sounds of a gloriously good meal. Slideshow, skits, toasts, hugs, tears, smiles, songs. As parents, we labor for years to get to this moment of fruition.   

Friday, June 29, 6:30 p.m.  You could not pick a more picturesque setting for a wedding: rolling hills, slanting sun, peaceful air, exquisite music. As I am accompanied down the aisle, the usher says, “You need to sit in the family section.” I gulp, awed by the honor. Minutes before the ceremony begins, we are upgraded to the front row! Grateful for the opportunity to imprint the images for dear ones agonizing in their absence, I raise my camera. One by one the ten bridesmaids walk down the lawn in their cobalt blue heels, each one praying that she stays upright.

Friday, June 29, 7:05 p.m.  We stand. Wes walks his youngest daughter to her future. I take about 20 pictures of Zack, capturing the sunrise of his smile. This ceremony is invested with meaning, with solemn joy. Bridesmaids wipe their eyes. I’m needing air in my lungs. This is the moment that restricts my throat. The Daddy (as we who have read Mma Ramotswe books say) comes to that moment when all things change. He kisses his darling girl, he shakes the groom’s hand. And he steps back. Exhale. And then Addie’s fingers are linked in Zack’s. Her eyes only strayed from Zack when the pastor was talking directly to her. The homily was like the best-crafted novel. The tone was heavier than most wedding sermons, creating tension. This is all true, but why here? Why now? I wondered. And then Pastor Sumpter began resolving that tension, weaving truth into a magnificent strand, bringing it home with grace.

Friday, June 29, 7:35 p.m.  The kiss! Whoa. It began like most kisses begin, but then it changed. He dipped her, tango-style, and that man kissed his wife! Applause breaks forth. The bride and groom stand, facing the guests, irrepressible smiles. They are Married! The slightest pause, before the music begins, signalling a change in the mood. Party On!

Friday, June 29, 8:45 p.m.  Dad, dad, granddad, brother, brother, and cousin give toasts that also set this wedding apart from a typical wedding. A poem crafted for the occasion, wise words, funny comments, closing with a prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. Words that widen the moment, another dividend from the huge investment made by both families. After all the glasses have been lifted, we move to the lawn. Darkness has settled down into a comfortable sprawl. Tiki torches punctuate the fence, candles on tables keep winking. The dancing mimics the ceremony, a final reprise. The Daddy and Addie dance, smiling. Zack and Addie dance, singing to each other, encapsulated in their love. Guests join on the dance lawn. With each new song, the volume increases, the arms get higher. No DJ was needed to talk into mikes and direct traffic. At the appointed time, fireworks fill the sky. Zack and Addie run to their car under a canopy of sparklers held by the guests. Oh glorious day!



Photos are on Facebook. 

The wedding homily.

The rehearsal dinner recipes.

I Do

I do.                        Two small words.    

Take.                      Four
Have.                    four-
Hold.                       letter
Love.                       words

Cherish.                 One of the longest word in the vows.

The words are simple.
Which is not the same as saying it is easy.
Sometimes it is remarkably rough.
After we’ve weathered difficult seasons we find ourselves still holding, loving, and cherishing.
Happy Anniversary, Curt! 33 Years! You make it easy.

::    ::     ::

We watched a Lark Rise to Candleford episode in which a father figure offers a poem to a nervous bride who fears her husband will stop loving her when he really knows her. Curt looks at me and asks, “Which poem, babe?”

As I thought, it was William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixéd mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
     If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
     I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.


A Twice Blessed Dress


This is a blessing-saturated story.

It is a story of a search for the perfect dress, of joyous overlapping friendships, of mothers, daughters and sisters, of a dress twice blessed by a beautiful woman wearing it, of the smack down cancer got, and how Facebook facilitated the fine exchange.

The story begins one year ago when Katie became engaged. There are two major decisions after a ring finds its home on the bride-to-be’s finger: the date and the dress. Katie’s wedding required an abundance of dresses. Each one reveals a story: Katie’s splendid wedding dress that Jan, Katie’s mom, insisted on buying.  Jan’s elegant mother-of-the-bride dress that Katie and her sister Abbey spotted, loved and made Jan try on. My ruched bridesmatron’s dress that Abbey found.  The eight unique flower girl dresses that Abbey sewed. (See these wonderfully whimsical dresses at Katie and Jeff’s Wedding Journal).

In California another family was anticipating a wedding.  Two sisters, Jean and Joy, were searching for the perfect dress for Ernestene, their mom, to wear to Laura’s (Jean’s daughter) May wedding.  When Curt and I began our married life in 1978, Amos, Ernestene, Jean and Joy were family to us; their home was our home-away-from-home.  They fed us dinner at least once a week; we shared holidays; we were companions.  I can still hear the laughter that rebounded around their table.

Amos and Ernestene’s golden wedding anniversary in December was tarnished by a serious cancer diagnosis.  A lifetime of love, care, and compassion which Ernestene had cheerfully dispensed returned to her in effusive expressions of love and concern.  Chemotherapy, however, was nastifying Ernestene’s life, making the basics like eating and drinking a challenge. “We just give her a variety of things to dislike.” 

Chemotherapy kept Ernestene from shopping.  Finding a dress meant finding hope, hope that joy and beauty lurked beyond this dire moment. Even a woman like Ernestene, who has cheerfulness woven into her DNA, who as a sick patient concerns herself with how her nurses are doing, needs occasional infusions of good cheer. When Joy saw Katie’s wedding pictures on my Facebook page, she noticed Jan’s elegant dress.

And so began a fabulous correspondence through Facebook messages. 

I copy and pasted like crazy.  Joy asked the label of Jan’s suit; I sent it to Katie. Katie replied Jessica Howard including further details; I messaged Joy.  Joy: “Carol, I’ve looked and can’t find THAT dress… crazy idea, but potentially the best…would Katie’s mom tell us the size and be willing to sell or rent it to mom if it is a fit?”  Some of Joy’s messages were written from the hospital by Ernestene’s bed.

It was a fit!  Less than a month after first message, Ernestene had a dress hanging in her closet for her granddaughter’s wedding. Sweet relief! Jan had been wondering how long to keep a dress she didn’t expect to wear again and was glad to send it to Ernestene.      

When I saw the picture of Amos and Ernestene, two strong towers in our formative years, walking down the path to Laura’s wedding, I wept. 

Don’t both women–who look alike and whose hallmark is kindness–look radiant in that Jessica Howard suit? 

It’s true that Facebook devours time, immobilizes people, and can keep us from partaking of the succulent bits of life.  But in times of distress, Facebook can disseminate information to people everywhere.  It allows friends to share pictures of their kids and grandkids. And it can bring blessings in the form of a dress.

My search for a mother of the groom dress
The dress I wore
A dress I wore the day I got married

Because I love weddings:

All I ever wanted was a Cinderella dress and Gerbera daisies.

She wore cowboy boots under her grandma’s wedding dress
Flower girls flinging flowers
I particularly liked Queen Elizabeth’s canary suit for the royal wedding
The defining moment of Jon and Lindsey’s wedding
The most courageous wedding picture ever taken…before the ceremony
An extraordinary lover’s knot in a wedding
Jackie came down the aisle to Non Nobis

Pomp Is a Good Word

…and other one-sentence responses to the royal wedding.

Marriage is worth celebrating…with jubilant exuberance.

Joyful solemnity is just right.

Westminster Abbey is a gift to mankind.

I’ve never before seen a more beautiful veil.

I want to get married again so I can come down the aisle to I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me.

If you care about details, The Program is a must.

Happy to note that everybody sings the hymns;
I only spied one young woman who kept her mouth in a tight line.

The Queen was resplendent in her lemon suit; her smiles are (as glorious and as rare as) sunshine.

Pippa is a pippin!!

Did the Archbishop not have time to get a haircut???

Reading Dorothy Sayer’s The Nine Tailors helped me understand campanology, the study of bell ringing, particularly change ringing.

Interesting to study hands in this ceremony; I especially liked the Archbishop’s binding their hands together.

I am always tender toward the father of the bride when he walks her down the aisle.

James Middleton’s reading of Romans 12 is among the best Scripture reading I’ve ever heard.

Who were the women dressed like nuns?

BRAVO John Rutter!!

The hymn re-harmonizations and descants on the last verses give me goosebumps.

I miss my nephew Will, who could tell me the name and title of every VIP.

The organ and the trumpet are instruments well suited for majestic sounds.

I am all for a renaissance in millinery fashion: look at those hats!

The aerial shots, especially which show the cruciform architecture, make my spirit soar.

Blake’s Jerusalem never fails to move me.

Everyone sees what they want: a skeptic sees things skeptically; a believer sees faithfully.

The Ubi Caritas took me back, with happy sighs, to my Latin class. 

I love the phrase: lost in wonder, love and praise.

Horses and carriage trump motored vehicles for first choice for the Queen and Prince…I like that!

God Bless Your Marriage, William and Catherine.

A History of Illicit Laughter

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
~ Victor Borge

I woke up giggling this morning.  We had decided to sleep in and my laughter broke covenant.  Oh great, muttered my husband. Josh, where are you?  Curt’s words launched me on a new round of mirth. 

Josh, who is like a son to me, and I have a history of horse laughs.  When he was Jr. high age, something would set us off and all our pent up laughter would come bursting out in loud guffaws: gasping, tear-squeezing, body-wracking sobs of laughter.  Slowly we decelerated and calmed down until one glance set off more horse laughs.  By the time we settled down we couldn’t even remember what was so funny.

What is weird about those episodes is that they happened around our table. Suppression was never an option. No one else understood us but they got a good entertainment package from our shtick. 

The most wicked laughter is the illicit kind.  Laughter that is wildly inappropriate is the funniest. And it’s even wilder if the source of amusement is mutually understood by less than three people. 

Let me assert a long-neglected truth
that nothing binds two people together
 like a history of illicit laughter.

My friend Ilene and I bobbled our way through my dad’s sermon at Bible camp when we were nine. When he spoke about a conjunction saying thank God for that but, we heard thank God for that butt. I still remember my pathetic attempts to disguise the laughter into sneezing, coughing, tears of repentance, anything but laughter. 

My  most humiliating episode took place with my sister-in-law at our niece’s wedding.  Our nephew thrust a camera into her hand moments before the ceremony began with a request to take pictures.  The camera had a mystifying delay on the trigger and as attendants processed, Karyl Lynn missed each beautiful bridesmaid, ending up with photos of an empty aisle.  Horrified at muffing every single shot, she planned to get the entire wedding party while they stood at the front. 

She clicked. 

“Let us pray,” intoned the preacher. A twinkle of silence sat suspended in the air.

Then the bewitched camera began a loud rewinding. Aghast, my sister-in-law shoved the camera under her thigh. That only seemed to amplify the clicking and clacking. 

And off we went.  Two middle-aged woman shaking, shivering, shambling with laughter. 

After the prayer, my brother, her husband, stood up for Scripture reading.  He put on his pastor’s voice and began the reading when he noticed our ridiculous posture: hands over our mouths, over our eyes, vibrating, pulsing, out-of-control.  It was all he could do not to check his fly.  We came close to landing this massive laughter, when he sat back down and muttered What is going on?, effectively relaunching that airship. 

I am truly ashamed to admit that we laughed through the entire ceremony.  Amidst the throes I knew I needed to rein it in, find composure.  But we played off each other; every time we grabbed three quick sighs and a slow cleansing breath, the other would release a tiny snicker which was jet engine fuel.     

After the ceremony the bride and groom acted as ushers greeting friends as they left their pews.  The bride looked at me quizzically and asked, Aunt Carol were you laughing or crying?  I’ll explain it one day, I promised.

Marriage is a Wood Stove

  :: for Katie ::
Metaphors for marriage abound. 
Marriage is a harbor. 
Marriage is a garden. 
Marriage is a meal. 
Your choice of metaphor reveals your perception: if you say marriage is a lottery, or an anchor, or a wastebasket…

Because marriage is so textured and complex, and because God gave us a a creation chock full of pictures, we can amuse ourselves for a lifetime thinking about marriage metaphors. 
Marriage is a ballet (lift and stretch and twirl).
Marriage is a fugue (blending counterpoints brings harmony). 
Marriage is Crêpes Suzette (a little zest, a flame and a lot of nibbles). 
Marriage is a tile roof (beauty built to last).
Marriage is a barn raising (effort from the community around makes a difference).

Here in the Shire, many people heat with wood.  They understand when I say marriage is a wood stove.

What, essentially, is a wood stove?  It is a box that holds fire.  It is a container.  The fire doesn’t run hither and yon, wherever it wills; it is a controlled burn.  This brings safety, security and peace of mind.

A wood stove provides heat for living; in the past, it provided heat for cooking.  It is a means of warmth and sustenance.  But it is more than utility: a ginnin’ wood stove is pure comfort on a cold day.

The stove won’t heat without work.  Wood needs to be cut, split and stacked; a fire must be kindled; it needs to be fed.  Constantly.  If you leave the stove alone for a day, the fire goes out.  Ashes need to be removed; air needs to be present for a good draft, the door needs to be shut to conserve the fuel.  If smoky irritants start billowing out, it is time to attend to the fire.

When a fire burns in a stove, a chemical reaction takes place.  The composition of the wood is unalterably changed.  Marriage does that.  It changes you.  Even when the marriage ends by death or divorce, you do not revert back to the person you were before marriage. 

Fire is powerful.  A relatively small stove can heat a large space.  Being faithful in the small daily acts has huge ramifications. 

A warm wood stove becomes a community magnet.  If a group of people walk in from the cold, they congregate around the warm stove, basking in the warmth and comfort.  A warm marriage does the same thing: it attracts people.  When you respect and admire your husband, and when he respects and cherishes you, you are warming your community.  Your marriage is the gospel on display.  The inverse is also true.  When you give your husband the cold shoulder more than one person feels the chill.  Folks won’t huddle around a cold stove. 

Fire is dangerous and wild.  A wood stove presents a very clear and present danger to young ones.  When we had toddlers my husband built a fence to protect them from getting burned.  The marriage covenant is that fence.  A healthy respect of the danger and a healthy thrill of the wild are both appropriate.

Fire is a thing of vibrant beauty: blue, red, and yellow flames, brown and green wood, black smudgy coals, white ash.  As it burns it changes outfits and takes on new shapes.

Finally, a fire is a profound mystery.  How does does fuel + air + combustion make a flame that flickers and dances and curls around the coals? Fire mesmerizes, makes you stare and wonder and marvel.  When the fire burns in a marriage, we stare at the sparks and gasp at the glory.

I wish you a warm wood stove, one that radiates grace.  May the Lord God Almighty who ignited the flame between husband and wife, keep your fire bright.

Wedding Journal, Katie and Jeff

Photo by Abbey B.

It all started with Scott McDonald.  We were lingering after a meal in the home of our dear friends, Jack and Lisa.  This was before Facebook, but you could say we were giving extended status updates.  “So when you pray for a wife for me,” he paused, wrinkling his eyebrow, “and I hope you are praying….?”   Umm.  Well.  To be honest, no? — were my thoughts. 

“We’ll get right on it!” I replied.  Other than my own kids (I grew up in a tradition where you prayed for your kid’s spouses from the get go), I wasn’t in the habit of petitioning God regarding spouses for friends.  Scott got me started on a journey of prayer that has some incredible vistas. 

And there was no magic involved.  We prayed and we waited.  After some time Scott introduced this beauty to me and I blurted out, “You are the answer to my prayers!”  And I wept through his wedding, overwhelmed at God’s kindness to our friend.

Scott and his wife had a daughter.  By this time Katie had entered into our (Scott’s family’s and our family’s) lives.  And daughter #1 started praying every night, “and please, God, bring Katie a husband.”  Daughter # 2 joined the family and joined the petition.  Daughter # 3 climbed into the circle and chimed in.  Daughter # 4 made a chorus. Katie’s deal with daughter #1 (you pray me a husband, I make you a flower girl) was grandfathered in to all four daughters.  (They were joined by two nieces by blood, two nieces by love for what we called a Flower Girl Bouquet.)

Photo by Abbey B.

We prayed and we waited.  And we found ourselves, at last!, celebrating The Wedding.  All the waiting distilled our joy into a fragrant essence. 

The wedding day began with worship.  Our congregation doubled with visiting family and friends.  From the opening hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, to the final Doxology the music soared. Our singing is normally solid and robust, but on Sunday it was a freight train! Singing the final verse of For All the Saints with folks from far lands was an amazing experience.

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The main focus for Katie and Jeff is community.  The membership, as Wendell Berry puts it.  The day was chosen so as many people could make it to a hard-to-get-there location.  This was challenging, as their people span the globe.  Four generations of family were there to witness the vows.  The joy of a wedding is that, like a tablecloth gathered after a picnic, it brings together all the disparate but not disjoined parts of two lives and bundles them together.  All the guests felt the blessing it was to be bundled together in such a lovely group.

Photo by Dan H.

Music marinated every surface of the celebration.  There was the formal music of the ceremony: organ/piano duets; Children of the Heavenly Father; a small choir singing Non Nobis Domine with piano and organ.  Katie came down the aisle to Beethoven’s Pathethique sonata arranged with a Doxology.  First-class musicians saturated the reception with great performances.  No DJ necessary, thank you very much!

Photo by Brian B.

Because words are so important to both Jeff and Katie, it is no shock that a tide of good words–benedictions –flowed back and forth.   Blessings and thanksgivings, tears of joy and appreciation, great abounding love.

Laughter shellacked the festivities. The congregation laughed aloud when the kiss ended…and began again!  We laughed as the couple left to the strains of young Meredith singing, “Hit the road, Jeff…” 

Happy sigh.  It was a richly celebrated wedding.  To quote Eric Bibb, “Joy is my wine, love is my food, sweet gratitude the air I breathe.”

Wedding Journal for July


I love weddings, I do. 

Where else do you get to fling flowers up in the air?   There is something glorious about a celebration, dressing up, taking vows, sharing food, taking pictures.  In the casualization (made that word up!) of our culture we find ourselves with very little ceremony in our lives. Besides it’s jolly good fun!  It takes a lot of work, but the rewards are wonderful.

Last week’s wedding was unique for us: my husband was the officiant!  The groom has been our friend since 1981 and he wanted the person tying the knot to be personally connected.


Have you seen a Unity Sand ceremony?  The bride and groom pour their sand into a common vessel, a visual representation of oneness of the couple.


Blessings, our friends, on your marriage.

Wedding Journal

I love a good wedding.  Our dear Jackie married Zack; it was a day of soaring highlights, re-connections and robust celebration .  Zack and Jackie, ahem!, met in my Shurley Grammar class.  They spent another year with me studying Shakespeare.  Here is a journal of my reflections.

::  The attendants were all related to the bride and groom.  There were more guys than gals, so the procession included the seating of the mothers and grandmothers.  It was wonderful to have all the close family included in the official beginning of the wedding.

::   You know music is important to me.  The entire family/wedding party came down the aisle to Non Nobis Domine (Not to us, O Lord, but to Your Name give the glory) from Henry V. If you listen to the link, the bride made her entrance around 2:35 where the orchestral fanfare builds.  I watched–through a cataract of tears–my people (son, daughter-in-law, grandsons, dear friends) process past me.  I will never listen to Non Nobis again without thinking of a radiant bride smiling at the man she loves.

::  Black Chocolate Wranglers.  There are benefits to marrying a cowboy.

::   It was a large wedding, ~ 500 guests.  The bride’s family emptied their barn and made it suitable for a celebration.  (look at the picture below…coming out of my husband’s ear is a chandelier made out of wagon wheels) Family and friends pitched in to set up, decorate, cook food, iron tablecloths, pull weeds, serge fabric, and park cars.  It was such a joy to be able to help a family who are normally the helpers. 


Papa (Curt) and Preston

::  My role in this wedding was to bribe our exhausted grandson to be quiet with M & Ms.  My husband coached my attempts in a whisper.  Not so fast!  Give him another one.  Wait a little longer.  See if he wants water.  He’s going to throw up, he’s had so many.  After we got him in a sugar coma, he fell asleep on Papa’s shoulder in two seconds.  Yay!  We achieved our goal.

::  Generational blessing.  Every decade in life was represented in the room full of guests.  Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles: extended family were abundant.  Babies, babies everywhere!  There were easily thirty pregnant moms and fifty babes in arms.  Have I said what a blessing it is to be part of a community that loves and values children?

People and realms of every tongue
dwell on his love with sweetest song;
and infant voices shall proclaim
their early blessings on his name.

::   I glanced to the back and saw Carson, Johann, and Jamie standing–bouncing, rocking–with babes in arms and Leah next to them standing with her arms resting on her pregnant belly.  All these kids were in my classes.  They spent endless hours playing flashlight tag, snowboarding, eating pizza and talking about life.  Now they live hundreds of miles apart.  A sob of gratitude bubbled up.  Look at them! 

::   My son’s toast to the bride and groom, paraphrased:  “Let’s go back twelve years to my mom’s grammar class. That was when you and me met Jackie and Jessie (you and I, I correct him from the audience…500 people roar).  You didn’t care much about Shakespeare, but taking my mom’s class meant more time around Jackie the following year.  After that you both went in different directions, but eventually two couples got married from that class.  So Mom, you thought you were teaching us Shakespeare, but in fact you were doing premarital counseling! …