When performing weddings, pastors often walk a delicate line between competing agendas of the couple, their families, musicians, and wedding directors, many of whom may not fully appreciate that a wedding is a religious service, the occasion of which is the love of two people celebrated and witnessed before God.
The union of a man and woman in holy matrimony is a very serious thing to most pastors, and while we do counsel couples prior to their wedding, the fact is that we may enter it never being 100 percent sure that the religious orientation of the service is fully understood and appreciated by the couple. In counseling and wedding preparation, we may not be able to see deeply into the couple’s relationship or the emotion behind the service. Even when it is clear that love is present, the couple is oftentimes focused on surviving the rigor and drama of putting on a wedding. And I don’t blame them.
And then there are weddings like the one I performed between Wes Powell and Cobie Crapps.
Wes, 35, met Cobie, 28, in 2013. They began dating and soon were a couple. About a year later, Wes asked for Cobie’s hand in marriage. Cobie said yes; everyone was ecstatic.
And then the fairy tale took a turn.
The Monday after their engagement party, Cobie was diagnosed with lymphoma — cancer of the lymphatic system. She would need chemotherapy treatments. She would lose her hair. Her immediate future looked to be replete with endless doctor visits.
Now, to be sure, there are more than a few young man who would simply feel such a situation wasn’t for them. Let’s face it, some folks don’t deal with sickness well anyway. Couple that with the fact that cancer is a scary thing and Cobie’s future could be uncertain, and many a young man would have found a way to gently slide out of the relationship. Of course, dealing with an illness would likely not have been given as the reason for the departure, but in reality it would’ve been.
And then there is Wes Powell.
“Wes was a Godsend,” says Cobie’s father, Mark. “He was with her every step of the way. He made sure he knew everything he could about the treatments available, helped her organize doctor’s visits, and stood by her through all the treatments.”
“Wes was at Cobie’s side at a critical time when she needed someone like him. He was a pillar of strength to Cobie. His love for her helped get her through the treatments.”
So, on Nov. 7, 2015, about 275 people packed into Bethel to witness the vows between Wes Powell and a beautiful, fully recovered Cobie Crapps.
The service was going perfectly well. And then we got to the vows.
As I softly recited the words Wes needed to repeat, “I, Wes, take you, Cobie, to be my wife…,” it seemed everyone in attendance felt the importance of these promises. I was not especially considering the impact of the vows to Wes and Cobie as I always see them as important.
But then, Wes slowed down and stopped.
I looked up. It was clear that what Wes was saying had very deep meaning to him. And then it hit me. What caused emotion to bubble over in the midst of his vows was the phrase we stopped on: “in sickness and in health.”
I smiled. I got it. And I waited. “In sickness and in health,” I repeated. Now while the liturgy mandates each person verbally state the vows, frankly, I did not need Wes Powell to promise that he would care for Cobie in sickness and in health. Wes had already shown his character.
Yet, to me — a pastor who often laments the loss of authenticity, sincerity and genuineness in weddings — to witness these vows was not only incredibly refreshing but also a true honor.
And the best part of all was not Wes feeling the meaning of those words, it was what was in Cobie’s eyes when he said them. When I waited for Wes to say “in sickness and in health,” I glanced over at Cobie. The love in her eyes as she looked directly and deeply into his was palpable; it was a look and a moment I’m sure I will never forget. I pray neither of them does either.
After the vows, feeling the depth of the sincerity of them, I paused the flow of the service to tell those in attendance the following true story.
Author and business leader Fred Smith stopped one day at a doughnut shop in Texas. Seated at a table near him were a young farm couple. He was wearing overalls and she a gingham dress. After finishing their doughnuts, he got up to pay the bill. Then he came back to the table and stood in front of her. She put her arms around his neck, and he lifted her up, revealing that she was wearing a full body-brace. He lifted her out of her chair and backed out the front door to the pickup truck, with her hanging from his neck. As he gently put her into the truck, everyone in the shop watched.
No one said anything until a waitress made a remark, almost reverently. She said, “He really took his vows seriously.”
Thank God, that through whatever means He chose to use, He brought about the same selfless commitment in Wes Powell and Cobie Crapps.