Get ready for the tears, says her daddy, armed with the video camera. Edie Beals walks into the room filled with family and friends, "Here Comes the Bride" playing on the piano, and, sure enough, she cries as she figures out what her husband has just sprung on her.
They had left the house for a restaurant to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but Dan had another stop to make first: The Blue Room at Knollwood Assembly of God in Mobile, Ala. They arrive promptly at 6:30 p.m., the precise minute, 10 years ago, that Edie had walked the aisle of a church in West Virginia, on the arm of her father and into the arms of Dan, the man, older now by a decade, two children, and a doctor's degree.
Her tears already are flowing when from behind her walk their two daughters, Amanda and Hannah, in matching dresses, proceeding down the aisle ahead of them, dropping flower petals. Edie's a goner, all hope of composure dissolved in the moment.
Dan and Edie are somewhat new to our lives, friends with a common faith and vision for our families. He's a third-generation doctor, a pediatric surgeon, among the best, with training in Boston and Miami. Edie has chosen to forgo a paycheck career as an X-ray technician in order to raise and to educate their children at home.
They met in intensive care in a West Virginia hospital, where he was a new resident, and she was in X-ray school. He helped her move a patient, and from that moment, this 19-year-old knew this doctor was different, for, as she told him, "Don't you know residents don't help anyone?''
Their paths crossed often in the hospital, and the first time he asked her out was in open-heart surgery, where he had closed up a patient, and she was there to do the X-rays to be sure doctors had left no tools in the chest cavity. She was a young Southern Baptist girl who didn't date men who smoke or drink, so she turned him down. But every day for a week, as they wrapped up an open-heart surgery, he asked her out.
What Edie didn't know then was that God was pulling all this together: Dan possessed some strengths that she lacked, and she was on the spiritual path to which Dan knew he needed to return. "There's no doubt God was in this,'' she says now.
And God was in that room a week ago when Dan and Edie stood before us to renew their commitment to each other and to God.
What a contrast for my wife and me. For the last three years, we have watched friends all around us-Christians and nonbelievers alike-going to divorce court, or we've seen that their marriages hang by a thread, gnawed perilously thin by unfaithfulness or neglect. We've seen our friends break faith with one another, for myriad reasons, in myriad ways.
It's hard to imagine that in our own small circle such pain and deception and isolation fester. Lay it to childhood wounds or adult neglect; blame it on one or both for working away from home too much, or for listening too little while at home. Whatever the cause, it's happening.
One friend told me the story of his own broken home, of how, after his father had walked, his mother threw every thing his daddy had ever touched into the fireplace. Now, like his parents, and his wife's parents as well, they are divorcing.
Another friend told me how his wife of a decade didn't come home until late one night, and then it happened again, and then her wardrobe went from cotton and conservative to leather and liberal. And the day he told me, he was preparing to tell their children that it was over, and he knew he was about to inflict on them a wound that never will heal. "I feel like I've been hit by an 18-wheeler, and now it's heading for my children, and I can't stop it.''
Then, when it seems that all marriages are under a storm warning, in march Dan and Edie and their beautiful daughters, a testament to hard work and commitment, to each other and to Jesus.
When our 4-year-old daughter Rebekah learned we were going to celebrate a renewal of wedding vows, she asked the obvious question: "Are they going to kiss again?" She would like to report that Dan and Edie, right there in front of all of us, kissed twice.