August 8, 2008

The Beginning of Forever

Category: News — Ira @ 6:41 pm


These times are so uncertain.
There’s a yearning undefined,
And people filled with rage.
We all need a little tenderness.
How can love survive, in such a graceless age?

–Don Henley, lyrics: The Heart of the Matter

Eight years ago, a small crowd of guests gathered at a beautiful little wedding chapel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Quaint, cute, rustic and almost impossibly small, the chapel sat nestled in the remote and wooded hills a few miles outside of town.

They had decided this would be the simplest way. To get married. Leave town, tell their friends and family, and let come who may. Rent a chapel, rent the preacher. No fuss, no hassle, no six months of all the strain and stress and planning almost universally associated with weddings.

They were both independent. Had lived on their own. He was a bit older. Both were transplants in the area where they lived. People would have to travel anyway to get there. Besides, neither of their sets of parents would attend their wedding. That made the decision easier. Get out of town. Get it done. Then return.

And so the plans were made. And the date set. Friday, August 4, 2000. Twenty days before his 39th birthday. She located the chapel and made the calls. Planned the details. He shuffled about and tried to stay out of the way, emerging when needed, clutching his credit card to make the necessary reservations.

The date approached. Their excitement grew. Especially hers. He was more even-keeled, stoic. He had been comfortable on his own. He’d always figured he wouldn’t marry until he met that one exceptional woman. If she never came, he wouldn’t worry about it. He was pretty happy as he was.

Then he met her. And they hit it off. Had a lot in common. Both had emerged from plain backgrounds, and all the drama associated with such a journey. Both possessed that unquantifiable inner strength needed to really break away. And both had.

Less than a year after they met, he proposed. Asked her to marry him. She said yes.

They packed her car and headed out the day before the wedding. Drove south. After a full day’s drive, they arrived in Tennessee. And the house rented by his brother and nephews for the occasion. A great party ensued, with much celebration.

The wedding day dawned. Beautiful, clear, cloudless. They rushed about in final preparation. Drove to the courthouse and picked up their marriage license. Back to the house. Then to the chapel. The service would be at four that afternoon.

They met the pastor, a slight elderly man with a shock of gray hair, dressed in a long black robe. He carefully wrote down their names, and they chose the vows they would use. She then disappeared into her dressing room with her bridesmaids. He would not see her again until she walked the aisle toward him.

The groom retired to his dressing room. Donned a new black suit. New shoes. New shirt. And a new tie, trimmed in black and gold and burgundy. He swore he would never wear the tie again after the wedding, but always keep it as a memento of that day.

Guests arrived and wandered into the little chapel and seated themselves. About eighty in all. His siblings. Her siblings. A few friends. But not their parents. They refused to attend such a worldly affair. Or bless the union. Thereby releasing the equivalent of a curse instead.

And then it was time. The elderly pastor led the groom and his attendants through the little door in the rear of the chapel. The pastor stood behind the podium. The groom to his left, the groomsmen spread to either side.

The music started. Their little nieces walked up first, carrying baskets. Spreading silk flower petals along the aisle. Then the bridesmaids, one by one.

The wedding march. All rose and turned, their eyes glued to the door. And she entered, a vision in white, a wisp of white veiling obscuring her lovely face. Her older brother by her side. They walked up slowly and stood before the pastor.

“Who gives this woman to be married?” he intoned dramatically.

“Her family and I do,” her brother answered almost inaudibly.

She stepped up onto the little platform and faced the groom. They held each other’s hands. Looked into each other’s eyes.

The pastor had performed a thousand such little ceremonies. For people he never saw before or since. With practiced ease, he opened with a prayer, then read a short passage from the love chapter, I Cor. 13. His calm voice rumbled through the tiny chapel. He then turned his attention to the excited, eager couple before him.

He addressed the bride. Love your husband. Meet him at the end of each day with a smile. Comfort and encourage him as a man. The man. Your man. Be true to each other.

And then the groom. Honor and love your wife. Look to her as you did during your courtship days. Let not sorrow cloud her brow or her eyes be dimmed with tears.

They exchanged vows. Slipped the rings on each other’s hands. By the power vested in him by the state of Tennessee, and before God, the pastor pronounced them husband and wife. Together they lit the large unity candle as Michael W. Smith sang her favorite song.

The pastor then presented them to the assembled guests as husband and wife. And they walked out as such. Received accolades and congratulations from their friends. The entire service lasted nineteen minutes.

After the reception, during which everyone was amply fed, a group of their friends escorted them to a nearby nightclub for champagne and dancing. In the glitz of the nightclub lights, they laughed and celebrated with uninhibited exuberance.

As the night hours slipped away, they held each other close and slow-danced across the gleaming hardwood floor in the soft strobing lights. Their futures, their entire lives, lay before them. Together from this day.

They knew they would grow old together. That God’s gentle hand would reach down and touch them, and bless their lives with children. That they would live to see their children grow. That their sons would be as plants grown up in their youth and walk the land, tall and strong and confident. That their daughters would be as corner stones, and bring them great joy and honor.

That they would live lives rich and full of years. Until that inevitable hour when death called one of them away. And separated them.

This they knew. In their hearts.

As they danced the hours away on that enchanted, magical night.

Earlier this year, I read a book someone gave me. Written by Rob Bell, a pastor who has authored several best sellers. At the end of the final chapter, Rob described a wedding ceremony he conducted years ago in an open pasture one summer day. The simplest of ceremonies, with only a few guests.

Both the bride and the groom had been previously married, and both carried tons of baggage into this one. Rob described how after the ceremony, the couple walked up to the top of a nearby hill. Just the two of them, carrying two white balloons. There they paused, then together released them into the skies. Watched as the balloons floated higher and higher, then disappeared. A symbol of all the crap, all the pain and bad decisions, all the sins from their pasts. Now released forever and carried away. So they could start a new life together.

Rob wrote that the scene is seared forever in his mind. I got a lump in my throat just reading his powerful imagery.

Could it only have been that simple. Of course, it wasn’t. Symbolism alone, however profound, proves little. And means little. A few short years later, the couple’s lives lay in shambles. Their marriage had deteriorated. They separated. Then divorced.

Rob’s conclusion: Life gets messy. It’s risky to take chances.

I concur. It does. And is.

He closed by writing that we can recover from anything. That God can pick up the pieces and mend shattered lives. Can put anything, and anyone, back together. That one should not build walls and close off access to the life that is there for the taking. And the joy. That He wants us to have.

Again, I concur. What he wrote is true. Without any doubt.

This I know. In my head.

But not yet in my heart.



  1. Hello Ira,

    Only God knows, and those who’ve run the same path. Your writing this week pulls at anyone’s heart who has been touched by such.

    How I wish you God’s blessings…..Do you really believe that He works all things after the counsel of HIS own will? That it’s all for our good?? Always only in love?

    Oh my, I only know from what I’ve seen, but yes I really believe that God restores the years the canker worm ate.

    But I believe we are our own worst enemy, we are SO proud, no one is going to tell me what to do, we’re wimps if we admit we’re wrong. Oh, how the enemy feeds us lies.

    Anyhow, you know all that STUFF…But I want you to know I care a lot, and really do wish you God’s blessings.

    We blame ourselves, and a lot of times we are to blame. But then, where is the “Soveriegn Reign” of God? Well, I would love to chat face to face about such things. I can’t give you answers to life’s problems. But I’m convinced that God has chosen our path for our good, and when we even do the right thing, it’s only because of His grace. Not because of any goodness in us.

    Love in Him,

    Comment by Anonymous — August 9, 2008 @ 11:35 pm

  2. Ira,

    It’s funny, but I save your entries for every Monday when I need a little pick-me-up.

    Today not so much.

    You made me reflect on my own marriage and how we almost did the same 12 years ago- that is marrying in Cades Cove (Sept 21). We opted to stay in Lancaster County. Unfortunately the end result is the same.

    In 58 days, that union will be a memory.

    I haven’t shown my face too much, it’s hard.

    Thanks for your honest thoughts.

    Best wishes.

    You’ll see me around again soon.

    Comment by Sally — August 11, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  3. Reflecting on comment 1, I simply note a slightly different view (still God-honoring) propounded in Greg Boyd’s Is God to Blame? which frames the question by including the very real factors of human sin and spiritual malice, which grieve even the heart of God.

    I had purposed not to comment at all, as prayer and friendship sometimes accomplish more than words.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — August 14, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

  4. Few thots….

    There are a lot of factors that enter into the ‘all things work together for good’ principal.

    That promise is not to the world in general, nor to those on the wide gate/broad road, nor to the ‘many/many’ that are doing all kinds of wonderful works in His name only to hear the words, “Depart from me…for I never knew you, nor to the wayside/stony/thorny ground, but only to the few who are on the narrow road…who are the ‘good ground’.

    [And..i am NOT saying who is what….simply pointing out that there are many, many that are laying claim to this promise, when it never pertains to them. My purpose is not to aim this at ANYONE, as such, but to just give some food for thot. I always keep in mind that if one points a finger…there are 3 pointing back at them!]

    If we read the rest of the context of the promise, [Ro 8] it is to those that that love God…[surely ‘with ALL their heart/soul/mind/strength/understanding’ would be a qualifier…?] and are the “called according to His purpose”.

    It goes on to say, to those that are…foreknown/predestinated/called/justified/glorified/elected.
    Those aren’t my words…that is what is written.

    We have to include, in our picture, the realization that the hearts of mankind can be broken down into 4 basic types of ground.


    Stony and thorny ground have spiritual LIFE…for a while, but will lose out because of various reasons, amongst which are the cares/pleasures/riches of this world. These things simply ‘choke’ the Word, ‘keeping them from becoming FRUITFUL’…or ‘causing them to become UNFRUITFUL’.

    Is the promise to them?

    Then we also have the wide gate/broad road vs the strait gate/narrow road scenario picture to think about.

    This shows that many…many…are professing that they love and are serving God…prophesying in His name, doing wonderful works in His name, even casting out devils in His name, but in the end He will say, ‘Depart from me’.

    And, i would add, being on the broad road vs the narrow road has nothing to do with adhering to man made rules/standard/audning…

    We could say; the wide gate/broad road folks consist of the MANY MANY that are doing wonderful works in His name,and who are the wayside/stony/thorny ground.

    The few that find life….are those on the narrow road/good ground.
    It is to THOSE that this promise is made….whoever THAT may be!

    MOST folks amongst Christianity spend their time laboring in behalf of the ‘wide gate/broad road’ scenario.
    Getting/keeping folks on this road…is NOT laboring for Him.

    Laboring for the cause of whatever the ‘strait gate/narrow road’ pictures, is working for Him!

    We are living in some very deceptive times!

    Just something to think about…

    Comment by Fritz — August 19, 2008 @ 9:09 pm

  5. I know all too well you don’t desire pity and you sure don’t need anyone’s well intentioned advice. But do know, that this entry just made my heart ache.

    Comment by sms — August 22, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

  6. Ira

    I have your name on my prayer board beside the door of my office and I pray for you on a pretty regular basis. I pray for your pain and that the good Lord will bless you in a mighty way.

    I cried for you when I read this post.

    Comment by Bob — November 23, 2008 @ 1:04 am

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