When we were 21 years old, we accepted that a wedding reception involved a nicely decorated church fellowship hall or gym,
punch and cake,
church-approved background music,
and if you were really on the cutting edge....a picture slideshow.
And not much else.
Back then there were plenty of relatives and friends to hug. We got almost nothing to eat while visiting with everyone and woke up in the middle of the night at a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere starving to death. I deeply regretted not having more formal photos taken of the groom's side of the family that had assembled from parts unknown across the country. There is a photo of Robb fake-dancing with my Mom. We had fun....I mean...we had pulled off the wedding part and were very relieved. But it was a buttoned-down affair, reflective of our theology at the time.
Fast forward 20 years and we found ourselves once again in a church. But this time, there was no question about having fun. This was a party. And Robb had thought of everything. For him, God is in the details.
He hired Fayetteville's poet laureate, Clayton Scott, turned food-truck-chef of Best Frickin' Chicken to cater with chicken and waffles on the menu. Their secret maple cream gravy is no longer available on the menu, but Robb got him to make me my own delicious batch because he knew how much I love it! Long-time friend Derek from Core Brewery brought kegs of delicious local beer. Samantha, who is one of the single most interesting and beautiful people I have ever met in my life, created the cake with a nod to our original wedding cake, with gorgeous flowers on top and candied rose petals on the cupcakes. Scott was emcee and spun the tunes ...a masterful mix that included personal favorites and crowdsourced dance-tunes...while his exquisite Julie arranged all the flowers, including the bouquets and boutonnieres...using daisies and roses, our original flowers. The whole thing smacked of thoughtful planning, generosity, joy, collaboration, inclusion, and un-self-conscious celebration.
Our friends Derek and Natalie spoke words of blessing over us in the form of toasts. Their words reminded us again that the love we have for each other, the life we are building, isn't just for ourselves, but instead, brings good to our community, both in and out of our church.
Somewhere in all of this, I was getting bits and pieces about the secret Facebook Event Page where the collaboration had run wild since March. That's right...for almost five months, this joyous scheming had been simmering away. There had been a moment when I glimpsed the page open on Robb's computer and I saw the picture at the top of the page from our wedding day, and I asked him what it was, and he had fumbled for an answer. I chalked it up to "the surprise" and didn't think much else about it. Little did I know of the playlist suggestions, group-thinking, and clandestine virtual high-fives that were going on under my nose as each piece of the puzzle fell into place.
What I did know was that something wonderful was becoming obvious: My husband, who finds it so difficult at times to be vulnerable, had dropped all masks while planning this event with everyone. He was telling the truth when he wrote on the event page: "If you ruin this surprise, I will never speak to you again." But he was also bringing people along on a grand adventure. Instead of acting as a lone wolf, he shared the whole project, inviting everyone in on the fun. Creativity IS leadership, and he was building trust and bonds with our children and with everyone involved with the event. Who does something like this unless they are an extraordinary person? He believes deeply in the comedy and the fairy tale of the gospel and he has a gift for keeping child-like wonder alive for people who sometimes drift out of Narnia and think they've outgrown it. That is what fuels him. That is the consistent, stubborn, nearly insane assertion he has been rock-steady about since I met him: this belief in God's grace as the transformational element above and beyond all we could ask or imagine. So why not throw a perfect party for the love of his wife? Why not pastor a church tirelessly with a full time job as well? Why not help a stranger in need? Why not welcome all to the communion table? Why not attempt to wade the water of politics with love in your heart for everyone? Why not believe the Cleveland Browns could win the Super Bowl? All is grace.
If he had a twin, separated from him at birth, it would be Natalie. They are wired so similarly and appear so differently. So it is no wonder that my beautiful friend was intricately involved in the whole thing, I couldn't possibly explain all that she did, except perhaps that she "got it." She knew what he was shooting for and worked to make it all happen.
At the end of the evening, our friends whisked us out the door without letting us help clean up. Their send off was a sweet detail: At our wedding, I dreamed of being sent away under a shower of rose petals, of course captured iconically by the photographer. But our florist forgot the rose petals, and instead, I have a photo of 300 people outside a church that always reminds me of the frankly awkward scene in the Sound of Music when the partygoers wave to the children and echo their "Goodnight." It always bothered me. (the movie and the omission of the rose petals. Equally.)
So of course, my husband remembered the rose petals. Of course he did. And Nikki captured it all.
And then he said,
"Are you ready for one more surprise?"