Courage and Love Go Hand in Hand – For As Long As They Both Shall Live

It is such a privilege and blessing to officiate for so many wonderful couples over the last several years. I have ventured into the amazing landscapes of Montana to help each couple make their dreams come true. To help them access that special place in their hearts that long for connection, acceptance, and empathy. But I also get so much out of each wedding. I pack up and take home a little bit of each experience – the excitement of the occasion, the wonder of Nature, the mystery of the ritual, and hopefully, a greater understanding of what it means to love.

And one of the sacred places that I return to again and again, not just for work but also for play, is the mighty Yellowstone River. It is truly God’s country out here where the seemingly calm, meandering path of the river has been my constant companion – whether I’m up above its banks presiding over an elopement or floating on the water with my hubby. Even though we have been loving this river for over 25 years, it never gets old. The mountain vistas and wide valley form the perfect union and you can’t help but get swept away by the grandeur of it all every time. Sounds like love to me.

I lead couples from all over the globe to the Yellowstone river to say their vows, but perhaps one of the best was a local couple who were actually my 400th wedding! We had begun working together to personalize their ceremony several months before the big day, and as I watched the countdown to my next big milestone, Lisa and Nick from Livingston, MT were the ones to claim the title. But they were so much more than just a notch in my officiant stola. Their story hit home in all the right ways for me personally. I mean there’s a couple in love, dogs, and a river. What else do you need for a dramatic romance?

This special couple are more than just two lucky individuals who found each other. They have lived their own real life romance. You know that moment in the movie when they don’t know if they’ll ever see their love again? And they risk everything trying to save someone else? Then they realize that their relationship is so precious because it was threatened. You know how it goes. Well, that is their love story. One that involves bravery, character, and most of all, dedication.

We decided to share their story in the wedding ceremony. I retold Lisa’s account of the historic flooding of the Yellowstone River on June 13, 2022, a life-changing event for many, and especially for them. Not only did they also love the Yellowstone like everyone else, but they had been working at the local animal shelter when they started dating. And on this day, it became clear that the 100+ year record flooding would put the shelter at risk. Alongside other staff and locals, they started working to get as many animals out of the buildings as possible.

It was after dark when the parking lot began to rapidly flood. Almost everyone left the shelter at this point, with a few folks moving to higher ground and making desperate phone calls for help. Before they knew it, the power was out and Nick and Lisa were the last in the building, wading through ever-rising freezing water trying to free frightened dogs from kennels and move them to safety. As the floodwaters rose both inside and outside, Nick told Lisa to get out the front door while she still could push it open to escape, and he heroically kept swimming dogs to a separate building with a second floor. (This is where I choked up a bit telling the story at the wedding!)

Lisa barely made it out to higher ground and then stood, dripping wet, wondering if she would ever see Nick again… and finally after what seemed like forever, she saw the front door pushed open against the floodwaters and a dog came swimming out, followed by Nick! Amazingly, all of the shelter animals survived!

Everyone at the ceremony was in tears, so I wasn’t the only one! And then we all cheered for the bride and groom. Told with the river in the background, the story reminded all of us of what is most important in our own lives, and the ceremony itself was truly a sweet celebration of love and commitment. Just over a month after the flood, Nick and Lisa moved in together, joining their family of cats and one dog. It was an honor to help them become husband and wife, so they may continue to dedicate themselves to their work and be the small town heroes that show us the way to courage, community, and compassion.

“You both know that there is something about the river that is at once grounding yet elevating, intoxicating yet soothing, wild yet serene. The river is actually a magic pathway to this moment in time, as it truly connects us to that which is eternal. It’s a secret that the river shares with you. Just like a marriage, the river challenges you, yet nurtures you in the safety of its presence.”

The couples I serve always end up being my teachers in what it truly means to have and to hold, for better or worse and all that good stuff. I strive to emulate the sense of devotion and depth of respect that each bride and groom brings to the big day in my own relationship with my husband. This couple have certainly been challenged by the Yellowstone river, and became more fully realized in their characters, their relationship, and their love as a result. I certainly know the feeling and can only hope that our devotion to our own marriage be as everlasting as the river itself.

Best of luck to you, Lisa and Nick! We are certainly blessed to have such upstanding folks in our Big Sky Country.

See you on the river and on to the next 400!!

Courage and Love Go Hand in Hand – For As Long As They Both Shall Live

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