Wednesday, June 29, 2011

About That Wedding in the ICU

Among the post-funeral tasks that we're still in the midst of are business affairs, a gang of thank-you notes, and updates to my siblings. Those updates include a detailed review of our Colorado activities (helping them store away wonderful memories), a copy of the funeral sermon and a copy of the marriage service conducted for James and Tenna in Mom's ICU room last May 12th.

Since the wedding ceremony in the hospital generated such interest (especially at the hospital where we became minor celebrities), Claire suggested I post the brief service that was conducted there. Reading through it again before sending it on to my brothers and sisters, I think that's a good idea for it serves as a tribute to marriage, to the special event that this marriage was, and to my Mom.

But first let me set the stage by quoting from the May LifeSharer letter:

"Finally, here is the next (and last) update for this month’s LifeSharer.  And, again, like almost all the other items I’ve mentioned thus far, this one could easily have a few pages dedicated to it – particularly if one was to count the number of prayers that have soared heavenward for it to happen.  It concerns my conducting a very special marriage ceremony last week.  Now, marrying a couple is momentous enough in itself, but this wedding was a particular treasure for us because the couple getting married was my Harley-riding brother from Florida, James (aka “Highway”) and his long-time girlfriend, Tenna!  I might mention too that the ceremony took place in Mom’s ICU room!

It was my brother’s first marriage (he’s 54) and it was at his request that the wedding occur with Mom present and with me officiating.  Claire and my little sister Sherry were the witnesses.  Tenna was very pretty in a peach dress and holding a bouquet she had made herself.  The groom, more casually dressed as is his style, nevertheless wore a resplendent smile throughout.  Mom was fully awake for the whole ceremony and even with her dementia, the memories of the event are staying with her.  The wedding was the talk of the hospital and staff members were coming from different wards (even different floors) to congratulate the couple…and to sample the wedding cake!  It was quite an event – unusual, memorable, and most delightful."

And here are my remarks at the wedding, spoken over my Mom's hospital bed with Highway and Tenna standing on the other side.

This is a rather unusual setting for a marriage ceremony but it’s all the more precious and meaningful just because of that.  For James and Tenna decided to make their marriage ceremony not only a celebration of their love but also a gracious gift to Ionia, James’ mother who has long hoped and prayed for this day.  They also wanted the ceremony to be a special memorial to James’s father Alva whose birthday was on this date.

So it’s a very special day for all kinds of reasons but most of all because it represents the pledge of love and devotion of James and Tenna to one another.  And those of us who are gathered here to witness and celebrate their marriage are thrilled to see the evidence of their love.

In joining James (known as Highway to his friends in Florida and around the country) and his beautiful bride Tenna in this solemn but joyous act of matrimony, we are taking part in the plan of God which He established at the very beginning of time.

Marriage is carefully defined in the Scripture where it is also praised and celebrated.  Jesus Himself consecrated the marriage ceremony by His presence at a marriage in Cana.  Indeed, His first recorded miracle occurred there as He gave a very special wedding gift to the family.  Furthermore, Holy Scripture commends marriage to be honored as the symbol of that mysterious union which exists between Christ and His Church.

Marriage is also given to mankind for several quite practical reasons including the joy, comfort, challenge and friendship which marriage brings to the man and the woman who embrace it.

Understanding these reasons and willingly accepting them even as they also accept the many responsibilities of marriage, Highway and Tenna come here in the presence of Almighty God to become man and wife.  They do so in the presence of Ionia, Sherry, Claire and myself -- and the nurses who are waiting to help us eat the cake!

So, may I now lead you in the vows of marriage?

I, James, take thee, Tenna, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, guard and cherish till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance.

I, Tenna, take thee, James, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance.

James then gives Tenna her ring.

Shall we pray together?

Father, for bringing these two together, we thank You.  We thank You for the joy they experience in each other’s presence and for the opportunity the rest of us have to share in this very happy event.  Please help them to keep loving one another with ever greater understanding, patience, forgiveness, and friendship as the years go by.  And lead them in the path of everlasting life which comes simply by trusting what Jesus did on the cross for us.  Thank You for that awesome love. It is the foundation and empowerment of all the love that we can give to one another.  Amen

Will you take each other’s hands?  After hearing the declaration of love between James and Tenna and witnessing their vows of marriage, I am honored (and really delighted) to present to this company, to the state of Nebraska for whom I serve as a legal agent, and to the glorious God Who rules heaven and earth – James and Tenna Hartford.

Congratulations, Jim, you may kiss the bride.

(The ceremony, naturally brief because of Mom's condition, was followed by very delighted hugs and kisses between Mom and the newly married couple.  Mom was wide awake, keenly involved and ecstatically happy throughout the event.  It was, I believe, her happiest day in years.  Therefore, the whole Hartford family is proud and grateful to Highway and Tenna for this act of loyalty and loving kindness.)