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Ring the Bell!

June 10, 2022, the Bell was ringing!  That day many would say that we “married off” our son, but I prefer to say that we “welcomed in” a new daughter.  (Note: For us, she is a new daughter not just “in-law” but ‘in heart.’)  What a joyful day!  The last time that we welcomed a new daughter into our family was October 7, 2006.  Friday’s wedding brought back a lot of memories from that wedding fifteen years ago.

That wedding day began in worship, with the bride and groom committing their lives to one another before God.  It was an all-in-the-family kind of wedding, with the mother-ofthe-bride at the piano, one brother on the trumpet and another singing, the grandfather of the groom offering a special blessing, and finally a duet by the bride and groom.  A beautiful reception followed at a country club in Indiana, PA.  The weather was a disappointment to me, but I am told that overcast, drizzly skies make for better pictures.  The appetizers at the reception featured a chocolate fountain followed by a feast that prepared us for a night of dancing.  The evening was punctuated with Slovak traditions that fascinated the Irish side of the family.  From the first moment until the staff kicked us out at the end of the night, there was joy in the house!

But the night before was a different story… As parents of the groom, it was our responsibility to host the rehearsal dinner.  I had traveled out to Indiana several times to scout out the restaurant and plan the feast for Friday night.  Every detail from place settings and flowers to a four-course dinner had been carefully designed.  And all began as expected… people talking… appetizers enjoyed… the salad served… and then came the news that there had been a fire in the kitchen. Thankfully no one was hurt, but what of our dinners now covered in fire retardant?  What do you do when disaster strikes?  That night, the bride’s parents opened their home… the men picked up pizza… and we ended up with a wonderful night together.  That rehearsal dinner disaster has become one of our beloved family stories.  Even that night there was joy in the house.

On June 9th, we once again hosted the rehearsal dinner as parents of the groom.  Unlike that first rehearsal dinner, all went as planned.  Appetizers, salad, dinner, dessert… people talking… toasts given… children playing on the swings… two families beginning a life together… there was a joyful ease to the evening.  The next day, the wedding also went off without a hitch.  It was the wedding that the happy couple had dreamed of: a comfortably warm evening with a gentle breeze… a sunset rich with color… a time of worship and commitment followed by a robust party with the families behaving themselves for the most part.  The dancing was good, the photo booth was even better.  And there was sooooo much food… appetizers and a mashed potato bar during the cocktail hour, salad, dinner, cake, mini-desserts, a smores bar, a donut wall, and a taste of Philly goodie bag to take at the end for your midnight snack.  If you went away hungry, you were too busy dancing or getting your picture taken with silly hats!  We had only one moment of panic in our wedding details: just days before the wedding we realized that we had forgotten to order the bridal bouquet.  One call to Angel Rose (the church florist) saved the day, giving the bride an arrangement fit for a princess.  I love when all goes as planned.

But there was one detail… a very important detail… that did not go as planned.  Just 11 weeks before the wedding, the bride’s father died suddenly.  He was an active-duty police Sergeant on the Philadelphia Police Force, with 40 years of honorable service under his belt.  His sudden death plunged the whole family into grief.  The bride is definitely a ‘Daddy’s little girl’, so how do you create a joyful wedding day without the Father-of-the-Bride?  Who would walk the bride down the aisle?  Who would give the family toast?  What would happen to the father-daughter dance?  His police cruiser was parked at the entrance to the reception hall, to honor him.  That reminder brought many of us to tears.  His picture was woven into the bridal bouquet.  His name was mentioned in the service and in the toasts at the reception.  But he was not there to give his daughter the bear hug they had shared her whole life.  How could there be joy in the house in the midst of such fresh grief?

St. Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I say: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Rejoice means to joy again and again and again.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know such joy?  How we yearn for life to be so good that we have a re-sounding joy.  Yet, Paul was not calling us to a joy that comes just from the good moments of life.  Paul was writing from a Roman prison to people who were living under Roman persecution.  Life was hard.  Grief defined their existence.  Yet, God was calling them to joy in the midst.  The prophet Nehemiah wrote to grieving Israelites as they stood in the ruins of Jerusalem: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)  Notice the present tense: “is”.  While happiness is an emotion, joy is a choice.  Joy comes when you choose to allow the day to be defined not by circumstances, but by the grace of God… the presence of God… the love of God.  Joy redefines and reclaims so that we can rejoice.  One of the new favorite worship songs at Lenape Valley is House of the Lord.
We sing to the God who heals.  We sing to the God who saves. We sing to the God who always makes a way… There’s joy in the house of the Lord today!
On Friday night, the bride and groom and their families and friends claimed that joy in the midst of grief.  There was joy in the house that night!  I pray that you know that joy in the midst…

With you re-joicing,              
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