Wedding Dress

I often miss God when I fail to see what is right before my eyes. I know better but I often fail to live in anticipation; therefore I am blinded by distraction or mere busyness. It was not the case with my daughter’s wedding dress.

The moment I am describing follows an undulating path. Our daughter Amanda wanted a dress that would capture her childhood dreams of being a bride—there is no telling how many moments in her life she dreamt of this dress, but I’d suspect it was more than a handful.

Our approach to the wedding costs was to give an amount far under—far, far under the average wedding costs in America and we told the bride and groom to spend as they desired. We didn’t want to know what things cost because it was their decision how to spend their money.

On the first shopping trip she found her dress and she was smitten. Unfortunately, the dress was going to take a sizable chunk of their spoils. The search continued. A second trip was with a dear friend and in the frenzy of shopping, and likely a couple glasses of champagne, a dress was ordered that was even more expensive than the first.

When my daughter sent a picture of the dress and the amount to my wife Becky, she had enough wisdom not to respond immediately. The dress was a disaster on a number of levels. Within a day, Amanda had buyer’s regret but she had signed a contract. After a tense—and alternatingly defensive and humble—conversation, she acknowledged the error and we prayed that a call the next day might get her out of the contract. It did. Utter relief.

Becky and I were traveling the next weekend when Becky got a text saying: “I think God found my dress.” Cryptic and brief—we had to wait to find out the story.  Amanda later told us that she had been searching on Craigslists around the country for the dress she had found on her first outing and found one in Virginia. She wrote and discovered it was the exact dress for a fraction of the original cost.  She began to interact with the recent bride and eventually got an email asking: “Are you Dan Allender’s daughter?”

It turned out that a friend of 24 years that I have led Recovery Weeks with for decades was her stepmother. They shipped the dress out without cost to see if it could be altered to fit Amanda.  We found a seamstress and the drama was over—or so we thought.

The first fitting was a disaster. I was not allowed to see the dress or how it was made, but the seamstress didn’t seem to know what to do with lace. The tears and remorse were oceanic. It appeared the dress had been ruined. Our daughter Annie called in a dear friend, Katie, who is a genius designer and seamstress who could weave beauty out of Aspen bark. She met with our crew and helped the seamstress turn disaster into rescue.

At this point I was not fond of the dress. It already cost us so much drama—tears and consternation, ups and downs—but I was thrilled it was resolved.

The day of the wedding was magical, filled with suspense and anticipation. I was privileged to officiate the wedding. Though I speak for a living, I was as tense as an 8th grader about to go to his first dance. The bride and groom had chosen a setting as beautiful as any wedding venue I’d seen.

The groom, best man, and I were locked in a bedroom until we were called out to see the bride. I was allowed to be first, so I stepped outside and waited for her appearance. Becky spoke to me and I turned to look at her and then she said quietly, “Your daughter is here.” I turned and gasped. Perhaps it is not the best word to use for whatever wordless expression of glory passed my lips, but it will do. My eyes opened wide to take in what I was seeing. Tears flooded my vision.

I can recall the impulse both to run to her yet also to bow. Perhaps more accurately, I wanted to kneel and let my 6-year old daughter run into my open arms as she had after I returned from a trip, shouting, “Daddy. You’re home!” Instead, I was about to leave her life in a way that is both utterly right and beautiful yet also profoundly sad.

More than anything I was stunned by a beauty I have seen nearly every day of her life and yet a beauty that felt so new I had never seen before. I was reminded of the bright intensity of the sun: something we are not meant to grasp or take in for more than a millisecond. How are we to describe radiance, like that of the sun or of my daughter on this day, other than through the paradox that upon seeing it blinds us?

I stood there blinded yet ever-staring, stunned. I was filled with pride, joy, and wonder. It felt so utterly new and surprising, yet it was not unlike the sensation of seeing my daughter Annie stunning and radiant at her wedding, and equally so with my daughter-in-law Sassy. Without question, the most stunning and blindingly radiant of all was my young bride Becky as she walked down the aisle at our own wedding.

What is it about brides and wedding dresses? Perhaps it is obvious to you. It was not for me until this wedding. My whole being, at every core fiber and tendril, aches to see the beauty of the One who will come as my bridegroom to consummate the end of all things and the beginning of all things renewed. The absolutely breath-taking gasp of majesty is seldom seen today in a military march or a politician’s rise to a podium. We are far too cynical to be moved by much, other than the Duchess Kate or a glimpse of an actor or actress on the red carpet. We are laden with celebrity flash intrigue for about 90 seconds, then move on with our lives.

We have so little room for the wonder of innocence and beauty. A bride, arrayed in glorious, dazzling effulgence plucks the heart’s deepest desire for the return of Jesus. In that moment with Amanda, I felt the desire deepen beyond words for what it will be like to take in the blinding beauty of Jesus.

Beauty at its most breathtaking binds us to the deepest desire of life: to see and be at peace with utter goodness. My daughter blessed me and allowed me to walk her down the aisle, and then stand before her and her beloved to unite them as husband and wife. Little in life will match this moment other than when I stand with the bridegroom—blinded by beauty, stunned with awe, and bursting with joy.

Thank you, Amanda. Thank you, Jeff and Amanda—from the depths of my heart.