My eyes yet again tear up a day later thinking about or telling someone about the sweetest, most beautiful wedding I have ever seen. I'm struck with awe thinking about what I just witnessed. What a day to remember! I'm sure my account of it cannot possibly express the awesomeness of this day, but I'll do my best to let you step in my shoes and see through my eyes. I still remember being a little girl, adoring everything my big brother did. I wanted to be just like him--enough so that when he started playing jump rope with the phone cord, I proceeded to attempt to do the same thing, falling and breaking my arm in the process. It's been interesting to watch him change and grow over the years. For many years he was a pain in the butt, haha. I feel bad for him now--my sister and I had each other to play with but he didn't have a brother, so he teased us while we were playing instead. It drove us crazy. I usually ended up in tears. Then he became sucked up in his own world of high school. We didn't connect too much, though every now and then we'd connect over music. I remember the day he kissed my cheek when he left on the senior Europe trip--surprising me completely as he had never been much one for showing his affection to us. I remember the day he mourned with me over my mom's cancer diagnosis. Our tears mingling as the sorrow in our hearts overflowed when we held onto each other, hoping somehow that having someone to hug closely would make the pain go away.
But mostly, I remember the many times he told us about Danielle. I remember thinking she was kind of strange...after all, she did stalk my brother after watching him in class two days a week, start talking to him on Myspace over the summer, and hid in his closet to "surprise" him when he got home. I remember the excitement of meeting her and falling in love with her instantly--being so taken with how wonderful she was, how much fun it was to hang around her, and amazed at how perfectly she fit into our family. Those early days from six years ago meld together after a while, and there's just a blur of what life used to be like without her by Josh's side as we spent more time with her and heard plenty of exasperating but funny stories of what Danielle had done or said now.
Watching the two of them over these past six years is such a cherished memory of mine. I'm a little taken aback by how well they complete each other and how easy it was to gain a sister--even BEFORE they got married. I never imagined being close friends with my future-sister-in-law back in the days when those shoes were filled only with thoughts and dreams. I already have a sister that I adore, there wasn't need to be close to another. And yet now, knowing who is filling those sister-in-law shoes it feels like there has always been space for her in my life, and she slipped right into that spot with the greatest amount of ease, and I love her for it.
All of these memories flowed through my head throughout the wedding weekend filled with rehearsals, dinners, hotels, getting ready, and taking bridal party pictures. It was a whirlwind few days, but all the tiredness and craziness faded when it came time for the wedding to start.
We sent Danielle to the AC inside the house while we went around and checked that things were getting done with the venue so no one would see her in her dress before the ceremony started. Things looked beautiful and they were coming along nicely. I didn’t inspect anything too closely because there wasn’t time to soak things in while guests arrived. There wasn’t too much for us to do—specific people were already getting things done without us and seemed to know what they were doing. So we headed back, ate more food, drank more water, and did hair touch-ups with Megan. Danielle’s mom came in and promptly cried upon seeing her. We all yelled, including Danielle, since seeing anyone else cry was making us cry. She composed herself and the two of them chatted and touched up their make-up. I wandered back and forth inside and outside making sure that things were getting done. I had to help my dad get my Flip Camera set up, throw some things in my car, pack tissues in my dress pockets as well as my lipstick that I was afraid would melt anywhere else, and say a quick hello to people as they arrived. My feet were killing me in the shoes, and the wedding hadn’t even started yet! I blame it on the photo shoot hike. I met up with my mom and told her she was one of the few allowed in the house to see Danielle. She was very excited to come. I told her not to cry. Guess who started to cry upon seeing her? We all yelled some more. Hugs went around. All the bridesmaids looked at each other nervously, knowing that we’d be blubbering messes that day.
Soon it was time to begin. The nervous excitement flowed through our veins as we reminded each other “don’t lock your knees,” “top of bouquet should be at the belly button and pointed slightly out,” “smile all the time,” “make an ‘L’ shape when walking onto the grass and between the chairs,” “walk slow,” etc. etc. etc. It was time.
Bethany went first, walking carefully down the stairs from the house, and down the walkway as I began my descent. I followed her onto the grass and down the aisle, concentrating very hard on not making eye contact with anyone and keeping my smile fresh and real looking—unlike my unfortunate smile experience down the aisle at Nicole’s wedding. We stood in line and watched the other three girls follow after us.
Then the moment came. Everyone stood and turned to face the bride walking down with her parents. Out of the corner of my eye in the front I kept darting looks at Josh without turning my head after I had seen him motion to my mom to turn around and look at Danielle not him. I saw Danielle fighting for control over her emotions as she reached the end where Josh was. The tears broke loose for all of us. For the rest of the ceremony, there were tears galore. All of the bridesmaids were crying, my parents were crying, Danielle's brother was crying, Danielle was crying. Josh was crying, Danielle's parents were crying. I was freaking out that my make-up was smearing and I would have that weird mouth look in all the pictures that Sean was taking, but it was honestly a very sweet thing to look at all these special people around me just overwhelmed with joy that the tears just had to come. I've never been to a wedding where the bride and groom are crying. It threw me off a little, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It just went to show everyone that Josh and Danielle were so overwhelmed with love for each other and so genuine about the covenant of marriage that they were making to each other. They were meant for each other at the beginning, and they had been carefully and patiently waiting for this perfect day. By the second line of his vow to Danielle, Josh's voice broke and he struggled through the words as he looked in Danielle's eyes, surrendering his whole heart to her forever. Her vows were much the same. The poor bridesmaids had no hope and bawled through the whole thing. I was thankful for a couple different times of prayer that I could quick, swipe away the tears that were flowing. At one point it was so much that I reached into my dress pocket and busted out my tissue and soaked up the tears during prayer time. I was thankful for waterproof mascara!
The ceremony was short and sweet. I loved it. It's hard to remember a lot of what is said when the event continues on for so long. I really appreciated my pastor, Shawn's words during the ceremony as he talked about how common the word "love" is and focused in on the three kinds of love: agape, eros, and phileo--each one being important and necessary in a marriage to make the commitment last forever. I loved how he had Danielle and Josh take a breath, turn and look at the crowd, and take in the moment with a mental picture. He reminded them about the seriousness of the decision they were about to make before God and all the witnesses present. He told audience members to renew their vows as Josh and Danielle spoke theirs. He compared the symbolic wedding ring to Christian baptism--an outward covenant that shows the world the new step that has been taken in a person's life. Shawn has been such a huge part of our whole family's lives for many years. We adore him and his family, and it was really special to have him there and watch him officiate the wedding.
Finally, the kiss, the pronouncement of Mr. and Mrs. Josh and Danielle Neal, and they walked hand in hand, arms swinging down the aisle, before stopping at the end for another kiss. We followed close behind for hugs and excitement before being swept off for family pictures. Miraculously, the family pictures happened quickly and with ease. Nobody wandered off too far, and we got them done. Then Bethany and I went to meet up with the other girls to put on our aprons and help prep the food for the tables. It was pretty much done when we got there though. Sean took some pictures of us in our aprons and then went off with Josh and Danielle to take some more shots of the two of them.
Everything was going right along as scheduled. We brought food and dinnerware to the tables and sat down to eat. Josh and Danielle got salads and sandwiches from Zanzibar--one of their favorite eating places. It's pretty bomb. I really wanted to try all the different kinds of sandwiches, but I stuck with a tomato and mozzarella on ciabatta. So yummy! I had some mango chicken salad with cherry viniagrette too that was also good. We expected to have lots of leftovers to eat this week, but there was just a couple big salads left, one of which we sent to Bread of Life homeless ministry. Not a single sandwich was left over! I liked having light food at the tables instead of a buffet table or personal servers. It just fit so wonderfully with the overall feel and atmosphere of the wedding--like a big, family picnic. My shoes were off by this point, and I eventually went to go get my flat sandals that I had worn in the morning when I arrived. I couldn't handle the wedges anymore after hiking. Josh and Danielle had avoided getting insurance with the venue by only serving beer and wine. I wasn't planning on drinking any, but there was a slight situation and I took someone else's beer. I haven't had beer in a good year, (ha, that rhymes!) as it's not my preferred drink, and I didn't expect to like it. But I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. My mom told me Josh had paid a little extra to get a nicer kind. Very tasty.
As we finished eating, Lindsay and Marta--the two maids of honor got up to give their speeches. Lindsay cried right from the start, which got me going yet again. They've both known Danielle since 4th grade, and talked about how Josh was marrying both of them in the process, and how special Danielle is to them, and how glad they are to know that Josh will take care of Danielle. Ryan, the best man, said a good speech too. He talked about their friendship over the years and the kind of guy Josh is--telling Danielle she's lucky. Then Danielle got up to give speech thanking everybody. She of course was crying, so of course we all cried. She thanked my family for taking her in and letting her be a part of our family. Josh got up and closed up the speeches with some funny stories about Danielle hiding in his closet and thanked the people involved and present. He was a little choked up as he looked at his bride and said, "I am just so in love with you." (I'm crying again as I write that! Oh gosh!)
Then Josh and my mom danced. It was very sweet. He kept her laughing the whole time, which is what she asked him to do. No tears! Then Josh and Danielle had their first dance. So precious. Danielle had made a parting remark to the bridesmaids that the next song after her dance was going to be a slower one, and we all needed to go dance. I looked around trying to determine who I could dance with. It was my one moment of the evening that I thought a boyfriend would come in handy right about now. I determined to ask my dad, thinking my mom would just have to wait to dance with him because she had already been out to dance with Josh, and it was my turn next. When their song ended, I moved quick and walked to my dad's table as he was turning off my Flip Camera, "Dad, come dance with me," and walked out to the dance floor.
I finally had some time to wander and take in the environment. I laughed to look up in a tree and see a glass jar with a candle inside hanging lonely by itself. There were no others like it, I think it was forgotten from the last wedding in that venue. Haha. The place was small and intimate. There was a table with a board of colored, fabric numbers and typewriter stamped names under each number to show which table everyone would sit at. There was a wishing table with a picture frame saying to leave a good wishes note in one of four jars. They were numbered 1, 5, 10, and 20. Josh and Danielle will open and read the notes on each of those anniversaries. There were brown paper hearts cut out and sitting in a pail with sharpies to write something funny, some sage advice, wisdom, or encouragement. The picture frame was sitting on top of an old-looking radio. There was a table under an awning piled high with platters of donuts from Josh and Danielle's favorite donut place--I've never seen donuts instead of a wedding cake, but I loved the idea! And the donuts were bomb too! We all ate more than our fair share. Haha. There was a gift table that included a turquoise safe-lock box that's inside hood was decorated with fabric, triangle flags that said, "CARDS" to match the save the dates and wedding invitations. The tables were loaded with burlap, the table runners Danielle and I spent many hours making, and clear jars filled with white, pale pink and yellow gerber daisies and other white and green flowers--all put together perfectly by her antropologie girls whom she works with. The whole wedding venue was all so beautifully tied together.
After that, we just danced. Again....the boyfriend would have been helpful. There weren't many people that I knew that were dancing, and it was kind of weird to me to join them when I didn't know them at all. But I did go out for a few, trying to be a good sport about it. The electric slide was fun because those of us that knew it were reteaching other people and it was just one of those light-hearted affairs where people were counting the beats aloud, yelling out "right!" "left!" "back!" and "KICK!" It was a good time. I loved watching my brother dance too. He has a little goofy side to his personality that I've seen because he busts it out around our family sometimes. He gets this gleam in his eye and acts all quirky. It's really funny, but I was laughing to see him bring that goofiness to the dance floor, acting like a total goofball and having fun with it. I never imagined my brother as the dancing type, but he was having a good time.
By 9pm, I was exhausted. No sleep the night before and I was ready to have lights out. Unfortunately, there was still an hour to go, clean-up, load my car with presents, leftovers, or jars as needed, and the hour and a half drive home. I was deeply regretting my failure to take Sunday off from worship team; I had to be up at 6am the next day. I wandered around talking to family and friends--filling in many of them with my latest excitement of teaching kindergarten. They were so pleased and congratulatory about it all.
At 5 minutes to 10 we started clearing the tables. Everyone began pitching in, and we had a good rhythm going for it all. Josh went to get his car and sweep his bride away from all the people she was wanting to chat with. There had been strict orders not to decorate the car because they didn't want window paint and other crap sitting on it at the airport parking lot all week. But Josh drove the car down the driveway to the venue and we saw pink ribbon tied to the door handles with plastic, eco-friendly cups that we had used for our drinks at the reception stuffed under his windshield wipers and tied to the back of the car and hanging from ribbons on the doors. It was funny, and it could have been a lot worse. Josh and Danielle gave hugs to all the family and friends. Danielle got all emotional again as she said good-bye and Josh pulled her away. They headed off into the night, very ready to get away and spent the week in Portland.
We kicked into full-throttle wedding clean-up, and my car got packed up and I busted out of there earlier than everyone else. I dropped my sister off at her apartment and drove home with my great aunt. We got home at 11:30, and I was ready to fall into bed but I felt so gross with all that make-up, and knowing I had been sweating a lot in the insufferable heat that afternoon, and feeling the buckets of hairspray and gel keeping my hair in place. So I hopped in the shower real quick. The house was stuffy and hot from being closed up all day, so I opened windows and turned on fans and waiting for my parents to get home while holding my trembling dog who was so excited to see me after hours of being home alone.
I went to bed happy and exhausted. I've been to my fair share of weddings. I don't know why, but it was the most beautiful, sweet wedding I have ever seen. My mom and I talked about this because other people have been telling us the exact same thing. I thought it was just because it was my brother getting married, but those people disprove that. We discussed that it may have been the lack of formality and the presence of tears. There were very few announcements of what was going to happen next, which made the whole thing just flow very nicely from one thing to the next. People didn't have to be told what they had to watch next, they could just enjoy things as they happened and keep going along with their conversations. I saw Danielle and Josh sneak off to feed each other a bite of donut. There wasn't a crowd of people around watching, just the few who were over getting some themselves. There was no introduction of speech-makers, they just got up and did it. There was no bouquet toss, garter toss, or strict orders to dance. Everyone just came and went and were allowed to just "be." They could enjoy the event on their own terms. It made it relaxing and endearing instead of all the formality that you see at weddings. The tears at the wedding were not an embarrassing thing either. Josh and Danielle shedding them for each other was not something they were trying to hide. They weren't ashamed of their emotion. Instead, they opened up and let us all into their hearts and their overflow of love for each other. It was all very precious, and really made the vibe of the wedding stand out from all others I've been to.
I only hope that the wedding I have someday can come close to being all that this wedding was for all who came. I hope my husband and I can let go of all the logistics on that day and just be reminded of how crazy we are for each other, and how much we mean to the other. I want everyone who attends my wedding to be just as captivated by us and we all were with Josh and Danielle.
I am so happy to have a big sister!