As someone who is part of an interfaith family, I’m really honored to get to share Sandy’s interfaith LDS wedding with you. Sandy makes no bones about the fact that, no matter what decisions you make, integrating two people into one interfaith family is hard. And she also makes in really clear, both in her words, and in her (amazing, amazing) photographs, that, like so many things that are hard, there is also great joy there. So, without further ado, I’m delighted to bring you Sandy, with some serious wisdom.
Planning our wedding was difficult for a number of reasons. In between getting engaged in July 2009 and getting married a year later, I had to finish my last year of law school, find a job, move to Chicago, study for and pass the bar, work a summer job, and find a grown-up apartment, all while paying for and planning a wedding. We decided to get married in Tucson, which meant we had to plan an Arizona wedding from Michigan without the help of our far away families.
Beyond the logistical difficulties, there were the big philosophical ones. I’m a pretty devout Mormon from a definitely devout family. Robert is not religious. My family has known that for the duration of our five year courtship, but they always hoped that he would convert before we got married. If I’m being totally honest, I always hoped he would, too. And he didn’t. So that was hard.
We had to figure out what our ceremony, from the music to the officiant to the vows, would look like and where we’d get married, if it couldn’t be in a Mormon temple as I’d always planned. I had to figure out if I was really okay with not getting in the temple. I worried that my family would not be completely happy for us on our wedding day. I worried that his family would think mine was weird. We had to decide if we were serving alcohol and, when we decided against it, whether to tell our boozy friends that we expected them to fly/drive/walk from every corner of the country for a dry wedding.
Now that it’s all over and I am back to safely watching and helping others plan their weddings (there’s always a wedding happening in large Mormon communities), I realize that our religious differences were a kind of blessing. We were free to start from scratch. Our families weren’t overbearing because they didn’t know how to be; they’d never seen a wedding like ours, so they more or less left us to it. I also found that going against my family’s wishes and my life long plan to marry within the faith had another positive affect on our marriage. Like Liz Gilbert did in Committed, I came to view our marriage as a private rebellion. For the first time in my life, I was utterly confident that I was doing exactly what I wanted.
Even though a lot of my internal stress stemmed from the big things that were more or less beyond my control, I experienced the same day-to-day wedding stress which most of you are familiar: fighting to keep the guest list small without alienating people, deflecting familial doubt about certain non-traditional decisions (people particularly took issue with our plan to get flowers from Trader Joe’s the day of the wedding and our beloved Dia de los Muertos cake toppers), and brainstorming ways to keep non-dancing guests entertained (we went with board games and a candy buffet).
The thing that kept me sane in the final months, and that I wish I’d known I could do from the beginning, was that it’s okay to “brutally slash” (Meg’s words) anything that did not fit into our budget or our schedule. We decided early on what we wanted out of our day: I wanted to walk down an aisle in a pretty dress, he wanted gourmet cupcakes, and we both wanted a delicious dinner.
Everything else was negotiable. When we couldn’t find a non-cheesy ceremony musician, we happily crossed that task off our to-do list and went with a playlist of our favorite non-cheesy songs. When we realized we both hated the idea of the bridal party, we asked my sister to be the maid of honor, his brother to be the best man, and told them they could wear whatever they wanted. Spending months and months planning for one day can cause you to try to pack too much into that day: too much pretty, too much crafty, too much food, and so on. In hindsight, I’m glad we skipped some of the projects and decoration ideas I’d initially thought were essential because not only did it leave us more time, but it let other aspects of the day shine.
The wedding day itself felt rushed. Because I spent that summer studying for the bar, a lot ended up coming together the day before and the day of the wedding. I wasn’t stressed, though. I’d repeated the following to myself enough times that I really believed it: “Things will go wrong. Lots and lots of things will go wrong. But it doesn’t matter.”
In our case, because we didn’t have a rehearsal, my Dad started dragging me down the aisle before the music started. We got hit with a monsoon during the photo session after the ceremony. And so on. Looking back, what stands out is how willing everybody was to do whatever necessary to help. Due to the distance between us and pretty much everybody else during our engagement and the fact that we like to do things on our own, we didn’t have a lot of help planning. It wasn’t until the day of the wedding that I realized that I’d been unnecessarily keeping our families at arm’s length.
My sister realized that, although I’d insisted I could make all the floral centerpieces myself, I just didn’t have time, and she took over with help from Robert’s sister. When I mentioned that I couldn’t figure out how to hang our strands of papel picado and paper flowers, my brothers leaped into action. My sister and her boyfriend set up the cupcakes. My sister-in-law did everybody’s hair. Robert’s sister made sure I ate lunch. My Dad MC’d. Robert’s dad and brother gave amazing toasts. After the wedding, our friend Colin ran around gathering gifts and keepsakes and making sure they made it to our hotel room.
The remarkable thing is that many of these tasks were taken on at the last minute. I wasn’t smart enough or considerate enough to ask in advance, but people realized I needed help and they helped. Before the wedding, I really thought of the day as belonging to me and Robert. We were paying for it and planning it ourselves. But it wouldn’t have worked without our families. I just remember feeling immensely loved and grateful all day. Really, there’s no way repay the outpouring of love that comes at you on your wedding day. You can only be humble and accepting and try really hard to get good souvenirs for people while you’re on your honeymoon.
On the day of the wedding and in the days since, I realize that the big philosophical worries and the little details, none of them mattered. The unfinished place cards didn’t matter; people figured out where to sit. The carefully planned for paper flowers that we put up in the chapel didn’t matter; people were watching us get married. The glaring differences between our families? As far as we’re concerned now, they don’t even exist.
The moments that stand out now are the following: being left alone in the little room where we got ready with my little sister, right before the ceremony started, and starting to cry; wandering around the dirt and cactus with Robert in a daze, immediately after we got married but before our guests rushed out to join us, and not knowing exactly what to do; dancing with my girlfriends and cute little niece, and knowing that although this day was good, the next one and the one after that would be better. And, for the record, I still repeat my wedding mantra to myself almost every day: Things will go wrong. But it doesn’t matter. It’s made me a lot less crazy.
Have I convinced you that the details don’t matter yet? Good. Now I can admit to you how much I completely loved the aesthetics of our wedding. While I was studying for the bar, Robert threw himself into the wedding completely, turning vintage Arizona postcards into invitations, using Mexican Loteria cards and puffy paint to make matchboxes for favors, and collecting glass milk jugs to use as vases. He even secretly purchased an amazing typewriter tie clip. His crafty streak took me by surprise, but I’m proud to say that he’s the one who made our wedding pretty. I’m also glad that I can honestly say our wedding reflected the both of us and was an endeavor that really set the stage for our marriage being a 100% joint partnership.
Photos By: Jenn Ireland of Jenn Ireland Photography