“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 NIV
We have an awesome heavenly Father who gives good gifts to his children. His heart towards us is unchanging. He wants us to know that in our experience. Have you ever experienced a major life event that had incredible building expectation in your mind and heart and then when it came it was all that you hoped it would be but much more? God blesses us like that sometimes where his goodness is so overwhelming all we can do is cry. I had a day like that on April 3, 2016; our daughter Sarah’s wedding day. There were many elements to the powerful experience but four that stand out to me. The first was my “inside the lines” view as the presiding minister. This was highlighted by leading Sarah and Joey in their vows together. The other elements were: the bittersweet role of giving her away, the tender and cherished moments shared with my girl, and the joyful celebration with my wife at their reception.
I loved the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin as George Banks and Diane Keaton as his wife Nina. His daughter Annie is played by Kimberly Williams and their chemistry together in the film really works well. Martin Short is Franc, the outrageous wedding planner in a hilarious role, constantly jabbing Steve Martin to “catch up to the 90’s” with the lavish necessities needed for Annie’s wedding and the prices that go with it. When he sees the wedding cake his wife and daughter are choosing he says, “$1,200! I didn’t spend that much on my first car.” If I am honest, I felt a little like that too. Steve Martin has some adorable scenes with his daughter leading up to her wedding that I related to along with many funny lines in the movie. There are a few though that really go right to the heart once you’ve been a real life father of the bride. This is his reflection, with my Sarah inserted, upon giving his daughter away.
“Who presents this woman? This woman? But she’s not a woman. She’s just a kid. And she’s leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see (Sarah) at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening. (Sarah) was all grown up and was leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.”
Boy did Steve Martin really hit the heartache element of the wedding ceremony with that quote! My brother Steve assisted me with the wedding ceremony, doing the opening prayer and question to the parents. I was blessed to assist with his wedding ceremony 25 years ago and now he was helping me with our daughter. God is good! I didn’t have time to pause in that moment because I was taking over very quickly after my wife Cindy and I answered, “We do.” I had a weeks’ worth of prior reflection on that question however. I was reading and reflecting on the famous Genesis 2:24 passage,
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
The apostle Paul and Jesus himself quoted this passage in Matthew’s gospel affirming with it that God makes the man and the woman one. “What God has joined in heaven let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:6) For our little girl, who is now a beautiful woman, to really give her heart and soul to her husband we will have to give her away physically, spiritually and emotionally into Joey’s care and bless him today and all their days. Joey’s parents too will need to give him away to Sarah if Joey will be obedient to God’s command in the marriage covenant. They are good friends so helping each other with this letting go will be a blessing. We can rest assured that if we do our part to support them the fulness of God’s holy presence and power will be at work in their marriage union, leading them to hold fast together, bound as one flesh in the mystery of this covenant. God was doing something wondrous in their union and I was awed to be a small part of it. The love of God in Christ will sustain them in their marriage. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV
The second element of the day that made it so powerful were the tender and cherished moments with my daughter. The first was our time in the hallway of the church before we walked the aisle together. The procession of 11 bridesmaids helped to lengthen it for us. What a beautiful bride. I told her what a cherished gift she was to me these 25 years with her love and friendship. I felt my heart bursting with thankfulness; every good and perfect gift is from our Father above. His heart of faithfulness to my wife Cindy and I has been unchanging these past 33 years of marriage, especially in my failures. Here was my daughter, loving me and honoring me by her desire to have me give her away and to perform her wedding. Our dance together at the reception was the next cherished moment. We picked Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” That slow dance was right up there next to my bridal dance in top 5 moments in my life. I will never listen to that song again without crying. I know that the world isn’t always wonderful but for me that moment was a God moment. All of his love to me through: Christ, in my marriage, our children, my family, my brothers in Christ all celebrating with us, and now this moment with my little girl, it was overwhelming.
Then one heaven of a celebration began starting with a sumptuous dinner. In fact, the wedding celebration was designed by our Lord to be a picture of the heavenly wedding feast (Revelation 19:7-9) he will host for us as our bridegroom; his church being the bride. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” We had an army of young people at the wedding and they danced, and danced, then danced some more to groups like Earth Wind & Fire and The Temptations. What can I say, we raised them to have good taste in music! We tried to keep up with them and it was a blast trying. At one point Sarah called up both the Silko family and the Wisniewski family to lead in the singing of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” As we sang arm in arm in a huge circle around the dance floor I had my son Stefen to my immediate left with my son (In-Grace) locked in next to him. Joey was a part of the family! After having belted that song out at Penn State games for years, it seemed like we nailed every note and lyric at the top of our lungs, perhaps the wine enhanced our estimation! As we closed the celebration, many of my Penn State teammates joined us for “Disco Inferno” with their wives of 30 plus years. It’s not so bad at all to get old when God fills your life with treasured gifts, especially if you’re blessed to be a father of the bride.
Author: Leo Wisniewski is the Director of Locking Arms Men, a Pittsburgh based men’s ministry focused on equipping men to love Christ, love one another and to love their neighbor as themselves. See www.lockingarmsmen.org for more information.