When we see Him

It seems to be a season of next steps.

Over Christmas I watched my baby sister get married and thought how small she looked in yards of white tulle, and how brave. Spending time over glasses of wine with my new brother-in-law and another brother-in-law-to-be, I thought about how much things change, and how the changes can be so good, bringing new, unexpected people into our lives.

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Among my closest friends also there has been a rustling and stirring as many of us begin to move forward, after a long time of restlessness. We’d always heard it would happen suddenly, but I admit it’s leaving me a little dizzy.

There are so many good-byes. A few weeks ago I got together one last time with an old schoolmate who was preparing to move out west with her husband. My roommate of nearly three years will be taking her next step in another month, moving on to a new job and a new life in a new city far away. Several of my friends have completed applications for graduate programs and will be moving on as they figure out what schools will best meet their needs.

Then there are all the friends newly dating, others newly engaged, and the upcoming weddings. Every weekend seems to bring a new acquaintance, as an old friend says, “I want you to meet my girlfriend,” or “Let’s do dinner. You have to meet my boyfriend.”

It’s bittersweet, of course, but in many ways it’s such a joyful time. It’s almost audible as an undercurrent in so many of my conversations with friends and family members: “At last!”

The waiting can be so long, but as it finally draws to a close, you can see so much beauty in it. So often it’s only in looking back that you discover the face of Christ etched across your experiences. He’s there in the shadows, working in silence.

Does one grow to understand this better as life flows on, or will we always flail in the darkness?

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True confessions of an awkward wedding attendee

“You go to a lot of weddings,” a friend of mine commented on Friday night, after I announced that my Saturday would be taken up with attending a wedding about an hour and a half away.

I was glad to hear someone else say it–I feel like I go to a lot of weddings, but I have always assumed it was in my head. Isn’t it normal to go to at least five weddings in a summer? At least at this age? It really depends on the year, of course, but as I head into the latter part of my twenties, I do find the weddings have begun to pick up. And it’s a beautiful thing. I love seeing my friends settle into their vocations, love seeing the look of restful joy that comes over them when they finally take that step, love hearing the brides’ voices waver as they say their vows. I particularly love wedding ceremonies. There’s nothing quite like a nuptial Mass to make you ponder the goodness of God and the mystery of human love.

But I’m going to admit out loud that aside from the Mass, weddings aren’t my favorite things.

I’m really, really bad at them.

First of all, I never have a gift. I am the worst gift-giver in the world, because I really want the gifts I give to mean something, and until I find the “perfect” thing, I just won’t give anything at all. More than anything, I hate compulsory gift-buying and I loathe wedding registries. What this means is I show up to every wedding empty handed, and about a year and a half later I send along something that doubles as a wedding gift and a “congratulations on your first kid turning 6 months old” gift. I don’t see myself pulling out of this bad habit any time soon, but I still feel awkward about it. I’m always convinced in my deepest soul that even if the bride doesn’t notice, her mother will…

I also always struggle with what to wear. “Wedding attire” has become such a fluid concept these days. Long dress? Church dress? Slightly nicer-than-Sunday-Mass church dress? Shoes? Don’t wear white, you detract from the bride, but don’t wear black, it’s bad luck…make sure you don’t match the bridesmaids…Whatever I put on, it’s a gamble. Men, you probably don’t get this, but ladies, back me up: figuring out what the heck to wear to a wedding is some stressful business!

And after yesterday’s wedding, I discovered another reason why I always feel a bit off-kilter at weddings (especially wedding receptions). You see, I’ve never been much of a “group” person, and especially in college, I tended to befriend random individuals from all sorts of groups and backgrounds. This makes for some amazing and very diverse friendships, but it also means I end up getting invited to weddings alone, and I spend the whole time basically alone, because the only person I’m close to is…the bride. The bride, the focal point of the day, who has to be available for pictures and conversations with distant relatives and old family friends, and beyond all that is incredibly distracted by the fact that she’s just gotten married. I always struggle with figuring out the best way to show her I love her by being present, without being that awkward person who sits alone in the corner for hours and hours. My modus operandi for the past several years has been this: show up at the reception site, find my seat, make stilted conversation with the people on either side of me, as soon as toasts are finished make a beeline for the bride, give her a big hug, then grab my purse, sign the guest book, and leave. I’m usually out before the cake.

But yesterday I didn’t even do that. I attended the Mass and then…I ran away.

Is that bad? In my defense, the reception site moved and apparently the time got pushed back, and by the time I got out of church the bridal party had entirely disappeared (I guess they picked an off-site location for pictures). So I decided I’d just head home and send along a loving letter of congratulations later. But I admit I’m still worried by a nagging doubt, that perhaps I was rude, that I might have hurt the bride’s feelings, that it was, quite simply, poor form.

I don’t know, my fellow single wedding-going friends. How do you handle weddings, especially when you have to go alone? What’s proper protocol when you’re really not close to a single person there, when you feel out of your depth? I only have one more wedding this year, and fortunately I’ll be going with several good friends. But other weddings like yesterday’s are bound to come up in the future, and I want to be ready for them.