Wedding Advice: Selecting An Officiant

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(Last year I married Mark & Mandie.  This year I led their baby dedication.)

I was recently contacted by a young lady who found my email through an online search.  Like engaged couples everywhere, she’s searching for an ‘officiant’ to perform the nuptials at her wedding next summer.  From time to time I receive these inquiries and I try my best to articulate a response that is loving, truthful and compassionate while praying for the opportunity to enhance the life of the person on the other end of the email.  Marriage is hard.  Any honest pastor will tell you that even our marriages can come under such attack (from the inside and out) that it’s a wonder more pastors do not divorce.  With that sobering reality, I’ve had to answer this question:  Will I officiate weddings for strangers?  For a fee?

Below is a response to the most recent request.  If you or someone you know is considering marriage, take time to read the following before you simply hire a pastor the way you may hire a baker or florist.  If you carry the title of pastor and you make a side income by blessing the unions of strangers, please reconsider.


Dear _________,

Congratulations on your engagement.  Since you’re a year out and starting to make important decisions related to your marriage, I’d love to take a moment to share my answer and then possibly encourage you as you consider which direction you’d like to go when it comes to an officiant or having a pastor.

Preparing for a wedding day and preparing for a marriage are two different things.  Most people prepare for an event, a celebration, a day.  Marriage is 99.9% what happens after that one day.  Please do not make the mistake of placing all of your energy into one day and overlook planning for a lifetime.

The shorter answer to your question is that I limit the weddings I do to people I know (usually attendees of the church) so that our church can invest in the couple in the months leading up to the wedding and usually long after the wedding day.

So far, I’m not aware of anyone I’ve married having a divorce in the 14 years I’ve done weddings.  I don’t know if that will always hold true but I do know that I want to serve people well by helping them avoid pain if possible.  That is important to me.  I never want to give my blessing to a union that could be harmful to either party.  The scripture indicates that I’ll be held accountable by God (Hebrews 13:17) for how I care for and lead people.  As a pastor, my role at a wedding is more than to serve as an actor.  My role is to serve God by affirming that two people are united together in Him.  I can’t honestly say that I’ve done you a healthy service if I simply show up and have you repeat vows.

The wedding itself is a spiritual service about a spiritual union as much as it is a celebration.  When I work with an engaged couple, I make a serious investment into their lives.  If you were to become part of our church in the months ahead, we’d consider doing the wedding.

My encouragement to you is to seek out a pastor and not simply a hired contractor.

With divorce rates so high and the costs of a divorce taking such an emotional toll, no one I respect would do weddings for people they do not know. The pastor’s care for you should be deeper than that of a DJ or Photographer.  You will hire a lot of people to help you celebrate, the pastor should be there because they know you and have helped you prepare for a lifetime after that day.

Pastors who want God’s best for you will want to get to know you and guide you toward God’s plan for marriage.  In most cases that involves personality surveys, one-on-one counseling, couples counseling, discussion of your childhood home life, future budgeting, marriage expectations, etc. Often there will also be a service such as “Prepare/Enrich” prepare-enrich.com.  There may even be a study guide.  All the while, the goal is to enhance, not disrupt the union you’ve already formed.  A pastor who makes that kind of investment for you will be praying for you, helping answer questions and serve as an outside sounding board to help you resolve conflict.  It’s a much more meaningful relationship than the alternative.

My encouragement for you is to find a person you trust who will take time to invest in you.  Local church pastors who take this kind of approach do not cost more than the officiant you may find online. They simply take the role more seriously and seek to enhance your life before you say ‘I do’.  It costs nothing to sit down with your fiancé and talk with a local church pastor.  There are plenty of great churches and pastors in Baltimore.  You won’t click with all of them but I’m sure there are one or two whom you’d find that you really relate to and whom would really invest into your life as you approach this incredibly important day.  Remember, it’s not about the wedding day.  You want to prepare for a lifetime.

I do wish you well and if I can ever assist you in the future, I’m glad to help.

Captivated,

Tally Wilgis

Domestic Violence: My Story

“Stories need to be told.” –Mom

I was 17 years old. My mom needed to get a hold of my father for some reason, so we drove to his side of town and searched for him. To the surprise of no one, we found him in a bar.

Biological

Coming outside half drunk, he tried to treat me like I was seven.

He stood on the sidewalk and leaned into the car as he spoke across to my mom.  The passenger door was wide open.  He thought everything was cool. He tried to push his way into the vehicle and sit on my lap. I nudged him a few times and told him to get off of my leg. He refused. I snapped. I pushed him out of the car and grabbed him by his collar as I pushed him onto the trunk of the car. I clinched my fist and raised my hand when he said, “Do it. I deserve it. I wasn’t there for you. Go ahead, hit me.” I dropped my fist and pushed him away from the car. I returned to the passenger seat full of rage and brokenness. Holding back both anger and tears, I told my mom, “Let’s go. I want to get out of here.”

We pulled away and I didn’t see him again until I preached my grandmother’s funeral 13 years later.

My biological father's side of town.  I used to swing on a swing set that was in front of this mural.  credit: http://rachelrabinowitz.com/post/3364862/invest-in-baltimore-s-remington-neighborhood

My biological father’s side of town. I used to swing on a swing set that was in front of this mural.  Photo credit: http://rachelrabinowitz.com

Stepfather

Let’s rewind a bit. At nine years old I saw my mom get married to a man she met at work. He was an inmate who worked there as part of the pre-release unit out of a local prison. Hey, give her a break, there was no Match.com back then.

Our relationship was turbulent. On one hand I respected that he married my mom even though she had three children at the time but on the other hand I came to hate his alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and subsequent verbal and mental abuse. Our relationship kicked off with a bang. Not long after he moved in he tried to discipline me by tossing me into my bed and threatening me not to get up. I reached over to my dresser where there was a D-sized battery. As he closed the door behind him, I threw that battery with every intention of putting a hole in his head. Instead it put a hole through the door. He came in angry and confused when I screamed at him:

“You are not my father. I don’t have a father.

He walked out on me. I don’t want a replacement.”

I was angry. I was hurting. I was nine.

Manageable

During my teenage years, life was what we would call manageable. After all, that’s what you do with a rocky home life. You “manage” it, right?

Domestic violence leads far too many families to believe that this behavior is something to be managed.

Violence

On one particular afternoon when I was 16, my stepfather started screaming at me to take out the trash. I remember thinking that I should just keep my cool and do what he’s saying, because he was in another one of his moods. My obedience wasn’t enough; I guess he had some stress he wanted to work out. I packed up the trash and headed for the back door. He started yelling at me, “Pick up your pants! You’re walking around here looking like a N****R.”

Without turning around I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his use of that word. The next thing I know, he tackles me from behind and we start rolling around. A few punches were thrown. I ended up in a dominant position and I said, “I am only getting bigger and you are only getting older. Don’t you ever put your hands on me again.” I still get worked up just thinking about it.

That was the last time I recall him ever trying to touch me.

Paralyzed

When I went off to college four hours away from home, life became very complicated. The calls from my mom or sisters would often come with tears. Apparently with me out of the house, my stepfather became even more verbally, mentally and physically abusive. The police were called several times for incidents of violence, but each time nothing changed. He would convince the cops that everything was just fine. My reluctant and fearful family would back up his side of things and it would get “managed.” There’s that word again.

I can’t count how many times I wanted to come home from college to hurt this man and ensure he would never be able to cause harm to my mother or my sisters again.  But I felt paralyzed. Nearly every time a domestic violence incident occurred, my sisters or my mom would beg me not to come home. They knew me. They knew the rage that was bottled up. They knew I would take care of the problem, but they were worried that they would have a larger problem to clean up after I left. Their main fear was that he would escalate things again when there was no one around to protect them.

Out of respect for them, I stayed away. I was paralyzed.

Excuses

Each time I came home for special occasions, life appeared normal. I didn’t sense any immediate fear in the eyes of my sisters or mom and everyone was thankful to have the relative calm. I would be the one stirring up problems if I were to address the issue then. After all, “It only happens when he is drinking.”

Excuses. Victims of abuse often make excuses for the aggressor.

Rape

Today my (now former) stepfather is serving out a 30-year prison sentence for his second attempted rape conviction. I do not know the second victim, but I absolutely love the first–she’s my mom. My mom tried to separate from my stepfather. There was even a court order. He stalked my mother for months. During this time, I was married and living in Texas.

It was horrible to hear about him sitting in his car at exits to the highway where my mom had to travel.  Other times he would call my mom to tell her what she was wearing. Insane stuff. Ultimately, one day he broke into the house and attempted to rape my mother.

Mental

Many people get angry and assume that the women in these situations are “stupid” or “weak” or “complicit.”  The truth stands opposed to that ignorance.  The reality is that women who are victims of abuse are hurting, ashamed and afraid. It is very rare that a woman in an abusive relationship will actually come out and define the relationship as abuse. Remember: manage, paralyze & excuse.

Abuse is mental before it’s physical.

A woman trapped in domestic abuse has been conditioned to hold out hope that one day he will change and all the love she pours out will be reciprocated. In many ways she believes if she can somehow take responsibility for his problems, life will be better. It nearly never happens. A domestic abuser takes no personal responsibility but instead creates an irrational world where the victim is responsible.

Mental abuse is the worst form of abuse, because it leaves no bruises on the outside. The bruises are found on a woman’s self-esteem, on her broken heart, and in the fading of her once vibrant dreams.

Domestic abuse kills off the spirit if not the body.

Help

How can you help a woman or children caught in domestic violence?

Please visit http://www.thehotline.org/ and learn more about how you can help. If you are trapped in a domestic violence situation you can also call: 1.800.799.7233.

As a culture we have to engage ourselves in situations where we see domestic violence. We’ve become a nation of cowards who say, “That’s not my problem.” Wrong. It is our problem. Domestic violence is a cultural and societal problem. Any man who believes he can hit a woman without consequence will continue to do so. It eventually took two 20-year convictions to finally stop my stepfather from harming another woman.

National Domestic Violence Hotline  | 1.800.799.7233

National Domestic Violence Hotline | 1.800.799.7233

Mom

I sent my mother the above text and told her I was considering this post, but since it involved her, I would not share any of this publicly. I do not have a motive outside of helping others who may need to know that they are not alone. Below is her response:

Stories need to be told.  I don’t mind you telling it. I almost commented the other day on a post by (church member), but I didn’t out of respect for you. I sent it to myself instead.  

I stayed because I always thought it would get better, because I didn’t think I could handle it on my own financially, because we would separate and he would behave a couple of months and beg me to go back, and after 1996, because of the birth of our daughter. 

In 1993 he was charged with assaulting me, and I invoked marital privilege to keep him out of jail. When he attacked me in 2003, with a protective order already in place, he disconnected the house phone and took my cell phone. The only way I knew to get help was that you were on AOL IM every morning. I was able to reach you, and tell you what happened. I believe you called the police and I think a neighbor did too, hearing me scream. 

I’ve always hated that it must have hurt you being so far away, to get a cry for help from your mother. I felt it must be so conflicting for you to be a Pastor, and yet want to hurt him for what he did. I’m sorry I put you through that. 

After this attack, I had enough, and was determined to prosecute him. I couldn’t let my girls think this was ok, letting a man get away with doing this to you. He got 20 years for that attempted rape charge, with 10 suspended. He served 6 years, paroled in May 09, then was charged with rape in Dec 09, and got 20 more years for that, plus then 10 years back from my case. (That is how he’s doing 30 years now).

You did help me immensely though. Through the aftermath, you made me see that I needed to cut off all communication with him and stop accepting his phone calls. That cut off all of his control over me. Once I did that I was able to really begin to heal and grow stronger. I know I am strong now, because I will never, ever, allow anyone to treat me that way again.   

Thank you for consulting me, and considering my feelings. You can tell as much of the story as you want. As a family, it didn’t just happen to me, it happened to all of us.  

I love you.

I love you too, Mom. You are an amazingly strong woman.

365 Pages – Blank Page

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A blank page.

For most people, the blank page is the most intimidating aspect in the act of starting… anything.  A book, a work of art, a letter or even a holiday card all begin with a void waiting to be filled.  A blank page can feel intimidating.

For most people, the beginning of a new year can feel this way as well.  It’s rather daunting.  It seems as though the entire world is expecting to see you fail. It has become a running joke to talk about making the same resolutions year after year only to see them all fall short.  People who hold gym memberships deal with the annoying January rush of new members because they know that within weeks the gym will thin out again.  It’s almost tragic how many people make great resolutions only to watch them fade with time, difficulty and doubt.

Often times the doubt that plagues us comes from within.  We all have our own history that seemingly shouts out over our present moment saying:

“You will fail.  You’re not going to accomplish anything.  You will fail just like you did last year!” 

Here is what you must keep in mind:

A resolution becomes a revolution not by a change of your calendar but by the change of your heart.

Christians should be among the world’s foremost experts in the concept of “renewal”.  Because of Christ, we are to be in a perpetual state of renewal and evaluation.  Unfortunately, we seldom take advantage of the opportunity to ‘start again’.  One reason we fail to act is due to the fear of the all-too-intimidating blank page.

But it doesn’t have to be that way:

A blank page is an opportunity not an obligation. 

Your God is a God of renewal.  Redemption.  U-turns.  Starting over.  Again and again.  The bible declares that His mercies are new everyday! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

This year can be different.  It doesn’t have to be hype to say: “This year WILL be better for you.”

You can change the world with your life… and it starts by changing your view of the blank page!

Here’s the deal.  A book will be written in 2014.  It’s the book of your life. Whether you want to do so or not, you will have written 365 pages when it’s all said and done.  I want to encourage you to make this the best volume yet.

Forget asking “What will people say if I fail?”  Start asking “What will God say if I refuse to start?”

Over the next few posts I want to give you some encouragement from scripture about how you can look at the 365 pages in front of you called your 2014.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

Your greatest battle has already been won.

Listen to those words.  Confidence.  Assurance.  Washed.  

This is how the people of God should embark on their new year.  Our greatest battle has been won thanks to Christ on the cross.  Therefore we must walk forward knowing that while we have challenges to come, the greatest battle has been won. If God has already defeated sin and the grave, nothing I will face in the year ahead can tear me down.  I may suffer, I may experience loss.  Yes, there is likely tragedy ahead but you know what?  My God goes before me.  My God saw that the greatest battle I had was my own sin and the resulting death.  He conquered both at the cross.

This is how God works.  There is no battle as important as the battle he has already won on your behalf. 

As you approach your 2014 and as you stare at that blank page, keep in mind… “My greatest battle has already been won.”  You can have confidence because the One who conquered sin, death and the grave has power over this world.  He can and will guide you. Resist the temptation to quit.  Resist the temptation to walk away and curl up in a ball.  So what if you miss your workout? Get back at it!  So what if you fall off the bike?  Get back up!  God has gone before you in your greatest battle, surely He will be with you as you aim to honor him by making changes with your mind, body or soul.

None of your present challenges are as great of an obstacle as your sin condition. Thanks be to God, Jesus conquered that.  Rise up this year.  Have faith.  March forward.  Christ has defeated your greatest problem.  Put something to that blank page and do it with confidence! This can be your year of faith.

#365pages