I might have winced when the young couple seated before me, late in our long pre-marital counseling session, confidently asserted how many children they are going to have and exactly when. Perhaps it didn't help that I share a name with the bride and that, at that moment, I had given up our over three year struggle to conceive and didn't know that we would ever have a child. (And yes, singular, because though I once declared in pre-marital counseling that we would likely birth two and possibly adopt two, that had been "the plan" since childhood afterall, I had come to a place of just wanting ONE. Please Lord, one.) But my wincing wasn't just about our story, it was about all the stories I've heard over the past several years. Have you ever noticed that until you experience something you don't especially notice it, but once you've experienced it it is everywhere? Rather like when you're trying to buy a house, you notice "for sale" signs everywhere you look. Well, I don't mean that I now saw infertility everywhere, I saw fertility everywhere, and, in particular, the lack of control that accompanies fertility for ALL WOMEN. I started to notice that the pain of women who conceive too easily is a close cousin to the pain of women who struggle to conceive. I started to notice how many people all around me had suffered miscarriages or had frightening complications with pregnancies. Where I once had "plans" about my own fertility, if I've learned anything over the past several years it is that it is all a great mystery over which none of us has any meaningful control and somehow I wanted this eager young couple to know that too. It may have been a protective impulse. It may have been a projection. I was gentle. I just said a few words about holding our dreams lightly and realizing matters of fertility are a great mystery. They seemed to understand. They didn't seem overly troubled. But later I wondered if I had said too much.
They're getting married today. I am in a motel room because the wedding is over an hour away and I knew that staying up here would not only save gas it would save energy- something I need as I near the end of this first trimester and say goodbye to a congregation I've grown to love. They chose a lovely outdoor location for their ceremony, probably about a year and a half ago. There are plans that the bride will approach the ceremony by boat with her father. She has been fretting for, oh, about a year and a half, about the possibility of rain. I know another bride who shares her name who fretted for a year and a half about the possibility of rain on her lovely outdoor wedding plans. And the weather today... down pour. Maybe it will let up by 2, but it has been raining for hours. They already modified their plans to an only sort of outdoor arrangement, but they were holding out hope for the boat. For goodness sake, they're getting married at a boat museum. There needs to be a boat. But... it might not happen. Already a lesson about things we can't control. And I picture myself in the upstairs room of the lodge at the camp where we got married, looking out the window as the rain started and stopped and started and stopped and as men in tuxes, my groom among them moved chairs inside and outside, inside and outside again. And there I was in my gorgeous dress, feeling helpless and useless and, for a moment, forlorn. I don't know where today's bride is at the moment, but I suspect she's getting her hair done and wondering how to keep it just so. I suspect she's putting on special undergarments and a stunning dress. And I suspect she might be a touch forlorn as the rain pounds down.
I am only here, officiating at this wedding, because the other clergy connections the family has fell through, and the grandmother of the bride is a member of the congregation I serve. I don't know the grandmother all that well though I got to know her better this past year because she faced a frightening diagnosis and I spent quite a bit of time at her bedside with her daughter (the mother of the bride) beside me, as we helped her discern the best course of action. This grandmother is one tough cookie. She lost her husband suddenly years ago and she made a point of soldiering on, not leaning on her daughters, one a few hours away, one a few states away, for anything. She kept up her big house. And took care of everything. And was proud of staying in control of her life for so long. So, in the moment that she faced surgery and treatments, and her daughter wanted her to come home with her (the daughter happened to be a nurse with a doctor who specializes in exactly the treatment her mother needed), she struggled mightily to let go and let herself be cared for. She came through her surgery and treatments. She is back in her own home, basically on her own again. She is at her granddaughter's wedding, something that seemed only a vague possibility the day of the diagnosis.
She doesn't come to church all that often and she wasn't there last week so she hadn't heard my news, from me anyhow. So, as we waited for groomsmen to arrive last night I asked her if she had heard my big news. She looked at me like I was silly "You're leaving!" I knew she had heard that news; I had visited her to discuss it. "Yes," I said, "but not that news. I'm pregnant." Her face brightened. "You are?! That's wonderful!" And then she said "You know, my husband and I waited eight years before we ever conceived. And when we finally did it was a total shock. And then we had three children." I did some math in my head, I could only count two from all the stories I had heard. "We lost the first, the one we conceived after eight years." "Oh, I'm sorry," I said, "How far along were you?" She winced. "Seven months." Waves of grief rippled between us. "Yes, that was terrible, terribly hard." I don't think she said much more, but in that moment I think we both knew that being her at her granddaughter's wedding would have seemed improbable at so many points in her journey for so many reasons. She smiled again and congratulated me and then the rehearsal began.
Six years ago, though I had a moment of being forlorn in the face of my helplessness, I found more thrilling joy than I had ever known when the wedding that did not go according to plan actually happened. I pray that this bride and this groom might be released for joy whatever this day, and their lives might bring.