All I knew was that I didn’t want that country-club wedding.
My husband and I met in Laramie, Wyoming, a place I had never heard of six months prior when I applied for a job there. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, schooled out East and then in the Midwest, I wanted to go West — my body and soul was itching for open spaces, greater simplicity, and a slower pace of life. It seemed unlikely that I would find a husband in a state of half a million people — in a place known for its cowboys and cattle, two things I knew very little about — yet I filled the U-Haul and headed toward the mountains anyway.
I met Pat after Mass during my third week in Laramie. God must like to surprise us.
So that country-club wedding — it simply isn’t my style, with its impeccable landscaping and fancy chandeliers. I am the kind of woman who refuses to buy a bridal gown, after all. As for Pat — my humble, unpretentious, and rugged Wyoming man — the country-club setting might have killed him. We needed an alternate option.
As Pat and I discussed the wedding in the early stages of our engagement, our values became quite clear. More than anything else, we wanted a celebration of community. At the end of the day, nothing really mattered — the garb, the presents, the flowers, the drinks or food — besides praying with our loved ones.
Okay, that’s not entirely true — I really wanted a tasty cake. But otherwise, we simply wanted to be surrounded by the people who had shaped us, encouraged us, inspired us, and loved us over the years. With this in mind, we began planning.
For the past 20 years, my family has vacationed at my parents’ lake cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. No mountains there, but plenty of lakes, forest, and peace and quiet to satisfy our simple souls. Though everyone would have to travel to a wedding there, we figured there were few destinations better than the “Northwoods,” as us Chicagoans refer to it, and we were determined to make the trip worth our guests’ extra effort.
Our family and closest friends were invited to an “open house on the lake” on Friday, during which my parents graciously swung wide the doors of their cabin, led boat tours of the lake (i.e., near-death skiing and tubing adventures), and served amazing pulled-pork sandwiches that my mom had been making and freezing over the course of the previous six months.
In the evening, all 200 of our guests were invited to our welcome dinner — a meal we prepared ahead of time with friends who had decided to show up early at the cabin on Thursday. No hired help, no catering services — just our family and friends grilling brats, decorating the rustic outdoor pavilion, tossing salads, tapping the keg that we almost forgot to pick up, and, most importantly, smiling and laughing the night away alongside us.
It’s easy for us Catholics to “go through the motions” in our faith, as our faith practice relies heavily on traditions and ritual. We wanted to be intentional about each piece of our wedding, making God’s love real in a way that would resonate in our hearts beyond that first drink at the reception. We wanted people to get to know who God is, at least in the eyes of our own experience together, and so we set mercy as the theme for the readings we chose.
It’s not every day when you hear the story of a sinful woman bathing Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil at a wedding, yet Pat and I knew that we would need to be reminded of her example as we journey through our marriage — she who “loves much because she has been forgiven much,” as Jesus says. Our closest friends sang, played the piano, stood by our sides, and even preached. Yes, Father Rob, our pastor from Wyoming, is one of our closest friends. He gave one hell of a homily about Jesus, about our God who has strengthened us not despite but precisely through our weaknesses — especially through the recent death of Pat’s father. Only a God of mercy could take such brokenness and turn it into a beautiful love story.
Songs sung, prayers prayed, Christ consumed, lives exchanged — then we were ready to party. We traded the extravagant chandeliers of the country club for the giant wood logs of a Northwoods lodge, and it could not have been more perfect. Our friends took photos, and we could not have cared less that they weren’t professionals. Children (including us oversized kids) competed in an archery competition on the back lawn. My first serious boyfriend emceed the evening, with his stunning wife by his side as DJ. The entire room and each table had been exquisitely decorated by some dear friends. Before dinner, guests bonded over some friendly trivia about our lives and relationship.
As we departed the reception at the end of the night, we traipsed through a tunnel of sparklers and fireworks — yes fireworks — held by friends and family. The sparklers were something we had wanted but had forgotten about in the final rush of wedding prep. Father Rob, however, had not forgotten, and unbeknownst to us, he made a last-minute purchase to put the finishing touch on our celebration. In true Wyoming fashion, the fireworks nearly lit the nearby trees on fire. Needless to say, we exited in style, surrounded by the brilliant light of our loved ones.
Things would have run a bit smoother and felt a bit fancier had we hired professionals to help with the countless tasks and services of the wedding. But our wedding was special because it put on display the beautiful gifts of our loved ones, and it gave us the opportunity to receive their love in hands-on ways. Ultimately, we believe this is what the Body of Christ looks like — the mutual exchange of loving service.
We didn’t need a country club. Ultimately, we didn’t even need that beautiful Northwoods lodge. All we needed were our friends and family with us, united together in God’s love. And a really good piece of cake.