Thursday, December 31, 2009


I had the most remarkable day of my life last weekend.

I got married. Obviously that’s a big day in anyone’s life. But at this point in my journey, in my mid-forties, with five kids, a wedding takes on a completely different meaning. Of course there’s the basic premise - a commitment to a man, the beginning of doing life together as a couple, incorporating another adult into our family dynamic. The general stuff that comes with getting married remains the same.

But we had a wedding - a celebration, a party, an event - and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

When we began to talk about actually moving forward, taking this step, having a ceremony, I approached our discussion thinking that we’d do something very simple. After all, I’d obviously done this before. So had he. We had kids in the mix. We were adults. The need to celebrate ourselves seemed a bit superfluous. I thought we’d do something small, intimate - maybe even just take a trip to the county courthouse and avoid all the pomp completely.

There’s so much to process after a failed marriage; so many things that a mother feels like she owes her children, because so much was taken from them. It seems pretentious and self-serving to think about celebrating a new marriage. I couldn’t help but think about the kids and how a big party to celebrate this new union might impact or hurt them.

I think, actually, that I felt as though we should just hide, just sneak a little wedding ceremony under the radar.

But he had different ideas. He encouraged me to think big, to dream a bit, and after some discussion and releasing my inhibitions about something so self-centered, I began to explore the idea of having a party. And I realized that I really wanted to do just that - to celebrate, to rejoice, to stand up and loudly declare that something amazing had happened in my life, to forcefully declare my intentions. I wanted to create a beautiful, memorable day.

The past eight years have been so much about my choices - right or wrong, I have deliberately chosen one path or another, and I’ve dealt with the consequences. Having looked back over the last 40+ years of my life, I’d have to say that I finally grew up over the past eight years. I know who I am, and I’ve realized - finally - that I don’t have to apologize for that. My calling is to “walk straight, act right and tell the truth”.

And so, a few phone calls were made, a date was chosen, and things began to miraculously fall into place. In three months’ time, we planned a wedding - a party - and all that came with it.

I thought the day would never arrive - and then, when it did, it flew by way too fast. I can truthfully say that I enjoyed every single moment. About 30 minutes before we were to begin, all the girls were gathered in our dressing room - a mad mess of underwear and flowers and curling irons and hairspray, with my veil hanging off the light fixture - and I found myself in an amazing state of calm. No anxiety, no worries, no stress at all. I was, in a word, ready.

We have relived the day over and over, relished the mental pictures, tried to describe how we felt and what we experienced. It was remarkable and memorable. But three specific things stick out for me, because they were so unexpected. And the unexpected moments, I know, are the ones that really matter.

See, to some degree, I plan events for a living. Each week, I work to put together a Sunday experience that is scripted to honor a unique process with the intention of creating a memorable and important spiritual result. A wedding is sort of like that as well. We had scripted everything as best we could - we had a “felt need” (Tony and Beth want to get married!) and a “desired outcome” (Tony and Beth get married and all their guests have a wonderful time!) and we’d included some elements that we believed would make it memorable and sacred. The right people were in place - our families, who played important roles in everything that happened. We had a timeline and an order, and everything went according to plan.

But just like in the weekly gatherings that we plan when we seek to encounter the holy and divine in corporate worship, God showed up. I had a very specific, personal experience, and undoubtedly others experienced something completely different. But for me, there were three moments that took my breath away. Unscripted, they were reminders for me of how life itself can take you by surprise when you simply make space and time to notice.

First, I came down the aisle alone. This was deliberate, reflective of my choice and my decision, a statement of intention and independence. I entered into this marriage as a choice for me, rather than any desire to please or placate anyone else or any other expectations. I came to meet this man on my own. When I arrived, however, I found myself surrounded by men - five men whose impact on my life has been undeniable and irreplaceable.

As I reached the front row, I took the arm of my father, and my eldest son came to stand beside me as well. Supported on each side by the two men whose blood I shared, I stood before Brian, who has been my pastor, my friend, a creative partner, a counselor, an accountability partner, and a man who has allowed me to grow to a place of trust and understanding. Beside Brian stood my brother, whose lifelong presence in my life has brought friendship, inspiration, and the simplest, most definitive unconditional love I have ever given or received. My father on my left, who loves Tony like a son. Daniel on my right, my young man, almost as tall as me - my first son, the one promised and named by God’s whisper in my heart. And on the other side of Daniel stood Tony, the man to whom I would pledge my faithfulness and love.

There we stood. Most of us were crying. And I felt so surrounded and supported by these men, whose lives I have seen into to the degree that I understand and appreciate both their strengths and their weaknesses. I am a better person - so much closer to the woman God has created me to be - because of the presence of these men in my life. I cannot imagine my life without these men woven throughout. It was a moment I will not forget, an Ebenezer moment testifying to something deep and solid and healing in my soul.

Second: After the ceremony ended, we took a few photos and then proceeded out of the room. Most of the guests had already moved downstairs into the Rotunda, where the jazz piano music flowed and folks were eating, drinking and mingling. As I moved towards the railing and looked down, my breath caught in my throat. There were all of our friends. I had not seen anyone in the room during the ceremony - I only had eyes for the groom - but now, suddenly, I realized that all these people had come to celebrate with us! There was Karen and Mike and their girls; there was Mary Elizabeth, and Jeff and Nancy clear from Nashville, and Kelley and Brian. There was Chauncey and Christine and Alana. Christian was there, looking dapper as usual. I saw Ric and Betty and Hayley and Lisa and Jeff and all of them, all dressed to the nines, looking beautiful, and I was overwhelmed. A wave of gratitude washed over me, rich and resplendent with the grace of fellowship and community.

Third: We planned three dances, one for ourselves, and then one each with our respective parent. We practiced and planned for weeks, but in the moment I forgot every step and we ended up laughing our way through those first moments of our dance. Keeping with tradition, I had a dance planned with my father, and I’d chosen an old family favorite - Willie Nelson singing “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain”. My dad’s musical phases had impacted me greatly, and when we’d moved from Pennsylvania to Texas in 1976, he fell in love with Waylon and Willie and Jerry Jeff and we got a huge dose of outlaw music for several years. Just last year we saw Willie at the National in Richmond, and I thought it would be a meaningful moment.

Just a bit of back story here; my dad suffered a stroke about five years ago, and though his recovery has been miraculous, he is, in some ways, a different man than he was before the stroke. Though his physical healing has been remarkable, he still struggles with his balance at times. Quite frankly, I did not anticipate that our dance would be much more than a bit of a shuffle, a few moments to celebrate for the sake of tradition.

We moved to the dance floor and the song started and we shuffled along for a few bars. Dad muttered, “Let me see...just let me remember this....”

And then we began to dance. The Texas two-step, in perfect time. My dad moved me across the dance floor - me in my wedding gown, on this incredible day marking the most definitive moment of my mid-life journey - and we danced. Dad has always been a good dancer, and in that moment, he was exactly that. No simple homage to tradition, we were literally dancing, and I was in the arms of the first man who ever loved me, feeling every bit a princess.

Enthused by the cheers of the crowd, Dad ceremoniously pulled off his jacket, and then his tie, and - like the Clyde of years past, who would do anything for a laugh - he made like he was going to strip it all off. Our friends cheered and laughed, and we finished the three minutes of Willie’s mournful tune. I walked back to my seat astounded and overwhelmed, overcome with the realization that, for the length of a song, I’d been dancing with the man I’d known all my life.

It’s difficult to plan a wedding and not realize, time and time again, that these events are generally designed for the young, for those still moving towards figuring out who they’ll be and what they’ll do. Vows to honor and cherish are the doorway to an entire lifetime when you’re twenty-six years old and close to the beginning point of everything. When you’re forty-seven, this commitment means something entirely different, knowing that you’re past the promise and looking towards what comes as our lives wind inextricably towards the latter days.

But for me, regardless of the lines on my face or the gray in my hair, I discovered the great gift of grace, culminating in the celebration of a promise that intend to live out for the remainder of my days. And this day - my wedding day - felt like a new beginning, a fresh start, with layers of youthful anticipation for the future. It was an incredible, beautiful day; all that I have never dreamed of, because I never knew enough to dream such things for myself. I was happier than I have ever been. I am still glowing today.

I will never forget, which is the way it ought to be.


susan said...

welcome back. if you had stood around last sunday morning and listened to the many conversations going on at church, there was one major theme...last nite was the best wedding I(we) have ever attended. over and over this was THE phrase and expression voiced by so many.

was it because we all do community together and so we knew each other? was it because we all love tony and beth so it was special? everyone has their own, no matter what the present is, for a season, i walked through so much of those first years with you and that made it very special to me. additionally, it was because i so heard the truth in brian's words when he talked about tony and his love for the brawley FAMILY.

i am truly happy for all of you and wish you more happiness than you can ever imagine!

Hope said...

Congratulations! This was beautiful to read.

KGMom said...

Oh Beth--this is so sweet, so touching, so perfect.
And congrats--so glad this celebration has graced your life.
God blessings, and many years together--that's my prayer for you both.

Kelley said...

My Dear Friend... Mrs. Tony Stoddard... This is THE best blog YOU have ever written. I have so much to say....I am actually overwhelmed! Me! First, I love all of you SO much and ditto all the great words Susan said above. Secondly, I want to steal from you in many areas suddenly: A)your line from the blog: "we had a wedding, a celebration". I am so thankful that YOUR day got to be OUR day. In the midst of the ashes, He still gives us so many gifts. For having Brian by my side and being here for your day... was a dream come true for me. To see YOU have your dream come true. I will never forget your face when you started down the aisle.
B) I want to steal some of your ideas for the wedding...especially the part about Daniel being at your side..but half-way, because this is YOUR (my) decision ONLY! And I loved the family part during the service, too...
Thirdly, God WAS there. No doubt. Enough said.
Fourthly, I am VERY jealous of your dance with your Dad. And SO thankful he recovered and had such a special moment with his 'little girl'.
Fifthly, this is long enough, this blog made me cry. REAL REAL tears. And now Brian is making me stop reading cause he can't stand my tears! ;O) xoxoxo

kim said...

Beth. I'm not sure which is more beautiful, the event you're describing or the way you've described it. The combination is overwhelming. I, too, am crying crying crying as I read this. What a beautiful testament to what it means to be a strong woman following after God, recognizing the treasure in the people she loves.

THANK YOU for writing this.

Barbara said...

Oh Beth,
I am so happy to see you married to Tony, at long last! Just stopped through to see if I could catch a glimpse of you two. Congratulations and many blessings to you and family.
Dancing on the ceiling!

Lori said...

Wow Beth! Just wow! What a wonderful memory. What a blessing. Oh, to dance with your father... on such a day.... joy.
thanks for sharing this beautiful story... it made my heart happy!