Only the Lord could take one day of heart-breaking tragedy, combine it with another day of anticipated joy, and transform it into a time of overflowing grace and beauty.
The day of tragic sorrow occurred less than three months ago when we too abruptly lost Jon, the husband of my wife's sister. The day of expected joy was Saturday, when his daughter, Kimby, was married.
As Kimby and her groom Andre had desired, and Jon and Jennifer had agreed, the wedding took place in the wooded setting of their home. The day was a gorgeous one, with low humidity and the late afternoon sun shining yet shaded by the tall pines overhead, a breeze gently rustling through them. Large tables with round built-on seats, ones that Jon had secured months in advance for this occasion, were set on the various levels of the deck and yard. Each one was simply yet elegantly decorated with wood slab chargers (Jon's idea) holding brightly colored cloth napkins; rich bouquets of a variety of orange and peach colored roses and ranunculuses filled the centers of the tables. The sand volleyball court, the scene of innumerable outdoor games, now served as the sanctuary, with tons of fine sand hauled in by Jon's friends offering a smooth and cooling floor. Wooden chairs were in neat lines, forming a waiting aisle down the middle. They faced the naturally decorated front of this outdoor chapel, where various sized small logs were set on their ends, many with hollowed tops holding similar flower arrangements as the tables. As friends and family were seated, the conversation became more muted and reverent as the time approached.
Each part of the day gave quiet testimony both to Jon's absence and his remaining influence. As the music started and grandparents then parents came down the aisle, the quiet pain was evident as Jennifer took her seat alone. After the wedding party made their way to the front, we stood as Kimby came beaming down the steps of the deck and onto the sand, escorted by Papa, her grandfather. Jennifer's chin quivered and tears fell down the cheeks of her watching sisters and others of us as she responded affirmatively to the pastor's question on giving her blessing to the marriage. Kimby's sister Alyssa, ever the wedding photographer, was a mobile bridesmaid, snapping picture after picture through her own tears and smiles. The minister spoke from Jeremiah 17:7-8 regarding the couple's need to abide in Christ so they could grow in strength, even in the midst of adversity, like the trees all around us. As we sang together, Kimby left her groom's side for a moment to play on the keyboard, and we testified of the Lord's grace. When it came time for the pronouncement and kiss, colored confetti fell upon the couple, thrown from the hands of their smiling bridesmaids and groomsmen.
Photo courtesy of Alyssa McElheny
During the reception, Alyssa and her younger sister, Carlie, gave a tribute both to Kimby and their mom and dad. With humor and grace, they spoke lovingly of their sister and parents, painting vivid mental pictures of the happy memories of childhood and family. No one listening could keep their eyes dry, as between the intermittent laughter you could hear the sniffling as hearts were being touched. The display of true joy and a trusting sadness, with no hint of bitterness, gave glory to the Lord that has saved this family and preserved it from despair. After much toasting and eating, exuberant dancing followed, and then the evening ended with Andre and Kimby sent off through guests lining their path with sparklers held overhead.
I have been to many weddings, but none like this one. Yes, this one was outside and was beautiful beyond my ability to describe it. But that is not why, though certainly the surrounding scenery did frame the uniqueness of this wedding. Every wedding has joy, but this one was marked with a special, reverent type. For we celebrated last weekend feeling the loving sacrifices Jon had made for his family and the acute pain we have in him not being here. And though everyone of us wished it did not have to be this way, we must also say that our hurting hearts experienced, in the midst of the brokenness, the presence and grace of Jesus ministering to us.
Being at this wedding makes me long for the other Wedding that is coming. What a day that will be! Set in a beautiful garden, every one of his chosen ones will be there. None will be missing. And we will experience the presence of the Lamb in new ways as he wipes these tears from our eyes.