Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"I loved her first..."

"...I loved her first and I held her first
And a place in my heart will always be hers
From the first breath she breathed
When she first smiled at me
I knew the love of a father runs deep
And I prayed that she'd find you someday
But it still hard to give her away
I loved her first..."

- Heartland

As a lyricist, primarily known for writing (and loving) wedding songs, how did this one, "I Loved Her First," (click on the title to hear the song) get by me...and more bafflingly, why didn't I write it???

There are a few songs in this world that from the very first time I hear the "hook," I wish I could start the moment over...and listen to it for the first time...again, and again, and again.  My own musical version of the film "Ground Hog Day."  This song was no different.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Early Sunday morning I scooted through a security checkpoint at St. Louis Lambert Airport, to board a flight for Los Angeles, where my friend Dick Davenport would pick me up and whisk me off to Palos Verdes for his daughter Beth's wedding. 

Beth had been in my Sunday School class for three years, I'd been her sponsor for a stunning Senior project on liturgical dance, and we've become very close friends over the last seven years.  Beth and her family have never been less than kind, compassionate, generous and embracing.  Dad Dick, mom Jerri, sisters Amanda and Natalie, and brother Brian are as dear to me as my own family.

When Beth and Ricahrd asked me to co-officiate their wedding, I was honored by the invitation, and humbled by their recognition of, and enduring trust in, my commitment to the sacrament of marriage.  The timing couldn't have been more perfect.  I was home from camp, the girls were on holiday in Maine, Jeff would be at work in Boston, and Mollie would get to have a playdate with her new puppy-friends - Izzie and Kaylie and their family, the Dooracks.  Saying yes was a joy.

I had met Beth's fiancĂ© the first week they started dating. It was the beginning of their freshman year of college, and she brought him to Sunday School with her.  I knew he was "the one" by the way he loved what was most important in this world to her with as much devotion as she did...her family. 

The Davenport family makes a person feel like they have found something rare and beautiful in this world when they take you in, and care for your heart.  And Richard, Beth's fiancĂ© was taken into their hearts and home with complete, pervasive, and unconditional love. And he fit right it. He laughed at all the right spots in movies like Stripes and Anchorman with Brian. He became another big brother (along with Amanda's, then fiance'...now husband, Ben) to Natalie, and he was every bit a part of Davenport family gatherings...talking, playing games, helping with whatever projects needed an extra pair of hands.

And he "got" Bethany. He loved her, as much as her parents and siblings did. I have always loved the way Beth shares every bit of her life with her family.  They laugh, cry, pray, and work together.  And Richard joined her in that sharing.  I have watched them grow as a couple, and as an integral part of the Davenport family tapestry of living and giving...and it is a beautiful fabric...without seam or rent.

However, as much as I have loved watching the tender relationship Beth has with her siblings and mom, having spent my post high school years without a dad, it was her relationship with Dick that has been most endearing and instructive to me.

Jerri and Dick have beautiful relationships with each of their children, but Beth and Dick have a relationship that can best be described as "choreography".  It is more beautiful than a ballet and more remarkable than the synchronization of hundreds of aspen leaves turning towards the sun on a bright Colorado morning.  There is an ease of movement...light one moment, strong and sure the next...that characterizes the beauty of what I have witnessed over the years. And it is this same sense of choreographed beauty that was tangible at the reception when the DJ announced that they would be taking the dance floor for their daddy-daughter dance. Dick and Bethany taught ballroom and swing dancing together at her high school, and there was an almost weightless sense of movement through space between them. It speaks to the nature of their relationship as father and daughter...a burdenless joy, a trust-filled peace.

I have written wedding songs just for the purpose of daddy-daughter dances, and so my heart was momentarily suspended in air while I waited for the first chords to resonate through the room so that I could identify a familiar love song.  But when the music started, I didn't recognize it...at all. Since I love wedding songs...and lyrics...I listened closely to each word...hanging on phrases that caught me off guard.

And when I heard Heartland's swell - a growing crescendo of parental love - towards the line, "...but I loved her first, and I held her first..." there was an immediate catch in my throat, tears burst from my eyes and heart, and a sob leapt from my chest without warning.

To see Dick waltzing Beth around the dance floor was breath-taking in light of these lyrics.  I can't imagine there was a dry eye in the house, but I will never know because soon I couldn't see for the sting of my own tears.

It was the highlight of my day. I felt as if I had waited seven years to see that one dance. I had to leave the reception soon after their dance, to catch a red-eye flight back to St. Louis so that I could welcome the girls back from Maine, but I spent the next 11 hours from there to here, thinking about that song...about Beth, Richard, Dick and Jerri, and their families, looking for a spiritual lesson...and benediction...in that deeply moving moment.

What I began to wrestle with, first, in the wee small hours of the morning high over Colorado or Kansas, was my own sadness. Sorrow that, because of my dad's untimely passing, I had never known a daddy-daughter dance. I felt deep sorrow that so many young men and women, for whatever reason, might never experience the kind of relationship with their parents...or step-parents...that I saw reflected in Dick and Beth's faces as they waltzed around and around, Dick leading her lightly over the the gleaming wood of the dance floor. They might never know the look of love and joy on a mother's face, the way Jerri's face looked as she watched them sweep and dip, laugh and twirl together in time with the music.. 

I prayed deeply for all of us. Then it dawned on me, I do have that kind of a relationship with my divine Parent...with my Father-Mother God...we all do.  He/She "loved us first".  Or as John promises in I John:

"We love him, because he first loved us."

He first loved us...from even before "the first breath we breathed" or first smiled at our moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents or friends...we knew the love of a Father that runs deep.  And we have always known how it feels to have a Father-Mother who never  has to give us away...but shares us with eachother so that we can show Him that we have learned the lessons of loving unconditionally He has so generously, patiently, and wisely taught us.

Whether you are a bride like Beth in a diaphanous white gown, an Indian princess in a brightly colored sari, a young mom alone in an apartment hoping for love, and cherishing the qualities of husband (and father) you long to bring into your child's life, a shy Iraqi bride in a burka, a fifty (or seventy) something bride standing face-to-face with the love of her life...again, a couple on the steps of a San Francisco courthouse, or a teen bride exchanging vows with your young groom just before he ships out for a desert base in the Mid East on his first tour of duty...you have a Father who loved you first.  And you have a Mother who cherishes the strength of that relationship, and the tenderness with which you are held in his arms as He dances you through life...one stanza at a time.

Beth's wedding was a gift to me.  Not only did I have the privilege of standing with her, and Richard, as they pledged themselves to one another, before their family and friends.  But I was reminded, in the dark afterglow of a beautiful wedding, while flying through a clear moonlit sky, that I have a Father "who loved me first"...we all do.

Congratulations Beth and Richard...may your hearts grow together in faith, hope, trust, grace...and love...never forgetting that He loved you first.

Kate Robertson, CS

[photo credit: Darcey Snyder 2009]

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