Category Archives: Faith

If I’m being honest… Adjusting to life as a transracial adoptive family of 5

On April 6, my family officially became a Family of 5!  Although we have been functioning that way for several months, it was meaningful and symbolic to move forward together.  Since the beginning of our journey with our girls, we have received an abundance of support and encouragement from friends and family near and far.  This has been a true gift to us.  In addition to that, I have also been asked one question more than any other, so I thought I would answer it here.

“How are you adjusting to life as a family of 5?”

There is a quick and sincere answer to that question- I am doing well.  We all are.  Life is chaotic, exhausting, confusing, and amazing.  But what else is new.  The simple answer is, “We are good. Life is good.”

Nothing negates the simple answer, but if you have a little more time and you genuinely want to know, I can dig a little deeper.  Because honestly, life is good, and it is also more than that.  Life is hard.  I have three kids now, so… there’s that.  I became a mother of three in an unconventional way, and I am still figuring it out. They are so opinionated.  And hungry.  And human.  And just when I think I have one figured out, that kid goes and does something completely unprecedented, and all bets are off.  Life is hard, yet rich with insight and perspective.

Another thing I may tell you if I am being honest is that I am seeing very clearly that hurt begets anger, fear begets hostility and grief begets emotional unrest.  When I remember this, I am filled with compassion for my children (and even myself), but when I forget this, the initial hurts, fears and grief beget anger, hostility and emotional unrest in me, too.  I realize all too often that there are actually 5 wounded children in our house, not just three.  My wounds are not like my children’s wounds for many reasons.  I don’t pretend to compare my life to theirs.  But I am a broken, wounded child, too.  I am looking for someone to take care of me and defend me and take on my burdens because, even though I am a grown-up, I feel very small sometimes.  In these moments, I may call my mom or my sister and lament, or I may communicate through my facial expression to my husband to just hug me and tell me everything will be okay.  Sometimes, although not often enough, I remember that I have a Creator who loves me and cares for me in ways I cannot even understand, and I want my children to feel comforted by that, too.  Because I will let them down.  I already have thousands of times.  And I feel like crap when I do it because these are kids that have already dealt with so much disappointment.  I want to come through for them, but I can’t do it all the time.  I can’t even do it half the time. So life is good, and most days, life is overwhelming.

If I am being really honest, I may also say that, even though I knew my life would look very different after adopting two black girls, I had no idea how different it would be.  My husband put it best when he said that he has lived his whole life trying to blend in, and now he is in a family that will always stand out.  It is a drastically different experience when I take my white adopted son to Target versus taking one of my black daughters.  Sometimes, it feels like curiosity.  Other times, it feels like confusion.  Occasionally, it feels like judgment.  I wish I could say it didn’t bother me.  Often times, it doesn’t.  After all, I don’t hate attention as much as my husband does. 🙂  But sometimes, I am over it.  Sometimes I just want to blend in.  Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to wear my Adoptive Mother badge all the time.  Sometimes I wish it was more like it was before- a badge I wore when I wanted to, needed to, remembered to…

After adopting our son almost 4 years ago, I knew that adoption would always be woven intricately into our story, and I honored that.  It felt good and right for our family to embrace the adoption narrative.  But this feels different.  I can’t tell my daughters that it is their story to tell like I have told my son for years.  Although it is still their story to tell, the world feels entitled to know it.  They ask questions in front of my children or to my children about their stories.  Personal questions.  Complicated questions.  And they expect answers.  It’s like they are asking me where I got my purse, and if I refuse to provide the information, I am seen as stand-offish or rude.  But it’s not a handbag.  It’s my daughter’s past.  It is pain and hurt that cannot be summed up in a quick response, but somehow, it needs to be.  I don’t know what is worse: grown-ups asking my young black daughters about their white mom or grown-ups asking me in front of them about my young black daughters.   So life is good, and life is uncomfortable.

So there it is.  Life is good.  Life is hard.  Life is overwhelming.  Life is uncomfortable.  And life is very sweet.  On Mother’s Day, a day that is not simple for any my children or for me, we decided to get away.  We took a day trip to the beach, our first one as a family of 5, and we let the beach do what the beach does.  We let it soothe us and embrace us.  We let it heal us and renew us.  As my husband and I stood on the shore and watched our three children play in the waves together, laughing and unencumbered, I felt deeply connected to and grateful for my family and my life.  As a dear friend reminded me recently, a meaningful life is much richer than a happy one.  And the beauty is that when I seek meaning and connection more than ease and comfort, I experience more contentment and peace than I do when happiness is my pursuit.

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So, back to the question at hand.  “How am I adjusting to life as a family of 5?”

Honestly… It gets richer and more meaningful by the day.

 

To all the kids I don’t adopt

The process of adopting is full of intense and sudden emotions. On our journey to find the next child that will come into our family, there are countless children who need homes that won’t become mine. Some I may see on a website. Others I hear about locally. Still others I will never see a picture of or know their names, but they are still there. Waiting, like me.

This is hard. Devastating. Confusing. It could be a passing conversation with a friend or acquaintance about a child who needs a home. It may be a call from a case worker saying “maybe”, but there is no guarantee. The circumstances may not fit for one reason or another. And then there are times when you just need to slow it down a step to catch your breath, and then the door closes. Thoughtful inaction can lead to missed opportunity. Sometimes, the inaction may not be on my part. I may be waiting for someone else to do their job, to fulfill their role. And then a deadline is missed. An opportunity is lost. A child becomes someone else’s. There are also variables we have to consider as parents to our son. Adding a new family member is a life-altering process for everyone involved, and it requires a layer of sensitivity and care when other children are present. For these reasons and others, there are many children who cross my path (and thousands who don’t) that are not and will not be mine.

How do I make sense of this? How do I go “all-in” and deal with these continual disappointments? How can I keep envisioning possible children in our family only to be let down and skeptical of the whole process? I am sure people in my position have different ways of coping with this aspect of adoption. For me, it comes down to an anchor that I have to lean into if I am going to put myself through this.

I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

There is nothing groundbreaking about this notion, but it is comforting and relieving in the midst of so much uncertainty. I have to trust that life is not arbitrary and random. That if all of life really boiled down to luck or chance or even hard work, then I would be obsessed with doing everything just right and filled with fear and doubt and pressure to make the best move all the time. “If only I had called that case worker back an hour before” or “What if we missed our child because we went out of town and delayed our home study paperwork by a week?” That’s enough to make a person (me) crazy.

There are certainly things I can do and need to do in this process, so I focus on those things.  I make phone calls, send emails, research things online, seek wisdom and counsel from others, continue working on being a good parent to my son and a thoughtful wife to my husband.  I pray. I do what I can do, then I let go of the rest.

I have to remind myself constantly that there is something bigger at work than my own agendas and plans. Sometimes, I feel called to be diligent and relentless and, other times, I feel the need to slow down and trust. It’s hard to discern the difference, which is where community is paramount for me. I need those who know and love me to anchor me, too.  I need people to remind me that my child is out there; that I am not forgotten and neither is she. That I am not waiting alone.

And when I feel my Savior Complex kick in when I think about all of the children who need permanent families in this country, I hold on to my anchor once again. I AM NOT IN CONTROL.  I cannot right all the wrongs in this world, and adopting children is not the only way to seek out justice and show love.  Instead, I can be faithful to fulfill my own life purpose, which I strongly believe involves adopting more kids.  But not 20. Not 200.  Not 100,000.

In order to make peace with the children out there that don’t become mine, I have to hold on to this. I want a family. And for now, my husband and I have made peace with some parameters for what it needs to look like to bring more children into our family. We try to be open to what falls into those parameters, and we push the parameters a little here and there.  We continually check in with ourselves and each other to make sure the parameters are not too tight because of fear or too loose out of desperation.  We want to be thoughtful, hopeful and wise.

In the meantime, as I scroll through pictures on websites or hear stories of children needing homes, I will whisper each name in a breath prayer up to God, and I will honor their story even for just a moment. Because they are valuable and worthy of love. And eventually, it will be my child I whisper a breath prayer for… And the next chapter will begin.

 

I got no patience. and I hate waiting.

I am not a patient person.  In fact, I can be a bit impulsive and rash at times.  It’s a consequence of being passionate, I tell myself. (And that’s called justification.)  Jay Z summed up the sentiments of our culture in an inappropriate song from my teenage years: “I got no patience.  And I hate waitin.”

Many aspects of today’s culture feed into this personality characteristic quite well.  My most common outlet is Amazon Prime.  Pretty much anything I want, I can get instantaneously streamed or shipped to me within 48 hours.  It takes so little forethought to order presents or to be entertained.

In a streaming culture with the world at our fingertips, waiting seems so passé.

I remember a time when trying to recall what movie a particular actor starred in or the definition of a word or a random sports statistic had to be analyzed and argued about instead of just googled.  I recall my family’s first encyclopedia on cd-rom.  It felt like magic.  So much information in one place accessible to me through my clunky desktop computer.

Most businesses have had to find their own ways of speeding up the wait in order to stay competitive.  Restaurants have apps for reserving tables and even pre-ordering your meal.  Theme parks have fast passes and online access to current wait times for rides and attractions. And despite all the increased efficiency in our society, when we are forced to wait for even a minute, we can fill that wait time with scrolling.  Check Facebook.  Check Instagram.  Check the latest scores. Text. Email. Tweet. Snapchat. (This one gets me. “Here is a picture of me waiting!”)

Waiting isn’t a time to talk or pontificate the meaning of life.  It’s a time to distract. To prevent boredom.  To minimize discomfort.

So what happens when all the technological and societal advances aren’t enough and waiting is unavoidable? In those moments, we have to decide how badly we want whatever we are forced to wait for.

That’s where I am.  Waiting.  When we decided to pursue adoption again, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be so quick or smooth this time around.  That was rare, and I know this now.  We had done our fair share of waiting prior to our son’s adoption.  We struggled through infertility and made an intentional decision to pursue adoption, which involved a lot of paperwork and conversations and classes and tons of little details.  It was not easy.  But looking back, it was not nearly as hard as it is for most.  I see that now, and I honor that.

This time around, our process looks a bit different.  We have a little boy to consider and that means more waiting and praying and exploring and information-gathering.  One of the reasons the adoption process is so intense is that it requires patience and discernment and intention, as well as courage and risk and even impulsivity.  It’s a wait, wait, wait….. GO! sort of process.  And sometimes it’s even a wait, wait, wait.. Go-no wait, maybe go?-no, go back to waiting process.

A question I keep asking myself during this ambiguous and confusing stage is “How am I waiting?”

Am I using this time well or am I biding time?  Am I scrolling and streaming instead of reflecting and praying?

I want to wait well.  Not just in our adoption journey, but in all areas of my life.  I want to be present, but also allow myself to have vision and imagination for the future.  I want to look inward and around instead of down or even straight ahead.  I want to share my waiting experiences with others and not pull away or avoid.  I want to feel uncomfortable instead of numbing myself with distractions and surface-level connection.  I want to lean into my fears and honor the uncertainty of life.  But I don’t want to do it alone.  And I don’t think I am supposed to.

I am not a patient person.  I will continue to use fast passes and call ahead to restaurants and get my tickets on Fandango because these conveniences make life less stressful and rushed for me.  But when I have to wait, I want to wait well.  And in my waiting, I want to be more attuned to those who are waiting, too.  I want to wait with people and invite people to wait with me.  After all, so much of the experience is the anticipation.  When I wait with others, the anticipation feels exciting and connected.  When I wait alone, I am much more likely to feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty and run away.  I can tell you this, I would never wait an hour in line for Space Mountain by myself.

Many things feel scary right now.  What would be most comfortable would be to forget the whole adoption thing and enjoy the comforts of my life as it is.  But that is my fear talking.  My flesh.  My physical body instead of my spirit.  So when things start feeling acutely out of my control, I have to ask myself:

How badly do I want this?

When I dig deep, the answer is loud and clear.  Enough to wait as long as I need to.

 

My Octobers: How pain and uncertainty can lead to connection and growth

When I used to think of October, the first thoughts that would come to mind were pumpkins, spiced everything, football, and the beginning of fall.  I love fall.  As a child, it was just what I longed for after the start of the school year.  It meant that the holidays were coming and there was a lot to look forward to.

For the past few years, October has been my most eventful and intense month of the year.  Three Octobers ago, my husband and I picked up our son Joshua for the final time and spent almost half the month in South Carolina waiting for paperwork to go through.  I remember feeling both intense joy and perpetual helplessness.  We adjusted to our “new normal” by enrolling Josh in preschool, introducing him to family and friends, and celebrating our first Halloween together.  We also attended my grandfather’s 102nd birthday.  I remember being in a constant state of awareness and disbelief.  It was one of the best months of my life, and one of the most exhausting.

josh and gramps meeting     100_2286

Two Octobers ago, my “not so new” family reunited in the mountains with some of our closest friends.  We experienced nature and rest and fun together.  Upon returning home,  two other dear friends were undergoing  an immense trial of having their baby, Ari, rushed to the NICU where she teetered between life and death for weeks.  Walking through such intense pain and heartache with friends created a  heightened emotional state that our entire community lived in throughout the month. I don’t think I have ever prayed harder in my life.  Everything seemed fragile. Alongside this intensity, my family was also experiencing our first round of “repeats”: Josh’s second year of preschool, my grandfather’s 103rd birthday, and the beginning of our second holiday season.

Ari 2          gramps and josh   josh superman

This year, as October approached, I had much to be thankful for and look forward to.  Sweet Ari was thriving and doing great as we were all getting ready to celebrate her 1st birthday, for which we had fervently prayed.  I was busy preparing for the wedding of my cousin Molly who has been like a little sister to me throughout my life.  And in the midst of all the excitement, I expected one more thing to remain consistent- we would celebrate my grandfather’s birthday at the end of October like we always have.

Then I got the call from my brother that changed things.  My grandfather was in the hospital again, and this time, there was talk of “the end”. I spent the rest of the month of October going back and forth from Orlando to Gainesville visiting him in the hospital, then in his home with hospice care, and making his funeral arrangements with my family. When his 104th birthday finally came the day after his funeral, I felt depleted.  This October, with all of its extreme highs and lows,  took everything out of me.  By God’s grace, I mustered up enough energy from my reserve tank on the very last day of the month to enjoy a great Halloween with my family.

10563080_10105517083152951_3044614371198159223_n    gramps hands    halloween 2014

The last three years, my Octobers have been roller coasters of emotions.  I have agonized and waited. I have anticipated and celebrated. I have prayed desperately for life and I have made peace with death. I have spent time with my dearest loved ones and I have been reminded of the pain of separation and loss.  And I have walked away from each October feeling utterly exhausted, yet more connected and grateful.  In the midst of all the uncertainty and change, each October I am drawn more intimately to God and knitted more closely together with others.

Although I can look back on my Octobers with tremendous gratitude and fondness, I can’t help but also feel relieved to see November come.  While my Octobers have been filled with change and uncertainty, my Novembers seem to bring a familiar comfort.  The start of the holiday season is accompanied by traditions and history and collective experiences that feel warm and inviting.  The change in weather (even in Florida) seems to bring a change in energy that I welcome. I look forward to November.

But I do not dread October.  I have learned more about myself these past 3 Octobers than any other season in my life. I can push through the pain and heartbreak for the intimacy and depth of relationships.  And because of my Octobers, I have a clearer picture of redemption and faith.  When I find myself questioning if God really has a plan for me as we wait eagerly for more children, I can reflect on the October when my longing to be a parent was met with the sweetest face I have ever seen.  When I doubt that God answers prayer, I can scroll through Instagram and see a picture of precious Ari playing and laughing, and I remember how desperately so many people prayed for her.  When I find myself fearing pain and death, I can remember my grandfather’s dream about the never-ending road and the legacy of his life that lives on in his family.

And when I feel alone, I can think back on my Octobers and picture the moments of true connection I have experienced- watching my family and my husband’s family embrace our son in South Carolina; staying up late responding to group texts from my community of friends as we waited for updates on Ari; dancing to the Brady Bunch with all my extended family at my cousin’s wedding and reminiscing about our childhood.  Standing around my grandfather’s bed after he died with my brother and sister feeling fully known and understood and loved.

We can’t perpetually exist in a heightened emotional state without some pretty significant consequences, but there are seasons in life where we have to.  And in those seasons, I feel more deeply and acutely aware of my surroundings, my relationships, and my need for God and others.  Those seasons are my Octobers.  And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

The call that changed my life and broke my heart

grief pic 1

I will never forget where I was when I got the call.  My breath was labored and I held on to my stomach tightly as if it were going to escape out of my body, my hand serving as the last line of defense.  The voice on the phone, a female police officer, filled me in on procedural matters since I was the one who made the initial report.  As she talked, I searched for hope in her voice. I yearned for her to use the word “attempt” or “false alarm”.  I didn’t know if it actually happened, only that it could have. I prayed it didn’t, but deep down, I knew.  The officer was talking with such sterility and dispassion, even annoyance.  Just another day at the office, I thought.  I needed to hear her say the words.

I mustered up the courage to interrupt her detached protocol and interject the question I never wanted to ask.  “Wait. I just… Are you saying she’s dead?” My voice was filled with a desperation I could not mask despite my efforts at remaining professional. “Oh, I’m sorry.” she replied in an embarrassed tone.  “I should have… Yes, her attempt was successful.  She’s dead.” I doubled over in pain, my hand once again trying to push my insides back in my stomach.  I wanted to fall down.  I wanted to throw up.  I wanted to disappear.  This can’t be a real, I repeated to myself over and over again.

Wake me from this nightmare.

But I wasn’t sleeping.  It was real.  And it was excruciating.  Everything felt like a fog, but one thought rang out through the haze.  I will never be the same again.  I never wanted to be the same.

 


 

There are moments in life- frozen seconds of time- that define and change us.  Experiences that cause life to be divided into two parts: before and after.  The day my client committed suicide was one of those days for me.  As the three-year anniversary came and went a few weeks ago, my body remembered the feelings I felt that day.  So much has changed since the day when everything changed. The memory of it feels like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, but once reunited, we fall right back in step with each other.  Familiar, but aged and weathered. Comforting and excruciating simultaneously. Grief is like that. Unwelcome and painful, yet sacred and intimate. I long to forget, but I fear forgetting because I need to remember. To feel.  To honor.

I imagine the person I knew. I picture her standing on the cement wall by my old counseling office, looking into the stream below and swaying slightly to the music blaring through her headphones.  No more.  I hear her voice greeting everyone in the waiting area as she enters, eager to connect. Desperate to be heard.  No more.  I see the other side of this person, the darker side, sitting on my couch unable to pretend any longer.  Broken.  No more.

As a counselor, I witness the desperation and grief of others often. I find myself asking, “How could this happen?  Why would a good God allow people to suffer to the point that death feels like the only relief?  Is there anything anyone can really do to help in the presence of such hopelessness?”  I don’t know the answers, but I do know this.  There is no time when I feel more dependent on God and more desperate for a Savior than in the face of grief and tragedy.  I don’t want to avoid pain because that would mean I am avoiding connection and relationship. And it would mean missing out on an opportunity to participate in the most powerful collective experience that exists- human suffering.

In light of our nation’s recent collective grief experience as we mourn the death of Robin Williams, I hold my own grief tightly and remember.  Suicide impacts so many, and this very public grief of a legend and dear friend from afar connects millions to the grief of losing someone to suicide and dealing with the aftermath and the questions and the confusion.  I pray for his family, his friends, his fans, his counselor if he had one, and all those who feel hopeless and trapped.  There is a psalm (34:18) that says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those that are crushed in spirit.”  I can’t understand why things happen the way they do, but I take comfort in believing that in our darkest moments, the Lord is close.  And there are people who care and want to walk beside you.

Thanks for letting me walk beside you, C.  It was an honor.

“I’m a happy mother”: Honoring the joys and sorrows of Mother’s Day

mom and me

Growing up, my mom’s response to the exclamation “Happy Mother’s Day!” was always the same.

“I’m a happy mother!”

Now that I am a mother, I see this response from a more personal lens.  I have always wanted to be a mom.  I know that not every woman shares this desire for motherhood, which I respect.  But for me, it was something I just assumed would happen, along with every other goal or dream for my life.  I don’t remember yearning for it when I was younger and even newly married, partly because I was pursuing other ambitions and passions, but also because I believed it would happen exactly how and when I wanted it to.  I didn’t see the point in dwelling on it.  I would be a mom, and it would be great when the time was right.

Long gone are the days of simple assumptions about anything.

2 years ago, I remember sitting in church on Mother’s Day feeling alone and angry.  Dave and I had been “trying” (awkward) for longer than I was admitting to myself or others, and it wasn’t happening.  I watched loved ones and not-so-loved ones around me getting pregnant like it was an item on a lunch menu.

I‘ll have a salad.”

“And I will have a baby.”

My beliefs about life and the way the world worked were being challenged in a painful and paradigm-shifting turn of events.  After buying in to the adage that I was “Taking Charge of My Fertility”, both by preventing and then by not preventing, the realization finally hit me that I really have very little control over it at all.  This always reminds me of Charlotte on Sex and the City when she says, “I spent all of my twenties trying not to get pregnant and all of my thirties trying to get pregnant!”

So here I was, sitting in church, watching adorable children pass out carnations to the standing women- the mothers– and I finally yearned to be one of them.  It went beyond a “you do you and I’ll do me” mindset and it became personal.

“Why them and not me?”

In that moment, I felt like I was becoming the person I hated.  The person who believes that everything is about her and that someone else’s fortune is somehow in direct competition with her own.  And then something happened.  I stopped looking at the women who were standing and started looking at the ones who weren’t.  Young women.  Old women.  Single women.  Married women.  Women who looked annoyed and others who looked embarrassed.  Women who fidgeted in their seats and those who looked around smiling and nodding happily at the standing women around them.  I didn’t want to judge them.  I wanted to know them.  “What are their stories?”

What I am learning as I allow myself to be vulnerable with others about my story is that there are a lot of complicated, painful, confusing, uncomfortable, and tragic stories all around me.  There are also countless stories about love, redemption, second chances, joy from sorrow, strength in weakness and healing amidst loss and grief.  I am not unique.  But my story is valuable.  So is yours.

Today, on Mother’s Day, my mom’s words resonate in my heart and soul.

“I am a happy mother!” 

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I am not happy because I got what I wanted, nor am I happy because I deserved it all along.  I am happy because I have seen God work in my life in a real and personal way.  I am happy because God had a plan all along that was better than mine, and I didn’t know or understand that two years ago.  I am happy because the deep yearning I felt that day in church and the story I have been telling myself since childhood are connected.  For me, that’s the key to my story now.  It was never about getting everything I wanted.  It was about the desires, passions and visions God put in my heart the day I was created that have strengthened and evolved into something more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Mother’s Day is a painful day for a lot of people.  It represents loss as much as it represents gain.  It reminds people of what they used to have and what they have never had.  So in addition to my happiness today, there is room for grief.  I grieve the loss of my son’s first mom.  Today, while I celebrate my “mom” status with my son, she will feel her own loss acutely, and that pains my heart.  I grieve the loss of my parents’ mothers.  I am reminded of my mom’s face when my grandmother died and the deep wailing in her spirit as she verbalized that she had become an orphan.  I mourn with my friends and clients who never knew the love of a mother.  I weep with those who have lost a child or who have a child who is sick and hurting and they don’t know how to help.  I hurt with those who yearn for  a child deeply.

That’s the beauty of life, really.  Feelings are not compartmentalized; they are fluid.  They don’t exist one after another, but in a magnificent tapestry, woven together intricately and gently.

If you are a happy mother today, celebrate that.  If that label does not fit for you, honor that however you need to.  For me, I will enjoy my presents and cards and cherish every hug and acknowledgment.  I will also make a conscious effort to be sensitive to the stories of others and leave room for grief and contemplation while still embracing my “special day”.

My road to motherhood was not simple, but it was just as it was meant to be.  And for that, I am certainly a happy and grateful mother.

photo(11)                                            (27016)

Why I cry at weddings

neely wedding

Dave and I attended the wedding of dear friends this weekend. Weddings are very present in my life right now. My sister got married a few months ago and my sweet cousin who is like a sister to me is getting married soon. There is something about weddings that fills me with energy and life. Maybe it’s the symbolism of new beginnings and the formal act of commitment, but whatever it is, it gets me every time.

Inevitably, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I cry.

I am a fairly emotive person (notice choice of words here- displaying emotions and being labeled “emotional” have different connotations), and it is really no surprise that I cry at weddings. But as the tears formed in my eyes at the wedding this weekend, I thought to myself, “What is it about this moment that is producing this emotional response?”

So I have come up with some reasons why I cry unapologetically at weddings.

1) There is a force that is present at weddings that is bigger than any person or relationship or scenic backdrop.
From my experience of attending probably 50 weddings in my life, there is a tone of reverence that I have felt at pretty much all of them. Regardless of religious or spiritual affiliations, I feel a sense of awe and an acknowledgment that something special is happening here; something powerful. Something magical and miraculous.
Because of this, the weight of what is happening seems to descend on not just the couple, but on every witness. Some people take a breath. Others shift slightly in their seats, feeling uncomfortable with the weight of what is occurring. And many of us cry. The heaviness of the moment becomes overpowering, and I give in to it freely. After all, I love a good cry about as much as I love a good wedding.
2) Weddings are a reminder of all that is good and pure about love.
Before I was married, weddings were a reminder of all that I hoped and prayed for one day. Now they are a reminder of what love can be. There is a naivety about love that exists at weddings, not based on avoidance of the reality of love and how hard relationships can be, but with a focus on how beautiful it can be when we can put aside our jadedness and hurt and insecurities. “Perfect love casts out fear.” That is what weddings feel like to me. An act of reckless abandonment that is risky and even unwise in some ways, but courageous and inspiring.
The reality is that marriage is hard. There are many days when the simplicity of the love I felt on my wedding day feels miles away. For some people, relationships may be crumbling and it is hard to believe there is anything good and pure about love or marriage. But I think that’s why we need that day. We need that moment. And we need reminders of that moment to sustain us.
3) Weddings represent a culminating moment in a journey of experiences.
If I attend a wedding, it usually means I have some history with one or both people getting married. I have likely seen them grow and mature, sometimes since childhood and other times only a few months, and I have played some role in their journey.  This category is what usually defines how intense my crying is at a wedding. The more emotionally invested, the more I cry. I experience a flood of memories and feelings about this person or couple as I sit in front of them or stand next to them. (That’s the hard part. I am usually standing next to the people who I am closest to, which means the entire guest list witnesses my extreme emotional response and the retrieval of the Kleenex tucked discretely into my dress or bouquet.)
Although some people have a tendency to make things about them that are not about them, I don’t think that is the case here. I think it IS about them. It is about everyone. All of these people assembled in the same place at the same time because this couple drew them together. And for the rest of their lives, the relationship the couple has with each wedding attendee will be impacted by this shared experience.

And finally, here’s the clincher for me…

4) Guys cry at weddings.
I try to be someone who avoids perpetuating stereotypes about women being emotional and men being logical, but I have to be honest- men crying impacts me differently than women crying. I have seen my share of crying in my counseling office and have worked hard to master the “welled eyes” moment (the “I really feel like crying because you have touched me sincerely with your story, but if I cry, I may make this more about me and take the focus off of you, so I will hold it in, but if you look closely, there is moisture in my eyeballs” moment). But when a man who typically tries to present as strong and logical and composed sheds a few tears, my self-control leaves the room with my mascara.
This is another example of the overwhelming force and weight of the act of marriage. Even people that typically control their emotional responses (dare I say avoid them at times) succumb to the moment. Not all guys and not all the time. But if, by some miracle, I have managed not to cry at a wedding and then I notice the groom’s cheeks are wet or the father of the bride gets choked up or the sweet uncle doing a reading takes a long pause to regain composure, I’m done.

 

So yeah, I cry at weddings. I’m okay with it. I feel no shame in expressing my emotions, especially when witnessing the formal act of love and commitment by people I am invested in. I encourage you to give yourself permission to cry at weddings, too. Don’t hold back. It’s like an altar call at a Baptist church. Don’t sit in your seat with sweat dripping off your forehead as your heart tries to run out of your chest. Just let the spirit move. But I’m warning you: Once you go up to that altar, you never go back.

wedding toast 1